Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
Sparked by the topic 'Substituting traditional symbols of power and status e.g. corner offices, for new symbols of power and status (and why this matters).' The action learning group I am working turned the discussion into one on performance and motivation incentives. This surprised me a bit as the three questions we'd been posed were:
1. How much is workplace associated with hierarchy/power/status and is this important to the client's business performance?
2. What questions and approaches would help us understand our clients' emotions around status/power/space?
3. How can the workplace support our client in developing a defensible point of view around power/status.
But what they'd picked up on was a line in one of the pre-read articles Is open-plan working really the future for lawyers? Meet the evangelists "Obviously there are firms that have open-plan offices, but it's something that we're reticent to mention early on in the recruitment process. It's not a selling point. I've never met anyone who says that they actually want to move into an open-plan office. Having your own office – that's an incentive."
Here's a short survey I just made up: Do you:
- Attend a webinar?
- Participate in a webinar i.e. pose or answer a question, or comment?
- Log into a webinar and do something else while it's going on?
- Learn from a webinar?
Over the last two weeks I've logged into five webinars and participated in three and attended (i.e. didn't interact with the technology) two. Here's the list - some of them are available to replay:
I've also attended three presentations using Webex or Go-to Meeting, or Lync
- A session demonstrating some software
- A presentation about one US state's healthcare system
- A faculty briefing (I teach on-line) on 'Planning for the Future'
which might qualify as webinars (which I take to be formal informational/learning events) but they feel different. One I participated in but the other two I found myself multitasking i.e. logging in and doing something else.
Additionally, I participated in several operational meetings where people were just sharing a desktop as the meeting proceeded. These definitely do not qualify as webinars but would benefit from some of the disciplines of well run ones. Further, I've proposed a series of seven webinars to a client, and also discussed with a co-facilitator on a different client project the possibility of running action learning sessions via collaborative technologies, not quite webinars but on the same lines. So all reasons why I've got webinars on my mind,
This week I've been working on a project that is going to involve use of SharePoint as a 'home room' for team members. At least that is the theory.
SharePoint's website promises that 'Microsoft SharePoint 2010 makes it easier for people to work together. Using SharePoint 2010, your people can set up Web sites to share information with others, manage documents from start to finish, and publish reports to help everyone make better decisions.'
I'm not usually defeatist but the very mention of SharePoint and I immediately thought oh no not another platform for losing stuff on, practicing endless misfiling protocols, confusing organizational newcomers, and ensuring hours of wasted time and frustration searching for something that people know is on there 'somewhere'.
I know I've used earlier versions of SharePoint in various jobs in my recent history but they always seem to have the same trajectory – it resembles the normal change curve that everyone is familiar with, but just in case you're not it runs like this.
I was speaking at the IFMA conference on Friday on change and communication. As my co-presenter, Al DePlazaola, noted, organizations spend 'shedloads' (new UK terminology I just bumped into) of time and money operating under the assumption that change can be managed. He showed pages of various 'change management' frameworks and models – look at the selection on Google Images and you'll get the idea.
We feel that none of these work. Our contention is that preparing a game plan, identifying the "burning platform" (we must change or else!) and following a prescriptive, model based, "10 step" plan, or similar, to bring employees along is not the way to go as the reality is that if your platform is burning, it's probably already too late.
These standard approaches to 'change management' developed in slower moving environments are not appropriate now. Our current environment is fast, fast, fast. People expect rapid digital communication, from answering email within seconds to dealing with tweets (in a nano-second). Not only that, as Ian Sanders notes in his FT article Think First Tweet Later people are likely to be getting these communications and responding to them as they are walking down the street or standing in the queue at the coffee shop. Change is happening too quickly to ponderously 'manage' it.
In what retrospectively I feel was a fit of foolishness, a few weeks ago I agreed to do an 18 minute TEDX talk, in October, on the future of work. Since that agreement every time I have been for a run or a bike ride – i.e. those times that creativity and innovation people say spark the great idea - I've been wondering what I am going to talk about. The ingredients of all good TED talks seem to be vision, aspiration, touching personal story, comedy, memorable take away call to action, clever blend of fact, opinion, moments people can identify with, and sticking to the topic - all delivered with a gutsy charisma. It's a tall order.
The great idea has not struck as yet. Now I'm beginning to wonder if I can get by on the fact that the organizers wanted a woman to speak as they have a surfeit of male speakers. (I'm hoping that the future of work means more senior women in the workforce and that they are getting equal pay with the men).
