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.
This week I've been thinking about the role of leaders vis a vis HR Business Partners – and HR more generally - in designing organizations. I get asked lots of questions on this topic and have just been asked again but the factor that makes this a more complex question is that it has come from some consultants in China.
The complexity arises because the bulk of the stuff written about organization design and HR that I come across is from a US or European perspective – a perspective that in my experiences of teaching organization design in China, and then talking with various people on the topic creates tensions for Chinese leaders and HR practitioners that are different from those created in western cultures.
Globally, there are five distinctive trends shaping organization designs:
1. Accelerating digital transformation means among other things that organizations are becoming more transparent (e.g. via organizational network mapping), work becomes what you do not where you do it, information is easily available to many rather than few, and more work can be automated
2. Increasing knowledge gains from bio and neuro science research is shedding light onto aspects of decision making, choice taking, behavior patterns, learning styles, social patterns, meaning making and so on,
3. Changing demographic profiles are leading to flexible working patterns, changes to incentive and reward schemes, recruitment and retention issues, and innovative talent and career management approaches
4. Developing concerns around resource use (water, energy, other natural resources) and environmental sustainability/climate change are impacting the ways buildings are designed, urban centers are laid out, and transport and infrastructures are planned
5. Growing anxiety about the widening rich/poor divide in certain economies is leading to calls for people to be paid a living wage and not just the minimum wage, anger at 'fat-cat' remuneration, civic unrest and in some organizations attention turning towards ways of adding social/community value
I've been consciously recalling coaching and mentoring experiences because early last week I got an email saying: 'We are seeing that internal coaching becoming very popular in China as a way to develop talent. I am wondering what the difference is between coaching and mentoring. I see in some companies they are both the same while in the others are quite different. Is there any clear definition of coaching, and mentoring?'
I know there is often confusion between the two and one of scenarios I rediscover I've used in some of training programs I've facilitated on coaching/mentoring is about this confusion: 'The training department has a very hard time helping people distinguish between 'coaching', 'executive coaching' and 'mentoring' - we offer various courses in all three. The terminology is much the same for both and they're all about helping people develop their skills and careers on the job. Maybe it's us who are confusing people. After all, does it matter what you call something? Surely getting the right results are what it's all about.'
I think that it does matter what something is called and how it is defined, because it helps shape participant expectations, and provides a framework for developing approaches that will get to the right results via a choice of possible routes. I see a clear distinction between coaching and mentoring.
I just re-read a previous blog I'd written on organizational diagnosis (July 2010) It was right for now as I'm currently in the middle of three different organizational assessments. This is what some people call the 'discovery' phase when I'm finding out what I think I need to know about the organization in order to make some judgment on what course(s) of action to suggest or recommend.
As I said in last week's blog I am working with three clients in this assessment phase. I always enjoy this part of the design activity because I get to meet all kinds of people each with their own perspective on the same situation. Each of the three cases has taken a somewhat different approach in this phase – so as I always say on my organization design training courses 'there is no right way'.
The interesting thing about the assessment phases is making sense of the data. What do you do with a set of interview notes, or a mix of interview notes and survey data, or a mix of 1:1 notes and group discussion notes? How do you find the themes and patterns that make for a good diagnosis and a useful set of recommendations?
Various factors converged during the week to prompt my thinking on mentoring Millennials – an age group of the population roughly defined as those being born around 1980. The RSA Journal that I get had three articles on this generation in one copy:
- Restless, bylined with, "Owen Jones writes that highly creative but deeply frustrated, young people today have the potential to make or break our society's future."
- Portrait of a Generation which notes that 'fourteen years ago, a UK-wide survey identified self-determination and entrepreneurial ambition as the core characteristics of the so-called Millennial Generation. Today, against a much tougher economic backdrop, how do the views of young people compare with those of their predecessors?'
- A Time for Heroes reports that "What begins to emerge is a picture of a [Millennial] generation that is more comfortable with taking risks and whose appetite for enterprise is both driven and hampered by economic circumstance. Through research, engagement and practical innovation, the RSA's project seeks to understand how we can harness and enhance this promise and capabilities and the contribution they will make to pulling us out of the current crisis. As Tapscott argues, unless we understand the Net Geners, we cannot begin to understand the future or how they can shape our world."
