3 simple ideas for leading in today’s turbulent workplaces

Walk-this-way-by-garryknight-via-Flickr.jpgDespite waves of change, life stood still

We were at war

I went to university at a time of radical social change.  Not to put too fine a point on it, we were in the middle of a revolutionary war.

But psychology was cruising a plateau

My nation might have been at war with itself, but profession was not undergoing great change.  Being a student was a matter of learning about behaviorism and functionalism and Marxism and   .  .  . and  .  .  .

And psychology continued to cruise even when real change had happened

It was only later that cognition made sufficient impact to affect professional life and one look at textbooks will tell you that psychologists were so complacent about the permanency of their approach that they simply edited cognition out of the applied text books.

An astonishing number of people have been left behind

Wave after wave of students have graduated without knowing how to do cognitive task analysis and if they have a glimmer, they do cognitive task analysis without agency.

If you believe the typical psychologist, people do work without knowing what they are doing or caring about what they do.

Mindfulness means the story of here & now

Students don’t even study management because organizations “just are”.    It doesn’t even seem to occur to psychologists that context is king.  Mindfulness does not seem to suggest that paying attention to the moment may be important because the moment is important.  We look for generalizations because we believe that generalizations hold and following perfect recipes is the formula for the good life.

How deadening.  How certain to create depression and ill health.  How certain to lead to economic and financial disaster.

How odd.

From paying attention to action in the moment

If

  • Context
  • Attention
  • Visualizing (not planning) and getting feedback (not making assumptions)

are both better descriptions and prescriptions of life at work, then what are the actions?

Last night, I read Gail Fairhurst’s paper on new ways of understanding leadership.  She describes new ways of thinking about work.

  1. “Delve deep into context” and be content with understanding all the different ways that the people present understand and talk about the issues.
  2. “carve out room for maneuver while others remain stymied by disparate or oppositional Discourses (Huspek, 2000)”
  3. “draw upon alternative Discourses” to have fun

OK, the have fun bit was mine.  But, the remainder of the 3 points are from Gail T. Fairhurst.

This is very different from the psychology and management of my youth which assumed:

  • There is a good way to do this
  • The old guard know best
  • This is what you have to do (and please leave mind, spirit and sense of humour at the door!)

To recap: The action of  here & now

  1. The truth is in the wide range of realities described by people who are present.
  2. Some views  will be mind-hoovering, locked in old conflicts and defining the world as impossible.  Find the way forward.  There always is one.
  3. Present (and act out) alternatives in a spirit of fun.

In thirty years’ time, people may think differently again. And so they should.  What counts are the views of people who are there at the time!

 

Resources

Fairhust, G. T. (2009).  Considering context in discursive leadership research. Human Relations, 62(11), 1607-1633.

Download a copy fast because Journals don’t give away freebies all that often.

Sour grapes or dog in the manger or cutting off your nose?

Split Rock Lighthouse in the Late Afternoon Sun by pmarkham via FlickrStatue at Tsarskoe Selo

Having dropped an urn with water, a maiden shattered it against a cliff.
The maiden sits sadly, holding the empty crock.
Miracle! the water doesn’t run dry, flowing out of the shattered urn;
The maiden, above the eternal stream, sits eternally sad.

 

I found this translation of a Russian poem and think it so appropriate to times of great societal change.  What is the equivalent in English – sour grapes or dog in the manger or cutting off your nose to spite your face?

And if one doesn’t want to be defensive or sulk in the face of unwelcome change, what is the alternative – in poetry or fable?

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Eureka by Ben+Sam via FlickrMake yourself lucky, be happy, BS?

If you hang out with management theorists, you will know by now the essence of the prevailing zeitgeist.  Whether Richard Wiseman is talking about luck; whether Martin Seligman is talking about happiness; or John Seeley Brown is talking about edge, we have a common formula that is applied over, and over.

Following are some notes I made reading a paper by Keith Grint of Warwick Business School on leadership in local government.  He begins with a great question 🙂

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Keith Grint of Warwick Business School asks:

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

The questions (I think) are

  • How do we do local?
  • Why is doing local better than doing central?
  • And, does ‘doing local’ work better than doing central?  After all, surely the whole idea of politics is to seize the commanding position and dictate terms?