And on Friday I got an email reminding me that I had to upload my photo and outline for my talk and thus the moment came for thought and planning. So rather than a single great idea, for the moment, I've come up with three different approaches outlined below.
So this week I sent off to the editor Chapter 5 of my forthcoming book on organizational health and started to plan out Chapter 6 which is on healthy technologies. (The book is coming out in December this year).
People ask me how I write. By this they seem to mean what is the process I go through to get words on a page. Do I plan things out? Do I just begin? How do I know what I want to say? The answer is that I have a rough idea of what I want to say – it feels rather like a lump of clay that I put on a potter's wheel with the idea that I will make a vase. Then as I begin turning the words something completely different emerges. I have the ability to knock it down and start again or shape it differently. And this is how I began Chapter 6. I know I want to write about healthy technologies – but what specifically?
Part of my writing process is that once I have roughed out the book contents I then open a folder for each chapter and put into the folder any articles I come across that I think will be relevant to that chapter. Additionally I boldly open a word document with the chapter number and title and just drop into it anything that could be useful when I come to writing that chapter. Thus in determining to begin actually writing Chapter 6 I looked through the articles I had for it, and at the random stuff in my Chapter 6 word document.
Here's a quote from an email I received this week:
"We are about to undergo a space renovation to provide a more collaborative work environment and allow us to start hoteling*. We recently announced this initiative at a staff meeting and there was a lot of apprehension from the employees regarding the change. Do you know of a good change management training course that is offered? I think it would be beneficial to everyone to ease their concerns and show them than change can be a good thing."
In the email quoted you have a classic situation. Leaders believe that to develop the organization they need to provide a more collaborative work environment and start hoteling. That is the strategy piece that aims to develop the organization. The change management piece is helping workers adapt to the change in circumstances and context that this development strategy brings about.
So, organization development is not the same as managing change. To make it simple OD is strategy and the change management is operations. But with this in mind it is obvious that in order for organizations to develop/improve then aspects of their operation the process, people, space, technology, have to change. Thus organizational development and change management are intertwined.
Two books caught my attention during June: Rapt: attention and the focused life by Winifred Gallagher and Sherry Turkle's new book Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other. Gallagher's is concerned with individual well-being, and Turkle's is more concerned with organizational well-being. But the themes are complementary. Both describe the problems and issues that attention fragmentation and multi-tasking bring, and both argue for focused attention on 'what matters'.
Gallagher takes the reader through a discussion of various researchers' findings - and there is a very good reference list of these - noting that the overarching evidence suggests that your life is the creation of what you choose to focus on and pay attention to. Early on in the book she mentions one of the maxims of William James - a pioneering psychologist. He was of the view that 'The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.' Thus the book came at just the right moment for me as I've been spending an unaccustomed few weeks with my mother: a stressful time as she was having medical treatment.
Last week's memorable discussion focused on new business models. One person arguing hotly that there were no people with the skills and know-how to change legacy computer company business models into cloud computing business models, or how to change company IT departments running standard software and hardware into 'cloud' departments (or no departments).
This may or may not be true. That same day I'd been reading an article, The Business of Sharing, on the new business model of renting/sharing items. Organizations mentioned who used a renting model included Zipcar, Bag Borrow or Steal, Netflix, Rent that Toy, and TechShop. Couch Surfing and thredUP were discussed as sharing models.
I've been asked to write a chapter for a new textbook on Organization Effectiveness. As always this seemed like a lovely opportunity when it was first suggested, and I accepted it cheerfully. Unfortunately, now that the deadline is looming (January 19) and I haven't yet done more than think about it at odd moments, the whole notion of writing 8000 words feels like a tremendous ordeal.
The book's working title is "Transforming Organizations: reconnecting and redirecting OD and HR" and
"will examine the increasing evidence for an integrated HR/OD approach to enhance organizational performance at a time of unprecedented austerity in the public and private sectors. The collection of chapters will deal with the competing challenges faced by HR functions, which are under massive pressure to demonstrate how they can contribute to organizational performance and wellbeing. It will also address the growing debate within Management and HRM Journals about the need to address the increasing distance of research from its user base. "
On December 22 I wrote about my megabus experience (Pop Up Communities). That evening I decided to contact megabus from a different angle to see what happened. Their website has press releases so I was able to find out the name of the President and COO (Dale Moser). They do not list on their website any email addresses of staff. To contact them you have to fill in a contact form.
