Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
On Saturday I was speaking at the sixth annual Create West Virginia conference. This one was held in Richwood, West Virginia. It's a town with, on the face of it, not a lot going for it. It used to be a lumber and coal mining center but as the industries shut down so the people left.
Its Main Street consists now of 29 mostly boarded-up storefronts of early 1900 vintage and its residents now drive 25 miles west to Summersville where the big box stores are located on a four-lane corridor that connects two Interstate highways. The conference organizer, Rebecca Kimmons, told me that 'Richwood appears to be a ghost town, but its 2,000 residents, led by a creative, spunky mayor, believes that it can recreate itself.' (See my blog piece of June 17 on how I got the invitation to this)
We arrived there after dark on Friday and looked for the 'Red Gym' where we thought things would be happening. They were. Dinner was being prepared for the participants by Tim Urbanic of Cafe Cimino and Dale Hawkins who'd teamed up to cater the three days and there was a drinks reception with a local brewery, Bridge Brew Works and winery (Kirkwood) at the 'pop-up' Gray Seas Cafe on Main Street.
What I found delightful about the conference was the whole 'pop-up' concept taken to extreme. The conference center popped up in buildings used by the High School. (Rebecca had deliberately looked for a host town that had no conference facilities). 25 shops popped up on Main Street – all artisan wares. The old 'Richwood Banking and Trust' building popped up as a coffee house featuring evening jazz. Cross town broadband connectivity popped up. It was a kind of instant 3-day recreation of the town, giving a real insight into what it could be the future if the community rallied to make it so.
Tomorrow I head back to Washington DC after a month's worth of work travel: 5 countries (China, Austria, Romania, UK, The Netherlands), 10 presentations and workshops, various hotels, airports, railway stations, metro systems, buses, taxis and languages. At this point I'm tempted to write about packing techniques, hints for mastering airport security lines, methods of minimizing currency confusion, how not to lose important items, and what seems to work to keep the 'day job' going during a period of patchy internet access, changing time zones, and missing smart-phone alerts to call-in to a meeting back at base. But instead I'm sticking with the organization design theme.
One of my colleagues on Friday asked what were the preoccupations and questions I was hearing from people in these various presentations and workshops – anything in common across them? It was a great question that caused me to mentally skim over various perspectives of organization I'd been discussing over the month: four workshops on methods of organization design, four seminars on aspects of the future of work and how this might affect organization design, one session on organizational health, and another on changing the culture of an organization. All told somewhat over 350 people representing private and public sector, multiple nationalities and job roles attended the events. Each event needed a different set of information, PowerPoint, handouts, etc.
Simulations are an experiential learning technique well used in a range of disciplines and I've experienced them myself. I once landed an aircraft at San Francisco Airport (in the British Airways flight simulator in case you're wondering). It was a tremendous thrill to land the aircraft safely with only the slightest judder – although following the San Francisco crash last month the words of my instructor/co-pilot came to mind. He'd said at the time that San Francisco was one of the most difficult airports to land in and you had to have hours of training before attempting it.
I've also participated in various games, role plays, and simulations that immerse the participants in various aspects of organizational behavior, operations, decision making, team effectiveness and so on. Choosing the something appropriate from the available range can be challenging. A challenge that is made more complex by the medium choices available: online, virtual world, physical world, with or without artefacts, etc.
However there's definitely a power to immersion in a situation that's as close to real life as possible and that's what I was involved in last week but this time I was an observer not a participant.
The health services center that I'm working with is moving to a new building. On two half days last week teams of health center staff and volunteer 'patients' (actually employees from a local manufacturing company) were working through 'a day in the life of the center' in the new building.
I've had an instructive almost-three-days with my mother this weekend. She's 96 and lives independently in her own flat with no household support beyond a young woman who comes to clean her place for 2 hours once every two weeks. She seems to do well enough in an environment that she's used to. The Tesco metro is across the street, she is close to bus stops, the temperature in the house is set to maintain a steady agreeable warmth, and so on.
