Guy Lawrence – former CEO at Vodafone – tells of an organizational transformation effort that is intrinsically tied to office renovation – he says: “Conventional offices and working is dead”.
A Simple Recipe: Death to cubicles and offices
- Buy everyone in the company a cell phone and a laptop.
- Remove all offices and cubicles. Open plan office with desks.
- Remove all personal material so that every day starts fresh
- People sit with the people they need to work with that day.
- Meeting rooms are just for meetings of 6 or more people.
- Build coffee shops in in the center of each floor to create a “buzz”
Innovation & Leveraging Gen Y
The motivation for undertaking these sweeping changes is to have people from Generation Y (born after 1982) actually want to work at Vodafone. A basic requirement here is that the tools they get at the company are as good or better than what they have personally. Nobody wants to use an infrastructure that sucks but for Gen Y this is a real problem.
Gen Y work on a collaborative model and do not tolerate a dominant hierarchy. Their employee engagement score plummet and they quit in droves.
Subversion of Management Hierarchy
A central part of the plan is to put the organizational hierarchy in the background and push communication and decision-making lower down in the organization. Part of the idea of getting rid of offices is to reduce the power differential between managers and subordinates. Guy reported that 49 of his 5000 staff did not make the adjustment to this brave new world.
The net of all this is to create a place that can rapidly respond to changing events. To use open networks of communication to tap into people’s creativity.
Video of Guy’s Talk at Google
What About Teams?
I am curious about teams in this brave new world. Agile Software Development and many others observe that building stable teams is a great recipe for high performance. My suspicion is that this model would be further enhanced by having a clear role for teams.
Curious About Culture
One thing very interesting is that Guy is leading a cultural transformation without clearly outlining the culture of the organization the way many other great organizations such as Zappos do. Instead, he uses simple rules to subvert traditional corporate behaviour. I imagine that this type of transformation could be even more successful if accompanied by an explicit culture model.
What’s next? Rogers Media/Telco!
I have been involved with Agile at Rogers (based in Toronto) on more than one occasion and it is by and large suffering from the typical culture and bureaucratic challenges of any large organization. I have been wondering what hope there is for the organization to truly transform without top-level leadership in a new direction. I am truly delighted to see steps taken towards a people-friendly work culture. I am also very curious to see if he will be able to overcome deeply entrenched resistance to change. Guy starts in December, 2013. Go Guy, GO!