The give-and-take between us as we follow our dreams strengthens us as individuals and as a group

Thoughts on stray cards on my desk

I confess just to tidying up my desk and wanting somewhere to put a sentence I wrote on the back of one my business cards.  Looking at the card, I must have written this 18 months to 2 years ago.

“The give-and-take between us as we follow our dreams strengthens us as individuals and as a group.”

A touchy-feely sentiment perhaps but also a profound statement of the essence of business.

Give-and-take is the heart of business

The heart of any business is the give-and-take between us.  Give-and-take is not something we add as a layer of style or a way of resolving tension. Give-and-take is the heart.  Our business exists only to give-and-take.

We have give-and-take with our customers. We have give-and-take with our suppliers.  We have give-and-take among ourselves.

Too many businesses, though, set the process of give-and-take in stone.  The give-and-take evolves and it is the ability to build a business the grows the give-and-take that is genius.

Losing the give-and-take

Let me give you examples of misunderstandings of give-and-take.

Some Terms & Conditions on the internet put all the responsibility on the user.  Totally back to front.  The Terms & Conditions should phrase the responsibility and limits on the person who offers them.   In plain English, the T&C should state what I bring to the table and how I will honour you.

A standard role play in assessment centers sets up a “customer” as a bit of buffoon.  Managers, particularly those with accounting and legal training, often try to put the customer in the wrong and wring out of them monetary concessions based on the letter of their contract.  The smart manager judges the situation and looks at it as a way to deepen the relationship with the customer and the customer’s reference group.   A bad situation is simply an opportunity to grow the relationship and do more and better business.

How many times do employees tell managers that something is going wrong only to have their “heads bitten off”?   It is usually productive to ask for more details of the “symptoms” and to find out what the employee proposes.  Both are likely to be interesting.

Open-ended interaction is not always right nor is it predictable

It’s tough to interact with people and just to “see what comes of it”.  I don’t want to do that all the time, of course.  I am not really interested in “generative moments” with an immigration officer at the airport.  Beyond being as cheerful as possible, I just want to have my passport stamped quickly.  On a short haul flight, I also have no interest in manufacturing social moments, though I might do it to lessen the pain of standing in those ridiculous queues.

Long haul flights are quite different.  Being cooped up for 12 hours is a recipe for climbing the walls.  But the nature and quality of the interaction depends on my neighbor as much as me.

I’ve moved out my seat to allow someone two seats and the possibility of a nap.  I’ve asked the airline to find me a bank of seats so I can sleep. I’ve baby sat.  I’ve had people help me.

The story unfolds in a an unpredictable way and the flight is always better for flexibility rather than rigidity.  Of course, I hope there has been no vagueness about the fuel or the engineering.  But most of the human side is generative.  And we are more likely to chose an airline again when the interaction went well.

Give-and-take and management theory

Give-and-take is a difficult concept though.  Too often, in the management sciences we treat organizations as if they are the sum of individuals.  It is true that the interactions between individuals depends on the individuals.  I doubt Professor Stephen Hawking would find my thoughts on physics very stimulating, for example.

But after, all if the interaction of physicists wasn’t stimulating, then it wouldn’t really matter who was around him.

As it is much harder to stimulate and manage generative interactions than it is to find and hire people (buy their time), firms who understand interaction are likely to be the winners.  Brilliant people are probably better off in the company of less brilliant people who interact well than with other brilliant people who interact badly.

The practice of give-and-take

This is all theory though.  I didn’t want to lose my pithy little statement and this blog is my filing cabinet.  What I want to keep goes here.

Hope you find it food for thought.

If nothing else treasure the interactions you have with others.  Guided by their dreams, we grow stronger together.

We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

Art Kleiner

I haven’t read any of Art Kleiner’s books.  How did I miss him?  Well, I seem to have missed him and it is time to make good.

Managers & the Core Group

I am taken with the idea that every organization has a core group. The group could be corrupt, of course, but every organization does have a core who are part of the value chain.

I joined a university early in my career for that reason.  As an academic, I was part of the core, while as a psychologist in HR, I was not.

