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Tag: leadership

5 stages of leadership – from leading me to leading a massive crowd

As I searched for well written articles on social system stratification – or to you and me, coordinating our organization with layers, I fell over this cool distinction of leadership tasks from Christo Nel.

#1 Lead our selves – can we sing and sing with others?

  • Do we join in?
  • Do we practice?
  • Do we grow with feedback (or throw a strop)?
  • Do we help others and let them know of our needs to help the choir sing (feedback)?

#2 Influence our friends – can we speak up and take responsibility for group success?

  • Do we practice raising “the issues”?
  • Do we listen to others and value how they make the group richer?
  • Can we get things done without elaborate management structures?
  • Do we celebrate whenever we can?
  • Do our friends value us as a “metronome” that allows helps them sing together?

#3 Organize network of groups – can we set up agreements for sustained activity and induction of noobes?

  • Can we suggest and set up “light weight” schedules and systems that people can stick to?
  • Can we delegate to people who get things done and get things done better?
  • Can we encourage others to learn from the best?
  • Can we monitor what needs changing and flag that up to the network?
  • Do we build future leaders so that the incoming smoothly replace the outgoing?
  • Do we understand the whole choir and what it takes for all of us to succeed together?

#4 Inspire performance that surprises even ourselves  – be a mirror for the organization

  • Do we help us make sense of triumph and disappointment?
  • Do put our long term plans into words and keep us all informed of how we are doing?
  • Do we highlight people who are implementing our values in humdrum and challenging circumstances?
  • Do we encourage smaller assignments to distribute leadership and build our acumen for leadership?
  • Do we know where we have come from and where we are going and when other people listen to us, are they able to tell our story too?

#5 Balance the work of today with our investment in the future – be loyal, to everyone

  • Do we broker sound inter-generational agreements?
  • Do we set out a few key factors for  looking after all of us for now and for ever?
  • Do we keep the organization simple but relevant to today and tomorrow?
  • Do we keep good relationships with our neighbours and nurture sound relationships where we can solve problems together?
  • Are we big enough to absorb frustrations into the group story and to show by our words and deeds that the group is big enough to live life to the full?

These five levels of leadership are as relevant as they have ever been

  • Be happy, skillful and obliging
  • Be a positive influence among our friends and work mates
  • Design simple systems that help large numbers of people coordinate with each other
  • Reflect who we are back to the organization so we are alive to what is ‘good and true and better’ and what we should do more of
  • Be mindful of the world and model for us the joy in the richness and diversity of the world

Stratified social systems uses ‘techie’ language and so does the new age ‘complexity theory’.  Lyrical language is more fun.  Depends whether you are like to be impressed by techie or whether you like to have fun with words!  Your choice!

Hmmm . . . I like big enough to live life to the full.

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3 simple ideas for leading in today’s turbulent workplaces

Walk-this-way-by-garryknight-via-Flickr.jpgDespite waves of change, life stood still

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.

How odd.

From paying attention to action in the moment


  • Context
  • Attention
  • 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.

  1. “Delve deep into context” and be content with understanding all the different ways that the people present understand and talk about the issues.
  2. “carve out room for maneuver while others remain stymied by disparate or oppositional Discourses (Huspek, 2000)”
  3. “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

  1. The truth is in the wide range of realities described by people who are present.
  2. Some views  will be mind-hoovering, locked in old conflicts and defining the world as impossible.  Find the way forward.  There always is one.
  3. 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.

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If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Eureka by Ben+Sam via FlickrMake yourself lucky, be happy, BS?

If you hang out with management theorists, you will know by now the essence of the prevailing zeitgeist.  Whether Richard Wiseman is talking about luck; whether Martin Seligman is talking about happiness; or John Seeley Brown is talking about edge, we have a common formula that is applied over, and over.

Following are some notes I made reading a paper by Keith Grint of Warwick Business School on leadership in local government.  He begins with a great question 🙂

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Keith Grint of Warwick Business School asks:

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

The questions (I think) are

  • How do we do local?
  • Why is doing local better than doing central?
  • And, does ‘doing local’ work better than doing central?  After all, surely the whole idea of politics is to seize the commanding position and dictate terms?

