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Organization design blog

Designing for happiness

05/22/17  7:39 PM 

What I didn't know when until I got to Dubai last week, to facilitate an organization design programme, was that 'The UAE Cabinet, chaired over by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, endorsed the launch of corporate happiness and positivity initiatives in the UAE Federal Government.'

It came up in the discussion we were having, at one point, on designing for employee engagement and one of the participants mentioned the fact that there is a UAE Minister of State for Happiness. The same participant mentioned the book, Reflections on Happiness & Positivity that Sheikh Mohammed has written. I bought a copy to learn more about his thinking behind the happiness initiatives.

One of the stories he tells in it is the story of standing in the desert and asking the people with him what they saw. One replied 'a barren desert', when asked what he saw, Sheikh Mohammed said 'a great national treasure .. a fundamental pillar of our national economy.' He tells of how over the two decades since that point they have built a thriving economy attracting 14 million tourists each year. He suggests, in the book, that having the ability to realize a vision takes happiness and positivity.

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Holding patterns

05/14/17  7:00 PM 

Last week I was reminded of my aeons ago primary school experience of having to bring in something for the 'nature table' and then being made to stand up and show it to my classmates and tell them about it. I liked the clump of sheep's wool I'd pulled off some barbed wire complete with all the claggy bits of mud and twigs – but I got no takers to my offer of giving them some of it to show their mums and dads.

Nowadays this type of thing is called a 'show and tell' which Netmums tell us 'is a key part of the school day and an important part of your child's learning development, as it helps them to organise information and builds their confidence.'

The 'show and tell' (aka sprint review) that I was in was somewhat similar: a valiant presenter and polite audience. These 'show and tell' events are a key part of agile methodology giving the team the time 'to present the work completed during the sprint. The Product Owner checks the work against pre-defined acceptance criteria and either accepts or rejects the work.' A show and tell, however, 'is not a meeting designed to criticise or for the team to take further actions for improvement to the product.'

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On purpose and hope

05/07/17  7:45 PM 

There's a phrase painted along the corridor wall, on the way to the cafeteria, of a building I frequent. I'm assuming it's read by lots of people, walking by it to buy their lunch, although when I pointed it out to someone the other day she said she'd never noticed it.

I think it's supposed to be motivational or inspirational but I'm not sure. It reads 'Purpose is better than hope'. I find that a deeply puzzling and somewhat disturbing statement. Each time I go past it I wonder why purpose is better than hope? How is it better? What makes it better and in what circumstances? I wonder who painted it on – were they following instructions, who chose the phrase, what did they intend by it?

In my organisation design work, I often begin with asking 'what is the purpose' of what the organization does or should do. Simon Sinek talks about this as 'start with why'. He says:

'By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?'

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Bunker days

05/01/17  5:59 PM 

A while ago, in our daily stand-up, one of our team said she was going to have a 'bunker day'. You may know that, 'A bunker is a defensive military fortification designed to protect people or valued materials from falling bombs or other attacks. ... Bunkers can also be used as protection from tornadoes.

First, off we misheard and thought she said she was going to have a bonkers day. Since most days feel pretty bonkers we weren't sure why she'd called it out but when she told us she'd said 'bunker', we all got her image immediately.

It meant she was going to hole herself up not allowing any interruptions or distractions. She was going to shield herself from organizational tornadoes, attack by heaven knows what email demands, phone calls, text messages, What's App, Lync, interruptions, and so on. She was going to protect her day, keeping it totally clear for reflective time, regrouping, thinking things through. There's a French phrase for it 'reculer pour mieux sauter' (to draw back in order to make a better jump).

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Energy use

04/24/17  6:59 PM 

Last week I accepted an invitation to have a Smart Meter installed to monitor my electricity usage. At pretty much the same time I got an email with an info sheet about the privacy aspects of smart meters. I learned that 'Gas and electricity firms will be able to use smart meters to collect information about how customers use energy as frequently as every half hour'.

Oddly, that week I was in the middle of an activity recommended in the book Designing Your Life asking me to monitor my personal levels of energy every half hour to help me find out what activities led me to feel at my most energetic. The authors provide a paper work sheet for this (rather than a smart-meter – but no doubt the time will come - or even, has come, when we can meter our personal energy smartly).

Exactly as the utility companies, I was measuring my top energy giving or draining activities then noticing the patterns, then asking 'What relatively accessible changes can I make to improve my energy flows?'

I did wonder whether I could compare and correlate the electricity usage with my personal energy levels to find out, for example, if boiling a kettle led to a spike in my personal energy as I then made and drank a cup of tea. But I didn't do that.

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Yak shaving

04/17/17  7:40 PM 

Someone said to me that he was yak shaving and I had to look up the phrase. It turns out to be:

'Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you're working on.' origin: MIT AI Lab, after 2000: orig. probably from a Ren & Stimpy episode.

It's a great phrase and, sadly, I think I'm in the position where it could become a much-used phrase in my vocabulary, now I know what it is. I seem to have spent a lot of time this week on seemingly pointless activity. A lot of it to do with form filling and compliance with process demands. My favourite was filling in a form on a Word document to attach to a web page. Before submission I had to fill in, on the web page, the identical information that I'd just filled in on the attached form. I couldn't submit just the word document or just fill in the web page. I could only complete the process by duplicating the information. (What is the cost of that?)

In order to fill in the Word form I had to look up a whole raft of information from a variety of sources – it wasn't all housed in the same location. The actual task could be very straightforward were it not for the layers of process.

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    Naomi Stanford
  • Naomi Stanford is an author, teacher,
    consultant and expert in organization design.
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