Are Businesses Ready for True Reinvention?

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Lately, I’ve been consumed about the Future of Work. It seems to be the news of the day… every day.

When we started ARCOMPANY a few years back the vision was to help companies realize the change that was happening in the market: how people are communicating differently and driving the discussion, how the increasing connectedness is changing people’s perceptions about the world, and as a result, their behaviors. No longer is a company certain of its future. Consumer attention is in hot demand. Media and information is pulling it in different directions. Advertising is not as effective as it once was. Those organizations that have the luxury of large media expenditure will continuously outshine those companies who are rationalizing and making marketing more accountable for every dollar.

It’s these two facets alone: 1) change in market communication 2) resulting change in consumer behaviour that need to spark a fire and force organizations to understand them, determine what it means and what they need to do to adapt.

We realized quickly that we were early to the game. Social business was not yet a known concept. Companies were, and to this day, still trying to understand the value of social media and what it meant to their businesses.

For the all the work that we are doing to communicate how marketers need to rethink practices in how they advertise, acquire and retain customers, what’s really at play is how the organization, at large, will eventually need to wake up and realize the very structures that have lasted for decades are inhibiting them and stifling their ability to effectively understand and pay attention to their customers. This is what the market demands. Yet, companies continue to operate under the guise that what’s worked for decades can and will subsist.

You’ve read it, I’m sure: Tony Hsieh’s bold move to transition Zappos into a Holacracy model is met with prying eyes. Where the industrial revolution created a culture of process and hierarchy, it also created a system of disseminated accountability. It was easy to hide behind your job description and claim, “It’s not my responsibility”. You were measured on your particular outcomes. Your manager’s job was to nurture and motivate you and give you the resources and support to allow you to succeed. After all, he would be rewarded if you met your goals.

Today’s economy has begun to remove layers of hierarchy as a response to increasing market volatility. We are seeing layoffs more frequently these days. The freelance economy is surging in numbers. The people that are fortunate enough to remain in the organization, unfortunately are met with increasing pressure to perform. Their accountability has grown but no one has given them the resources they need to succeed. So while the market is changing, the organization is responding with short-term band-aid solutions that, in effect, are creating a culture of people who are increasingly overwhelmed, frustrated and disgruntled.

If you haven’t read it yet, please read Hung Pham’s The Lifecycle of the Disengaged Employee. In it Hung writes,

I didn’t care about making money.  I only cared about creating value and impact for others and was willing to work for little to no money to do it.

I kept my corporate job because I needed to pay my bills but I was miserable.  I always looked forward to 5pm because that’s when I got to work on my other jobs.  I hated that I couldn’t have the same passion, the same excitement with my corporate job.  I hated being disengaged.

I was fortunate enough to attend Pam Ross‘ Conference on Reinventing Work Summit. It was clear how many purveyors of change there were in this room. Every single individual I met had this amazing energy and positive outlook about the changes that needed to happen, however painful.

I spoke with one local organization who are currently going through a company-wide cultural change workshop because of financial reasons. They are quickly realizing that old habits die hard and the powers’-that-be cannot keep hanging on to old ways of doing things.

A recent Gallup poll indicated that

70% of employees are disengaged at work

Mark Babbitt, Author, and CEO of Youtern and Switch and Shift,  in his keynote, said this:

Climate is how it feels. Culture is what you do.

Social is a Mindset.

I wrote about this Millennial Mindset, and how it pervades generations. How Millennials think will continue to change the way consumers respond and purchase. It will also influence how organizations need to adapt to how they communicate and how they work.

Community is such a foreign concept for organizations. In reality, it is just a veil that really means stakeholders: the customers, the employees, the board of directors– the purveyors of your message inside and outside the organizations. Anyone that has the ability to drive perception about your organization is part of your community.


I’ve been impressed with people like Irene Andress, Executive Director of Toronto East General Hospital, who has taken steps to introduce and begin to weave social into the organization, slowly. In a government organization where patient privacy is held to the utmost standards and where information sharing is dictated and privileged, Toronto East General is finding a balance between compliance and developing a work culture of learning, sharing, and productivity.

I made the commitment to be a social leader…Think about where you want to influence change…We started out with tweets – one person at a time…

socializing health care

The Revolving Agency Door

I’ve been in discussions with peers who hold senior positions at ad agencies. They have felt the pain of the market for a number of years.

If you’ve ever worked in an ad agency you know this: You are fortunate enough to work in an account where the client is happy with your work. This guarantees you have a job–at least for the short term. You are also fortunate if you work on a number of accounts. This will allow you to justify your existence. But the minute the client begins to shop around for a new agency, you become vulnerable.  I liken my experience in the agency world as a revolving door. Unless you are senior management, you are subject to being part of the group that is “phased out”, “scaled down”, “rationalized”. As a result, over time, people who worked in this industry expected to be at an agency no more than a few years. This was still perceived as “stable” for this industry. In fact, over time, people were expected to hop from one agency to another in order to gain more experience and become more relevant and marketable.

The agency world always catered to the clients and the revenues. They never really catered to the incredible people, with amazing skills that entered their organization. The size of the agency was in direct relation to the ebbs and flows of client work. This has always been the demise of the agency model. For this reason, it will continue to lose really good people. This revolving door will continue to perpetuate.

Jason Theodore, a longtime friend, seasoned Creative Director from top ad agencies, recently spoke at FITC about the Working Dead. Here is the premise:

Do you work for (or with) a Zompany? A Zompany is zombie company that has lost its humanity and is in a relentless, tunnel-visioned pursuit of profit (brains). It has no other purpose, and no regard for who or what gets in its way. We all know that 21st century creative companies cannot afford to operate in this manner. 

