Four Ways to Solve Workplace Problems: Don’t Try to Fix Them


One of my favorite magazines is Entrepreneur magazine.  Although it isn’t focused on organizational strategy, it is focused on the future of work.

One of the features they have is a Q&A.  And this one caught my attention.

Employees at my restaurant are taking food home without paying for it and are not charging their friends for drinks. I made it clear that I’ll fire people if the behavior continues, and I bought locks for the refrigerators. However, I remain angry. How do I trust my staff after this betrayal?

The answer was pretty typical.  In part it said, “Rather than asking how you can trust your staffers, figure out how you can communicate effectively that their behavior negatively affects the restaurant’s success–and their future with the company.

There are two major issues I see here.

The first is they don’t care about the restaurant’s success.  It is very unlikely that because of the little amounts they steal that the restaurant will shut down.  Plus, they are not there for your success.  They are there for (most often) their survival.  Which is one reason why they are stealing food.

The second is regarding the point of “their behavior negatively affects …their future with the company.” This is only another threat.  Pile those up and sticky fingers will soon be only one of many major issues you will need to deal with.

The Management Paradox

Management is about controlling the outcomes.  When outcomes don’t go their way, they often get set in a spiral:

  1. Employees steal.
  2. Management threatens with being fired.
  3. Locks are put on refrigerators.
  4. Processes and policies are put in place.
  5. Processes and policies cost time and resources and double checking.
  6. Cost of service goes up.
  7. To cover, cost to customers go up.
  8. The locks are a physical symbol that management doesn’t trust them.
  9. Employees find another way to continue doing what they have been doing.
  10. Repeat.

Take this and duplicate it in a number of contexts.  No wonder management is such an energy draining activity!

Transcending the Issue

Rather than deal with the issue, create an environment in which the issue is starved and will have a very hard time existing.  Here are some ideas.

1) Team accountability

Rather than being accountable to a manager, make them accountable to each other.  It is easy to dupe one person.  Duping a whole team? Not so easy.


2) Trust them with specific things

In restaurants (and, frankly, most office environments), employees have very little say in anything they do.  Find ways to give them a choice and have control themselves.  For example, you may decide to leave the scheduling to the team.  Back out and let them figure out what is best.  There are so many ramifications in this one move that I won’t detail out now – but you better be ready for a number of instances where detoxing of negativity will naturally happen.  And then you need to be able to lead them to a new spot.


2) Open up the financials

That’s right.  Let the employees see where you are struggling and where you are doing well.  They will look for specific ways to improve the overall performance.  The question is, “Will they even care?”  Some won’t.  At least at first until…


Base a portion of their pay on team or (in this case) restaurant performance

If they understand that a bonus or part of their base pay comes to them because of superior work as a team, they will actively try to be better.

Now, does that mean that no one will ever steal again? Not at all.  But the chances of them stealing dramatically decreases.

Warning. Be sure to make this more of a bonus, rather than a retraction.  For example, if they are paid $15/hr, don’t hold back part of their pay as the team performance and pay them only $12/hr.  Keep it at $15 and their improvements will be on top of that.


It’s Not About Stealing

Now take the generic version of this problem.  It could be coming in late, spending too much time on social sites, being apathetic and lacking drive…

Rather than fix the issue, transcend it.  Create an environment where the issue starves and you don’t need to deal with it.

The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – October 20

The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – October 20

There are many angles to look at the Future of Work.  It is a phrase used in many different contexts.

Some think of robots, others think of space.  And they could all be right.  But they are coming from it at a different angle than what I do.

I see the Future of Work in context of organizational strategy: How will you organize your work (personally or organizationally)?

These three articles talk about this topic essentially within the same context, but with unique twists.

Have a wonderful week.  Make it even better by reimagining your work.  And hopefully these articles will help you do just that.


How to Prepare for the Future of Work

There are two ways to prepare for the Future of Work.  The first is to not change anything fundamentally and keep dealing with the same issues you have always dealt with, but in slightly new ways. The second is to make some changes which transcend today’s issues.  To show you the two different ways of thinking, this article is in the mindset of the former.