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local, at least to answer the how, why, what and whether of local using theory, we need to begin with the theory.   Let’s check our assumptions first.   At the same time, we’ll see that we are assuming, rather than proposing in scientific sense, that local is the “dog not the tail”.  (If anyone knows a non-dog metaphor that will work as well, please let me know!)

Once we’ve grasped, the idea that we are dog, and political change is the tail, then we want to know “how”.  And the task of popular writers is to explain the “how” well enough to stop people disappearing into the bottomless pit of despair and victimhood that is part of the self-story when we think of ourselves as the tail.  That Brits love the victim story is a different post.

Today, I’ll try only to explain how we start change at a local level which is what I think Keith Grint was talking about and what management scholars and their ilk can tell you a lot about.

The theory of act local

The theory of “act local: begins with some beliefs about leadership.  If you have differing ideas about leadership, nothing else I write will make any sense at all.  So, try these on for fit.  If they don’t fit, all else will be a logical exercise. If they do meld with your beliefs, you might find a sense of relief in the account of “lead local” that follows.

Two basic beliefs about leadership

Leadership is not air; it is the wind.  When leadership is there, it is there. We might be able to see it coming.  We might in odd circumstances be able to build a wind tunnel.  But for the most part it is ephemeral, situational and transitory.  Nonetheless we know it when we feel it and we know it when we see its effects.

Leadership is not a map; it is a place.  When you are there, you are there.  When you are not, you are not.  You are not a leader-in-waiting.  You aren’t leadership-material.  You are either leading right now in this place with these people.  Or, you are not.

One basic proposition about national leadership

UK’s future is not made in Whitehall.

It is made by us. Because leadership is like place and wind, the UK is made and led through our local squabbles and the place-by-place, moment-by-moment decisions we make where we are, where ever we are and whomever we are with.

So, how do we set about making UK’s future at local level?

So far so good – if we believe that leadership, of necessity, of its very essence, is a local, situational and transitory phenomenon with nonetheless real consequences, how do we act as a local politician?

One basic assumption about politics

Politics is about defining space.  Politics is about defining who gets to be here and who get to talk.

One basic proposition about leading the politics of radical change.

Cynically, party politics is a device for keeping us apart.  Defining history is about connecting with people we don’t normally talk to.

I’ll repeat that.  The politics of change, the politics of defining history, is about connecting, not with people like us, but with people we don’t normally talk to.

The nexus of leadership and politics

So, to pull together ideas about leadership and politics – we believe leadership is in its very essence local but nonetheless we have political structures which determine who is in and who is out – or in plain terms, who gets to be part of the conversation.

To set off radical change, we have to change who talks to whom.  Or natural instinct is to huddle with people with ‘common interests’.  Actually, we must do something else. We must expand the conversation to a ‘complete world’ of everyone who has an interest.

To take a stark example, if I were campaigning to reduce immigration (which I am not), the intelligent political approach would be to include the immigrants (and their employers).  That the campaigners don’t shows us that they aren’t really serious and that they will always be somewhat surprised by the results of their political initiatives.  They simply haven’t done the work of connecting people who have an interest.

Changing the future of our country, then, is changing who we speak to!

The “how to” of modern politics

And now to the “how to” because after all, the reason why I am writing this at all is because people think they are not able to affect the future of their country (preferring to whinge but that’s another post.)

Is politics viral?

Sometimes it seems that politics can be viral.

Take Egypt.  Wael Ghonim puts up a Facebook page at just the right moment.

But, was the page just timing or relevance?  Without being a historian of Egypt, I think the page became a lever on a fulcrum of wide-spread concern among people who have generally have neither need nor opportunity to speak to each other on a daily basis.

And with lever and fulcrum, as Archimedes said it would, the world moved.

The page was the lever.  The fulcrum was the concerns of many people partially connected and ready to be connected further.

Is viral politics enough?

