How Can We Create a Better Work Place?

This week marks the 10th anniversary of my column Working Wounded (also my one-year anniversary of writing this blog). I'll reflect in Working Wounded later this week about the changes that have taken place over the last decade. In this column I'll address an important question that is related to everything I've written about: How can we create a better workplace?

There are several subjects that we need to address if we really hope to improve our working lives:

Technology. Technology was sold to us as a way to bring people together. The reality at work is quite different. I think we need to adopt a technology strategy similar to that of Southwest Airlines. In case you haven't heard, Southwest wants its pilots to actually fly their planes. It expects its pilots to be in control and actually fly the plane instead of relying on the computer system and automatic pilot, so Southwest doesn't include every darn bit of technology on Southwest planes.

We all need to do a better job of wrestling technology to the ground -- to take control back. We need to learn how to use technology to build bridges and interact with one another, and interaction might need to extend further than just two-sentence e-mails.

I'm not advocating the never-ending coffee klatch at work -- we don't need to stand around gabbing all day. But I am suggesting that achieving collective wisdom in the office requires a "collective." And right now, that isn't happening in most workplaces that I hear from. We spend too much time e-mailing and instant messaging and not enough time talking. Dialogue, interaction -- heck, even just a small bit of face time -- would go a long way to creating an environment where we can actually learn from one another.

Greed. Did you see the recent story about how executives' options grants at many companies were often magically awarded just before a big run-up in the stock. A coincidence? Hardly. The report says that the grants were made after the fact and timed to give the executives the maximum possible return. Greed is good, if you sit in the corner office. We need to do a better job of giving executives big paydays the old fashioned way -- after they've earned it. A not-to-do list. Yep, you read it right. We are all busting our humps, trying to get as much done as possible at work. As a result, our to-do lists get longer and longer. I'm a big advocate of putting effort into what we need to stop doing. There's a good chance a lot of what we're spending our time on is unnecessary. So start a not-to-do list with your team -- it's the gift that will keep on giving.

Hope. The biggest thing that we need at work today is hope. Yes, we need to believe that it is worth the time and trouble to create a better workplace. We spend far too much time at work to be so accepting of all work's shortcomings. Let's all rededicate ourselves to creating a work experience that justifies all those hours that we put in week after week.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"A full moon blanks out all the stars around it." -- Ted Turner, commenting on himself.

BOOK EXCERPT OF THE WEEK

From "Simplicity Survival Handbook" by Bill Jenson (Basic, 2003):

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