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Do you want traffic to your blog?  Write about bad job descriptions!  I mean it ~ bad job descriptions.  See, I know how to do SEO.  Bad job descriptions.  People put bad job descriptions into Google.

Amazing.  But they don’t have to search far. Job descriptions are uniformly bad, spinny and scammy and show woeful lack of understanding of the purpose of a job.

In the throes of a general election, Britain, home of satire, has produced this wonderful spoof of the typical HRM effort at describing what we do at work. Jobsgopublic.

It’s funny, very funny, but not so much for the HR profession. When will we lift our game?

Affect images and political campaigns

“for the student who seeks to learn; the voter who demands to be heard; the innocent who longs to be free; and the oppressed who yearns to be equal.”

I badly want to hear candidates in the general election describe “we the voters”.  I so badly want to hear.

I want to feel the “throbbing resonance” of shared beliefs, shared purpose and shared hopes.  I want to feel the protection of an arm around me as we whisper our fears.

As a relative newcomer to UK, I want to hear the shared mythology that long time residents share and reassure them we are in this together. I want to see their shoulders relax and their eyes light up.

We are a different place from the US and we are on a different journey.  And maybe in my noobe status, I am not hearing what is being said.

Maybe though we are going to have big surprises when the results are announced.  Maybe too social movements like Hang_em will take off.

What do you think about the connection between the politicians and the voters?  I’d love to know.

QUOTATION FROM: Barack Obama addressing the United Nations Wednesday 23 September 2009

Entrepreneur, leader, space creator

The great desk tidy continues.  Professional organizational designers will instantly recognize what I am going to describe as Level 2 or C Band in Paterson parlance.

Understanding what is needed when

Let’s imagine a mechanic.  He, and increasingly she, has served an apprenticeship, gone to college, and worked on lots of cars under the supervision of experienced mechanics.

A car arrives.  They look at it.  The learn of symptoms from the driver.  They make some investigations in a manner that any other trained mechanic would recognize as methodical (or haphazard).  They take action.

From time-to-time though, the bundle of symptoms is out-of-pattern.  It may be a rare case that they haven’t encountered before   It may be a complicated case where feedback to the basic tests they carry out is obscured and muddies the decision making process.  The case may be complicated by factors not really to do with the car itself.  Spare parts might be short or the car might be needed in less time than the mechanics need to do everything as well as they would like.

When the job becomes complicated, a more experienced colleague steps in “reads the situation” and explains the priorities to the skilled but inexperienced worker.  Now that they are oriented again to a set of tasks that they know how to do, they can pick up the task from there.

In time, of course, they become experienced themselves and mentor others.

Directing traffic

In an organization, the role of the experienced worker is sometimes played by a controller who cannot do the job themselves.  The archtypical example is the Air Traffic Controller, who prioritizes aircraft and coordinates them with each other and resources on the ground.  The controller is not the aircraft Captain’s boss.  But does give orders of a kind.

The intersections of networks

In networked industries, the role of the controller is likely to become more common.  They may have rudimentary grasp of the skills they coordinate – they may have the equivalent of a light aircraft license, they could join in firefighting in elementary roles, they can do elementary electronics – but they are specialized in control.  They have the mindset to concentrate on what is in front of them for long periods.   They have good mental maps which they keep up-to-date.  They are important enough for psychologists to study them in depth.  Indeed many of the advances in applied cognitive psychology have come from studying air traffic controllers.

And so it will be with “managers” of the future.  Though that term has developed so many connotations that we may have to drop it.

We will have people skilled at managing “space” where people come together to get things done.

People in this line of work will probably start early.  We will see them organizing conventional clubs at school, working online and developing mental models about how to create cooperative spaces in a networked world.

Five competences for space creators in our networked world

As I am on a great clean up of my paper world, I want to write down five competences that the “space creators” of the 21st century will have.

#1 What needs to be done

#2 Emotional energy to connect

#3 Form a collective umbrella

#4 Delegate tasks to protect the collective

#5 Keep commitments to positive emotional space

Sort of abstract but it follows a logic to be: what needs to be done, why are we bothered and how or why would this be our priority, what is the space that we need to work together, what are the important tasks to maintain this space and who will do them, are we having fun here?

How do we learn these skills?  A post for another day, I think.  First, any comment on the competences?

