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Month: September 2008

Group consciousness: the goal of leaders and organizational theorists

Without good governance, life is solitary poor, nasty, brutish and short

So said Hobbes of countries.  This philosophy also underlies organizational theory.  Without good structure

“.  .  .  organisations, particularly large ones, are not very conscious. There is not some malign [in]efficiency at the core of them, rather semi-conscious shuffles and bodges in various directions, which are beyond the ability of any single individual to do much about. I think that animal-herd behaviour is much the best model to describe collective humanity, however intelligent and aware the individuals within it may be.”

The goals of organizational stewards is to help us be aware at an organizational level

The goal of those of us who are organizational stewards is to create organizations that are aware at an organizational level.  How do we know what we do and the effects of our actions?  This has been the subject of organizational theory since armies began and certainly since Henri Fayol wrote down how to manage the managers in his coal mine at the turn of the century.

The “cleft stick” approach in classical organizations

Until the emergence of the internet, we concentrated on designing the communication systems within the organization on a “cleft stick” basis.  Who spoke to whom?  Who had the right to decide?  Who must be consulted?  Etc, etc.

To bring it all together, we followed the apex of the organization and indeed one of the most important rules of organizational design was showing the link between each person and the person at the “top”.

We all know how well we did on the ‘classical organization project’.  Most organizations were not stewarded well and there was little attempt to manage communication properly.  Even where communication channels were well designed, in reality, information was often not passed around as it needed to be ~ sometimes with horrendous results.

The networked organizations

The internet creates another way to provide group consciousness.  We can all talk to each other directly; and we can use search engines, such as Google to find information much more quickly than ever before.

Google is an example of a company run this way (see Gary Hamel interviewing Eric Schmidt on YouTube).  There is no need for the cumbersome organizational structures of the past precisely because there is another way of creating group consciousness.

New skills for organizational stewards in the networked world

It takes new skills, of course, to develop this raised consciousness.  We are very likely to be savvy as internet users and creators.

  • We also have to understand how to read the results of the internet – judging provenance and the reliability of information.
  • We have to read the mood.
  • We have to learn to influence through this medium.
  • And we have to show that we can deliver results in the ‘real world’ through this new organizational ether.

It is time to develop the curriculum!

Who is in?  These are the questions that spring to my mind.  Who is working in this field?  What are the classical case studies?  What are the central ideas?  What are the best ways of exploring the ideas?

What is the best way of generating consciousness in the field itself?

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Doldrums to OK to fantastic classrooms

Positive communities are important in learning

I’ve taught in colleges and universities for 25 years.  One thing I am reasonably certain about teaching is that a good class has a strong sense of community.  It is common sense that a good social atmosphere will be more attractive than a cold, totally clinical atmosphere.  There is also a clutch of professional ideas explaining the impact of group norms, collective efficacy, belonging, system boundaries, and so on.

Why, though, do we so much prefer a 500 person auditorium to a pod cast?

What I’ve not been able to put my finger on, until today, is a tight model explaining why communities are so important – why for example we prefer to listen to a lecture in an anonymous 500 person auditorium than on a podcast.

Today my Google Alert flashed up this article on Twittering in Education.  A US College Professor set up a class channel on Twitter.  Twittering lead to more discussion between students and ultimately to writing a book “online” with completely voluntary help from students as far afield as China.

The post also describes the mechanism.

Meta-cognition & meaning

Conversations lead to community (And v.v.  We know it is important to seed a social media channel with conversations.)  The conversations lead to ‘meta-cognition’ – talking about the course.  And talking about the course helps us understand why and how the course and the material fits into our lives.  Greater clarity and shared understandings leads to more community, and more community to better conversations.

Do we get phase states?

Though the article does not say, I suspect that at some stage, the energy moving between conversations, community and meta-cognition (talking about) reaches a tipping point and we see greater levels of learning and action.  So we move from the struggling, to the satisfactory, to the spectacular.

I rather suspect that this is a fractal model, such as we see with Happiness.  The three characteristics of the class – conversations, community and ‘talking about’ – interplay.  When this interplay is healthy, it moves through the broad swathe of emotional space.  When we have done well, we celebrate, for example, ultimately ending with someone suggesting we get back to work.  When things do not go well, we grieve, ultimately ending with someone suggesting it is time to start living again.

My thoughts on this glittering sunny day in autumn in rural England are to ask:

  • are these the three critical variables: conversations, community, and meta-cognition?
  • do they interplay with each other in a self-correcting manner going from positive to negative and back again as the need dictates?
  • is it right to use a phase state model where we look for the tipping points which take this energy system from the doldrums to OK and then to fantastic?
  • do the three variables co-affect each other through a set of Lorenz equations, and if not, how do they inter-relate?
  • how can we explore these variables in a field study?

