MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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Filtering by Tag: organizational design

Linknotes | 20 January 2019

Linknotes for 20 January 2019

Residential building quality

Curbed has a nice review of the recent history of residential construction intending to uncover the validity of the statement that “They don’t build them like they used to.” 

While there are a handful of wonderful postmodern residences, and while a handful of architects continue the tradition of building fine homes, there are very few residences being built for anyone other than the ultra-wealthy, and almost none being built in the reigning deconstructivist and parametric styles of today’s big architects. This disconnection of architectural culture from the residential, indeed, from the culture of homemaking itself, is perhaps the most poignant truth within the statement “We don’t build like we used to.” 

How have building materials changed over time? - Curbed

Street level retail – other uses

Our cities and certain neighborhoods experience cycles of value in real estate. Street level retail , and restaurants as a major sub-set, may be among the more volatile of the visible types. Several businesses are now offering mothballed restaurants and other retail the benefit of temporary leases or licenses to activate the space and street with coworking and other business uses. 

In coworking era, pricey urban real estate does double duty  - Curbed

The pairing of strong and weak technologies

Chris Dixon quotes George Bernard Shaw —

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

He then goes on to paraphrase —

Weak technologies adapt to the world as it currently exists. Strong technologies adapt the world to themselves. Progress depends on strong technologies. 

Strong and Weak Technologies – cdixon blog

The city is not a computer

The increasing implementation of “smart city” infrastructure now makes evident the overlay of metrics that may be inappropriate and perhaps even destructive to nature of what makes great cities great. 

In this new political age, all rhetoric demands scrutiny. At the highest levels of government, we see evidence and quantitative data manipulated or manufactured to justify reckless orders, disrupting not only “politics as usual,” but also fundamental democratic principles. Much of the work in urban tech has the potential to play right into this new mode of governance.

The author goes on to conclude – 

Instead of more gratuitous parametric modeling, we need to think about urban epistemologies that embrace memory and history; that recognize spatial intelligence as sensory and experiential; that consider other species’ ways of knowing; that appreciate the wisdom of local crowds and communities; that acknowledge the information embedded in the city’s facades, flora, statuary, and stairways; that aim to integrate forms of distributed cognition paralleling our brains’ own distributed cognitive processes.

We must also recognize the shortcomings in models that presume the objectivity of urban data and conveniently delegate critical, often ethical decisions to the machine. We, humans, make urban information by various means: through sensory experience, through long-term exposure to a place, and, yes, by systematically filtering data. It’s essential to make space in our cities for those diverse methods of knowledge production. And we have to grapple with the political and ethical implications of our methods and models, embedded in all acts of planning and design. City-making is always, simultaneously, an enactment of city-knowing — which cannot be reduced to computation.

A City Is Not a Computer

Data versus narrative

Much of our practice in the domain of workplace planning and design has been driven by, or implies it has been driven by, data. I have, however, become increasingly concerned that the data-driven workplace is a workplace that drives people, purpose and performance from it. The data-driven workplace is about a financial portfolio and not about people and what they do to achieve the organization’s purpose. 

Portfolios today are assembled via math and marketed via story telling. 

This article reminds us, however, of the wishful thinking and cognitive bias that may move the design of the workplace into similar faulted areas. That is, that our approach may not be one or the other, but that each informs the other. 

Narrative or Data? Yes. - The Big Picture

Data, narrative, community

Perhaps neither data nor narrative, nor its combination is adequate to inform the design of the workplace. There certainly are many other factors about culture, behavior, productivity, purpose, organization, management, work types and more that could or should inform any design program, project or problem. 

This discussion of community as the foundation for organization is illuminating in that regard. 

I am focusing on communities here because communities come together and cohere very differently. They are usually aligned around a purpose larger than each individual; membership is usually voluntary which means people go where they are drawn to go. Diverse people connect who may “normally” not have known each other, creating greater opportunities for serendipity and innovation. Communities allow lurkers to also exist within its ecosystem, something teams cannot do. I believe lurkers carry immense value as they often become channels of cross-pollination between communities and are a critical part of the weak-tie network making a community more diverse, resilient and porous. And most importantly, communities carry a sense of belonging to something beyond the self. All of these contribute to make communities adept at feeling into the ecosystem, seeing the system through different lenses, caring about the system, and responding to the emergent with deeper insight. This is what tapping into the power of collective intelligence is about.

