The Untapped Potential in Our Workplaces

I see massive untapped potential in the workers of the world, myself included, and I believe it is time for the world of work to evolve. We live in a time where 70% of the American workforce is not fully engaged at work and this is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity. The bigger tragedy for me is that many of us are compromising living our life fully by working in environments that do not see our full potential. Did you know that on average we spend 90,000 hours of our lives at work?

The amazing advances in technology that are increasing our productivity are curiously not helping. Getting more done faster does not appear to be the answer; we appear to be busier than ever! I propose we need a change of focus, one that will help us connect to the potential that exists within each of us.

I can think of many inspiring individuals who do live up to their potential and also succeed in the material world through supportive organizations and collaborations. There are many powerful leaders, great artists and talented musicians whose prolific level of output astounds me, tapping into their own personal source of creativity, delivering value into the world and reaping financial rewards. Leonardo Da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Jerry Garcia and Steve Jobs are just a few examples that spring to mind.

There are also organizations that achieve great success only because they bring out the full potential of their people. I see this most often with great professional sports teams; Cirque du Soleil is another example. No wonder so many people spend their free time watching these amazing individuals perform at such a high level.

Many organizations, however, still have in place structures that served the industrial process well: they focus more on replaceable roles than on leveraging the unique potential of individuals.

For the world of work to evolve, there will be many challenges ahead of us, both for individuals and for organizations. What I wish to present here are two small paradigm shifts that can help today’s workplace unleash more of people’s full potential at work.

The first shift is: Appreciation > Recognition

Appreciation is acknowledging people for who they are, recognition is acknowledging people for what they have done.

There is a subtle but powerful shift when we move to appreciating people for who they are. This practice helps the team and the person being appreciated see their potential. Recognizing various forms of success: hitting sales targets, delivering quality innovative product, leading a productive team, is all well and good, but is based around acknowledging external results. The source of true potential is within us all, and practicing appreciation is a way to see this.

At our start-up, Weave the People, each team member is assigned to appreciate one other team member each week. In return, we each receive an appreciation from someone else. It is one of the highlights of our weekly reflection meeting. Being an innovative startup, it is also a bonus to be able to appreciate people in times of failure!

The second shift is: Culture > Strategy

Culture is who we are. Strategy is what we do. The phrase culture eats strategy for breakfast is now well known, but let’s look at how it applies here.

This second shift is where we move from individual practices to intentional culture. Structures need to be built into our working organizations with the intention of seeing the people, seeing the potential of the individuals and the collective. Like appreciation, the focus is to look at who we are more than what we can do. In addition to shifting from results to people, this is also a shift from future focus to present focus.

Of course, strategy is essential for an organization to plan how to manifest its mission and achieve its goals. This is a given and all successful organizations know how to do this – so let’s move on, let’s evolve. We are already seeing many examples of organizations who are successful because of their focus on their people and culture.

These shifts are happening today but I think the evolution is just beginning. This evolution can happen equally in existing successful Fortune 100 companies as well as start-ups building intentional cultures from the ground up.

The evolved world of work I envision is one where organizations can only succeed by leveraging the full potential of every one of their workers. I envision organizations adapting based on what they discover about the people they attract to join them. I envision my son graduating college into a world of work that invites him to be his full authentic self and has structures in place to discover how to align his potential with the potential of the organization.

What do you envision for an evolved workplace?

What practices have you found successful in your workplace today?

What are some steps we can take to help with the evolution of the world of work?

Originally published by Paul Caswell on LinkedIn.