"In every organism on Earth there exists a mutator gene – the X-factor.
Taking its cues from the climate, terrain, and various sources of nourishment,
the mutator gene tells the body when it needs to change to adapt."
So explains a character, Jean Grey, in the hugely successful X-Men movie. In
this adaptation of the popular comic book, the mutator gene that has lain
dormant for thousands of years begins again to work its evolutionary magic,
creating a new race with power beyond normal humans.
Ever wondered what evolution lies beyond normal culture and normal
There is a growing human desire for meaning beyond money and enterprises’
need to solve problems that require complexity rather than production line
conformity. Witness Freeserve, where Norman McQueen is the talent development
manager. "People now need their job to have a purpose. We have to work
hard to link their work to the outcome of a satisfied customer; it gives a
larger context to their jobs, and increases productivity and fulfilment,"
In pursuit of the productive employee, McQueen ensures everyone at every
level interacts with real customers to meet their desire for purpose.
In 1966, an Illinois dog food factory worker was found bound to a column
with packaging tape. Instead of discipline, the managers experimented. They
redesigned the plant to meet human needs for self-esteem. They removed
supervisors, and workers shared responsibility, information, and authority.
Every man became self-directed. The mutant gene was activated.
It was a huge success in increasing productivity but the cultural evolution
scared executives so much they sent in a new man to "cut out the
missionary crap." The workers wouldn’t go back to the old way. Three times
the plant was sold and each time the culture persisted, along with the
astonishingly high levels of profit.
This is the type of thing companies who need growth and innovation are
starting to recognise. Still, it is unnerving. Alex Wilson, BT’s group director,
says: "BT knows its customers can only be satisfied when workers have the
individual freedom to serve them." Yet he admits the fear of "rampant
individualism among 103,000 people".
Wilson is already working on something that looks ever closer to workplace
democracy. He knows he has to find a way of "touching people, employees
and suppliers so they can understand that the purpose and future of the company
is to serve customers."
His plan organises BT into 10,000 groups of 10 and asks what each individual
wants to do differently, what they want the company to do differently, and so
on. Each group sends a representative to one of 100 conventions to move things
along. Wilson says he encourages this powerful evolution because: "BT
can’t afford to have people who can’t think."
BT and Freeserve feel the mutant gene for freedom rising. One day, dear
reader, it could very well activate in your organisation.
By Max Mckeown, Corporate activist and author of Unshrink