Skip to content →

Tag: feedback

10 questions I ask about a venture’s readiness to win

Fast Break

There is nothing I relish more than a “fast break”. I love the way that we can turn a rebound into a few deft passes and race the opposition to a slam dunk.

Carpe diem ! Sieze the day!

Can you take the Fast Break when it comes?

The conditions are right. The rewards are there.

Are we organized to dispatch our fast break specialist, take that rebound and pass it down the court, with ball and fast break specialist arriving together – right foot down, left down, into the air, done! 2 points?

Are we organized?

Well, there are the permanent spectators in life.  There are some who have a go, but don’t really get it.

And there are some who understand the game.  They get ready in advance.  They practice with others.  And when the opportunity breaks, they are running immediately, moving at speed in coordination with their prepared team, and they score. Sweet!

What are you ready for?

1.  What is the equivalent of the ball and the equivalent of the basket in your business?  2. What do you win by putting the ball in the basket?

And when you can tell me that, tell me this.

  • 3.  Who is working with you? 4.  And who must you outpace to pull this off?
  • 5.  What is the signal that sends the fast-break specialist off?  6.  Who is taking the ball off the back-board?  7.  Who is the play-maker (mid-fielder) in the middle?
  • 8.  When do you train together?  9.  When do you celebrate your wins?   10.  How long will you play together?

10 questions . . . oh, but do remember this is a game.   When we are straining too hard, to get this done, it is time for a coffee break to think again.

Leave a Comment

21st century feedback, training, management, HR

Feedback, poor much aligned feedback!

Feedback is one of the themes on the internet in the last 10 days and as a psychologist, I almost always weigh in.

The lay meaning of the term tends to be: Can I give you some feedback?

That’s a polite beginning, and as with all politeness, it obscures a depth of tension.  Think of “Won’t you come in?”  “Do come in!”  “Come in.” ” Come!”.   The more polite we are, the more tense we really feel.

So in this sense, “Can I give you feedback?” means, “Can I tell you how irritating you have been been?”

The best response is for us to put on our “active listening” hat, option 3, angry.

An angry person wants their anger to be acknowledged.  Accept their anger and restore their status.  It is not hard.

Then, if there is a practical issue too, deal with it.  But first deal with the social issue.  They feel “dissed”.  Restore their status by accepting their right to feel dissed and to tell you about it.

Professional meaning of feedback

The proper meaning of feedback, though, is “distance to a goal”.  This is the essence of motivation.  The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese.  And because it is the essence of motivation, feedback is the most powerful tool in the psychology of high performance.

Once a university asked me to teach employee engagement to MBA’s in 3 hours.  Not possible.  Teaching the principles of feedback, practicing them till we are fluent, and using them in context, is a language that takes more than three hours to learn.   And it is too important to be tossed off as a topic.

So this is a long post.  But I hope you find it useful and towards the end, when I speculate on how we can improve the “feedback” we collect about training,  and how we can do better HR when we manage the feedback loops in an organization, I hope you jot down some ideas and give me feedback.

Three types of feedback

Feedback

Feedback tells you whether you achieved your goal .  Feedback means it is informaton given after the event.

Feedback has all these elements and characteristics.

  • We have a goal and we need to know what it is.  In an organization, we all need to know what the goal is.
  • We have a way of measuring how far away we are from our goal.  How close are we to our cheese?
  • And we are told the distance to the cheese after we have stopped looking for it!  If the task is repetitive, like target practice, feedback after each trial is useful. Top class medical transcribers raise their performance another 20% if you tell them each day how many words they typed!
  • But if I tell you after a year, the information is worthless.  So why do give it?
  • Sorry to be dismissive, but if your boss is giving your feedback after the event and maybe a year later, he or she is not exactly on top of things.  Think big banks running the 6th richest country in the world onto the rocks of bankruptcy.  Giving feedback at the wrong point of the system is disastrous.  Think seriously about getting a better boss.
  • And in HR, it is our job to monitor how feedback is used and to design it into jobs properly.

So this is feedback.  It is useful when we have a repetitive task but it must be delivered before we begin the next trial.  No wait, let me be more precise, before we start preparing for the next trial.

Feedforward

Feedforward tells us about our goal and, importantly, the context of the goal.  Feedforward is provided before an event.