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local, at least to answer the how, why, what and whether of local using theory, we need to begin with the theory.   Let’s check our assumptions first.   At the same time, we’ll see that we are assuming, rather than proposing in scientific sense, that local is the “dog not the tail”.  (If anyone knows a non-dog metaphor that will work as well, please let me know!)

Once we’ve grasped, the idea that we are dog, and political change is the tail, then we want to know “how”.  And the task of popular writers is to explain the “how” well enough to stop people disappearing into the bottomless pit of despair and victimhood that is part of the self-story when we think of ourselves as the tail.  That Brits love the victim story is a different post.

Today, I’ll try only to explain how we start change at a local level which is what I think Keith Grint was talking about and what management scholars and their ilk can tell you a lot about.

The theory of act local

The theory of “act local: begins with some beliefs about leadership.  If you have differing ideas about leadership, nothing else I write will make any sense at all.  So, try these on for fit.  If they don’t fit, all else will be a logical exercise. If they do meld with your beliefs, you might find a sense of relief in the account of “lead local” that follows.

Two basic beliefs about leadership

Leadership is not air; it is the wind.  When leadership is there, it is there. We might be able to see it coming.  We might in odd circumstances be able to build a wind tunnel.  But for the most part it is ephemeral, situational and transitory.  Nonetheless we know it when we feel it and we know it when we see its effects.

Leadership is not a map; it is a place.  When you are there, you are there.  When you are not, you are not.  You are not a leader-in-waiting.  You aren’t leadership-material.  You are either leading right now in this place with these people.  Or, you are not.

One basic proposition about national leadership

UK’s future is not made in Whitehall.

It is made by us. Because leadership is like place and wind, the UK is made and led through our local squabbles and the place-by-place, moment-by-moment decisions we make where we are, where ever we are and whomever we are with.

So, how do we set about making UK’s future at local level?

So far so good – if we believe that leadership, of necessity, of its very essence, is a local, situational and transitory phenomenon with nonetheless real consequences, how do we act as a local politician?

One basic assumption about politics

Politics is about defining space.  Politics is about defining who gets to be here and who get to talk.

One basic proposition about leading the politics of radical change.

Cynically, party politics is a device for keeping us apart.  Defining history is about connecting with people we don’t normally talk to.

I’ll repeat that.  The politics of change, the politics of defining history, is about connecting, not with people like us, but with people we don’t normally talk to.

The nexus of leadership and politics

So, to pull together ideas about leadership and politics – we believe leadership is in its very essence local but nonetheless we have political structures which determine who is in and who is out – or in plain terms, who gets to be part of the conversation.

To set off radical change, we have to change who talks to whom.  Or natural instinct is to huddle with people with ‘common interests’.  Actually, we must do something else. We must expand the conversation to a ‘complete world’ of everyone who has an interest.

To take a stark example, if I were campaigning to reduce immigration (which I am not), the intelligent political approach would be to include the immigrants (and their employers).  That the campaigners don’t shows us that they aren’t really serious and that they will always be somewhat surprised by the results of their political initiatives.  They simply haven’t done the work of connecting people who have an interest.

Changing the future of our country, then, is changing who we speak to!

The “how to” of modern politics

And now to the “how to” because after all, the reason why I am writing this at all is because people think they are not able to affect the future of their country (preferring to whinge but that’s another post.)

Is politics viral?

Sometimes it seems that politics can be viral.

Take Egypt.  Wael Ghonim puts up a Facebook page at just the right moment.

But, was the page just timing or relevance?  Without being a historian of Egypt, I think the page became a lever on a fulcrum of wide-spread concern among people who have generally have neither need nor opportunity to speak to each other on a daily basis.

And with lever and fulcrum, as Archimedes said it would, the world moved.

The page was the lever.  The fulcrum was the concerns of many people partially connected and ready to be connected further.

Is viral politics enough?

Some people thing viral politics is enough.  I don’t think so.  We still have to do the ‘foot slogging’ of door-step politics. We have to build relationships painstakingly.  We have to build our coalition (woops, dirty word in UK).

Simply, if defining history is building new connections with people we don’t normally talk to, we have to build those connections.  We have to initiate the connections and we have to sustain them with repeated contact and mutual respect.

What’s more, we have to engage with people who not want to connect with us.  It might take a while to build the connections we need.  But of course we don’t mind if we really believe in the future we are imagining!

