Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
Having said a couple of weeks ago that I wasn't going to comment on the Marissa Mayer thing about teleworking I now find I am. Someone sent me an email asking for a blog piece. His exact words 'There has been so much controversy about the subject in the past few months (because of Yahoo and others), it would be interesting getting your take on the pros and cons. Perhaps you already have something written'.
Unfortunately I didn't have much already written on the topic. Although I did write a blog on my portable office and I see from a quick search of my site that I wrote several blogs using the word 'teleworking' during 2010 which suggests to me that I must have a take on it.
So here goes. Drawing on my experience - I have worked on a large scale project to introduce teleworking to an organization and I am a full time teleworker - I've mustered nine takes about it which are neither pros nor cons, just observations. Before I get to those – a tenth over-arching take on it is that teleworking is an individual and organizational performance variable and cannot be considered in isolation from other factors.
Google's St Patrick's Day graphic made me smile this morning. It's of Irish dancers and they're dancing. I'm also amused by the animated emoticons I can send on Skype. My favorite is the bear hug one. It makes the thousands of miles that separate me from my daughters feel less as I send them the bear hug. What's fun about things like that is that they are simple expressions of cheerfulness and I've spent time this week thinking about celebration and fun at work.
I've reached the section in the new book I'm writing where I give the instruction to 'Celebrate success' as you go through an organization design transition. But now I'm not sure whether that's what I want to write about. I think as well as celebrating success – which seems more spasmodic than frequent – ramping up the everyday fun aspects of transitioning would be good. We tend to focus on 'issues' on what's not working, and the drudge aspects. But a week of reading stuff on positive psychology and how various workplaces work (or not) suggest that everyday fun and keeping spirits up is what makes things work better than addressing 'issues' in a po-faced, and sometimes punitive way.
Last week I wrote about Pumpkin Cafe's decision making around whether or not to warm my scone. A trivial decision in the greater scheme of things, but on the basis that small things count I'll tell you a story of superb customer service from a cafe in Baltimore that I visited last Monday. (I'm traveling a lot right now).
This time I wanted a wholewheat bagel toasted with peanut butter. I went into a coffee shop that said it had bagels and asked for what I wanted. They had the wholewheat bagel but didn't do peanut butter. I bought the bagel anyway. Walking on, I passed another coffee shop David and Dad's that said it had bagels. I went in and ordered a wholewheat bagel toasted with peanut butter. Their response? They didn't have any wholewheat bagels left. I said I had a wholewheat bagel with me and would they be willing to toast it and put their peanut butter on it. "Of course. No problem," came the response. Good stuff - I handed over the bagel I'd just bought in the previous shop. So then the pricing decision had to be made. Two servers conferred and decided they would charge me half the full price I would have paid for my order. No manager involved to this point.
Various factors converged during the week to prompt my thinking on mentoring Millennials – an age group of the population roughly defined as those being born around 1980. The RSA Journal that I get had three articles on this generation in one copy:
- Restless, bylined with, "Owen Jones writes that highly creative but deeply frustrated, young people today have the potential to make or break our society's future."
- Portrait of a Generation which notes that 'fourteen years ago, a UK-wide survey identified self-determination and entrepreneurial ambition as the core characteristics of the so-called Millennial Generation. Today, against a much tougher economic backdrop, how do the views of young people compare with those of their predecessors?'
- A Time for Heroes reports that "What begins to emerge is a picture of a [Millennial] generation that is more comfortable with taking risks and whose appetite for enterprise is both driven and hampered by economic circumstance. Through research, engagement and practical innovation, the RSA's project seeks to understand how we can harness and enhance this promise and capabilities and the contribution they will make to pulling us out of the current crisis. As Tapscott argues, unless we understand the Net Geners, we cannot begin to understand the future or how they can shape our world."
Then as I was preparing for my IFMA
talk next week on communicating change I came across a three minute video
from the Advisory Group on leadership in times of flux. Suggesting that leaders need much the sort of skills that Millenninials tend to have.
Building employee trust is something that many organizations say they want to do. A leader will say something like 'I want to build a culture of trust'. This sort of statement makes me curious and I tend to follow up such a statement with a series of questions: What do you mean by trust? What outcome would you expect to see in a 'culture of trust' that you don't have currently? What do you think 'trust' would feel like in your day to day operation if you were able to build it? And so on.