  • The best example of feedforward comes from the military.
  • SMEAC – Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Communication
  • The boss is required to lay out the team’s operation on one piece of paper giving
    • the goal for the organization level above him or her (situation)
    • his or her goal – the group mission in one sentence (mission)
    • the goals for each member of the team in one sentence each (execution)
    • any non-standard resources (administration)
    • the points at which we must communicate (feedback which becomes feedforward to someone else).
  • So we need information at three levels of the organization.  We need to know who is doing what around us. We need to know how we will coordinate.
  • Sadly, I’ve only seen this done in the best organizations.  When I offered assessment centres to these organizations, we included delegation tasks in our assessment centres because they quickly reveal whether a manager understands the organization.  And organization, not control, is what managers are responsible for.

Feedfoward is provided before work begins.  It is taught carefully in the military and we can learn a lot from them.  In my experience, when something goes wrong, almost always I can track the problem back to information that is missing from the description about the situation.  We didn’t brief people properly about the context.

Continuous Feedback

Continuous feedback, which oddly does not have a specific name, is the third type and is the most important for high performance.  This is feedback that comes from the task itself.  It is fairly immediate.

  • You’ll have noticed that in the SMEAC system, we delegate a goal with one sentence only.  I ask you, if someone is fully trained, why do they need more than that?
  • A trained person will get on with the task and is obtaining information from the work as it progresses.  A chef works on sight, smell, touch.  The feedback is inherent in the task.
  • We experience flow when the feedback is built into a task.  We experience flow when time vanishes because we are so engaged.  We are inside the task.  We enjoy doing skilled work in a skilled way and if we want engaged, happy employees, or motivated, happy students, this is what we have to get right.  They must have tasks where the feedback comes to them from the task itself.
  • Bad jobs remove feedback.  I refer to bosses who “steal feedback”. They intercept information and stop it going back to the person who does the job.  They cause accidents.   “Stealing feedback” is like making someone drive blindfolded and directing operations from the back seat.  It is micro-management.
  • The military are aware of this problem and carefully judge communication loads. Lieutenants command three sections so the co-ordination task is sufficiently demanding and leaves no time to interfere with their sergeants.
  • If information goes to a manager rather than to the person doing the task, don’t be surprised if the task does not get done and the whole team runs into trouble.  The manager is attending to information that should be going elsewhere and they are not attending to their own role which is acting as the coordination point between 5-10 people and between that group and the organization at large.
  • Sort out this feature of task and organizational design, and your productivity leaps forward.  Depending on the your baseline, you may get gains of 10% or 20%.  I’ve seen gains of 100%, 200% and in one remarkable case, 1200% with no capital outlay.  Just HR doing its job.
  • And best of all managers have time to manage – that is coordinate and attend to the environment.

Continuous feedback leads to high performance. And it creates the highly pleasurable sensation of flow.

Feedforward tells us what needs to be be done. It is the critical briefing about the context of a task before we begin it.

And feedback tells us what we did yesterday.

So if feedback is about yesterday, why is it used so extensively in business?

I think it is because people want to express anger and their anger is about status.  A boss is establishing status.

Sadly (IMHO), English-speaking countries have masculine cultures.  We spend a lot of time establishing the pecking order.  Not all cultures do this.  They don’t have to put other people down to feel good.

And because we spend a lot of the time engaged in one upmanship and oneupmanship is really impolite, we have to deny what we are doing and be “polite” on the surface.

Let me spell out what this means in practice.  In Commonwealth countries, officers and “men” don’t eat together.  Or didn’t.  Has this changed?  In European countries, they do.  This I understand (has it changed), makes joint military operations between the UK and our allies very difficult.  In less masculine countries, artificial status differences are unacceptable.   You lead by doing your job.

Interestly, this is the difference between Gen Y and the Baby Boomers.  Boomers who think they are liberated still subscribe to the pecking order culture.  Gen Y don’t.  16 year olds befriend 50 year olds happily on the basis of common interest.  They are less experienced in some respects and more skilled in others and expect to be incorporated on the basis of their contribution not their place in some kind of queue.

So what has this to do with feedback or the distorted way we use feedback?

Everything.  The industrial system, a la Taylor, works on a principle of Gap Management.  Not “Mind the Gap” of the London Underground which is a useful bit of feedforward.  But a gap that is presumed.  This is how it goes.