The perils of neglecting the core

Many of the tensions in modern organizations arise because ‘managers’ have tried to dominate the core – the academics in universities or the doctors in the health service.  It doesn’t work.  Trying to dominate the core, or heart, eats away at its vitality.

Nurture the core

We, managers and administrators are here to serve.  When we understand the core, or heart, and help it function as it should, our organizations flourish.

Managers & the Influencers

And of course, within the organization are groups who are very important because they influence the process in a critical way.  Radar in MASH is much more powerful than the Colonel.  And Hawkeye, a Captain, dominates the Majors with his wit and grasp of the essence of war.

Social dynamics

Kleiner points out that when we first start working with an organization, that we must read the social dynamics. Who has undue influence?  Who has privilege. Formal rank may not matter very much.  When does it, and when does it not?

On the periphery

When we are on the periphery, irritating as it may be, it is worth acknowledging how the system really works. Then we can influence the system, even if we will never be part of the core.

Supporting the core

When we are managing an organization, we can acknowledge who is the core ~ not to give them further privileges, they have those already and will defend them to the last ~ but to subtly influence their acknowledgment and influence of other stakeholders who may not be core, but who they cannot do without.

In the university world, there is a cute poem that begins with students who splash through puddles, then associate professors who can jump over puddles, and Professors who are so magnificent that they can jump over the University Library, the Vice Chancellor who can speak to god and the Departmental Secretary ~ she is god.

Managing organizations

Helping an organization maintain its vitality doesn’t take a lot of heavy-handing action.  Indeed, the opposite.  It takes a little system thinking.  A gentle nudge here and a tactful reminder there.  Sometimes a good humored reminder of reality when we stand aside and stop protecting people from their own arrogance.  When the harm will not be permanent, a lesson in cause-and-effect can be salutary.

The core will always be there.  We destroy value when we deny it. And we risk corruption when we sweep relations between stakeholders under the carpet.

Relationships matter. Interests matter.  We need to get real.

Look harder for an organization whose core you respect

Art Kleiner makes an important point.  There are many organizations whose core is rotten ~ who are evil at heart.  We may be in that core, or we may be fretting about our lower status on the periphery.  What counts is whether we essentially believe that the interests of the core group are good for the organization and our community.  If we believe that, then we stay.

Otherwise, we need to look harder for an organization whose core we respect.  It’s best to be part of the core.  If not, we can serve it.  Gracefully.  Thankfully.  With a little reverance, but with understanding that the core needs others too and that we should help them manage their relationships with others.

Remember power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We should never let something we respect become so isolated from reality that it corrupts itself with meglamania.

But to change an organization, to nurture its vitality, we must believe that the interests of the core are the organization’s interests.  We need that deep down belief to respect the core and to help it confront issues about its relationships with others.

Am I rambling?  I like the acknowledgment of the core or heart of an organization.  Remember in the words of Colin Powell, leadership is follow me.  We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

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If you want to change an organization, mix it up. Just a little. And let the tensions leak away.

Art Kleiner

If you want to change an organization, you start by changing the patterns in which people talk together, the things they talk about, the frequency of their contact and the makeup of those who overhear them.” –Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters

Yesterday, thanks to Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace, I discovered Art Kleiner.  My, he writes well.

When you thought there was nothing left to do but grind your teeth

If you have ever been situation where you are helpless, oh, what am I talking about, you feel that every day when you are stuck in traffic, when you call you bank’s call center and when you sit through interminable ineffectual meetings.

Every time you feel helpless, mix it up a little.  Not loudly or aggressively or even mischievously.  Just talk to someone else. Shift the pattern of interactions.  That’s all.

And watch the stifling atmosphere dissipate.

If you are in traffic, let some one in or if you are always letting people in, indicate that you want to go next and let people help you.  Bank call centre’s defeat me, I must admit, but try beginning the call by sincerely asking about their day – that is a lousy, lousy job.

If the meeting is dull, actually listen to the bore and look at them.  OK, not for too long but try half a second?  If you usually speak, try taking notes.

