Ignorance is bliss but please don’t charge me for your services!

It’s a good thing they don’t know

Today I had glass of warm water and a few drops of lemon juice for breakfast to allow the medics to do a fasting blood test.  A fasting blood test helps them get ‘reliable’ readings for something for other.  Happy in my ignorance.

We spend most of our waking hours in ignorance of what we are doing or why – happy to let someone else decide.

So, for those of us who have taken it upon ourselves to teach, we find ourselves in a daft situation.  We can be annoyed when the knowledge of our profession is not taken seriously.  We are seriously annoyed when the professionals in our field don’t know the basics.

And none of us really know

To talk glibly of “evidence-based practice” is really rather irritating.  We boil water for our glass of warm water, in many countries in the world to kill bugs.  But let’s face it.  Many bugs survive boiling water.  Some thrive in concentrated sulfuric acid.  What we mean is that of the things we know how to do and can do in our kitchen, boiling water is pretty useful at killing some bugs that kill us.  A very northern hemisphere idea, btw.  It’s just as good to put your water in a clear bottle and leave it in the sun.  But of course, there is not to much sun in the UK.  It works fine in hotter climes.  Do you get my drift?

We need to communicate in terms that can be understood

All our knowledge is based on custom and folk-lore and we are not exempt.   To pass on knowledge to people who are not experts in our field in language and practice they can relate to is not a disgrace.  It is a professional necessity.  They don’t want to know the ins and the outs.  They want to know what to do.  They are leaving uswith the responsibility for the result.

It is a disgrace not to know the basics

But what a disgrace it is to not know the basics.  When we start to believe that boiling water kills bugs rather than some bugs do not survive boiling water, then we perhaps should have our license take away.

Knowing the basics leads to creativity

It is knowing the basics that helps us think of new solutions.

Imagine if I were on the proverbial desert island, wouldn’t it be better to have the idea in my head that I must get rid of bugs in the water that might kill me.  I am abundant in my ignorance.  There are so many bugs that can kill me and fair handful that scientists don’t even know about yet.   Therefore, the question is not what is the solution but what are the many ways I can ‘purify’ [another misleading idea] the water.  And the right action is to do what I can and begin as General Colin Powell says, when I have a 40-60% chance of being right.

Research-based practice or more snake-oil?

So don’t talk glibly of research-based practice.   You are trying to wave a spell in the air.  Actually, you are trying to get me to pay you more money.

Show me your protocols.  And make sure

a. They are intelligible to me

b. I don’t know more than you

Otherwise, we might just chase you out of town.  We won’t call you a witch, because that is still illegal in UK, but we won’t allow you near our food.  Get your own.

Show me your protocols – in language and experiences I can understand and where I can see the goal and the basic idea.

I don’t need to see my boss to communicate

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

While I waited for the kind HR body to take me off to lunch, I doodled away on my nice clean notepad thinking how much organizations have changed since I first studied management.

Classical organizational structure

Eight soldiers march across the country side careful to walk in a straight line so they don’t shoot each other.  They are also spread out so that no more than one soldier is hit in a burst of machine gun fire from the opposition.

And they are limited to 8, because only four either side of their leader can hear his voice and see his hand commands.

The army makes a choice to use ‘voice and hand’ to communicate and that, amongst other factors, constrains their organizational structure.

Social media is a choice and available now

Now we have social media tools available to us to communicate, our choices have broadened.  We can communicate with people out of sight and sound.  We can communicate with more people too.

If I knew more military history, I would know more about how communication has changed warfare through the ages.  I am sure the changes were huge.  And they will be huge in business with the arrival of social media.

Well lunch calls so I will think about this more later.  I wonder what face-to-face communication is like in Xoozya.

Communication channels constrain structure

How does you organization communicate and coordinate?

Have you adopted social media?

How do the physical choices you’ve made determine your structure?

Does your structure allow you to move faster than your opposition?  What structures do they use?

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Thank you for reading and do come back to here what happened at lunch.

3 models to re-design jobs to add-value during the recession

Tell your MP you support the Flexible Working Hours Bill


Image by Finsec via Flickr

How is your business coping with the recession?

  • Are you taking a cynical view of less business, less of a talent shortage, less work for me?
  • Or are you being asked for ways to improve productivity and be more attractive to customers and employees?

Do we know how to design jobs to enhance productivity?

To coin a phrase, Yes, we do! And we have known for some time.

1. Hackman and Oldham (1976)

Before Gen Y were a gleam in their father’s eye, American psychologists, Hackman and Oldham published the Job Characteristics Model. It is a five point model which is handy for reviewing a job and for designing “events” such as lectures which must be comfortable for each of the 400 students in the audience.

a. Is the task a whole task? Is it designed to be started and finished by the same person or team?

b. Is the job important? How does it relate to the work of other people?

c. Does the person doing the job get feedback? Are they able to tell how well they are doing the work from the task and from the people who use the results?

d. Is the job contained? Does the person doing the job have control over the resources including the way the job is done and when it is done?

e. Is the job interesting? Does it call for a variety of skills and is the person doing the job able to learn new skills?

