We were at war
I went to university at a time of radical social change. Not to put too fine a point on it, we were in the middle of a revolutionary war.
But psychology was cruising a plateau
My nation might have been at war with itself, but profession was not undergoing great change. Being a student was a matter of learning about behaviorism and functionalism and Marxism and . . . and . . .
And psychology continued to cruise even when real change had happened
It was only later that cognition made sufficient impact to affect professional life and one look at textbooks will tell you that psychologists were so complacent about the permanency of their approach that they simply edited cognition out of the applied text books.
An astonishing number of people have been left behind
Wave after wave of students have graduated without knowing how to do cognitive task analysis and if they have a glimmer, they do cognitive task analysis without agency.
If you believe the typical psychologist, people do work without knowing what they are doing or caring about what they do.
Mindfulness means the story of here & now
Students don’t even study management because organizations “just are”. It doesn’t even seem to occur to psychologists that context is king. Mindfulness does not seem to suggest that paying attention to the moment may be important because the moment is important. We look for generalizations because we believe that generalizations hold and following perfect recipes is the formula for the good life.
How deadening. How certain to create depression and ill health. How certain to lead to economic and financial disaster.
From paying attention to action in the moment
- Visualizing (not planning) and getting feedback (not making assumptions)
are both better descriptions and prescriptions of life at work, then what are the actions?
Last night, I read Gail Fairhurst’s paper on new ways of understanding leadership. She describes new ways of thinking about work.
- “Delve deep into context” and be content with understanding all the different ways that the people present understand and talk about the issues.
- “carve out room for maneuver while others remain stymied by disparate or oppositional Discourses (Huspek, 2000)”
- “draw upon alternative Discourses” to have fun
OK, the have fun bit was mine. But, the remainder of the 3 points are from Gail T. Fairhurst.
This is very different from the psychology and management of my youth which assumed:
- There is a good way to do this
- The old guard know best
- This is what you have to do (and please leave mind, spirit and sense of humour at the door!)
To recap: The action of here & now
- The truth is in the wide range of realities described by people who are present.
- Some views will be mind-hoovering, locked in old conflicts and defining the world as impossible. Find the way forward. There always is one.
- Present (and act out) alternatives in a spirit of fun.
In thirty years’ time, people may think differently again. And so they should. What counts are the views of people who are there at the time!
Fairhust, G. T. (2009). Considering context in discursive leadership research. Human Relations, 62(11), 1607-1633.
Download a copy fast because Journals don’t give away freebies all that often.
Tired of the grind of persuading people to do what’s needed? Dreading another day with a boss who seems to think you are their metaphorical punch-bag? Studying management and finding it overcomplicated and unpersuasive?
Some of us manage. Some of us teach management. Some of us study management. And we all seem to be cynical about what we do.
But, of this, I am certain.
We agree the management community spends too much time posturing. Whether we are on the front line or back at the university, teaching & studying, we dread the nonsense of our days and long for hope and meaning as the parched ground sighs for rain after a long dry summer.
A place that we can call our own
I would like to this post to be a place where we talk about what we really believe and what brings pleasure to our work and our relationships with others.
How do we nurture our souls in the pinch of anxiety and tension of our working days? What balances our world and brings peace and harmony with people around us? Are there poems that calm our frayed nerves? Are there stories we tell to young people who want to hear? Are the questions we would ask a person older and wiser in quiet moment in the park?
Do you still have hopes and dreams beneath the landfill of management-speak?
Have you recoiled from the call to shape the world in our image – and choose instead to work with people, rather than against them, even when they seem determined to work against us?
Do you see reflections of what we each think important to do now in our dreams of the future – and do you marvel in the varied beliefs we hold between us?
Do you quietly resist filling your day with mindless activity – and simply concentrate resources, so we can relax and live in the moment today, knowing we can take of tomorrow, whether it is opportunity or disaster that knocks?
Would you share how your nurture your soul at work?
Would you drop a comment and a link to your favourite poetry or photos or leave a story?
I would love to hear how you nourish soul in the soulless workplaces that claim our days.
Follow the conversation
This RSS feed at the bottom brings comments to your feed reader.