In my experience 'trust' is one of those often ill-defined concepts that people intuitively feel would improve organizational performance. They believe it is within the standard remit of an organization development consultant to help with building trust. And they wonder if it could (perhaps) be designed into the organization.
In some respect their intuition is correct. There's a certain amount of evidence that people are more productive and motivated if they are treated respectfully, honestly, and fairly by their supervisors, and have an open and supportive relationships with both supervisors and colleagues. Leader member exchange theory is one that supports this perspective. (See Leader-Member Exchange Theory and Research: Accomplishments and Future Challenges, Leadership August, 2006 2: 295-316). These concepts of fair treatment and so on are close to some of the many definitions and expressions of trust.
This week I was in Lisbon facilitating a one-day discussion on organization culture at the Instituto Superior de Ciencias Sociais e Politicos .
The group of fifteen participants were variously PhD students, corporate employees – for the most part in HR Departments, and independent consultants so it made for a diversity of views that was delightful, and we had a lot of fun weaving our way through the nuances of culture. And just at a practical level there were differences in how we approached things.
Time is one of the cultural dimensions that we had some discussion of. The other two facilitators (we each facilitated different days of the week) had the same attitude and expectations to time that I have. We all thought that programs like this begin at the time stated (9:30 a.m.) and finish at the time stated, and the breaks are an agreed length that the participants will stick to. So the facilitators had some discussions about why this was very hard to put into practice - except for the finish time! Every day the program began later than intended – participants appearing up to 30 minutes late – and it seemed pointless beginning with only a handful of the registered people, and each break was almost twice as long as the agreed break. So what to do?
As happens once something interesting comes my way then there seem to be several more supporting or similar things. There's a particular phrase on this 'reticular activation', which points to the phenomenon that it's brain activity (by the reticular activating system) and not happenstance that leads to being alerted and suddenly paying attention to what is already there. In normal circumstances according to a Sherlock Holmes aphorism 'You see but you do not observe'. Once alerted, in my experience, the observation follows.
The things that formed a pattern this week are all to do with work and power. In the first instance it was actual electrical power. Washington DC, where I live, and several adjacent states suffered a severe storm on Friday June 29 that resulted in a power cut (outage) including, for some, cut off of internet and phone connections. I was out of the country at the time so unaffected but now I am back and traveling down to visit a friend in Southern Virginia who today, July 8, still has no power or water and very intermittent phone and internet. (The water is pumped from a well).
Hearing this I started to think about how most knowledge work cannot get done without access to electrical power or internet availability. A friend told me a story of how when the internet went down in her house one evening at 9:00 p.m. the five residents (who were all on their individual laptops at the time) decided that there was nothing else to do but go to bed.
Organization design and development in the public sector has been to front of mind this past week. I was running a public CIPD course in organization design with a mix of private and public sector organizations. I then went to speak at a city council conference on emerging trends in organization design, and then on to run an organization development Master class for a government department. The common thread through the public sector employees was the question of how to deliver value in extremely challenging and very fast moving contexts.
A year or so ago there was an article in the Economist The Gods that Have Failed – so far, that muses on a similar question 'Could technology and good management bring the public-sector up to scratch?' In the article bringing the public sector 'up to scratch' requires seizing two opportunities: a) changing what the state does; and b) changing its structure. The article then goes on to outline why seizing the opportunities is a whole lot more difficult that it might seem to be. Various reasons for pessimism are discussed:
I got the following email from someone who'd just read my book Corporate Culture: Getting it Right (in the UK published as Organisation Culture: Getting it Right).
"Something is wearing on me, something I can't get around. I am calling it the Walmart paradox. If indeed we believe (almost religiously) in the culture / business model connection, and that organizational success is in partly predicated on the tightly woven alignment between the two, how can we explain Walmart success? I mean the almost flagrant and overt inconsistency between Wal-Mart business practices and the so-called "respect for the individual" (one of three) core value is hard to reconcile. And I mention this because I am trying to do more transformational consulting and I espouse everything you put forth, and just wondering what do I say when someone says in a meeting, "what about Wal-Mart?"
I know you mention that one must consider the complexity of Wal-Mart's environment and all of the trade offs involved ... and that determining cause and effect is a futile endeavor. But isn't that inconsistency between culture and behavior ultimately unsustainable? That's the kind of irreconcilable stuff that incite revolutions and over throws governments, yet Wal-Mart's been at it for decades - and thriving!!!! Naomi help!"
The Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies here in Washington DC, has been running a series of roundtable discussions on various aspects of technology and innovation. Last week I was one of the panelists at the discussion on policy and innovation.
Since I'm not a policy wonk and nor a technology nerd ("A PolicyWonk is related to the Technology Nerd, but understands people" according to Policywonk.com). I was a bit baffled about how to contribute effectively, however, once I got the email telling me that I was to provide an overview of my point of view, to go in the participant info pack and reminding me that I also had to speak to for ten minutes on this, I knew I had to get my act together.
This week Wikipedia celebrates 10 years and I've read several pieces about this. One ends "Wikipedia is already starting to look rather stiff and middle-aged. To ensure its long term health, it needs to rediscover the flexibility of its early years". I liked this vision of an organization as a person with a personality. How does one keep an organization from creeping into arthritic old age?
One way that organizations try is by changing their logos as part of an effort to rebrand themselves in the public eye. Starbucks, turning 40 this year is one of them. There are lots of others. I was working for Prudential Insurance in the UK when it changed its logo from something I don't remember (I think an orange oblong) to the woman with the red headband that it still has. There was a huge internal launching party and much heigh ho about this but I our work did not change, nor did the way we did it.
Last week I received this email from Tony A.
I just finished reading your book Organisation Culture: Getting it right.
I found the material meaningful although at times thought provoking given my lengthy journey in the corporate world.
I also found it interesting that there was no reference in the material to corporate governance either in meaning or in value. Was this an oversight or do you not see any benefit in having corporate governance in an organisation?
On the flight home yesterday I listened to the podcast of the HBI Idea Cast on Why a Happy Brain Performs Better.
In this guest Guest: Shawn Achor, CEO of Aspirant and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work talks about the principles of thanking people,
It's back to the field of positive psychology that I've talked about in previous posts. The book information tells us that
"Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn't just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe."
Day 2 of the Organization Development program raised a lot more questions from the participants. The deep interest in the topic from the group members is fantastic, and really caused me to think more about the content of the program. Three questions I thought might merit a whole session in any revised version were:
How do you get OD work as an internal consultant? Oddly, this question was raised by a colleague of mine a couple of weeks ago. What the questioner wanted to know was should he wait for line managers to call him because they had a problem or opportunity that they thought he could help them with, or should he go out into the organization and actively search for work. And if the latter how do you do this?
Three people in the last week have mentioned concepts of servant leadership to me. I don't know a lot about the topic so went off to look at the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. There I found that Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase 'servant leadership' in an essay that he first published in 1970.
The website has some clearly written paragraphs that start to answer the question "What is servant leadership" but then one is pointed to a $9.00 essay to get more information on the topic from Professor Stephen Prosser. He takes up the debate and asks whether servant leadership is a philosophy, or a theory, or a set of values, or a list of characteristics, or a series of practices-or some combination of all of these things? He discusses these questions "in the context of the literature and research on servant leadership in the new essay Servant Leadership: More Philosophy, Less Theory. After reviewing the ways in which people try to describe and explain leadership, he provides six reasons why servant leadership is a philosophy, not a theory, concerning service and the practice of leadership."
The Economist had an article on Pixar on June 17 "Planning for the sequel". It made the point that Pixar also obliges its teams to conduct formal post mortems once their films are complete.
In lesser hands this might degenerate into a predictable Hollywood frenzy of backslapping and air-kissing. But Pixar demands that each review identify at least five things that did not go well in the film, as well as five that did.
One organization I worked in had what was called the meeting 'hotwash'. After every meeting there was a brief review spanning:
a) what went well about the meeting: things like agenda, content, participation, actions recorded
b) what went less well: things like not listening, talking over each other, paying more attention to BlackBerries than the meeting
c) what to do differently next time: things like shorten the meeting, have a timekeeper, 'have the meeting in the meeting' (that is don't leave the meeting and say something different outside it than you said inside it)
A couple of weeks ago I read a piece in the New York Times on the benefits of blowing your top. The writer talks about
"Millions of people live or work with exasperatingly cool customers, who seem to be missing an emotional battery, or perhaps saving their feelings for a special occasion. People who - unlike the mining operators in the gulf - have a blowout preventer that works all too well."
