My role in the evolution of the Human Organization

After six years and a half, last week marked the end of my employment at EY. Through different hats and responsibilities, EY has been the organization I’ve stayed the longest with, supporting fantastic clients, in an international and intercultural setting, with a fair amount of professional growth, economical success and a promising journey ahead.

Why leaving then? Or, as many of those reading my goodbye post in social media expressed it, “Where you are going to work next”. 

I thank the many friends that reached out to offer congratulations and learn more but I wonder whether this is the right question. What such words underpin to me is the implicit idea you can leave a senior position in a big, well respected, good-paying firm for one reason only: to move yourself into a more senior role, attached to a more substantial pay-check, in a larger, potentially more prestigious organization.

Work as a place. Work as an employer. Work as a position in a reassuring hierarchy. Work as a monetary exchange. To put it simply: more power, more money, more status.

Well, that’s exactly the opposite of what I’ve chosen.

If there is a single common trait that I’ve seen again and again in over 18 years with companies as small as 3 individuals and as large as 445K, both on the client and the consulting side, from a technological or a strategic perspective, in my country or abroad, is how inhumane our organizations have become. Whether I was the senior leader or just the last kid on the block, the human beings around me, under me and above me were largely depressed, demotivated, uninspired, disengaged, unsatisfied, unproductive, neurotic due to their work. The big or small company to which they were devoting 2/3 of their time was literally sucking life out of them. The data points I’ve collected at Towards the Human Organization demonstrate, beyond any doubt, how such soul crunching dynamics have been at play in any industry, country and company for so many years now.

We are literally killing the fire, passion, love, inspiration and courage of billions of people. This is not going to turn out well either for employees, for customers or for shareholders. Just think about that fist in the stomach on Mondays, your mind flying away in yet another meaningless (and endless) meeting, colleagues you would happily never see again, customers screaming at you due to the valueless service your company provides. Does any of it sound familiar?

What most organizations struggle to accept is how it’s not human beings crushing other human beings. It’s organizations doing it, oftentimes unconsciously but still very “effectively”. 

It’s the way we conceive, design, manage, treat, transform, cede and cease our companies that nurtures the disease, more than its (faulty) members. It’s the many small mean, egoistic, opaque, directive, short termed decisions we take everyday that produce unimaginably large, long-lasting, hard-to-fix effects. It’s the lack of transparency, it’s refusing to listen, it’s the centralized decision making, it’s the missing care and tenderness for your colleague and customers, it’s the political turfs to achieve more power, it’s rewarding toxic behaviours to get promoted, it’s treating adults like kids, it’s the greed of the founders or owners, it’s preventing people to be themselves, it’s the idea senior people know better and can control the environment by telling everybody else what to do.

In a nutshell, it’s organization design or, more precisely, the belief organizations can be designed or managed at all.

And you may be thinking: “Wait, organizations are made of human beings. Isn’t ultimately our fault if things go as we see then?”. Yes and no. Organizations are complex (more or less adaptive) human systems immersed in a vast, deep, hard to comprehend and quite impossible to anticipate web of interdependencies. Human interactions within them have always been unpredictable, non linear, in constant flux. Outcomes are emergent, unexpected, impossible to foresee. The only illusion bigger than organization design is the one of a static, mechanistic, top-down organization design. Pandora’s box is wide open and it’s now upon us to decide what to do of it.

This evil, self-reinforcing, hard to escape mechanism in which we are all trapped is a double bind, as Nora Bateson would call it. Most of us need a job to live and sadly enough end up renouncing our life for that job. The more you work, the less energy is left and still, the less you are able to work, the more stuck you feel, loosing identity, a role in society, a little bit of certainty, the possibility to look after your family and your own needs. Sooner or later, the AI revolution may push for a jobless existence, nonetheless what to do in the while?

How to liberate millions of lives and, at the same time, nudge public and private companies to more significantly contribute to the improvement and enrichment of our society? 

I left EY to address this challenge. More precisely, I gave up looking for a traditional position in exchange of a salary and decided to devote myself to something I feel more urgent and meaningful: doing my part to let a human model of the organization emerge.

With a Human Organization I mean: 

“An adaptive, transparent, values-driven and technology-enabled organization that deliberately motivates an ecosystem of equivalent human beings to self-express, self-organize and self-develop towards shared purpose and meaning”.

I know, long one. Still these two lines summarize so many of the exciting, innovative, distinctive traits that pioneering firms are exposing:

  • Adaptive, as there is no definitive organization design. The organization has the means to continuously and autonomously sense the environment and change itself according to it. Your Marketing department may be gone or it could have gained 10 more colleagues tomorrow morning. Who knows..
  • Transparent, full visibility and free circulation of data, information and knowledge, not just internally but also towards the market, is the default behaviour. Think about salaries..
  • Values-driven (not value driven) as the members of the company’s ecosystem come together, connect and collaborate guided by a deeply interiorized set of values more than following commands, policies or rules.
  • Technology-enabled, high levels of autonomy and distributeness are balanced by usable, scalable and accessible tools that empower each individual to work with anybody else, regardless of the location, time, seniority, organizational silo.
  • Ecosystem, as there is no in and out, only a continuum of value creation that includes employees, suppliers, customers, competitors, institutions, academia and an ever-evolving set of stakeholders interested in generating value together.
  • Equivalent human beings, because there is no special treatment connected to the organizational position a member has.  Actually there is no idea of an organizational position. Contributing to the group and living the values are the only measure of success and source of respect.
  • Self-express, as individuals forget the uniform and bring up their colours, all of them, being fully and honestly themselves at work, as they are at home.
  • Self-organize, because decision making and organizational evolution happen where their probability to be effective and have impact is maximum: at the edge of contact with customers, innovation, human needs.
  • Self-develop, as work is no longer a static exchange of time for a salary. It instead is the opportunity for each human being to bloom, flourish, progress along its unique path of realization and expression. Making it happen is an explicit goal of the organization.
  • Shared purpose and meaning, as profits are a mean not and end. A much bigger, inspiring, attractive, transformational ambition of making the world a better place for all of its inhabitants becomes the reason for the firm to exist.

Helping companies, even very traditional ones, to confidently walk this path through encouragement, evidence, trends, tools, practices, transformation aids will be at the core of my activities going ahead. Exciting and scary at the same time!

The good news is that I won’t be alone in such an exploration, as I’ll try to bring my expertise with large, complex, socio-technical transformations at a new level through the collaboration and contamination with a diverse, nimble group of brave, knowledgeable and purposeful explorers.

They have been inspiring me with their trajectory, view of the world, complementary mastery and pure passion for positive impact. I’ll now have the chance to join the pack and actively learn, experiment and bring value with them to those companies searching not just for a more profitable but especially a more human, sustainable and fulfilling future.

Have a look at my Linkedin profile to learn more and please reach out if you care to do it together!

Emanuele Quintarelli

Entrepreneur and Org Emergineer at Cocoon Projects | Associate Partner at Peoplerise | LSP and Holacracy Facilitator

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