Lost at an Open Space event

Cindy Hoong comments that at Open Space events, we wander around feeling lost and pretending we aren’t so that we fit in with the geeks.

Mmm . . . . yes, I did remember that feeling as I cast around looking for landmarks to orient myself.  We do like a measure of order in our lives and plenty of control for ourselves.

The first stage of group formation, anyway, reminds leaders that we are totally dependent on them to answer the question in our minds, “Do I belong here?”

Landmarks help people move from dependence to independence.  Social landmarks help us feel included.

What can we do when we feel lost at an Open Space event?

One of the most important features of an open space event is that everyone takes part – even if it is only to demonstrate how to make a cup of coffee.

If the event is half-half – then I would fall back on the open source principles. Think of something you like to do and volunteer to do it.  Offer to staff the reception area.  Offer to make the coffee. Set yourself up as official photographer or blogger.  Do something inanane ~ match people in green sweaters to people in green sweaters.

But do something. Preferably something you like to do.  Preferably something you are good at.  Preferably something that achieves a goal important to you.

Then your mindset changes. You want to know where the signing up board is.  You want to grab a room. You want to get to know the other participants so you can tailor your presentation.

Get into the flow.  Join the river.  Become a player.

Hope that helps!

Whinging poms seem to like adventure ~ a lot

I’ve lived abroad all my life so I still notice things in Britain that other people take for granted.

Like many noobes here, particularly from the ex-colonies, I’m amazed at British whinging.  People don’t complain.  They whinge.  Like satire, which I must admit I enjoy, whinging expresses criticism and negativity, but doesn’t try to change anything.  It is essentially the icing of negativity and complacency ~ an “I’m alright Jack” outlook on life.  Hence the colonial mystification.  We are doers.  We get jumpy when we aren’t fixing a fence post or shoring up a bridge. (Remember that!  Always put us to work.  We are insufferable otherwise.)

Brits enjoyed the closure of European airspace

The great grounding of aircraft across Europe, courtesy of the Icelandic Volcano and ‘winds blowing the wrong way’, brought out another side to the British.

After the first day of irrational rage from some passengers yet to leave British shores, Brits set to figuring out places to stay when all hotels were chock-a-block.  They set about crossing Europe, taking each leg at a time, leaving fate to find the hotel and transport for the next leg. Young and old traveled for days sleeping in vehicles or on any dirty floor that they could find.

They enjoyed the scenery.  They explored cafes normally patronized by truck drivers.  They helped each other out.  Uniformily, they talked about the ‘adventure’ and their new appreciation of what and who they met along the way.

Maybe Brits whinge because they are bored?

And it got me thinking.  Maybe Brits whinge because Britain is boring.  I don’t find it boring. It’s big and anything you want is here, somewhere.

But the daily grind of long hours on public transport to do dull repetitive jobs is boring.  Maybe Brits are predisposed to enjoy the unpredictable where they have to solve real problems with other people.  How people have come alive!

Turn work into an adventure?

Maybe we should jettison all these tiresome employee engagement forms and ask one question as employees leave the building: did you have a good adventure today?

Did you have a good adventure today?

What do you think?

LizO of HRPractice in Harare asks

Dear Jo, how can I get role clarity and understanding , compensation internally equitable and consistent and worthwhile performance without the old tried and true job descriptions, Paterson etc ????

In a sentence Liz sum up the goal of job evaluation and salary structuring and the main change in work of the past and work today.

Our Goal remains

Role clarity and understanding , compensation internally equitable and consistent and worthwhile performance

Our Procedures change

Job descriptions take time to produce and are outdated so quickly that managers add  ‘and anything else I think of” at the end.  When we define something as anything, then there is little point in having it.

What of the past can we confidently take into the future?

First and foremost, we should be happy to be in a place seeking role clarity and understanding, internally equitable compensation, and consistent, worthwhile performance. Whatever the hassles of pursuing those goals, they indicate that people believe in their collective venture and each other.  That’s great.

What constraints should we consider?

Express and implied terms of employment

Whether we have job descriptions or not, good descriptions or bad, we must remember that there are express and implied conditions of employment.  Over and above the requirement that the employee is paid on time and does not act in conflict of interest with his or her employing organization, there are usually cultural and legal limitations on what an employer may ask the employee to do.  We should list what we know, add to the lst as we go along, and keep the list as simple as possible.  In an ideal world, we will have a short list that in one page lays out our obligations in a way that we are unlikely to breach either the law or deeply held cultural beliefs.