Nevertheless there are things she can't do well: open screw top jars, change light bulbs, bend to get things from the bottom of the fridge, walk outside without the aid of a cane or a walker, see small print, or hear in the presence of any background noise.
She wanted to visit Ireland where she was born. And that's what we did. Although I have spent time with her traveling (we went for the weekend to Paris last year) this time I was acutely aware of the design aspects of aging and started to wonder about this for both older people in the workforce and for older people who have left the workforce.
In a few weeks (43 days according to the website countdown clock) I am speaking at the Talent Management Summit 2013. This is billed as asking the right questions on talent management:
- Is your business prepared for the way we'll work in the future?
- Does your organization have the right people to succeed in the future business landscape?
- What are the talent requirements of tomorrow's business and how can we meet them?
- Much has been written about the need for a mobile, agile workforce, but what does this mean in practice, and how can we measure it?
and 'will consider the questions from a broader perspective – taking in the economic and political context and emerging macro trends for society and business ... as talent is no longer an issue confined to the HR department but is rising to the top of the agenda for senior executives across the board. ... This reflects the importance of talent for competitive advantage in today's global knowledge economy.'
The effect of the countdown clock was to focus my attention on the questions and to make me wonder what I'm going to say. Then I remembered that in my recently published book Organizational Health
I have a whole chapter on business trends and fads and included in the discussion a list asking readers whether they thought something was a trend to act on or a fad to ignore. The list reads:
The received wisdom is that the majority of change efforts fail: the commonly quoted number is upwards of 60%. Indeed I got a white paper telling me just that earlier this week.
Whether or not this is true is open to debate. Consider the introduction of the i-pad as a 'change management' effort. Did this fail? Not according to sales statistics. Is Facebook a 'change management' effort? Did this fail? Not so far anyway. Did we change our views of the financial sector as a result of a 'change management' effort? I don't think so, but society's views (at least in the UK and US) of this sector have changed following the financial crash.
For some reason organizational 'change management' is held to be a planned effort aiming to convince employees that what is usually a pre-determined management course of action is exactly what the employees should – in the jargon – 'embrace'. There may well be 60% failure to 'embrace' a subtle, or not so subtle, form of coercion. But that is more likely due to the programmatic aspects of an 'initiative'.
Take your pick at the end of the year. It's either review of the past year, or predictions for the coming year or resolutions, or the impossible to avoid 'Sales'. So far I have managed to avoid buying anything in a sale, unless you count a secondhand book from the Oxfam bookshop which was at second hand book price and not an even more cut down 'sale' price. Apparently the UK hit an all-time record this year in the shopping spree that started on Boxing Day.
Boxing Day set a new British record for online shopping, figures showed today as crowds descended on high streets once again for another day of frenzied sales.
While thousands of shoppers queued outside stores up and down the country to get ahead of the game, millions more made the most of tumbling prices from the comfort of their own homes.
Fears of consumers tightening their belts in the face of tough economic conditions were quickly shelved, with an estimated 10 million shoppers believed to have spent about £2.9bn.
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.
I've been working with an organization, like many others, that wants to improve its decision making processes. Employees are saying things like:
'There's a lack of understanding around decision criteria. We have a tendency to push decisions up and over-bureaucratize. Currently the senior leaders make most of the decisions, but their role should be more about direction setting, and then setting people up to succeed. They need to step back. There's no definition on what decisions should be made at what level. People ask whether a decision is in their remit. There are too many decision points.'
For them, an improved process would:
- Make it quicker and easier to make decisions whilst maintaining the right level of controls.
- Create an organization that is more customer focused, market alert and fast on its feet
- Give staff the mandate and confidence to make decisions at their level without unnecessary referring up
Probing a bit more on this reveals that what people mean by 'decisions' varies from the high level strategic things like 'Shall we buy this business?' to the day to day operational decisions that frontline staff need to make in their interactions with customers. I had an interesting one of the latter the other day at Doncaster Station in the Pumpkin café there.
