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IDEAS. STRATEGY. TACTICS. INNOVATION. INSPIRATION.

Rodney Evans on Brave Ways to Reinvent Organizations


Woman standing in front of a building

Rodney Evans is a partner at The Ready, the podcast host of Brave New Work, a pioneer in adaptive organization design and has 20 years of experience in all things transformation. She has researched, developed and taught new ways of working in dozens of complex environments for companies of every shape and size, including Airbnb, GE, Macy's, Intuit and J&J. In this interview, Rodney talks about brave new work that can help you reinvent your organization.


When people aren't happy, and companies aren't performing the way they used to, or maybe want to - what is typically the problem?

We assert that bureaucracy is primarily getting in the way. Bureaucracy is a fun buzzword to talk about but it has a lot of legacy in terms of how we operate. One of the most pernicious aspects of bureaucracy that we get into is what we call organizational debt. Effectively, organizational debt consists of the policies, the practices, the roles, the ways of working and doing that no longer serve us but that we continue to operate within.


We tend to think about organizational debt in terms of very big and antiquated systems, but it can also live in startup culture. Why is that?

Think about basic human needs at work, which are the same as basic human needs anywhere else. If you understand a little bit about motivational theory, you know that human beings need autonomy, connection or community and, psychological and physical safety. These are very basic needs. And when we don't have one of those needs met at work, we tend to start behaving in ways that don't serve anyone.


So on one side of the organization cycle, we have more bureaucratic outcomes. Imagine I'm a leader and there's not a lot of trust or connection between my team and me. I am likely to get a little demanding and controlling. Maybe I put a process in place where I do more approval and checking. This leads to a permission culture where my team can't do anything without me. So they sit there and wait for instructions or wait to ask for permission to do things. Over time, that creates apathy and stuckness at scale. The trappings of traditional systems cost us a ton of money and doesn't serve us well.


On the other side, we see something that is more often seen in startups but can also exist inside bureaucracies, in pockets. Say Sam is a leader who founded something because she didn't want to work in a big, structured hierarchical place anymore. In her new place, everyone will have autonomy, and everyone will fulfill their purpose etc etc. Then maybe she finds out that as a founder, she has some unmet need for her own autonomy. The team is asking her to write things down, make processes and be consistent. She starts to avoid those constraints so her team tries to influence her towards their agenda. That's also really inefficient and it creates a big dependency on Sam as a leader.

Think about basic human needs at work, which are the same as basic human needs anywhere else. If you understand a little bit about motivational theory, you know that human beings need autonomy, connection or community, psychological and physical safety.

How do we define our principle around purpose?

Purpose lives. It is intended to influence the decisions we make day-to-day. Maybe we have a practice where we ask ourselves a climate review question about our purpose every week. Maybe we have a practice where we retrospect against our purpose once a quarter, and either the purpose or the priorities to ensure they're in a feedback loop with each other. Maybe once a year, we throw it out, and generate a new one. One of my favorite things to do in a group is to generate 20 new purpose statements and then narrow them down to get to a good version. These are all ideas to help us keep our purpose central in our decision-making.


Talk to us a bit about authority.