Jobs that are jobs

Within those broad boundaries, people want ‘proper’ jobs and work better when they have proper jobs:  the need a goal that can be laid out in public next to the goals of everyone else, they need training, they need resources, they need authority, they need clear guidelines on when to refer to others.  I think putting energy here is a better use of HR time than writing job descriptions.  A training manual is better than a job description, in other words.

Career ladders

I would add one goal to your list.  People want to see their futures too.  Of course, our futures are affected by firm profitability more than anything else.   The Labour Relations Act allows employee representatives to inspect the accounts.  Few people understand them though and it makes sense to help everyone see where the company is. Some firms, for example,  ingeniously printing current goal on canteen napkins and play a special tune every day when overheads are met and people start working for profit.   What we communicate depends upon the business and the key factors and requires some creativity and good understanding of the business.

Once a firm is profitable, people want to see how they can climb the ladder.  In some firms this is a nightmare because the next level up requires special training outside the firm (e.g. nurse to doctor).  In so far there is a ladder, the equitable structure should reflect the ladder. After all, as someone said about UK, if someone is motivated for 9 pounds a day, why does someone else needs thousands of pounds a day to be motivated?  Money doesn’t buy performance.  It signals to young people the availability of certain life styles provided certain paths are followed.  In short, we don’t pay a boss thousands of pounds for his time. He puts in the same time as everyone else. We pay him thousands to encourage youngsters to go to school and learn his skills.  In a sentence, the pay structure makes the ladder visible.

Paterson job evaluation

With these considerations in the back of our mind, yes, I’d use Paterson.  It is very reliable and the discussion of bands helps clarify roles.

Before I begin

Before I began, I’d take the precaution of listing all the jobs, their pay and their benefits on a spreadsheet and classifying jobs roughly myself.  You want to look ahead to how many jobs are seriously out of position.  When you draw a graph of pay against jobs, it should conform to a neat exponential curve with pay bands that overlap a little but not too much.

To manage the maths, the Paterson grades will be recorded as numbers (1-12) and the pay will be turned into a log.  10=1 100=2 1000=3.   (There is a formula Excel).  In that way, we flatten the exponential curve and we can check that the slope of the line (regression) is between 1.33 and 1.50. That means the grade-0n-grade increase in pay is between 33% and 50%.

Going to Paterson, the grades make good generic job descriptions.

A: Entry level job where you are shown what to do.  You are still a bit of a liability.

BL:  You have a skill that took some organized training, much like a light vehicle driving license.  Within the boundary of this training, you know what you are doing and you are “in charge” as a driver is in charge of a vehicle.

BU:  You have a skill that was acquired in a similar way to a driver’s license (heaps of practice) but it is far more responsible.  Examples are long distance drivers and bus drivers.  A BU might also supervise BL making judgments about very difficult situations.  Once the BU has interpreted the situation, the BL is able to take over and carry on.

CL:  This is a skilled level taking 3-5 years training where we have to think out what to do.  The typical examples are nurse, junior doctor, trial balance bookkeeper, degreed accountant, sergeant, lieutenant. CL is also used as a bottom end of management and might included people who have worked up from A .  They will be supervising several BU and the difference is seen in their time horizon.  BU are finishing a shift of or a journey.  CL are focused on weekly or monthly goals so there is a lot more juggling to do.

CU:  This is rarely an entry level position.  Usually a CU is an experienced CU and works alone or mentors CL.  They have the same ability to understand how the time periods of months and weeks vary and to tell other people what to look for.  In the army they would be Captains and Majors.  In hospitals, they would be Senior Medical Officers.  In schools they would be subject heads.

DL:  The entry level to middle management requires people to lay out systems.  Should they buy in the wrong tools or not have cash available, then the CU cannot do their jobs.  Sadly lots of people in these roles have drifted up but are unable to plan ahead for a whole year adequately.  In a factory, they not only plan and watch progress towards an annual goal, they usually are on 24 hour call when the system crashes.  They are responsible for the overall system though CL keep it running on a shift-by-shift basis.   Some mines appoint entry level engineers here.  Recently qualified medical consultants enter here.  Often newly qualified CA’s enter here.  This is a Lt Colonel in the Army responsible for keeping an entire battalion battle-ready.  They would be a Chief Superintendent in charge of a District in the police.  General Managers of factories begin here.

