Future of Work Success Stories

We are pleased to share these stories about some of the organizations we have worked with. Contact us any time for a personal referral or introduction to any of our clients.

LargeCrowdSome time ago I heard a story about a CEO who had opened up his organization’s strategic planning process to solicit ideas from all of the company’s 5,000 employees. When asked why he did that instead of relying on his executive committee, he said, simply, “I woke up one morning and realized that 5,000 people are a whole lot smarter than five.”

But that kind of openness is highly unusual among senior executives. Most of the executive leaders I have known and worked with see themselves as the “deciders” and the visionaries whose instincts about what is needed are superior to everyone else’s. Most of them are convinced that’s why they are in a leadership position.

But in large complex organizations it’s not that simple.

As I pointed out last week (“Getting Everyone in on the Action”), there is valuable knowledge distributed throughout every large organization – but it’s usually buried deep within the rank and file, and most executive leaders do not seem interested in seeking it out. [click to continue…]


Telling isn’t Teaching

September 15, 2014

A lecture is a process in which the notes of the professor become the notes of the student – without passing through the minds of either one.

– Immanuel Kant

ceo speaker

The most energizing experience I ever had as a teacher was many years ago at an IBM customer executive seminar, held at IBM’s development center in the bucolic hills near the Hudson River about 30 miles north of New York City. It was part of a five-day program called “The President’s Class.”

The course was designed to expose senior IT executives to the kinds of issues their presidents faced. IBM brought in a different Harvard professor each day to cover a single topic – marketing, finance, operations, HR, government relations, and so on. Each time we taught the course there were about 40 IBM customer executives and an equal number of IBM sales personnel in attendance.

My topic that day was leading large-scale organizational change. I taught two 90-minute classes in the morning, using Harvard Business School case studies. The well-known HBS “method” was to engage the class participants in an open, wide-ranging conversation about the decisions facing the protagonists in the case story.

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Picture this: On the first day that a Chicago-based financial services company moved into a new – and dramatically redesigned – workplace, two employees bumped into each other in the hallway. One said to the other, “Who are you? Why are you walking around our office?” The other replied, “I work here – I’ve worked here for several years.”

They had never seen each other before, even though the company’s headquarters office is home to only about 115 employees.

Today that company – National Equity Fund (NEF), a nonprofit financial services organization that constructs deals to fund affordable housing projects across the United States – is an industry leader that enjoys low staff turnover, high productivity, and a reputation as a high-energy, compelling place to work. It’s characterized by open collaboration and a free-flowing, can-do culture.

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People Matter!

November 8, 2013

Thanks to Sue Bingham of HPWP Consulting for this short video – a wonderful example of a company, Southeastern Mills, where culture and the engagement of the workforce have created an amazingly successful food products business.

I just received a note from Sue with this incredible story about Southeastern Mills:

…their annual turnover is less than 4% (310 employees), they pay for all reasonable and necessary absence with attendance metrics varying between 98.5% – 99.5%, and, as long as 5+ years without a recordable incident.

When they lost a major customer, they involved everyone in identifying how to take $1.2 million out of the business in 60 days with the only restriction that no one could lose their job. They successfully identified more than that amount.

As their president at the time stated: “The good news is we did it. The bad news is it was there.” They attributed a 60% decrease in waste (significant dollars in the food business) almost entirely to employee engagement.

In my humble opinion, this is a perfect example of the kind of company culture and leadership mindset that is essential for any organization to thrive in the future. We are transitioning from an industrial economy to an era in which information, ideas, and networked intelligence determine strategic success. The industrial-age management approaches that got us where are we are today just won’t work in a world of information abundance, an educated workforce, and a global economy that changes the rules for success almost daily.

I am convinced it is time for most organizations to put “Command and Control” management out to pasture and replace it with “Empower and Respect.”

Who knows where the next Big Idea will come from? Create a work environment in which your people are actively engaged, respected, and able to converse with each other at all levels and in all parts of the company, and you will almost be guaranteed long-term success.

What companies do you know of (or belong to) that are as people-centric as Southeastern Mills?


