Great Individual Performance needs a Serendipitous Work Environment

We attach the label “great” to persons who achieved outlying performance in certain areas through their efforts and talents. Malcolm Gladwell has analyzed such stellar performance in his best-selling book “Outliers” (see Sources ). He found that three conditions explained a lot of an individual’s success.

The Three Conditions for Great Individual Performance

  1. Upbringing & Support: Few great persons would have been great without being raised in an education rich environment and without the support of others. Bill Gates, for example, had access to an advanced IBM computer at the age of 13, already in 1968, and his mother has been a director for IBM
  2. The 10.000 Hour rule: It takes about ten thousand hours of deliberate practice to become a world-class achiever in a particular area. Bill Gates was able to clock those 10.000 hours quite fast, due to his early exposure to computers in 1968
  3. Sheer circumstance, especially the type of selection process used to identify talent. Take elite Canadian hockey player as an example. They are disproportionally born in the first half of the calendar year, as the cut-off date to select players is the 31stof December.  Players are selected by pro teams at an early age, being born is a substantial physical advantage that turns into a career advantage just because some administrative organization set the cut-off date arbitrarily to the last day of the year.

Only the second factor, 10.000 hours of deliberate practice is fully actionable. By practicing hard, challenging ourselves every day, we might achieve greatness. That is a message that aligns well with meritocratic and protestant work ethics: It is a call to work hard.

Working hard does not help in Business

The problem is: Working hard does not always help. More exactly, the truth depends on the field where one aims to be great at. If you aim for a career in gaming, music, and sports, deliberate practice is the key to greatness. According to a 2014 study[1]deliberate practice is by far the most important factor, the factor with the strongest link between the input (deliberate practice) and career success.

But deliberate practice would not help you much less if you seek a career in education: The strength of the link between deliberate practice and success is just about a fifth of what is sports or music. Other things are just more important, presumably, the upbringing and support, which might explain why being poor is such a sticky social condition.

Plus, the relationship between deliberate practice and professional career success is even weaker. There is still this positive relationship, but it is weak, about 1/20thof the relationship in Sports and Music and one-quarter of the one between deliberate practice and Education.

Seek Advice and Show-up to a Place where Opportunity is

So, if working hard not help, are we helpless to influence our chances to become an outstanding achiever? We are not. Statistical analysis is instrumental in telling us something about average probabilities. But everyone human being is unique and can influence probabilities through actions. While changing personal performance or fortune is hard, it is by no means impossible. Working hard still counts for something, if not as much as one would think is “fair” – if judged from a moral point of view. Here is what can be done to influence the other two factors that Malcolm Gladwell come up with:

  • Upbringing & Support: It is never too late to ask for support by others, be that individuals or organizations. It requires courage and the humility to listen to advice and take it in. The ability to listen to advice is a mighty asset. How many people have you met that were impervious to any advice and went on ahead anyway? If you met that kind of people, chances are that, whatever they went after, it did not end well. Even if you are a contrarian and do your own thing anyway, knowing the challenge what you are up against is an advantage.
  • Opportunity is not as God-given as one might think. If you lock yourself up in your four walls, if you do not show up and engage with others, the number of opportunities you will discover is limited. In sociologist, self-help and spiritual literature, there is the notion of serendipity. According to the dictionary “Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a beneficial way. A random event that happens in the absence of any obvious project, which is not relevant to any present need, or in which the cause is unknown.” Serendipity cannot be forced, but it can be helped by moving into an environment “that gives luck the chance to occur.” Moving into such an environment can be a conscious step: “Luck favors the prepared mind.”[2]

p491fig3

The 4 Layers of Serendipity

Improving yourself through deliberate practice alone is unlikely to increase personal effectiveness in a business career. It helps a bit, but it is not decisive.[3] One is tempted to conclude that hard work is not critical for the advancement of a career either. But that would be pushing Malcolm Gladwell’s findings too far. After all, he explores the condition that allowed top performers to prosper in any domain, not just in business. He wasn’t out to give career advice for the ordinary business professional.