Spikes Asia 2014: “Work is a game so badly designed that you have to pay people to play it”

I loved this phrase, so I had to add it in this week!  At some point I will write my thoughts about gamification which, for the most part are not favorable.  There is a difference between the hyped up “gamification” and applying game theory to work.   They are two different things.  This is more about the latter and you might be able to glean some good ideas off of it.  See also this article.


The Pitfalls of Productivity

“In Taylor’s time, companies were more rigidly hierarchical, and ideas about how to work typically came from the top down. Over the years, however, researchers found that “people like to be in charge of their own productivity,” and so management theory began to shift toward giving workers more control over how they did their jobs. The current vogue for productivity tips and apps is “the next step in that process.”

Why You Are Going Somewhere You Hope Not To Go?

Picture by m01229 on

Sitting in a “Chili’s Too” at the O’Hare airport today, I heard the man at the table next to me say, “Travel has lost it’s glory. It’s not fun any more.”

My first thought was, “Then why are you flying?”  I started thinking about the possibility of getting tired of traveling and I realized two things:

First, if I am going somewhere, I hope I want to go there. Too many people are traveling to a place to do work they dread.  It is just another flight, taking them somewhere they don’t want to be.  No wonder they don’t like the travel.

Secondly, if I love what I am doing and am going to do something worthwhile and am excited about what I get to do, the travel is barely a thought.  My mind is on what I get to do when I am there and how it will fulfill my purpose.

Sure the travel may be difficult – delays, sitting on the tarmac for two hours, dead-stop traffic, long layovers or cancelled flights.  But if I am going to do something that I love, I can handle a few inconveniences.

Because I will barely remember the delays once I get there and am immersed in my purpose.  The work overpowers any difficulties I had getting there.  It was worth it.

My future of work involves work I love.  If it doesn’t, I’m on a plane headed some place I don’t want to go again.

I’d rather go where I am excited to go.

No Matter How Hard You Try, The Future of Work Will Elude You – Unless…

Last week my six-year old son’s soccer coach was on vacation, so I took over.  And I loved every bit of it! (Minus the ultra-competitive coaches on the other team.)

I have been working with my son on how to kick the ball hard.  He was trying to kick it from midfield (on a shortened field) into the goal. But he was getting frustrated when he couldn’t make it there.

During our 1:1 coaching I watched as he would approach the ball straight on and when he kicked the ball, his little leg would stop immediately after he kicked it.  His body stopped there, too.  Although he was doing one thing right by name: Kicking it with the inside of his foot.  Yet although he was kicking from there, it wasn’t the correct part of the inside of his foot.

So I told him (in six-year-old parlance),

“Because of the way you are kicking the ball, you will never be able to make it in.  No matter how hard you try, the physics won’t allow you to. To make a goal from here, you need to change the way you are kicking the ball.”


  1. Approach the ball from an angle instead of straight on.
  2. Swing your leg around.
  3. Follow through with your leg.
  4. Keep running after you kicked it. This lets the momentum and strength of your body carry through to the ball.

Much like this kick.

Once he put all those things together (which took some time) he kicked it right in the goal!  It was a really fun teaching moment.

As I was watching him, I thought of many of you.

As he struggled to kick the ball hard and straight, you struggle dealing with

  1. employee engagement
  2. employee apathy
  3. bureaucracy
  4. unnecessary red tape
  5. lack of trust
  6. power struggles
  7. ego-driven decisions
  8. feeling like a cog in a machine
  9. unbalanced hierarchical power
  10. stated, but not practiced values

You can easily add to the list, but my purpose is not to depress you.

Rather, here is my point…

It is possible to transcend these issues, but you need to work differently.

Why do you think that after all the last decade plus of technological and intellectual advances, we aren’t getting any better at how we work?  We still struggle with the same issues.  If anything, we have only become incrementally better.  Barely.

And as my son would kick with the inside of his foot, but not the right part or in the right way, many may say, “but we have tried and it hasn’t worked.”  Yes, you have tried a form of it, but you really haven’t tried it in the correct way.