Then as I was preparing for my IFMA
talk next week on communicating change I came across a three minute video
from the Advisory Group on leadership in times of flux. Suggesting that leaders need much the sort of skills that Millenninials tend to have.
This week a consultant sent me an email with some questions on organizational structures (aka what you see on as an organization chart). And a line manager from another organization sent different questions but on the same topic. This sparked in me the idea of answering the 10 common FAQs I get about structures – so here they are with some answers. Feel free to challenge, add, comment on.
1 What are the emerging organizational structures?
Various structures are emerging both in theoretical literature and in application. These include network structures, formal versus informal organizing structures, state capitalist structures , open source structures, (see The Rise of State Capitalism), and co-operatives (not new but gaining ground).
2 What are the models, theories and concepts that underpin these emerging structures from a technical/operational perspective?
These tend to come out of organization theory, social science, social psychology, behavioural science and economics. Theorists in the field include:
Siobhan O'Mahony from Boston University and Fabrizio Ferraro from IESE Business School (University of Navarra) have individually and together investigated, as Ferraro explains, "the emergence of novel institutions, such as Open Source Software, Sustainability Reporting and Responsible Investing, the evolution of global corporate networks and architectural changes in industries."
This past week various threads have come together that weave into a mouse-mat sized tapestry on one aspect of self-design or re design. During the week a friend sent me the link two TEDx talks by Brene Brown. One is on shame and one is on vulnerability. Brown 'studies human connection - our ability to empathize, belong, love.' In the talks she poses the questions: How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?' Each talk is 20 minutes and worth the time investment.
Howard Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982 as director of retail operations and marketing. He became CEO in 1987 and took the company from 17 stores then to 2,498 in 2000 when he handed the CEO role to Orin Smith and became chairman and chief global strategist. Smith retired in 2005 and Jim Donald became CEO. Two years later, during the depths of the recession Starbucks nearly drowned in its caramel macchiato. After decades of breakneck expansion under Mr. Schultz, tight-fisted consumers abandoned it. The company's sales and share price sank so low that insiders worried Starbucks might become a takeover target. So in 2008, by which point there were 15,001 stores worldwide, Schultz returned to the CEO role with what he called a "transformational agenda" that included wooing back customers, remodeling some stores and closing 900 others (predominantly in the United States), streamlining the supply chain and changing the executive team.
In his several decades of leading Starbucks, he provides a good example of a leader who has demonstrated both healthy and unhealthy leadership attributes.
This week has been one of discussions on value propositions. In the first we were working out what we were offering various stakeholders in returning for investing time, effort, and obvious commitment into supporting the development of 'living labs'. On this project we are planning intentional experimentation on the interactions between people and workspace. So, for example, if we invite people to work in open bench style workspace rather than the current individual high walled cubicles and they accept the invitation what impact does it have on things including their work practices, the work flow, and their productivity?
Clearly inviting people to work in a different space layout will incur various costs e.g. in new layouts, perhaps new furniture, risks to productivity and business continuity, etc. But there may be benefits - more collaboration resulting in higher customer satisfaction, higher productivity, swifter decision making because people are communicating more effectively and so on. But we don't know and this is the 'lab' part of the project. Thus the value proposition discussion.
Your organization is probably like all other organizations. It is continuously searching for ways to add value to its products and services in order to keep growing. Organization development leaders are in a key position to help their executives think through what both 'growth' and 'value' are and how to add them.
Effective and healthy organizations see value in more than just meeting the business goals. It is not enough to concentrate on, for example, financial performance, if it is at the expense of employee well-being. Value needs to be fostered and developed in all organizational aspects: people, process, structures, systems, behaviors and governance. 'Growth' is usually equated with size - organizations get bigger, extend their markets, products and services. But growth can be in other dimensions. An organization can, for example, stay small in size but grow its thought leadership so it becomes known for that. Alternatively it can grow its capacity to retain and develop its people, maintain customer loyalty, or introduce environmentally friendly practices - all adding value without becoming bigger in size.