Some people thing viral politics is enough.  I don’t think so.  We still have to do the ‘foot slogging’ of door-step politics. We have to build relationships painstakingly.  We have to build our coalition (woops, dirty word in UK).

Simply, if defining history is building new connections with people we don’t normally talk to, we have to build those connections.  We have to initiate the connections and we have to sustain them with repeated contact and mutual respect.

What’s more, we have to engage with people who not want to connect with us.  It might take a while to build the connections we need.  But of course we don’t mind if we really believe in the future we are imagining!

Is success assured?

Again, without being a historian, the Facebook page in Egypt came at the end of an era of making connections and making connections and making connections.  Wael Ghonim didn’t intend to start a revolution.  He put up a Facebook page, and while he wanted to connect with others, he had no idea how important those connections were to become.  The Facebook page might not have succeeded.  There had been many attempts to rally Egyptians.  This was the rally cry that came when the connections were enough.

Simply, change will not happen unless we believe in it enough to begin without any guarantee of success.  If we don’t believe in our people enough to begin, if we don’t believe that we are enough; we will never make enough connections and we won’t have the Facebook page, or whatever happens to be the lever in our movement that tips the final balance.

We never know exactly when the tipping point will be.  We have to begin in faith of our dream and our people.

And is one big viral event is enough?

Sadly, not.  A big viral event may give us a head-start.  A big viral event like Tahrir Square dramatically improves the self-efficacy of everyone takes part.  They will volunteer readily next time and won’t be easily put off by challenges.

But as one swallow only makes us think of summer, we need many successful events for active citizenry to be the norm.  Actually, we need many successful events to trust each other.  We need success to offset the disappointments and to build the momentum.

If we believe in the future that we say we want, we need to do the hard slog of building the connections and maintaining them over the challenges, triumphs, disappointments and tears of real world politics before we will be rewarded with deep and longstanding change.

So if you are banking on one big viral event, you will squander the benefits of the event, for benefits are huge but not enough on their own.

And should we wait for politicians?

I wouldn’t!   Old guard politics will produce more of the same.

What can you and I do?

What has to happen is you and I connecting to people we think are worth listening to.  No proclamation from Whitehall will ever make that happen.  This depends on whom we believe are worth listening to and whether we can be a****d to make the connections.

What we get back depends on what we are willing to do.  England, Britain, United Kingdom is us. If we want change and we haven’t changed something small today, we are simply talking BS (oh dear, what did I say?) 🙂

Change something today – get lucky!

The advice for starting change at local level is the same advice that psychologists will give you for making yourself lucky (and happy) (and indeed for giving up smoking or losing weight!)

The advice from psychologists is simply this.

Do something different today.  Drive to work a different route. Speak to the person next to you on the train.  Give up your seat for someone on the tube.

Mix it up.  Connect.  Connect.  Connect.

  • Complete your world by connecting with everyone you need to take part in the conversations you know are just waiting to happen.
  • Start to tell the collective story.  Start to tell the story of your collective .
  • Learn what other people want too.  See where you can help them and see where they are delighted to help you.
  • And, include the people you think you can’t stand (But talk to them later! Start with someone who is just new or different!)

How long will it take?

I don’t know for sure. Psychologists aren’t  hot on time.  But, the poets and gurus say you will see results in three months and life-changing experiences in a year.

Will you begin to lead locally?

What have you got to lose by trying?  You only have to talk to someone new each day and do something different like take a new route to work?

What will you gain?

A more interesting day for a start.

A life experiment second.

Maybe something bigger third.  The curious will go for that I think.

Resources

Leading questions: If ‘Total Place’, ‘Big Society’ and local leadership are the answers: What’s the question? Leadership February 2011 7: 85-98,

To get a copy of the paper, you’ll have to email the author Keith.Grint at wbs dot ac uk.

SIR COPE – Leading when everything has fallen apart around us

Chalk by Menage a Moi via FlickrLeading during a disaster

Karl E Weick is one of the most profound psychological writers of all time but is a tough read.  An expert on dangerous work environments, he wrote out advice for leaders after 9/11.  His advice is relevant today and I’ve tried to render it below in simpler language and a more straightforward order.

