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Tag: collective efficacy

5 lame excuses in HR for bad job descriptions

I’ve been in UK for two years now and frankly, I find the HR documentation here well. . . what euphemism shall I use  .  . . undeveloped.

From time to time, I’ve been sufficiently unwise to comment – and these are the excuses I get, sometimes concurrently, a dazzling tightrope of logic.

Excuse 1 : We are too chaotic

Turnover is so high that we cannot keep up with the documentation.  So we issue poor documentation or none at all.

Excuse 2: We are learning

Nobody knows what will be done in the job.

Excuse 3 : Not made here

This is the system we have worked out.  That must count for something.

Excuse 4 : We can fudge it

Well, we will put in a clause “And any other task required by the Head of Department”.  90% of work comes under that clause.

Excuse 5 : If we are sufficiently muddled, we can shift the blame

I know I didn’t mention it but it is on page 56 or in the middle paragraph of an email addressed to someone else and copied to you.

Beginner’s dilemma

I remember years ago, one of my former students asked to see me at my house on a Saturday morning.  He had been given a rough talking to be a line manager at work and he didn’t really understand what he was doing wrong.  “I just took him some forms to fill in,” he said,”and the guy laid in to me”.

My reply was to ask whether he was a high-paid messenger boy.  Did the organization need a graduate to move forms from one point in the organization to another?

What the organization needed was an intelligent, thoughtful, informed person to ask the line manager questions in the line manager’s language, translate into HR-speak, fill in the form and return it to the line manager for signing.

And the line manager should look at it and look up with a shine in his eyes, and say: “Oh, that’s what this is for!”

The line manager should feel that scales have fallen from their eyes. They should see the work they do as clearly as if someone wiped the mist off the mirror and they saw themselves for the first time.

Example of good work

This morning I stumbled over this excellent example of a job description, and given the quality of job descriptions that I am seeing daily, I thought it would be good to flag it up and link to it.

Job description of a website owner

It says clearly

  • what the person’s day looks like
  • what the job holder does
  • the decisions they make

It says clearly how each task contributes to

  • Work for the day
  • Long term planning

Get the organization organized

And now you might say, I would like to but this place is just not that organized –  the work changes from day-to-day.

Then that is your first job. To get it organized.

Actually, the organization is probably more organized than you think.  Wipe the mist from the mirror and let them see themselves.

Just write down what they do all day and sort it out.  It may take you a few hours but everything else in HR flows from there.

When the job description is clear, it is easy to

  • communicate with job applicants
  • select people who can and want to do the work (without discriminating)
  • pay equitably
  • train & develop
  • coach & manage performance.

In short, you cannot do your job until you have worked out what people do on the job.

And writing it down allows us to check that we have a common understanding.

That is our job.  To be the mirror of the organization so that we develop a common understanding and confidence in each other.

Collective efficacy, believing that the next person is competent, adds 10% to the value of an organization – and a 10% that cannot be copied by your competitor.  No money in the world can buy collective efficacy.  It comes from the continual work of developing  confidence in each other.

And we cannot be confident of each other when we each have a different idea about what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s as simple as that.

How did the story end?

Well, my former student’s eyes lit up as the penny dropped.  He went back to work and started delivering value to his line managers.

The firm did fold eventually (but not because of him).  Indeed, they kept him on to manage the redundancies.   When he was done, he joined Ernst & Young as a Consultant.  Then he moved to a bank and after that he started his own firm of consultants.

I hope you enjoy the job description. It is a fine example of good work.

PS I’ll tell you where the 10% comes from if you want.

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Flu, Ghurkhas, 100 days and we the people

Day Two at Xoozya

Home!  A cup of tea! Hmm, no milk.  I took out a tea bag from the pot, made some black tea.

Interesting.  Fair Trade English Breakfast tea tastes much better black.  Ta da!  Been in the UK for two years and I’ve struggled to find a tea I like.  I’d been told it is the water that makes the tea taste funny.  Maybe it is the milk.  Black tea for me from now on.

News!  The world has moved on while I had my head down preparing proposals.