We are NOT talking about Taylor as you can see.

[A C F C V : Auto Connect Friends Responsibly & Variously]

2. Job design and Gen Y

I notice that much of the talk about Gen Y follows this very same agenda. So hats-off to the young. Maybe we will get well designed work at last!

Of course, Gen Y haven’t thought this model up for themselves. The model is embedded into two phenomena that older people love to hate.

Social media, like Facebook, allow

1. Autonomy: the choice of taking part on your own terms, personalizing your input, and managing your time and attention.

2. Competence: tasks that encourage deep engagement, flow, internal goals, internal feedback and intense concentration.

3. Relatedness: multiple ways to interact, collaborate, share, express gratitude, and expand one’s social network.

3. Computer Games develop similar attitudes

1. Bottom-line, results orientation: how am I doing and is the ranking fair?

2. Collaboration with dissimilar others: who do I need to complete this task with me and where and how can I work find people with the skills I need?

3. Problem solving in novel situations: experimentation to learn the rules, and to experiment with the rules.

Devil’s Advocate

If I am to play the devil’s advocate, I can ask:  does every one respond well to a game-like environment. No ~  some people do like utterly repetitive boring jobs. I am sure you will recognize them if you meet them. But I suspect you might have difficulty finding them.

More importantly, people of the 21st century don’t like being “gamed”. They will play the game, but the game must satisfy their interests. If they feel “gamed”, they are likely to resort to passive aggression.

People like taking responsibility and if you ask them to do the impossible, you will stress them – visibly.


What benefits might you expect from improving job design. These are benefits I have seen:

  • The burden of day-to-day management fell away and managers were able to spend their time on problems outside of the firm: negotiating power, fuel, major deals, etc.
  • Employees passed messages from customers to the right people. Customers satisfaction and sales shot up.
  • The percentage of work passing quality control increased by 12x and workers pushed aside deficient work which they fixed for free on Saturdays.
  • Production increased 3x and workers were able to go home at noon (an effective pay increase!)

Practical steps

Would you like a working heuristic?

One side of paper only

1. Require managers to delegate all the goals for all their subordinates on one side of paper. The brief should include the bigger picture (the boss’ boss’ goal), the boss’ overall goal, a goal for each subordinate, any non-standard resources, how they will coordinate.

Communication is in the mind of the receiver

2. Check that each employee knows how to reach their goal (and has done something similar before), and can list their resources, authority and main professional guidelines.

Concentrate on coordination rather than control

3. Check each employee knows when they should signal that they are ahead of schedule and could affect other people’s work, or behind schedule and need more resources.

Concentrate your efforts on redesigning the manager’s job

4. If the manager interferes with the work or does not respond immediately to requests for rescheduling, redesign the manager’s job! They have too much or too little to do!

Count & celebrate!

5. Record the group’s progress. And celebrate!

And then to fine-tune the system:

  • Order tasks on a 1, 2, 3 system. The first time we learn, the 2nd time we polish, the 3rd time we get bored.
  • Allow people to rotate. Someone might have to go to round 4 before a rotation comes up. Never mind! It is better than no rotation.
  • Allow people to set internal goals and improve their work. Someone may want to stay longer in job because they are working on a way to do it better.


Organizing the workplace.

  • Gen Y are savvy about modern media. Let them use it. Review your confidentiality policies with them, of course, and let them design security!
  • Give people private places to work where they control access to their desk, their time, and their attention. And communal places to meet informally and formally.


The return on investment depends on your starting position. Because the investment is minimal, we can look at improvements as our return.

Remember you will have constraints: machines go at maximum speeds and may be erratic too. Production may produce, but can sales sell. Do start in a sensible place and take into account the way sections feed into each other.


If you have done any job redesign, I would be really interested in collaborating with you.

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

Simple rules of communication in organizations

Simplicity is a world-beater

There is a wonderful cartoon about computer interfaces doing the rounds contrasting the simplicity of Apple and Google with the interfaces most of us construct.

Simple rules of communication

That reminded me of a place I worked at for many years, which had inherited three simple rules of communication.

FIRST. Write down what you want on ONE side of a piece of paper – no more. And the top third of the side will be used for routing instructions – you don’t get more paper for that.

SECOND. Send it to me in time for me to read it before we meet.

THIRD. When we meet, explain what you want fom me verbally or through your emissary.

What I will do

If I cannot understand what you want in one minute, with a further one minute for questions, I ask you very courteously whether “you would like to withdraw your paper”.

It is possible to keep things simple!

PS The accountants had another simple rule. On no account, ever, will we approve expenditure retrospectively. Decisions occur before actions.