Tragedy that leaves us confused and speechless

Karl E Weick writes about massive accidents where it is not quite clear what happened or whether it should have happened at all.  The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an example.  The financial crash of 2008 is another.  Though hardly having the same consequences, England’s dismal performance at the 2010 World Cup is in the same class of bewilderment.  Let me try to explain.

We hate what we cannot explain

When the unexpected happens, we are at a loss to explain, and we hate that.  We like to be able to explain.  After a disaster, somewhat illogically, we have a strong impetus to explain.  Explaining won’t help us clean up but it will help us feel in control again.

Leading during mass bewilderment

In these cases of mass bewilderment, a leader has a double task – sorting out the mess, which is task enough, and helping us get a grip on what has happened and stop panicking.

This is Weick’s advice for leaders when we are startled by tragedies and the unthinkable.

Our three tasks following a disaster

  • Accept that you are startled too and that you have three tasks:
    • to do the practical things that need to get done
    • to console those who are hurt and hurting and
    • to help people start to make sense even though little makes sense to you either.

Watch for the fight/flight response

  • Also accept that our initial reaction is to rely on what we know.   We will use yesterday’s explanations and when those don’t make sense, we’ll use very simple ideas to feel in control.  Basically we will run (flight) or we will blame (fight).  We will take on the mantle of blamer or victim.

Once we start to think, we’ll over complicate solutions

  • As soon as we collectively realize that the problem is not going away, or that the people we blame cannot solve the problem anyway, we will start thinking.  At this point, we are likely to swing from the oversimplified (blame or be a victim) to the other extreme and over-complicate the solution.  Importantly, you need to remember that you are a member of your group and will share their ideas and its ways of thinking.   So, you too  will make this radical swing from fight/flight to overcomplicated!  None of us are thinking clearly but over-complication is a good sign because we have moved away from “just wanting the problem to go away”.

Think aloud to model how to involve everyone in finding a way forward that we all support

  • Your role now as leader is to think aloud.  I remember seeing a manual advising young officers in the Army not to think aloud.  Weick says we should think aloud for two reasons.  The rest of the group will think more clearly when they feel that we are all in this together and don’t have to worry if “it is just me”.  We’ll realize that there are no experts, no answers, and no guarantees.  And so we may as well pool our ideas, make a joint decision about what to do, take responsibility for collective actions.

As people start to grapple with understanding what happened, feed in resources for collective decision making

  • Once we begin working together to figure out what we are going to do and the price that we will pay collectively to solve our problems, the leader has the next task of feeding resources, not necessarily to solve the problem, but to help us figure out how to solve the problem.

Remember your role is to help the group think things out together

  • Above all else, the leader’s role is
    • to avoid personal paralysis
    • to ‘hold’ the confusions of others and let them know it is both OK
    • to reassure us that they we will come through this together and
    • to provide resources to keep the recovery moving.

SIR COPE

Weick gives us a useful 7 point acronym to think about leadership in bad times and good.  It’s rather aptly named SIR COPE

Sense is social

Sense isn’t there for the finding.  We create sense.  By talking to and with each other, we find out what meanings are possible and come to both shared understandings and agreements.  We aren’t wasting time when we are chatting.  We are working things out.

A wise leader encourage us to talk to each other.

Identity is remodeled

      Our first reaction when we are shocked and confused is to run or fight – to be a “victim” or “fighter”.

      When we mishandle our reactions to bad events, we can be locked into to these simple flight or fight reactions.  We have a lot more to us, though. We are sounding boards, witnesses, source of support and resilience, information hubs, story-tellers, companions, care-givers and historians.

      As we tell our stories from slighly different perspectives and for slightly different purposes, we move away from the simple roles of victim and fighter and develop an understanding of context that aids the explanations and understanding that allow us to move forward wisely and considerately.

      We, and all the leaders in the group, will be helping people have these multi-level, yet slightly confused conversations that are essential to move forward to the essential state of overcomplicated confusion that we need before we can move on.

      Retrospect provides a path to resilience

      One of the oddest features of human thought is that we don’t know what we think until we hear what we say.

