Friday, September 23, 2011

Can this be your future work environment?

(photo from stock.xchng)

Imagine an environment characterized by the following:
  • It is as easy to get started for a newbie as for an experienced professional
  • The time from preparation to execution is really short
  • You can do it anywhere, any time 
  • You can set your own goals
  • You can do it in your own pace
  • You can get guidance and coaching on demand from experts and mentors
  • You get immediate feedback about your progress and performance
  • You can easily coordinate and share your activities with other people
  • Real-time positive feedback from people you trust help you refuel when your energy levels are low
  • Your performance is documented in the flow instead of as a separate activity, adding no extra work load
  • You can evaluate your own efforts and progress and adjust your goals 
  • You can make your performance and achievements visible to your environment
  • There are many ways, requiring no effort, for others to recognize and celebrate your achievements
  • By being able to make your activities visible and recognized by other people, you influence more people to follow your example
This could very well be a description of how it is to work in a social business, but it’s actually a list of things I believe have contributed to the "running phenomenon": the trend that more and more people in all ages are putting on their running shoes and starting to run on a regular basis.

I know of many people who, like me, have never been running regularly before, who have even seen running as something dreadfully boring and painful, and who slowly have turned into runners. Their reasons for running might vary, such as improving their health, losing weight, or becoming part of a community or social group. Regardless of their reasons, some are not at a point where running has become a part of their social identity. By that point, it's virtually impossible to stop. They have developed an intrinsic motivation for running and rely less and less on the extrinsic motivation and rewards once helped them getting started.

The key to this trend has been environment that motivates people to run and triggers certain behaviors. A lot of techy things like smartphones, mobile apps, GPS, presence, cloud computing, gamification and social software have been used to create this environment. Yet, it couldn’t have been created without a deeper understanding of what motivates people and how to design an environment that triggers the right behaviors.

So the bottom line is this: If the environment described above can turn almost anyone into a runner, we can be pretty sure that a work environment that is designed with an understanding of  what make people more motivated, collaborative and productive at work, and where performance models and management practices are adjusted accordingly, can turn an underperforming business to one that thrives and outperforms its competitors.


  1. I'll just focus on your first bullet point: It will never be as easy for a newbie to gets tarted as for an experienced professional.

    For one thing, most experienced professionals don't get started - they have already started a long time ago.

    But let's assume you have someone who decides on a career change or who who has been an employee and suddenly decides to become self-employed. It will still be easier for him to get started than for a newbie.

    The main reasons:
    - He has existing contacts
    - People know him and trust him, even if he is now working in a different field
    - He is more likely to have some money in the bank that will make it easier for him to survive the first year in his new business.

  2. Hi Timo,

    thanks for your comment.

    I am sure it is as easy for a newbie to put his/her shoes on and start running as it is for a professional runner. :-)

    My analogy did not account for the scenario where you become self-employed, even though you can use social technologies and principles to build your network, make yourself and your work visible, become recognized as being knowledgeable and competent etc. If you don't have a strong professional network and decide to become self-employed, it wouldn't be very wise if you didn't consider using the power of the social web to build a stronger professional network.

    The analogy with work could be done on two levels regarding the first bullet point:
    1) Getting started in a new work environment
    2) Getting started with a task.

    Both of these things can be accelerated if the work environment is designed in ways that make these easier.

    For example, much can be done to improve employee onboarding. On thing is to help new employees discover and connect with people they should know and who can help them. That could be done with the use of rich profiles and social software that automatically suggests whom to connect to ("if you're interested in this, you could talk to...", "If you're working with this, you could talk to this..."). It also requires having managers who are more focused on empowering employees than supervising and controlling them. A manager typically has a large network which he/she could use to connect the new employee to the right people.