8 minutes

No more one-for-all. A new exchange of value for organizations

Why do organizations’ current value exchange model not work, and how can we build a more effective one.

Our organization has become, a bt like all the others, a UFO: it is the name with which, in the 15th issue of Weconomy, Logotel’s open-source project on the collaborative economy, we called hybrid organizations. To survive and thrive in volatile, unpredictable, chaotic, ungovernable contexts and scenarios, the UFO organization will need something – or rather someone – special. Because of this, an already complex situation also becomes complicated.

Organisations no longer just need someone good or dedicated to the cause. They must be able to germinate communities of value exchange in which a heterogeneous set of many-ones have the opportunity to express their uniqueness – compatibly with the organisation’s values – within a context that for each of them is enabling and motivating. To find these types of people, make them emerge and keep them, make them grow, not demotivate them, bring them into relation with each other when the competition makes its offer in different currencies, which – for these people – are more attractive at that moment. Something difficult that actually becomes impossible if we are not willing to radically re-discuss the model underlying the value exchange put in place, which is based on what we are willing to give and what it would make sense to expect.

The nature of connections

Every connection exists through a multidirectional value exchange. While it may seem obvious what we require (ideas, creativity, strength, operability, competence, passion, time, energy, etc.), it is not neces¬sarily equally clear what we should propose in these increasingly de-manding relationships.

Until now, organisations have entrusted their part of the connection to remuneration and reward models that presuppose common values recognised by everyone, possibly modulated with individual quantifications. Today, it is no longer a question of how much (a lot or a little) you put on the plate, but what of significance (gold or dross) the other has to offer.

The more structured the company, the more likely it is to have a clear, transparent, logical, quantified engagement model based on grade and level steps. Historically, with salaries (a fascinating Latin etymology rooted in the word ‘sal’ or salt!), prizes, participation and benefits, organisations have offered what, for them, is the maximum value, also defined by a relative legal status. In the case of for-profit companies, money and career opportunities are opportunities to generate impact in the respective sector for non-profit organisations. Or both, in more recent benefit companies. Or, again, power for political or similar organisations. In short, if we exclude the exceptional cases in which working relationships are intertwined with personal ones, every organisation tries to establish connections by offering ‘everything or only what it has’, in relation to what it can generate.

Beyond the one for all model

Almost always, for each of these entities, it is a model of relational exchange based on a single founding value. Expressed through different measures, this is offered to all: the one for all model. But what happens when, on the other hand, people no longer perceive those levers of exchange as the most important? Simple, the connection weakens or breaks.

Covid-19 has opened our eyes to the fact that, for many people, the possibility of using their productive time more flexibly may count for more than bonuses and pay rises. Working from home may be of more value than a prestigious office, and the feeling of well-being when working may weigh more than the work itself. Well, these emerging exchange values, which have rapidly evolved into new normalities, are not palatable to every employee and will not be eternally valid. Recent scientific studies on behavioural change show that rigid models based on one for all are even counterproductive for engaging most people.

Is it enough to replace salary increases with two days of smart working per week? Trade-in our company car for electric bikes for the whole family?

Not at all, for two simple reasons. Firstly: what is a recognised value for one person, might actually be repulsive for another. Secondly: a value recognised as important to a person or in a social context today may not have been important in the past and will not be important in the future.

Whatever model of value exchange an organisation wants to activate, it is all about one to one personalisation, to understand what’s truly important to people at that precise moment and every subsequent future moment. This is especially true when the aim is to stimulate the entry and retention of the best of breed, meaning those whose uniqueness makes and will always make the difference and who are – therefore – most sought after by the market.

Understanding the winning value exchange model is not a zero-sum game

Organisations need to move beyond an idea of one-way, unique and immutable value, perceived as such by a generic ‘everyone’, and interpreted as a cost to be incurred to achieve something, to a concept of temporarily meaningful value to exchange with their people. They must, in essence, become a true community in which all participants generate and exchange the value relevant to them at that precise moment of their existence. A value model that needs to be understood researched, co-generated and then offered as fertile humus to nurture balanced connections, whichever way you look at it. Understanding which value exchange model is successful is not a zero-sum game. It requires commitment, effort and a substantial change of mindset.

Jodorowsky’s idea of value exchange

What does it entail, in practice, to take a practical one-to-one approach to make connections? Let’s try to understand this with an example from the world of showbusiness.

In the early 1970s, a few years before the release of Star Wars to be precise, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky undertook an artistically colossal challenge: to make a film version of Dune, a literary saga. The complexity and scope of this were unprecedented: in terms of cul¬tural disruption, it would have created new languages, new businesses, new paradigms (the artist himself described this in the 2013 docufilm, Jodorowsky’s Dune). Faced with a future to create and an undertaking in which everything had to be invented, Jodorowsky immediately made a key decision: to involve the best minds, and only those best suited to the project, in his mission. Not the best professionals for each role, but the best minds.

To do so, he would have to, one by one, explore the model of value exchange that would engage them and put on the table the one thing that would bring them on board, plunging in at the deep end. And so he did.

For the direction/photography, he tried to enlist probably the best comic-strip artist of the time: the French Moebius, who would have illustrated subjects, created characters, sets and given precise indications for photography and shooting. His professional background included none of these activities, but Jodorowsky exchanged with Moebius the most precious thing he had, a part of his dream. Thus Moebius became a fundamental and essential part of the work, giving him an impossible challenge that only he could perform, granting him wide margins of co-creative freedom. The connection established lasted for decades and bore artistic fruits of recognised value (we are talking about more than 3000 illustrations).

And then, how to convince the anarchic Salvador Dalí to play a crucial character like the governor of the Galaxy? By putting on the table what he wanted and not what he demanded. As the the director told us, Dalí was demanding the chance to become the highest-paid actor ever per hour of filming. Jodorowsky and the production, unable to afford that kind of expense, grasped the request’s true meaning. Giving him a final screen time of only three minutes, they offered him something that would do: the highest ever per minute fee. To proclaim to the world that he was “the highest-paid actor ever”, not the overall figure, was what Dalí wanted.

Last case: how to drag the iconic Orson Welles into the cast of such a risky project, knowing that the role would add nothing to his career? Simple, leveraging food. After a careful investigation conducted in person, on the plate (literally) of the value exchange, Jodorowsky promised Welles that the chef of his favourite French restaurant would be on set.

But are the best needed?

By reading these examples, some undoubtedly legitimate doubts will have arisen. Do our companies justify going for the Moebius, Dalí and Orson Welles of our day, or would muuuuuch less be enough to meet the new challenges? Can we afford to invest that much value in hiring our people? Will management, assessed on business objectives, devote as much time as necessary to understanding and supporting the value exchange for each employee? The gears of HR and production (legal and union) mechanisms are so complicated and tight… can we get your hands on them again?

Legitimate doubts, we said. Like the ones about the existence of UFOs. But if we think this is all just science fiction, let’s leave it to the aliens.

Article by Daniele Cerra, Partner & (Digital) Innovation Officer Logotel – published on Weconomy 15 – UFO. Unidentified Future Organizations