      We begin to understand ourselves,when we hear what we say, when we hear the reactions of others, and when we hear the words they use when they are repeating our views.

      Leaders help people talk their way into resilience by listening to the words people are saying and helping them find other words that connect with human strengths rather than with darkness and evil.

      We repeat what they are saying so that they can see and hear themselves finding purpose and connection in an otherwise distressing situation.

      Cues need to be considered and incorporated

      We understand situations by creating a story from a handful of cues. And we look for cues that confirm our analysis.

      Sadly, we ignore a great deal.

      As a leader, we can help people incorporate more salient cues their stories and support them in those early moments when our stories get more complicated and more confusing.

      By considering the facts and alternative explanations more fully, we will find a better solution and way forward than if we jump prematurely to an early conclusion.

      Ongoing work on plausible stories aids recovery

      Even once we have a reasonable sense of what has happened and what we are going to do together to move on, we will still have to check, update and even revise our sense of events as we take collective action.

      As a leader, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels or allow other to languish in a half-finished story and the feeling, “Now we have it figured out.”

      Recovery is about workable, plausible stories of what we face and what we can do.  As we  act, the situation will change again and we should take into account new inputs and new opportunities and new setbacks.

      Part of the leader’s job is to keep summarizing how far we have come, what has happened, where we are at, how we feel now and the distance we have yet to travel.

      Plausibility about what happened and what will happen is our goal

      When the world appears to fall apart, we are desperate for an account of what happened.  We are less interested in what is accurate than feeling a gaping void of meaning. We want a plausible account quickly.

      That plausible account is not the end story though. It is only the first point from which we work to build the fuller story like a grain of sand in the oyster becomes a pearl.

      A leaders helps people get that first story and then helps them revise it, enrich it, replace it.

      Enactment allows us to think

      Most of all, in inexplicable times, we have to keep moving.

      Recovery lies not in thinking then doing, but in thinking while doing and in thinking by doing.

      None of us has the answer. Instead, all we have going for us is the tactic of stumbling into explanations that work, and talking with others to see whether what we have stumbled into is in fact part of an answer.

      As a leader, we help people keep moving and pay attention to everyone around them.

      When people are animated, their actions are small experiments that help make sense of perilous times.

      Wise leaders protect those constant little experiments that help us find wisdow in our dismaying situation.

      Weick made clearer?

      This is still a complicated rendition but Weick’s ideas are worth thinking through because frequently, it seems, we are in the middle of groups who’ve had the proverbial rug pulled out beneath them.

      Obama seems to be a master of the group recovery process.  I couldn’t help run Radio 5 commentary about our World Cup performance through this list.  They make the Social level but don’t seem to go much further.  We emote but don’t go very much further in developing a clear idea of what WE will do next.  There is no call to action even and no demand for us to be out there supporting the team next time.  No sense of action follows the phone-in periods.

      I think we could still make a simpler acronym without closing what Weick is trying to say.  Want to have a go?

        Is the essence of new management the promotion of self-esteem?

        We are right.  Oh, hold on.  We were wrong.  Completely and utterly wrong.

        Have you been in a situation, say, of supporting the invasion of Iraq to destroy WMD and then finding out you were duped.  Well, let’s face it ~ finding out you were wrong.  Wrong about the evidence.  And more importantly, wrong about your certainty.

        I’ll argue you that we are not grown up, not quite grown up, until we’ve experienced being utterly wrong, about the facts, their interpretion, our certainty and our right to dismiss the other side.

        Yes, we were wrong to dismiss the other side.

        We need to seek an apology and forgiveness but I am not going there today.

        Converging ideas about new work, organization and management

        Today I am getting my thoughts together about the amazing convergence of ideas in business and the current tensions between the old guard and newcomers in management.

        Management theory was laid out before World War I and has been a matter of frills and extensions for 100 years.

        By the turn of this, the 21st century, we had begun talking about positive organizational scholarship, distributed networked models, and yes, mytho-poetical approaches.

        Believe me, these ideas are an 180 degree about turn.  Our first impulse is to say they are wrong.  And they will be wrong in parts. There is no doubt about that.  Nothing is every completely right.