The words of 29 April 2009

  • Swine flu up to level 5 – pandemic imminent.  British troops departure from Iraq is also imminent.  Odd use of words don’t you think?  Why didn’t BBC say British troops are close to leaving Iraq? Or preparing to leave Iraq?
  • 27 Government MP’s broke ranks and voted against a Government proposal to restrict Ghurka residency in UK.  BBC is saying the vote challenged the PM’s ‘authority’.  Did they mean ‘control’?   Surely I elect my MP to represent me and Parliament has greater authority than the PM?  Authority = legitimate power and all the power is delegated ultimately from Parliament?  The PM answers to Parliament surely?  Well, I grew up in a republic so maybe I have this wrong.  Correct me if I am, please.
  • Obama’s 100 days.  This time I liked the BBC’s choice of words. Something like – the sentiment in America is that “we have chosen the right person for the job”.  Yes, much better.

We have chosen the right person for the job

Feel the tension fall away.  We have chosen the right person for the job.

We the people have chosen and we are happy not just that we are right, but because in our rightness, we see, hear and feel our collective competence.

We notice the 2 long years we put into making our choice was a good investment.  We notice the American people, man and woman, young and old have good judgment.  We notice that the American people despite their differences are able to sit down and thrash out what needs to be done.  We notice that even when times are hard and it would be oh, so, so easy to get it all wrong, the American people didn’t lose their nerve.  We notice the American people invest in a collective agreement even though their own view, temporarily, may not dominate.  And so our confidence rises that we can make another collective agreement, then another, and then another.  (Yes, for the first time in my long life, I’m in danger of becoming an American groupie!)

I don’t like the current tendency in British politics to “play the man and not the ball”.  I don’t like the rendition by BBC that MP’s triumphed “against” Parliament.  No. The MP’s triumphed because they worked with Parliament.

Today should have been a celebration that we are able to discuss serious matters (very serious for the Ghurkhas and their families) without coming to blows.  Today, we should be celebrating that Parliament works.  Today, we should be should be celebrating that our chosen representatives can go to the capital and present our views.  Our views.  We the people.

A man from a neighboring village won his case last year to erect a small memorial on the bridge connecting our settlements.  This memorial is to the soldiers of Richard II and Cromwell who lost their lives fighting for Parliament.  Parliament was hard-won in similar battles all over the UK.  Parliament is a hard-won right and should be cherished and celebrated with our cup of tea (without milk)!

Xooyzya!

A play on the Greek for authority.  We the people.  We the people are quite capable of sitting down to discuss our differences, even when our differences frighten us.

And we are going to need a little solidarity if this flu breaks out.  I hope HR departments across the land are stepping up hygiene.  Tissues and wipes everywhere.  Rubbish bins cleared more often.

Time to check the share price for tissue-makers!

We the people have chosen the right person for the job.

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‘Pull’ organizations

The military do pull management so why don’t commerce & industry?

As I left Xoozya at the end of my first day, I encountered an old college mate in the car park talking spiritedly with other Xoozyians about a concept I hadn’t heard before: “recon pull.”

I just have to hear the word “pull” for my ears to prick up.  Pull marketing vs push marketing.  Pull HR vs push HR.  “recon pull” sounds military, and so it was.  And old military too – of at least WW II vintage.  The phrase ‘command-and-control’ may come from the military but they aren’t wedded to the push models of commerce & industry.

Recon pull

“Recon pull”, as much as I have gathered so far, means local action that is taken by forces on the ground who vary their orders to suit the situation they find – within the broad framework of the “commander’s intent”.

Googling this term once I got home, I found one theorist distinguished “Soviet” and “German” models of military structure.  Interesting – I’ve always contrasted Soviet and Chinese models of insurgency and German and Anglo-Saxon models of organization.

Anyway, the Soviet-style model assumes that we plan in advance and execute the plans as agreed because it is not possible to adjust to circumstances as we go.  The German model assumes that a high degree of adjustment will take place.

Another author also attributed this school of thought to Sandhurst.

“We have learned,” responded the authorities at Sandhurst, “that a wild young man can learn wisdom as he grows older—if he survives—but a spiritless young man cannot learn the dash that wins battles.”

The German corollary is:

“The King made you a major because he believed you knew when not to obey.”

A “recon pull” model is consistent with both these philosophies.  Troops on the ground seek a weakness in enemy lines, break through, and pull the rest of the troops in behind them.  Within this model, if they are given an order and they realize it would be unwise to follow through, they stop without further instruction.  It they see an opportunity consistent with the commander’s intent, they grab it without further instruction.  Hmm, this is supposed to be consistent with English common law.  Everything that is not forbidden is allowed.  Roman law is the opposite.  Anything that is not allowed is forbidden.

The investment in ‘organization’ and ‘communication’ in the ‘Soviet’ and ‘German’ models is quite different.  In a model that assumes local decision making, everyone must be well trained.  They are also trained to act rather than not to act.  As a general rule, sins of omission are believed to be worse than sins of commission.