This RSS feed at the top new posts to your feed reader
The Subscribe by email box on the right brings new posts to you by email
Let people find you – they will like what they see
When you make a comment, leave your name and email address (not ever sold or passed on to third parties) and I can contact you.
Leave the link to your website, or Linkedin profile, as well, and other readers can follow you work.
Can we build a community around people who want bring their soul to managing and being managed?
I am looking forward to hearing what you think about the rain you bring to relieve “dry sterile thunder” at work
I was talking to someone in one of the many branches of the public service yesterday. “And we get a lot of time-wasters”, he said.
This is a narrative, of course. It is the way we speak rather than any statement of fact. But it raises the question, “Why do we regard the public as wasting our time?”
Or is our time wasted by management who are poorly trained?
Sadly, targets are the culprits.
This is the psychology.
- A target creates a goal. Yup, that is what was intended.
- Goals create feedback loops. Yes, we all know targets distract people from their jobs. We have been complaining for years.
- And there are two further points I would like to add.
- Simplifying life slightly, we have fast feedback loops and slow feedback loops.
- Public servants have infinitely slow feedback loops. Slower than “Mum” who runs a house and who cleans the house today and cooks your dinner, and cleans the house tomorrow, and cooks your dinner. In short, the work of those who serve is never done. It is very reactive, too. In plain English, public servants hang around a lot. That is their job and it takes a special temperament to be able to do that without fabricating a crises or two for stimulation and entertainment.
- Slow feedback loops does not mean the work is unskilled. Slow feedback loops mean the opposite. The work is highly skilled. You have to work “by the book”. “Mum” cleans the house whether guests are coming or not. The pilot checks the entire pre-flight checklist whether they anticipate a problem or not. They do work and they do it without anything changing visibly and without applause or immediate reward. You and I can’t do that. We get bored and become disruptive.
- Simply, public servants look like they are sitting around but they do “hard work”. It is hard to know that the workis done well unless you really know what you are doing.
- The public are not time-wasters. Well they maybe, but we waste a lot more time angsting about time-wasters.
- The public aren’t experts in the work done by public servants. Public servants start to take their skill for granted (as we do) and forget they can make a judgment that we will just get wrong. We could do with their wisdom.
- Much of the time, the public is worried they are supposed to be doing something. Good counsel from a policeman or front-line worker reads the request in context and advises the right course of action. The right course of action might be do nothing (take two aspirin and have a good night’s sleep, etc.) and it is useful to know that. We rarely think that doing nothing is doing good. Public servants with with their slow feedback loops are masters of “let events unfold”. Let them make the call.
- Rushing people who are worried slows them down. When we treat each request as seriously as the next or the last, people calm down and our work speeds up.
- That’s not to say that we don’t do triage. Triage is part of taking people seriously. People aren’t cattle queuing up at the slaughter house. If it is better to take one person ahead of others, just tell them. When we have a good reason, everyone will understand, particularly if we can estimate when we will see them and give them back some control over their lives. They calm down and work goes faster.
- Simplifying life slightly, we have fast feedback loops and slow feedback loops.
Successful ways of working with people is often counter-intuitive
It is possible to treat each person as an individual. But when we go 8 hours/x people makes y minutes. Suddenly there isn’t enough time.
One. We waste time scheduling. Try not scheduling and see what happens. I once went to a doctor who simply gave 10 people an appointment on each hour. He called them in turn but saw whoever was there. Isn’t that what we do anyway? And if we a running late to get there for 9, for example, there is no need to panic, because we are in a buffer.
Two. We have time-wasted between appointments. I was given an appointment at 9:06 last week. Admirable precision. Pity the internal paper-work wasn’t ready for her and her printer wasn’t working.
Three. There is simply a simple rule of management. Make sure management doesn’t cost more than what is being managed. What would happen if we would remove the management and organization? Often little but saving time and saving heaps of money? Of course, skilled management that helps us be more productive would be cool to have particularly when it is inexpensive.
We often get more done by being patient. I know the arithmetic doesn’t suggest so. But arithmetic is not the right analytical tool for this problem. I am a numbers person but turning everything into “3 men dig a trench . . .” simply tells me your arithmetical training stopped when you were 11. My that is harsh . . but you asked for it.