Is success assured?

Again, without being a historian, the Facebook page in Egypt came at the end of an era of making connections and making connections and making connections.  Wael Ghonim didn’t intend to start a revolution.  He put up a Facebook page, and while he wanted to connect with others, he had no idea how important those connections were to become.  The Facebook page might not have succeeded.  There had been many attempts to rally Egyptians.  This was the rally cry that came when the connections were enough.

Simply, change will not happen unless we believe in it enough to begin without any guarantee of success.  If we don’t believe in our people enough to begin, if we don’t believe that we are enough; we will never make enough connections and we won’t have the Facebook page, or whatever happens to be the lever in our movement that tips the final balance.

We never know exactly when the tipping point will be.  We have to begin in faith of our dream and our people.

And is one big viral event is enough?

Sadly, not.  A big viral event may give us a head-start.  A big viral event like Tahrir Square dramatically improves the self-efficacy of everyone takes part.  They will volunteer readily next time and won’t be easily put off by challenges.

But as one swallow only makes us think of summer, we need many successful events for active citizenry to be the norm.  Actually, we need many successful events to trust each other.  We need success to offset the disappointments and to build the momentum.

If we believe in the future that we say we want, we need to do the hard slog of building the connections and maintaining them over the challenges, triumphs, disappointments and tears of real world politics before we will be rewarded with deep and longstanding change.

So if you are banking on one big viral event, you will squander the benefits of the event, for benefits are huge but not enough on their own.

And should we wait for politicians?

I wouldn’t!   Old guard politics will produce more of the same.

What can you and I do?

What has to happen is you and I connecting to people we think are worth listening to.  No proclamation from Whitehall will ever make that happen.  This depends on whom we believe are worth listening to and whether we can be a****d to make the connections.

What we get back depends on what we are willing to do.  England, Britain, United Kingdom is us. If we want change and we haven’t changed something small today, we are simply talking BS (oh dear, what did I say?) 🙂

Change something today – get lucky!

The advice for starting change at local level is the same advice that psychologists will give you for making yourself lucky (and happy) (and indeed for giving up smoking or losing weight!)

The advice from psychologists is simply this.

Do something different today.  Drive to work a different route. Speak to the person next to you on the train.  Give up your seat for someone on the tube.

Mix it up.  Connect.  Connect.  Connect.

  • Complete your world by connecting with everyone you need to take part in the conversations you know are just waiting to happen.
  • Start to tell the collective story.  Start to tell the story of your collective .
  • Learn what other people want too.  See where you can help them and see where they are delighted to help you.
  • And, include the people you think you can’t stand (But talk to them later! Start with someone who is just new or different!)

How long will it take?

I don’t know for sure. Psychologists aren’t  hot on time.  But, the poets and gurus say you will see results in three months and life-changing experiences in a year.

Will you begin to lead locally?

What have you got to lose by trying?  You only have to talk to someone new each day and do something different like take a new route to work?

What will you gain?

A more interesting day for a start.

A life experiment second.

Maybe something bigger third.  The curious will go for that I think.


Leading questions: If ‘Total Place’, ‘Big Society’ and local leadership are the answers: What’s the question? Leadership February 2011 7: 85-98,

To get a copy of the paper, you’ll have to email the author Keith.Grint at wbs dot ac uk.

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Demonstrating healthy leadership through a bad post

flip flop wheels by raiseyourflags via FlickrChris Jones asked for comments on his blog post about his views on Peter Senge’s work and Chris’ aspiration that

Cultures can, over time, be intentionally shaped and directed by visionary and resilient leaders. But the complexity of organizations, markets and other social ecosystems invariably worsens with scale, raising the bar for mitigation ever higher.

My thoughts about leadership are three fold

Leadership is about taking part not imposing

An organization ‘led’ by someone who aspires to impose preconceived ideas is not a healthy place for anyone.

Organizations are not forever

A contextually-sensitive organization also knows when it is time to die.  A healthy organization values purpose and will support other purposes when its own is not the most relevant to the wider ecosystem.

Organizations are healthy when they are dynamic

We don’t need a specific culture.  We need healthy psychology.  Losada’s model works for me

  • Positive to negative ratios of 3:1 or more
  • Context-sensitive slightly enhanced over internal focus
  • Asking questions (sincerely) slightly more frequent than advocating positions.

