flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘management in the 21st century

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?

We are right.  Oh, hold on.  We were wrong.  Completely and utterly wrong.

Have you been in a situation, say, of supporting the invasion of Iraq to destroy WMD and then finding out you were duped.  Well, let’s face it ~ finding out you were wrong.  Wrong about the evidence.  And more importantly, wrong about your certainty.

I’ll argue you that we are not grown up, not quite grown up, until we’ve experienced being utterly wrong, about the facts, their interpretion, our certainty and our right to dismiss the other side.

Yes, we were wrong to dismiss the other side.

We need to seek an apology and forgiveness but I am not going there today.

Converging ideas about new work, organization and management

Today I am getting my thoughts together about the amazing convergence of ideas in business and the current tensions between the old guard and newcomers in management.

Management theory was laid out before World War I and has been a matter of frills and extensions for 100 years.

By the turn of this, the 21st century, we had begun talking about positive organizational scholarship, distributed networked models, and yes, mytho-poetical approaches.

Believe me, these ideas are an 180 degree about turn.  Our first impulse is to say they are wrong.  And they will be wrong in parts. There is no doubt about that.  Nothing is every completely right.

Equally, just because ideas converge, does not mean they are right. Not at all.

But we have to challenge our impulse to dismiss ideas because they are unfamiliar.  If we have a scrap of intellectual honesty, we must recognize that they are inconvenient to those of us who have invested heavily in understanding old ways.

It is our job to go forward with them and turn them into working ideas, to find out their limits, and to find out their worth.

Self-esteem and Nathaniel Branden

As one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I looked up the work of Nathaniel Branden.

Branden has worked on self-esteem for 50 years.   Here is one of the touchy-feely ideas that gets rejected out-of-hand.

What struck me is that Branden has asked a question that I haven’t seen asked before and I hadn’t thought to ask.

Can modern businesses survive without people who have high self-esteem?

In times of rapid change and technological development, how can we work, except with people who believe they can cope and who believe they have a right to happiness?  Anyone who expects less is unlikely to rise to the challenge of modern day living, simply because they will accept 2nd best.

And the corollary, of course, is what happens to a company when it is staffed by people who have low self-esteem?

The empirical test for an HR Director, I think, is what happens to people when they join the organization.  Does a person with low self-esteem gradually change to become a calm, composed, assured person who is neither whiny nor dictatorial. Or does the opposite happen?

Self-esteem may be the critical competitive competence of our 21st century world

In the meantime, the world moves on.  We can be sure youngsters with high self-esteem are self-selecting environments that are healthy.

Indeed, I’ll predict that the western country that concentrates on developing wide spread self-esteem will come out best placed as we work through the financial crisis and shift of power to the East.

Enjoy.  We need to relearn our trade.  There is plenty for us to do.

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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How will social media change management?

I’ve spent much of the last two year’s pondering how management will change now we can use social media in business.  Social media, for the uninitiated means the two way read-write web.

If Boeing is going to click together aeroplanes like lego, what is the job of management?

At last, I have an answer that satisfies me. Management will not change very much at all.

What will change is that the rentier culture will get a rent – a tear that’s as vicious as wind ripping through an old sail.

Bad management just got harder

In short, bad management will increasingly get short shrift.

Let me illustrate with this example.

BNET today listed three of the America’s 3 stupidest management practices.

I’ve left their labels and added my summary in street language. You’ll recognize all of them.

Then below, I’ve added the positive behaviors that we psychologists look for in assessment centers.

Dangerous Complexity [signing off on codswallop because we think it came from an expert]

Dysfunctional Internal Competition [rewarding brown nosing rather than something useful]

Breaking-up Teams Constantly [making sure no one gets together otherwise they’ll spot we are emperors’ with no clothes]

We’ve known how to manage well for years

Even psychologists know how.  Here are three behaviors (good) psychologists look out for in an assessment centre.

1.  Did the manager summarize the situation, the group goal, and the goals for each person in the team on one side of paper, in words that every member of the team understood?

2.  No matter what the provocation (and we give some), did the manager bring the conversation back to the group goal, and the individual’s role, and explore how the task could be structured better, and more fairly?

3.  In the one page instruction, did the manager lay out a clear structure so that each member of the team is able to anticipate each others actions and, if formal ‘signals’ are not good enough, did the manager allow sufficient time and resources for them to rehearse until their actions become predictable and devoid of unpleasant surprises? (Pleasant surprises are allowed.)

Our job as managers

We do know how to manage, and we do know how to manage well.  We just get muddled up when we muddle management with “being the boss” and with profiteering.

I’ve satisfied my own mind that there is a role for Hannibal of the ‘A’ team – and that it is much the same as it has ever been:

  • Represent the team to itself
  • Coordinate when for whatever reason the team cannot coordinate directly
  • Reflect back to the team the possibilities that are emerging.

Managers in politics, church and business

It is hard to manage well.  Many of us try. Few succeed.

That is why elections are important. Imperfect as they are, elections allows us to test what our leaders think of us, to sense how the rest of the world will treat us when we push out our leaders as a symbol of our purpose, and to use the campaign to see how well we will coordinate when we act together.

Of course, in lieu of an election we could hire a psychologist. Some political parties do.  I was once asked to choose priests.  I declined. I could have done the job. I am atheist.  But I explained to the Bishop that I thought priests were chosen by God.  We must be the change we want to see in the world and organizations must be coherent.

What social media has changed in business is the value of capital.  Capital is no longer the only source of authority.  The day of one manager telling a bevy of unskilled people what to do is over.  For most of us, this is a knowledge-based world.  Authority comes from our ability to do our job.

Yet, company law has not kept up.  It will catch up, eventually.  There are some people working on it.  I understand Vermont intends to be the centre of talent-based companies, as London is (was?) of finance, and other places are of Anonymous Money.

Go get your things. We are leaving now.

We do know how to manage. We have known for a long time.   Even psychologists can watch you, rate you, and show you umpteen ways you could have done something differently.

We know how to do this.  Let’s get it done.


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