Using arithmetic to solve the distribution of public service is a constellation of intellectual errors. And you know it is wrong because it doesn’t work. If feels wrong. Stop repeating yourself and try another way!
I was sitting on aeroplane, catching up with the executive of an houshold name mulitinational, when he said something that was either the befuddled product of a jet-lagged brain, or something quite profound. I know he is capable of both, so see what you think.
He said that he had learned, that “at this level [buying and selling business units across borders]” the final decision just depends on the person making the decision.
Is there a general truth in this observation?
It is true, that like the son of a rich man, a firm can seem to “do well” just because of inherited wealth. If we compare like-with-like and mentally subract the advantage of licenses and capital, is it true that at some point, organizations stop making rational decisions, and revert to the prejudices, preferences and whims of decision-makers?
Is the world ultimately run on whim, concealed by the size of major organizations?
Does data and rational decision making really matter in this complex and fast moving world?
I doubt we would ever have the hard data to systemaically explore this speculation. Wee may as well put it aside. But another question does suggest itself.
If the world is puttering along on the basis of whim and prejudice, maybe we should stop worrying about being rational? Maybe we should just suck-our-thumbs and join in? Put two stones in our pocket and say yes or no depending on which one we pull out? Should we worry about having data at all?
What is the purpose of data?
It seems to me that we data pundits may have created a “straw man”.
Skilled leaders know that every decision is, at the last, personal. Their decisions are their choice and the choice of the people they represent. For them, the important order of events is not data and then preference. It is preference then data.
Data is not there to tell people what is rational. Data is there to follow through personal choices rationally.
Do we always use data sensibly?
There are, of course, foolish leaders who discard data when it does not endorse their naïve preferences. The are inept leaders who discard data when it is ‘politically impossible’ to convey bad news to the people they represent.
More enlightened leaders, and I’ve known a few, use data to learn more about the group’s preferred possibilities and more about ways of achieving their preferences. The enlightened leader becomes more conscious about what they need to negotiate, with whom, to secure their preferences. The enlightened leader becomes more aware of what to look out for as they enact their preferences. The enlightened leader becomes aware of side-effects that might undermine their preferences once the achieve them.
Data is useful to them but not when we try to tell them what they and their followers want out of life. Data is useful to them when we elaborate their values and help to understand more fully what they want to do.
What is the role of a data pundit?
In short, I suspect data is always welcomed by enlightened leaders when it helps their mental model become
- more flexible
- more oriented to the outside world
- and more supportive of informed, sensitive engagement.
A concrete example
I think Iit’s pretty much like taking a long haul flight with several segments across the world. If I need to be in a certain city by a certain time, a rational analysis of options is pretty useless. I am only interested in my options for achieving that goal. And if that goal becomes uncertain or impossible, then I want data that allows me to re-formulate my goal and communicate to all the people who will be affected.
Leaders are rational; they are motivated
This seems obvious but we expect leaders to be more rational. They aren’t rational. They are motivated.
Sometimes we think that is wrong. But following that reasoning, it would be equally wrong to want to be in a certain place by a certain time.
The questions facing data pundits are
- which motives do we enjoy serving?
- and which data puzzles can help to solve?
- Executives often seem satisfied to support massively important decisions with sub-standard data.
- Our data often seems good. Yet they throw it out. We jump to the conclusion that they are too motivated to follow a course of action without a rational analysis.
- The reality is that we may have done the wrong task. We may have interrogated a question that interests us rather than people we serve.
So why did I bother to write this post?
We shouldn’t be dismissing leaders as being willing to proceed without data. They’ve been forced to proceed without data because we didn’t make data available to address the problem facing them today. We might think they could make better use of their time and effort but it is likely they would use data that elaborates what they value should we make it easily available.
Motive first. Analysis second? First, be clear about the motives of the leaders and people we serve?
Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition
Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician and instigator of medical residencies
Sometimes it is really hard to live mindfully. We want to reminisce, or we left the past untidy and it bothers us. Or we are are excited by future possibilities or anxious about negative side-effects.
How would we feel if we were stranded, in the great grounding of planes by volvcanoes, in a place we didn’t want to be? Most of us will fret until we have a plan.