Testing this simple view of leadership with this post

This post does not live up to those three criteria.

  • Other than the link love at the top, I am rebutting throughout the post.  The Positivity:Negativity ratio is not good.
  • I am talking about management theory to other management theorists.  We need to be talking about the world!  Clay Shirky is a good example of commentators who comment on the world not the commentators!
  • I am advocating, almost exclusively.  Chris, I didn’t pick up from your post who you are (no About page) or your aspirations.  A post please?
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Experiment your way to success and a life you can call your own

Data a la Warhol by SuziJane via FlickrExperimentation is Gen Y

You may have read Four Hour Work Week and you might have noticed, but not paid much attention to the tagline on Tim Ferris’ blog : Experiments in lifestyle design.

Tim Ferris has many answers.  And many people read his blog (and his book) for ideas and inspiration.  I haven’t see too many people copy Tim Ferris in one essential aspect:  he actually runs experiments on a lifestyle to see what works and what doesn’t.  Tim Ferris may just seem a data nut.  He is not.  He experiments.  He actually puts to work those laboratory lessons we learned in psychology and related disiplines.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Few other people take this approach.  Creatives are willing, in Karl Weick’s terms to Ready, Fire, Aim, meaning try it, see the response, and learn what is important.  They are often disciplined at using agile methods and may have groups where people stand up weekly and sum up how far their project has got  in terms of {need, Approach, Benefit, Competition} (nABC).

A B experiments in web design

Google, of course, epitomizes a experimental approach.  If you sign up to Google Analytics, you can test two pages in classical A B design.  Which one attracts more hits?How an experimental approach differs from science

An experimental approach to life is radically different from a scientific (or pseudo scientific approach).

At university, we are trained to compare the average (actually the mean) score for two groups – say men or women.   We aret trained to look for associations in cross tabs and scattergrams.  We are reminded that correlation is not causality and we repeat that as a mantra.  But something even worse happens.  We start to confuse the statistical relationship with action.  We really come to believe that if women score more than men, the answer is get more women and improvements will follow.  We believe that if there is a lot of chatter about drink driving and around the same time alcohol sales fall off that in the future we only need to chatter about drink driving for alcohol sales to fall off.

No.  In every case, we still have to make something happen.

Why an experimental approach helps us succeed

Oddly, an experimental approach helps us become more active.  It looks like “science” that establishes “rules of life” that we can ape and be successful.  But an experimental approach is more.   An experimental approach draws us in to the moment and helps us concentrate on what needs to be done with the people we will be doing it with.

Our actions and judgments are not replaced by scientific laws.  We exert our judgment and act on the situation in an orderly way so that we see the effects of what we do and learn more about the situation itself.

Our results don’t tell us what to do. They don’t tell anyone else what to do.  Indeed, if they copy us they will fail.  Our results tell us about our situation and our understanding improves.  As our understanding improves so does our judgment.  As our judgment improves so do our results, our resources and both our faith in others and their fath in us.  We are an upward spiral begun and maintained by an open, inquiring, curious and essential  positive view of life that looks for what works and celebrates what works.  But we can’t be inquiring without the feedback of data.  Without data we simply gossiping.

An experimental approach draws us in to the moment and helps us concentrate on what needs to be done with the people we will be doing it with.

An experimental approach to training

McKinsey published a report today that brilliantly showed the return on investment of training leaders in a youth organization.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) did some basic reseah on their leaders. They measured each leader’s ability on 50 aspects of leadership.  Then they they regressed local organizational performance onto their measures of leadership.  Basically, they made a model that leadership, on the 50 aspects of leadership, leads to growth in members, funds raised, etc.

They found 4/50 aspects of leadership to ‘disproportionately’ contribute to performance: ability to build an effective board, find and pursue revenue-development strategies, use an investor’s minds-set toward programs and resource development, and lead and pursue with personal tenacity and perseverance.  They built their training program around these four aspects of leadership.

Now for the experiments.

a)       BGCA compared the performance of a local organization before and after a leader received training (Pre and post or AB design).

b)      BCGA compared the performance of a local organization where a leader had been trained with the performance of another local organization of similar size and circumstances.

c)       They triangulated their results by interviewing local board members to find out how leaders behaved differently after training.