Because I had been pleased with the outbound journey (good driving in the snow) I had completed the contact form sending in a note of praise to the drive: in doing so I noted that the drop down does not have a label for 'feedback' so my comments went into 'general enquiries'.
Here's what I said:
I was contacted recently by a research student asking me to take part in his Delphi Study. The European Commission Joint Research Centre has a very clear explanation of what a Delphi study is.
The Delphi method is based on structural surveys and makes use of information from the experience and knowledge of the participants, who are mainly experts. It therefore yields both qualitative and quantitative results and draws on exploratory, predictive even normative elements
There is agreement that Delphi is an expert survey in two or more 'rounds' in which, in the second and later rounds of the survey the results of the previous round are given as feedback (Cuhls 1998). Therefore, the experts answer from the second round on under the influence of their colleagues' opinions, and this is what differentiates Delphi from ordinary opinion surveys.
Thus, the Delphi method is a 'relatively strongly structured group communication process, in subjects, on which naturally unsure and incomplete knowledge is available, are judged upon by experts', write Häder and Häder (1995, p. 12). Giving feedback and the anonymity of the Delphi survey are important characteristics.
Yesterday we were celebrating the move to the new office. On Monday the final set of people moved in and so we are now 'moved'. It's all very exciting, and to celebrate we held a 'Town Hall', immediately followed by the 'Holiday Party'.
The 'Town Hall' wasn't strictly a town hall, but more of a 'Staff Meeting', (UK) or 'All Hands' (US). A Town Hall is traditionally an informal democratic forum in which citizens have an opportunity to put their point of view and hear what others have to say on a specific political issue or community topic.
The term has now migrated to organizations to describe a large scale face to face meeting where orchestrated information is presented for information, update, or education. It seems that organizational Town Halls are less about consultation and more about telling staff things, although there's usually some form of Q and A slot. For example,
"Steve Jobs recently held a Town Hall meeting for Apple employees, and according to Wired, he had some very choice words for both Google and Adobe."
During the training courses in Shanghai last week I was asked what a typical day in my working life was like. Given that I was classifying myself as an organization development consultant I thought I would see if I could describe one of my days taking Monday November 15 as a 'typical day'. It was typical in that I was not traveling anywhere and I had the normal number of scheduled meetings.
I began the day with a self-reflection exercise as I'm enrolled on a month of self reflection with the To Do Institute. It's interesting in that it has the same underlying premise expressed by Peter Block in his book Flawless Consulting. In this he says 'An authentic consultant, is not any oxymoron, but a compelling competitive advantage, if unfortunately a rare one.' Block talks about authenticity in terms of 'simply being honest with ourselves and being direct and honest with others.' The self-reflection program is partly about developing that authenticity.
On the programs I was running in Shanghai last week I was asked by several participants at different points and in different contexts to explain the differences between coaching, counseling, mentoring, and consulting.
On the flight back to the US I was thinking about this and wondering what the best way to answer was. In the course of this musing I wondered if there was a cultural distinction. Did the US/UK language have four different variations of what is essentially the same thing - advising people about a course of action, either by helping the individual come to his own approach or by telling him/her what to do. And does Mandarin only have one word for these multiple advising approaches?
One of the rules of thumb for change agents is 'never work uphill'. I mentioned this to someone who I was talking with last week who in a general conversation said how upset she was that there was massive change going on in her department, no-one at her level knew what was going on, rumor was rife, and when she'd asked her manager what the story was she'd been told that it was not a discussable topic with people below a certain grade.
She did not know that I had several conversations with the head of her department during the summer. What he wanted to do was change the way the physical space was used in order to accommodate a large team of people (80) coming to work on a long-term project, and to establish a physical and on-line library for shared documents and materials. When I told her she asked why I hadn't been able to do something to make the Department Head's approach more effective.
Already this week I've been involved in two meetings that had a similar outcome - they required a proposal or strategy to be written on a business issue: telework take up, and building governance. Simultaneously I have been assigned some PhD learners by the university where I teach. They are wrestling with how to write a decent proposal that will take them to the point on their PhD journey.
In thinking about how to guide the PhD students I pulled out a paper written a couple of years ago by a faculty member I have worked with - Dr John Latham. He wrote a paper Building Bridges Between Researchers and Practitioners: A Collaborative Approach to Research in Performance Excellence Which describes a collaborative approach initiated by the Monfort Institute at the University of Northern Colorado to engage high-level practitioners of performance excellence and academic researchers to a) identify the external and internal dilemmas facing practitioners in high-performing organizations; b) develop a purposeful research agenda that addresses both the needs and interests of practitioners and researchers; and c) develop a concept of operations to address the research agenda.