One of the core purposes of the workplace, of the office, is to bring people together to do things that they as individuals could not achieve. That is, perhaps the mission to  build and apply collective intelligence is the right focus for workspace design. 

Organizations as Communities — Part 2 – Sahana Chattopadhyay – Medium

Space and knowledge

I love this —

Emerging evidence suggests that the brain encodes abstract knowledge in the same way that it represents positions in space, which hints at a more universal theory of cognition.

The Brain Maps Out Ideas and Memories Like Spaces | Quanta Magazine

Organizational culture

Does this idea apply to the nurturing of culture in the workspace? Or is this idea a concern because it perpetuates groupthink in smaller organizational units? 

The propagation of beliefs and behaviors is influenced as much by the meanings we ascribe to them as by our social circles. 

The implication is that “social contagion” — the concept that ideas spread as viruses — is being challenged by the idea of “associative diffusion” — the concept that the relationship between ideas and the context in which they are received is the primary way that beliefs are formed. The theory holds that the things being transmitted between individuals are perceptions about what beliefs or behaviors are compatible with one another. Meaning is found in the associations between the perceptions. 

Beyond Social Networks: How Cultural Beliefs Really Spread | Stanford Graduate School of Business

Experiential office space


Part of the impetus to offer more to tenants — who are themselves trying to attract and retain talent — is that WeWork and other shared office concepts have upped the competition when it comes to making office space more appealing.

For JLL, Experiential Office Space Is The Next Big Thing

Outdoor office space as a differentiator in corporate real estate 

There is an increasing focus on how workspaces affect the health of people in them. The concept of biophilia is moving quickly into the commercial office market place as a differentiator. 

“There’s not a developer or forward-thinking building owner today that doesn’t have this top of mind,” said Paul J. Amrich, a vice chairman for the New York area at CBRE, a real estate services company.

Fueling this trend is growing awareness of the health and wellness benefits from contact with nature, a concept known as biophilia. Exposure to nature has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone, as well as stimulate creativity. Employers competing for the best workers are using outdoor amenities to show they care about their staff’s well-being.

The Next Frontier in Office Space? The Outdoors - The New York Times

The corporate real estate industry is no longer about corporate real estate

The experience piece is but one factor is a rapidly evolving change in thinking about the workspace and its design and management. One of the more significant trend/threats is the emergence of “Space as a Service.” 

Everything we are familiar with about how we design, build, occupy, manage and value all the spaces and places around us will change fundamentally over the next ten years….Any company dependent on attracting, retaining and making productive high skilled employees WILL become Space as a Service minded.

Space as a Service: The Trillion Dollar Hashtag | Propmodo

Boss-less or just a new kind of manager? 

A number of companies have recently formed or tested organizational and management models that eliminate hierarchy and more to a more autonomous team and project-oriented basis. 

Today’s business landscape features exciting developments in information technology, networking and collaboration that have led to new forms of organisation, production and distribution. Far from making management obsolete, however, these changes make good management more important than ever. The shift from management as direction to management as making and enforcing the rules is slowly entering the management literature and the business-school curriculum. That’s a paradigm shift worth embracing.

No boss? No thanks. Why managers are more important than ever. | Aeon Essays

Why you should design for both culture and engagement in the same place


There is thus a time and place to focus on employee engagement, and a time and place to focus on culture evolution. Let’s not conflate the two, or we may end up solving the wrong problem
(“Improving Company Culture is not About Providing Free Snacks,” Alice Zhou, Strategy+Business, July 31, 2017)

I’m not so sure about that. When guarding against the conflation of the content of organizational culture and employee engagement, could it be the wrong move to separate times and places? Maybe the right move is to design a place with the content to nurture the continuity and durability of culture yet adaptable to times of changing focus and engagement.

I appreciate the idea that a heightened quality of experience that is characterized by the spirit that we call engagement may be episodic or periodic. Indeed, the concept of “flow” (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) or of scenius (Brian Eno) that might imply high levels of engagement seem in their nature to be transitory, unstable or short-lived.

Yet, it seems that achieving these states of high engagement and performance may be more easily achieved in well-developed cultures if, by culture, we mean a set of behaviors reflecting the values and unique identity of an organization. We expect these behaviors to be constant and culture to be durable and stable.

