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Most workplace practices are inherited from generations past, but in the face of changing circumstances, we need to dismantle and reinvent basic assumptions about how we work, author Aaron Dignan told a group of Circle Computer Resources (CCR) employees and invited guests Oct. 25 in a seminar at the Mount Mercy University Graduate Center. “Circumstances have changed, particularly with the pandemic,” said Mr. Dignan, author of “Brave New Work,” who speaks extensively nationwide to employers and business groups about organizational change and reinvention. “Everyone now has a new lens on how work is done, and we had to do a lot of reinventing to get through. So, it is possible.” At the beginning of his presentation, Mr. Dignan displayed a large “boxes and lines” corporate organizational chart and asked audience members to cite the year it was created. After guesses ranging from the mid-1980s to 2020, he revealed the chart had been created by the Southern Pacific Railroad System in 1910 – 112 years ago – and the premise has changed very little over the years. “What’s so fun about org charts to me is that … I can show you a picture of the instrument by which we organize all of human (workplace) effort, and it could be from any time (in the last 100 years),” he said. “The reason is either that it's perfect, and this is exactly how we should organize, or it's just really intractable. It's hard to find a different way of working together, a different way of thinking about organizing our work.” As inefficient and overly bureaucratic processes have persisted across generations, Americans have grown increasingly disenchanted with their work, Mr. Dignan said, referencing a study that indicates nearly half of all U.S. workers are unhappy with their job, about one in two think about quitting every other week, nearly half are not engaged at work, and about one in six are actively disengaged and are sabotaging the work of their colleagues. “To me, this is really scary,” Mr. Dignan said, “because it means we spend roughly half our waking lives in a place where half the people there don't want to be there.” While technology has advanced, the effectiveness of the average worker has actually declined, Mr. Dignan said, due to what he calls “organizational debt.” “If you talk to people on the front lines and ask them what might be getting in the way of their efficiency, everyone says the same thing: Bureaucracy,” Mr. Dignan said. “There’s so much red tape, so many rules and regulations, there’s no room for human judgment and creativity any more. There’s just room for compliance, and it’s limiting our ability to do our best work.” There’s a quantifiable cost to organizational debt, he said – about $3.4 trillion per year in the United States alone, and nearly $9 trillion globally. Mr. Dignan highlighted several companies around the world, including Chinese appliance manufacturer Haier and Dutch health care organization Buurtzorg, that have taken the organizational leap, turned traditional workplace models upside down and asked employees to help design systems and processes that serve their needs most efficiently. As a result, both companies have experienced dramatic success by fundamentally altering the assumptions of their workplaces. But the process is not as automatic as flipping a light switch, Mr. Dignan said – it requires “continuous participatory change” to achieve optimal results. “We need to change how we change,” he noted. “We actually need to reinvent the way we change to deliver what we want to get. Instead of something happening once every three years when a new EVP is hired, we want to be changing all the time. And instead of that change being driven by one person who knows all the answers, we want to be hearing from and participating in our own change, so instead of happening to us, change happens through us.” In an final example, Mr. Dignan cited Dick Fosbury, an American who forever altered the track and field landscape with his reinvented high jump technique, a backward head-first leap which became known as the “Fosbury flop,” and while it may feel uncomfortable at first, it’s now the worldwide high jump standard, simply because it achieves better results. “That's the experience that we try to impart and inspire with every audience,” he said. “You will be the decider. But the first decision you have to make is, will you jump? Will you actually try something different, something that makes you a little uncomfortable?”