Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
This is an extract from Chapter 2 of my new book Organization Design: Engaging with Change, published last week (November 21 2013). To find out more about the book and order a copy here.
When people are trying to decide the 'best' structure for their organization they often forget that work has to flow through it, and that different structures have different attributes. For example, that adaptability is poor in a traditional hierarchy but good in a network. Instead structure decisions are often made based on personalities, politics, and expediency. This is a mistake on two counts. First, failing to explicitly recognize that structure choices impact organizational capabilities, and second that getting work done efficiently in order to meet organizational goals is, or should be, the purpose of the organizing frameworks and structures.
The possibilities that technology now offers for charting the way work actually gets done in organizations and the advent of new business models raises some questions about who 'owns' the design of the organization and where should the 'owner' reside in the organization.
Identifying who owns the design is not always clear cut. Consider the business model of LiveOps, established in 2000. It deploys cloud computing to virtualize its business services. It is a cloud-based call centre service that manages a network of more than 20,000 independent at-home agents. Companies use the service on a pay-as-you-go model, either as a fully outsourced call center or to augment their own. The technology enables an on-demand, scalable service to subscribers. The relationship of the stakeholders – LiveOps, the independent agents, and the companies buying the services of the agents via Live Ops is not easily depicted in a standard chart.
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.
I was working with a client group the other day who'd got the high level design ready and were working to detail the operational design and implementation plan. We had a discussion on the resources required to move from the current to planned redesign and they came up with the following
Tangible resources required
Intangible resources required
The right politics
It seems like an eclectic list but for their project it made sense. What is interesting about it is that it specifies intangibles that are needed: things that they felt could be derailers and that needed intentional activity to obtain. Sometimes it is difficult to work out what resources, either tangible or intangible, are needed and if this is the case a good approach is to try out Gary Klein's pre mortem exercise.
An astonishing number of people I have meetings with seem to have no idea how to either hold or run a meeting that has a clear purpose and a desired outcome, or outcomes. Sometimes it's completely understandable – if the meeting owner is inexperienced, or hasn't been trained in running meetings – sometimes it's baffling. I've been in various forms of meeting over the course of the last week involving from three people to over twenty. None of them has been as productive as they might have been if they had had good meetings discipline, meetings protocols, and in some cases common courtesy. As a result, this past week I felt myself grow increasingly testy as I attended the various meetings. This was not good. So I took time to step back to think about meetings, but not entirely successfully as I came up with a list of questions that suggested to me that I was still feeling irritable. Here are the questions:
1. Can organizations be designed so that they become meetingless?
2. Would an organization development consultant add megabucks to the bottom line if all they ever did was facilitate effective meetings (forget talent management, etc)?
3. Is it productive to suggest meeting participants develop meeting protocols and stick to them or does that just earmark one as being a fool?
4. Are face to face meetings better run than meetings where participants are remote from each other?
5. Are meetings where all participants are remote from each other better run than face to face meetings?
6. Is technology an enabler or disabler of productive meetings? (Some clues on this "Sorry, the call dropped." "No I can't see your screen." "You're very faint, can you speak up." "Ha ha ha I like/don't like your yellow wallpaper." "I'm just going to plug in the other phone".)
I toyed with the idea of turning the questions into a quiz where the answers could be along the lines of either 'yes/no', or on a scale of 1 - 5, or a set of statements like 'don't interrupt I'm in a meeting.' In my dour mood I felt that it would reveal that most meetings are considered at best a marginal waste of time and at worst a complete waste of time. (Some of the scoring would be dependent on whether the respondent has been able to do other things while in the meeting, like eating lunch, sending emails, or reading the news on his/her i-pad).
On Sunday, March 11, yesterday, I started to write the final chapter of my new book. It's a great relief to see the index hoving into view after six months of sitting here at my laptop – the post PC era has overtaken me while I've been writing. If the post PC era has also overtaken you for the moment you can listen to Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist, talking about this in a TechCrunch interview. As soon as I finish the book I'll have to ditch my PC and get whatever the post PC era item is. Or will I be succumbing to a mere fad if I do that?