As a company confronts increasingly complex matters in highly dynamic conditions, however, the pace of its work cannot be a constant. Different conditions in changing contexts require an agility in organizational response, an ability to respond to conditions or develop products or services in modes that are simultaneously or sequentially fast, and slow, and spiky.

This responsiveness will then require ongoing changes in the organization of the organization. A small team of people may meet to generate an idea and, with proof-of-concept and support, grow over time into an organization of hundreds. An organization of hundreds may, at times, need to shape a war room for a small swat team to quickly confront a problem and find a solution. An organization may, in confronting the digital imperative, shift its culture a bit to accommodate the talents and work modes of a new class of employees. 

For people to engage, however, for employees to assemble the energy to meet the mission of the organization, for staff to commit and appreciate the experience of that commitment, they’ll look for assurances of the authenticity of the culture that seeks their engagement as well as the proof that they’ll be supported.

The place of work, the design of the work space, is a powerful signal of this authenticity and support. Overlooking its relevance can erode credibility and trust. How can I believe in a team culture when you isolate me in my high-walled cubicle? How can I believe in a culture of collaboration when the only space where I can engage with others is in a scheduled conference room? How do look forward to a culture of innovation when nothing in the workplace displays the products of my contribution? How do I embrace the values of the organization and behave in accordance with them when my leadership is invisible?

In the best of cases, and organization’s purpose and its culture align exquisitely. That alignment may be the key factor that nurtures great employee experience, that enables agility, and that nurtures engagement through the variable paces of business activity.

That may also be why we think that the conflation of culture and engagement in the place of work as an appropriate goal for design. In that regard, we see the design of the workspace not as independent of culture as Strategy+Business claims, but critical to its strength and viability.

In the course of events in society and business, different times and different contexts breed different conditions for response and action. Employee engagement is critical to success. We consider the activity of organizations and their components as variable, at times fast, slow or spiky, and design the workspace with the agility to respond at pace.

Culture, of course, is durable. We hear the description of culture in many ways but seek consistently to read, or support, the behaviors that are the true signal of organizational DNA. We design to make those behaviors visible in the workspace so that others may read their authenticity and imitate them.

 As we’ve consistently said, the leading organizations of the future will be the ones who “get” the experience of work.  Getting that experience is simultaneously about culture and engagement in the same place.

No organization design without building design, no building design without organization design

Buildings and transformation

For more than a decade, we and our peers have contended to ourselves and to our clients that the workplace is a strategic asset, a critical component in the array of tools that an organization deploys to achieve its aims. I have to admit that, at times, I had felt a bit self-serving using this language, and a bit embarrassed by the groupthink characterizing our profession. 

But we had, in background, felt enormous change emerging in the world in which we practice. This significance of the essential relationship between buildings and getting things done was affirmed not just by our senses but also by clients whose projects were driven by the need to change their organization, operations and culture to achieve or sustain leadership in their industries. 

We began to realize that almost every organizational design initiative was accompanied by a facilities project, and every building project arose from an organizational redesign initiative. 

The first wave of this change was in the dot-com boom. The growth of the technology sector, the youth at its core, and coding as one of the new ways of working generated a more casual-looking yet productively interactive workspace. This was not style but substance at work. 

As other organizations began to confront a need for more integrated solutions in an increasingly complex world, multidisciplinary collaboration as a work mode became a driver of workplace form. Support for serendipitous conversation and for intense team focus generated a workplace with a significantly varied granularity of space and form. 

And now, as industrial companies begin to uncover the exploding potential in the hybrid of analog and digital, the mechanical and the electronic, and product and services, a new wave of workspace change is emerging. We are seeing the rise of an entirely new kind of organization. We are seeing what some now call the most significant change in the manufacturing organization since the Second Industrial Revolution more than 100 years ago. 

Does this latest wave of organizational change look like these others? Are industrial companies using facilities as a core asset in the change they seek? Are these new buildings arising from simple expansion needs, or is there something else at work here?

Why is it that organizational transformation projects evoke building projects? Here are three examples.