In all, BGCA concluded that trained leaders did better than untrained leaders on every measure of organizational performance.  By extrapolation, they worked out that when all 1100 leaders had been trained, they would see an increase of 2-3% increase in local funding translating into 350 000 new members and more than $100m more revenue per year for the entire organization.  These improvements were more than 4x the cost of the training.

The trained leaders also varied in performance.  The top 25% of leaders improved 3x to 5x more than middle pack.  The most successful leaders were aspirational, set clear and quantifiable goals and taught what they learned to the rest of their organization.

Why the McKinsey study is ‘scientfic’ rather than ‘experimental’

We could give this study to a third year class and indeed, the top 25% would tear it apart, in many respects.

What I am interested in, though,  is the relinquishment of responsibility. The report read as if BCGA “discovered” some secret.  To be fair the article does go on to discuss the metrics that might be used in other organizations. What I would have like, though, is a description of leadership.

  • Who came together to discuss what mattered in the leadership of the 1100 local organizations?
  • Who drew up the list of leadership activities and how confident were they in the list?  How did they feel about their ideas being put under the microscope?
  • Was this the first time they had compared the performance of all 1100 local organizations?  What were people’s reactions when they saw all the data in one place?
  • How much did the past data vary for any one local organization from year to year?
  • Who decided and with whom that these aspects of leadership mattered and that they were sufficiently confident to test their ideas openly?
  • Once they followed through, how did leaders who were not in the top 75% feel?  What happened to them when the results came out?

The data being collected here is data about these leaders.  What information did these very same leaders get to guide them towards aspirational clear goals?  In other words, this study helps the central leaders steer.   What informaton do local leaders have to steer?

Good leadership is a narrative of who did what with whom

We can shoot holes in the analysis.  We are all trained to do that.  But lets do something different (and positive).   Lets tell the story and the story of 1100 local organizations.

Once upon a time . . .  and we were here.

Then this happpened and came together and decided to  .  .  .

This group agreed to try this way and this group agreed to try this way.

And they further agreed to come together on this date to compare what they learned and to exchange tips.

A story did happen at BGCA. But it is concealed.  We’ve carefully not been told who did what and, most importantly, who decided.

Leadership is about action.

An example of excellent leadership

If you want an example of fine management where the decision making process is super clear, watch this video of Randall Howard, the former General Secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union shows you what I mean.

He gives a clear narrative of a situation, a collective decision and an action.  The action itself is an incredible story of blocking arms shipments to Zimbabwe.  It’s worth watching in an of itself.

Randall Howard begins speaking at about 1:55.

For more information on the stopping of the An Yue Jiang, look at Waging Nonviolence.

Importantly we see an experimental attitude.

We must do something.  Do you agree?

What is our goal and what is our first step?

Do the Courts agree?

Can we serve the papers on the boat? No.  Then what?

We collect data by following the vessel electronically.  When that data dries up, we find alternative data and we track the vessel.

And when the story ends, we stop and say.  What did we do?  What path did we follow?  What were our signals and how did we know how well we were doing?

Most importantly of all, we ask what did we learn about the situation.  We learned about solidarity and maintaining the institutions of democracy.  That’s not the same as stopping the boat.

We paid attention.  We worked together.  And we learned.

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Dance in any way you know how

Let's Dance by zenera via FlickrI’m reading David Whyte‘s The Heart Aroused.  It’s profound. It’s illuminating. It connects all the many facets of contemporary management theory: poetry, the positive movement, the mytho-poetic school and hard core complexity theory.  It’s difficult to summarize though

Today, Bukik left a comment on this blog.  Most of his work is in Indonesian ~ which I can’t read.  But some is in English.

From Bukik’s site, I learned this:

“While I dance
I cannot judge
I cannot hate
I cannot separate myself from life.
I can only be joyful and whole.
That is why I dance.”

Hans Bos

I tried to discover who Hans Bos is.  Maybe an American living in Illinois?  I would like to know.

Thanks to Bukik, I have a good quotation to illustrate the contemporary quantum idea and older eastern idea that we are our relationship  with the world.  And almost paradoxically, our relationship with the world is good when we dance, and dance.

Dance in any way you know how.

A good thought for a Sunday morning and good respite from reading economic reports.

