Mixing Business With Business Romance
What are business romantics and why do you feel they are so important?
A business romantic is someone who is comfortable presenting not only the logical, rational side of his or her personality, but the emotional and creative side, too. That’s important because we spend the majority of our waking hours at work and often show up with only a narrow slice of who we are. People are emotional beings, but because feelings and sentiment are generally seen in a negative light, we tamp down that side of ourselves. The workplace can divorce large parts of our humanity as a result. Businesses are missing out on the creativity, inventiveness and spirit that come when our softer side is valued and given a chance to come out of the shadows.
What’s in it for the business?
Nearly every business I’ve worked with wants to drive change, but whether or not that change sticks depends a great deal on the type of culture an organization instills. Business romance, as I’ve defined it, is hugely important in shaping a culture of engagement and attracting and retaining employees. Younger hires are much more interested in work they find meaningful. Survey after survey shows they want an authentic environment. Such factors often outweigh compensation. Organizations that turn a blind eye to those realities will have a harder time holding onto star talent.
Some companies assume fun perks, like foosball tables in the break room, set the tone I’m talking about, but these are just superficial changes. Employees are looking for something more substantive, a workplace where they can express their creativity and are empowered to invest in their own ideas.
Your subtitle says “quantify nothing,” but businesses have to quantify many things. So, what do you mean?
There’s a tendency for companies to want to quantify everything. To many leaders and executives, there is just no other truth. I’m not against data. I’m just against the myopic belief that it’s the only truth. Some elements of the data-driven life are good. But it is not the only lens. It has always bothered me that in business, whoever had the numbers won. We need to appreciate that non-quantifiable things are valuable, too.
How do you respond to those who believe data and analytics will ultimately dictate front-line decisions and that, if anything, the business environment will become more prescriptive?
All industries must be built on creativity. If we try to hardwire that through data, I believe we will fail. I work in architecture, and we have clients who might prefer to let data dictate how we design, but while numbers are an important element, there is so much more that goes into truly breakthrough innovation. If efficiency becomes an organization’s over-riding principle, that company will have little prospect of remaining innovative. Some essential leap of faith is needed. Those who have it will outperform others.
How does a company strike the right balance between business romance and predictability?
Human nature craves both stability and spontaneity. We like routine, but at the same time we want adventure. The reality is that we need both. Systems would fail if everything were in flux all the time, but we also need the stimulation that comes from trying something new or different. Instilling that doesn’t require much in the way of investment or even big changes. Often, it’s simple things. Instead of having that weekly status meeting in a conference room, take it outside. I know one company that sent a work team all the way to Italy and housed everyone in an apartment for a week or two. People still had to work, but the change in surroundings and the novelty of the whole experience had a liberating effect. People felt more unfettered to be creative. But smaller changes can have an equally big effect, such as pushing people into tasks that are a stretch beyond their current skills so they’re forced to think on their feet. For example, swap desks or even roles for the day. Or host PowerPoint Karaoke competitions in which people have to make up voice-overs as they see a deck of slides for the first time.
How would a manager go about injecting a little more business romance into the office?
Here are some strategies that I’ve found that work and that I try to implement in my own company. It doesn’t matter how large or small your company or role are. Even if you’re a small cog in a 50,000 person organization, there are wonderful ways to create business romance.
- Organize a dinner, but don’t just include your team. Mix it up. Make the destination somewhere different. Give the dinner a mission, maybe it’s brainstorming, maybe it’s a case study, something that requires people to engage in a way that falls outside their typical job responsibilities.
- Give more than you take, not just altruistic tasks, but excessive moments of kindness. It is incredible how productive that makes one feel.
- Create opaque, ambiguous experiences. A sense of mystique is a powerful thing. So find ways to create mystery.
- Stand still and do nothing. Solitude is an expression of individuality. Our desire to be inclusive sometimes finds us on conference calls or in meetings with a cast of dozens. Create space for individuals to have silence.
- Engage deeply in one project. Resist the temptation to stretch teams across multiple processes. Allow them the discovery that comes from deeply focusing on a single topic.
This interview first appeared on IBM Think Exchange.