How do I know whether the post-PC era statements are a fad or a trend? What is the difference? You'll be able to find out when the book is published at the end of the year, because management fads and trends are the topic of Chapter 8 – the one I've spent the last day and a half working on. Well, some of the time I haven't been directly working on it. I've been 'researching' the various management jargon generators seeing if I can come up with a management fad of my own. The generators are great fun and there are lots of them. Just type into your search bar 'management jargon generator' and you'll get a list of them. Then you can spend quite a while feeling amused at things like "This is no time to bite the bullet with our parallel incremental contingencies" or "Our exploratory research points to knowledge-based management alignment," at least I felt amused until I then cast a critical eye over what I had written in the chapter and decided to go and get a cup of tea.
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.
The Rollo May quote came to mind this week: "Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. The capacity to create ourselves, based upon this freedom, is inseparable from consciousness or self-awareness. (in The Courage to Create) .
I thought of it because I was on several telephone conference calls where there was little leadership agreement behind the 'one response toward which to throw our weight'. Each leader felt the stimulus and was irritated by having to pause and choose, rather than just take the individual knee-jerk reaction he/she wanted to but when the pause situation was engineered the differences between the team members became evident. With this came the realization that the team had to stop, think, decide more in concert than individually.
When I looked at a report on Project Oxygen, Google's approach to determining how to make more successful managers that someone sent me during the week I noticed that this too had the suggestion of stopping to pause between stimulus and response and also to align an individual's thinking with the wider interests of the organization:
I think I'm sitting in my home office. It's actually the local coffee shop. I've just read an article titled Designing Your Own Workspace Improves Health, Happiness and Productivity. It tells me that "Studies have revealed the potential for remarkable improvements in workers' attitudes to their jobs by allowing them to personalize their offices." Why do I need to personalize my space? Well here's the answer: Because "When people feel uncomfortable in their surroundings they are less engaged -- not only with the space but also with what they do in it. If they can have some control, that all changes and people report being happier at work, identifying more with their employer, and are more efficient when doing their jobs."
Oh, but my employer wants me out of the space for all kinds of reasons that add up to a whole range of cost and efficiency savings plus the noted productivity gains. (If you're interested, another article I read lists all the pluses of having a mobile workforce from both employee and employer perspectives). So, when I go to the bricks and mortar office where my employer is based I don't have an office. I am one of the growing band of mobile workers who books a hoteling space and sits as and where.
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.
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?
The book chapter that I mentioned the other day is coming along in spite of the interruptions from present exchange, holly and ivy things, and other 'holiday' (aka Christmas) stuff. It's wonderful how much I'm learning by writing the chapter, so I'm finding it an enjoyable process at this point.
As my chapter is on the history of organizational development (though I'm still getting stuck on is it organization development, organizational development, organisation development, or organisational development and am using all forms indiscriminately) I've been looking at information on the early years of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. Established in 1947, today it is
engaged with evaluation and action research, organisational development and change consultancy, executive coaching and professional development, all in service of supporting sustainable change and ongoing learning.
I get the Merriam Webster word of the day every day and find that some I know and some I don't. Most weeks I learn a few new words but rarely keep them long enough in my memory to use them in speech or writing.
This week I've come across new words in emails sent to me. First is copacetic (everything is ok) and the other is TMI (textspeak for Too Much Information) both I had to look up. I mentioned copacetic to someone and he instantly said it was the title of a 'rubbish song'. So I then had to look that up and found that
"Copacetic is an album by Velocity Girl, an American indie rock band formed in 1989 in College Park, Maryland, although it was generally known as a Washington, DC-area band. The band released three albums before splitting up in 1996."
Last week I participated in several mixed attendance meetings. That is some people were present in the room and some were dialing in. In my case I dialed in (sometimes as the sole person on the phone) to meetings where several people were present face to face in a room. None of these were great experiences or felt like being a productive use of time. Perhaps because the organization I was working with is not very disciplined in either meeting organization or in teleconf protocols.
Most meetings I've attended there do not have an agenda, the person calling the meeting does not usually act as a chairperson i.e. a control point, people shout over each other, they talk to each other on points - despite pleas for 'one meeting' a phrase that has just entered organizational vocabulary, and very few action points are recorded or picked up for action.
We're getting a lot of questions from people in the organization that I'm currently working with about teleworking. This is specifically in relation to the business strategy to increase the number of days people telework. The most frequently asked questions are: How will managers measure teleworkers performance? This is a question that comes both from the managers and the staff they manage - see my blog knowledge workers and the Kano model for one perspective on this.