Creating organizational value and growth is done partly through designing and implementing methods of developing workforce capability which Dave Ulrich , Professor of Business as the University of Michigan, defines as the firm's ability to manage people to gain competitive advantage.
Last week I received this email from Tony A.
I just finished reading your book Organisation Culture: Getting it right.
I found the material meaningful although at times thought provoking given my lengthy journey in the corporate world.
I also found it interesting that there was no reference in the material to corporate governance either in meaning or in value. Was this an oversight or do you not see any benefit in having corporate governance in an organisation?
On 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:
Last week I tried a megabus trip . It was a kind of comparison test with the Greyhound www.greyhound.com bus trip that I'd recently been on. There were a number of organizational differences in the outbound experience:
• The Greyhound you pickup a physical ticket from the bus station. The megabus operates from a parking lot with no office so you just take your on-line booking reservation number
• The Greyhound bus station is a building with bay numbers with arrivals/departures information and some sense of organization of passengers by destination. The megabus has none of this. Some buses were parked in the DC parking lot but an attempt to ask the drivers where they were heading for was met by a stinging rebuke 'wait till you are called'. In the absence of any information on departures passengers asked each other.
• Both trips started with the bus leaving roughly on time: Greyhound 15 minutes late, megabus 10 minutes late. The megabus has wi-fi and the Greyhound doesn't.
• The Greyhound was full (a second bus had to be laid on) and the megabus had 5 passengers. (It was a new route which may explain that). Both arrived roughly on time.
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.
Yesterday I listened to a webinar on Growing Better Talent Faster produced by Rypple. It was presented by Marc Effron, author of One Page Talent Management: Eliminating Complexity, Adding Value (Harvard Business Press) Growing Better Talent Faster!
You can see the slides and recording through this link: http://rypple.com/webinar/marc-effron. The key message of this (taken from the book) was that over engineered performance management systems don't work for anyone. Looking at the related Rypple blog site the report they mention 2010 Study on the State of Performance Management (by World at Work and Sibson Consulting)
58% of HR executives gave their performance management systems a grade of "C" or below. A grade of "C" or below means "not effective." And...only 3% of HR executives gave their performance management systems a grade of "A" (meaning "extremely effective at achieving desired results"). The result of this is that leaders are not 'grown' through the performance management system.
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.
Wednesday (yesterday) seems to have been my day for thinking about leadership. I had brushes with ideas on leadership during the day. The first was with someone with whom I was discussing possible reasons for organizational inertia. The second was with someone who was perplexed that people in the organization kept saying that they couldn't act because they didn't have the right level of leadership support. The third was an email that invited me to a lunchtime discussion on "Courage - The Essential Leadership Competency". The fourth was a piece of writing the author had sent me titled "Leadership in the Petaclasm" with his response to my response on that piece. So I'll take a brief look at each of the four pieces in turn.
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"
I was sitting in a meeting yesterday where we were discussing the impending office move. One of the effects of the move could be - if we drove it in that direction - a significant shift in the organization's culture. The amount of space people are moving to is much less than they currently have, and the layout is completely different: open plan, little in the way of cubicle divider height, and much less storage space.
The instruction has gone out that people will get no more that two crates to put all their items in and they are not to bring certain things - personal plug in electrical appliances, etc. The plan is that over the next two years people will practice hoteling, teleworking, free addressing and other ways of working that do not include having a designated personal desk space of their own.
Strategy+Business has an informative article 'Cleaning the Crystal Ball'. In it the authors suggest that
Competence in forecasting does not mean being able to predict the future with certainty. It means accepting the role that uncertainty plays in the world, engaging in a continuous improvement process of building your firm's forecasting capability, and paving the way for corporate success. A good forecast leads, through either direct recommendations or informal conversation, to robust actions.
Three people in the last week have mentioned concepts of servant leadership to me. I don't know a lot about the topic so went off to look at the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. There I found that Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase 'servant leadership' in an essay that he first published in 1970.