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Talking cuts? Don’t. Talk service.

planning poker warm up by fsse8info via flickrWhat will happen if we cut by 25%

Yesterday on Twitter, there was a lot of chatter about impending cuts. If we cut this, then this bad thing will happen. Today, we heard that if we reduce a budget by 25%, we will get more terrorism. All of this may be true, but it illustrates a fundamental error in managing public services (and public servants).

Lead by substance not by budget

Don’t conflate the service and the budget! Simply don’t allow the conversation.

Ask only this – what do you want to do?

Never allow a public servant to talk about the budget. Their job is to deliver a service.  Talk about the service.  The budget is your responsibility.

Overcoming objections

If you try this, st first you will get a lot of reverting to type. These will be the typical excuses/worries/concerns.

  • It is important to do X, but that person over there won’t do Y, so I can’t do X (and I can throw a wobbly). Persist in keeping the conversation about X.   What do you want to do?  And why?  Understand fully what the person believes is important.  Pay attention and let people see you pay attention.
  • It is important to do X but I cannot do it without an assistant Y.   Keep the conversation about X.  Y is budget.  Understand X fully.  If X is important and well thought out,  you’ll find budget.  But X will fail anyway if it is poorly thought out and more to do with assistants than goals.  Don’t say the last two sentences aloud.   Just keep the conversation about X and about what the person believes to be important.  Pay attention! They know what they are talking about and after all they are going to do the work!
  • I won’t talk about this at all.  Unspoken here are two thoughts.  If I suggest something, you will make me do double work with half the budget.  Or, I might suggest a lesser project than my colleagues and lose out in the status stakes.  Simply state that you want to know what is important to the person and to make sure their projects are on the table because everyone else is making their bids.  Sadly, if you have a reputation for stabbing your staff in the back, you might take some time to develop trust.  Leave you knives at home from now on!  You have to be sure that you will too.  Stab anyone now and no one will trust you ever again.

Being patient

  • This exercise will take time and a lot of one-on-one’s. But if you have the patience, your patience alone will communicate that you are dependable.  You will find out what is important and everyone will understand they are responsible for conceiving a quality service that is needed, doable and credit to the service providers and the organization at a whole.  They have it all in their head.  Everyone does.  We all know what we want to do and we all have our pride.

Being prepared

Now for the hard work.  You must have done your homework.  You must have gathered together and fully analysed three sets of data.

  • The general regulations, law and physical constraints of your work unit.  You need to model the work of your unit on a spreadsheet.  It’s likely that you will have outputs in rows and inputs in columns and have sets of calculations at the top, bottom and side of your table.   You must know what is generally required of your unit and be able to slot in numbers quickly so that you can assess the impact of any one plan on all other plans at the touch of refresh button.  You will be assessing a lot of scenarios before you are done.
  • You must know the past performance of your unit and what is likely to happen if you carried on without changing anything.  Do the analyzes yourself.  The accountants in your organization might have strange ideas about how your unit works.
  • You must know your costs.  Forget managing your budget if you don’t know your costs down to the last penny.

Now to work!

When you have all this information on hand, you can honor your promise.  You tell your staff to work out what should be done and you will look after the budget.

If their ideas are not economically (financially) viable, then you will tell them and they will have to think again.

But they don’t have to worry about money.  That’s your job.

And whatever you do, don’t allow the agenda to be driven by the budget.

First define the service.  Then ask if it is economically possible.

Don’t conflate service and budget.  Don’t allow the conversation.

You will be surprised how much can be done with less money.  And if you have to tell your political masters that less  will be done, at least you will have all the numbers to hand.

But if you can’t deliver a good service on less money in a way that is far more enjoyable for your staff, I will eat my hat.

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What happens when we make savage cuts to an organization?

A window on the Cliffs by tostao_meravigliao via FlickrWhat happens when a boss walks into a room and says, we have to make cuts?

Our obvious response is emotional. We are angry. We are scared. We are threatened. We are determined not to get hurt.

But what happens to the organization?

Yesterday, Patrick Butler blogged on the Guardian’s Joe Public blog about the chances that the budget cuts would lead to innovation and creativity. I responded there and have edited my comments below.