        Equally, just because ideas converge, does not mean they are right. Not at all.

        But we have to challenge our impulse to dismiss ideas because they are unfamiliar.  If we have a scrap of intellectual honesty, we must recognize that they are inconvenient to those of us who have invested heavily in understanding old ways.

        It is our job to go forward with them and turn them into working ideas, to find out their limits, and to find out their worth.

        Self-esteem and Nathaniel Branden

        As one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I looked up the work of Nathaniel Branden.

        Branden has worked on self-esteem for 50 years.   Here is one of the touchy-feely ideas that gets rejected out-of-hand.

        What struck me is that Branden has asked a question that I haven’t seen asked before and I hadn’t thought to ask.

        Can modern businesses survive without people who have high self-esteem?

        In times of rapid change and technological development, how can we work, except with people who believe they can cope and who believe they have a right to happiness?  Anyone who expects less is unlikely to rise to the challenge of modern day living, simply because they will accept 2nd best.

        And the corollary, of course, is what happens to a company when it is staffed by people who have low self-esteem?

        The empirical test for an HR Director, I think, is what happens to people when they join the organization.  Does a person with low self-esteem gradually change to become a calm, composed, assured person who is neither whiny nor dictatorial. Or does the opposite happen?

        Self-esteem may be the critical competitive competence of our 21st century world

        In the meantime, the world moves on.  We can be sure youngsters with high self-esteem are self-selecting environments that are healthy.

        Indeed, I’ll predict that the western country that concentrates on developing wide spread self-esteem will come out best placed as we work through the financial crisis and shift of power to the East.

        Enjoy.  We need to relearn our trade.  There is plenty for us to do.

        Searching questions about management in the 21st century

        So you want to be a manager?

        Harvard Professor, Gary Hamel asks “What problem was management invented to solve?”

        How to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.

        “What is the problem that needs solving now?”

        How do you build organizations that merit the gifts of creativity and passion and initiative?”

        Are we on the verge of a post-managerial society?

        Many organizational designers have been asking: will we have managers of the future?  Here are some of the central dilemma.

        Talent

        What is the role of talent?  Is it something to be bought and profited from?  Or is what emerges from the configuration of the organization?  Are we talented because we are talented together?

        What is the key concept in organizational design?

        Understanding how to create organizational value by installing the right feedback loops

        What is the nature of change in this century?

        Purposefully and creatively experimental

        How do we manage risk and not knowing the outcome of our creative experiments?

        Set clear boundaries about risk.  Engender insights that minimize risk.

        Gary Hamel also asks:

        “How have you been trained as a business innovator? What investment has the company made in teaching you how to innovate?”

        What will global organizations look like?

        The Internet is making it possible to amplify and aggregate human capabilities in ways never before possible.

        Work in old organizations and socially-mediated organizations at the same time?

        What does it feel like to learn social media on the double?

        My computer knowledge is like that old fashioned holy cheese that you never see in the shops any more.  It joins from end-to-end, and thankfully, it rests on a solid foundation of computer science, but it has holes from years where I’ve either worked with someone who was very good with computers, and they did everything, or we had little to no IT at work, and we were back to taking our work home at night or working on the back of an envelope.

        So holes, I have. I know what it feels like.  But I have surrounding ‘cheese’ to guide me and some sense of the basics.

        I look at people who are hastily climbing on the social media band-wagon.  And I wonder what that feels like.

        How quickly can someone learn to use social media?

        • How happy are they to use a computer, or do they inherently distrust the box?
        • Do they use Google and email?
        • Do they have the first idea what to do when “everything changes”? Do they even have somebody to call when their router mysteriously stops working?
        • Do they use YouTube or Flickr?
        • Do they have their own website?
        • Do they use Skype?
        • Do they know anyone on Facebook or Twitter?
        • Do they blog or know anyone who does?
        • Have they set up a web2.0 community?

        And this is on the technical/use side.  What social skills do they have?

