Modern business is rotten

Have you ever worked in a large organisation where the values are “lived”? If you have, you’re definitely in a small minority.


In businesses I work with, our research turns up the same challenges and the same frustrations. It’s like listening to a broken record.

The song goes something like this:

“Our systems are outdated and no-one can use them”

“We have a 2 hr face to face training session so people can use the X system”

“Our values are X but I’ve seen loads of examples of senior people who don’t follow them”

“I don’t get support from my manager”

“I don’t understand X process”

“Working with HR is a nightmare”

Sound familiar?

When you hear the same things over and over again. You start to think there’s something fundamental we’re getting wrong in business.

In the Learning and Performance Innovation team at PA, we have a saying, “organisations make good people do bad things”. My view is that the structures and mind set of business is horribly misguided and based on centuries-old theory.

Delve into any modern thought-leadership around human behaviour, and you’ll hear the same things. Command and control = bad for productivity, individual autonomy and flexibility = good for productivity.


Gone are the days of our parents and grandparents where employees felt like they should be grateful for their jobs and the goal was to make as much money as possible. Now the view of what it means to be employed is changing to: “I’ve got skills you want, what are you going to do about it?” And the goal of making money is changing to “how are we going to make a positive difference”.

I’ve sat in a room with a group of baby boomers criticising millennial attitudes, saying it’s the product of a generation of demanding, immature, dreamers. This is the view of those who can’t or won’t change. The voice of those who will steer their organisations into the scrap heap with Kodak and BHS.


If you get up for work in the morning thinking about how you’ve got to do a load of boring tasks which appear to have no importance, for a company you think doesn’t care less, for a manager that makes you feel bad about yourself. Remember, it doesn’t have to be this way!

Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive’ is worth a read if you want to understand the science behind the ineffectual nature of old-school businesses. In a nutshell, contrary to popular belief, extrinsic rewards like cash only account for a tiny fraction of people’s overall motivation.


The most effective way to engage employees is to give them autonomy, mastery and purpose. It sounds crazy to suggest that you wouldn’t manage people and closely monitor what they do. People turning up to work when they want, working part of the time on what they want, and working how they want, sounds like a socialist fantasy. It’s not, it’s science.

I’m not an extremist. There are certainly a small number of things where people need to conform to comply with legal regulations. But the rest of working life should be driven through leadership, behaviour and culture i.e. people, not rules.

When you get to working age, you’re considered to be a responsible adult. So why do most organisations treat their employees like children? The answer, I think, is because few know there is another way. And because, most of us struggle to resist command and control.

Before I close there’s something to say on the organisational systems that many of you will have the daily misfortune of using. For the love of god, stop putting up with it! Sharepoint is a form of torture. I don’t care if you work in IT and you think it can do loads of cool stuff, the user experience is shocking. Give us the experience online that we get in our personal lives.


But… but… security. I hear you stutter – Mr Helpdesk. Yes security is essential, but that doesn’t excuse your complete lack of appreciation for the pain and suffering your colleagues have to go through hourly. Sort it out and give us a user experience that helps rather than hinders, or I’ll club you to death with my Windows phone and my stupid, cumbersome laptop.




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