‘Going to work’ used to mean showing up at the office where your manager would tell you what to work on that day and closely monitor your progress. This is obviously no longer the case. What motivates people in their work has evolved, most notably through the increased importance of autonomy, transparency, and sense of purpose. In addition, technology has created a work environment that can happen from anywhere, at any time, and include collaboration with people you might know especially well, or have only met virtually.
The tools and policies of the 20th century, however, have not evolved with the capabilities of the 21st century workforce. Organizations still rely on outdated management practices to get things done.
As the definition of work continues to evolve, the need to create autonomous teams that are motivated to do innovative work will become more of a necessity. To do this, organizations need to align people’s interests and passions with the work they do and create ways for teams to offer constant feedback to each other, regardless of physical location.
10,000ft is a software company with the mission to build solutions that help organizations catch up to needs of the modern workforce. Our WorkDNA concept is our vision for a platform that allows organizations to leverage data to enable fast, strong, and dynamic connections between team members and teams.
In 2011, Tammy Erickson of the Harvard Business Review stated, “The frontier of human productive capacity today is the power of extended collaboration—the ability to work together beyond the scope of small groups.” It requires workers “to contribute through a different and, in many ways, more complex set of activities.”
Furthermore, teams are expected to collaborate with individuals working at different times and places, even across different companies. The use of ad hoc teams that form for a specific purpose and then disband will become more common.
The 20th century industrial era was characterized by routine, mechanical work and top-down decision making. Decades worth of policies and technology were created to accommodate these qualities. But as working styles evolve, the role of 20th century tools and practices are called into question.
As a result, we are experiencing the rise of the 'creative thinker' — the modern problem solver who is motivated by getting things done, masterfully. He collaborates with others with a shared goal, but no clear path to get there.
Increasingly, these workers are changing the business environment. They are demanding flatter organizations and more agile processes. And they expect their time and skills to be exchanged for more than monetary value—they want to extract meaning in their work.
Despite the 21st century work environment, organizations need to be able to form strong teams that align with an individual’s interests and goals. But how do organizations know if the work they are doing aligns with the interests of their employees? And how do team members know what experiences are to be gained from projects the company undertakes?
In a 10,000ft blog post, we interviewed Daniel Pink about how organizations can adapt to the demands of the 21st century. Pink explained that the key is to understand how ‘creative thinkers’ are motivated:
“As the research I describe in Drive shows, good leaders understand that motivation is not something one person does TO another, but as something that people do FOR themselves. That means replacing control with self-direction — and looking for ways to increase the amount of autonomy people have over their task, time, team, and technique.
“Good managers also put people in positions where they can make progress, give them meaningful feedback, and help them get better at something that matters. And they help people see the purpose of what they’re doing — how what they do day-to-day makes a contribution and connections to a wider mission.”
To accommodate this, organizations need to adopt a more project-based work style that includes ad hoc teams meant to solve specific problems and be disbanded after that.
WorkDNA: Aligning Interests to Create Meaning
In order to facilitate the creation of effective teams that engage in extended collaboration, we have envisioned a concept called WorkDNA: our vision for a dynamic system of real time, cloud-based modules designed to empower organizations to create a culture of collaboration, transparency and shared goals. It is meant to enable fast, strong, and dynamic connections between team members and teams.
WorkDNA is based on the idea that when you align an individual’s passions and interests with their professional work, you create stronger teams that are capable of great work. We call this alignment The Whole Me and The Whole We.
The Whole Me: the collection and visual representation of a person’s goals, experience, and passions. The individual—not the company—owns this information and controls how it is shared.
The Whole We: aligning the interests of the individual and the business to form more productive teams that are mutually beneficial.
The WorkDNA modules allow employees to feel more invested in the company and empowered to contribute their creativity to its success. They allow you to quickly and easily understand not only the technical skills of existing team members but also their personal strengths and weaknesses. Some of the modules include:
Experience Match: Considers not only the experience and skills a team member brings to the table, but also the goals and experiences they hope to achieve. In the past, a person’s skills were exchanged for monetary value. In the future, individuals will increasingly look to extract value from their professions in different ways, and organizations should be explicit about what non-monetary value they are able to provide.
Experience Match makes these benefits explicit to both the employer and the individual. This matching exercise has applications beyond the employer/jobseeker relationship. Organizations can use the same module for deciding on a new project to take on. When the individual’s interests are visible and taken into account, it is clearer what non-monetary value is to be gained with each new initiative.
Personal Analytics: So much of what we do can be quantified. We track hours worked, activities done, time spent across different platforms. By visualizing your day-to-day responsibilities with your goals, you become more aware of the cumulative effect your work has on your personal growth. Personal Analytics tracks your experience and activities against future goals and objectives so you can identify where you spend your energy.
