It wasn’t a small or easy-to-answer question, but it was fairly straightforward.
When I looked at the world of work and the business marketplace, I could feel that something was different. Something had changed. You’ve probably noticed this, too. Strategies that used to be tried and true now seemed flimsy and false. Business models that raked in money just ten years ago were now crumbling. Yesterday’s “best practices” felt stale. I wanted to know why. More importantly, I wanted to know this:
If the old stuff wasn’t working, what was?
So I began to do research. I studied many companies both small and big, old and new, in all sorts of industries and disciplines. I explored everything from higher education to government agencies to non-profits to the private sector. I visited small mom-and-pop operations and big family businesses. I listened to leaders in mid-size organizations and had lunch with managers in Fortune 100 companies. I studied with some of the top researchers in the world and read literally hundreds of books, blogs, and articles.
As I began connecting the dots, a few clear patterns emerged. It turned out that companies who were succeeding in remarkable ways in today’s volatile economy were always doing something that fit into one of three larger groupings. (Yes, only three.) Put another way, these organizations were deliberately architecting their environments in a few distinct ways.
To truly thrive in the new world, a company’s actions must be (at least) one of three things:
- Continually Connected
- Distinctly Human
- Purposefully Meaningful
These three words represent a set of “guiding principles” of the new world.
Connected, Human, and Meaningful
Being Connected is the recognition that what I do affects you—or, as a group, what “we” do affects “them.” It’s about fostering sustainability, both from an environmental standpoint and from a human perspective. It’s also simply about building connections (between individuals, between groups, etc.).
Being Human is all about treating people like real human beings. People are complex and unique creatures with passions and emotions and strengths and stories. The work environment of the future “gets” this and amplifies it. Without this recognition, an organization is never able to access the best and most innovative work employees can offer.
Being Meaningful is helping people connect to something bigger than they are. It’s about purpose and mission—and I don’t mean “statements.” Meaning is the driving force that powers intrinsic motivation. Also, it’s worth noting that the minute you buy a smartphone, all separation between “work” and “life” disappears permanently. This means it is essential that our work be meaningful, moving forward.
Let me provide a few tangible examples of organizations leveraging these three categories (more examples can be found here):
CONNECTED: Pike Place Fish Market
In the world of fish markets, not harming habitats in any way or depleting populations by overfishing is incredibly rare (because it is terribly difficult). Pike Place is committed to being 100% sustainable in both of these ways. Decisions like these (and a few flying fish) have made this market world-famous.
By offering new employees cash on the spot to quit, building all systems around good employees (instead of the troublemakers), and insisting on the continual creation of “fun and a little weirdness,” Zappos literally treats their call center employees like kings and queens. Policies like these allowed Zappos a remarkably rapid climb of Fortune’s Best Companies To Work For list.
By embedding one-for-one gifts into their business model, a simple shoe company inspired meaningful copycats everywhere and has delivered over two million pairs of desperately needed footwear to kids around the world. In fact, Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, wrote an entire book to tell you that this meaningful core is the reason for their success.
Interestingly, the tribes I studied aren’t intentionally organizing around these guiding principles. They don’t realize what they’re doing fits clearly into one of these three larger categories. But even though they don’t know it, whatever is working for them invariably makes them Connected, Human, or Meaningful.
It’s also worth noting that no single company I’ve studied is leveraging all three principles… yet. This means that right now, being Connected, Human, and Meaningful is a massive competitive advantage. Adopt them now and your organization will be on the cutting edge.
But I have to warn you, this advantage won’t last long.
Soon, every organization will adopt these practices—they won’t have a choice if they wish to keep up.
Our emerging culture is looking for a complete re-envisioning of business. We are searching for a new kind of organization: one that can adopt a more holistic approach. We are yearning for work that connects us to each other, treats us like human beings, and provides us a greater sense of meaning.
When a tribe finds success in the emerging economy, it is because they have found a way to bring at least one of these three guiding principles to life. They are intentionally Connected, they are deliberately Human, or they are making life more Meaningful.
Much of this article was excerpted from Igniting the Invisible Tribe: Designing An Organization That Doesn’t Suck, although it was customized just for Under30CEO. Connect with Josh Allan Dykstra on his website or on Twitter.
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