Letting People Do What They Really Want to Do

Eva Maria Schielein: Eva is transforming organizations through her work and company aestimat.

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

This is a very complex question. To me, it's all in the system. Many components matter to create creative and better workplaces. It's about letting people do what they really want to do and developing their strengths, but this only happens when the system is there to allow them to be themselves.

I think having a system like holacracy or one with a high level of self-organization where people can organize their work and quickly modify their roles is needed. If I see that I'm not a good accountant, I can let someone else fill this role. I’ll do something else. This is possible in self-organized systems but very difficult in hierarchical organizations.

I think self-organization is the key to more creativity in the workplace. We've seen this in startups and innovation hubs of large enterprises. Small groups or teams work together collaboratively and flexibly with no job titles, but everyone has one or more roles that they choose. In these arrangements, we've seen that creativity comes from being very flexible, built right in from the start because it’s part of the system.

People really are more powerful than hierarchies. We are now in the age where we can look at people in wholeness, we have a purpose. Frederic LaLoux describes it very well in his book Reinventing Organizations. I don't know if everyone is like that, but at least we should design our organizations so people can bring their whole selves into it. How can I be creative if every piece of paper I touch, or every email I write has to be accepted by my boss?

What does it take to get an employee's full attention and best performance?

Let's look at what science says from Positive Psychology, which is the scientific basis for well-being at work. There are many proofs that a very high level of productivity is reached when workers can develop their strengths. We also know that companies succeed in creating a positive climate when they have positive relations at work and have positive (constructive) communication. When these conditions exist, then the best productivity can be expected.

What do people really lack and long for at work?

It depends on our values. Every one of us has his or her own unique individual values. We are either born with our values or at least have in us since childhood.

For example, my highest value is autonomy. A workplace that gives me the highest autonomy would be fine with me. At the same time, somebody else who needs more recognition or friendship with others may need to work on a team where they are recognized or compensated for their contribution. It really depends on the values you have. No matter what values you have,  if you are perceived as a person as an individual, you are that the contributions you have at work count. I think that's very important.

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

What’s working well that we can continue, and what would you like us to change?

What’s the most important question employees should be asking leaders?

How can I contribute?

What is the most important question we can ask ourselves?

In positive psychology, there is one big precondition: Martin Seligman's "other people matter." So my question to myself would be, "Am I really this important?" Do I really need to always think about improving? Maybe it’s sometimes it's better to think about somebody else.

Eva, you provided us with a copy of your recently published paper on Positive Transformation: How Workplaces Can Become Creative Workplaces. Can you tell us more about Positive Transformation and this work?

The 21st century should eventually be a time in history when organizations become meaningful workplaces. With "Positive Transformation," I developed a framework of interventions and procedures of self-organization principles, human-centered design, and positive psychology to make organizations fit for the transformation into more soulful and innovative workplaces.

Most of today’s companies want to become more agile, flexible, creative, and innovative. The transformation, though, is rather a psychological than a technical issue. I have experienced that transformation can fuel optimism among people if the focus is laid on people’s strengths, values, and talents. After reading my paper, I hope people get a sense of the “positive” aspects of a transformation.