I am the boss. I define the way the world should be.  And I must make sure you live up to that idea.  First, I assume there is a gap and I look for it.  Second, I assume the gap is a bad thing so I suffer negative feelings.  Third, your performance in so far it differs from what I imagined disappoints me.  Fourth,  I am the boss, so my feelings of disappointment anger me.  See how it goes?  Now is the time someone says, “Can I give you feedback!”

An alternative to gap management, anger, and “feedback” at work?

There is an alternative and even the Americans “get it”!  For quite a while now.  It goes by the rubrics of positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship.

People get distracted by the word “positive” assuming this to be advocating “politeness”.  We all know people who advocate vacuous pleasantness and optimism but who are mean and vicious underneath.  When we come at the world with a masculine, pecking order, mindset, positive seems all wrong.

So lets let’s put pecking orders aside and look at the alternative.

In many situations, if not most situations, defining a goal in advance is unrealistic.  Even it is possible, we will lose out a lot.  In the military, they say no plan survives meeting the enemy.  We always have to improvise on the day.  Under these conditions, you can see that gap management and feedback is counter-productive.

So why do we do plan?  The military say it is not the plan, but the planning.  We prime ourselves with relevant information so that we can process unfolding events as they happen.  But we allow alternative ideas to develop.

That does not mean chaos. It means the opposite.  And it does not mean a boss who has no idea what is happening.

It means a boss who is picking up communications, or feedback, from each of us, reconstructing the overall picture, and holding that up to us so we can see our collective position.

When we have an annual feedback review, this is what should be happening.

The boss, who is responsible for the annual cycle should be saying, “This is where we were a year ago. This is what our challenges have been.  This is where we are now.  This is where we are going.”

In a large organization, again, this is situated at the three levels.

  • Situation – which includes the actions of other departments around us.
  • The aggregate team level – where we came from and where we are going.
  • The members of the team and the team structure – who was with us at the beginning, the role they were playing, how we morphed to who is with us now, and the general role each person is playing now.

How different this is from the rituals of anger and one upmanship that are played out in most of the organizations we know.

21st century management is  about “eating with the men” and feedback is about showing how you have improved the organization.  Your team wants to hear.  Your team wants to applaud.

Feedback in Training

I started writing this post because Jackie Cameron (@jayseetoo) was talking about feedback in training.  This is how I think we depart from our tradition of gap management in training.   Let me know what you think and we can develop these ideas together.

My understanding of the training situation

In a training situation, a person comes into the room with a goal.  But by definition, they do not know all the goals they could have.  If they did, the training would not be useful to them.

They also come into a group situation (unless you see training as 30 separate bodies sitting passively like physical objects).  And they interact with each other to mutual gain and quite often to mutual irritation.

Irritation and anger are part of life.  We need to stop pretending they aren’t.  Though they feel bad, they aren’t bad.  They are simply emotional signals that we feel we aren’t being heard.

With this description of training, what “feedback” do we need?

1  How did our goals change during the training course?

I want to know how our goals changed during the training session.  And that includes the goals of the trainers.  We aren’t doing gap management – one person doesn’t know everything!  Thus I ask, whose goals have changed, and how?

I see training as a timeout where we follow a process which culminates in the comparison of the goals we had when we began with the goals we have as we return to the world and our lives.

And it is possible that we end a training course annoyed and disappointed!  That’s OK.  We may have been deluded at the outset about the possibilities available to us.

My evaluation questions go like this:

  • Did taking this course help you define goals more clearly and help you get more out of life, or alternatively, avoid taking a wrong turn?
  • How much did you gain as a % of the fees we charged you?  Or, how much would you have spent if you had continued in the wrong direction?

2 Are we confident about our new goals?

I want to know that a person can act on their own and so I want each person to actively work on their own plans.

A person might come to the conclusion “bin this subject – it is not for me”.

They also might end the course by deciding to follow up another question.

Both are acceptable outcomes to me.  What I want to know is whether they have moved on in some way.

The end of a course is a time of  “adjourning”  too.   People are moving from group to individual action and they need to visualize and mentally rehearse using the material as an individual and without my support and the support of the group.

So I collect the goals expressed at the end of the course and analyse them in my post-course review and evaluate extent to which they are active and specific.

I also add this evaluation question:

  • How confident are you that you will complete this action?

