Reframing Work as a Product and Employees as Customers

May 31, 2024

TRANSFORMING
WORK

WITH
SOPHIE WADE

Reframing Work as a Product and Employees as Customers

Reframing Work as a Product and Employees as Customers

Dart Lindsley, Strategic Advisor, People Experience at Google. Dart is also a writer, speaker, and host of the Work for Humans podcast – on a mission to humanize work. Dart share insights about his realization that businesses are multisided marketplaces where employees are (overlooked) customers of work and work is a product. To better design the work product, he explores what people ‘hire their job’ to do for them. Dart recognizes teams’ agency and ability to allocate their attention among themselves to complete tasks effectively. He discusses a flipped org chart with managers in supportive, rather than directive, roles. He advocates for greater leadership closest to the customer.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

[02:05] Dart is an undergraduate for seven years partly because his brother told him never to graduate!

[03:47] Dart explores unpopular forms of writing which makes earning a living hard.

[04:37] Being a criminal defense investigator rearranges Dart’s soul.

[06:45] After a master’s degree, Dart becomes a recruiter to earn more as he starts a family.

[08:34] Dart’s family are scientists, so his career transitioned to analytical work after a recruiting downturn.

[09:49] Dart inserts himself into the team doing strategic work designing the new staffing system.

[10:52] Finding a home in analytical disciplines which are less burdensome and emotional.

[12:26] Dart explores tooling, UX, change management and Six Sigma, ending up with organizational design.

[13:36] Facilitating business architecture resonates with Dart who is very interested in how large systems create experiences.

[15:03] Companies are ‘n’ dimensional: humans cannot observe them or handle more than 3 dimensions.

[15:49] Human Resources had not been analyzed from a business architecture point of view before.

[17:03] Business architecture is only needed for companies going through significant transformation to discover new operational capabilities needs and how they interrelate.

[18:08] Translating strategic capability requirements into tech systems and architecture is not easy.

[20:48] Business architecture change derives from either market changes or new tech capabilities—as now.

[21:20] The pace layer of technology is usually the slowest thing. Not now, so much experimentation is needed.

[22:35] Dart initially subscribes to the traditional model of HR where employees are the inputs of production.

[23:48] Employee has happiness has not been a concern—only productivity which Dart finds ethically flawed.

[25:10] Dart notices ‘employees’ show up in two places—inside (production inputs) and outside (customers).

[25:59] Working on a patent for Cisco, Dart explores multi-sided businesses and realizes employees are also (forgotten) customers.

[28:25] If employees are customers, what are we selling them? We need to design work better.

[29:03] Do people want only autonomy, mastery and purpose? Dart finds 35+ more answers!

[30:15] People usually want 8 things from work. Only 4 likely overlap, so how to optimize individually?

[31:05] Lack of autonomy is a cost of a job, like social anxiety and threats to health and safety.

[32:33] Managers are key to a design-centered solution.

[33:28] Design is about empathy, understanding employees’ needs, scaling with managers below on the org chart.

[34:10] Managers are brokers between demand for the team’s labor and the market for work—the work people want to do.

[37:10] A team can act as a smart organism allocating its attention to work and delivering value.

[38:32] Color coding how rewarding work is—green, yellow, and red. What happens when colors change.

[39:41] The range of issues and solutions affecting the cost side of work.

[42:14] How do we design our lives so as not to be ‘inputs of production’?

[43:31] How a team agrees on what business value is and the core mission.

[44:25] Is the manager winning the work the team wants to do? And the type of client the team wants?

[47:10] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: To enable a dexterous organization, let the edges closest to the customers lead. Giving more agency to the agents will facilitate guided emergence, while anchoring your organization with values, purpose, and focus.

QUOTES

“if you're an input to production and my main objective is to make you productive, then if I can make you productive by being happy, great. But, if I can make you productive and you're miserable, great. It's not a concern.”

“The only reason I'm going to care about a human is because of what they give me as a company? It just struck me as like ethically flawed.”

“For the first 10 years of working in HR, I subscribed to the traditional model of HR which is that employees are inputs of production who must be acquired.”

“If employees are customers, what are we selling them? We’re selling them work. If work’s a product, then it’s a design problem and we can design it better.”

“Managers are designers, even ‘product’ managers. [They act] as a broker between two markets. One market is the demand for the labor of the team—so the value that flows towards the traditional customer. The other is the market for work and the work that people want to do.”