So I say to you what I said to my son.

“Because of the way you are managing your team/company, you will never be able to fix these issues or reach the potential you strive for.  No matter how hard you try, the physics won’t allow you to. To make your goals from here, you need to change the way you are working.”

The way we work has hit a ceiling of effectiveness.

We can try our very best to overcome these vexing problems, but we will continue hitting our heads against the brick wall and then blaming other factors for our failures.

We won’t lick these issues until we learn to kick differently.  We need a different approach.  One where these issues disappear because of the way we are structured.

Until we look to this thing some are calling the Future of Work, our foreheads will continue to be bruised and blood red and we will continue to be frustrated.  If you like that, continue on.  If you know and can feel there is another, better way, let’s learn how to make the change.

Over the next number of posts, I’m going to explain how this is possible and show examples.


The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – October 6

Just so you  know, the answers are YES.

A huge resounding YES.  You better believe it.

And the questions: Can I work differently than I do today?  Can I weave elements of the Future of Work into my own work today?

And it isn’t just the outliers.  The ones on the fringe.  The ones that have a small team and can pivot as they please.

It can be you, too.  They don’t need to be unique.  You can join them, even if you are surrounded by tradition.

Two of these articles talk about working without managers.  The other one hits to the heart of the reason for the new business successes: WHY.  They are working toward a purpose, not just to “increase shareholder value.”

Read.  Learn.  Act.


Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 8.15.16 AM

How Medium Is Building a New Kind of Company with No Managers

Whenever problems popped up, I’d totally ignore them and pay attention to the people who had them. Suddenly all these issues were just dissolving. I swear it was like a Jedi mind trick.


No Managers: Why We Removed Bosses at Treehouse

“It was a bold move and one that not everyone was convinced of. We proposed to change the way the company operated and give all employees 100% control of their time and let them decide what they work on each day. From now on no one would tell anyone what to do, not even the CEO. (Me!)”


Is Elon Musk the Greatest CEO of the Modern Era?

“Unlike many of the other contenders for top CEO, Musk is not just dedicated to wealth. He is building businesses to help solve some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. He sees shareholders as only one stakeholder in the corporate mission. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Musk emphasized that “the reason I created Tesla was to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport. And I made that clear to investors.”

11 Characteristics of Future of Work Companies

You hear about the Future of Work and you think, “Yes, there must be something better than where we are.  I feel it and know it is out there.  But what does it look like?   How does it work?” Do you want to take your company to a higher level?  Do you want to transcend the problems that you have today and replace them with sound maxims and principles? Of course you do.  But what are they?  What does a company which works in the “Future of Work” do differently than what  you are doing today? Here are 11 characteristics of companies who are already living where you hope to be.  These characteristics come from examples of living, successful (and often very large) organizations that are in operation today.

DISCLAIMER #1: Not all companies have all of these characteristics, but they have at least a majority of them.  Each company is different in the way it operates, but there are threads that run through them all.  (And there are many companies that advancing toward these models that have picked up only a few of these characteristics.)

DISCLAIMER #2: Don’t freak out.  These are not pipe dreams.  Companies actually work these ways with VERY successful results.  And so can your company.

DISCLAIMER #3: As you read these, remember when one thing changes, it has a cascading effect that changes the status quo and allows you to do things you have never been able to do before.


11 Characteristics of Future of Work Companies

#1: Everyone has the power and authority

To do what?  To do whatever needs to get done.  To purchase a tool (including one that is over $100,000), to hire someone if they need it, to change roles without another’s approval, to do something for a customer that is outside of the norm.  It frees the employee up to not only do the right thing, but to take on a role that plays to their strength.  Do this, and you can unleash the talents of each employee organically, instead of trying to force it out with another program.  Give them that trust and you would be surprised what they can accomplish.  In addition, if everyone has power and authority, you can’t tell another person what to do.  Let that sink in for a minute…

#2: No org chart

“What?!  No org chart?  That seems like a recipe for chaos!  Can a large company with tens of thousands of employees not have an org chart?”  Actually, yes.  Org charts show who has the power. But when everyone has power and authority to do what is best, you can’t contain someone in a box.  Rather, you can clump groups of people around a specific function, but then realize that each person on that team may have an expanded scope that has nothing to do with that function.  These groups of people are self-created and self-managed.  And they may be fluid and may change as business needs change.