There are two things we know for sure about the future of work:

  1. It will be more distributed and mobile; and
  2. It will be more collaborative

Those two trends create some interesting and important tensions; they are not incompatible, but they do point in different directions.

I’m gathering examples of innovative workplaces and work programs for a talk I’ll be delivering in March to a group of senior workplace executives. What organizations do you know of, or are you part of, that have developed interesting and effective new ways of working?

I’m interested in any or all of the following:

  • creative and exciting design (physical, social, technical)
  • flexible work programs (e.g., work from home, telecommuting, remote teams, etc.)
  • supporting distributed teams
  • managing the mobile workforce

I know that covers a very wide range of workplaces and work programs, but I’d love to hear from you about which organizations are out in front of the pack.

What have they done? Why? What impact has the innovation had on costs, talent attraction and retention, and on workforce productivity? What stumbling blocks got in the way? What challenges did they overcome?

I will be more than happy to give you credit in the presentation, as I always do. Thank you in advance for your advice.


FT Logo imageI was thrilled today to discover that Maija Palmer’s latest article about the “new world of work” in The Financial Times actually uses me as a case study.

You can read the story (“So Near and Yet So Far“) online at this link:


(free registration is required to access the article)

The story is actually about the new venture I’m working on with partners Paul Carder (based in the UK) and Marcus Bowen (in Hong Kong).

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SCAN Health Plan

December 23, 2011

SCAN Health Plan Conference Room

We worked with SCAN Health Plan (a not-for-profit Medicare Advantage company) for over five years, first to design and then to implement a flexible work program that today enables over 30% of the company’s employees to work from home (or other locations) 2-3 days per week.

We have proven that those mobile employees are between 15% and 20% more productive than their office-bound peers. And the program produced a 40% return on investment for SCAN for four years in a row.

Partly as a result of the flexible work program we helped develop, SCAN was able to redesign its corporate headquarters office, producing a cost reduction of $7 million in facilities costs and supporting a planned 30% increase in staff with no increase in floor space. Finally, employee satisfaction and engagement have increased, and staff turnover has been significantly reduced.

SCAN’s story was featured recently in an article in the September/October 2011 issue of Facilities Management Journal:  “Creating an AWESOME Workplace: SCAN Health Plan’s Innovative Office Space.” Contact us to obtain a copy of the article.

A Testimonial:

Jim Ware is an incredibly insightful futurist who knows how to turn visions into real-world results. He helped SCAN Health transform its workplace while simultaneously enhancing employee productivity and producing a 40% return on our investment.

He’s taught us how to think creatively about the future, but more importantly he showed us how to focus our human and physical assets more directly on meeting our customers’ needs. And he’s a marvelous storyteller who has helped me personally to share SCAN Health’s experiences with the world at large.

Diane Coles Levine,
Director of Workplace Solutions, 2004-2013

Photo provided by Diane Coles, Director of Workplace Solutions at SCAN Health Plan


Bob Fox, publisher of Workplace Design Magazine, has just published the December 2011 issue, which has several important stories on office lighting. But I’m mentioning it here for one self-interested reason: it also includes a nice, brief bio and photo of none other than me. Bob and I have many common interests. We spoke briefly at the WorkTech11 West Coast conference in October, and his request to publish my bio came from that conversation. Thanks Bob!


We’ve just returned from IFMA’s World Workplace 2009, where we joined the other authors of the IFMA Foundation’s new book Cut It Out! in a series of presentations. Cut It Out! is a practical action guide for facilities managers that will help them “save today while building for tomorrow.”

But here’s the big news:  At World Workplace 2009 our friend and client Diane Coles, Director of Workplace Services at SCAN Health Plan, received IFMA’s highest national award, the George Graves Award for Facilities Management Achievement.

The George Graves award is presented to the individual or team whose facility management program or idea has had a substantial, positive effect on the success of their organization. The award winner demonstrates innovation, and their achievements are used to educate other facility management professionals. The judging panel consisted of the previous winner of the award and six additional IFMA members.

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