Here are the links from Jason’s post if you haven’t had the opportunity to read them yet: The Working Dead Part I: The Plague of Undead Institutions and The Working Dead Part II: How to survive the plague of the undead institution, kick ass and create brains.  When I spoke to him about his posts, they were borne out of years of frustration. When he made attempts to bring up these issues, his ideas were eschewed. Management knows best right? Apparently not.

We’re continuing to see evidence that change needs to happen

In the Generational Think Tanks we hold every week, our panellists have come to terms that this social or Millennial mindset does exist and many of us exhibit it in ourselves. Whether we are early adopters of technology that enable and encourage us to be more connected, more collaborative, adapt to change and be more open to possibilities, these things that exist in our current environment are what we want or expect will translate to our work environment. Our panellists are saying this:

John Graham (GenY):

Within the current corporate culture there is this unstated norm that impresses upon its employees to remain silent when spoken to, and to do your job. But when a company says they want progressive, and out of the box thinking and increased collaboration, we call Bullshit every time. That labels us negatively. Saying one thing and doing another is so foreign to us because we live in a transparent world.

Ryan Pannell (GenX)

Who’s to blame? It’s a combination of GenY parents and US [GenX]. The Boomers groomed us well. Remember, we were the FU Generation. When it came our time to mentor Millennials, we said, “Screw You… Good Luck with that!”. We welched on our obligation and then we turned around and complained that these kids had no acumen nor fundamental business skills.

Mentorship is key but openness to different ways of thinking, from anyone within the organization is a great start. In one of our hangouts, I brought up the idea of “Millennials having to pay their dues”. These days everyone in the organization needs to have a voice that needs to be heard, irrespective of tenure. It’s essential to promoting a culture where people want to feel they have a say and what they say will be heard.

We have to admit that the lessons that the economy and technology have bestowed to us in the last decade will be coming to a head whether we like it or not.

Businesses need to change. Ideas and different ways of thinking are key. Business will thrive as long as there is innovation. Those tenured within the organization have been conditioned to think the same say because those processes were working. Not any longer. Creativity will come from anywhere and businesses should not only allow it, they should enable it and reinforce it continuously.

We are seeing a new era in the workforce where Millennials will want their worklife balance, and not be necessarily willing to “live to work”. As Ryan Pannell so aptly points out:

How can companies get what they need out of what their employees are willing to provide?

I am a GenXer and Marketer, and I have witnessed the changes in the economy, in technology, in the way people consume information and how all this has impacted not only companies, but also individuals who have chosen to remain complacent. I choose to change out of necessity. But I also see the incredible benefits when you allow people to be their own boss and work to their potential. There’s only an upside in the end.

The new normal in the age of technology and mobile means innovation and constant change. Employee retention will be just as important as customer retention. And perhaps the panacea is the strength of the dynamic and inclusive organization. I, for one, would love to see this come to fruition.

You don’t need to be a change-agent to understand this.

Image Source: Human workplace

6 thoughts on “Are Businesses Ready for True Reinvention?

  1. Bill Smith says:

    A very thought provoking post Hessie, and the short answer from where I’m sitting is I don’t know if companies/organizations/institutions are ready to reinvent themselves or if they even want to. The smart executives who do evolve their companies/non-profits/gov’t institutions to a social business/enterprise will thrive, the ones who don’t, well it won’t be pretty.

    • hessie jones says:

      @disqus_Hy45QdEpsh:disqus I had the same discussion with Mark Babbitt the other day. If you think about the companies who are starting to change they have all gone through harrowing experiences: financially and reputation-wise. Do you remember United or DellHell? Those that died operated on old models and did not see it coming when they were finally hit: Kodak, Borders, Blockbusters. I fear this will happen for any company who doesn’t really see the end in sight. As things continue to hum in the organization, then status quo will be the driving mandate.

      • Bill Smith says:

        In case of United, which crisis? Of course airlines, especially legacy carriers have have issues pop up almost weekly and I’m at a point wondering if they just consider that just the part of doing business, sort of, “You don’t like it, who else are you going to fly with? American Airlines is even worse.”

        I vaguely remember “Dell Hell”, that was one hell of a customer service nightmare, I had one of their desk tops back then and thankfully it behaved itself. I think that is the starting point how customer service nightmares started to be documented online for the world to see.

        What scares me more with Canadian companies is the on average lackadaisical mindset towards productivity and innovation which ties into what you have been talking about. Yes it’s not what marketing and communications professionals are usually concerned about but I’m one of those big picture types.

        • hessie jones says:

          Remember United Breaks Guitars? I also forgot about Dominos when people told them how bad their pizza tasted.

          Canadian companies, on the whole, are risk averse. They don’t even realize why they need to venture down this road. The resource downsizing, revenue fluctuations aren’t enough to convince them that changes need to happen. Innovation?? That’s hardly in their vocabulary. I will definitely read the document you sent to me. It’s a huge wake up call.

          • Bill Smith says:

            I remember United Breaks Guitars very well, it was the open festering wound for the airline on Twitter for a while and fodder for many a PR blog post on ignoring social media at your peril. Remember when Air Canada lost an Italian Greyhound at San Francisco airport’s freight terminal?

            Airlines, especially North American legacy carriers will always have social media flare ups, it’s almost built into the business model and my guess the internal decision making process goes along the lines of, does this person have elite status with us, yes or no? If yes, we’ll throw them a bone and hopefully that will fix things, if no, oh well too bad, who else are you going to fly with?

            As for the state of Canadian business regards to innovation, new business development into new markets and we’re not even touch adaptation of the social business model, that could be fodder for a whole bunch of blog posts.

          • hessie jones says:

            Well said Bill! I think you should start those “bunch of blog posts”. There is so much to be said in this area.

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