DU:  Is the skilled level of  DU.  They’ve put in several systems, or done so much surgery that they can mentor other DL’s.  They would be Brigadiers in the Army responsible for 4-5 Battalions.  If they don’t “see ahead”, then the DL’s won’t have the budgets and systems in place to function.  In the police, they are the provincial commanders.  They get involved with big events but they are largely pattern watchers.  They understand patterns across time spans of 1-2 years and get things in place on time for others to roll things out.  A DU in business is likely to manage a set of factories each of which is self contained but linked to the others.  A Captain of a long distance aircraft is here.  Though their planning horizon is only journey, the complexity of the system they are managing requires them to anticipate lots of if-thens.

EL:  Is the beginning of senior management.  Their time horizon should be five years – anticipate the obstacles we will face in the next five years.  Can’t see it in UK some how. Events always seem to take managers by surprise. Contrast the sitting-on-hands with TESCO who rerouted produce to Spain and trucked it in.  That couldn’t have been rolled out quickly with advance anticipation of adverse events and general preparation.  Junior managers are effective with senior managers have done the ground work.  Typically senior managers do a juggling act of planning out a whole function and managing another plan of change simultaneously.  Or they are managing the links between functions.  It’s not just rolling out a plan.  There has to be a element of saying we are following Plan A but if this happens, we will have to be ready to go Plan B, and if this then Plan C.  They are balancing the present with the unknown.  Spend to much time on the what-if and the company will fail now.

EU: Experienced version of EL.  Should have 3-4 EL reporting to them requiring coordination and overview.

F:  Designing a whole organization

Alpha:  Monitoring world events (Chairman of Board)

Beta: Changing conditions in the world

Thinking ahead to a structure

When applied to structuring work, you don’t want to split the grades into quarter grades (B1 and B2, B3 and B4) unless you are like the army or a mine where everyone is doubled up to allow for continuity during an emergency.  Have A’s report to BL who report to BU etc.

Sometimes when the minimum wage is very low, the entry level is pegged there and there is a big dog’s leg into A band when the person joins up permanently.

You can see why you should do a rough check yourself before you start talking.   Thereafter you have a simple system where people get paid and they know what they need to do to move up.  The training must be available of course otherwise it is not possible and they will devote their energies to side ventures.

You can also leave spare money in a pot to be divided up at the year end (or November) and tailor benefits.  One well know firm used to have the very good benefits kick in after 5 years because there was high turnover before then.

How to sort out a mess

Before I talked to anyone, I would do my own preparatory work and sort out a skeleton for the key jobs.

Then (depending on how the problem was presented)I would discuss role (not pay) and guide the discussion to talk about career structures.

If pay had already become an issue, I would simply say that I was there to sort out a pay structure, but before I could, I must understand the levels and how some one got to be really good.  That I would go round and talk to every one to see what I could learn but it would also be useful to sit down in groups and talk through how one gets to learn the business.  Then I will on my consultant’s hat and lay out some proposals for them to look at.

The odds are that they will find the solution themselves and we only have the administrative task of tidying up the payroll over a period of a few years.

To give an example of how this might pan out,  once I proposed a simple structure: Learning the job, Knows what they are doing, Could run the business for a day, Could run the business for a week, Could run the business for a month.  When we know Paterson, then we see immediately that I have proposed levels that are A, BL, BU, CL, CU.  There is still the level of DL above these. Using a slope of 1.40 that would be fairly typical in the private sector, if the guy in A band is earning 10 dollars, the fellow in BL will get 14, in BU will get 20, in CL, in CU 38 and in DL, 54.

Depending how long it takes to move through those levels and other pragmatic considerations (including how much fiddly bookkeeping I am prepared to do), I might put in some notches.  Or I might not. I always go for the admin-lite solution that delivers more control and more cash to the employees (presuming I begin with sound business sense and everything I propose is linked to making more money faster within the company). It simplymight be better to hand out decent cash bonuses from time-to-time and some businesses are so volatile the best the owners can do is pass on windfall gains.

Once I have a clear structure like I proposed, phrased in clear business terms, then I am clear about the training people need to go up the ladder, the opportunities they need to learn and even the systems I need to put in.  People can’t run the business and make sensible business decisions if the accounts are in shambles, for example.

I’m also able to communicate clearly what matters and people will take charge of their own training. They will be looking around for tasks they don’t know how to do and making sure they’ve learned from people who do know.

