It is pretty safe to say that we at innvire / WPA had our share of work innovation in the last 10 years. Serving dozens of customers, ranging from global OEM companies to local government bodies. There is no doubt that there has been an increasing interest in the way we work the last ten years. Now there will be people raising hands and saying that they have been in the business far before that, and yes that is true. But even before that there was probably Francis Duffy or someone like Karen Mosbech already implementing and trying better ways of working somewhere in Europe or the US. It is not owned by anyone nor is there a start or finish. But for sure, when you read the news, follow blogs, look around you: Work is going through a major change these decennia.

There are a lot of good things happening. Reference lists of architects, CRE agencies and other service providers are full of nice images, quotes and stories about how they implemented ‘the New Way Of Working’ or some form of activity based working. Some of them work, some of them don’t. There are many reasons why they don’t work functionally which has all to do with asking the wrong questions, doing the wrong analysis, hiring the wrong party, wrong design, copying stuff from others, etc. But I do not want to talk about that today. Today I want to talk about the governance of work innovation.

Let’s first assume that when we talk about work, it is the amount of (paid) time spent by people for an organization with the goal to deliver a certain amount of value within a time span, in a consistent way. Innovating work would be the iterative process of improving that with the goal to do it better by any means you are measuring that on.

Getting a little deeper into work, we rather want to focus on the holy grail ‘productivity’ which seems in our eyes a bit more complex than it is sometimes portrayed.

Productivity of people:

The amount of people x their skills + experience x time x engagement x clarity of role and goal x enabling environment (consisting of optimum place, proximity of peers, tools, culture). When I translate that to a real life example – A person spending 40 hours a week in the wrong place because he or she misses out on the experience or skill, not using fully its 40 hours for work, disengaged due to any of the other factors above and not knowing towards which overall goal he or she needs to work to achieve the overall goal of that organization.

So companies change the way they work. There are many good reasons but I feel safe to sum a few most likely triggers:

  • End of lease of building
  • Others are doing it, we need to benchmark / keep up
  • Change of management
  • Saving cost / be more efficient

All of the triggers normally meant that they ended up either at their corporate real estate or facility department or a business unit taking the lead. Very rarely still these days is that e.g an HR department is in the lead for these kind of changes. If we look at the formula above to increase productivity (and happiness) it will encompass so much more than one service department can encompass. And that is exactly where most work innovation fails: Proper governance. Many of these work innovation ‘projects’ (that alone is already flawed – seeing work innovation as a project) where we were hauled in, was a party of either a Real Estate department or Facility Department. Often not because they wanted to throw a party but because they were asked to fix something like ‘end of lease’ – ‘save costs’ etc. Knowing the formula above they are never able to fully score a good result as they cannot oversee nor influence the formula to the extend that is really increasing productivity significantly in a durable way. Yes, you can save 30% of space within a year at most organizations or enable them to work more mobile etc. But on the long run and with the right scope these results are peanuts of what actually can be achieved.

So what are we talking about? Being able to increase productivity to an extend that is truly an competitive advantage, you need to line up all stakeholders that influence the formula. And.. you need someone that can translate the vision of the organization’s leaders into a way forward that synchronises and increases all the cogs in the formula of productivity. A job nearly impossible as we have organizational structures that are not able to allow that. For a few reasons:

  • Business and servicing departments are on the wrong foot. 90% of the organizations treat these departments as wealthy people do their maids: Why didn’t you do that yesterday and as I asked? But what we need to establish is a different type of relation: One of a top athlete and its coach. The athlete tries to win contests, the coach arranges all that is needed to perform at its best. And there is a balanced relationship. Without a good coach you will not win, as you won’t have access to the best nutritionist, trainer, knowledge, etc.
  • There are no coaches in companies. Only trainers, nutritionists, etc. So when a top athlete wants to be better she does not get team but a meal plan or training scheme. What I am trying to say, the moment an organization asks one of its traditional departments to help them excel you are bound to get only 1/3 or less of what you needed. Why? A nutritionist does not talk that easily with a trainer, its the coach that makes them work together. This happens all the time in organizations trying to innovate their work. The moment they ask IT to get involved you get technology, The moment you ask HR you get a change program, the moment you ask CRE / Facilities you get cheaper space or better services on the work-floor.

When we grab all of these services together and go back to what we wanted: More productive people, we need to understand that someone is deciding over on average € 65K euro of salary cost per person and about €11K cost annually for its work environment. For a 1000 people that is managing a € 76.000.000 investment yearly. Who lets only a ‘nutritionist’ in charge of that? What we need is a coach on boardroom level that both understands the business and has both the mandate and knowledge to go and arrange all of these services and their deliveries in a way that she or he sees fit. Not as a project but as a model (the formula) quantified in measures and performances that can be managed and adjusted from time to time, depending on what the top athlete needs to achieve on the next contest.

We know it is hard. Putting a person in your organization that has something as a title as ‘Chief of Work’, let alone giving this person your trust and mandate to go and do arrange anything needed to make you perform at your best. But you do not want to talk yourself to 10 nutritionist before you found the one that understands you, nor do you want to make them all talk together. So with a 76.000.000 euro invest per year, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone high up that understands how to measure if people are engaged towards management and their peers, how the work environment is truly enabling instead of fitting only in an architecture magazine or how IT seamlessly works together with all other services without dominating? We believe that it needs to be like this. People working for organizations in the coming decennia are quite probably very special or good. Because all the simple jobs will be gone and someone needs to understand these complex and ‘expensive’ creatures and how to keep them happy and performing. This cannot be solved by the current organizational structures. It needs to change as optimizing the parameters in the formula requires a new breed that knows it all (or at least how to organize it best) – the Chief Of Work or a COW. And we have a saying in the Netherlands, – it’s as truthful as a cow – so there you go!