Self-efficacy is not sufficient for completion but it is necessary for completion.

3 Were we in good company?

I also want my course to be a resource to a person as they go through life and it is here I get the most important feedback on what I could do to improve the course.

I ask these questions, or variations, thereof:

  • Are you proud that you took this course?
  • Do you believe that the people who were on this course with you will do what they say?

Collective efficacy boosts performance and if people are proud to be in the room, they will learn heaps more.

I add practical questions here too.

  • Have you met people, or renewed contact with people, whom you will contact after the course and find helpful in your work?

4  Did I believe I you?

And then I ask the humdinger of the question:

  • Do you think that I believed in you?

The Pygmalion effect has a dramatic impact on people’s self-efficacy.

And I might also ask an open question:

  • How did I express my belief in you?

5 Did I believe in this group?

And lastly, I’ll ask myself this extremely important question.

  • Did I believe in this group?

If they ring me up next week, would I be happy to take their call?

Am I happy to have them follow me on Twitter and would I find their tweets interesting?

Can they follow me on Facebook and do I trust them to respect me?

What did I learn from this group and when I gave the summation and showed who we were when we began and who we were at the end, what did I feel and why?

If my evaluation of my group is not positive, I simply shouldn’t be leading them.

That is the challenge to English-speaking corporates.  Why are the people in-charge allowed to be uninspired by their “followers”?  It is not good enough.

I’ve also learned to ask this question positively:  What happened today and “WHY DID IT GO SO WELL?”

HR and the urge to give feedback

Those of us in HR need to monitor these urges to “give feedback”.  What is the real issue that has flipped this group into a negative spiral?

Once we notice that a group is so annoyed with each other that they are “giving feedback”, we should do something.  This is my thought process.  Yours?

  • Is the job badly designed and is the boss interfering in the level below?  Or rather what are the goals above the boss, at the boss’ level, and the level below?
  • Has the group task been badly designed and are the communication points between team members miss-set?  Maybe we have been over-ambitious?
  • If one team member has tripped up, why?  Was their goal consistent with circumstances and resources?
  • Is it a matter of training and selection – did we trip up?  Did we set up one of our employees and their colleagues for a fall?

If you aren’t able to facilitate a return to an upward spiral by going through these qustions, I will eat my hat.  Try me out.  I far prefer to wear my hat so this is a serious offer.

But remember, you may have to accept a lot of anger at the outset, dressed up as “feedback”.

And if you can’t do that, it’s probably because you don’t believe in this team enough, and maybe you should get another person to take on the job!

21st century management

21st century work is not about one person defining the goal.  It is about all of us working out what is possible.

Managers play an important role in negotiating and facilitating our sense of what is possible and simultaneously defusing strong emotions when these threaten to set us all on a downward spiral.

A manager’s role is to hold up a mirror so we see our collective dream in sharper relief and heighten our confidence in each other.

It is beautiful when we see it happening.

Feedback?

And did this help you at all?  Do you have a reaction which would help me?  Are we in better place than we were before?

I am.  Writing helps organize thoughts.  This is a pretty rambling post incorporating culture, feedback and organization with management, HR, training and selection but it has helped me heaps.  Thanks and sorry about remaining typos and grammatical errors.   There is a lesson in this.  Don’t write long posts.  So thanks.  If you are reading this, you’ve stuck with me for a long while.

Enhanced by Zemanta
3 Comments

Can I give you some feedback?

An irritated face at my door

Some one came in to my office and said to me: can I give you some feedback?  Yes, of course I said.  Sit down.  Would you like a cup of tea?

My interlocutor had though, absolutely no intention of giving me feedback about anything.

Feedback is not about me

Feedback means the distance between where we are and the goal we want to achieve.  And preferably, contains information that allows us to steer towards the goal.

If my interlocutor had such information, they should not have been keeping it to themselves.  That would be poor team play indeed.  And if they really had feedback about our joint goals, why would this be cause for embarrassment?

Oh, you have a complaint?

Of course, my interlocutor really wants to make a complaint.  They feel annoyed or irritated with me about something.  And as these are rather hostile emotions, they feel embarrassed.

No one likes to feel embarrassed, so they’ve become indignant and righteous instead.

Am I feeling playful?