Well, would this idea of “recon pull” apply to other organizations?

Mmm, in the military world, there is a sense of  ‘ground’ to capture and an enemy to defeat.  Neither is particularly relevant to a young organization.  The market is not necessarily stable and consistent. (Military minds might say that about the ground too.)  There also isn’t an enemy.  In a young organization, we are rather, creating ground, or weaving a new set of relationships.

Commander’s intent

And what would be the commander’s intent?  A company like Google has a vision – to organize the world’s information.  It sounds concrete enough but it isn’t really. And it is probably also constrained by habit.  One day, someone will have a new vision that undermines the foundations of what is a fresh and innovative vision today.

The truth is that every employee has a ‘Sandhurst spirit’ to some extent or another, and every employee has a landscape in their mind.  They may not be vigorous or articulate about evangelizing their landscape but they are likely to have one.  Their landscape might also be well protected – to continue to use the military metaphor.  Or in broader terms, change may not be readily possible

Equally, lack of change may be stuckness.  Though the definition of stuckness is somewhat circular, sometimes situations can be unstuck.  This is the subject of Otto Scharmer’s presencing and of the idea behind golfing-movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance“.  Don’t force the shot. Let the shot find you.  Sitting and waiting is sometimes the correct response.  That is, the situation requires it.  Where we feel stuck (here comes the circularity), we argue for a return to listening to the environment.

So what is commander’s intent in a situation like Xoozya?

I think we each have a sense of intent and what is required is the ability or ongoing attempt to describe the world around us in a way that makes sense to others, and that highlights what needs to be done.

Shared understanding of the company

Following this thought process, part of my work as a psychologist is to highlight work in the firm so that people are able to see what is unfolding.

Old techniques for developing shared meaning

Yes, we have traditionally done that for the senior management team.  We carefully organize away-weekends with a series of presentations so that senior managers can understand each others view of the company.  We hold round-robin meetings to facilitate strategic planning to find consensus before final strategy meetings.  We might arrange town-hall meetings for staff.  We might arrange talks and training for staff.  But it is all rather piece-meal – rather Soviet?

Common dashboards

What we need is a set of dashboards so that as people look up from their own work, they can see where everyone else is, and take other people’s activity into account as they re-imagine what the world could look like.  The underlying value proposition or question is whether our own work, individually or collectively is enhanced by knowing what others are doing around us.

If I were to use a mechanical form of evaluation, it might look like this.

1   Is Xoozya committed to profiling the activities of its staff and how often are these profiles updated?

  • Because of the amount of work that this entails, it is likely that the profiles will be compiled on a Web2.0 basis.
  • As 2.0 websites as compiled by users they tend to be uneven and untidy and I would follow with this question. How is the availability of information reviewed and what is both our a prior and growing understanding of what the information will look like?

2   Do staff look at the profiles and do they feel that looking at other people’s work and having other people look at their work helps them?

  • Using an ‘extreme policy option’ technique that I learned from Professor Michael Riley at University of Surrey, are we making reasonable assumptions about human behavior?  What happens when we can see each other’s work-in-progress?  Are we competitive?  Are we cooperative?
  • Is emergent behavior more valuable or less valuable?  How can we understand this process?  Can we monitor feedback loops?  And are feedback loops the critical concept?

3  Have we seen generativity or amplification as a result?

  • What examples of value-added have we seen?

4   Are we competitive?

  • How can we monitor greater value-added?  How can focus attention on economic matters such as use of overheads, salaries, etc.  What is the big picture that we convey to members of Xoozya and does this help them focus on their work and be more creative and productive?

Applied Research of Shared Understandings

Yes, I can see potential research projects here.   For example, do University Departments have shared understandings of their work across their discipline?  Do Universities have shared understandings across their Departments?  Do students share these understandings?  Do local people share this understanding of their university?  Do professions have a shared understanding of the frontiers of their field?  Do the Departments, for example, who have common understanding of their frontiers amplify each others work more than other Departments?

And in companies, do the employees share an understanding of the common frontiers and how can we communicate those frontiers?

And is this the right way to think about monitoring shared meaning?  Or could we use proxy measures like collective efficacy – that would be easy to measure at least. Monitoring collective efficacy would entail asking which groups in the organization believe which other groups are competent?

Or should we use a model like Losada’s model of happiness?  Could we look at

  • interconnectivity of people
  • the balance of inquiry and advocacy and
  • the balance of interest in one’s own work and the work of others.

