New world, new power

One of our favourite models to work on with teams came from an article in HBR entitled Understanding New Power (2014). Like all great models it offers a robust framework but with enough room for individual interpretation and as with all our work the challenge is then to identify how to adapt and apply to different organisations, giving careful consideration the cultural nuances and specific needs of each. In short, Old/New power provides a means of generating discussion around how you choose to operate, the culture you aspire to, your style of leadership and ‘the way you do things around here’.

A session with an HR Executive last week reminded us of the relevance of the ‘new power’ model and its added potency in 2020. We were speaking about the complexity but also the exciting opportunity to be able to now ‘personalise’ the employee experience. Enabling staff to ‘return’ to work in a way that suits them and their changing life-style needs, allowing them to continue to give their best by finding the right balance between home and office. It’s something this particular HR leader is committed to delivering; not just for her staff but also for the progression and productivity of her business.

Personally meaningful

Our ubiquitous connectivity is making possible a different kind of power. “New power” is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It works like a current, not a currency—and it is most forceful when it surges.

If we are to be genuinely ambitious about this as leaders and for the idea of ‘personalised engagement’ to really embed as part of the culture of a business, the hybrid solutions offered to employees have to have some level of personal meaning and scope. One organisation we know of (not one we’re working with) have announced a 50:50 split from September i.e. half the working week will be spent in the office and the other half at home. While this does offer some flex it also assumes that everyone is OK with working from home and that they’re equally OK with commuting into the office. From initial discussions there appears to be little room for negotiation on a 1:1 basis.

Of course, as appealing as ‘personalised come-backs’ might sound in reality there are numerous factors to take into account. Certain activities or roles may be better suited to office or home working. Companies will need to think about how they utilise the space they have while ensuring safe distances so numbers on site may be limited. Those working from home (either by choice or otherwise) may require more support in the shape of ergonomic furniture, upgraded hardware and or software etc. None of this is insurmountable though.

Adding a ‘new power’ element

The real spark here, the thing that will shape success in the new world, will be how keenly we as leaders are prepared to embrace ‘new power’. Even before COVID we had a taste of ‘what could be’ in the shape of ‘agile working’. Organisations soon discovered that agile was less about hot-desking and office bean-bags (we are of course being a tad flippant here) and much more about a changed mindset, a different way of viewing how we work and who we work with.

For us ‘new power’ perfectly captures where we need to move from and where we could move to. Leaders need to find the sweet spot for each i.e. not all old power, but not necessarily all new power either. What processes, systems and behaviours help us get there and which might hinder us?

For our teams to thrive in whatever ‘new world’ we eventually land, they will need to feel trusted, supported and clear about the value they and their roles add to the business.

‘Chief Execs can no longer be chief problem solvers’ as someone said this week in an article we were reading, ‘leaders need to get things going and then get out of the way.’

Time to embrace a new order.