Organize agilely and leanly
That is the secret, isn’t it? To become ‘agile’ and ‘lean’, so that each day matters for what it is.
What if we rephrased the day’s purpose “from get back home because that was my plan yesterday” to “let’s see what is possible and let’s have fun working out what my choices”.
Leadership vs management
On another channel, some of us have been lamenting the lack of leadership in British politics and the distinction between management and leadership came up, as ever.
I don’t think that leadership and management are ever far apart. We cannot manage without leadership. What looks like management is just clerical work when it is separated from judgment, moral responsibility and poetic imagination.
Leadership, when exists apart from management. probably exists because good management, happening quietly in the background, allowed us to think about what we are doing today without stressing unduly about yesterday or tomorrow.
When the world gets in a muddle, we need leadership AND management to get our heads straight again and the world orderly again so that we can give unto today our full attention.
But that is our goal – to let today be enough to absorb all our energies.
When life is out of order, to put some effort into straightening out the way we think. Sometimes it is a trial. But we do have to ask ourselves how much energy we waste fretting.
We are right. Oh, hold on. We were wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.
Have you been in a situation, say, of supporting the invasion of Iraq to destroy WMD and then finding out you were duped. Well, let’s face it ~ finding out you were wrong. Wrong about the evidence. And more importantly, wrong about your certainty.
I’ll argue you that we are not grown up, not quite grown up, until we’ve experienced being utterly wrong, about the facts, their interpretion, our certainty and our right to dismiss the other side.
Yes, we were wrong to dismiss the other side.
We need to seek an apology and forgiveness but I am not going there today.
Converging ideas about new work, organization and management
Today I am getting my thoughts together about the amazing convergence of ideas in business and the current tensions between the old guard and newcomers in management.
Management theory was laid out before World War I and has been a matter of frills and extensions for 100 years.
By the turn of this, the 21st century, we had begun talking about positive organizational scholarship, distributed networked models, and yes, mytho-poetical approaches.
Believe me, these ideas are an 180 degree about turn. Our first impulse is to say they are wrong. And they will be wrong in parts. There is no doubt about that. Nothing is every completely right.
Equally, just because ideas converge, does not mean they are right. Not at all.
But we have to challenge our impulse to dismiss ideas because they are unfamiliar. If we have a scrap of intellectual honesty, we must recognize that they are inconvenient to those of us who have invested heavily in understanding old ways.
It is our job to go forward with them and turn them into working ideas, to find out their limits, and to find out their worth.
Self-esteem and Nathaniel Branden
As one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I looked up the work of Nathaniel Branden.
Branden has worked on self-esteem for 50 years. Here is one of the touchy-feely ideas that gets rejected out-of-hand.
What struck me is that Branden has asked a question that I haven’t seen asked before and I hadn’t thought to ask.
Can modern businesses survive without people who have high self-esteem?
In times of rapid change and technological development, how can we work, except with people who believe they can cope and who believe they have a right to happiness? Anyone who expects less is unlikely to rise to the challenge of modern day living, simply because they will accept 2nd best.
And the corollary, of course, is what happens to a company when it is staffed by people who have low self-esteem?
The empirical test for an HR Director, I think, is what happens to people when they join the organization. Does a person with low self-esteem gradually change to become a calm, composed, assured person who is neither whiny nor dictatorial. Or does the opposite happen?
Self-esteem may be the critical competitive competence of our 21st century world
In the meantime, the world moves on. We can be sure youngsters with high self-esteem are self-selecting environments that are healthy.
Indeed, I’ll predict that the western country that concentrates on developing wide spread self-esteem will come out best placed as we work through the financial crisis and shift of power to the East.
Enjoy. We need to relearn our trade. There is plenty for us to do.
Metrics are good. They make us do something that psychologists call “operationalize”. Operationalize isn’t some complicated Freudian notion. It just means that we take a rather vague slippery idea and say exactly what we mean. We don’t use “operationalize” to sort out clients who are in an emotional mess. We use it to sort out us ~ to make sure we are clear about what we want to do.
Applying the wrong metrics . . . ouch!