Hot on the heels of this question is managers asking "How much physical space do I need for my staff?" Of course, the answer to this is 'It depends on the type of work, the worker's ability to telework, and the manager's ability to manage people teleworking."
Peter Blocks's foreword to a recently released book on positive deviance (aka 'bright spots' in the Heath brother parlance), Inviting Everyone: Healing Healthcare through Positive Deviance makes the point that:
We all have a long tradition of thinking about individual transformation, but the question of how collectives or social systems are transformed by design is still open for discovery. We are familiar with how social systems can be disrupted by forces like technology, or shifts in markets, or political upheaval, but how to reform a social system growing out of the explicit intention of its own members is still cluttered with conventional practices that struggle to fulfill what they were designed to do.
Two related pieces caught my eye over the weekend. One was called Ruses to cut printing costs, in September 2, Technology Quarterly, (Economist). And the other was on the environmental costs of business travel including conferences.
The first piece notes that "In Europe, meanwhile, each worker prints an average of 31 pages a day, seven of which were not even wanted, according to recent research by Lexmark, a printer manufacturer." It goes on to describe an idea which is totally obvious when explained
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.
So far, this week my meetings have centered around extending and encouraging the use of telework amongst the workforce, and the associated discussions of converting workspace to free addressing and hoteling. (I noted that all of these discussions have been face to face).
Although none of these are new concepts in many settings - consultancies in particular have been working in this way for several years. For example Accenture three years ago (2007) was reported as follows:
For Accenture, teleworking is an essential component of its corporate strategy. The company has more than 3,000 employees based in the region. Total seat capacity in its Reston
offices is 1,200, and, on average, 1,100 people come to the office daily, meaning that nearly two-thirds of the company's regionally based workforce telecommute on any given day.
I read an interesting piece on manager resistance to teleworking on the Washington Technology website. It discusses four reasons why managers (specifically government employees in the case of this article) are resistant to letting their staff telework:
1. Technical disconnects: specifically equipment and security
2. Disconnected employees: impromptu face to face meetings count
3. Management matters: management attitudes on performance are critical
4. Bad apple. Bad news: this boils down to can managers trust their employees to be productive when out of sight?
here's how to see beyond the label of culture that I talked about at the beginning of August:
The first step is to take a definition of culture that appeals to you. There are many beyond the ubiquitous 'the way we do things round here' and the two already mentioned in this article. One that works to unpack is O'Reilly and Chatman's "A system of shared values, defining what is important, and norms, defining appropriate attitudes and behaviours, that guide members' attitudes and behaviours."
'Change management' is one of those phrases that is bandied about without much consensus on what it is, why you need to manage it, and how you would manage it if you could. In an attempt to clarify this for myself I started to look around for usable information. There is a lot of information. One academic article written by Street and Gallupe, A Proposal for Operationalizing the Pace and Scope of Organizational Change in Management Studies, is helpful. The abstract reads as follows:
Organizational change is an important construct for management theorists, yet organizational research is being hampered by inconsistent and incompatible operationalizations of the construct. This article presents a proposal for improving clarity about how the types and characteristics of organizational change can be operationalized and measured. In particular, the scope and pace of organizational change are examined and a common approach is developed to measure the impacts of these two factors on patterns of organizational change.
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.
Recently I've spent a lot of time 'standing behind the yellow line' in immigration queues waiting to have my passport stamped to be let into a country. I've also stood waiting behind people to check out at the supermarket, get money from an ATM, board buses, and buy movie tickets.
I looked at the queues to get into the World Expo country pavilions and decided that it wasn't worth my time for the pay-off. Instead I enjoyed my Expo experience of walking through the landscaped gardens there, watching the people, and seeing the pavilions from the outside.
Now I've just read an article on 'balking behavior'. Business management professor Pen-Yuan Liao of the National United University in Miaoli, Taiwan makes the point that:
No one enjoys queuing, so even small reductions in waiting time will result in better quality of service and lead to enhancing customer loyalty and so increased sales
Day to day organization changes are continuous and people are usually able to adapt well to these: for example people leave a work team and new people join, or an IT system is upgraded, or a new policy is introduced, or an unexpected event occurs but things return to 'normal'. Where people find things more difficult is when there is a 'disruptive' change - which can be planned, as in a merger of two departments, or unplanned as when a problem is discovered (think of the recent Toyota recalls) and the landscape of the organization has to change dramatically.