If these three variables predict the success of management teams, it is quite likely they predict the success of teams and organizations as well.

My tuppenny’s worth

Yup, this is what I would look for in an organization trying to exploit “recon pull”.

  • For substance, a vibrant 2.0 facility where we it is easy to see what other people are working on.
  • A review of process based on Losada’s work.  Do we have positivity/negativity ratios of 5:1, does our inquiry exceed our advocacy and are we slightly more interested in other people’s work than our own?

Indeed, this was a good evening’s work from a conversation in a car park.

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Group action wins out!

Groups in action

Today, 35 000 people took to the streets of London to mark the G20 meeting of next week.  I’ve always been fascinated by group action.

Does your community act effectively as a group?

Do you prefer to play as a individual, or a team, or an organization or community?

Do you feel slightly despondent that groups around you don’t play well together, or play well, like the G20 demonstrators, but without achieving results?

Community action and the financial crisis

On Friday, I drafted a long article about the importance of group action to overcome the current financial crisis.

Today, I found this video from Kruger National Park.  The animals make the point so much more effectively.  Watch it to the end!

Are you the crocodile?  Are you the ‘pride of lions’?  Are you the leader of the buffaloes?

And wouldn’t it have been nicer if they buffaloes had find their stride a little earlier?

Here is the video to illustrate my point.  Group action is very important.

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Celebrating my supporters

It’s barely daylight

Today, my mobile phone woke me rudely “It is time to get up: it is 5.30”.  Groan.  Another commute.  Another day.

But I didn’t get up.  I’ve stopped doing that.

I don’t want to stagger through life making someone else’s dreams come true.  I want to make my own dreams come true!

Ah, dreams  . .

Is it possible?  For dreams to be not dreams?

Perhaps not in the blink of an eye.  And certainly not if I panic when I look at the gap between where I am now and where I want to be.

But I can ask myself this question:

Who would like to support me in my quest?  Who would take the greatest of pleasure in helping me along the way?

I smile.  And I hope you do too!

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The first steps together?

Ideas whose time has come

I had an email today from someone I worked with a long time ago.  It was interesting.  Though we have barely been in touch, many of us who worked together ten years’ ago have pursued similar interests in different corners of the globe.

Great minds think alike?

The loneliness of the corporation executive

I don’t think my old friend reads my blog, but we were thinking alike yesterday too.

Yesterday, I wrote:

What do we trust each other absolutely and entirely to do?

His brief note on Facebook said that he feels optimistic about the future of the world economy but depressed by the ‘ostriches’ around him

Are we agreed?

There is plenty of opportunity.  Our task is to find the ‘sweet spots’ where people feel they can take the first step together?

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What comes after business as usual?

Where were you in February 1999?

Mmm, that was three countries and four cities away.  I had to go through my backups to remind myself of the hopes, dreams, goals and uncertainities that swirled around me then.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The ClueTrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual was published TEN years ago, would you believe?  Here is a modern day slideshow that helps you skim the 95 theses in comfort.

What was I doing then?  Why didn’t I read the Manifesto and pay attention?

Well I was busy.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  What were you doing then?

So what comes next?

What do you think the world will look like in 2019?

What are the trends that are emerging and that will be sustained by our common interest and agreement?

What do we trust each other absolutely and entirely to do?

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Sweet spots and the recession

This could go so wrong

In the last week it has been snowing in the UK and the possibility of a slippery road doubles the nightmare of complicated English intersections.

Coming home from the gym, I come into the village on the High Street, which is on a ‘A’ road.  We drive on the left, and I need to turn right, across the traffic.  Not only do I turn across traffic, I turn on to a road at ‘my five o’clock’, executing a sharp U turn around cars waiting there, and because of their angle, not really aware of me at all.

We don’t have the right turning rule of NZ.  So I have to give way to oncoming traffic and be aware of cars coming up behind me.

This is how the situation resolves

The priority is in this order:

  • the cars coming towards me on a busy major road
  • me turning right across these cars
  • the cars I am turning around, who waiting to turn right onto the main thoroughfare, across cars going in both directions.

I stop and wait, until a car coming towards me, who has right-of-way, stops too. Notwithstanding that flashing your lights means danger in the Highway Code, the car will flash their lights indicating they have varied the law in my favor.

So I go first, then the car behind me waits, one car on the side road merges into the traffic, and the car that had right-of-way moves on having given let two people ‘jump the queue’.

