Dreaming at work must be a universal trait. Whatever culture, whatever age, there are tales and traces left behind by people who dream of something while they are at work.
Some dreaming at work is catastrophic — inattention causing damage and destruction is a peril for every company and the society that it is embedded in. Other dreaming at work is perilous more on the personal level. Management is not always understanding of those who appear to goof off.
The crux of all that dreaming, however, is what we can read from it, not in the sense of shamanic or Freudian interpretations but as signs telling us of engagement and disengagement.
About one third of all employees are highly engaged, suggest surveys and workplace studies such as the 2012 Global Workforce Study by international consulting group Towers Watson. Another quarter of employees are actively disengaged people, making the two categories the largest employee groups in work cultures stretching from Scandinavia to the Gulf. Research also says that companies with highly and sustainably engaged employees are far more productive than average companies. The question for an organization then is how to move from a mediocre fabric with few strands of high engagement, to a high collective level of engagement.
The possibility of reaching this state seems to me dependent on the veracity of cultural evolutionism, whereby human ideas and characteristic behaviors undergo long-term and durable changes into new ideas and behaviors.
As corporate evolutionism, this would make companies see their human capitals as their preeminent asset and the purpose of the enterprise as wellbeing instead of wealth, as another business brain trust, the Boston Consulting Group formulated last November. If impulses of cultural evolutionism shape corporate DNA, then this means that companies actually can abandon the predatory behaviors that ruled the past and adopt the upright walk of inspired and inspiring beings. If this whole idea holds water, then the great places to work of today are the pacesetters of future corporate behavior. To my mind, three points support this assumption: 1) The great places to work tend to maintain their status for some time; 2) Employees in great work environments represent a sample of humanity but align themselves extremely well with their work cultures; 3) Companies that stray from their corporate DNA can falter but can also recover.
Not to be confused with quantitative verification, here are my current perceptions why I consider these three points to be at least workable as indicators for a viable hypothesis, if not more.
The companies on the GPTW list in the United Arab Emirates are a diverse bunch by their fields of activity, their leadership and management patterns, and the economic and competitive environments in which they move. All exhibited a high degree of stability in their ability to be ranked as great places to work.
The employees of the great workplaces that I had a chance to meet in reviewing the GPTW process in 2012 and 2013 were highly diverse and yet all highly engaged. In both senior management and junior ranks, I had a chance to witness human behaviors that were in unity with the expectations that one has for a great workplace.
A first-rate case for the third point, the importance of a company not betraying its DNA, presented itself when I read last month how Toyota Corporation in 2012 regained its place for the world’s top car deliveries. The critics were amazed. Among keys to the recovery were a return to two virtues that made Toyota great — total quality focus and listening more to the employees.
When reviewing great places to work, one can either see the distance between one’s own house of labor and the environment of a great workplace — or one can see the potentials for copying some morsels of successful corporate DNA and embark on splicing them into the own self or organization.
The employees who I met at the GPTW list places in January 2013 without exception responded to one of my questions by sharing their exciting dreams of things they wanted to do. They were dreaming economic dreams, in the widest sense of contributing to the great scheme.
What did this tell me? Great job stories can show us how we can make our workplaces great. It starts with dreaming of what we want to achieve and then making it happen. Never stop dreaming of improving thy work, and keep at it until ye all get there.
Thomas Schellen is Executive's MENA business editor