5 agreed points about happy prosperous work in the new economy

Mavens of work

FOUR loose communities of internet pundits are watching changes in work with great interest –

1 Professors and academics

2 Management consultants who specialize in organizational design

3 Social media gurus who explain developments

4 Marketers and purveyors of social media services who hope to stimulate demand

A FIFTH group, poets, might have a look from time to time but they probably find our prose dull.

What are we all looking for?

  • We know that the world economy is on a cusp. The industries of the 20th century have reached a point of diminishing returns. And we are definitely moving toward a future of new industries underpinned by advances in biotechnology and other sciences.
  • At the same time, we are communicating across countries and industries at the cracking pace made possible by the internet. Work has become quite different. And so has the leadership of organizations.

What are we pretty certain about?

I am yet to get my head around exactly which industries will boom. It is also not clear which activities will need formal organizations and which we will pursue as-and-when using social media tools like Facebook.

What is clear are the psychological “rules” of our new age.

The 5 points of appreciative inquiry originally described by David Cooperrider of Case Western seem to be repeated over and over again in different words with different examples.

As a case in point, a Thai blog quoted an Education Professor at Harvard who identified 5 competencies for the modern age.

What are the core competencies needed in this century? Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Helen Haste has identified five that we should begin teaching our students. We business managers should also consider how to bring these skills to our companies and careers.

Managing Ambiguity. “Managing ambiguity is that tension between rushing to the clear, the concrete, and managing this ambiguous fuzzy area in the middle. And managing ambiguity is something we have to teach. Because we have to counter the story of a single linear solution.”

Agency and Responsibility. “We have to be able to take responsibility and know what that means. Being an effective agent means being able to approach one’s environment, social or physical, with a confidence that one actually will be able to deal with it.”

Finding and Sustaining Community. “Managing community is partly about that multitasking of connecting and interacting. It’s also, of course, about maintaining community, about maintaining links with people, making sure you do remember your best friend’s birthday, that you don’t forget that your grandmother is by herself this weekend, and of course recognizing also that one is part of a larger community, not just one’s own private little world.”

Managing Emotion. “Really it’s about getting away from the idea that emotion and reason are separate… Teaching young people to manage reason and emotion and not to flip to one or the other is an important part of our education process.”

Managing Technological Change. “When we have a new tool, we first use it for what we are already doing, just doing it a bit better. But gradually, the new tool changes the way we do things. It changes our social practices.”

To make my point, how do these well phrased principles relate to the principles of appreciative inquiry?

The positive principle. Instead of assuming we now the solution and finding a plan to fit, begin with where you are now. Take the first step and see what you learn. (Managing Technological Change.) This is also know as rapid prototyping or Ready Fire Aim.

The social constructionist principle. There is no one view of the world which accounts for all our realities. We need to listen to all our points of view and look for the common linkages between us. These are ever changing as our experiences of the world change. (Finding and sustaining community.) Diversity and belonging are key to modern enterprises. If we neglect either, we rip the guts out of our organizations.

The anticipatory principle. We are doers by nature and like nothing better than chasing after a goal. To achieve a goal, we need to understand how things work, and pay attention to the results we achieve. Feedback, though, comes back to us from all angles and to disentangle what we are hearing, we have to learn about the world and our place in it. Our love of Agency and Responsibility is never clearer than in computer games were we pursue quests and test out our competence with others in competition with “forces of nature” and competing interests. We are being chided to take responsibility. We do so naturally. The trick is to figure out what is under our control.

The simultaneity principle. The world exists only in so far as we pay attention to it. This is not an abstract philosophical point. It is also a point in physics. It doesn’t mean we can ignore what we choose or make things up. It means things change their meaning and their essence when we notice them. And we change when we notice ourselves. David Cooperrider put the principle like this. We move in the direction of the questions we ask. To put this concretely, I don’t go to London. When I start asking where is London, I start moving toward London. If I ask the question a different way, how do I drive to London, I will probably do something different, such as not use the train. (Managing Ambiguity).

