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Kinetic energy

Workplace Week 2013
Speakers at the recent Workplace Week convention in London addressed the associated issues of agile, flexible and connected group working, as Martin Read reports.


15 November 2013


There’s plenty to stimulate at the Workplace Week convention, which takes place as part of a week of events including site visits and Q&A sessions.


For one thing, the schedule, put together by organisers Advanced Workplace Associates, typically includes examples of recent and dramatic workplace change projects.

For another, speakers who appear are chosen for their ability to challenge any audience preconception about the topic at hand. Although this can only be a flavour of the event (theme: the connected organisation), those chosen to speak this year were no exceptions.


Flat plan
Louise Marshall, head of infrastructure and services at Brother UK, explained how her company had transitioned over the past eighteen months into a ‘kinetic organisation’. She did so first by asking the audience to suggest how they thought it had been achieved. (How long had the project taken, what had been the priorities, technologies, relationships and behaviours required?)

Put broadly, the senior management team at Brother UK has, post-project, been reduced with fifteen operational silos cut back to just four principal departments – sales, strategic development, infrastructure and services, and operations. Operational costs have been cut by 22 per cent and staff levels from 250 to 170. In what is a now much flatter heirarchy, employees perform to a personal development matrix designed to give clarity to career development. “This includes how their role is benchmarked against the outside world to ensure fairness and consistency of remuneration,” explained Marshall.

Andrew Mawson of Advanced Workplace Associates, whose consultancy worked with Brother UK on the project, explained that “our starting point was that everyone was equal; how you as an individual were remunerated was not about you climbing up [the career ladder], but instead on your contribution to those around you.”

“Remuneration associated with contribution and worth is a big change,” agreed Mawson, who explained the inherent problems in traditional career ladder progression (“the more you go up the ladder, the more you don’t want others too”.)

For many this might seem a giant leap of faith, transcending years of ingrained thinking. “Performance measurement is now about 360 feedback,” said Marshall. “You soon work out the people who are your rising stars and those who don’t want career progression but still want to do a great job”.


Happy in your work?

Of course, flattening heirarchies and agile working also play to the wider issues of worker wellbeing and the happiness of individuals.

Jessica Pryce-Jones of the iOpener Institute spoke about the impact worker happiness has on an organisation’s bottom line. Far from a nebulous concept, research from Pryce-Jones’ iOpener Institute for People and Performance (32,000 respondents – a healthy survey sample) showed how employees who are happiest at work take just a tenth of the sick-leave of unhappy colleagues, are six times more energised and, perhaps crucially, twice as productive.

It seemed that what really made people happy in their work was the kind of control and autonomy alluded to in the preceding Brother presentation – the inference being that flatter heirarchies also produce happier, more fulfilled workers. And that sense of control also led to greater trust and pride in the organisation. “Happiness in smaller heirarchies comes down to autonomy and sense of contribution,” said Pryce-Jones.

 For some, she continued, there will always be something to be unhappy about. “It’s fine to manage out those people who aren’t happy at work,” she admitted. “People with such low morale can have very damaging effect, particularly through social networks.”

Pryce-Jones also pointed to her poll results on workers’ energy levels. “People who are happy at work say they are energised 78 per cent of the time, while those who are least happy feel energised just 13 per cent of the time.”

Later in the day, Curtis McLean of Innovation Places spoke about social network analysis and its application in the workplace. Such analysis shows the interactivity between individuals and teams within, and between, work groups. The impact of office design on collaboration was stark, as was how collaboration between departments, when well facilitated, boosted organisation’s sense of community. Examples were shown of multinationals who in their design projects had not clearly thought through the impact of their shiney new offices on team cohesion.

All in all a stimulating event, with much to get audience members thinking about their workplace change priorities.