I thought this was a good and different take on the perceived wisdom that blowing your top - at least in the office is not the right thing to do. It's seen a emotionally unintelligent and a 'derailer'
I see in this morning's Financial Times the headline 'Cultural failings leave BP engulfed'. Instantly I'm attracted to it to see if it would have been a useful case study to put in my new book. (It's too late now as yesterday it went to print. It's the Economist Guide to Organisation Culture and is coming out in mid-July). The piece opens with:
"In the storm of public and political fury that has hit BP in the US since the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20, the company's shortage of native knowledge of America and how it responds to crisis has been painfully exposed."
OK so I do cover the difficulties companies have in moving into new (for them) countries. The concepts of cultural fluency at an individual and organizational level are discussed. There are lots of examples of companies pulling out of countries that they didn't understand the culture of: Walmart leaving Germany is one, IKEA leaving Japan is another (although IKEA is now having a second go at Japan hopefully having learned some lessons).
On Friday I went to see the movie Office Space. Either it didn't come out in the UK or I missed it but here in the US it seems as if every office worker has seen either it or the Milton animated shorts on which it is based, a zillion times.
The film follows Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a software engineer cubicle dweller at Initech. He has a frustrating commute, normally tiresome coworkers, an inane boss and a girlfriend that he's pretty sure is cheating on him. The bright spots in his life are his two friends at work, his neighbor, and the waitress at the local café.
This is yet another in the genre of Up in the Air, State of Play, and Outsourced all of which I've seen in the last year and all of which look at the idiocies and difficulties of organizational life. I guess that a film showing people enjoying their work, with good bosses, in pleasant environments wouldn't be a crowd drawer. But the fact that these films and related TV programs (Back to the Floor, Undercover Boss) and Dilbert (and Alex in the UK) cartoons are so popular is that office or work life really is as depicted for many people. Who hasn't been involved in a conversation like this one at some point?
Science Daily posted a research report last week titled Consumer Remorse: Difficult Choices Can Lead to Second-Guessing.
This found that "Consumers who choose between two good product options build a "positivity bubble" to justify their choices. But according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, that bubble is easy to burst."
"From routine cereal-aisle shopping to expensive big-ticket purchases, consumers are often free to choose among many similarly attractive options," write authors Ab Litt and Zakary L. Tormala (Stanford University). "In these contexts, it can be difficult to resolve one's preferences to arrive at a purchasing decision."
Someone taking on a new leadership role emailed me with this question:
I have interesting challenge in this new role. I have to take the leadership role of a troubled account. In my view, in order to get the account back on track there should only be one leader. In our company culture that will be a problem as the leader that failed will want to keep control. Thus, I have interesting challenge in this new role. Have you any thoughts on how to handle it?
This is not a lot of information to go on so in the first instance I would like the questioner to tell me a bit more about:
Someone sent me a piece on selecting leaders. It's an interesting piece, as I took it, on different perspectives and expectations.
The nub of the paper is this:
... "boards and CEOs are perfectly willing to consider CEOs who have failed in past CEO roles as viable candidates for a CEO position. A CEO with a record for disastrous corporate results is an acceptable person to not only be interviewed, but to be hired as the best leader. The reasoning they cite is CEOs learn much by their failures and can bring these lessons to the new role and - ultimately - perform better.
Contrarily, the same board members or CEOs use exactly the opposite logic when it comes to CFO candidates. When a CFO candidate has a mark on his or her record for a failing experience, they say "absolutely no" and cut him or her from the list for consideration."
Successfully joining a new organization is often a challenge. It means getting to grips not just with the job content, the admin stuff - like where are the printer toner cartridges kept - but also with the 'way things are done round here'. At any level this is difficult but for senior people it seems to be even more problematic as they are expected to 'hit the ground running' in both job performance and socialization.
My doctoral research was on this topic and from it I wrote a series of checklists to help senior new hire integrate successful into a new organization. (Available from the UK's Chartered Institute of Management - numbers 202 - 210)
Standing in the checkout line in a supermarket the other day, I witnessed an interaction between two till operators. One didn't know how to complete a transaction and was asking the other for help. The second one did help but in an accusing way, calling the first employee a "silly cow" and asking why she was put on the till when she didn't know how to make a simple transaction.
A third employee stepped in and pointed out that it was an unusual type of transaction and the first employee was fairly new on the job. That whole incident set me wondering about the effect of this kind of incident on all involved.