Mix it up.  Just a little.  And let the tensions leak away.

UPDATE: Wow, I didn’t preview the format.  Mixed up for sure.




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Thinking about modern careers in the words of Khalil Gibran

Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup

I am reading Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.  His words on marriage might well be a manifesto for modern day careers and organization.

“Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup.”

Careers & work of the future

Switching to contemporary times, if you want to skate to where the puck will be rather than where it is now, find opportunities to work in exchange with others, “to replenish their cup”, rather than subsumine yourself to the goal of a larger institution or one boss or teacher.

Careers & sustainability

But also remember, Khalil Gibran’s words

“When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

In prosaic contemporary terms, think about a wider system that provides enough to drink for everyone.  We don’t need to share one cup except when there is only one.  When we make many cups and fill each other’s cups, then we we are in a healthy place and we want to strive to make that so.

  • Take your cup, allow others to fill it.
  • Take your cup, and fill those of others.
  • Ponder those who have no cup and no one to fill it.

Using the old wisdom of Khalil Gibran to extend management theory

All this is obvious though not so if you teach management theory.  Old management theory charges us with drinking from our line manager’s cup and ultimately from the company’s cup.  There are legal reasons (and mainly legal reasons) for this.

We could also train young people to understand the company as a mega-system that must benefit all stakeholders ~ all stakeholders ~ if it is to sustain itself.

We can train young people to understand power, its use and misuse, and how to work thinkingly yet safely with people who deny others their own cup.  But never to give up their own cup.

I want to see young people exploring the whole system in their online portfolios.  I would like to see youth support systems put youngsters in situations where they must sort out which cup is which, who is filling which cup, and how they can act in small & gentle ways to drink from their own cup, to fill the cups of others, and to influence the wider econ-system.  It’s an important skill to learn and many of us lose it along the way.

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Your work personality: games-player or puppet-master?

How fast will the 2010 be?

We talk of the world becoming faster.  But in many ways, this pace is an illusion.  Try getting a decision out of someone!

Will we be any better organized?

There is a strata of the world that is not particularly accountable to any one.  Fads and fancies are adopted and dropped.

Will we put into play the basics of organization?

The issues of organization remain the same.

  • We need to have people “close up” who deal with fast cycle events and who thus don’t have the overall perspective.
  • We need people who operate one or two steps back from events who can collate and detect patterns.
  • And we need ways for these two groups to communicate.

Will the internet help us implement the basics of good organization?

What the internet allows us to do is to be both redundant and to communicate laterally with greater ease.

Alternative reality games illustrate this principle.

The plays contribute information “to the point of redundancy” so it is fine for any one person to dip-in-and-out at their pleasure.  Any one player is effectively redundant to the game.  As long as sufficient people are playing at any one time, the marginal value of the last player is redundant.

We need the number and diversity of players that “kicks” the game into a phase state consistent with the 3D Lorenz butterfly.  No one as far as I know has studied the critical mass of players.  Nor has anyone studied how the lateral communication of the internet affects the number of people we need.  So far, people have just noted that the lateral communication allows us to treat individual contributions as marginally redundant.

Interestingly, successful games have ‘puppet-masters’ in the background.  They’ve designed the game, they moderate the game, and they write up the game afterward.

Will the internet change the tiered-nature of good organization?

Alternate reality games have those familiar two layers: the day-to-day actors and the background ‘puppet-masters’.

Where do you like to play: games-player or puppet-master?

It’s a personal choice where we play.  We might also choose to play different parts at different times or on different games.

Which is your preferred role?  Games player or puppet-master?

9 questions for strategy at the edge

Day Three at Xoozya

Before I went in to work today, I pondered the mammoth task of getting to grips with the business of Xoozya.  It’s amazing how often organizations don’t bother to explain the business they are in, leaving induction to people who may know where the loo is but have never seen the profit!  Xoozya being a self-consciously bottom-up organization will, of course, deliberately not tell me.  It is going to wait for me to ask questions!

Organize around strategy

The universe came to my rescue and McKinsey’s Buy, Sell, Keep appeared in my inbox to remind me of the principle of structuring an organization around our strategic priorities rather than our operations.

