Fix the Copier

This same type of “calcification,” as you call it, can also creep into attitudes towards employees. Early in my career I worked at a company where there was minimal trust between employees and managers. Someone low in the organizational hierarchy ripped out an ad from a magazine that said, “It’s the Magical Thing About Business – Start Treating People Like Your Most Important Assets and Suddenly That’s What They Become.” She made a copy on the always-broken copy machine and put it up outside her depressing orange cubicle, and it really rocked the culture. It was so clear to all of us that this particular mental model was not one of the organization’s basic assumptions. The magic at work in this place was closer to “treat adults like children and watch time reverse itself.” I left because I started to hate the petty, negative person I was when I came to work everyday.

One reason I’ve always liked working in professional services is that it’s so culturally explicit in most firms that they’re competing on the talent of the people they hire.  This belief guides everything, from the distribution of decision rights (decentralized) to the innovation process (employee-driven) and, yes, even to the choice in copier (always working). Why waste such a precious asset’s time on jammed paper?

This type of culture gives everyone a reason to show up and step up. I think the biggest lost opportunity in most organizations is the unrealized potential of the people clocking in everyday, at least the fraction that’s profoundly bored. The majority of us are desperate to be engaged, and since most organizations aren’t inviting that level of engagement, all that unused capacity is now on Facebook at 10:30 in the morning – unless it’s troubleshooting with the IT department.

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