On Saturday I went to see the Oscar Short Films (Live Action) nominations. There are five in this category. The sequence started with the showing of Kavi that tells the story of an Indian boy and his parents who are forced to work as slave labor in a brick kiln. It was very hard to watch and in a sense is a story everyone knows about. The movie site is well worth looking at as it, and the film, is a vocal advocate of ending slavery - making the point that:
"Today, slavery is illegal almost everywhere, yet it continues to flourish. Bonded labor, a form of slavery, often occurs when people are tricked into taking loans from creditors who have no intention of letting them repay the loan. The creditor then uses violent intimidation to keep his workers slaving with no hope of escape."
I've just come across a short piece about business culture and innovation that precedes an article to be published - date unspecified - in the Journal of Product Innovation Management (you can order a sample copy of this journal). The paper is written by William Qualls of the University of Illinois and Jelena Spanjol. (NOTE: March 3, 2010. My thanks to him for subsequent to my writing this sending the full paper to me).
This piece sent me in two directions. The first direction was a question to myself "Is there a Journal of Service Innovation Management'? The answer to this appears to be "No". There is the International Journal of Innovation Management which has some interesting looking articles in it. For example: Implementing Best Practices to Support Creativing in NPD Cross-Functional Teams "The use of cross-functional teams increases creativity in new product development leading to shorter development time and higher product innovativeness. Research in new product development [NPD] has identified a number of organisational practices associated with supporting organisational creativity in cross-functional teams including frequent and open communication, building organisational slack, attitude to risk and top management commitment."
Yesterday I returned my rented car to Enterprise. I'd chose Enterprise because I had previously had good experiences with them and they were the cheapest for the period of time I wanted a rental. Again I left as a satisfied customer (and recommend them as a rental company).
I can't say that they 'exceeded' my expectations because it was already high. But they hadn't dropped their standards. Here are some examples:
- There was a short wait in the reception area - I was offered a bottle of water and the manager came over, introduced himself to people in line and apologized for the wait.
- The check in agent introduced himself by name, suggested a higher performing car in the next price bracket but did not press the point when I refused.
Three things brought social media to the front of mind this week:
First, I've been reading a lot in the last few days about Google's Buzz, a new social media site launched on February 10. Mainly I've been interested in the approach Google took to getting people hooked into it. The whole storm about automatically linking connections to the people someone has email conversations intrigued me and I can't imagine why Google engineers would think this was a good idea. I think it was the standard form of "cock up not conspiracy" - there's no reason why Google would want to invade the privacy of citizens lives and risk countless lawsuits - which is the consequence they seem to be facing.
The last few days in Washington DC have been defined by snow (See NYT report) - falling, sticking around, and disrupting normal life. What's been fun to observe is how people and businesses are reacting to this.
On Friday evening I went to Eatonville (a local restaurant) and was chatting to the manager. Their plan was to stay open as long as transport held out that evening - their primary concern was ensuring their staff got home safely. Their sister restaurant, Busboys and Poets had taken a different tack. They'd booked all their staff into local hotels for the night - that enterprise wanted to be open for breakfast at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday as normal. (It was). Also open then was the U Street Cafe my favorite coffee shop.
Is there such a thing as an over-arching business culture that transcends national cultures? Yongmaan Park, chairman of Doosan Infracore, a South Korean conglomerate observes, in a McKinsey Quarterly article, that
Culture represents country, race, language, history, and such. But when you add "corporate" and make "corporate culture," that's almost identical in most of the successful conglomerates globally.
The key processes of those companies - evaluation and control, strategic planning, HR - are all based on a performance-driven culture, meritocracy, transparency. We come from a different national culture, but successful corporations share a very similar corporate culture.
I had lunch with someone today who contended that American companies are far too interested in quick fixes to have any wish to think systematically and sytemically about making their enterprises more effective. Her US clients all want the presenting problem solved with as little discussion and as much speed as possible regardless of the consequences. Her view is that Europeans are likely to be more interested in looking for the underlying causes of presenting symptoms. This may explain why my courses last week in the UK were both full and I am having an uphill battle in the US to get people here interested. At least it's one possible explanation.
Yesterday I went to see a film "The Visitor" - the story of a deportation. I saw it as a whole play on cultures: Gen Y v Baby Boomer, cultural attitudes to skin color, national cultures (American, Syrian, Sengegalese), organizational cultures - academic, detention center, street drummer, ethnic market, musical preference in cultures: 4 beats for western classical, 3 beats for African drums. In its richness and interwoven-ness the film visually demonstrated the complexity of culture in a way that no 'cultural audit' could possibly expose.