Hmm, I need to go further than this.  Being Xoozya, the priorities are not set at the ‘top’.  The people at the ‘top’, who are not necessarily the highest paid either, are there because they are good at holding the conversation, listening, and bringing together our views.  They have a knack for understanding what someone with a different professional background is saying, of detecting bottom line and top line, of seeing how people could come together for mutual benefit, and for creating organizations and communities where that can happen.

So how to begin my understanding of Xoozya?

I took the list of factors in McKinsey’s Structure-Conduct-Performance model of  industry attractiveness, turned it into a table with two columns – one for me and one for Xoozya, made some coffee, and set to work jotting down a word or two in each cell.

I quickly lost interest in my own column.  I must go back to that.

SCP model in plain language

These are the nine questions I found I badly wanted to ask my colleagues about their work.

  1. Who else does similar work to you?
  2. How do people tell your work apart from theirs?
  3. Who comes banging on your door wanting to know what you are doing?  Have more people been banging recently or less?  Have inquiries been more useful to you, or less useful to you?
  4. What does it take for someone to get into this line of work?  Once they have acquired those skills and resources, how long does it take them to get to your level?
  5. Who has the greater power? People like yourselves working in the field or the people who come banging on your door?
  6. Is there anything about the relationship with the people who come banging at the door that could change the relationship?  That is, what would lead more people to come or have more useful people come?
  7. Could you be doing more work or would you prefer to be doing less?
  8. Is there anyone or anything that holds you up?
  9. Is there anyone you could work with who could help you achieve more, more quickly?

For those interested in understanding the SCP Model more formally

Economics of demand (Qu 1-3)

Economics of supply (Qu 4)

Industry chain economics (Qu 5-6)

Cooperation vs Rivalry

Capacity utilization (Qu 7)

Forward, backward integration (Qu 8)

Alliances and Joint Ventures (Qu 9)

A good management model asks questions

Yes, there are a few questions there that will make me think about my own work.  That’s what good heuristics do.  They open up the thought processes.  Questions not answers.  That’s what management scholars deliver!

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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.

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So if I am not going to reify my organization, what should I do?

I was following up the new field of “performance studies“.   I have lost the link unfortunately.   Here are five statements and questions I re-phrased in “plain-language”.

1.  We make the company every day by what we do.

2.  Together we act out a story.

3.  Remember there is more that one story we could tell.

4.  Why do I have to speak for you?  What can’t people speak for themselves?

5.  What does the story we are acting out say about our relationships with each other and are we willing to talk about this question?

Are leaders made by followers?

The first time I encountered this idea, around 25 years ago now, I found it an assault to my classical training as a psychologist.  Over time though, I have come to understand that the question of whether leaders are born or made is the wrong question.  The right question is a sociological and anthropological question:  what role does “leadership” play in organizing society and what are the different ways we use the concept?

At an organizational level, I have become convinced that leadership resides in the followers.  There are times when someone is in the right place at the right time and it all comes together.

The process begins with the people talking to each other in a bounded space, such as an organization.  These people talking together look for a leader, not to tell them what to do, but to represent who and what they want as a kind of shorthand to themselves and to the world.

The day a leader stops being representative of their collective wishes, either because s/he has stopped listening or because s/he no longer is what they want, then the relationship all falls apart and force needs to be used to maintain the position of “leadership”.

I suppose another sociological/anthropological question is the circumstances in which we allow leaders to run away with power and to use force against us.

It has long been agreed in the democratic English speaking world that the essence of good government is replacing leaders in an orderly way.  I wish we could see the same as the standard in business organizations.  The use of force against employees is a sign that something has gone wrong.  Alarm bells should go off.  And HR should be on the scene in a flash trying to understand why the leader believes so little in his or her people that s/he feels the need to bully them.

Young managers often don’t trust their subordinates.  A skill that is rarely talked about is the skill of believing in one’s people and seeing their strengths.

I would love to collaborate with someone on this.   It could make a great 2.0 app.