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Posts Tagged ‘management

Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician and instigator of medical residencies

Sometimes it is really hard to live mindfully. We want to reminisce, or we left the past untidy and it bothers us. Or we are are excited by future possibilities or anxious about negative side-effects.

How would we feel if we were stranded, in the great grounding of planes by volvcanoes, in a place we didn’t want to be? Most of us will fret until we have a plan.

Organize agilely and leanly

That is the secret, isn’t it? To become ‘agile’ and ‘lean’, so that each day matters for what it is.

What if we rephrased the day’s purpose “from get back home because that was my plan yesterday” to “let’s see what is possible and let’s have fun working out what my choices”.

Leadership vs management

On another channel, some of us have been lamenting the lack of leadership in British politics and the distinction between management and leadership came up, as ever.

I don’t think that leadership and management are ever far apart. We cannot manage without leadership. What looks like management is just clerical work when it is separated from judgment, moral responsibility and poetic imagination.

Leadership, when exists apart from management. probably exists because good management, happening quietly in the background, allowed us to think about what we are doing today without stressing unduly about yesterday or tomorrow.

When the world gets in a muddle, we need leadership AND management to get our heads straight again and the world orderly again so that we can give unto today our full attention.

But that is our goal – to let today be enough to absorb all our energies.

When life is out of order, to put some effort into straightening out the way we think.  Sometimes it is a trial.  But we do have to ask ourselves how much energy we waste fretting.

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

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

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

Yes, we were wrong to dismiss the other side.

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

Converging ideas about new work, organization and management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-esteem and Nathaniel Branden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metrics

Metrics are good.  They make us do something that psychologists call “operationalize”.  Operationalize isn’t some complicated Freudian notion.  It just means that we take a rather vague slippery idea and say exactly what we mean.  We don’t use “operationalize” to sort out clients who are in an emotional mess. We use it to sort out us ~ to make sure we are clear about what we want to do.

Applying the wrong metrics . . . ouch!

It’s alarming then when we look out into the world and we see people using the wrong metrics.  Often people take a technology and use it in the wrong circumstances, terribly impressed that they are generating a number but apparently unaware that the numbers they are looking  at does not match what they say they are doing, or need to be doing.  It’s doubly scaring because it is clear they haven’t simply made an error.  They have no idea about what they need to do or how to do it.  Nor, it is clear, do they understand the very ‘technology’ they are applying.

New organizations

The world is changing and we are going to need new ‘technologies’ for new situations and new metrics to define exactly what it is we are doing and how well we do it.

Choosing people to join an organization

Big organizations will still have a familiar task: choosing people to join them.

The old idea that we would match people as pegs to holes like the game we give to 1 year old’s just doesn’t wash anymore. What was designed to quickly allocate hundreds of thousands of conscripts to roles in WWI and WWII is not well suited to today’s business.

We have a ‘talent war’ now.  This means that our success depends upon know-how brought into the organization by our people. What we do and how we do it depends more on their ingenuity,creativity and judgment than our preconceived notion of what to do and not do.  After all, if we knew what to do, we  wouldn’t be hiring them as talent.  If we knew what to do, we could probably use a computer or a robot.

There are some roles still where “Mac” jobs rule.  Goody.  Just knowing that the organization runs on “mac” jobs is enough to make look for something better.  Decide the level of your product.  If it is . .  well least said.

Metrics for new selection

What is, then, the essence of selection for new organizations?  And what would be the metric.

I like the idea of assessments that are genuinely two way: in which the candidates find out about us.  Even if they choose not to join us, through that exploration they become clearer and optimistic about their opportunities.  And we become clearer about what we are doing, and the value of what we are doing because of the questions they asked and the conversation they stimulated.

My metric for new selection

Could the measure of an assessment system be the percentage of people who believe that the conversation we invited, initiated, and managed was worthwhile?

Thinking like an academic,

  • Would the opinions of the applicants be uni-dimensional, or would we have to break it up?
  • Would the applicants’ opinions of our conversations tally with our own?
  • Do good quality conversations predict good quality conversations in the future?
  • What are the features of good quality conversations and do they fit known models (such as Losada’s model of team performance)?
  • Would good quality conversations lead to increases in productivity in the units hiring?
  • Do good quality conversations lead to insights about how to negotiate the improvement of the entire supply chain?
  • Are good conversations associated with JIT labour supply?
  • Are good conversations associated with lower total costs of HR administration?

Hmm, I’ve seen this rolled out without the metrics. And I’ve seen plenty of utterly misplaced metrics.

When are we going to step up and serve the knowledge industries of the global information age?

When, o When?

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So you want to be a manager?

Harvard Professor, Gary Hamel asks “What problem was management invented to solve?”

How to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.

“What is the problem that needs solving now?”

How do you build organizations that merit the gifts of creativity and passion and initiative?”

Are we on the verge of a post-managerial society?

Many organizational designers have been asking: will we have managers of the future?  Here are some of the central dilemma.

Talent

What is the role of talent?  Is it something to be bought and profited from?  Or is what emerges from the configuration of the organization?  Are we talented because we are talented together?

What is the key concept in organizational design?

Understanding how to create organizational value by installing the right feedback loops

What is the nature of change in this century?

Purposefully and creatively experimental

How do we manage risk and not knowing the outcome of our creative experiments?

Set clear boundaries about risk.  Engender insights that minimize risk.

Gary Hamel also asks:

“How have you been trained as a business innovator? What investment has the company made in teaching you how to innovate?”