Last week I was in Shanghai teaching organization design to thirty people from various national and international companies. It was an amazingly interesting workshop – I learned so much and have come back with a raft of questions to answer on approaches to organization design. Several of them are complex and very worthwhile to answer but I'm still thinking about them.
One of them is somewhat less complex but no less worthwhile to answer. It's about getting and maintaining what in the jargon is called 'business savvy'. Why were the Shanghai participants in the organization design program interested in this? Because they felt that that HR people there (in China) are not thought of as 'business' people but as 'people' people. These HR practitioners wanted to know how they could develop their own skills so that they can have credible, forward thinking business conversations with their colleagues who are running the organizations and managing the business of it.
They want to move on from the notion that all they do is recruit , train, pay people, and make sure that the organization complies with employment law. They want to be trusted as business advisors skilled at developing business growth, profitability and performance through careful attention to the 'people asset.'
Last week I wrote about the TEDx talk that I've been invited to give. And this week I've been pursuing the topic, reading many articles and research papers. As I sort, order, and mull over these and the approach I should take with the intention of arriving at a cohesive, off the cuff sounding, funny talk that fulfills the TEDx requirements I wish I'd done the improv course that since I had a half-day taster session (years ago) I keep telling myself I should do.
So far, what all this delving into the future of work has revealed is rather a lot of what might be kindly termed hot air. I'm reminded of the tarot card reading I once had where the reader advised me to take more notice of coincidences. It's an intriguing notion that comes to mind each time I'm in a 'coincidence situation' but it doesn't go anywhere. The future of work is the same as it's almost non-actionable. I can only go 'oh' or 'gosh' when, for example, I read from the World Future Society
The end of identity as we know it? It may become very easy to create a new identity (or many identities) for ourselves. All we will have to do is create new avatars in virtual reality. Those avatars will act on our behalf in real life to conduct such high-level tasks as performing intensive research, posting blog entries and Facebook updates, and managing businesses. The lines between ourselves and our virtual other selves will blur, to the point where most of us will, in essence, have multiple personalities.
HRM systems and processes are a significant part of enabling an organization to achieve a successful IPO. Not just pre-IPO but also post. But what I've found in my looking into this topic over the last couple of weeks is that there isn't much in the way of useful, practical information to draw on and tracking it down has been time consuming. However, some of what I've turned up has been useful and interesting so collected here is a small selection of the stuff that I've found most helpful in preparing the report I was writing.
I located a 1999 research article by Theresa Welbourne and Linda Cyr called The Human Resource Executive Effect in Initial Public Offering Firms that is available through Cornell's Digital Commons. Although it is 13 years since it was written it proved an excellent start point as the researchers
"By applying organizational inertia concepts, studied whether having a senior HRM executive, reporting to the CEO, affects firm performance in a sample of initial public offering (IPO) firms. Results indicate that smaller and fast-growth IPOs experience the most gain from having a senior human resource executive."
The company I am working with does not have a senior HR executive but is thinking about recruiting one so I contacted Dr Welbourne who is now at the Center for Effective Organizations to find out if she is still pursuing this line of research and the answer is yes.
Each week brings a whole host of new stuff that I can incorporate into my work. Hardly any of it comes from a formal learning environment like a course, or webinar, most of it comes from chatting with people who then say 'have you read this?', or 'you might be interested in this', or 'give this a go'. So my Amazon wish list (for books) gets longer each week, my toolbox of things to use on client assignments gets bigger, my list of movies (films) to watch grows, and the You Tube things people suggest make me realize if I did no work whatsoever and simply worked through what people suggested I still wouldn't be able to cope with the flood of new info. This week was no exception, so here's what I've added.
