Thriving in the E-Merging Workplace

Your grandparents – perhaps your parents as well – did not work in organizations like the one you work in now! Your world is very different, possibly even unrecognizable to them. Today, people are experiencing what I call ‘the e-merging workplace’, characterized by the following realities:

  • Connectivity The Internet now gives anyone anywhere instantaneous information about anything. The result: maintaining a specific innovation as a competitive advantage is impossible for any length of time. Competitors are always ‘breathing down your neck’, copying what works as fast as they can.
  • Volatility This means that everyone—and everything—is moving all the time. As companies jockey for position, mergers and acquisitions become the fastest way to secure temporary security and market share. ‘Job security’ means moving rapidly from one company to another throughout what used to be called a ‘career’. My oldest son, who plays lead guitar in his rock band, told me, ‘Dad, no one has a career anymore. It’s actually more like a series of engagements.’ 
  • Anxiety The pace of change has picked up speed—and who thought that was possible?! This puts us in what my friend and consulting colleague, Peter Vaill, has called ‘permanent white water’, where stress and anxiety are common companions. There is never any time to rest on your paddles, because here comes the next set of rapids that must be passed through with a minimum of damage.
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These three realities create huge challenges for leaders of organizations and their people: 

  • Motivation People now need to take responsibility for their own careers. Honest companies can no longer promise lifetime employment. The challenge: How to get a new, self-motivated workforce to care about their company when they know their future is not likely to be ’25-years-of-service-and-a-gold-watch’? 
  • Productivity With employees now forced to be more self-managed, how do you get them to work together with colleagues like a high-performance team, capable of competing in a global, e-merging world?
  • Balance How to do all this while keeping body, mind, and spirit of everyone in the organization vital and healthy?

The New Leadership and Management Paradigm

After literally thousands of years of what is now seen as an old, out-of-date workplace ‘contract’, a new paradigm (way of operating), is emerging. 

  • The old paradigm: leaders and managers need to ensure a smooth operation where people do what they are told and exceptions are brought into line.
  • The new paradigm: leaders and managers—all employees for that matter, top to bottom—need to see, think, and manage their own work like performance oriented change artists. 

    The implications of this change are staggering. Even in Poland, where many managers and front line employees still ‘hunker down’ and wait to be told what to do, the only companies that will thrive long term are going to be staffed by people at every level who take matters into their own hands, making decisions that serve their even more demanding customers. The old top-down, command-and-control management approach that worked for so many centuries is finally winding down. Even in basic, repetitive operations, people who are not thinking and working like performance-oriented change artists are going to get left behind by people and teams that innovate as a matter of course. A whole new way of BEING at work is needed.

The Fundamental Survival Skill: Self-Mastery

This means it may not be possible much longer to wait to be told what to do by your manager. You may have to start managing yourself. Around 600 BCE, Lao Tsu, the Chinese sage, said it this way:

Those who know understand much about many things may be wise, but those who understand themselves are wiser. Those who are master over many may be powerful, but those who are mastering themselves are more powerful still.

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Learning self-mastery is difficult in ordinary times. In a stressful situation like a merger, it may feel impossible. This is because we instinctively want to hold on to things the way they are and the way they have been. At some point in this merger process, however, each of you is going to have to let go of something. No one’s world is going to remain the same.

The Three Folders

Perhaps this concept will help. Imagine that there are three ‘folders’ in which everything that happens in life could be placed: A blue one holding What I CAN Control, a yellow one holding What I CANNOT Control, and a red one holding What I Might Be Able to INFLUENCE.

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Let’s see how it works. . . Where would you put something like Losing Weight? Most people would place it in the folder called ‘Things I CAN Control’. But can you actually directly control your weight? If you think ‘Yes’ let’s see you directly control your weight. Let’s see you lose 10 grams right now. Ready? Go!

You can’t do it. Now you could do a lot of other things that might influence your weight, like going out and running a couple of miles, or changing the way you eat, but you cannot directly control your weight. Most things in life belong in the folder ‘Things I Might Be Able to INFLUENCE’ (by what I say and what I do). In fact, there are only three things that seem to belong in the folder called ‘Things I CAN Control’: 

  • What I SAY 
  • What I DO 
  • What I INTEND 

We can’t control what happens TO us. What we can control is what we say, what we do and what we intend in response to what happens to us. By far, the most powerful is ‘What I INTEND’ because that drives everything else you SAY and DO. This merger is not something anyone can control. It simply IS. What you INTEND during the process, however, will be a very powerful force in shaping how you come through what happens. 

Perhaps this quote from David Whyte, a ‘corporate poet’ to some of the world’s leading organizations will help:

The ego’s goal is to have power OVER life’s experiences. The soul’s goal is to have power THROUGH life’s experiences, regardless of what they may be. (From The Heart Aroused)

What would be a wise, empowering and realistic intention you could take into the next challenging experience that might positively influence you, your colleagues, your customers, your organization, and even your world? That is one thing you CAN control— and one thing that will make all the difference in the world as you pursue your soul’s goal of having power through whatever happens to you in life’s experiences.

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