What will global organizations look like?

The Internet is making it possible to amplify and aggregate human capabilities in ways never before possible.

What is management after all?

In the discussion following his post on performance management on FastForward today, Jon Husband of Wirearchy said:

“The challenges to managing collective performance are clearly collective in nature, and involve, I think, a significant combination of individuals’ characteristics – motivations, personal skills, abilities to learn, and so on mashed together with both business processes and group dynamics and constantly changing rapid information flows, etc.

There’s a good reason for business process frameworks … those are where employees in effect engage with the whole, and what the group dynamics ultimately serve … and where the tangible things that come out are the business results.”

#1  The challenges to managing collective performance are clearly collective in nature.

#2  There’s a good reason for business process frameworks … those are where employees in effect engage with the whole, and what the group dynamics ultimately serve

#3  business process frameworks … those are where . . . the tangible things that come out are the business results.

Every first year text book in management should begin with this framework.

I wonder, Jon did you mean the group dynamics serve/precede the business process, or are created by the business process?

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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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NYtimes does well in its interview with Dr Tachi Yamada, the CEO of the Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation.  It’s worth a ten minute break to  read the words of a warm person who tells us how he leads and manages an organization and not how we should do it!

(No irony intended, of course.  I’ll be reading it again.)

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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When I was 25

When I was a young and brash 25 year old, I often dismissed people as ’45 and going nowhere”.

I expect the young of today to be equally as intolerant. And I forgive them. Our twenties are heady time.  We achieve autonomy and we reassure ourselves that we are able to take our place in the adult world.

Now I am 45

I want to honor the promise of my 25 year old self.  I think

  • We have a responsibility to the young to make opportunities for them and to allow them to make their mistakes but in non-career threatening ways.
  • We have a responsibility to create institutions where they can progressively take on larger and larger projects.
  • We have a responsibility to ensure that the young have access to information about what is worth doing and what is not. We should not allow them to spend time on speculative work that will be career-breaker and undermine their confidence for ever after.
  • We have a responsibility to espouse a vision and work towards it systematically.
  • We have a responsibility not to sulk. We are not 25 any more. We can not longer start projects with only the thought “I can, I can.”

It is our job now to bring together all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. The people. The money. The processes. The customers. The parties. The comfort when things don’t go our way.

We are 45 now. The 25 year olds are right. We aren’t going anywhere. We are gathering together all the resources we need for larger works.

Our goal had gone walkabout

On my travels, I found myself teaching systems thinking in a university which broke a large course into 25 student groups. A few people determined the curriculum and an army of people taught students who wrote a common examination.

I was shocked by the examination papers. Students rambled on tossing in whatever thoughts came to mind.

We sensibly had an interim examiners meeting and I voiced my concerns. Well, it seems that I was the one to have misunderstood the curriculum.  The curriculum designers were trying to convey the idea that there are many perspectives on any issue. They didn’t see a common goal or direction as an essential part of any system.

I am cursed with an “open mind” so I hastened to the internet to double-check and the idea has hung around my mind ever since as unfinished business does.

3 misunderstandings about system goals

I’m afraid that systems do have common goals. That is entirely the point. But it seems that this is a point that is often misunderstood.

Some people think the system’s goal is their goal

No! There are still multiple perspectives. We can add the system as a virtual person and ask what is the system’s goal! We have the boss’ goal, we have the system, goal and we have each of our goals.

Some people think there is no common goal

It is true that the organization does not have a goal. An organization cannot think! When we say that the organization’s goal is X, we must ask who says that?

But we not only want to understand the multiplicity of goals but we also want to understand how the many goals come together and how the system goal morphs in response. We cannot ignore the system goal ~ or we do as a sailor might ignore the weather ~ at our peril.

Some people think goals are constant

They are ~ for a second. Goals morph as situations change. When we ignore the dynamic quality of goals, then we get mission creep. Conditions change and if we don’t stop to think about what we want, what we all want, we find ourselves doing too much of one thing and too little of another. A mess in other words. Goals are infinitely variable.

Articulating the morphing of goals in any group is what makes a leader

A leader understand the multiplicity of goals in a community and sees how are contradictions and conflicts, agreements and alliances come together to make us what we are – how the whole comes from the parts and affects them in turn.

A leader is a person who is able to articulate this dynamic mix so that we feel supported by the whole and essential to its well being. This is a tough call when a group is determined to quarrel or terrified by its destiny. The hall mark of a leader is that he or she looks for the common ground where we all belong and keeps looking.

Facilitating the agreement is the hallmark of the greatest leaders

Helping us find that common ground is the hallmark of the greatest leaders. We often doff our caps to leaders who were in the right place at the right time. They represent what is the best about ourselves and we throw them into the limelight to remind us of who we are and where we are going. In time, we choose a new leader because our direction has changed and we need new icon on our bows.

We remember these leaders because these were times that we felt great. The greatest leaders, though, help us identify the right questions. They know how to “bound” the group. They know how to focus our attention on the question that we must answer if we are to find the way forward and the place where we feel great.

That’s why it seems as if great leaders set goals. They set a boundary which focuses our attention on question-asking.

It is not the goal that is important, but our compulsion to find out how we should reach the goal.

Colin Powell once said “Leadership is about ‘Follow Me!. Even if it is only out of curiosity.”

Leadership is the art of engaging the imagination in the search for collective answers.

The system is important. With good leadership, we accept the system as a virtual person ~ a popular virtual person who we all want to look after and please.


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