Problem seeking: an architectural programming primer, by William Pena with Steven Parshall and Kevin Kelly. Someone lent me the third edition (1987) but I see it is now in a fifth edition. I got this recommendation when I was sitting with a bunch of architects and asked why every meeting I went to with them they seized 23 x 14 cm cards with a grid on one side and plain on the other. They don't seem able to have a meeting without these cards. But I learned that they originate from a problem seeking methodology (outlined in the book). They are kind of a pre-post note method of putting ideas down and then being able to re-arrange them. I haven't started to use the cards yet as I'm still reading the 'how to', but maybe when and if I do I will be fully oriented to working with architects and designers. This is one I am now three-quarters of the way through and have ordered version 5 to have a copy myself
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:
During the past week someone asked me if I would come and teach an internal consulting skills course to her team. Simultaneously I had to submit an article for publication. (I am a regular columnist to the Chinese publication HR Value). What better synergy than spending time working on a consulting skills proposal, an article on consulting skills and then a blog piece on the same topic?
From a writer's perspective this is actually three totally different pieces of work as the audience is different, and thus the style, tone and content have to be different. Nevertheless the basic ideas are the same so there is marginal time saving in sticking to one topic. In fact this could be a good idea anyway. I came across a blogger who only ever writes about simplicity and earns his keep by consulting on simplicity. So the question I ask myself is "is singular focus better than scattergun?" But that is not to answer here.
Before looking specifically at consulting skills and the reasons for developing them let's answer the question "what is consulting?" Briefly, it is a method of exploring with a client an issue, problem, or question that he or she has, and then working with the client to develop a method of addressing the situation and together implementing the agreed solution. It is a relationship of collaboration and partnership and not one of command and control.
Writing my new book on organizational health has made me even more aware of the parallels between organizational and individual health. So when I saw the documentary Forks over Knives which is about eating a completely plant based diet in order to avoid, as far as possible common chronic and degenerative diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and strokes, I wondered whether some of the common 'diets' of organizations - increasing shareholder value, looking at short-term quarterly results, revering charismatic leaders, kneeling at the feet of management gurus, and so on - which lead to taking short cuts, ethical misdemeanors, jaded management, vast expenditure on not very much, and other chronic organizational diseases (ok I'm wildly oversimplifying) could be reversed by something equivalent to a plant based diet.
My first thought on the plant based diet was that it was fine for food savvy people who'd seen the documentary, read Michael Pollan's books, who could afford fresh fruits and vegetables, and who had access to sources of this type of food. I wondered how the mass of people who suffer from 'food insecurity' - a euphemism for 'not enough money to buy food' used here - would fare. It seems that they are the ones most likely to go for the cheap and easily available fast food options that offer none of the benefits of a plant based diet. I emailed Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, one of the documentary's key presenters on this topic and got a very nice reply with some helpful hints.
In my research on organizational health I've been reading Warren Bennis's book Changing Organizations definitely a golden oldie. In it he has a quote from Wilfred Brown, Chairman and Managing Director of Glacier Metal Company (1939-1965) who said 'Optimum organization [forms] must be derived from an analysis of the work to be done and the techniques and resources available.'
This strikes me as eminently sensible, and is a precept I teach in the organization design training programs I facilitate. But it is highlighted by looking through the lens of organization health. Boiling down the many definitions and lists of characteristics that I gathered it seems that four attribute emerge. A healthy organization is one that has:
o Effective performance or functioning
o Well managed adaptation, change and growth
o A strong sense of alignment interdependency and community
o A spirit of energy, vibrancy and vigour, perhaps what the on-line shoe retailer Zappos defines as WOW
This past week I've been racing to learn new things: Salesforce's Chatter, Chaos theory, Google docs, sharing Dropbox folders, my new Livescribe pen, our move from Sametime to Webex, and how to follow the author guidelines including the Harvard referencing system for my new book.
So is this an unusual number of new things to learn in a week or a normal number for most people? I'm wondering if I've particularly noticed because so many of them are new technologies to me. Salesforce's Chatter is apparently just like Facebook, in fact one of our beta test group (we're trying it out before the rest of the organization gets it) asked if it was on a Facebook platform. It isn't but for those people who use Facebook it will be easy to make sense of Chatter. I'm not a friend of Facebook for various reasons - I'm hoping that Siva Vaidhyanathan author of a book I'm currently reading The Googlization of Everything and why we should worry will tackle Facebook as his next book. He's a professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia so it's a deep and thoughtful approach to a phenomenon that isn't quite what it might seem.
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.
Several people during the past week have asked me what I see as the organizational trends that are having an impact both on organization designs and on the Human Resource/Organization Development functions.
It's an interesting question that you can look at from a macro/global level, or at a single small organization in a specific market sector or geography. It seems that the people who were asking were more interested in what the macro level trends were that they would then be able to interpret and assess the impact of in their local markets.
But how useful is to know about a macro level trend? Everyone knows that rapidly advancing communication and collaboration technologies are having a major impact on organizational operations, but maybe that macro level statement is too general to be useful. Would it be more helpful to ask "Are there some specific communication and collaboration technologies that are having more of an impact on organizational designs than others". For example, is Twitter more of an organizational game changer than Facebook? Or Google more than Microsoft? Or Cisco's telepresence more than webcams on individual computers?
What is it about traveling that leads to loss of items? I've come to accept as inevitable that when I travel I lose stuff no matter how hard I plan to focus on returning with what I left with, plus with the items that I also seem to inevitably collect as I travel. It's not a zero sum game though, ten business cards does not equate to a pair of gloves, for example.
Once I read that leaving things behind is an unconscious statement that you want to stay in that place. But I don't think I want to stay in seat 64A of the train that goes from London to Newcastle - even if leaving my red scarf in the rack above the seat may imply that.
One thing that seems to contribute to the travel = loss of items is information overload. I'm juggling time zone changes, schedules, itineraries, suitcase, laptop, travel adaptors, documents, and other things in physical surroundings that are unfamiliar. It's hard to establish a routine or a habit when sleeping in four different locations on consecutive nights whilst trying to keep work commitments and the ideal of 'work is what you do, not where you are' giving the seamless customer service people expect when you're not on the road in the same way. Home based travel does not, in my case, lead to loss of items.
In several meetings this week a common problem emerged even though the topics of the meetings were completely different. Briefly they focused on clashes (and crashes) of one kind or another. Take this example:
We are introducing all kinds of software and processes designed to encourage employee collaboration - wikis, Interact, collaborative on-line events (like IBM jams), internal social media, blogs and so on. Simultaneously we are encouraging employees to contribute, make suggestions, participate, speak up and generally feel they have a voice that will be listened to. We're doing this in order to develop innovative and adaptive responses to organizational context changes and become more effective.
But we are not doing enough, for various reasons, to examine or change the formal systems and processes which bind people to legacy norms: linear progression through a multi-level grade system, annual performance appraisals to a set format, career movement within the current 'silo' that the employee is in, and controlling rather than collaborative management style.
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.
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:
At this time of any year I notice the word 'reflection' coming into play. People start reflecting on the year past, setting goals for the year coming, and generally developing some kind of internal balance sheet of their efforts.
So this week Joy Costa of the Human Capital Institute makes the point that:
you may be reflecting on how you personally did meeting your goals this year, how your team and department did and how your organization did on this year's big hairy audacious goals. Equally important is reflecting on why, and even more important is drafting the right goals across the board for next year, to confidently predict desired business and personal performance.
The other week the Real Estate Executive Board ran a webinar 2010 Research Recap: Aligning Corporate Real Estate (CRE) HR and IT. The intro to the session read:
The Board's strategic research for 2010 will help real estate executives align better with HR and IT, and realize a true competitive advantage from their portfolio assets.
In this teleconference learn how the best real estate shops:
• Create a workplace road map that resonates across all three functions, with a focus on mobility and enabling work
• Bridge the gap between disparate metrics and arriving at a dashboard that speaks as effectively to CHROs and CIOs as it does to CRE executives
• Translate workplace best practices into customized solutions and tool kits that business units can get behind and sell
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.
Yesterday I was driving a 300 mile trip and listening to stuff. On the way down I listened to Chesil Beach, a novel by Ian McEwan. Florence, one of the characters achieves her life's dream of being a highly regarded musician. The other Edward, does not achieve his dream to write a series of history books. He life sort of fades away and sadly, he recognizes that he has lost his dream. The story is of choices made and paths not taken.
The thread of achieving dreams was continued on the way back. On the second part of the drive I listened to my second audio book. It was Dan Rather's narraration of 'The American Dream: Stories from the Heart of our Nation' - an incredible panorama of people whose stories he told - all in relation to achieving the American Dream. Most involved massive amounts of work, difficult trade-offs, bags of endurance, and fleeting glimpses of the Dream as they reached for it. And many did achieve their dream and got to the work-life balance that accompanied it but not easily or without struggles en route.
I was talking to someone yesterday who is considering taking a new job, but is has doubts about his capacity to do it. I remembered that a few years ago I wrote a series of checklists for new leaders one of which was New Leader: Manager Your Doubts. What follows is an extract from it.
Doubts can be healthy tools of learning and decision making, but they can also be paralyzing. You can get tied up in the anxieties your doubts create and then make no decisions or wrong decisions. You can jeopardize your leadership position by being tentative or by struggling alone with either professional or personal doubts. Your challenge is to acknowledge your doubts and then to manage them competently and confidently to your benefit and your organization's. In their article Why Should Anyone be Led by You? Goffee and Jones describe the way that Richard Branson (CEO Virgin) is not good at being interviewed, but is disarming in his approach to revealing his doubts about interviews and his ability to handle them. Here are some pointers to help you manage your doubts.
Be kind to yourself
Handled badly, having doubts can be an energy drainer, a time waster, and an opportunity risk. Handled well they can be the opposite - energizing, a good time investment, and an opportunity enabler. It depends how you think of them. If you get caught in a negative spiral - going over and over the doubts in your mind with no way out then you're not doing yourself justice. Recognize that doubts are healthy, they are inevitable, and they can be used wisely. Ask yourself questions that help turn the negative downwards spiral to a positive upwards spiral.
Someone asked me the other day what process consulting is. Of course, I was instantly stumped because although it's a phrase and a concept that's totally familiar to me I couldn't immediately and concretely define it in a way that made the term real for the questioner.
So I went back to Edgar Schein's piece A General Philosophy of Helping: Process Consultation, Sloan Management Review; Spring 1990. In his usual, clear way he says that the best way of defining process consulting, which he says is basically a 'helping model', is to contrast it with two other forms of helping models "that seem to me substantively quite different": providing expert information, and playing doctor.
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)
In a results oriented world of measurement, analytics, and accountability there is little room for functions that are unable to prove that they add value to the bottom line. Evaluating the link between organizational performance and OD/HR practices is complex and there is no one right way to do it.
A report commissioned by the UK's Institute of Personnel and Development in 1997 (Patterson, M. G., West, M.A., Lawthorn, R. and Nickell, S. Impact of People Management Practices on Business Performance) sought to establish a link between Human Resource Management (HRM) practices and the financial performance of organizations: one in a series of efforts to prove that HRM contributes positively to the 'bottom line'. The findings from this research did reveal the possibilities of demonstrating a measurable impact of HRM on organisation performance and productivity.
I've just read two questionnaires aiming to find out what people feel about working in their office space (or rather doing their work).
As I read them I wondered how many people, when they are looking for a job, factor in the physical office space. (Beyond how long their commute to it is).
How many people at a job interview get the chance to actually look at the space they will be working in and work out whether its physical aspects of: light, heat, noise, closeness to coffee machine, lavatories, etc. are conducive to their well-being?
In my experience, asking interview questions about the physical space are not frequently found on a standard checklist of interview questions (either for the interviewee or the interviewer). But that would be useful for both parties. The physical space has significant impact on productivity.
In a results oriented world of measurement, analytics, and accountability there is little room for functions that are unable to prove that they add value to the bottom line. Evaluating the link between organizational performance and OD/HR practices is complex and there is no one right way to do it.