Now if I were in a mischievious mood, I could let them sweat.  But as I wasn’t, I thought I would let them off the hook of their own anger.  Grab a chair, have a cup of tea, and tell me all about it.

Anger is such difficult emotion

It can be so difficult to give up anger.  Anger is to do with status.  Someone has ‘dissed us’ and we want our status restored.  So often we want nothing else.  Just an apology, an acknowledgment, and a sense that we are appreciated.

But it is too embarrassing to begin the conversation – you dissed me – so we dress up our anguish in other terms.

So feedback was just a request for an apology?

Of course, sometimes there is more to someone’s complaint than anger.  And we can address whatever specific issues arise.

But most times, the redress and correction is easily done.  What’s really wanted is for status to be restored.

How was that cup of tea?  Do you feel better?

Enhanced by Zemanta
4 Comments

First step to setting my goals for the recession

manchester airport
Image by rogerbarker2 via Flickr

The recession is like a plane journey

When I lived in New Zealand, I flew a lot.  Thirty-six hour journeys in the main.  After a while, it was possible to get it down to a fine art.  Everything was just where I needed it.  I knew the oddities of the airports en route, and the vagaries of a chain of flights through countries with their own distinctive cultures.

I walked into an aircraft, put my hand-luggage overhead, and sat down with exactly what I needed – book, hard case to protect my glasses, pen and passport if I anticipated filling in forms before we touched down.

And then someone sat down next to me and started bobbing up-and-down. First, they had forgotten this. Then they had forgotten that!  My heart would sink!

What can psychologists tell us about being cool, calm and collected?

Why is that some people cannot get their act together?  Why are others cool, calm, collected, and seemingly in control of every thing going on around them?

Action theory

Yesterday I listed three types of initiative described by Michael Frese of Giessen University.

Self-starters are quick to action and equally quick to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In an aircraft, they get their junk into an overhead locker quickly, clear the aisle, help other people, hold up no one, yet are comfortable and ready to go.

Proactive people think ahead.  They have what they need in the outer pockets of their hand luggage.  They are dressed for a wide range of cabin temperatures and take off a jacket or put on one without a fuss.  They know that alcohol will worsen the cabin-induced dehydration and they claim all the water they can see.

Persistent people are amazingly flexible.  They know that they are not in control and ‘read’ what is happening around them, less to join in, and more to help everyone else get settled.  They know they can get back to enjoying a quiet and peaceful flight when every one else is settled.

Can we be self-starting, proactive and persistent all at once?

Of course, we would like to be!  We all like to be in control, calm and dignified!  But can we be prompt to act, yet planful?  Can we be flexible, yet persistent?

The three styles of initiative are brought together with three key psychological concepts: goals, plans and feedback.

Goals are amazing.  When we decide what we really want to do, we become self-starters.   We jump into tasks and nothing can stop us.  Oddly everything becomes very easy too – or as we say, ‘the universe conspires to help us’!

Plans allow us to anticipate the various ways something can pan out.  So we learn to allow for other people’s needs and we budget a little time and energy to help them out.

Feedback tells us if we are on track.  If we have a realistic mental model of what will unfold, we can say to ourselves – my long term goal is to have a restful flight and my short term goal is to help my neighours get settled.  Then we can follow both plans simultaneously.

German and American psychology

The big difference between German and American psychology is the recognition of these three concepts.  American psychologists talk a lot about goals and to a lesser degree about feedback.  Germans place a lot more emphasis on plans.

We are able to make plans when we understand how the world works.  Hence, education is important.   So too is experience.  So is a good attitude to errors.  An error simply alerts us to the possibility that something needs to be understood.

For example, on several occasions as I stood exhausted and bleary-eyed in Australian passport queues, something went wrong with their computers and it took over an hour and a manager to sort it out.  The third time it happened, I stepped round the counter and watched how they resolved the problem.  To cut a long story short, it seemed that the clerk had entered the country code for my passport incorrectly.  I could see that this would happen again.  Thereafter, my passport proudly carried yellow stickies with the message “The code for xxxxx is yy!”  Understanding the objective world and the priorities of others is so important to maintaining our own bearings.

When I understand the “noise and whip of the whirlwind”, I find it so much easier to deal with the “noise and whip”, or to use another metaphor, to give unto Ceasar.  Dealing with distractions, interruptions and errors may take a little time, but I don’t muddle them up with a commentary on what I am doing.  I deal with the distractions on their own terms, and register as feedback solely whether or not I am free to pursue my own goals!

When I am aware of what is going on around me and I have dealt with the odd things that come up, then at last I can act more like a self-starter – pursuing goals, doing what needs to be done immediately, being more mindful, and finding flow.

All three – goals, plans and feedback – work together.  Sometimes I am on a learning curve.  And I need to get through up that curve to arrive at a point where I am self-starting, proactive and persistent – or to anyone else – cool, calm and collected!

So what should I do about my disorganized neighbours?

Well, neigbours on long-distance flights, as in life, can be interesting or dull.  They can genuinely require help, or just be the most feckless, disorganized wretches that it is possible to imagine.

It doesn’t matter which they are. They are. They simply ‘are’.  We take them as we find them.  I’ve found myself reading for hours to an 8 year old travelling alone and on another flight, moving seats to allow an engineer travelling from Melbourne to Rwanda to use my seat to sleep.  I’ve shared a beer with a fireman from 9/11 and translated for seamen determined to drink the bar dry as they flew from Cape Town to Beijing.

They each had their goals, their plans based on their understanding of their world, and their judgement of the situation.  They’ll settle soonest if they can explore the situation they find themselves in, learn what works, and balance up alternative plans.  The sooner they can do that without distraction from me, the sooner they will settle.

And talking about the recession?

Like most people, I am exasperated by the mess made by the banks.  I am not even sure why we continue to pay people who are manifestly not competent in the business they have chosen.

I am also looking forward to the point where more people around me are ‘up to speed’ on what is happening in the world of international finance.  I’ll even be happy when more people around me are actively trying to find out what is happening.

I would like to see people setting positive goals.   Too many goals seem to be persistent in the wrong way  – hanging on to what we thought would happen – and no longer relevant to what is happening.  As we learn about this new world, we must find goals that are attractive in spite or even because of the mess. We will still have to deal with the mess, but it won’t bother us half as much if we have our own goals on the horizon.

And then we will find ourselves more active – less inclined to groan when the alarm clock goes off.

The truth is achieving goals is simple – the universe really seems to help us.  Deciding on our goals is the hard part.


Come with me!

So I’ve begun.  Today, I flicked open my SEO notebook at the back and started jotting down key figures on the British economy as I found them in various articles.

How are you learning more about the financial system and the economy?

Enhanced by Zemanta
Leave a Comment

Complicated is horrible. Complexity is beautiful.

Oh, I am so irritated.  I’ve been doing tax returns all day.  They have to be one of the most irritating things in life, and not because someone is taking money off us.  They are irritating because they are convoluted, fiddly, and complicated.

There are plenty of other complicated things in life too.  Airports with signs that send you anywhere except where you want to go.  Bosses who change their minds quicker than change their socks.  And road signs!  Zemanta, the Firefox Addon which searches the web while you write your blog, found this humbdinger of signage from Toronto, dubbed ‘The Audacity of Nope‘.

The opposite of complicated is complex

Instead of the stop-start sensation we get when details are allowed to disrupt the flow of the whole, complexity is when the parts come together to make something bigger themselves – like the mexican wave in a home crowd.

Is eliminating complicatedness and creating complexity the essence of professional life?

Do architects create buildings where we flow, never having to stop and scratch our heads, or to backtrack?

Do brilliant writers grab attention our attention in the first line and take us with them into a world where we follow the story without distraction from out of place detail?

Do leaders describe our group accomplishment, and draw us into a collective adventure, to play our part without constant prodding and cajoling?

How do you create complexity in your work?

In what ways do you help us experience the whole where parts fit in without discord?

  • What is the ‘whole’ thing that you make?  If you can’t name it, can you visualize it, or hear it?
  • What are the essential parts of the whole, and the linkages between the parts that are essential to form the whole?
  • What are the signs that you look out for that the whole is ‘forming’, or ‘not forming’, as it should?
  • What are the extra bits of help that from time-to-time you add for the whole to come to fruition?

I’m interested in the complexity you manage, and the beautiful and satisfying experiences you add to the world.

Come with me

Share your experiences with us?

Enhanced by Zemanta
One Comment

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.

Benefits

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.

Relatedness

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.

ROI

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.

Collaboration

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.

3 Comments
%d bloggers like this: