ReWorking the Workplace
Keys to Sustained Peak Performance

04/03/1997

by Gail and Matt Taylor

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the December, 1993 issue of Mobius magazine. Copyright 1993, The Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business
Reprinted with permission

 

Is re-engineering the answer?
Is TQM the answer?
Perhaps it's both plus the ability to adapt to change.

You have been selected for an exciting project and a challenging one. You and your eight teammates realize your project will reach all aspects of your business. Successful results will translate into better interactions with the customer.

You find yourself wondering about the potential of the project--your mind explores different possibilities... And you wonder about the possibility of doing it right this time. Is this going to be another exciting project hat becomes compromised into just an average solution--one that does not allow your best in performance, and lets the customer down by failing to reach its full potential? What happens to projects? Why do so many degrade from the original goals and visions? Is it possible to actually reach and sustain high performance day after day? Everyone wants it, so why is it so rare?

In the early 70s, these questions initiated an exploration of the changes inherent in the shift to a global knowledge economy. What will be the ability of organizations to stay ahead of exponential change? At that time, it also began to be recognized that the fabulous organizing principle--the industrial organization--which had created more change and wealth in a shorter period of time than anything known to humankind, had itself, become a major barrier. This structure--even if reorganized--can no longer stay requisite with the rate of change and increase in complexity. Attempts to streamline and empower the existing organizational structure would fail. It appeared that this dying industrial paradigm would maintain a death grip on organizational theory and practice until new organizational models were developed and tested. The decline and collapse of many of our great organizations was predicted because the industrial society and all that goes with it had become a block to further progress.

So we set out to discover a new organizational structure/process with new capacities: methods to systematically release the creative potential of an entire organization so that it can perform at levels required by new and continuously changing conditions and markets.

Solutions were discovered based on a shift of mind about the things to manage. These "things" are 180 from what had been assumed. People are inherently creative, but were blocked by their own assumptions and by the industrial organizational system created for another purpose. Solutions lay in removing the blocks and changing this organizational structure. By removing these barriers, organizations have practiced sustained creativity and results-oriented changes at a level before considered impossible. These results come from a field of vast riches within the human mind--riches many people have not considered because they assume them to be scarce, unmanageable and unknowable.

To harvest these riches, companies must manage seven domains of their organization in a new way--as an integrated system and systematic work process.

The 7 Domains:

  1. Body of knowledge
  2. Work process design and facilitation
  3. Education and training
  4. Environment and tools
  5. Technical systems
  6. Project management
  7. Venture management

 

 

These seven domains exist in every workplace and organization. Their components are familiar to everyone. Unfortunately, the majority of organizations manage them from the vantage point of the industrial paradigm... as isolated pieces to be controlled that, as such, have little to do with each other, or make a direct contribution to the bottom line. Viewed from a knowledge-based economy, they take on a whole new importance.

When these domains are valued and managed as an integrated system, an environment is created in which the natural creativity of individuals and groups blossoms with such power, in so short a period, our companies are shocked! This approach can start with any project, in any organization or institution. The workplace can only be transformed project by project.

Getting HERE from THERE
AXIOM: You can't get THERE from HERE; and, you can get HERE from THERE. If you attempt to manage high performance from an industrial era perspective, by pushing to a vision, long term gains will be minimal, and in many cases destructive to the health of each employee and the viability of the organization. Programs such as TQM and reengineering will rarely get the results the organization wants or expects, not because they lack value, but because they are compromised by a dying organizational structure.

On the other hand, letting go of industrial era controls and accountability processes can seem scary and unmanageable. Before, creativity had always been thought of as unpredictable and "unsuited" for the corporate environment. How is it possible to manage free-flowing information, to bring producer, stockholder, and customer together and do more than talk at each other? How is innovation possible in this period of cutbacks, diminishing resources, and chaos?

Working the seven domains as an integrated knowledge-based system can help you engineer your way to THERE (creative, productive and healthful high performance workplace) from HERE (the present with its barriers and limitations). IN this process, you recreate your way of thinking and your way of working.

The 7 Domains® Model
1. Body of Knowledge
Bring the corporate body of knowledge alive through using it frequently and collaboratively. Generally, it is kept contained in separate divisions, buried inside different experts and un-conversant systems. If you want a project to succeed, you must use, explore, and design with diverse fields of knowledge. Customers, managers, producers, vendors all provide valuable information and feedback in the design/use process. Creativity is the systematic elimination of options through good design. Work with your teammates and network to build a rich body of knowledge--one that you use everyday and builds your future wealth base.

2. Work process design and facilitation...
Creativity cannot be forced or mandated. Failed attempts at managing creativity are legend. We have found that the creative process--in virtually all organizations--occurs by accident. Creative process means the entire method by which ideas are discovered and translated into useful tools, products and services and used in the marketplace.

Remove the blocks of un-facilitated, undocumented, boring meetings; sterile and unhealthy environments; inadequate tools that impose a hidden ineffective work process; and, low grade information that neither informs, enlightens or stimulates thought and action. Make your role that of facilitating the creative process itself instead of controlling agendas, dollars, time, and people.

3. Education and Training...
It is estimated that more than sixty percent of today's work is learning! This learning is not relegated to management; it permeates every aspect of the workplace. In the early 20th century it was possible for a good mathematician to know the entire body of knowledge in his field. Today it is estimated that a good mathematician knows less than one percent of his or her field's body of knowledge! Further, it is estimated that more than ninety percent of the technology that will affect our daily lives at the beginning of the 21st century has not yet been invented. Explore any field today, and you will find this explosive growth of knowledge. Thus, the Axiom, "the first step to knowing something is knowing that you don't know it," is critical. No longer can anyone afford to think they know enough.

As you develop the specifications for your project, be sure that you "go well beyond what you assume to be possible or do-able." Reach out and find what is possible that you did not know, as well as what is on "the drawing boards" and will be a consumer product within a few years. Explore the "impossible" and the far limits of your field or art. Design your project to succeed several years into the future. Don't let it be obsolete at its debut! Make continuous learning and research legitimate and part of the work of your team!

The etymology of training is "to make rote; to trail behind." Education is to "lead out or forth." Use this project to reach out and learn how to systematically discover new options and to better use tools. Training offers the opportunity of practicing new skills in learning how to design with and use new information, turning it into knowledge and wealth. If you walk out of any meeting or design session having failed to learn and be stimulated to think and make new connections, it was a waste of time for you and your teammates.

4. Environments and tools...
The environment is a strong facilitator of creativity and is often overlooked--for teams and individuals. Functional environments for knowledge workers are radical departures from the industrial era workplace. Create a neutral work space where people come to engage and play with ideas. Get the tables and desks out of the way. Make the space able to easily configure to the needs of the team minute to minute, day to day, year to year. Provide large group interaction spaces and small breakout areas for design team and personal work. Provide yourself and your teammates with the ability to work big and collaboratively. You can't see complexity and you can't manage it with 8 by 11 pieces of paper, sitting in chairs talking at each other across tables or trapped in the screen of a computer! For many, creative thought comes from pacing, from working big, and from adding to someone else's ideas. Set the environment to facilitate different learning and thinking styles. Stock the environment with music, articles, posters, toys, books, surprises. The environment can create a field so strong and focused it will do at least half the work for you! Don't set agendas to talk about or report to others; use your time together to design, collaborate and engineer "working" your way through the entire creative process--each time you come together.

5. Technology...
Technology acts as both a nervous system and an amplifier. Used appropriately it can provide a platform for leveraging the creative work for continual leaps in productivity. Knowledge workers, as any craftsman, must understand and use their tools as an artist forging a masterpiece. Technology comes from the word technic-- "of or pertaining to art; skillfully made or constructed." Modern tools, while miracles each in themselves, do not now function as an integrated work process system. Instead, they amplify unusable data, automate unnecessary linear sequential processes and isolate you from your teammates and the natural environment. To produce tools, products and services for the knowledge economy, create environments and systems in which integrated human teams and smart technology combine to work and create what has not been done before.

6. Project management...
Virtually everything is subject to good project management. The constraints of budgets, time and resources are essential catalysts for success. Knowledge management however, is not the control of time, people, and dollars; rather, dramatic cost and time savings are the results of high performance. As project manager, insure that the team is working with a rich and diversified body of knowledge. Facilitate your team through the phases of the creative process, assisting with the seamless movement from identity and view (scan) through intent and insight (focus) to engineering, building and using (act). Involve all stakeholders in the entire process so that the team does not pass data and stale information from one phase to another. If you fail to facilitate the creative process as a whole system, the project will degrade with each sequential, unconnected and linear step. A measurement of a healthy work team is that over 90 percent of the resources through all phases can be tracked with formal project management technology.

7. Venture management...
Venture management must happen at all levels of an organization. Venture management is to develop corporate vision--THERE--and to make it reside in every step and aspect of daily work--wherever the HERE is. It means to preserve and grow, while continuously re-creating the organization and its people in the very act of manufacturing value for the marketplace. Venture management is to build and maintain the virtual network of producer, customer, and stockholder as a functioning organization in which the interests of all are in harmony. Venture management is integrating--in all actions--the whole and the part that you are building at this moment.

