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Berlin Brief

5 Questions with Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones

December 17, 2015

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones are Europe’s leading experts on organizational culture, leadership and change. Together they founded the Creative Management Associates (CMA), a consultancy focused on organisations where creativity is a source of competitive strength.

Rob Goffee is professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, where he teaches on the world renowned Senior Executive Programme. His research has covered entrepreneurship, business formation and growth, and managerial careers.

Gareth Jones is a Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School and a visiting professor at INSEAD, Fontainebleau and IE Business School (Instituto de Empresa) in Madrid. In a career that has spanned both the academic and business worlds, Gareth is one of Europe’s leading speakers and consultants in businesses where creativity is critical to success. 

1. At the heart of Why Should Anyone Work Here? is the idea of building an ‘authentic organization’.  Could you please describe what you mean by that?

For us, an authentic organization is one in which you can be your best self, you can identify with the organizational purpose, you can understand and trust it. These are the qualities that came through from interviews with individuals working in organizations around the world.  

2. Your new book extends and complements the research and thinking of Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?  What are the most important refinements of – or possibly even divergences from – your earlier work?

Our work on leadership encouraged people to “be themselves, more, with skill”. This message has resonated well. But one response has been that people will act authentically when they find themselves in authentic organizations. So our new book answers the question, “what would an authentic organization look like?” We have identified six DREAMS dimensions ;-)

  • Difference beyond diversity – let me be myself at workRadical honesty – tell me the truth before someone else does
  • Extra value – add value to me, don’t exploit me 
  • Authenticity – stand for something more than shareholder value
  • Meaning – give me a meaningful job in an organization which itself has meaning
  • Simple rules – give me clear and agreed rules, not a fog of bureaucracy

Our new book features examples of many organizations that are making considerable progress against these dimensions.

3. Creativity and innovation are increasingly used as watchwords by leaders seeking to transform their businesses.  How do these ideas figure in the authentic organization you envision?

These issues connect best to three of the dimensions. First, we know that creativity increases with diversity and declines with sameness. Second, the application of new ideas – innovation – is facilitated by clear, simple rules. Finally, both creativity and innovation are stimulated by a context in which people feel informed about what’s really going on – in other words, the practice of radical honesty.

4. What are the greatest challenges you see confronting leaders who seek to develop such an organization?  How practically do you recommend that leaders overcome these?

The challenges vary according to context and history. New start-ups for example are working from a blank page, and with small scale, where it may be possible to ambitiously achieve on several dimensions. Larger organizations may be attempting either to sustain early ambitions as they grow, or recapture some of the “magic” which they have lost. Our research showed that it’s hard to pursue all the dimensions at once and vital to prioritize your efforts.  For example, start with difference if you have lost creativity; or radical honesty if trust levels are low; simple rules if you are drowning in bureaucracy.

5. More generally, amidst today’s debates around the future of work and changing forms of leadership or organizations, what do you see as genuinely new?  Or do you believe that the current re-thinking of organizational life and leadership, including your own, largely engages more longstanding issues?

It used to be the view that successful high performance organizations had “strong” cultures within which individuals did or did not fit. This gave us the world of the “organization man”. But the paradigm has flipped, organizations are finding that they must increasingly adapt to the needs and desires of the people they would most like to be part of their enterprise. This may require the radical reinvention of the habitual patterns and processes of organizations. All of this is new but it is of course still connected to long standing issues concerned with the nature of employment relationship. These have received renewed interest in the debate about the gig economy.

David Slocum Faculty Director Executiv MBA

Dr. David Slocum

Academic Advisor and Faculty Member
Berlin School of Creative Leadership