GLOW: THE NEW GREAT WORK EXPERIENCE
by Lynda Gratton
The Organization |
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People whose door is always open, who solicit and welcome input from colleagues, and who have certain flair are people who radiate energy. They create a dynamic, positive and energized work environment. They glow, and create value for themselves and the organization.

In times of recession and job uncertainty, it is crucial that each one of us is able prove our worth to our employer. It has never been more important to be energized, innovative and able to work effectively as a member of a team.

Inevitably, recessions lead to an overriding focus on a company’s finance function, and often, budgets are cut in the more creative areas such as innovation, research and development, and marketing. However, while for organizations the focus may be on cost-cutting, this does not mean we should spend our time simply on focusing on making savings. I believe that this renewed focus on creating value leaves the door open for the adoption of new innovation practice and the learning of new habits and skills. These pressures and fissures within an organisation – while difficult at the time – can over time yield fresh ideas, engaging experiments and interesting adaptations.

So rather than focusing on the past and asking what we did wrong or could have done differently, the challenge is to be receptive to change and open to new ways of working. This will require us to question fundamental assumptions about the way we work and how businesses are run. We have the opportunity to change how we work – for the better. For organisations, this means fostering teamwork and knowledge share; for the individual, this means broadening our knowledge and skills base, and unlocking new ways of cooperating with colleagues and within our networks.

Work is how we increasingly define ourselves as people: it’s what we spend the majority of our lives engaged in. Each one of us deserves to live a fulfilling work life and to do this we need to work on creating a great environment for ourselves, and for our colleagues. We need to stay ahead of the curve and be the first port of call when new opportunities arise. We can do this by Glowing – by radiating positive energy that fosters a great working experience, and that excites and ignites others through our own inspiration, and delivers superior value through our work.

Too often though, we think that to be invaluable means being first into the office and last out; working on our days off; and taking on every task asked of us. That just isn’t the case any more. Thanks to technology and cheap outsourced labour (as well as young graduates snapping at our heels in a shrinking job market); there is always someone who will do the task faster, quicker, and cheaper.

Are you a Fred or a Frank?

How do you respond to work challenges? Let’s take a look at Fred and Frank. Fred has been in his company for five years. One day his manager gives Fred a tough piece of work that really tests the limits of Fred’s competence, but he is delighted to have the opportunity. Fred decides to put his head down so he can really concentrate, and closes his office door so he will not be disturbed. He works longer and later to meet the deadline and works on the task alone to make sure that his boss realizes just how indispensable he is.

Sound familiar? That’s how most of us would react in Fred’s position. Fred’s not stupid. He assumes that what he is doing will help him stay ahead of the curve. But instead of staying ahead of the curve, he finds he increasingly becomes drained and de-energized, with stress-related headaches, and arrives home bad-tempered and irritable every night. So while Fred is working harder and longer hours, he is becoming increasingly disposable because he is failing to add significant value and is not working with flair.

Over time Fred has found that rather than enjoying the task, he is entering what I call the Big Freeze, a time when energy is drained and innovation ceases. By closing in on himself, Fred has inadvertently violated the very principles that would keep him energized, innovative and increase his value.

Or perhaps you are more like Frank than Fred? This is what happens when Frank is faced with the same challenging task. First, he turns to colleagues he trusts and who trust him and asks them for insight into the problem. Then he reaches out to his extended network to find others who have faced similar problems. He also redefines the problem in such a way that it ignites others’ interest and enthusiasm and injects energy and innovation into the community.

The result is that Frank exceeds others’ expectations because he is able to bring innovation and flair to the project. People like Frank Glow. You hear it in their positive, upbeat attitude toward life, you feel it in their warmth and emotional connectivity, and you see it in the way they connect with others, build networks, and engage with inspiring questions.

My research has shown that a majority of people feel more like Fred than Frank and spend less than 20 per cent of their working lives feeling energized, engaged, and innovative. To stay ahead of the curve, you have to work more like Frank, with more energy, enthusiasm and innovation. It is this combination that will bring you long-term success in this technology-enabled world.

How Frank learned to Glow

The best way to protect yourself from cheaper competition in the job market is to provide those human attributes that are invaluable to an organization: a creative mindset, inspiration and enthusiastic teamwork. Following years of research, I have discovered that people like Frank who Glow have mastered three distinct principles in their working life:

  • they have built deeply trusting and cooperative relationships with others (a cooperative mindset);
  • they have extended their networks beyond the obvious to encompass the unusual (jumping across worlds);
  • they are on an inner quest that ignites their own energy and that of others (igniting latent energy).

To master these three distinct principles, people who Glow are adept at understanding what they have to do as individuals, what they have to do as members of a team, and how to find their place in a company that encourages them to Glow.