The website has some clearly written paragraphs that start to answer the question "What is servant leadership" but then one is pointed to a $9.00 essay to get more information on the topic from Professor Stephen Prosser. He takes up the debate and asks whether servant leadership is a philosophy, or a theory, or a set of values, or a list of characteristics, or a series of practices-or some combination of all of these things? He discusses these questions "in the context of the literature and research on servant leadership in the new essay Servant Leadership: More Philosophy, Less Theory. After reviewing the ways in which people try to describe and explain leadership, he provides six reasons why servant leadership is a philosophy, not a theory, concerning service and the practice of leadership."
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.
A fascinating interview in Slate magazine (sent to my by my brother) quotes James Bagian - once a NASA astronaut among other careers - as saying:
You can't change the culture by saying, 'Let's change the culture.' It's not like we're telling people, "Oh, think in a systems way." That doesn't mean anything to them. You change the culture by giving people new tools that actually work. The old culture has tools, too, but they're foolish: "Be more careful," "Be more diligent," "Do a double-check," "Read all the medical literature." Those kinds of tools don't really work.
Typically designated organisational leaders draw on formal authority, control of resources, and use of organisational structure, rules and regulations. But they have to draw on other sources depending on the situation. In many organisation design projects formal leadership is vested in consultants or contractors who are not directly employed by the enterprise. These leaders have to use different sources of power - while they may have formal authority they may not control resources or the use of organisational structures. If these 'outsider' leaders are not skilled at identifying and using the power sources at their disposal they often get sidelined for not being 'one of us'.
The context for organisation design typically raises a number of challenges for formal leaders i.e. those who have formal authority, control of resources, and use of organisational structure, rules and regulations. In essence they are having to simultaneously:
1. Balance the demands of the 'day job' with the demands of the project.
2. Manage a range of competing 'important' and 'urgent' priorities, tasks, and activities.
3. Help staff cope with what is inevitably seen as yet another change. (In some organisations this is called managing 'change fatigue'.)
4. Satisfy the need of the business for a fast change that also gets things right.
5. Get the timing right on leadership issues - knowing when to push and when to let go.
6. Motivate stakeholders who do not report to them but whose input is critical to the project.
7. Work effectively with other leaders both inside and outside the project.
This is a hard thing but doable if the leader
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 :
Leading change is top of the agenda right now. Yesterday someone sent me a piece from Saturday's NY Times. It makes the point that "Leaders shape followers' perceptions. That is what actors do. And what is it that great actors have? A presence." The article goes on to describe a five day course in theater techniques taken by
some of the 50 fellows at the World Economic Forum who came to New York this week to explore how theater and the arts can help them, say, someday run an international conglomerate or a finance ministry. ... The idea was to teach the fellows - who hail from 40 countries and range in age from 26 to 36 - the techniques that actors employ to hold an audience's attention. ... A second aspect of the week's activities is to see art and culture as a vital force for social change."
Someone last week sent me a link to Simon Sinek talking at the TED conference on the topic 'How Great Leaders Inspire Action'. I've just listened to it and discover that it's about the power of knowing 'why' you do something. Sinek has a website and a book devoted to the topic 'Start with Why'. He has taken a simple idea - the power of what, how, why - and converted it into a money-spinner.
Basically, he suggests that unless people know 'why' they do something, or belived in what they do they will get know where. His view is that it is not enough to know 'what' you do. To inspire followers you have to show your belief in 'why' you do it. Among the examples in the TED video are apple, the Wright brothers, and Martin Luther King ("who gave the 'I have a dream' speech, and not the 'I have a plan' speech").
I found the talk, website, (and free download book chapter) interesting on a number of counts
There's a long and interesting article in this month's print copy of The Atlantic, called 'The End of Men'.
The summary reads as follows:
"Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women's progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn't the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way- and its vast cultural consequences."
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.
Twice this week I've heard stories from people about their experiences at the hands of managers who have been playing what are known as 'territorial games'. These are protective behaviors which people play to preserve their organisational 'territory' - that is the power or resources they have that they are not willing to share with others.
