From empowerment to love

I had an interesting talk with some of my Futurice friends recently. We were sitting in a bar drinking beer, as is often the case and we had spread out a bunch of A5 paper from one of our Futurice note pads. There were five of us and we passed around one sole Sharpie pen and all contributed to a scribble which was beginning to describe how our company should set up cross competence leadership at a global level.

It reminded me a little of that drawing game I played as a child where you had to draw a character and each person took it in turn to do the head, the torso, the legs separately. Amazing how you always ended up with the most inventive creatures, no one person could have imagined on their own.

During this sketching, one of our designers, Maria said something that struck me later as quite profound and actually prompted me to write this post.

She said: “You know what I love about this company? It’s the fact that we can sit together and discuss company level development and ideas for improvement”

Now this statement, out of context and on it’s own may not seem that special, for sure employees up and down the country gather at coffee machines, in corridors and after-work drinks to debate the state of their own companies and discuss how things should change. How their presentation to the management was not as well received as they had hoped, or how “so and so” should be hired or worse fired. How unprofessional their boss was today in front of the whole team, or how one of their close colleagues is really amazing and great to work with, and then sadly how others are just not pulling their weight.

The reason I was inspired by what Maria had said is because of the context of our discussion. We had just come from a team dinner (on company money;-) in Shoreditch, London as a reward to ourselves for a hard day’s work redefining the Futurice brand.

The global marketing team had taken it upon itself to orchestrate a brand new identity, not a small feat in a company that values transparency, and with over 300 highly opinionated smart people. They had gathered the most passionate people and had dedicated months of work in addition to their client work to bring strategy and ideas to life. All done with immense dedication and motivation to continuously improving our company and our companies image towards others. They had flown in for 2 days to collaborate and plan the next steps in this development. By the way I take no credit for this work, I was just the lucky gate crasher to their party.

For those that are not aware, (continuous improvement) is one of our core values. Each person at Futurice is empowered and enabled to make the change they see fit, and more importantly make changes without having to ask their boss for permission, or in fear of others thinking they are disruptive or “high maintenance”. It’s something we value dearly and is definitely at the core of our company culture.

However, there is a downside to this. I find that in this kind of culture, ideas take a little longer to become reality. This is simply because everyone has a voice and everyone is allowed to be involved. Frustrating? Yes. Conflictual, undoubtedly, but at the end of the day outcomes should lend themselves better to mass adoption and hopefully greater longevity.

So back to our beer table, five Futurice people from different disciplines, at different levels of their career, all throwing the leadership structures of our company up in the air in our mission to continuously improve. All with a real sense that we can actually make it happen.

If you empower and enable people to improve things, they will, humans instinctively strive to better their situation. When this freedom to make our own decisions and action the required change is taken away, people rapidly become de-motivated and non productive. The quality of their work decreases and ultimately they disengage. In the best case they just follow orders from above and get on with it, shying away from any challenge because it’s just too damn stressful. In the worse case they leave and the company loses an employee with the unlocked potential to acheive great things.

So when Maria tells us she loves this company, what she is really saying is that she loves the empowerment and freedom to continuously improve herself, her environment and to help others she works alongside to continuously improve too.

I guess we take that for granted at Futurice, but for many companies and their employees, it’s sadly a very different story, one that we should try confine to the history books.