Enough for now.  The sun calls.  I would love to hear from anyone interested in building communities with or without social media like Twitter.

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First, understand the business!

Business-oriented HRM curriculum

I am teaching undergraduate and postgraduate HRM and for the last 8 weeks I have been walking the post-graduates, in particular, through a simple heuristic for understanding a business model and its HRM implications.

Of the many different businesses they have chosen to work on, two please me in particular: the first is Islamic banking and the second is insurance broking (in Cameroon).

Simple heuristic for understanding a business

I am grateful to Michael Riley of Sussex University for learning (via his writing) a simple heuristic for understanding a business.

Inspect the revenue graphs and understand how revenue varies

  • as a trend (increasing or decreasing)
  • seasonally
  • with events
  • and randomly in the short term.

Once we understand ‘sales demand”, we can look at the derived labor demand.  In manufacturing, labor demand may be mediated by technology.  In services, like banking and insurance broking, labor demand is far more direct.  When we have a good feel about who we will need, when and where, then we can set about managing our labor supply.

Variability in Islamic banking

My Islamic banker, after shyly announcing he was an Islamic banker and taking the trouble to educate me on the principle of “no interest” and the products they sell, reacted as most people do when they talk about HR.  He started describing the HR systems and described a business that was ultra-stable.  Because Michael Riley’s heuristic had cued us to look for variability, we asked a few more questions and this is what we come up with.

  • Their long term growth or contraction depends upon reputation.
  • They have three Islamic festivals, such as the Eid which is coming up shortly, when as at Christmas, spending (and borrowing) is very high.
  • As with all banks, they are affected by weather, economic and political events which they monitor closely.
  • After 9/11, they came under suspicion even from Islamic customers.

Now that we understand how the need for service varies, we can imagine when line managers will be calling for skill and the skills they will call for.  And we have a fair chance of matching labor supply to labor demand.

When we achieve this match (which will never be perfect), then we can contribute to the ‘bottom line’ of the organization.

How we do that is the technical skill of HRM.  But to use our tools, first we must have a mental image of the match we are trying to achieve.

Insurance Broking in Cameroon

The insurance brokers in Cameroon, as far as I can see, are structured as any independent insurance brokers would be.  They are a family owned firm.  Their business peaks at the calendar year end and has a steady though variable stream of business throughout the year.

Once again, once we understand this pattern, we can easily see what is necessary to match the demand with supply.

Sales Demand and the Credit Crunch

Interestingly, the cause of the credit crunch seems to be some back-room sales activity: borrowing money on the wholesale markets.  I think if HR Directors had fully understood the sales demand of their firm, they might (and this is speculative) have partitioned the business and noticed earlier that the non-wholesale parts could not sustain their payrolls.  They might certainly have taken active steps to protect the pension funds which is a serious obligation if they are also Trustees.

I remember working with the HR Director of a combined investment, corporate and retail bank.  She had noticed that their payroll exceeded their interest income (not relevant to an Islamic bank!) and they were being sustained by fees.  On that basis, she had carefully structured her payroll into ‘columns’ beginning with the essentials (basic pay, state insurance, pension, health insurance, etc) moving across the page to luxuries.  She then brokered a signed agreement with employee representatives that in a downturn, they would start removing benefits from the right hand side first.  This is proactive, sensible HR policy.

As all the above is absolutely speculative, I wonder if anyone has information on the HR and the credit crunch?  And if anyone else uses Michael Riley’s heuristic?

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Personality, the photocopier and puzzles!

I have a puzzle for my fellow psychologists.  What personality concept would you use to describe this personality attribute?

A colleague of mine likes untangling the office photocopier.  She is not only good at it, she enjoys it.  Well fairly evidently I don’t, so while she opened bits here and pulled out bits of paper there, I cheerfully launched into my work psychologist routine and asked her why she liked it.

Anyway, my dear colleague (who sorts out the machine for me quite regularly every Monday morning) said, “I like choices”.  She likes the idea that the problem could be “this or that”.

My colleague is also very good with students who are frustrated by bureaucracy.  As the student rants and raves about the idiocy of a form or an official/s demands for more paperwork, she begins: now let’s see, we have a choice of   .  .  ., we could do this, or this.

At this stage of my career, I am used to matching behavioral patterns with one or more theories.  On this Monday morning, I stared at my colleague, quite unable to neatly pigeonhole her preference for choice.  I thought she might be high P, but given she gets up at 5.15 every morning to get to the office before anyone else so she begin the day organized  .  .  . mmm?

Any ideas?