        • When was the last time they spoke to a stranger (about something meaningful or useful)?
        • When was the last time they were surprised by a stranger or formal acquaintance?
        • Do they relate as readily to a 15 year old as to a 45 year old as to a 75 year old?
        • Do they talk easily to people of all walks of life and cultures or do they get confused?
        • When was the last time they worked in a group when they were not “in charge” or “following orders”?
        • Can they make the distinction between ‘letting things unfold’ and ‘being lazy”?
        • Do they make the distinction between stiff “politeness” and warm “courtesy”

        How quickly can someone take up social media?

        My own best guess is that it would be a couple of years to learn social media from a good start.   For many people making a standing-start, it might take a decade because they need to learn a whole new set of social skills.

        I don’t even think training courses are sufficient.  Training is for people who have the basic ‘education’ needed to turn general skills into specific, contextual skills.

        We can train a geek to set up social media and we can train a community organizer to use social media.  For a deeper understanding, and wider reach to the larger community, we need systemic change.

        We need a roll out which helps change the way we do business with each other and increases the use of technology on a day-to-day basis.

        Which firms will win the social media race?

        I know this is a big ask.  And that is why it is a revolution.

        Firms which don’t go through a big re-think are likely to be overtaken by ‘new kids on the block’ who aren’t carrying the baggage of old ways.

        Individuals should just get moving using social media at home for personal business and doing community work.  Then move to socially-mediated organizations as soon as they can.

        Investors will be watching.  Many are disbelieving that life is changing.  Well, I have seen that before in other contexts.  They will lose their shirts.  Early adopters, though, will not necessarily make much money but they will make a lot of contacts.

        Timing is of the essence.  But as we cannot switch without skills and experience, gaining both is key to our future prosperity.

        For all of us, doing ‘two’ both at once is key – continuing to make  living from the old (which will get overtaken) while investing in the new.

        While the big institutions don’t manage the change, we will have  to do it ourselves – work in old organizations and socially-mediated organizations at the same time.

        We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

        Art Kleiner

        I haven’t read any of Art Kleiner’s books.  How did I miss him?  Well, I seem to have missed him and it is time to make good.

        Managers & the Core Group

        I am taken with the idea that every organization has a core group. The group could be corrupt, of course, but every organization does have a core who are part of the value chain.

        I joined a university early in my career for that reason.  As an academic, I was part of the core, while as a psychologist in HR, I was not.

        The perils of neglecting the core

        Many of the tensions in modern organizations arise because ‘managers’ have tried to dominate the core – the academics in universities or the doctors in the health service.  It doesn’t work.  Trying to dominate the core, or heart, eats away at its vitality.

        Nurture the core

        We, managers and administrators are here to serve.  When we understand the core, or heart, and help it function as it should, our organizations flourish.

        Managers & the Influencers

        And of course, within the organization are groups who are very important because they influence the process in a critical way.  Radar in MASH is much more powerful than the Colonel.  And Hawkeye, a Captain, dominates the Majors with his wit and grasp of the essence of war.

        Social dynamics

        Kleiner points out that when we first start working with an organization, that we must read the social dynamics. Who has undue influence?  Who has privilege. Formal rank may not matter very much.  When does it, and when does it not?

        On the periphery

        When we are on the periphery, irritating as it may be, it is worth acknowledging how the system really works. Then we can influence the system, even if we will never be part of the core.

        Supporting the core

        When we are managing an organization, we can acknowledge who is the core ~ not to give them further privileges, they have those already and will defend them to the last ~ but to subtly influence their acknowledgment and influence of other stakeholders who may not be core, but who they cannot do without.

        In the university world, there is a cute poem that begins with students who splash through puddles, then associate professors who can jump over puddles, and Professors who are so magnificent that they can jump over the University Library, the Vice Chancellor who can speak to god and the Departmental Secretary ~ she is god.

        Managing organizations

        Helping an organization maintain its vitality doesn’t take a lot of heavy-handing action.  Indeed, the opposite.  It takes a little system thinking.  A gentle nudge here and a tactful reminder there.  Sometimes a good humored reminder of reality when we stand aside and stop protecting people from their own arrogance.  When the harm will not be permanent, a lesson in cause-and-effect can be salutary.

