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Organization design blog- August 2017

Empowering: is it a control device?

07/12/17  5:41 PM 

Someone sent me a note asking 'I wonder if you are interested in writing a blog for the resource pack for the Culture tool? It is missing a few stories about how others 'do things'. I thought of you for the bit on empowering.'

The Culture Tool is a discussion diagnostic where teams talk about various questions and then rate themselves. When all the questions have been rated a radar chart is generated and the group then decides what, if anything, they want to do to change the picture. The question on empowerment reads: 'To what extent do you feel your team/ group are confident/able to empower people?'

Thinking about this, it seems to me that the question behind that question is about the relationship between power/control/autonomy and empowering. The nature of the statement 'able to empower people' suggests that empowerment is a gift given by those with power to those without power, and if that is the case then the gift could be withdrawn as part of a control system.

I found several discussions on this as I started to explore my line of thinking. For example, an HBR article by Robert Simons, Control in an Age of Empowerment. He wrote it in 1995, and although I'm not keen on the mechanistic language, I found he has interesting and topical ideas around types of control 'levers': diagnostic, beliefs, boundary and interactive.

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Morals and ethics in design

07/04/17  5:34 AM 

My daughter is expecting a baby. I remember when I was expecting her, I was very taken with a Louis MacNeice poem Prayer Before Birth. I read it again last week. The stanza

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine ..

made me shiver. We're dangerously close to designing a future where if we are not exactly cogs in machines, machines may increasingly be cogs in us: for example, we already have brain implants used to help manage Parkinson's disease, and an artificial retina to help people with retinitis pigmentosa.

This rapidly developing field of designing human performance enhancement (HPE), that makes use of the 'convergence of nano-technology , biotechnology , information technology and cognitive science is creating a set of powerful tools that have the potential to significantly enhance human performance as well as transform society , science, economics and human evolution.' (James Canton)

Advanced technologies like these change the relationship between humans and the way we interact with the world, (described well in this short video). Read Never Let Me Go or some of the many other dystopian sci-fi novels that describe the various worlds our yet-to-be-borns will live in. All chillingly touch moral and ethical issues that we are still far from getting to grips with. (If dystopia is not for you there is a list of utopian sci-fi novels too).

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Skateboards and speed bumps

06/28/17  7:22 PM 

Roughly a year ago, I facilitated a session on designing organisational culture. One of the slides I showed suggested that there are various methods and tools that aid culture change. I gave some examples of each. So, under 'methods' I listed: Developing supportive infrastructure, changing the context to change the habits, shaping group norms through incentives, relaxing or removing 'old' rules and controls, you and other leaders and managers demonstrating 'new/desired' cultural attributes.

And under 'tools', I listed: incentives, policies, symbols, feedback, communication, education and development.

A couple of weeks ago someone emailed me the slide back asking if I'd facilitate a 'deep dive' session exploring what I'd put on it. I called him and we agreed I should cover: What are tools? What tools work? How can we use them? (A tall order in 90 minutes. Note to self: be careful what I put on PowerPoints!).

To get myself thinking about this I google imaged 'what are tools?' to see what came up. The first screen showed a lovely range of things – a construction site helmet, a questionnaire, a hammer, some instructions, a reporting dashboard, some desktop icons, a mind-map, and so on. So, that got me heading towards answering the question with 'tools are shaping devices'.

I guess I was prompted in that definition as I'm doing a FutureLearn course on the Philosophy of Technology . It's packed with questions and discussion on the role of technology plays in mediating human interaction with the environment. It seems to me that technology – at least the form discussed in the course – is one type of tool. And, as we learned, tools/technology 'shape all kinds of relations between humans and the world, and in doing so, they influence practices and the ways in which we perceive the world.'

In trying to shape organisational culture or 'manage change' we are selecting tools that we think will do that.

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A busman's holiday

06/19/17  7:40 PM 

We went walking in the Scottish Highlands last week. The idea was to take a holiday: to get away from organization design stuff, book writing, work pre-occupations, and all the normal business as usual of life.

Holidays are supposed to make you more productive when you get back to work, because you've had time for rumination, reflection, mind-wandering and all the rest of the reasons we read about that tell us taking a holiday is a good thing

Whether or not it's actually true I'm not sure, and neither are others . Maybe I'll find out during the coming week when I re-enter the digitally enabled networked world: not easy to be part of in the areas we were walking.

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Accountability: is it a design concern?

06/12/17  2:42 PM 

We've had several discussions this week on 'single point accountability'. This sounds straightforward as a concept. Like financial accounting, 'accountability is about giving a reckoning of the actions taken-—and the actions not taken-—that led to the final outcome. Just like in accounting, where your balance sheet must add up correctly, there also has to be a balance in performance accountability'.

Unfortunately, mostly, we think of accountability in relation to assignment of blame (loss) rather than in relation to credit (profit). If you're accountable, you take the blame for what goes wrong. CEOs are usually held accountable for wrong-doing that occurs in their organization and in many cases resign as a result. Sir John Rose, formerly CEO Rolls-Royce, and Martin Winterkorn, formerly CEO Volkswagen are two cases in point.

While they were still at work, both Sir John Rose and Mr Winterkorn received accolades for their leadership and credit for rising sales and share prices. Now, they face pressure to explain why they should not be held accountable for the bad things that happened on their watch as well.

Resignation doesn't solve the issue of what causes something to go wrong: why has the loss occurred? It's often hard to find out. Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal by Jack Ewing, a new book on the Volkswagen emissions problem attempts to explain how that situation arose.

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Change, transformation, tools, levers and systems

06/06/17  4:32 AM 

I'm wondering whether the phrase '70% of change efforts fail' is down to not knowing how to get from a design to an implementation – so things stall at the point of a detailed, tested concept design. The 30% that don't fail may have cracked the process of a) planning to get safely from current to designed state and b) getting there. (Whether 70% of change fails is largely unproven but that hasn't stopped people thinking that is the case).

The topic came to mind when someone sent an email asking me to run a session with project managers where we 'delve deeper into the tools of change' which (in a previous workshop) I'd suggested included: incentives, policies, symbols, feedback, communication, education and development.

He asked 'from your experience what has worked, what's not – why to both, how can you use the tools in the project world, both internally to the project team (i.e. incentives to drive performance/change in behaviours, are there any lessons we can learn from the Agile delivery?) but also to the products of the projects'.

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    Naomi Stanford
  • Naomi Stanford is an author, teacher,
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