Evolving from moving air to storing power

Dyson is well known for its air-moving technology. The company’s “cyclone” powered vacuums are iconic, soon to be made autonomous, and have changed the entire market for home products. You may also have experienced its hand-dryers in airports and commercial buildings, ending the paradigm of having to wipe your hands on your pants after using other driers. Its ventilation fans are now also air cleaners, and the company will soon roll out a new technology in hair dryers. 

In the background, the company is also moving into other emerging technologies, and not all about air movement. Lighting is one of those areas, and battery power another.

But product line expansion is not the reason for its investment in a new research and development center. Yes, scale is part of it. Dyson recognizes that a breakthrough product may only arise out of thousands of failures (“For engineering, it’s a good thing because you’re forced to make mistakes and learn from them. You gain this visceral, tactile understanding.”). The company now needs to hire thousands more people to participate in that exploration. 

But there are other, more significant drivers for its new building. 

First, there is the DNA of the company. Like Apple, Dyson is fiercely committed to the design excellence and the entire product experience.  Anthony Bamford, chairman of the UK construction equipment company JCB, was recently quoted in the Financial Times saying, “Dyson is a brilliant engineer and an exceptional designer. His love of product sets him apart — he cares about how a product looks, how it performs, how it can be different. As an iconoclast, he’ll develop many concepts . . . Those that [work] are wonderful examples of British creativity.” That quest for design excellence meant the development of 5,127 prototypes for the bagless vacuum cleaner, 1,000-plus prototypes for the 360 Eye robot, and 600 prototypes for the Supersonic hair dryer. 

Then, there is the product development model refined in previous Dyson buildings. There is an essential openness through every part of the product development process. From its visit, the Financial Times says, “We tour through the prototyping area, with 3D printing machines that use 30 tonnes of nylon powder a year to create models. Next comes product testing, with robots pushing vacuum cleaners over patches of dust. Finally, we stand on the edge of a space that was once a production line for washing machines, and is now packed with desks bearing computer screens. Some 1,000 young engineers cram into the space.”

Then, there is the presence of everybody, even Dyson in the workspace. Dyson spends a lot of time in the laboratory, with significant effect. Dyson’s chairman and chief engineer talks of his monthly “James reviews.” He says “It can be nerve-wracking because he’s so inquisitive. He’ll always ask you a question you don’t have an answer to. We’ll sit for hours brainstorming and we’ll filter it down to what we think works best and build a prototype. James will say, ‘Have you thought about this?’ and we’ll say, ‘Well no, we haven’t.’”

Finally, there is competition. We know from our other research that there is a significant shortage of engineers in almost every developed economy. Britain is no exception, with more than 60,000 open job opportunities seeking talent. Every product design and development company in every industry is in competition with each other. The distribution of product development around the globe is part of the effort to find and engage top talent wherever they may live. The leading companies also realize that multidisciplinary collocation is a principal underlying condition for generating new product ideas and speeding their development. 

Dyson now has plans to double the number of products it has on the market by 2020. To lead in that competition for talent and for new product, Dyson has designed and built Building D9 – a top-secret $2000 million building intended as a “gleaming cornerstone” in the company’s efforts to draw top talent right out of college to try, fail and then win with innovation and product design and performance excellence. 

Moving from hardware to software, from machines to outcomes, from big iron to smart applications

Among the great by-products of all of the electronic controls and sensors built into modern operating industrial products is the huge amount to data generated by them. That data is a large part of the “big data” that is now the focus of almost every company’s strategy. 

GE, the celebrated manufacturer and funder of most of the big operating things in machines and infrastructure is now transforming itself to achieve a new generation of industrial leadership based on that data. The collection, analysis and application of that information can help the company and its products perform better and, more importantly, could help shape a lifetime of GE-provided services associated with that equipment. That transformation is what Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, has called “probably the most important thing in my career…it’s this or bust.” 

Now, GE is in the start-up space, literally and figuratively. The company is investing a billion dollars in a software development operation, a “center of excellence,” in San Ramon for an initial team of 1400 people. They are trying on the Silicon Valley way of doing things, all of them carrying copies of The Lean Startup. Immelt has been quoted saying, “If you went to bed last night as an industrial company, you're going to wake up this morning as a software and analytics company.” Everything about the company is in play from its customer value proposition, to its organizational structure, to its culture, and to its methods of recognizing revenue. 

