- September 2017
- Von Nils Schnell
The freedom and the struggle of individuals in modern and innovative companies
In this blogpost I want to write about the dualism of freedom and the struggle of self-leadership in modern and innovative companies and what we can do to help employees developing in this field. In modern and innovative companies you can have all the freedom you want! You can develop in various directions, you are self-organized and responsible for your own self-development. Everything seems possible. Many people, including myself and the companies in question, praise such modern environments. So many options, free drinks, lifestyle perks and office rooms that often look more comfortable than your own home. Having worked in these environments I can’t imagine going back to an old-school, traditional company. With almost all nice things there is always a “but” – nothing comes for free. Such freedom also requires a great deal of self-discipline. This is not a bad thing at all, but it needs to be learned!
New Work context
The latest Buzzword in this area is ‘NewWork.’ In modern and innovative companies the working culture has shifted from a traditional command-and-control approach to a collaborative and non-hierarchical structure. Knowledge and experience takes precedence over status and roles, with teams/people working together more than against each other. Sharing knowledge becomes a natural part of the working culture. There is less protectionism and more open collaboration Improving plans, structures and formats becomes more important than sticking to rigid plans that were made in the past. Personal development becomes a driver of change. Change happens anyway. Active transformation and change requires awareness, discipline and willpower, openness and imagination.
So the question is if you are willing to participate actively or only follow passively
With everything that is happening in modern work environments It seems like modern work environments are in a state of constant ‘flux‘. The norm is that there is no norm. Being able to compete as a company means you have to make quick decisions, fast changes and you need people to drive the change or move on. It is as easy as that. Of course, the companies in question try to help people embrace their options during these processes but in the end they need talents with the skills and mindset to work hands-on and be flexible.
The employee perspective
What does this mean from an employee perspective? It means you cannot plan for years, you can barely plan for months. It means you have to stay flexible and be willing to improve, to change, to learn. It means that whatever you love in one moment can be obsolete in the next. For example, when you are solely responsible for the whole language version of a product it can happen that, when the country version is successful, you have to split up tasks. Now, this makes you mainly responsible for user communication, but not for platform content anymore. You can either be relieved in the change in role or perhaps you now really miss this creative part. In general it is true to say that as start-ups grow constantly the tasks and roles changes rapidly – this is know as functional differentiation. From an employee perspective this means you have to figure out what it all means for you. Are you still happy? Do you want to develop into this new (forced) direction? What kind of guidance do you need and want? Are you still willing to drive your tasks or is the willpower gone? Consider a case where a person wanted to change her role to get new challenges. He was really open to it. But due to the fact, that her lead was always so busy the transition took almost half a year and the motivation of the employee was almost gone. She neither felt neither empowered nor guided through this rough time. Companies can lose highly motivated employees who are open for change because they don’t give the guidance that is needed.
I think that the freedom afforded to employees by these modern workplaces/companies is something you need to learn for yourself. How can we expect employees, particularly those at the beginning of their careers, to already have such skills developed? Especially when it is your first job and you really want to excel, have impact and show your hands-on mentality. I think it makes sense to train people in modern work environments in self-leadership to help them be an active source for themselves.
Train them to be aware of the challenges and opportunities that arises with all this freedom
Investing in this is the responsibility of the companies and the leaders! Freedom means to empower people to deal with the freedom so that they can enjoy the potential benefits this freedom can bring to their work-life balance. My favourite example is always the working hours. Employees in modern companies can often self-regulate their hours. This is beneficial for employees when they feel the freedom to regulate them actively. But what I see quite often is the opposite. Employees work too many hours and not only because they want, but this is more to do with the fact that they struggle to say ’no‘ and think that refusing projects might negatively effect their career than a desire to work more. It could also be down to the fact that they didn’t yet learn how to manage their workflow. If you can’t lead yourself in unbalanced and difficult times then you have no freedom at all. You are under pressure to do things right, to work on the weekends instead of having a conversation with your lead and learning to say ‘no’ (even though you may also be keen to take over the responsibility of a new project). Saying “no” is probably the most important thing to learn in modern and innovative companies. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. Without this, it is easy to become overloaded with work even when it initially seems more manageable. Having unwavering focus is the key to personal success and freedom in an environment where there are no strict boundaries or guidelines.
What we can do
I highly recommend leads and companies to have an open conversation about freedom at work and finding a viable approach to one’s own individual approach and practices. It is so important to share knowledge and experiences about this to foster greater collaboration and self-development. Employees can only contribute long-term when they are able to be proactive and resourceful contributors to the company’s growth and success. While sprints are often important to compete with deadlines, they should not always be the norm. Doing a great job is not a sprint, it’s a marathon! The ‚burnout‘ that many employees experience nowadays is often due, in part, to leaders who did not see the signs and cared more about getting things done than helping them develop self awareness and good self leadership!
It is time to proactively focus on the freedom and the struggle of individuals in modern and innovative companies. We have the duty to enable employees to deal with all the freedom the modern workplace allows. (So that it really is an advantage of modern work environments and not becomes a bigger and bigger struggle. Modern work environments bring so many advantages for employees which can improve both their working and personal lives. Let’s enable them to really reap the benefits!