Story one involves a person who was told one week that she was doing very well and that she would be in line for a permanent position - she was a contract staff member. Her manager at the company gave a very good review of her to the contract agency that had placed her. The following week the same manager asked to see her and to her amazement started yelling at her, saying that she was lazy, incompetent, she hadn't done anything that was expected of her and he didn't want to see her in his office again. Talking this over she repeatedly said that she had seen him get enraged with other staff but this was the first time he had turned on her. She had no idea what caused his change of heart.
Organisation design success is dependent on the complex interactions of four broad leadership groups: internal formal and informal leaders, and, external formal leaders and external informal leaders. Each of these groups has at their disposal various sources of power and although formal leaders tend to have access to more of these than informal leaders the way the power is wielded is an important determinant of the outcome - as martial arts practitioners know soft as cotton can be as hard as steel.
Access to and use of power is one of several variables determining ability to lead. Other variables include style of attracting and holding on to followers, stability or instability of circumstances, personal motivation, and the organisation's political landscape. The efficacy of leaders changes as the context does and someone who cannot adjust their style of leadership or draw on a different source of power is opening the door for someone else to seize the leadership role.
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.)
An MBA student emailed me about entering the field of organization design. She wrote:
To give you a bit of context, I'm very interested in human capital management, in particular how organizations manage and communicate change and how companies can structure themselves to maximize creativity/innovation and reduce silo-based, political decision-making.
My experience working as a special assistant to members of the C-suite of the company I was with pre-MBA gave me interesting perspective on the way talent was managed at the top and the trickle down effects those practices had on the organization as a whole.
I'd enjoy talking to you and getting your guidance on what to read, companies to think of as leaders in managing talent, and your general thoughts on what it means to work on HR issues in today's workplace.
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.
Here's an observation I received last week:
I was walking around someone's office (a consulting company) and noticed an acronym on client service and the related expected behaviors posted on notice boards and TV screens. I asked the employee whom I was with about it. It turned out that he'd never noticed either the acronym or the statements. What struck me was that if I ask someone in my organization what our service acronym is, and means, most people will be able to recite it and will have formed an opinion about the behaviors that evidence we live the service values - I'm pretty certain, everyone will know what the values are and a lot of people really take them to heart.
Someone taking on a new leadership role emailed me with this question:
I have interesting challenge in this new role. I have to take the leadership role of a troubled account. In my view, in order to get the account back on track there should only be one leader. In our company culture that will be a problem as the leader that failed will want to keep control. Thus, I have interesting challenge in this new role. Have you any thoughts on how to handle it?
This is not a lot of information to go on so in the first instance I would like the questioner to tell me a bit more about:
Someone sent me a piece on selecting leaders. It's an interesting piece, as I took it, on different perspectives and expectations.
The nub of the paper is this:
... "boards and CEOs are perfectly willing to consider CEOs who have failed in past CEO roles as viable candidates for a CEO position. A CEO with a record for disastrous corporate results is an acceptable person to not only be interviewed, but to be hired as the best leader. The reasoning they cite is CEOs learn much by their failures and can bring these lessons to the new role and - ultimately - perform better.
Contrarily, the same board members or CEOs use exactly the opposite logic when it comes to CFO candidates. When a CFO candidate has a mark on his or her record for a failing experience, they say "absolutely no" and cut him or her from the list for consideration."
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
One of the learners on an organization theory program I am teaching said that he was interested in the course because "specifically I am trying to understand why some of the most grievous mistakes that I have seen made are being made by those who know better, but are overconfident and continue on in the face of issues that they normally would have taken as signals to stop the job."
The other day I mentioned Gary Klein's book Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. (See Toyota piece). Now he has come up on my radar again because he has also written a couple of other books more specifically on intuition and decision making, the most recent being Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, and he also appears in the current issue of McKinsey Quarterly (that I was reading just before I saw the piece from the learner) where he and Daniel Kahneman 'debate the power and perils of intuition for senior executives'
One of the case studies in my forthcoming book on organization culture (due out in July 2010) is on Toyota. I wrote it last December before the news broke of the recalls. Back then, in what now seems a 'hurrah for self' prescient moment I wondered whether the company would survive or die - mainly because the research I'd been doing on strong cultures suggested that too strong a culture had, in effect, built-in blinkers. The assumptions and norms around the ways of doing things - even when they were, as in Toyota's case, aimed at reducing errors and maintaining quality seemed to stop people from seeing patterns and trends that didn't fit on their 'radar screen'.