My comments about the impact on the organization itself are based on experience and interpreted through lens of the principles of organizational design.  My conclusions are counter-intuitive.  That is, they are not the most obvious things we might think of.  There are good reasons for us expecting organizations to behave differently to what they do but I  won’t go into those reasons here. For the curious, they are to do with hegemony, reification and other similar concepts.  Let me say here that I am not making a prediction about what will happen in the public service in the UK.  I am simply describing what I have seen elsewhere and what might be worth thinking about.

My observations are three fold which may seem contradictory but are not.

  • There are unlimited depths to our creativity
  • The organization will be turned inside out but the leadership won’t acknowledge what they have done and will spend considerable resources covering up what they have done
  • Employees will put their efforts into developing autonomous careers and ‘business units’.

These outcome can be avoided but simply choosing the route of cuts suggests we may see these or similarly dysfunctional effects.  The superiors in an organization are responsible for resourcing an organization.  When they duck this responsibility, the game has begun

We have unlimited depths to our creativity

It is true that the individuals in any job know a multitude of better ways of doing a job.  I could find solid research evidence but let’s just say for now that tt is more than our ‘jobsworth’ to tell anyone.  Bosses don’t take kindly to being out shone. A wise employee does the boss’ way; even if that way is expensive, silly and possibly stupid.

The organization will be turned inside out

In my experience, when cut kick in, people do generate alternative ways of working, because they can.  They know what they are doing.

The difficult that arises is that the boss has now done him (or her) self out of a job.  In a hierarchical organization, it is the boss’ job, to find resources and to supply greater know-how.

When the know-how and resources come from below, the difference between ranks becomes redundant and the chain of command has to acknowledge that leadership is also bottom-up.

This challenge is not often acknowledged and this will be sad consequence. ‘Bosses’ will spend more and more resources having conferences to ‘problem solve’, meeting stakeholders to try to re-assert legitimacy,  and staging confrontations with employees over perceived ‘insubordination’ (by which they mean their sense of inadequacy because the leadership is coming from below), etc.  They will swell their ranks with more managers, experts and consultants (that has already happened in some parts of the public service.)

Ultimately the leadership begins to live in the Pink Floyd or was it U2 world where they watch themselves on closed circuit TV and they are genuinely surprised by reality on the odd occasion they encounter it.

Employees will put their efforts into autonomous careers

At the bottom levels, innovation is now at the discretion of the members of the organization and the key is in the word discretion.

Ordinary employees may be carrying the organization and its mission even to the point of paying their own salaries and part of the organization’s overheads. This may be seem extreme but I’ve seen it more than once and I’ve seen it in the UK.

Employees may also decide to match the effort they put in with their pay. A consultant coined a saying about salaries in Africa. The annual salary may vary a lot. The hourly salary does not.

Many people develop second careers (it seems that has already begun among British police). Businesses are run from work. Businesses are run outside work.  Second houses are another career. Living abroad and arbitraging costs is another version.

In the UK, I’ve seen some online sites and plenty of workplace business models where work is sub-contracted indicating huge rents in the price charged to the customer. Employees don’t take long to work that out the system of rents for themselves and to find ways of owning the outfit which supplies the contractors.

Is the breakdown of organizational legitimacy inevitable?

Depressing? Possibly corrupt?

The key (and the game) is the legitimacy of the organization. In hierarchical organizations, the raison d’etre of rank is to manage and dispense resources and know-how.

When the ‘bosses’ make the statement that they do not have resources to run the organization, both the organization and the managers lose legitimacy.

The organization could, of course, reorganize both its purpose and the way it organizes to execute its purpose.   This is rare though.  After all, if this re-direction was on the cards, it would have taken place to prempt the cuts and the challenge to the managers’ legitimacy.  A much more likely out come is the expenditure of vast sums shoring up the appearance of  managerial legitimacy while the operational business develops a like and mind (many minds) of its own.

It will be good to see leadership that rejuvenates organizations and in the end, what happens is what happens.  This is not science. This is life. What happens is what we decide to do together. And we make our decisions iteratively.  You decide.  I decide.  You revise.  and so on.

Right now, everyone is waiting for the bosses to make the first move. I hope this move is not “tell us what to do”.  I hope even more it is not “do the same work with less resources”.  Either of these moves  is game-over – at least for the hierarchy.

Then a new game begins of what will replace what we once had.  That is another story.