Workflow Sandbox: The purpose of the Workflow Sandbox is to be more explicit about what organizations and individuals have set out to do. For the organization, the experience points of a new project or initiatives should be outlined from the onset. This allows individuals to be deliberate about the work they take on, ensuring it aligns with their own interests.
Team Explorer: Kick-start team communication by identifying and alerting you to common professional goals or personal interests within your team, creating a common bond that further facilitates collaboration. This is useful when setting up projects in the beginning—it helps you identify common interest points and builds trust and empathy before the project has even started.
Peer Feedback: Typically feedback is delivered by managers, and often only happens once or twice a year. Other solutions to improve the feedback process typically create a cumbersome process and become more trouble than they’re worth. The Peer Feedback module democratizes the feedback process and delivers it directly to the individual on a per project basis. Part of the non-monetary value people can extract from their work is incremental skillset improvements, and feedback is a big part of improving.
Team members working on the same project can provide feedback to each other in an easy and quick manner. The feedback is recorded in your workDNA profile and helps you identify areas of improvement.
Currently WorkDNA remains a concept for how we envision enhanced collaboration in the future. It serves as an example of another potential area technology could support the work style of the modern workplace.
We’ve already begun to test these theories in practice. 10,000ft is our first software product built on the principles of creating autonomy through flexible constraints, and providing the necessary information for teams to make decisions that keep projects moving forward.
10,000ft is a project planning and resource management tool that is designed be flexible and account for external influences that change to the plan. It makes the project plan visible and easy to understand. Everyone understands the impact of changes to the plan, can lobby for more help on a project, or make adjustments to allocations.
Additionally, 10,000ft shares budget status on every project, which not only gives the team an understanding of the business side of the organization, but also enables increased trust within an organization. When you open up financial information to your team, you create mutual trust between the employees and leadership. Team members who trust, and feel trusted by their employers, are more engaged with the organization and are motivated to do better work.
In less than two years on the market, companies in 27 countries are using 10,000ft to give their employees more control and keep their projects on track—proof that there is need for software that aligns with an evolving workforce.
Where 10,000ft meets the transparency goals of an organization, WorkDNA would help businesses create a sense of purpose in the work they do.
As the tools and software catch up to the business’ need to provide more autonomy to their employees, the potential impact goes beyond the company alone. Work aligned with an employee’s passions can result in better innovations and products the world might not have experienced under a 20th century management model.
Despite being over a decade into the 21st century, businesses still cling to the outdated practices of the 20th century. And the tools used to run a business have been slow to challenge norms as well. Often the intention to make a change is exists, but old habits are engrained in our work process and are difficult to overcome.
Additionally, performance review and recognition opportunities are typically based on the employee compared to the rest of the team. If employees feel like they need to do better than one another in order to get noticed, you create office politics and a culture of competition. No one wins in this environment.
The major challenge with building software that tries to transform accepted practices is you are met with great resistance from organizations that feel a false sense of security from the way they currently operate. The philosophies that drive 10,000ft and WorkDNA challenge what is considered acceptable, and organizations can be slow to adopt.
Much of what WorkDNA sets out to enable can be accomplished through analog methods for organizations that want to adopt these practices right away. The key is to adopt a project- and team-based work style. Creating a simple spreadsheet that outlines the goals of the organization and the goals of the team is a good first step for aligning your projects with the right teams.
The information that you want to focus on is:
- More transparency about projects the company has in the pipeline and how they relate to high-level business goals.
- Explicit information about the experience points that come with a new job or project.
- A continuous peer-to-peer feedback system that helps employees to know what they are doing well and what they need to work on.
For example, a design consultancy looking to adopt analog WorkDNA practices might set up a spreadsheet with three high level goals:
- Produce meaningful work that has a positive impact on society
- Attract clients in the technology, healthcare, and media industries
- Become a thought leader in the three main industries we work in
Each high-level goal would have different projects that support it. The spreadsheet would list active projects and also tentative projects in the pipeline. Each project would list 3-5 experience categories that team members will gain by working on the project. Examples could be:
- Master a new domain, such as the healthcare industry
- Learn a new programming language
- Gain new skills in market research or consumer interviews
Employees could keep a similar structure for their personal and professional goals. Under each of their high-level goals would be projects they are working on and the experience points they are gaining. They would also have a list of experience points they would like to gain, and match them with future projects the company will work on.
One way to keep the experience points process streamlined would be to come up with a taxonomy of experience points based on the type of work your company does. The taxonomy would include new skills to be gained, new technology to learn, or new domains to master. Employees and projects are then matched based on similar taxonomies, resulting in better work and a more motivated workforce.
By keeping this information visible for all projects the company is working on, employees are better able to match their personal interests to the work the company is doing, and find greater satisfaction in their own work.