The poetic principle. The poetic principle is not poetic! But “the good, the true, the better and the possible” is. Most of us had poetic language beaten out of us at school and college Dry, wooden language became a mark legitimacy and is popular with the powerful because it conceals their motives. When we are firmly in charge, we reject the emotions and motivations of our audiences so we don’t have to acknowledge their interests. By using dry language, we can claim that our interests are truths – so convenient! Poetic language engages the interests of others. It is emotional. It is not deliberately emotional. It is explicitly emotion. And we use emotional language to find the common basis of our separate and sometimes conflicting interests. To say emotional language is honest negotiation sounds unpoetic – but that is what it is. Many people in power, including teachers, are disconcerted by the demands of Gen Y to approach issues from their point of view. How can this be organized, they cry? Well I have taught a 850 person class of Gen Y. They do evaluate every lecture with the question : what does this material do for me, right here, right now? They behave like 850 demanding CEO’s. Once we’ve got over our surprise, it works. Stand and deliver! We look at the emotion – their point of view – and the range of their points of view – and deliver the material accordingly. They learn more. They learn the substance. They learn what to do with the content we are teaching. They learn about the range of perspectives in the class. They apply the material. Isn’t that what we are asking for – engagement? To engage we have to come from their point of view – not ours which we concealed in pompous language.

We seem to be on a plateau of understanding

It strikes me that professors, consultants, gurus, geeks and poets have come up different sides of a hill and found themselves on flat piece of ground. We seem to concur, for now, on the essential ingredients of “new work”.

I’m sure these principles will be refined in due course. And it is good for each of us to rephrase them in our own words using our own examples. It helps us understand their nuances and limitations.

They are clear enough for now, and they appear in sufficient sources, though, to teach.

They are also clear enough to try out in practical projects.

The next goal

From now onwards, I am only going to scan theoretical pieces to see if they are saying anything new.

Otherwise, I am looking for examples of collective action and how the principles worked in practice.

I think I am interested in active experimentationhow we learn about these principles, deliberately or accidently.

If you have an example, do let me know.

Poetry in HR?

Psychology and no poetry

I studied psychology and taught work psychology for many years.  I arrived in psychology from the physical sciences and found the hard core experimental and measurement approach quite familiar.  Indeed as a youngster, I might have fled had I been asked to deal with poetry.  Literature had been my worst subject at school by quite a long way and I simply lacked the frameworks for understanding what poetry offered.

Poetry in management theory

One of the pleasures of the school of positive organizational scholarship is that it embraces poetry.  Indeed, poetic language is one of the five original principles of appreciative inquiry.  Leading exponent, David Cooperrider, coins many a melodic expression, the best known being: the good, the true, the better and the possible.

Poetry in government

As he accepted his nomination for Secretary of Energy, I was delighted to see Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu quoting the words spoken by William Faulkner when he won his Nobel Prize in 1950.  Speaking to a world concerned about the ramifications of nuclear power and nuclear bombs, Faulkner said:

It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.

He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.

The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Poetry in business and HR?

If this is good enough for the Secretary for Energy and the White House, then it is good enough for factories, banks, shops and insurance brokers!

Do you employ a poet and an artist?  Do you think a style of HR that lifts hearts, reminds us of courage and honour and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of our past and are the glory of our present and our future, together?

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Buzzing with expectation?

5 contemporary concepts for understanding why some groups buzz with expectation

Self-styled vagabond, Sam Brannon, asked a good question last weekend on Linkedin.  Are we in a state of learned helplessness?

I’m an inveterate shaper so I am always asking “is what we do important and are we doing the important things?” Because I ask these questions, it is possible I sense learned helplessness more than do others.   But, I am also much more interested in the the opposite of learned helplessness.

  • I love the crowd singing their local hero to victory.
  • I love the buzz of getting a group project done on time.
  • I love the feeling of belonging to an institution worth belonging to.