Supporting people in organizations to create fulfilling work and innovative performance has been my overriding mission for the past 20 years. Over the last five years, my colleagues at the Hot Spots Movement and I have provided the tools for companies to develop Hot Spots, by supporting teams to buzz with energy and work together to create value for the bottom line. However, what we cannot guarantee is that a company will provide this fertile working atmosphere for every employee. It is important to have companies that encourage Hot Spots of energy and innovation – but we also have to learn how to motivate ourselves, our colleagues, and our business community to build the environment we need to Glow. By enhancing our working patterns and our relationships with others, we can go some way towards creating a favourable working environment, whether in a bricks and mortar office, or in cyberspace.

Creating a cooperative mindset

I have discovered that people who Glow like Frank are adept at building deep and trusting cooperative relationships with others. When you have learned to cooperate, then you are able to turn to colleagues you trust – and who trust you – and ask them for advice and insight into your tasks. This is particularly relevant when you search for new projects and opportunities that may be outside your comfort zone. Reaching out to your network will form a defining moment in your development.

People who Glow have developed the skills and habits of cooperation. They are able to reach out to colleagues because they have a warm and positive attitude toward others. At the heart of cooperation are three key habits and skills. The first is the capacity to have high quality conversations with others. The second is the habit of listening carefully to others. The third is the capacity to find teams and businesses to work in that are conducive to you being able to cooperate and to Glow. Do not be afraid to leave a job where cooperation is limited, and be courageous in moving to a new company where cooperation flourishes. I am not advocating haste (not least as the job market is so uncertain at present), but if you feel you aren’t supported in your quest to Glow, look for that support elsewhere, whether it is with a new team, on a new project, or in a new job.

Jumping across worlds

The power of networking was proved with the recent election of President Barack Obama. His campaign marked a sea-change in the political process and a return to democracy via grass-roots activism. It also clearly demonstrated the power of good old-fashioned networking. Thanks to the increase in the private and business applications of social media, word-of-mouth networking can be highly efficient and help us broaden our personal reach and influence. As well as helping you build a cooperative mindset, online networking tools are the easiest way to facilitate the jumping across worlds, and to consult people outside your normal networks and with totally different mindsets.

When you reach out to your wider network, you will come across people whose experiences and views differ significantly from your own. Opening yourself up to these new ideas will dramatically increase your ability to Glow and to innovate in your work. The further you “jump across worlds” to communicate with people from vastly different profiles, the fresher your perceptions will be.

How do you implement this principle on a daily basis? I have discovered that people who are good at jumping across worlds place a high value on their network and know precisely what their network is doing for them. They take action to increase the value of their network by seizing the right opportunities to jump the boundaries. By accessing people who are different and bring fresh perspectives and insights, they ensure that they are at the forefront of innovation. Just as there are some places where cooperation flourishes, there are also places where jumping across worlds is tough. These are the workplaces where huge walls around everything make it almost impossible for you to jump over them. The challenge is to find places where great pathways between functions or businesses or age groups have been established that you can easily tap into.

It is one thing to identify people within your organization (and outside) that will add value to your network. But how do you encourage people to cooperate with you, when there is no immediate benefit to them, and when they are likely to be overstretched as it is? Part of the reason, of course, is that by building a history of cooperation, you encourage others to cooperate with you and establish a history of reciprocity. But while this is important, it is rarely sufficient. You also need to entice and excite people.

Igniting latent energy

When you have become well-versed in cooperation and jumping across worlds, you create what I call latent energy; you have generated within yourself and in your immediate community the potential to become really energized. But in order to maximize the potential within yourself (and by association, your organization), you need to be able to ignite the latent energy, to create real innovation that is of value to yourself and to your organization.

There are three actions you can take now to support the principle of igniting latent energy. First, you can ask questions that spark energy, that engross and interest others as well as your own curiosity. These could be questions such as “how can we fundamentally change our customer experience?” to bigger questions like “how could we make a real difference in our community?” to truly enormous questions like “what does this mean for world hunger?”

Next, you can create a vision of the future that others find exciting and compelling. These are visions of the future that you and your colleagues can buy into, that encourage others to imagine the future and to become excited about being involved in that future. Finally, you can work with others to craft meaningful and exciting work.

Glowing is about living these three principles. You live them through skills, habits, and choices that reflect these principles and weave them into your day-to-day experiences.

Learning the habits and competencies to Glow are important at any time – but right now they are critical. Without change we all face the possibility of being made redundant, like Fred. But we can create value for ourselves and others even in the toughest of times. To do so we have to learn how to deeply cooperate with others, to bridge to those who are uniquely different from ourselves, and to ignite energy with interesting questions and compelling visions. These habits and competencies are crucial now and a marvellous foundation for the future.

The Author:

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is a professor at London Business School and the author of Hot Spots: why some teams, workplaces and organisations buzz with energy and others don't (FT Prentice Hall, 2007). Her newest book is Glow: how you can radiate energy, innovation and success (Berrett-Koehler, March 2009). www.hotspotsmovement.com



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