Reality...
Managing the 7 Domains can seem difficult to start because it sounds ambiguous or open-ended--from "HERE." Some people might tell you, "it's not based on reality." Don't ask permission. You already have the authority to develop products of value for your customers. You will demonstrate the value in the process--project by project--of the results of managing a knowledge-based workplace. Have fun! Use these guidelines and discover more by doing so. The only way you will know "how" to bring THERE to HERE is to do it... to figure it out and design as you go. Learn to make peak performance and work happiness the norm--the new reality.

Things you can do to improve your 7 Domains:
1. Build a knowledge base and update it daily. Bring in books, models and articles. Make a document control system that enables you to put your hand on every memo, quote, article, instruction, graphic, note, paper, contract, specification, picture, catalog--every significant item of information--that the team collects and produces quickly, no matter where or how that information is stored or who "owns" it. Build a chronological file that documents your team's experience and is accessible to your network. Build this capacity day by day as you do the work.

2. Design your work process. Engineer, understand, and practice a systematic method that researches, designs, manufactures, distributes and supports your work-product whether it's abstract knowledge, a service, or a concrete, physical product. Don't start with old work processes that were created for another era and were based on knowledge and tools that are no longer useful. Don't assume that today's level of effort for your product is a valid standard no matter how good you are. Assume that the environment is going to demand of you breakthrough after breakthrough and design a process that does just that and re-creates itself in the process.

3. Be a learning organization. Challenge yourself and everyone in your group to learn--then to learn more. Make learning an integral part of everyday efforts. Engage in vigorous cross training with your teammates. Do this with your customers. Organize your learning to be "just in time" by matching learning with life-cycles, personal interests, learning opportunities and future work demands. Learn outside of your specialty and specific work-related focus. Turn every challenge, frustration and work requirement into a learning opportunity. Build "smarts" into your processes, machines and products.

4. Bring your environment alive! Personalize it. Make it fit you and your teammates' individual learning/working styles. The knowledge-intensive environment requires parallel work processing and has many demands: individual work, group work, communicating, thinking, designing, producing, researching, learning... it goes on and on. Make the environment adjustable so that it works for what you are doing now. Have big walls to display work-in-progress, so you and your team can work together on projects. Put your furniture, tools and files on wheels. Make tables that fold-up and link together in various ways. Make your work neighborhood express your team's character and be a unique place. Get some plants and some stuff from home. Vary the lighting. Keep it neat and clean (not rigid and sterile). Do an environmental check. Make your environment a place where you want to live.

5. Stop being a victim of the "techies." They are great people who are over-whelmed, over-worked, and underfunded--just like you. They often want to control things too much (just like you!). Give them a break and get smart about your technology. Learn it. Use it well. Adapt it knowledgeably to your processes. Be sensitive and aware that your system (whatever it is) has to talk to and not break other systems. But make your system your system. The new tools are getting more user-friendly, user-adaptable and smart. Their potential still lies mostly dormant as many of us try to beat our typewriters into computer, our telephones into video conferencing systems, our carbon paper into electronic printing presses, our file cabinets into laser-disk storage units with little understanding or vision of a knowledge augmentation system. New tools mean new work processes and a new environment to house them. So, reinvent the process, use the tools wisely and plug into the network. Your computer and a modem can now connect to more than 20,000,000 people all over the world that are rebuilding tomorrow. Just like you.

6. A project has a purpose, goals, measurable way-points and outcomes, specific time and resource budgets and a design for the sequence by which labor, materials, products, information are all to combine to make something useful. Many great tools exist for managing projects. Unfortunately, the tools are often not used. Sometimes, they are used to punish, to stop variety, or to control things. A project plan cannot be imposed. Use the tools on everything--at an appropriate level. Don't let the tools use you. Don't lose sight of the strategy and the big picture. Proper use of project management creates precision of effort.

7. Why are you doing what you are doing? What does it accomplish? What is the value? How do you and investors and customers profit? Will the Earth be a better place to visit because you did it? From trainee to C.E.O., everyone in an organization contributes to it and is responsible for what it does. Not should be--is! If you or your team loses vision, stop what you are doing. You are probably about to break something or waste value. Do everything as if the entire thing belonged to you and CBS was broadcasting your every act. Your job isn't peeling potatoes; your mission is providing nourishment for the customer. Envision the whole--and do your part. Give up on predictability, control, and making people do things. Work to build, with your team and your network, a viable organization--a feedback-driven, learning, sustainable enterprise that is an ever-increasing value to those who use it and those it touches.

These specifications describe environments that exist and knowledge work that is being done. The knowledge and tools are available. The processes, tools and environments have been built. You can buy these workplaces "turn-key" or you can make them yourself--it doesn't matter. What does matter is that you equip yourself, your team and your organization to be effective in a world of constant, massive, quantum change. You can afford to do it because you are already paying the cost.

Related articles:
How to Begin
Premises Regarding the Knowledge Economy

copyright 1997, MG Taylor Corporation. All rights reserved
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