There's an fun video clip on leaders and followers that made the audience I was watching it with laugh a lot. It's called Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy by Derek Sivers.
The transcript begins: "If you've learned a lot about leadership and making a movement, then let's watch a movement happen, start to finish, in under 3 minutes, and dissect some lessons"
The office move that I've written about a few times is now imminent. Two weeks to go.
This is where the many weeks and months of exhortation to think about packing, reminders that everyone only gets two crates, lists of things which can or can't be taken and weekly change management one hour preparation sessions, not to mention email updates, FAQ site, town halls, management emails, etc, etc, all seem to have fallen on deaf ears - even though people appeared to be attentive, participating and involved.
Suddenly people seem to be waking up to the fact that orange plastic crates beginning to decorate the place are not early signs of Halloween but receptacles for their items. They seem totally baffled by the now reality that their allotted two crates do not hold 10 years of documents, acres of fluffy toys from the tops of their computers, endless commemorative mugs, plaques, and other memorabilia, forests of potted plants, and their personal desktop toaster.
My weekly email from Science Daily arrived a few days ago. (Science Daily is daily but I get a weekly roll-up of the research posted). I always find it fascinating and this week's was no exception. What caught my eye was a piece titled "Long Term Use of Oral Bisphosphonates May Double Risk of Esophageal Cancer, Study Finds". It caught my eye because only six lines further down was another piece, this one titled "Drugs Used to Treat Osteoporosis [oral bisphosphonates] Not Linked With Higher Risk of Esophageal Cancer". I looked at both carefully in case they were different cuts on the same piece of research. The answer to that is no they weren't - at least as far as I could tell.
The problem with labels of culture is first that they are shallow - working only in terms of stereotypes on the lines of 'all Frenchmen eat frogs' - and confusing: the painting of a pipe by Magritte labelled "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe) is an example of this. The confusion lies in labelling something that looks like a pipe as 'not a pipe' because, in fact, it is not a pipe but a two dimensional representation of a pipe. Similarly a label of culture is not the culture but a severely abbreviated verbal description. Labels do not represent the pervasive, implicit, nuanced, subtle, complex, and dynamic ways of community being that might be generalisable across an organisation but experienced individually and subjectively.
Geert Hofstede, who has written several books on organisation culture, following his seminal research on national cultures in IBM between 1967 and 1973 was asked the question:
"Between the time that you were first analyzing this data and now, has your definition of culture changed at all?"
His answer was: 'No, not really. Of course, you have to realize that culture is a construct. When I have intelligent students in my class, I tell them, "One thing we have to agree on: culture does not exist." Culture is a concept that we made up which helps us understand a complex world, but it is not something tangible like a table or a human being. What it is depends on the way in which we define it. So let's not squabble with each other because we define culture slightly differently; that's fine.'
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'
Yesterday I've was working with a group of people to orchestrate a communication session. As I moved through the day I wondered how we were deciding who was going to do what to get the session designed, resourced, and seamless to the participants.
It's a group of people I haven't worked with before and we're under very tight time restrictions. So when I stumbled across a review I happened to come across in my files of a book called Results without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn't Report to You Tom Kendrick. New York: AMACOM, 2006. I stopped the thing I was doing and re-read the review. Kendrick is a project manager, and as the book reviewer reports the book is written from a project perspective :
This week I've facilitated two different (public) organization design training programs. (CIPD and HR Society). Both times in the 'housekeeping' start-up to the program I've made the BlackBerry call as I don't like facilitating a program with people furiously working their BlackBerries on their knees. I give participants a choice. We can stop once an hour for a five minute BlackBerry break so they can feed their addiction, or we can stop at the scheduled breaks (about every two hours).
So I was interested to read Matt Richtel's article in the NY Times Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price. The article discusses the effects of constantly multi-tasking the information that comes to us in an endless stream on our various gadgets:
I get a regular newsletter from Stanton Marris a consulting company. The one I got this morning has a brief guide to 'communicating high concern messages'. It serves as a useful reminder, making the point that
"When emotions are involved, too many managers handle the conversation badly, or avoid it altogether."
If only these tips had arrived yesterday before I got into a situation where I did not handle the conversation well. Someone asked me for feedback on a presentation she'd just given. It was one of those cases where I had a point of view, but didn't take enough care presenting it. In that situation the 'The six Cs of Communicating' would have helped.