by Andrew Mawson — Originally published in August/September 2017 issue of FMJ
As the global workforce winds its way through an irksome productivity maze, it
seems that as each corner is turned, there’s yet another dead end. That being
said, at least most companies have managed to avoid falling into a pit — proving
there’s a way through the maze if workers can find the right path.
American management consultant Peter Drucker said he believed “the most important
contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker.” Half a century later, it seems no one is shouting this sentiment louder than workplace FM professionals.
Facilities management ultimately exists to “facilitate” individual and collective needs and the most pressing need in the modern workplace is to boost engagement and,
ultimately, output. Although progressive businesses may be aware of the importance of leveraging facilities and real estate as part of the central business strategy, many aren’t getting it right.
Open any newspaper, and everything from the tumultuous economy to the turbulent
political landscape is blamed for ongoing labor lulls. However, not much is said about the workplace’s role in fostering and supporting productivity, particularly in the realm of knowledge work, where collaboration and problem solving are essential parts of daily activity.
Businesses operating in the world of knowledge hire people who think for a living, so
leveraging the collective knowledge in people’s brains is the name of the game. The end goal is to channel that energy in the direction of markets, products and services that are, at least for the short term, going to offer commercial value.
Amidst the noise about advancing technology and the changing world of work, one thing
remains certain — the real value of an organization will be how well it cultivates and deploys the brainpower, knowledge and energy of its people. FMs need to consider how to ensure the work environment facilitates and supports optimal cognitive performance to maximize the productivity of their knowledge communities. To do that, it helps to understand organizational needs and how to support knowledge workers.
So, how do organizations go about harnessing the collective brain? One way is to translate the latest academic research on organizational practice into a workable workplace model. The Centre for Evidence Based Management (CEBMa) in Amsterdam is a global network of academics: They are “zealots” for evidence-based practice. A review of 800 academic papers led them to identify six factors that highly correlate with knowledge worker team performance. These factors became known as the “six factors that change everything.” Once implemented, organizations can use these principles to unleash the collective knowledge of their workforce, and nothing can, or will, remain the same.
1. Social Cohesion
The first — social cohesion — can best be summarized by the popular lyric: “we get by with a little help from our friends.” Multiple studies have shown if people get along with each other, they will be more comfortable sharing their ideas and knowledge. Social cohesion is about making people feel safe when saying their piece, regardless of the seniority or importance of their position in the organization. Within any organization, social cohesion can lead to improved idea sharing. For FMs, it can also be used to support positive and productive relationships with organizations that reside in the facility.
Consider how socially cohesive your organization and senior leadership community are. Are they modelling the sort of behaviors you want to see across the organization? Are you doing enough to stimulate and nurture social relationships between departments and teams? Do the physical and technical infrastructures in your space support serendipitous social interaction?
Part of this questioning requires FMs and workplace specialists to join forces with other divisions, such as HR, IT and operations teams, to evaluate how workers interact with their space. However, these conversations can yield positive results, according to CEBMa, and this is a main factor that contributes to knowledge worker productivity.
2. Perceived Supervisory Support
The second factor — perceived supervisory support —refers to ensuring people have access to support if they need it. As CEBMa researchers combed through more than 800 studies, it became clear people need to feel that the person they report to is positively supporting them to achieve their personal and professional goals. In your own organization, consider whether supervisors need any further training when it comes to proactively developing professional relationships with team members. Are managers supporting their teams on personal and professional levels? These skills may need to be developed, so consider providing coaching and support to help managers support their teams.
3. Information Sharing
Information sharing, the third factor, is also known as “sharing is caring.” Facility managers play a role here, because the provision of facilities and workspaces help ensure teams can collaborate and maintain easy access to company-wide expertise. Establishing and driving a culture of sharing is influenced by the availability of a collaborative workspace and the internal infrastructure to support communication between team members. Infrastructure, in both the physical and organizational sense, should support knowledge sharing throughout the organization.
Within a company’s organizational infrastructure, encourage people to find out who has what experience, then capture this knowledge in a system, or a “knowledge register.” Identify knowledge experts and reinforce knowledge sharing by rewarding productive behaviors, regardless of seniority, power or personality.
4. Vision and Goal Clarity
For people to be emotionally engaged with the work they do, they need to possess a common understanding of personal, team and enterprise objectives. They also need to display high commitment to these goals. Give everyone a sense of purpose if you want to harness the power of the fourth factor — vision and goal clarity.
Managers need to create meaning and purpose for each staff member, and part of that meaning is demonstrating how the individual contributes to the overall vision and success of the organization. Leverage the individual’s role to motivate them to work in a focused manner toward the organization’s goals. In order to open the door to productive knowledge sharing, people should feel invested in the success of the company as an extension of their own success.
5. External Communication
This brings us to the fifth factor — external communication. Too often people spend their time at work cocooned in their own little world. Encourage people to break out of their bubbles and communicate with people outside their immediate cohort. Encourage people to expose themselves to the views and experiences of diverse groups outside their team and even outside the organization in order to shape their ideas, fuel innovation and maintain vigor. Communicating with industry groups outside the organization, for example, can bring new ideas and excitement back to the team.
Last, but by no means least, it’s all about trust. People need to feel that those around them will act in their best interest, that the knowledge they contribute will be used responsibly and that they can depend on the knowledge, advice, skills and abilities of their colleagues.
In your organization, can people rely on what they are told? Have promises been broken in the past that are impacting their trust? Do people keep their word, and do leaders understand that their “trust-ability” depends on keeping promises and providing information with integrity? To encourage a companywide trust and belief in others, it’s important to foster an environment of integrity that starts from the top down.
To create a productive environment, FMs and workplace professionals should seek to foster a trusting, supportive environment where people feel free to work efficiently and effectively together, in a way that encourages idea and information sharing. Implementing these six factors to that end will naturally improve engagement.
This may sound like common sense, but the research has shown it’s not actually that common. When many organizations are analyzed, it becomes apparent there are engrained processes, structures, hierarchy and “conventional wisdom” that work against these tenets. These six factors offer organizations the chance to adapt to the changing workplace in a way that will innovate, inspire and energize the workforce.
By some estimates, the number of knowledge workers has doubled in the last 30 years, and there’s a heightened willingness to adjust to meet the needs of these new workers. As an industry, FMs are starting to understand the scientific movement in the direction of productivity and knowledge sharing. We must all be a little bit braver in having these conversations, because it’s only by applying the research that we’ll improve cognitive performance — and, in turn, business performance. It’s a great challenge, and we must be a little bold in order to contribute towards the success of our economy.
- Center for Evidence-Based Management resources and tools www.cebma.org/resources-and-tools
- Thinking for a Living: How to get better performance and results from knowledge workers, Thomas H. Davenport, Harvard Business School Press, 2005.
ANDREW MAWSON, Managing Director of Advanced Workplace Associates, is a thinker and speaker on matters work and place. He spans the worlds of business strategy, organizational design, work strategy, workplace design and change management. In his consulting work, he has led workplace change programs with clients including Invesco, UNICEF, Willis, Direct Line Group, National Rail, Royal Bank of Scotland and Merrill Lynch. In 2014, Andrew worked with the UK Cabinet Office as an adviser, participating in a review of 13 government departments’ performance in implementing agile working as part of the government’s Civil Service Reform program, which has been instrumental in reducing the UK Government’s property portfolio by 20 percent. For more information, please visit www.advanced-workplace.com.