ABC-Work Lens describes 3 kinds of work every organization is engaged in, and the critical missing link in most organization-wide change efforts (especially when it comes to bridging the great culture chasm.)
A-work — All normally recurring work in all walks of life. In organizations this includes manufacturing, R&D, marketing, service, maintenance — everything from strategic planning to vacuuming if its done in a routine patterned way without processes of reflection and improvement.
B-work — Work intended to improve A-work patterns and results. Examples of B-work in organizations traditionally include: training programs, performance management processes, re-engineering, restructuring, leadership development programs, policy changes, total quality initiatives, incentive programs, etc.
For the most part, our traditional approaches to B-work are derived from the same mechanistic worldview that has shaped today’s organizing forms and social patterns. Even where a particular B-work practice has more generative attributes, it rarely has a lasting transformational effect because of its partial, fragmented, quick-fix nature. B-workers, e.g., outside consultants, tend to be specialists in their particular practices and methodologies.
C-work — Work intended to optimize B-work strategic choices and implementation effectiveness. In essence, C-work is the work of a social architect.
Most organizations have been designed to perform A-work only, with little to no capacity dedicated to B/C-work.
The quality of A, B and C-work can range from Red to Blue — from toxic to generative in terms of its lasting contribution to the well-being of all affected. This is illustrated in the following two figures.
Current State —
This figure below suggests the distribution and quality of the three kinds of work for a typical traditional organization.
- Most all work is A-work, dominantly in the Yellow Zone with some Orange and Green
- Most B-work also falls in the Yellow Zone — lubricating existing 'organizational machinery'
Desired State —
Our key challenge involves transforming our organizations in a way that moves their A-work from the mostly Yellow Zone into the Green/Blue territory. This shift will open up new entrepreneurial opportunities and address many of our toughest challenges, in the same way that the Information Age did in the last century. The secret to pulling off this great shift will be developing the generative B/C-work capacity in these organizations.
Evolving organizational B- and C-work from the Yellow Zone to the Green/Blue Zones is a precondition to moving an organization’s A-work across the Great Culture Chasm to the Green-Blue Zone.
NOTE: We are indebted to Doug Engelbart, one of Silicon Valley’s most creative and prolific inventors, for creating the A, B and C-work distinctions. This lens is our extrapolation from his concept.