HR is a a creative business (TG) and people respond to simple, comfortable systems leaving us with a lot less work to do.

The question of whether you need to write jobs descriptions.

My answer would that in places that change a lot, why write them?

Concentrate on

  • a clear simple contract
  • transparent orderly pay that doesn’t put the company at risk
  • managers’ skills in delegating whole tasks and coordinating teams rather than micro-managing
  • good emergency welfare budgets to help people keep their lives stable
  • sensible career structures (with planned exit strategies – like articled clerks- that benefit the employees).

We need simplicity in HR and a spotlight on trust.  We don’t need more paperwork and complication.

What do you think?

The people who came are the right people.

Whatever happens was the only things that could have happened.

Whenever it starts is the right time.

When it is over, it is over.

Open Space Technology

I first heard of Open Space Technology back in the 90’s ~ in Africa.  Yes!

Open Space Technology & Myers-Briggs

Open Space is a challenge to we ++++J types.   We are schedulers.  We want things to be right.

+++P types live like this anyway.   Schedules make their eyes glaze over.  They like to be curious and love situations where we don’t know what will unfold.

The West is generally (though not exclusively) +++J.  We value schedules.   Even when we laugh at Open Space Technology, we secretly believe it is “wrong”.

That is burden we place on ourselves.  We put in a lot of effort to deciding what is right or wrong, rather than what is.

Modern Organization Theory

Modern organization theory (in the west) is moving more and more towards open space ideas.

We hold conferences in London with the loosest of schedules.  Someone puts a sign up sheet online, organizes a venue, and provides some basic kitchen facilities.  People sign up online and pitch up.

Imagine, if you will, going to a conference in a smart part of London, dodging riot police because Tony Blair is talking about Iraq around the corner, showing up late (courtesy of the M1) and staying till 8 during which time people who didn’t know each other before they arrived but done the equivalent of 8 dissertations (all except the write up).

With minimal organization, people learn as much as they would in 6 months in a university.  Moral hazard is avoided as people fund their own basics.  No one overeats. No one gets drunk.

What is, is.  And the economic impact is enormous.

Is all Open Space Technology productive?

No it isn’t.  Sometimes I attend something which clearly does not speak to me.

But that happens far less with unconferences than with conventional formats.  Conventional formats are also far more expensive.  People stay because they have a “day off” or have to fill in a “CPD”.  They are bored.  They eat too much bad food. They get drunk.  They learn little.  They create nothing.

Can we all work in Open Space Format?

I think it is a shock to people who are not used to “being answered back”.   If I have worked long and hard to be a Professor, I take it as my due to drone on for an hour and have a few hundred people sit and (pretend to) listen.  What would I do if I have to grab an empty room, start speaking, and have people to leave when they are bored?  I wouldn’t like it at all.

It is a new game where we work with others.  It is no longer “who we are”; it is how we collaborate with those who were there.  When we have no interest in their story, we will find the event a trial.

The old guard might, I fear, never learn.  People my age repeatedly ask me: what do you get out of it?  The sub-text is why speak to someone if they cannot give you something.  The old guard are so obvious at a meetup, cruising, if not for sexual pickups, then for money.  They are very difficult to speak to as well.

Conversation is a building process.  We put something on the table.  The next person builds upon it.  When someone just wants to take something off the table – what are you supposed to do?  Keep putting things on the table?  I can’t see why that would be interesting.

This “take” mentality only works when there is a third party in the equation.  I am paid (by someone else), for example, to stand there and put tidbits on the table.  People have got into the habit of “not being present” with people in business.

So, yes, open source format might be too much for some old dogs.

Young dogs.  I am sure they need to learn to work in open source format. But they have less to unlearn.  And what they will know, is that it is what they do with me that counts.  If they think the world owes them a living, they may still find a patron who can “supp” them.  They will find it harder and harder, I think.

Today’s working environment requires them to show up, work with whomever is there, and produce something by the end of the day.  To be in the game, they should expect to produce in a day, what an individual used to produce in several months.  Working on a time model of 20% of time on one project, 4-5 months, and 3-8 people on the new team, productivity has just leapt 3x to 10x.

That’s what it is all about.  With a lot less management, angst, & overhead, we can get 3x to 10x more out of life.

The price?  That we work with who and what is there.  With no guarantees.  None.


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