A report commissioned by the UK's Institute of Personnel and Development in 1997 sought to establish a link between HRM practices and the financial performance of organizations: one in a series of efforts to prove that HRM contributes positively to the 'bottom line'. The findings from this research revealed a measurable impact of HRM on organisation performance and productivity. The (now) CIPD has an update on this The People and Performance Link.
At the organization design training program I've been facilitating this week there's been lots of discussion on the politics of organization design. One person described at some length the blocking behavior of one the senior people and the difficulties in moving the work forward in this situation. He was looking for suggestions in how to work with people who were passive aggressive, confrontational, and plain stubborn.
A different challenge was presented to a manager working on a project involving a move from one head office to another. The new office has much less space, and the intent of the move is to introduce a new culture with collaborative working, flexible working, and generally different working practices, including people working in an open plan environment rather than having their own offices. This too has led to debate on the connection between status, hierarchy, and power, and the lengths people will go do to defend the office space they feel is an entitlement of their position.
Still thinking about the distractions of gadgetry (BlackBerries, cell phones, computers ...) that I wrote about the other day, I came across two methods of trying to deal with this. The first is mindfulness training
A paper from the University of Pennsylvania discussed a
study in which training was provided to a high-stress U.S. military group preparing for deployment to Iraq [and] has demonstrated a positive link between mindfulness training, or MT, and improvements in mood and working memory.
Remember working memory is the part that is impaired with the distraction of gadgetry.
The lead researcher, Amishi Jha, said that:
Yesterday I mentioned telepresence in my blog and later in the day went to a telepresence meeting - my first experience of using this technology. I'd read one definition of it in a white paper from Frost and Sullivan a consultancy. They say it is
... a tightly integrated set of visual, audio and network technologies and services that together deliver an immersive, life-like communication experience. The goal is to reproduce the best characteristics of direct human interaction that result from a face-to-face meeting.
The value of the medium is said to lie in the cost savings to a company. Although there is a heavy investment in installing the technology and keeping it running - recieved wisdom suggests that this is more than paid off in terms of direct and indirect costs of travelling to meet people. Additionally in their white paper Frost and Sullivan suggest that there are also green gains to be had from teleconferencing.
My mother is in hospital this week having a hip revision (and doing fine). Going into the place where she is having it reminded me that I'd been reading more stuff about hospital design. For example I'd looked at the Kaiser Permanente's Garfield Healthcare Innovation Center (established in June 2006) website
It describes itself as:
A living laboratory where ideas are tested and solutions are developed in a hands-on, mocked-up clinical environment. Many aspects of delivering healthcare can be innovated and examined at the Center using real-world scenarios and activities, such as simulations, technology testing, prototyping, product evaluations, and training.
Although several of their pages are locked for KP personnel only it's easy enough to get an overview of the types of activities the Center is engaged in and why this form of experiential approach to innovation and collaboration is an exciting and productive one.
In the spirit of New Year resolutions and getting myself organized for 2010, I remembered that I have a book that set the foundation for much of how I organize my life now. It's called Quality is Personal and is an excellent manual for applying total quality management approaches to one's own life. Based on the concepts of continuous improvement and centered around checklists the book is a mine of useful ideas on how to keep yourself focused and improving.
Several years ago Robert Shaw and David Nadler wrote an article called Capacity to Act (in Human Resource Planning, Volume 14, No. 4). It's worth reading now as it addresses some of the questions people have regarding why some companies are able to be adaptive and redesign themselves in the face of new challenges and others are not. Newspaper industry take note. The authors identify three factors that they say contribute to this inability to adapt.
Joining a new company means being alert to (and maybe embracing) any cultural conventions that are specific to that organisation. Over many year I have worked in companies where no-one has commented on the fact that I reply to emails without including the original (the one I am replying to) in my message. In my new company I've been asked by several people why my emails do not contain the message I am replying to. Today (four months in) I have bowed to convention (or pressure) and will start to include the original in my reply. My preference is not to do this as I like a clean page but maybe in order to fit in and get on I need to over-ride this particular preference of mine.