Bringing More Humanity to the Workplace

Pierre-Borris Kalitventzeff shares what he learned by going to Holacracy, achieving burnout, and then moving beyond to bring new energy and humanity to the workplace.

Bill Fox
Mar 3, 2021
7 min read

Pierre-Boris Kalitventzeff: Evolution catalyst at We Are Life Masters.


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How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

Pierre: Your question contains a lot. It’s about creating a context that allows for the expression of our intrinsic motivation and our best self. We do that by removing barriers.

A context at the workplace is made of three things. Number one is culture, so it’s a set of shared values, behaviors, habits, mental models, ways of seeing the world. It’s also a vision. It’s that subtle and invisible energy that can make people feel they belong to a group. Number two, it’s a system that organizes the collective action, so we can call that the management system if you will. And by the way, it’s actually not about managing people, it’s about managing work. And number three is leadership because the system cannot evolve beyond the limitations of the leader.

The limitations of the leader are the limitations of the workplace.

When I say removing the barriers, you do that within this context. This is the way you keep alignment between stakeholders and avoid going into a space of chaos. Otherwise, if you remove the barriers and you don’t have any framework, you have chaos. You will have divisions between groups, between individual people, between management and the rest of the group, between the shareholders and the people carrying out the work. There is a distinction between the I and the We — between the individual and the group. The idea is to go from the I to the We and even beyond.

I wish to share a personal experience here. When I was CEO, I came up with a new management system, Holacracy. It’s a great tool. It’s very much in line with your question to have change and innovation happen naturally and to have every voice in the system being heard and being considered. Holacracy is a system that integrates change in day-to-day operations.

I found it very powerful to apply this system. The organization gained a lot in autonomy and agility. I learned a lot. I thought it was enough to have the team say, “Let’s try it!” But actually, it’s not enough. You need to have consistency and coherence. Coherence for me is the number one priority of leadership. You need consistency between these three context elements I mentioned earlier: culture, the management system (or structure), and leadership.

Coherence for me is the number one priority of leadership. You need consistency between culture, the management system, and leadership.

What is the purpose when you adopt such a management system? Does it align with the company’s culture? I realized, as we were adopting new ways of working together, that mindsets weren’t changing. That habits weren’t changing. That beliefs weren’t changing. At least not as fast they could have or should have.

Today, being aware of this is very useful in my work: you need to facilitate cultural change. If you don’t do that while you are making changes from a structural point of view, then you are missing something. You need consistency and coherence.

What does it take to get employees’ full attention and best performance?

Pierre: I believe getting an employee’s full attention and best performance requires being focused on being at the service to the organization and connected to its purpose.

We know how important acknowledgment and appreciation are to people. But I believe it’s much more than that, so I would like to share my truth here. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience — not the contrary.

We are much more than our ego needing to be recognized and appreciated.

So, what does this require from the organization? It requires showing genuine appreciation. It’s not a manager saying, “I’m a manager, so therefore I need to appreciate my employees.” No, it should be genuine. It should be spontaneous. It should come from the heart, and this requires us to grow as human beings.

And for the employee, what does it take? Well, it’s doing what is expected from a whole person who is living her purpose. When you do things from your own energy, you are not expecting anything in return. When we love what we do and when the organization has removed barriers to our self-expression, then we can reach our best performance.

When people can fully express their talents, they feel important — automatically.

They do not feel important because of some rewards, they feel it because they can really get a sense of importance because they make a mark. They leave something behind, and they reach resonance. This is the sense of importance that will feed their performance.

What do people really lack and long for at work?

Pierre: They lack the same thing we long for in life in general. It’s a pity people cannot show up at work how they are able to show up elsewhere in their life. Because in the end, we long for a sense of purpose and being useful, we long for connection.

Many of us find this sense of purpose elsewhere in our lives. That’s why we engage in social projects because we need to be fed by something. All this urge of wanting to contribute to something greater than ourselves shows there are some needs to be met. It’s important for the organization to know and satisfy these needs as well.

Richard Barrett, an author and internationally recognized thought leader on the evolution of human values, has developed the topic quite a lot. In a nutshell, he tells, among other things, that the values we have as human beings evolve over time. If we assume, as adults, we have completed our basic needs: security, appreciation, being important, and when we have self-actualized, what appears are the needs of the soul: purpose, deep connection, being in service of a cause, sharing, and transmission.

We want to have conversations not one way, but we want to have dialogues. We also need fun and some lightness too. Well, I couldn’t have fun at my last job. That’s one of the reasons I quit. I was not having fun.

The workplace of the future will target all needs including the needs of our souls so that we can evolve, be happy and grow in the workplace.

What is the most important question leaders should be asking employees?

Pierre: My response is completely linked to your first question:

Who would you be and what would you do if you had 100% freedom?

Maybe this question goes with a subset of questions. For example: How can I help you to express your full potential? I believe our role as leaders is to help people develop themselves. When you do that, they will be satisfied. They will generate results and perform. Everybody wins.

This question is put within a context made of a vision, a dream, and a culture. When you give freely without any context then after that you need to address it. To avoid an intervention, you have to prepare and then ask this question, having set the context: “Just imagine you have full freedom. Who would you be and what would you do?”

What is the most important question employees should be asking their leaders?

Pierre: I would leave each employee to have their own most important question. There are as many questions as we are on the planet earth. Best to leave this one to the open will of the concerned people. I believe everyone has his own focus, priorities, and personality.

But maybe, if we think about the organization, and we ask in the name of the organization, what is the most important question it would expect from employees, perhaps that would be, what do we want to create here? What is the big picture project? What is the purpose of this organization?I would expect a response that would enchant me and that will summon the best part of me.

And here as an employee, I would not expect words. I would expect a response that would enchant me and that will summon the best part of me. What is the great project I am contributing to? What big issue am I solving in the world by working for this company?

What is the most important question we should be asking ourselves?

Pierre: Who are we? That was the first question I asked myself when I saw your question. Who am I to answer that? However, as human beings or as leaders or as people working in organizations, if put me in any role I could have related to the life of organizations, the question would be, what am I here for?

This question came to my mind because I was a CEO at a leading company providing process engineering technology to the petroleum industry. Not asking myself this question led me to burnout. So, the question behind this question is how much am I aligned with the best expression of my best self? This means I’m doing the right thing. This means I am where I should be because, to some extent, nobody else will do what I do.

There is a place for every being, and we have to let it emerge.

I believe there is a place in the world for every human being. It can change along the way, and it can evolve. But if I’m not where I’m expected to be, then the world will miss something.

It means also loving what you do. I was in this job and my head, body, and heart were not at the same place. I was putting my body in the chair, I was doing my job, I was meeting people. But my heart was not there. You have to love what you do. That’s the best way to have an impact. In time, you’ll have resonance and achieve self-satisfaction.

Love is also being with a sense of gratitude all the time. Am I grateful? What can I be grateful for today — right now? That’s what switches my mindset when I’m down. This sense of gratitude. It will be better if you love what you do because then you will be grateful for having that luck of doing a job you love.

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