The company’s new division brings together the its information technology, industrial security operations and software center under one roof in San Ramon. Although acknowledging that technology would allow for a dispersed virtual operation, the innovation and speed necessary to achieve and sustain leadership required a place where everybody could locate together. A new kind of space was also an essential tool in visualizing and affirming the company’s commitment to change and an attractor to the kind of talent the company needed for its transformation. 

The interior of the operation is unlike any associated with the GE of Big Iron. The look and feel is, however, familiar to Silicon Valley with its concrete floors, open workspaces, bench seating, whiteboards, couches, balconies and kitchens. There is also a design studio to foster collaboration in product and services development. That space, in itself, breaks new ground of the industrial company and is a model for the company’s transformation. Working directly with customers and suppliers, the highly adaptable and customizable space space will help design teams reduce the product development cycle and increase the speed and success rate of its customers’ adoption. 

The building is also a model for transformation of other parts of the company. Employees from other locations are sent to San Ramon for technology briefings and immersion into the new culture. The goal is to infuse the work styles, culture and productivity of Silicon Valley into GE’s industrial manufacturing soul. The design of the workspace, in other words, is the visual catalyst for radical transformation of the company. 

Moving from cars to mobility, from products to services

Ford is another great example of an industrial company using building design to drive organizational design and cultural transformation. With an intention to evolve from a car company to a mobility company, Ford is now investing more than a billion dollars to rapidly remake its Dearborn, Michigan Research and Engineering Center and, ultimately, its corporate headquarters. 

After more than a year of on-site research and gathering insights from other places, Ford came to the clear realization that its campus was both out of date for the design and development of vehicles and totally out of step with the kind of work environment it would need to sustain its leadership position as Uber, Google, electrification and autonomy redefined the auto industry and defined the new world of mobility. 

Ford found, as others do, that the shape of the workplace significantly influences the culture of the organization and the performance of its people. While describing itself as a “family” company, Ford reinforced a hierarchical organization of power and privilege in its workspaces. Any attempt to move to a more agile, entrepreneurial, risk-taking culture could not be achieved in its thin buildings which were designed in an era when secretaries in anterooms controlled access to executives and where the conference room and who was invited in to it defined status. 

Much of the campus was also designed to incrementally develop technology and products that now increasingly look irrelevant. Gasoline engines and individual car ownership are becoming overtaken by electrical propulsion, shared transportation and vehicle autonomy. Bill Ford has looked into the future of the world’s rapid urbanization to recognize that congestion, especially in the rapidly growing emerging economies where his future market is, means a whole new way of thinking about transportation, transit and mobility. 

So now a design process is underway in which much of the existing campus will be erased and a new set of buildings put in place. The new buildings will be designed with an eye on the emerging generation of designers and engineers, and the essential new hybrid culture where hardware and software engineers work together on the tough problems rapid urbanization, mega-cities, and broader concepts of mobility. Ford’s master plan and its building prototypes are seen as the principal strategic tool to attract, engage and develop the talent that will reshape and redefine the next generations of the company. 

Why do they do this? 
Some speculations

Why is this relationship between organizational redesign initiatives and new building projects so consistent? We might speculate on a few reasons from these three stories. 

These are systemic flips, moves from one state to another. Natural forms (caterpillar/butterfly) may be an appropriate conceptual model illuminating that change in function means a change in form. 

Everything about work is changing. The digital transformation in industry is evoking entirely new business models. Those new or hybrid models require new kinds of talent in the organization and the new ways of working that they bring. Things move faster, so the more formal and hierarchical forms of organization and operation present too many barriers. New workmodes and the rapid generation of new businesses demand new environments. 

Most business messaging seems to be regarded skeptically. The CEO's declaration of an intention to change won't be considered authentic without clear visual evidence of the move. Neither Immelt's declaration that GE should become a digital business, nor Dyson's move out of air, nor Ford's move to mobility could hardly be received as serious if there were no other visible evidence of the company's commitment to change. 

Each culture, it seems, has its own footprint. Family and village and city and tribe are descriptors both of the way that people come together but also specific forms that support their activities. Business models are cultural descriptors as well, and the culture of the organization is authentic when the form of the company and the form of the space are aligned.  





The discipline of disciplines

the discipline of disciplines The Glass House is one of modern American architecture's great icons. Originally built in 1949, it served as architect Philip Johnson's own residence or weekend retreat until his death in 2005. Now a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it is the site and symbol of a continuing conversation about architecture, design and society.