Last week I was in the UK running an organization design training program and meeting with various other people. It was great fun - not just catching up but also collecting a whole lot of information and suggestions on various topics that came up in the course of the conversations. So I've been spending time following up on some of those.
The first category of stuff was on websites that people have found useful. In the course of the week I looked at:
Go Ask Anyone: This website offers packs of conversation cards that trigger conversations by asking a question. The pack 'Go Ask Anyone' is a great icebreaker activity. (In fact I've used it, but then gave my pack to someone else - so it was good to get the reminder). Sample Questions: "Which three people would you combine for an ideal mate?..." "What one event in American history would you erase if you could?" "If you could know one secret or mystery, but could never tell...." Each pack has: 52 cards.
Despite its frequent use, there is no universal definition for the term "business transformation." It can mean different things to different people (and organizations) in difference situations. In fact, each of the following news stories reported during one week in October 2007 provides an example of business transformation:
Business transformation is changing something for the better within our organization (i.e., one small change can make a big difference) - "When Starbucks bumped the 8 oz. cup off the menu, the 10 oz. "tall" (the new small) increased profits by 25 cents per cup for only 2 cents of added product."
One time I was talking to a leadership development specialist about the skills leaders needed to do well. His response was that the single thing they needed more than anything else was curiosity and it's a very difficult thing to develop in people. His remarks stuck in my mind so when someone emailed me the article The Power of Curiosity (adapted from a book Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life by Todd Kashdan) I was interested to see what it said. (Sidebar: the article was printed in a magazine, Experience Life, that I'd not come across so I looked at the website - it has tabs for healthy eating, fit body, health and wellness, worthy goods. I see it is available in print version too so I'll look out for it.)
Strategy + Business has just published an article Leading Outside the Lines. Its summary reads:
In every company, there are really two organizations at work: the informal and the formal. High-performance companies mobilize their informal organizations while maintaining and adding formal structures, balancing the two.
Reading the full article reveals that
In every company, there are really two organizations at work: the formal and the informal. The formal organization is the default governing structure of most large companies founded in the past century. Businesspeople recognize the formal organization as that rational construct that runs on rules, operates through hierarchies and programs, and evaluates performance by the numbers.
This week I'm working on a 'toolkit' for managers interested in developing organizational capability and effectiveness. Essentially it is a set of activities, diagnostics, checklists, and thought provokers that they can use to work out what organizational (not personal) strengths they need to have and develop to make their business successful.
One of the tools suggested by my colleagues working on this is something called 'The Nine Forces Shaping Our World'. I hadn't come across it before and found the whole concept intriguing. It set off a whole raft of questions in my mind, including:
- Why are there only nine forces (or is nine too many)?
- What is the rationale for the nine?
- What perspective about the world does the title and the list suggest?
- What can someone 'do' with the list. (I just got the list, no introduction or instructions)
Yesterday I went cold turkey on my lovely IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad in favor of a MacBook Pro. Why? Because in the office I worked in the computer I was issued with was the Apple. For some time I have sat with both computers side by side, working on both but going back to the safety blanket of the ThinkPad when things got frustrating, time consuming, or just too difficult on the Mac. It had taken me ages to get my ThinkPad set up just the way I liked it. (Following the theft of my previous ThinkPad), and I felt adrift in the Mac world that has very different conventions from the Microsoft world.
Starting almost from computer scratch again even though my Apple is loaded with their version of Microsoft Office is hard work and time consuming. There are many, many things I am struggling with. My long-suffering computer expert brother (and Apple fan) is getting a stream of emails. Today's already include:
One of the things that people preoccupied with the 'day job', 'putting out fires', and the myriad things that besiege them in the present have difficulty with is preparing for the future. (I wonder how many organizations forecast the difficulties that would arise from the volcano erupting in Iceland?). Nevertheless future thinking and 'horizon scanning' are skills that managers should have high on their personal development agenda. Why do they need these skills? Because, as a paper from the International Futures Forum (a non-profit organisation established to support a transformative response to complex and confounding challenges and to restore the capacity for effective action in today's powerful times) put it
Yesterday, in three separate conversations, with people from three different organizations I listened to the challenges these organizations are facing with their leadership. There were some common threads in the discussions:
- Leaders used to leading in a command and control way in a hierarchy with layers and spans are having a hard time changing their leadership style to one that is more collaborative, involving, and recognizes networks of expertise rather than positional power.