Gary Klein, in his book Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, remarks on a phenomenon in relation to decisions that result in an undesirable outcome. He talks about three categories of decision making that resulted in error:
A commonly used framework for assigning project roles - the RACI matrix - allows for only one person to be accountable for each task or deliverable. This might suggest that only one person should be accountable for the culture i.e. the 'buck stops' with him or her. Other people would have responsibilities in relation to it but not accountability for it. Generally it is the CEO who defines cultural expectations and values, and gives specific responsibilities to others to support them.
Speaking some nine months after he was appointed CEO of Unilever, a consumer goods company in 2009, Paul Polman described the 'performance culture' he and his leadership team were aiming for.
Last week I noted that 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.
An article on the new tie-up aimed at bolstering their offerings in small, energy efficient vehicles between Daimler and Renault-Nissan caught my eye. The new alliance will focus on sharing resources in four main areas: platforms for small cars and light commercial vehicles; small petrol and diesel engines; technology for fully electric and hybrid cars; and bigger diesel engines.
Carlos Ghosn, Renault-Nissan, CEO and President, believes that cross-shareholdings are a critical signal to employees, especially engineers, that the partnership is both long-term and strategic. He and Dieter Zetsche, Daimler's boss, now face the task of convincingly making the tie up work.
Of the ten skills of anticipatory leadership that I mentioned yesterday the I have seen leaders having most difficulty with is in spotting future trends. The difficulty lies not in spotting the trends, but in then acting on what has been spotted.
The work of human systems theorist, Barry Oshry focuses on the way in which the systemic dynamics created by social structure affects the power and efficacy of individuals and groups.
An article by Michael Sales that discusses a case of an R & D middle management group identifying material trends in their context and presenting them to leaders for endorsement and support illustrates the difficulties inherent in getting action agreed and started. It exemplifies Oshry's view that members of what he terms the Top, Bottom, and Middle of an organization have different agendas. Sales (simplifying Oshry's theory) suggests that these different agendas act as barriers and stumbling blocks to acting on good trend information:
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).
An organization design practitioner from a UK City Council emailed me the other day with a question:
"If governments are starting to address the concept of GWB (General Wellbeing) and therefore happiness of the population, could this be a planned outcome of an organization design for public sector? "
His question had been sparked by an article in The Times which notes that:
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, has raised this fundamental question: what is the end of government? Precisely, is it a function of the State to promote the happiness of its citizens?
I listened to NPR's All Things Considered on my i-pod as I flew over the Atlantic a few days ago. (I download one edition each week). One of the stories was a repeat of Terry Gross's discussion, in March 2009, with Johnah Lehrer on his book book How We Decide (repeated because the book has just come out in paperback.
The program introduction notes that Lehrer
describes himself as "pathologically indecisive". "I found myself spending literally a half an hour, 30 minutes, in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, trying to choose between boxes of Cheerios," he says. "That's when I realized I had a problem."
Why is it that business leaders often say they want to have an 'innovative culture' or 'develop innovation skills', or simply 'be innovative', but want to do this using their existing business model. Assuming they don't think they have been innovative enough to date, how is it they think that they can be innovative in the existing model?
Start innovation by innovating the business model. It's surprising that so few business leaders do this.
McKinsey published in March 2008 a survey reporting on how companies act on global trends. What's interesting is that whilst recognizing the importance of a trend, for example 'faster pace of technology' or 'increasing availability of knowledge' they are not, in fact, acting on that recognition (as least as far as the survey responses show). Why not? Well the survey suggests that they don't know how to, and/or lack the skills and resources. A reason not stated, which I am inclined to think is more likely but may not have been one of the survey questions, is that leadership teams don't spend enough time together thinking and talking about trends and how they could/should collectively respond to them. Their may be scenario planning exercises but these are not the same as trend spotting. The same week their was a two-part report released 'Trends Shaping Tomorrow's World' www.wfs.org. I wonder how many leaders have read this and how many are thinking how to act?