Glass House Conversations is the online version of the spirit of the foundation continuing the dialogue there. In their definition of purpose, they say that "each Monday, a host posts a provocation. People have only five days to respond. The boundaries of the conversation are set to just one week, ending on Friday evenings. After comments have closed a “Final Word” is chosen from the replies."

This week, for example, Paddy Harrington, Creative Director in Bruce Mau's office in Toronto, has asked the following question –

"A recent episode of RadioLab on the subject of cities discusses the importance of difference as a catalyst that allows life to flourish in an urban context. Similarly, the complexity of global systems bring new challenges, demanding that disciplines that have traditionally worked quite separately now work together to find appropriately complex solutions. The result is that the boundaries between disciplines seem to grow blurrier every day: architecture merges with graphic design merges with strategic consulting... Do we gain more by protecting the integrity of our practices from possible deterioration caused by outside forces, or are the possibilities generated in the friction caused by difference too great to ignore?"

In your opinion, is there still a benefit to boundaries between disciplines? Why or why not?

The rest of the conversation, including our contribution, is here.

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The latest workplace design trends

Among the most common expressions of advice as anxiety turns to optimism in the economy relates to the preparedness and actions of leaders. "You must rapidly move from the status quo," so many advisers say, "and establish and consistently articulate a vision for moving forward." It may be this vision quest that so many organizations are going through that makes the request for a review of trends such a frequent agenda item in our conversations with current and potential clients. As I noted in our last post, a review of what others are doing now provides information, a measure of pace, a confidence in direction, and other assurances that you are on the right path. I cautioned, however, that trends, in this sense of "solutions," are more the evidence of what others may have found to be the right move to make, yet may neither connect authentically to your own purposes nor deliver similar or related results.

Redefining trends

I thought I'd return to this subject, with a slightly different skew. Reviewing trends as "solutions" to help shape your path forward begins at the wrong point and may lead to bad results. Understanding and analyzing trends that shape what you do and how you do it is an essential discipline in shaping and communicating vision and purpose, and in shaping and delivering services and products that have value to those you serve.

More specifically, shaping a workplace transformation program based on the trends you see in the actions of others may be more harmful than doing nothing. Shaping a new workspace around the trends and directions driving the value in what you do can be a powerful agent in sustainable leadership.

Transform, and activate

A major social services organization was facing challenges brought by the reduction of resources as a result of the economic collapse, and a corresponding rise in demand for their services. The leader of the organization recognized that they would have to begin to do more with less. He quickly realized that he could never accomplish that mission-rich but resource-spare agenda in the type of workplace where they had been working. Although a generous gift from a financial services company, it was generations out of date, compartmentalized, and walnut-paneled. And it dragged on their energy and purpose.

This leader researched trends in workplace design and spoke with architects, designers and furniture manufacturers. He began to form a vision of the workspace concepts that he believed would characterize the type of organization they would need to become – open, collaborative, agile, responsive. He then embarked on a major program to find and design the right type of space. He included in it all of the elements that he had been advised were the components of a more open and collaborative culture. He then moved his organization in and waited for the culture to take shape.

After several months, this same leader began to shape another program – this time to "activate" the workplace. Even though his organization's workspace was at the leading edge of a typology for action-oriented organizations, the results he expected were not materializing. Returning to the recent reformulation of the organization's mission, he put together a proposal to augment the earlier project with artifacts of the unique work his organization did, and more representative of how work is actually done in the organization. They are now implementing a tuning and amplification of the concept in place.

Touch down, and touch base

A leading consulting organization had an innovation culture and a staff who worked closely with their clients in modes that were highly mobile. They were able to design and implement mobile workstyles that progressively reduced demand for their own corporate real estate. Each iteration of the program brought the ratio of people to seats higher and higher, and the ratio of real estate to people lower and lower.

The people who worked for them had no problem with the evolution of these programs. They did their best work in close contact with their clients, and traveled around the world to deliver their advice. The company became a model and their workplace transformations became benchmarks for others, the influential origin of a trend toward aggressive mobile workforce solutions.

This company however, began to have problems with the results of these programs. They had so successfully supported mobile workstyles that their people rarely had contact anymore with the company or their peers. The knowledge they had when they entered the company was not expanding, and the experience they gained in their work was not being transferred. Their brand power, formed from collective intelligence, experience and expertise, was eroding.