        The core will always be there.  We destroy value when we deny it. And we risk corruption when we sweep relations between stakeholders under the carpet.

        Relationships matter. Interests matter.  We need to get real.

        Look harder for an organization whose core you respect

        Art Kleiner makes an important point.  There are many organizations whose core is rotten ~ who are evil at heart.  We may be in that core, or we may be fretting about our lower status on the periphery.  What counts is whether we essentially believe that the interests of the core group are good for the organization and our community.  If we believe that, then we stay.

        Otherwise, we need to look harder for an organization whose core we respect.  It’s best to be part of the core.  If not, we can serve it.  Gracefully.  Thankfully.  With a little reverance, but with understanding that the core needs others too and that we should help them manage their relationships with others.

        Remember power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We should never let something we respect become so isolated from reality that it corrupts itself with meglamania.

        But to change an organization, to nurture its vitality, we must believe that the interests of the core are the organization’s interests.  We need that deep down belief to respect the core and to help it confront issues about its relationships with others.

        Am I rambling?  I like the acknowledgment of the core or heart of an organization.  Remember in the words of Colin Powell, leadership is follow me.  We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

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        If you want to change an organization, mix it up. Just a little. And let the tensions leak away.

        Art Kleiner

        If you want to change an organization, you start by changing the patterns in which people talk together, the things they talk about, the frequency of their contact and the makeup of those who overhear them.” –Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters

        Yesterday, thanks to Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace, I discovered Art Kleiner.  My, he writes well.

        When you thought there was nothing left to do but grind your teeth

        If you have ever been situation where you are helpless, oh, what am I talking about, you feel that every day when you are stuck in traffic, when you call you bank’s call center and when you sit through interminable ineffectual meetings.

        Every time you feel helpless, mix it up a little.  Not loudly or aggressively or even mischievously.  Just talk to someone else. Shift the pattern of interactions.  That’s all.

        And watch the stifling atmosphere dissipate.

        If you are in traffic, let some one in or if you are always letting people in, indicate that you want to go next and let people help you.  Bank call centre’s defeat me, I must admit, but try beginning the call by sincerely asking about their day – that is a lousy, lousy job.

        If the meeting is dull, actually listen to the bore and look at them.  OK, not for too long but try half a second?  If you usually speak, try taking notes.

        Mix it up.  Just a little.  And let the tensions leak away.

        UPDATE: Wow, I didn’t preview the format.  Mixed up for sure.


        

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        Are we doomed to repeat subprime crises – or could we manage better?

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        Subprime crises ~ again?

        Umair Haque‘s article in the Harvard Business blog of yesterday nudged me to think through Donella Meadows 12 levers to change a system.

        Umair thinks a lot of activity in Web2.0, or social media, is little more than a “sub-prime crisis”.  And implicitly, he argues that we will continue to have sub-prime crises until we improve our moral and ethic act.

        I think we will continue to have sub-prime crises because it is possible for sub-prime crises to happen. What is possible is possible. We don’t control everything!

        But we also don’t have to lurch from crisis to crisis.

        Managing systems is a little more than just managing

        My argument though is that we have to think more clearly.

        • We can think about systems as systems.
        • We can watch that we don’t confuse our individual behavior with system behavior.
        • We can understand the linkages between our individual behavior and system behavior ~ and work clearly on the linkages without confusing these with our emotional reactions to changes in system behavior.

        Sadly, few of us are educated in systems thinking. Even fewer are fluent.

        In the management world, we have long separated the work of the line (the people who do work) – from managers (the people who make the system) – from staff (the people who manage the managers).

        • It is very necessary for managers to think clearly about systems without  muddle the overall effect with what any one of us does. The art of management is also leveraging without exaggerating or underestimating any of levers.
        • And the staff – the managers of the managers – have their role in training managers and holding up a mirror of their behavior so they have accurate and timely feedback.

        Next step in clarifying my thinking about systems

        My next step is to review my current think with what Donella Meadows wrote on managing systems.

        The subprime crisis is a good impetus to check the quality of our systems thinking!

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