Wanted: heroes for the future of work

Wanted: heroes for the future of work

Picture the following job ad;

Wanted: A Workplace Hero

Duties/Tasks: To influence organisational behaviour towards a connected culture.

Experience/Skills: Being a woman is probably going to help

Controversial? Possibly.

Provocative? Probably.

Accurate? Definitely.

The future of work is now upon us. Organisations - and the cultures that exist within them – are required to work and behave in a very different way to the past. Y’see we’ve - and I largely mean men - have stuffed it up quite a bit over the past few hundred years.

Industrialisation swept the world and factories sprung up like the 1800’s equivalent of Macca’s stores on every corner. Scientific management was in full swing and with Henry Ford the poster boy of production lines in the early part of the 19th century, it all seemed fine and dandy.

Think about it. Lots of blokes, not having to talk to each other ‘cept for the occasional grunt and maybe a sneaky nod. Picture a big shed with heaps of blokes in it not having to talk too much. Put a TV in the corner with footy on it, you’d think they would’ve never left.

But as good as it sounded in concept, the truth is, it was crap. It was an awful work environment. With a focus on unit cost and speed, it produced results, and still today can be a pathway to success in manufacturing. The cost of this type of workplace however, wasn’t simply economic by nature; the social cost was huge. Far too many men anesthetised themselves outside of the workplace (mainly via the 5 o’clock pub session) because of what they faced inside the workplace. It was a dark time. But we can’t change the past, so let’s look forward.

The change upon us

Manufacturing is on it’s last legs...or at the very struggling in a first-world country like Australia. Couple this zeitgeist with the rapid development of 3D printing and mass-manufacturing in Australia will continue to battle. A cursory look at labour stats will show more than 80% of the total workforce is in the service industry. Less than 20% are in manufacturing. Yet many workplace cultures are built on manufacturing principles.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re in the service industry. Or work in support businesses for the service industry. Your success these days is less about your product and more about how you serve your customer. Today’s market differentiator is how well you engage your customer. The big question on the lips of business leaders is how do we serve our customer best?

Strong cultures build service cultures

The current research is clear (Gallup, AON, et al). The best way to achieve customer engagement is to have staff engagement. It just makes sense. If people aren’t connected to the people they work with they aren’t going to connect with the organisation. In turn, if they aren’t connected to the organisation, they won’t connect with the customer.

The best service cultures have great team cultures; teams of people who have each other’s backs. This is the new competitive advantage. More importantly, it’s not simply about business results, it’s the chance to rehumanise workplaces.

Where we can learn

Back to my fictional advertisement. Organisations largely need to learn this from women. I realise it’s a broad gender stereotype, but women do connection better than men. It’s that simple.

I realise there are exceptions to the rule, some guys can connect and build relationships phenomenally well, where as some women have an EQ score barely above room temperature, but by and large, women outperform men across the board with their ability to connect, care and nurture. But to be fair to the men, the ladies have a chemical advantage on their side.

The power of oxytocin

For the mums out there, you’ll be all too aware of this wonder drug. A powerful neurotransmitter, the greatest release of oxytocin into a human being’s synapses occurs immediately after childbirth.  Oxytocin serves two roles postpartum. Firstly, it starts the flow of colustrum, kickstarting the lactation process which is obviously just a wee bit important. The second role for oxytocin is to bond mother and child.

What an awesome evolutionary process at the very heart of our survival as a species. This squirming 4 kg bundle of flesh - completely helpless - has just put the woman through the most agonising, life-threatening process she is likely to experience. So mother nature turned the tables in favour of little bubba. By flooding Mums body with oxytocin, she bonds in the most powerful of ways. She falls in love with that baby right there and then. 

Can we get a hit? 

But this isn’t just about baby-making. Women who’ve not had children, or don’t want to have children, are still key players in the new order of work. They are the dealers of oxytocin without even realising it. Even though both genders produce and respond to this tiny feel good molecule, women, through their behaviour are the kingpins. Other than childbirth, the next circumstance where oxytocin is produced at it biggest concentrations is in physical touch. And there is no contest in this space, women do this soooo much better than men. Have you seen two blokes meeting for the first time - ridiculously awkward - am-i-rite?

Another situation oxytocin is produced in big quantities is through deep, mindful and present conversation with plenty of eye contact. Now last time we looked, the deep-and-meaningful scorecard for blokes had a big fail written on it. At very best, it might be marked with could do better next time.

The trust chemical

To build great cultures we need trust. No surprises for guessing which chemical is the trust inducing chemical? Yep, you got it...oxytocin. In a study on trust and money participants administered with doses of oxytocin showed a 44% increase trust over participants in a placebo group. It also has strong pro-social properties as well as being an inhibitor of stress hormones such as cortisol. Have I said oxytocin is awesome?

Now I hope I am not coming across as someone who just wants to use you - for your oxytocin - because it’s not about us blokes, it’s about all of us. We need to work together to build these cultures and you can show us the way.

We need women to bring all their femininity to work with them. Don’t try to match men’s masculinity. Teach men how to go deeper in conversations; show them that to greet each other with a hug isn’t weird but natural. Encourage all of us to give to each other because it feels good, not because we necessarily expect something in return.

If women bring the best of themselves, we will get the best of workplace culture in return. And the best of workplace culture? That will get us - all of us - the results we could only dream of.