One component of their solution was, oddly, a workplace transformation program. They developed a workplace that was so authentically responsive to the experiences and behaviors of their "road warriors" that it became their preferred place to touch down. These "offices" became the places where they found colleagues and traded stories, where they updated and sustained their sense of the brand, and nourished their intellectual energies before heading off on the next engagement. The company is now making headlines again, and the next wave in its business innovations currently under way.

Envision, and transform

A large creative services organization composed of several advertising and media companies recently began a lease consolidation program to bring all of the companies together in one place. These companies were fiercely independent, proud of their brand legacy and, in some cases, competitive with each other for clients and accounts. And they were very resistive to the program.

They participated, however, in a series of exercises that looked at the changing nature of the business they were in, the drivers of change for themselves and for their clients and customers, and the products and services they would need to develop to survive the change and to achieve and sustain leadership. This analysis led to insights that allowed them to envision the behaviors and experiences that would be essential to how they would frame and deliver those services. They then shaped a workplace and workspace transformation program around those experiences and behaviors.

Within a few months of moving into their new workspace, their principal customer, a global manufacturer, complemented them on the impact he felt to his business from the change that had taken place in theirs. Both the companies and their customers had survived a very challenging business context and today are leaders in their markets.

M-Shaped Strategies – A process inversion

These are the successful stories. In each case, these organizations shifted direction from initial intentions and achieved results from solutions that were original to their purposes. So many other organizations in these times, however, are starting with goals of "cost savings" and embracing workplace transformation trends and implementing programs that shed and minimize real estate but threaten the effectiveness of their mission.

The identification and analysis of trends is very important in the formation of a vision or development of a strategy for a robust and sustainable future. The trends to study in this context are not solutions, however, but problems. These trends are the weaker and stronger signals of emerging change, or of dissatisfaction with the now, or of a shift in value or values that provide the insight shaping the moves you want to make to be effective, or to lead, or to fulfill a purpose and meet a need in the future. They are what Roger Martin calls the "mystery."

These trends define the context for what you will do as an organization. Clayton Christensen calls this the "job" you are asked to do, the root problem your customer wants you to solve, or the result they want to achieve through your products or services. In the examples I cited above, the social services organization's customers wanted advocacy, the consulting organization's customers wanted to trust in and receive the value of the brand, and the media company's customers wanted integrated creative communications.

The role of the workplace in each of these "jobs-to-be-done" was influenced by considerations of functional, emotional and social experiences of both staff and customers in these organizations. People who worked for the social services organization or who had an interest to contribute to its programs could be moved beyond volunteering and donating to active advocacy by becoming immersed in the story of the community they would affect. People who worked for the consulting organization and their clients would progress throughout the exchange of experiences and knowledge gained in a global practice by its members. Customers of the organization composed of the media and advertising organizations would benefit from the creative and coordinated programs developed by in the collaborative and open culture of its agencies.

The jobs-to-be-done and the understanding of the experiences of staff and customers of these organizations were the underlying and salient considerations that then shaped their workplace strategies, programs, and designs. Each of these organizations, achieving and sustaining leadership through what they do are now effectively, trend setters, and have the potential to influence the moves that others make. But the strategies and concepts used by the agencies, for example, which could be seen as representative of a trend in design for "agile" and "collaborative" and "team-based" workplaces, would be inappropriate or insufficient for the jobs that the other organizations were trying to do even though they, too, wanted to support agile, collaborative teams.

A recommendation

I would recommend an inversion in the process and origins of the conversations we've seen as a trend in the quest for trends.

If you are an organization who also believes that the nature of your workspace influences the impact of your work, try inverting the conventional process. Try starting the conversation with your architect or designer by telling him or her about the trends deeply affecting your clients or customers – the "mysteries" in your scan and the "jobs" your clients want done – and how they might affect the direction you feel you need to take as an organization. I assume he or she will then engage with you in a conversation about the experiences that are at the core of your offering, and shelve the conventional presentation of the portfolio and the latest styles of workplace design.

I think you'll be happier.


© MEREDITH Strategy & Design | M-Shaped Strategies ®

Clayton Christensen, The Innovator's Prescription

Roger Martin, The Design of Business

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