- Leaders are not skilled at managing, and excellent operational management is less valued than strategic leadership - to the detriment of a effectively functioning organization.
- Good leaders are few and far between, and even more scarce are leaders who can also manage well.
- Leaders effective in one context may not be effective in another context (which is costly to both the individual and the organization).
One of the questions raised by the group I was working with in Shanghai was "What lens should an OD consultant look through and how do I decide which lens to use?" First of all one has to understand the concept of a 'lens'. Two books explain this very well. The first Reframing Organizations by Lee Bolman and Terry Deal suggest four lens through which to view organizations, and Gareth Morgan in Images of Organization describes eight lenses. Briefly what they are both suggesting is that people interpret organizations differently according to their preferred way of looking at the world.
At simplistic level people who are 'glass half empty people', see things differently from people who are 'glass half full' - one sees the world through a pessimistic lens where things are going to go wrong, life is gloomy and people are out to thwart each other. The other approaches the world optimistically as a place of opportunity and adventure where things tend to go well and people act in the best interests of each other.
Running a two-day organization development workshop in Shanghai last week was food for thought. I was there at the invitation of the HR Excellence Center a membership organization that provides training, development, conferences, and other information to HR professionals. (Non-members can still participate in many of the events). It is run on similar lines to the UK's Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and the US's Society for Human Resource Management.
Thirty attendees, for the most part from large multi-national companies, participated. The food for thought came through the huge variety of questions that participants asked. (Far from being reticent - as I'd been told to expect - there was consistent interaction, involvement, interest, challenge, and engagement.)
The organization design model that I work with does not have 'culture' specifically visible as one of its elements (neither does Galbraith's model). The participants in the course I was facilitating last week noted this and it started a discussion on whether culture was an 'output' of various other factors, and whether culture can be changed by taking steps to change people's behavior.
One manager told the story of moving to a new role in a different department, but in the same organization. She was shocked by the different norms of behavior in the new department. Here it was the norm to swear and shout during management meetings. She noted that the manager was one of the worst offenders and in her view people followed suit.
This incident is less about changing behavior and more about role modeling - people copied what they saw as acceptable managerial behavior. The importance of leaders role modeling the behavior they'd like to see in their subordinates or in the organization as a whole is often remarked on.
What is the difficulty with evaluating OD work? There are several reasons that I've come across
• There's very little client or consultant appetite for reviewing and evaluating effectiveness, so that part of the process doesn't get built into the proposal or business case. Without making an ROI case for the evaluation piece why should it happen?
• Designing a rigorous evaluation takes time and specific skills in research methodology, internal auditing, or similar.
• Organisational circumstances move on and the focus switches to the next thing so once an intervention is either designed or implemented it becomes time to lose interest.
• On a trade off basis clients would rather put money into the more visible pieces of work than the behind the scenes pieces of work (like evaluation).
• There are no standards against which to evaluate. So while there are, for example, bodies developing 'sustainability' standards, or 'green building' standards, or 'management' standards I don't know of any bodies developing OD standards.
Continuing from yesterday's theme one reason why there is confusion around organization development (OD) definition is that there is a lack of an underpinning theory that would give rise to a consistent, coherent, bounded, but perhaps 'agile' or 'adaptive' one. Linda Holbeche calls OD "a 'scavenger' discipline". Going on to say, "It is an eclectic field that borrows from many other disciplines and theories". (Impact, Issue 26).
So, is it an issue that there are no rigorous or unifying theories of OD - as there are theories of philosophy, religion, or medicine? Well yes, if there were a body of work that formed the basis of yardsticks for judgment and comparison, it would make for easier distinction between the types of practitioners - in the same way that, say, once someone with a medical issue is clear that they are interested in acupuncture over homeopathy, they can select the practitioner based on other factors (location, price, 'chemistry', reputation, etc). Alternatively it may not be an issue if the OD practitioner him or herself can be specific about what his/her form of OD looks and feels like in practice - in order to give potential clients accurate information on whether, to continue the analogy, they are getting a homeopathic practitioner or an acupuncturist to cure their headaches.
A friend sent an enquiry to me and a couple of others yesterday which set me thinking. Here's what she asked:
I'm trying to think of an article or book chapter to give to a group of Arts students that would provide the "classic" background on what an organization is - the basic theory piece.
