The New Cubicle Revolution

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Julie Clow, author of "The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence for All."

The Work Revolution
The Work Revolution

Jonathan Rosenberg, a former Google executive, once wrote: “If we both agree, one of us is redundant.” The first time I read that, I vehemently disagreed. And then I laughed.

The workplace is an environment in which we train people to perform their tasks and jobs according to exacting specifications, or, at the very least, according to “best practices.”

Managers drive for conformity and consistency, so much better for ensuring on-time delivery of quality products and services and forecasting quarterly earnings. Dutifully, we show up to work the same time each morning in khakis and polo shirts, conforming to the “business casual” dress codes.

But is this really the best way to run our businesses?

Maybe we have it exactly wrong.

Maybe we should all be wildly different from each other in every way, down to the way in which we get our work done.

To consider why this might be true, let’s take a quick look at our reality. First of all, assembly lines no longer dominate the work environment; it’s now about ideas and information and knowledge and innovation. We work in a global world with team members scattered across time zones, doing work every hour of every day. There is no longer such a thing as a “traditional” family, and individuals have widely different needs for their personal lives. However, we are still trapped in the 9-to-5 rule-driven management style that came into vogue during the Industrial Revolution. The keys to business success are changing, and we have yet to revolt against the herd-based assumptions of management.

In "The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence for All", I outline the guiding principles I believe will lead us gracefully into the new era of work. Surprisingly enough, Rosenberg’s quote gives us a head start in figuring out what this looks like.

It’s about individual strengths, not job slots. Rather than defining static job roles with defined responsibilities and tasks neatly parsed out within a team, why not hire individuals with a diversity of strengths and let them figure out who is best suited for the various responsibilities? This frees us all to become clear on roles that energize and excite us versus tasks that suck the very life out of our days. Luckily enough, what sucks for you may very well be in my zone of genius. For example, I love coding tedious data in long spreadsheets. Really.

The more diverse we are, the better the wisdom of the crowds. Collective intelligence is a powerful force that can enable organizations to efficiently tap into the brilliance of their highly educated employees. For example, Googleroutinely runs a Bureaucracy Busters campaign each year to identify and fix the worst inefficiencies in the organization. Employees contribute the ideas and vote on them; the most popular ones win. All the leaders have to do is ask for the ideas and let them roll in. And most of the time, the employees suggest and initiate the best solutions, too. Abandoning top-down management in favor of grassroots empowerment fuels the fires of innovation like never before. Here’s the catch: collective intelligence requires diversity to be effective.

If we accept our diversity as a given, then schedules are anathema to progress. We all have different energy cycles, but we still insist on individuals force-fitting their days to conform to the traditional workday hours. Unless you are a trader or a school teacher, this makes no sense. Why not let individuals do work when they feel the most energy? You don’t want me to be doing important work for you at 8:00 a.m. Trust me on that.

It’s about impact, not activities. What all of this implies is that we can do a much better job of focusing on the impact of individuals’ work rather than face time, time sheets, and hours logged. Or the clothes we wear. Let’s get clear about what problems we are trying to solve in our businesses. And then let’s set our employees free to debate with vehement disagreement to figure out the best solutions.

Julie Clow, author of The Work Revolution: Freedom and Excellence for All (Wiley, April 2012), started her career at a training development company in Orlando, Florida, and quickly rose to become the Chief Learning Officer. She joined Google in 2006 and spent five years there leading team effectiveness, leadership, management, and organizational culture initiatives. She currently serves as the head of learning and development for a mid-size investment management company in New York, NY.

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks