I posted yesterday about the proposed merger of two of New Zealand’s bigger unions. My point of view was that unions are generally legacy organisations that do little or nothing to progress employees longer term personal strategic interests.

Lucy replied with the following question…

“I have to say I agree with you 120% there. What would it take to get an employee value culture embedded nationally do you think? Who does it well”

Being a glutton for punishment I agreed to give my perspective on this debate.

My viewpoint was initiated many years ago after reading Ricardo Semlar’s book Semco. To give a synopsis of the book, Semlar inherited a large diversified business in South America. He proceeded to tear it apart, allowing employees autonomy and in many cases sponsoring their establishment of independent businesses that could supply both the mother company and it’s competitors. Basically Semlar developed self-determination at a micro level across the business.
My thinking was further developed by some experiments around employee autonomy and profit sharing at a medium sized New Zealand manufacturer. Similarly the sweat-equity structures of many high-tech businesses were contributing ideas.

Upon further reflection I’m not completely convinced by the above approaches. The Semlar approach fails to react to the fact that a significant proportion of blue collar workers want to be just that. Don’t ask for or want responsibility and prefer to be told what to do (a proportion I said – not all). How does the Semlar model take account of these workers?

Similarly profit share seems inequitable – unless people are prepared to ride both the highs and the lows of the business roller coaster, it seems profit sharing is a one sided solution. Sweat equity similarly hasome detracting features – some workers are not in a position to salary-sacrifice for equity – thus an inequity is introduced into the system between those who can forego salary and those who cannot.

Recently I did some consultancy work at an organisation in Napier. This business is 100% owned by one individual but what struck me about the business is how committed and “bought in” all the employees I talked to were.

So what did it take in the case of that business? Things I saw which must have helped;

  • The employees were encouraged to self develop – whether it be increasing the depth of their knowledge or increasing the breadth – the majority of people I talked to were on, or had been on, external development programmes
  • Employees were well rewarded for their efforts – good pay rates are a start, but employee lunches, free time, flexible time and little or no formal time keeping also help
  • The principal respects the employee’s points of view. While he may disagree with them, or even countermand them, the respect shown for the employees is obvious
  • The organisation has a clearly defined strategic objective set and employees are encouraged to participate in the process of articulating it

So….. what does the that leave us with? Back to Wikinomics I guess. Trying to find a new paradigm for a networked, collaborative, dynamic and rewarding organisation.

Anyone keen to change the world with me?

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

7 Comments
  • What the four bullets are really are delivering to really is quite different to the collective aspects provided by a union. I imagine this culture that fosters individual development while giving a clear set of strategic objectives/vision to apply these newly acquired skills is great for efficiency/productivity and execution as well as personal fulfilment.

    If its a fact that a good (even great) salary gets 80% job performance and a great culture gets 120% – then why isn’t it just a no brainer that investment here is key? Intangibility/ “Airy fairy” concept of culture? Harder to prove quantitative evidence around bottom line impact?

  • What you say is correct – and also that NZ businesses are so busy working in the business that they can’t stand back and work on the business and see the value they could extract out of empowered employees.

    It’s the stuff that gets me excited every day…….

  • So can you propose/encapsulate a national plan of attack in 50 or less words- with expertise made possible only by this daily excitement you mention?

  • What I love Lucy (as opposed to I Love Lucy!) is that you always give me the easy jobs. I have to keep something back for myself – can’t give all my IP away…. but for a start (and it’s 51 words… sorry about that)

    Organic business, build new business models, leverage individuals knowledge and skills, allow individuals to collaborate at will and share in the fruits of that collaboration, utilise these method for traditional business, revitalise primary production with creative ideas and self developed commercialization, make every CEO read Wikinomics, forget MBA’s, create and grow

  • To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.
    – Sam Keen

  • Nice riposte!

    Keep up the dialogue….

  • Luncy, We’ve done the research that shows organisations which align around a common purpose and values outperform those that don’t.

    If you would like a tool to make this happen then VortexDNA technology is the way forward. (www.vortexdna.com)

    We like to ask questions and then answer them 🙂

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