It’s alarming then when we look out into the world and we see people using the wrong metrics. Often people take a technology and use it in the wrong circumstances, terribly impressed that they are generating a number but apparently unaware that the numbers they are looking at does not match what they say they are doing, or need to be doing. It’s doubly scaring because it is clear they haven’t simply made an error. They have no idea about what they need to do or how to do it. Nor, it is clear, do they understand the very ‘technology’ they are applying.
The world is changing and we are going to need new ‘technologies’ for new situations and new metrics to define exactly what it is we are doing and how well we do it.
Choosing people to join an organization
Big organizations will still have a familiar task: choosing people to join them.
The old idea that we would match people as pegs to holes like the game we give to 1 year old’s just doesn’t wash anymore. What was designed to quickly allocate hundreds of thousands of conscripts to roles in WWI and WWII is not well suited to today’s business.
We have a ‘talent war’ now. This means that our success depends upon know-how brought into the organization by our people. What we do and how we do it depends more on their ingenuity,creativity and judgment than our preconceived notion of what to do and not do. After all, if we knew what to do, we wouldn’t be hiring them as talent. If we knew what to do, we could probably use a computer or a robot.
There are some roles still where “Mac” jobs rule. Goody. Just knowing that the organization runs on “mac” jobs is enough to make look for something better. Decide the level of your product. If it is . . well least said.
Metrics for new selection
What is, then, the essence of selection for new organizations? And what would be the metric.
I like the idea of assessments that are genuinely two way: in which the candidates find out about us. Even if they choose not to join us, through that exploration they become clearer and optimistic about their opportunities. And we become clearer about what we are doing, and the value of what we are doing because of the questions they asked and the conversation they stimulated.
My metric for new selection
Could the measure of an assessment system be the percentage of people who believe that the conversation we invited, initiated, and managed was worthwhile?
Thinking like an academic,
- Would the opinions of the applicants be uni-dimensional, or would we have to break it up?
- Would the applicants’ opinions of our conversations tally with our own?
- Do good quality conversations predict good quality conversations in the future?
- What are the features of good quality conversations and do they fit known models (such as Losada’s model of team performance)?
- Would good quality conversations lead to increases in productivity in the units hiring?
- Do good quality conversations lead to insights about how to negotiate the improvement of the entire supply chain?
- Are good conversations associated with JIT labour supply?
- Are good conversations associated with lower total costs of HR administration?
Hmm, I’ve seen this rolled out without the metrics. And I’ve seen plenty of utterly misplaced metrics.
When are we going to step up and serve the knowledge industries of the global information age?
When, o When?
So you want to be a manager?
Harvard Professor, Gary Hamel asks “What problem was management invented to solve?”
How to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.
“What is the problem that needs solving now?”
How do you build organizations that merit the gifts of creativity and passion and initiative?”
Are we on the verge of a post-managerial society?
Many organizational designers have been asking: will we have managers of the future? Here are some of the central dilemma.
What is the role of talent? Is it something to be bought and profited from? Or is what emerges from the configuration of the organization? Are we talented because we are talented together?
What is the key concept in organizational design?
Understanding how to create organizational value by installing the right feedback loops
What is the nature of change in this century?
Purposefully and creatively experimental
How do we manage risk and not knowing the outcome of our creative experiments?
Set clear boundaries about risk. Engender insights that minimize risk.
Gary Hamel also asks:
“How have you been trained as a business innovator? What investment has the company made in teaching you how to innovate?”
What will global organizations look like?
The Internet is making it possible to amplify and aggregate human capabilities in ways never before possible.
What is management after all?
“The challenges to managing collective performance are clearly collective in nature, and involve, I think, a significant combination of individuals’ characteristics – motivations, personal skills, abilities to learn, and so on mashed together with both business processes and group dynamics and constantly changing rapid information flows, etc.
There’s a good reason for business process frameworks … those are where employees in effect engage with the whole, and what the group dynamics ultimately serve … and where the tangible things that come out are the business results.”
#1 The challenges to managing collective performance are clearly collective in nature.
#2 There’s a good reason for business process frameworks … those are where employees in effect engage with the whole, and what the group dynamics ultimately serve
#3 business process frameworks … those are where . . . the tangible things that come out are the business results.
Every first year text book in management should begin with this framework.
I wonder, Jon did you mean the group dynamics serve/precede the business process, or are created by the business process?