#3 No traditional job descriptions

If there isn’t an org chart, you might guess that there are no job descriptions.  But that doesn’t mean that people don’t have very specific roles and goals to which they are held explicitly accountable to.  Instead of boxing them in, the job functions have the ability to be fluid when needed, but they may be very specific as well.

#4: No traditional management

If everyone has power and authority, and job descriptions don’t exist, then what do the managers, directors and VPs have? Actually, you can’t answer that question because it doesn’t fit in this world.  The way the Future of Work is organized, there aren’t any managers, directors or VPs.  They are not needed.  It seems odd that a company can function without these roles. This is contrary to everything we have not only been brought up with, but have been taught in school.  It brings up so many questions that I can’t get into right now.  But let’s just say that it is not only possible, but it happens.  Successfully. In a very organized way that empowers employees.  They are even held MORE accountable for their roles without management.

#5: No HR department

Can you imagine that?!  No HR department.  Think about that for a minute and you might go through a range of emotions, starting with “Hallelujah!” to, “Oh my goodness, could we even survive?”  The answer is YES.  “Who would hire and fire?  Who would limit the number of people that could be hired?”  The answer is you.  (In fact, one company’s employees have gone so far as to outlaw the practice of firing anyone.)

#6: “That’s not my job” doesn’t exist

It can’t wait for someone else to do.  If it needs to get done, do it.  Whether the employee does it or puts together a team to get it done, if the employees feel like it is necessary, it gets done.  Why? Because they have the power to do so.

#7: You work for what is right

In most companies, the bottom line always comes down to, “What is best for the stakeholders?”  In the Future of Work companies, “What is the right thing to do” is what guides their actions.

#8: Conflict is encouraged

If the guiding star for us to follow is “What is right,” you can imagine there will be debate and conflict – as there should be.  What is “right” may change as situations, industries, culture, and physical environments will change.  But there is a healthy way to deal with conflict in these organizations.

#9: Meetings are optional and open

No one is mandated to go to a meeting.  And at the same time, all meetings are open with the understanding that anyone can join the meeting.  There is nothing to hide, nothing is done in secret.  “Even if there need to be layoffs?”  Yes, even then.

#10: All information is open

If all meetings are open, so is all the information.  The strategy.  The financials.  The employee evaluations.  The salaries.  All the things that make most managers squirm if they were to share with the employees actually empower and strengthen the employees who work in this style of organization.  Because they have all the information they need, they can make sound decisions.

#11 Employees feel free & trusted

Wow.  What a change.  Rather than feeling like a cog in the machine or a box on a chart, they feel liberated – free to be an adult and make good judgements.  Trusted by all those around them to make the right decision for all those involved.

Is it possible?

Yes, it is possible for your company to work this way.  It is a big change, but a change that is worth it.  Why? Because the way in which we manage our companies today has hit the ceiling in effectiveness.  To go beyond where we are today we must work differently – in a way that unleashes the potential the current management practices are unable to unlock. The reason not all companies pick up all these practices is because they are all different.  You will need to find out which are best for your company.

The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – Sept 29th

Today is a start.

A start to what?

Well, that’s up to you.  Is it the start to another week that was the same as last?  Or will this week be different?  Will you love work more this week?  Will you find ways to transcend current work practices and take it to another level?

It is your choice.  Make a decision and don’t let anything get in your way.

Work differently this week.  Test it. Experiment.  Find your future of work.

To help you along, here is some inspiration.  Read these articles and be ready to have a new week, not the same week as last week.


Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 7.06.50 AM

A Mindset for Creative Collaboration

One man’s journey into using Holacracy – his Future of Work.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 7.06.57 AM


I banned email at my company

What do you do if email is creating problems for you? Do you fix it?  No, you get rid of it.  Problem solved.


Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 7.08.37 AM

Separating Ownership, Decisions, and Returns?

“Importantly in manage knowledge working roles, value creation is potentially exponential and directly related to the worker’s talents and outputs. An engaged knowledge worker is far more productive than one filling a role in a hierarchy and a process. ”

Why Creating a New Environment Trumps Employee Effectiveness

Right now I’m sitting in a presentation at NASA on what the space industry will look like in 2100.

During the whole thing they talk about what it will take for us to get there.  Near the end of the main presentation they talk about how they will need to go from Conservative to Collaborative.  While I liked what they said, I felt a very important piece of the puzzle was missing: The human part.  If they don’t get that right, the other won’t work out.

And then “Larry” got up at the end and quoted Seth Godin’s post in which describes how when a company grows in size, it slows down. Bureaucracy, policies, rigidity, and the fear of failure increases.


Mix all these things together and you discover that going forward, each decision pushes the organization toward do-ability, reliability, risk-proofing and safety…

Even really good people, really well-intentioned people, then, end up in organizations that plod toward mediocre, interrupted by random errors and dropped balls.

This can be fixed. It can be addressed, but only by a never-ending fight for greatness


Seth presents the solution by saying “Go for greatness.”  And I completely agree.  Yet if we stick someone in a horrible environment and say, “Be Great!” and we will find that almost all of the time, they will either a) be sucked back down to mediocrity or b) be so inspired that they leave and are great somewhere else.  Why focus on employee effectiveness when the environment they are in will not allow them to be great?

Most organizations have painted themselves into a corner so much so, that it is nearly impossible to be great as a company or allow their employees be great.  The desire is there, yet because of the way they are set up and the way they function, they can NEVER reach the height they would like to.  It will be impossible.  I have seen enough companies go through this that I can be that definitive.

The Missing Piece

Larry went on to say that, “We want a challenge. We need to take risks.”

He then talked about the three great challenges NASA engineers need to overcome: schedule, technical, cost.  These are seen among the engineers as the greatest challenges to innovation and delivering on their goals.  As I was thinking, “No it’s not,” he came up with a fourth one: Relationships.  “If we aren’t working on this leg of the stool – probably the hardest of the four – we are not going to get there.”

If we don’t create an environment of relationships that is toxic and non-trusting, I don’t care how tight the schedule is, how technically advanced the solutions are, or how cheap they may be.  If the environment is not conducive to allowing the employees to be great, then even great solutions will hit a brick wall.  Granted, the final solutions that will emerge may be mediocre and suffice, but they won’t be High-Fidelity: achieving the level they know they are capable of.

What is the Solution?

Create a different environment that makes it EASY to think and act differently, to take on a challenge, to take risks, etc.

If you don’t change the environment, change will be slow, frustrating, and expensive.

So our focus needs to be on creating an environment that will allow us to create High-Fidelity companies.

Environment = culture + structure

High-Fidelity Companies – Best of the Best – For the Week of September 22nd

How can we work differently?  These three posts can show you how.  From a review of a book to hands on experience from the CEO of WordPress.

They will give you some great ideas to start your week.


Smarter Innovation: Road Map to the Future

“We go into great detail about how we work, our values, our innovative business practices, and the strength of our network-based decision-making when it comes to modern organizational design and methods.”


How Matt’s Machine Works

“Hours on the clock, employee location, managers–Mullenweg’s philosophy was that these kinds of things were moot if the work itself got done, and that most companies engaged in a lot of unnecessary “metawork” because of these. He believed that if you removed those things, along with efficiency-destroying interruptions like email and phone calls and meetings, work could proceed more quickly and with less pain.”


Social Change Agent Survey: Passion, Skill Set, and Persistence Lead to Career Growth

“There’s no shortage of proof that social is beneficial for business—and it’s here to stay. Now we have evidence that it’s influencing long-term career growth for social change agentsEnter your description.”

Load More