Organizing Work

Organizing Work

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Early on in my career, if you had asked me how I organized my work, my answer would have been very task-oriented and tactical. When I was working on the Washington Post copy desk, organizing work mostly meant doing what Bill Walsh told me to do in a timely fashion.

Then I moved into roles where I became responsible for managing projects over longer periods, where it wasn’t just “do this thing, it’s due tonight.” Over time, my job became organizing other people’s work. 

And now, I wake up in the morning, and I think about all the things that I could be doing because there’s an unlimited list when it comes to owning a business. I have to decide what will create the most value for me, our employees, our contractors and our clients.

Elena and I reached out to three people with distinctly different perspectives on how we organize the way we work:  Limeade founder and CEO Henry Albrecht, HRCI DEO Amy Dufrane and labor organizer Harish Patel.

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Start With Your Purpose and Values

Henry Albrecht probably thinks about organizational structure more than any other business leader I know. He’s also one of the business leaders I most admire for the compassionate, egalitarian way he leads.

“When I think about organization, I think about things that are put in place towards a purpose,” he says. “The first thing I like to start with is the why. The first principles of organization. What’s the purpose?

Once you know your purpose, you can think about your values and then organize around those.

“For example, if you have values around teamwork, those values have to infuse through every single element of what you’re doing in that organization.”

Rethinking The Role of HR

Many tech CEOs like to brag about how they don’t need HR, but what they’re really objecting to is an outdated idea of HR. And that really bugs Amy Dufrane, the CEO of HRCI.

“Technology companies have historically said, oh, we don’t need HR. HR is a bunch of people that push papers and sign you up for benefits and do all of those things that we don’t want to do because we’re too cool for that. But it turns out companies do need HR. You need HR for compliance, but you also need HR to make sure that what you’re doing for your employees makes sense. It makes sense for the culture of your organization, for the values of your organization.”

Reorganizing the Power Structure

How can we reorganize power in America? The last year has seen the wealthiest Americans growing richer while the working class has struggled to make ends meet during a public health and economic crisis.

Elena reached out to Harish Patel, director of Economic Security for Illinois, to share his experience with organizing work.

In their conversation, Harish illustrated how we created a system for wealth, poverty and inequality. “Poverty and inequality is a human choice. We created the system that allows for that. So, therefore, we can redesign that system to not allow for that.” But how can we restructure an entire country's economic system? How can we begin to level the economic playing field? It turns out we already did with the stimulus checks of 2020 & 2021.

The financial assistance most Americans received from the Federal government was an example of how government-guaranteed income can empower workers to stimulate the economy and live a more stable lifestyle.

You’ve probably heard of Universal Basic Income (UBI) before, but “guaranteed income” may be a new term for you. UBI would be a flat amount that all citizens receive from the federal government regularly. But guaranteed income would target specific economic demographics to help those that need it most. As Harish describes it, “when you define how to pay for it and who gets it, that gets a little bit more targeted to focus on the inequality and poverty aspect of the problem.”

How can we organize work to benefit society as a whole? For Harish, it requires focusing on the workers themselves. “You can't organize society without the human infrastructure,” he says. As governments envision the future, Harish argues, they will need to evolve their legislation and expectations to embrace economic equality.

"We’ve got to think about changing that tax code to represent what we want it to and make some policies to curb the economic system, so it doesn't just leave the majority of us behind."

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Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO of Rep Cap. Before creating her own content marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief, a leading publisher of e-mail newsletters. Before joining SmartBrief, she spent 8 years at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department. You can find Mary Ellen on Twitter @MESlayter.

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