I'm hoping to give them something that will help frame a discussion around what an organization really is - sort of the classic thinking. There must be a chapter or article - perhaps from an org. textbook. What would you give a group of "beginners" about how to think about organizations?
What I liked about the question (apart from the opportunity to delve into my folder "Articles" on my computer and wonder why I had the same article under different titles in more than one case) was that it's a challenging one to answer. Like her I have hundreds of articles on various aspects of organization theory, design, psychology, behavior, and so on but none that tackled head on the discussion of 'what is an organization?'
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.
I just received the Career Innovation Newsletter containing a link to an article When Performance-Related Pay Backfires. It previews a day of discussion of recent research on performance related pay that was held on June 30 2009 at the London School of Economics (LSE)
One piece of research, by Samuel Bowles and Sandra Reyes of the Santa Fe Institute, was an analysis of 51 separate experimental studies of financial incentives in employment relations' . The paper has the rather daunting title of "Economic Incentives and Social Preferences: A Preference-Based Lucas Critique of Public Policy". The Abstract is not for the faint-hearted:
Policies and explicit incentives designed for self-regarding individuals sometimes are less effective or even counterproductive when they diminish altruism, ethical norms and other social preferences. Evidence from 51 experimental studies indicates that this crowding out effect is pervasive, and that crowding in also occurs. A model in which self-regarding and social preferences may be either substitutes or complements is developed and evidence for the mechanisms underlying this non-additivity feature of preferences is provided. The result is a preference-based analogue to the Lucas Critique restricting feasible implementation to allocations that are supportable given the effect of incentives on preferences.
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.
Two articles in the Economist of January 16 caught my eye. The first Driven to Distraction was a commentary on Daniel Pink's new book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. And the second was Carrots Dressed as Sticks (an experiment on economic incentives). Both were essentially about bonus and incentives schemes - a hot topic in any discussion of recognition and rewards in organizations. I get involved in these debates as I work with people designing or redesigning their organizations.
When Getting Things Done, by David Allen, came out in 2001someone recommended it to me as a 'life changer'. So ever willing to change my life (one of the skills I need to demonstrate when supporting my clients in changing their organizations) I promptly bought a copy. It worked for me. I started to get a lot more perspective and control of my various projects. I still follow the precepts and suggestions and occasionally log on to the Dave Allen website for hints and tips. One of the tips I use most is to do with filing wallets. Before sticking on the label that names the wallet stick some Scotch tape on the label tab and then stick the label over the Scotch tape. Then when you want to change the label on the file it peels off easily. This works. (I think Dave Allen also boosted sales of labelers because one of his suggestions for stress-free productivity - the subtitle of the book - is to clearly label all files with a printed label).
We're working on a model of service innovation which is proving challenging. Bearing in mind the adage 'all models are wrong, some models are useful' we seem to have got only as far as the 'all models are wrong' bit! In an attempt to cut through this and halt even more discussions, conversations, graphics, and iterations of the same and different attempts I took another look at the Financial Times book Key Management Models, hoping to get some ideas on approaches.
Instead my look at the book took a different tack. I have the 2003 edition but I see that there's now a 2009 edition (now on my Amazon wish list). Most of the models from the previous edition are still there but I see some new ones, mainly in what is now the 'tactical models' section. (The 2003 edition just has an alphabetical list of models).
We're putting in a proposal to run a three day symposium with a theme and curriculum that reflects knowledge and experience with cutting edge management theories and principles and in leadership and managerial executive education. Getting the call to work on this first thing on Sunday morning as the submission date is tomorrow forced me to drop what I was doing (writing the book) in favor of responding to the request. This reminded me of my time management teaching days when I had to explain the distinction between 'important' and 'urgent'.
Yesterday things went wrong (so no blog entry). My laptop was stolen. Following the fury and the frustration of the immediate event came some thinking about my personal responses to forced change: I could dwell on the event and curse myself for things like leaving on my desk, not password protecting the entry point, and so on. Or I could note that it could have been worse - at least I had backed up things, had insurance and so on. Or I could view it as an opportunity to change for the better the way I organize myself and my environment. Of course these options are not discrete and I am bouncing (iterating!?) from one to another and several along the route. It's a microcosm of the type of event that hits an organization that is going well and then has the workflow interrupted by something extraneous (although not totally unpredictable). I guess I had an adequate risk management strategy in place for computer loss but had not considered the risk that my front door (within an entry system building)could be smashed through.