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My friend Bill Loundy lent me a book called Reinventing Organizations, by Frederic Laloux, and it rocked my world. As a business owner with about a dozen employees, I’m always looking for a way to create better jobs, a better place to work, a better work culture. This book has the keys to the kingdom in that regard. An in-depth study of several successful companies that operate on a new paradigm of how to do business, Reinventing Organizations should be required reading for all business owners and leaders.
In a way, reading it was reaffirming, because a lot of the things we do at Bailey’s, in terms of how we interact with each other, are in line with the models shown in the book. Most everybody at my company thinks like a boss. Employees have a huge amount of autonomy and freedom, and they take the responsibility that comes with that freedom. Nobody is micromanaged, feedback is given respectfully. When I have to talk to somebody about something they could do better, I talk to them as if they are a co-owner of the business. Employees have company cards and they can spend money when they need something for work without jumping through a bunch of hoops. We find great people, continually train them, and then put a huge amount of trust into their hands. The result? They are always coming up with ways to make things work better, customers are thrilled, revenues rise, profits rise. We share a lot of the profits with the staff, but that’s not why they do what they do. They enjoy working with a purpose to do good, to help people and save lives, to build relationships with clients and each other. Deep inside, people yearn to do something meaningful, to make a difference. Of course we pay very well, and offer benefits, that’s a no brainer. But lots of people have jobs they hate, even though the money is good. To create a job people like, that is our goal. Because one of the purposes of the business is to provide good jobs for good people.
While reading the book, I constantly had epiphanies about Bailey’s Chimney, for example: “AH HA, so THATS why JD stayed up half the night for weeks in a row in the busy season, re-designing the inspection forms and making them twice as good, without even being asked to, and he didn’t even clock in for that time (the closest I’ve ever come to yelling at him was when I told him he HAD TO get paid for that work) or AH HA, that’s why I have to constantly ask my general manager to stop working because she also stays up late, working from home, sorting things out and solving problems, her dedication to the business is absolutely astounding, I have to schedule massages for her (which the company pays for) because she won’t do it for herself…AH HA, so THAT’S why our installer, Chris, is so dedicated to tackling highly challenging situations, and his eyes light up as he tells me the story of his latest triumph overcoming difficult situations…”
Now that the concept has been clearly articulated by Mr. Laloux, I can see that, while we’ve been on the right track, there still is so much room for improvement at my company.
Long story short: The traditional corporate model sees organizations as machines with someone at the top pulling levers, and everyone else is a cog. These companies operate from a place of fear. Pretty much everyone hates their job in these organizations, and all of the rewards are extrinsic, i.e. people are motivated by money, power, and prestige. Special corner offices and reserved parking spots for important people, everyone always fighting for the next promotion, people constantly shirking, trying to avoid blame and responsibility, etc. In that model the company has a need for total control, and everyone is micromanaged. People are driven by sales targets, production quotas. It all leads to resentment.
The new paradigm operates from a place of trust. No quotas. No sales targets. Employees are empowered to make decisions of consequence. Ideas and input are sought from everyone. Decisions that affect other members of the team are taken into advisement by the people the decision will affect. For example, when I come up with an idea for something I think we should do, I run it by the team and get their input before making any decision. Though I own the company, my ideas often get shot down by the people who matter–those who are actually doing the work. People are empowered. The organization thinks of itself not as a machine but as a living organism with a purpose it’s trying to fulfill, where everyone is valued and all roles are important. No special parking spots or offices. My desk is usually a wood stove in the show room.
Tremendous energy is unleashed when employees are empowered, respected, and trusted. People are allowed to bring their whole self to work, they are not required to pretend to be someone they are not. Productivity skyrockets. The results speak for themselves.
One of the most well known cases discussed in the book is Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company. Another book, by Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Choinard, called Let My People Go Surfing, goes into the same principles (I read that immediately after finishing Reinventing Organizations.)
From my own experience, in my own business, innovations and improvements happen almost on a daily basis, and most of them don’t come from me. My employees teach me things all the time. The business has grown sixfold in the last seven years, organically, without financing. Every year we have more trucks, more folks, more happy customers. Our prices for services are higher than our competitors, but we provide far better value and people line up for months for our services. In actuality, we don’t really have competitors, because nobody else in our market does what we do. Like Patagonia: everybody knows their stuff isn’t cheap. But if you want quality, its well worth the price. If a zipper breaks, they will fix it. But usually the zippers don’t break.
If you are in any kind of leadership position, please read Reinventing Organizations. I believe the practices described in this book are essential for the next step in human evolution. There is a shorter, illustrated version available, and I’ve ordered multiple copies for the primary stakeholders in my business so we can all read it together and explore further how we can continue to evolve and grow in a healthy way as an organization.