I was in the UK all last week and I had opportunity to attend a number of group and team meetings. These were mainly question and answer sessions but I was also invited to give a couple of presentations. Whenever I have a sequence of these sorts of interactions it always interests me how certain themes always come up.
It could be that themes emerge because everyone in the groups I am interacting with has similar questions or observations…but it is seems just as likely that once I get an idea into my head the only way I can get it out (or reach resolution) is to talk it out.
This week’s theme was currency. Not dollars and pounds…although these were very much to the fore all week…but rather the ‘currency of an organisation’ – the internal ‘currency’ that is most highly valued by leaders and employees alike. Currency that motivates, that drives behaviour and that matters most.
For the majority of organizations, the currency most highly valued is indeed money – everything, every meeting, proposal and action is talked about in terms dollars and cents. But this is not the case for all businesses – for some the primary focus could be people…for others its science or information or even organizational image.
Nevertheless, organisational currency came up frequently in my discussions and debates. I used it in my answers to questions asked…and in questions I was seeking to have answered.
As an employee in any organization, the more we can really understand our organization’s currency, the more effective we will be. The more we talk (spend) the organizational currency the more relevant our opinions and ideas appear. The opposite is also true. It’s no different from trying to buy coffee in the USA with Euros or tea with dollars in the UK. Trying to spend the wrong currency will always leave you high and dry.
The more I thought about this theme, the more interested I became – for example, even within a single organization there are likely to be internal ‘currency markets’…where different currencies work better (or worse) in different parts of the organization. The more we understand these currency differences, the better our ability to improve cross-organization cooperation…cooperation that will motivated by currencies that matter most for respective departments.
Furthermore, within most organisations, rewards and recognition will almost always be based on the knowledge, understanding and delivery of organizational currency. At the extreme, it would even seem likely that mastery of organizational currency would enable ‘purchase’ of attention, responsibility and future investment.
Almost by definition, then changing currency in an organization would be complicated and difficult. Such a change would require altering existing norms and integrating new norms. Such efforts nearly always fail because they upset existing systems of exchange.
By the time I was driving home on Friday, I concluded that perhaps introduction of a new currency would not be the answer, but rather a better approach would be to strengthen the value of an existing secondary currency. For example, in almost every organisation, ‘collaboration’ is a commonly traded currency that manifests as partnership development, relationship building, and alliance formation. Sometimes this reciprocity is purely social…‘If I help you succeed I feel good.’ Other times it as simple as…‘if you help me succeed I will help you.
I felt good on Friday. I hoped my discussions with others this week helped them. But I knew my discussions with them helped me. Building relationships, developing alliances, investing in others feels good and is enjoyable. We all bring our own currency to work every day…spending that currency, investing it wisely and enhancing its value should feel good.