Indeed my love of that community buzz is key to my professional interest in work psychology and university teaching.  Sam’s post led me to list 5 contemporary concepts from psychology and management that, I think, are key to creating the spiral of group buzz and efficacy.

1 Collective efficacy

If we believe in each other, we add 5-10% on our effective results.  Collective efficacy is a simple yet powerful idea.  When the teachers in a school believe in each other, the school outperforms other schools who have equal resources!

Rule one:  The CEO needs to believe genuinely in his or her direct reports.  That process kicks off their belief in each other and in their direct reports, etc. etc.

P.S Faking doesn’t work.  The pre-requisite of leadership is genuine, heart-felt belief in one’s followers.

2 Solidarity

Rejection is enormously destructive.  Roy Baumeister, who blogs at Psychology Today,  has shown that being rejected by a computer (not even a person) is sufficient to stop us looking in a mirror.   Someone who feels rejected is not going to be feeling efficacious!

Rule two:  Don’t just walk around!  Walk around with a mission to create a sense of belonging.

P. S.  Be hyper-alert to the small minute and accidental ways in which we exclude people.  They are devastating to moral and self-confidence.

3 Personal Leadership

Social media (like LinkeIn) has awakened our sense of being at the centre of our own network.  Everyone is a leader.  The personal leader ‘school’ supports the development of individual leadership (see poet David Whyte).  I am also interested in organizations that recognise that everyone is a leader.

Rule three:  Tell our own ‘stories’ to show how the organization fits in to our personal destinies, and write an organizational story that depends upon our differences and uniqueness.

P.S.  A story that depends on us mimicking the boss defines us as irrelevant (a hole below the waterline for the organization!)

4 Positive psychology/positive organizational scholarship.

The work of Martin Seligman and David Cooperrider has shown the power of gratitude and appreciation.  Positive whatever-whatever sounds like touchy-feely stuff but it is pretty hard core.  Basically, it is an approach where we focus on what works and works well and we discard the rest.

There are good reasons why haven’t focused on what works well as a matter of course.  Simply, if we define leadership as one person knowing what is best, and telling the rest of us what to do, then we are always focusing on a gap – on something negative.

Rule four:  Scrap all the “gap” technology on which management and HRM was built.  Pinpoint what works and do more of it! Then keep the conversation there.

P.S.  Its scary to abandon the idea that we know best.  But when we get the hang of it,  we find out all the good stuff that is happening that we didn’t know about.

5 Globalization

Globablization has changed economics and shifted where and how we can make a profit.  We have to work harder now to create value that produces a penny of profit.  Working with this constraint produces fantastic results as we see in V.J. Prahalad’s value at the bottom of the pyramid.

The principle used by large companies to rethink their process is this: abandon the idea of trying to sell more and more at a better and better price.  Rather, ask what is needed at what price, and work backwards to what we can supply.  The ability to ask questions about the world outside the organizations is a key aspect of successful business teams.

Rule 5:  Forget about being a leader!  Ask how to develop a community who are interested in what we do.

P.S.  We do need to honour the community’s needs and trust it to honour ours (complete the circle).  When we don’t have this loyalty to each other, a buzz is not possible.  We simply don’t have the conditions for a high performing organization.  This is not the day!

[CSPPG : cheerful squirrels prepare parties toGether]

Everyday use of these concepts

I use all these ideas in running everyday projects, like university courses. I know students do better when they believe in each other.  My job, as I see it, is replacing their initial dependence on me, with, a strong belief in each other, a belief in their project of studying together in this year & in this place, and a deep pride in how they came to be here and how they will move on together.

That is the buzz of expectation that the whole world feels tonight with the US galvanized to get out and vote (or is just to get a free cup of coffee from Starbucks?).  That is the buzz we get when our favourite team makes the finals.  That is the buzz we get when you couldn’t stop us going to work even if you tried!

Have a winning week!

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