The Workplace Leadership Manifesto

As Workplace emerges as a discipline in its own right, drawing threads from a number of existing disciplines, its leadership needs a set of identifying principles.

At least, that is what my friend and collaborator Ian Ellison of 3edges and I agreed late last year. So, we set about co-creating something we both agreed with (not always easy, in a constructive sense), with the help of Ian’s business partner James Pinder. It took a while. We then thought – what do we do now? We were both wondering whether there might be a bigger initiative we could float them on, or a publication that could feature them – but then, in the spirit of immediacy,  decided just to publish. Ian did this one a day over the first few weeks of 2018 and they can be found in a poster form on the 3edges website. They’re here for good measure. Hopefully they’ll be here for a long time, as Workplace forms around them.

  1. Workplace is a discipline. Fed by many other disciplines, yet with a unique personality, characteristics and capabilities of its own. It is new and emergent, still discovering itself. The quality of its knowledge, leadership and education will underpin its growing impact.
  2. Workplace exists to enable work. Our rasion d’etre is to create places that enable organisations to thrive through their people, however and wherever they need to work. Workplace is the stage where organisational activity plays out, because everything happens somewhere. We never forget this.
  3. Workplace leaders enable communities. They do not just manage facilities or functions. Organisations achieve their objectives through their people. All facets of workplace are in service of this. If not, their purpose is questionable at best, and inappropriate at worst.
  4. Workplace and workspace are not the same. Workspace, the physical element of workplace, has a significant role to play. But space and place are not equal. An organisation’s culture, space, technology and purpose all intertwine to create its unique sense of place.
  5. Workplace is physical and digital. We create places for our communities that are both tangible and virtual. We understand that the physical and digital affect each other, near and far, wherever people work. Our remit stretches beyond the boundaries of organisational premises.
  6. Workplace is more process, less product. The workplaces we create are an ongoing journey, not a final product. They will always be work in progress. The changing needs of people working drive workplace provision, not the other way around. Our work is never finished, and this drives us on.
  7. Workplace is not neutral. And neither are we. The workplaces we create impact organisational performance, either positively or negatively. We strive to ensure this is understood, so organisational decisions include workplace consideration.
  8. Workplace is functional and symbolic. It helps or hinders the work people do, not just by tools and resources it provides, but by what it means to them and how it makes them feel. While less tangible, the symbolic often outweighs the functional. We seek to understand what people value, and why.
  9. Workplace experiences are diverse. Perceptions and interpretations are as diverse as a workforce. As the nature of work changes, so does the nature of workplace. Assumptions, and ‘one size fits all’ approaches are outdated and potentially damaging.
  10. Workplace is social, and therefore political. We all experience our workplace, and – given the chance – we all have opinions about it. Some voices get heard more than others because of power, status and influence. We seek all perspectives, especially the emotional ones, to understand what is really going on.
  11. Workplace is simple and achievable. While there are complex forces at play that we must understand, we can create and sustain an effective and efficient workplace with simple ideas, in everyday language, without excuse or prevarication. We commit to create understanding.
  12. There is no ‘right’ reporting line. All organisations are unique, and so is every workplace. The leadership approach of an organisation should determine which function is best suited to champion workplace for all its beneficiaries. It is more important that it is done well than who does it.
  13. Workplace is inherently connected. Decisions made by those responsible for different workplace facets will always have an impact wider than their particular remit. Workplace is interwoven, creating dependencies between others and ourselves. We are never an island, but equals together – never above, never below.
  14. We stretch beyond overtraded terms. We know what we stand for, and help others see beyond the polarised headlines, fads and pseudo-science. We challenge, critically evaluate, and in turn accept critique as essential to the development of the discipline.
  15. We balance science, art and opportunity. To create workplaces that work we synthesise data, research and inspiration, and we unlock the imagination of what might be possible in others. We think critically and systemically. We are agents for change.
  16. Workplace leadership is not design. Great workplaces and design aesthetics are not mutually exclusive, but pre-conceived solutions and fashion detract from fully appreciating organisational context and need. We never let the cart get before the horse.
  17. We embrace curiosity, not hubris. We are ambassadors of an unfolding discipline in an interconnected world. There is much to learn, and much that can be improved. We can always share more. We can always know more. We are open to possibility.
  18. Workplace leadership is active, not passive. It is a mind-set that underpins the organisational contributions we make, not the sole realm of ‘thought-leaders’ and conference pulpits. Whether introvert, extrovert or somewhere in-between, we find our voice and we use it proactively. We live workplace, through the communities we enable.

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