The English value this exchange which feels a little like the “after you”, “no after you”, that people use at a doorway.  It makes them feel mannered.  (I like to tease them!).

Leadership

What the exchange shows is leadership.

  • Someone chooses to take charge and acts for the common good.
  • Like all good leadership, it is executed with agreement of the followers.  There is common understanding, or dialogue as Steve Roesler calls it.  In that moment, six cars are in agreement.  The car who has stopped for me, me, the car I am turning around, AND the three cars behind us.
  • Critically, for our collective agreement to succeed, we are confident that each and everyone of us will honor the agreement.  We have faith in each other’s ability and intention to execute this agreement.  Psychologists call this agreement “collective efficacy“.

Collective efficacy and flourishing during the recession

This is who will flourish in the recession – communities who have ‘sweet spots’ where people trust each other, sufficiently, to execute a complicated agreement together.

Where you and I can find those ‘sweet spots’, we will flourish.

Come with me!

Let’s find these ‘sweet spots’ in our business life and do more of them.

Where are the situations where everyone has a common understanding?  How do these situations play out?  What is our role?  Where would we be if we didn’t play the  ‘sweet spot’?

Let’s celebrate our  ‘sweet spots’ and spread them about!

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5 recession speeds!

The snow brought the people out .  .  . to talk

Today it snowed in the UK – a lot for us.  When I drew the curtains, I thought for a moment my car had been stolen.  It was just buried!

Later on in the morning, I walked down to the shopping centre to see if some of the members of Olney100, a community social network for the town of Olney, England, needed my help.  A suprising number of people had driven.  Others, like me, walked and there was an unusual number of people dallying in the supermarket and in the coffee shop.  Unsurprisingly, given the economic circumstances and my interest in promoting Olney100, we began talking about how we should arrange our affairs in what is a downturn of unknown magnitude and unknown duration.

So what is your view?  What is your recession speed?

  1. I am lucky. My business is OK.  People need us no matter what.
  2. This crisis is outrageous and I take every opportunity to tell decision-makers.
  3. I have cut out all luxuries and I will see this through by keeping my head down.
  4. I am going to wait and see.  I choose to be optimistic that everything will work out all right.
  5. I am systematically reviewing my business looking for new opportunities and new alliances.

I suspect, well I know, that there will be very many more people rating themselves 1-4 than 5.

If we differ in our response, are we wrong?  Should we converge?  Or can we benefit from the variation in our opinions?

Can I ask you this?

Who are three people who give you the most support?  And what is their recession speed?

Does their recession speed help you and does your recession speed help them?

I’d be interested to know.

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Belonging: what was your take on the inauguration?

Yesterday, January 20 2009, was an exciting day, an astounding day.  I watched almost the entire inauguration, from about 11.30 EST, on Sky’s brilliant HD service, thanks to the tipoff from @stewbagz.  At about 10 o’clock American time, I rang up BT to connect my local deli, the famed MuchADo, owned by Brooklyn-lite, Matt, and with a long phone call, they successfully connected us to WiFi.  So if you are driving up (or down) the M1, plan to exit on J14 near Milton Keynes and drop in for brunch, lunch or tea!   The best deli between London and Edinburgh!

Up-and-running, I apologized to other coffee drinkers and offered to turn down the sound, but they elected to watch too!  I later reconnected at home to Sky’s brilliant HD service and watched through to the end of transmission at midnight British time.

For me, I watched the crowd, which was enormous, and seemingly ‘relieved’ and in a gentle mood.   I watched the organization which leaves me gob-smacked in its size, intricacy and well-oiled machinery.  I listed out for the poetry, and of course, for the speech.

When it was all over, I asked myself what did I really feel under this tidal wave of emotion.  What was the key image?

For me, the key image was undoubtedly the dignitaries coming down to the podium, mostly two-by-two and interspersed nicely to give the commentators a chance to do their thing.

Like so many people, for the first time, I felt that the corridors of power were mine, that I was represented there, and that I could be there just as easily as people I was watching.

For the first time, I feel that if I have a complaint, I can do something about it.  Just do something about it.  Not wait and not beg permission.  Simply raise it to the attention of people who need to know and organize a solution.

For the first time, I feel that if I have a plan, I should just lay it out, discuss it with people who care, and do something about it.

And of course, now the corridors of power are ours, the future is entirely what we make of it.

As a non-American, of course, the corridors of power that I saw are not mine in a  literal sense.  But what America achieved today was a sense that democracy belongs to us.  Thank you.

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