Being Effective in Business

The more relevant question is: What makes a person effective in a business context? That is a question that HR professionals ponder a lot. In order to hire the optimal candidate, HR professionals need to forecast the candidate’s success inside the organization. That is an arduous task. Personal effectiveness is very hard to measure. An excellent effort to do this measurement and forecasting in an academically sound manner has been described by Lazlo Bock, a director of HR at Google, in his book “Work Rules.”[4]The complexity of this subject does not lend itself well to generalization. But what is clear from Bock’s work is that it is not a list of characteristics that is a good predictor of success, but the results of a series of structured tests. Work sample tests deliver the best results for structured tasks with few dependencies. Cognitive ability tests, psychological tests and structured interviews, varied by the type of job, are instrumental in predicting performance for any kind of job.

There is no list of character traits that make a great coworker. There is only a list of tests that ensure that the mental abilities that are needed to succeed in an organization are there. These tests give the data points, that can be used in an elaborate hiring process that manages to weigh the data with subjective inputs from reviewers in a disciplined process.

A hallmark of a proper hiring process is that the odds that a candidate will succeed in a given organization are maximized. The tests devised by HR center around skills and cognitive abilities, as HR can only ensure that the personal endowments that a new hire brings into an organization are what is needed. But these two endowments are just a fourth of what is required for a person to succeed in an organization once hired. Based on a slightly adapted model of Malcolm Gladwell’s model, outstanding performance in a business can be pictured to be a function of:

A. The Endowments

  • Skills
  • Cognitive ability

B. The Organization

  • The richness of opportunity & support that a business provides
  • Personal motivation – as a precursor to deliberate practice, to engage and thereby investing time and personal cognitive abilities fully in the organization

C. Randomness: Sheer Circumstance

Stated this way, each person arrives in an organization with given skills and cognitive ability. These, in turn, have been determined by Gladwell’s three factors: Upbringing & support, deliberate practice and chance. But once a person enters the organization, her or his performance level will be determined by the organization. Consciously designed or not, organizational design and management practices will determine the richness of opportunity and support. And organizational design and management practices determine the ways that employees can find their personal motivation and tie that to their service of the company.

The Serendipitous, Learning Company

A company designed in such a manner can increase the odds that things happen serendipitously, as it allows its members to grow. To grow skills, to sharpen cognitive ability, to find new sources of motivation.

What is needed is an organization that is designed in a way to harness the power of growing individual capabilities. Not just a design to harness the individual capabilities that one has at a given point in time. Rather a design that recognizes the potential of human growth.

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This is what I think. What do you think?

Suggested Reading

Sources

[1]Case Western Reserve University’s assistant professor of psychology Brooke N. MacNamara and colleagues have subsequently performed a comprehensive review of 9,331 research papers about practice relating to acquiring skills. They focused specifically on 88 papers that collected and recorded data about practice times. In their paper, they note regarding the 10,000-hour rule that “This view is a frequent topic of popular-science writing,” but “we conducted a meta-analysis It found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.”

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614535810

[2]https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Louis_Pasteur

[3]Shockingly, the most important factor for professional greatness, to advance your career and yourself might be the company you joined. A company that provides you with opportunities to learn, grow and advance.

[4]Bock, Lazlo “Work Rules,” see Sources

 

My CV of Failures

Unless we try, we do not learn. But if we try, we will fail from time to time. I tried a few things in my business life which did not work out. Things that are never mentioned in any official setting. Here are what I consider to be my biggest blunders.

My CV of failures

  • 2000/2001 Not sustaining the Startup I co-founded for longer than a year
    We wanted to build a cloud solution for managing B2B contracts (Links2U.com) on marketplaces. Then the 2001 dot.com bubble burst. We were forced to earn money doing services and not building the product.  But I guess the dot.com bubble is not really to blame: Our business idea was a bit too early & a bit too academic
  • 2008/200Not being promoted to Vice President at Capgemini: Despite all my success in managing projects – my skill and interest in sales have been found wanting. I guess these observations are still correct.
  • 2011 Not getting a Culture of Experimentation going: Who is to blame for today’s sales? Always the weather! I wanted to move beyond that and use experimentation and statistics to help to guide our efforts to run our European Store network. But the methods I used didn’t stick across the organizational silos – all reverted more or less back to the status quo ante after a year. There were always other things to take care of.
  • 2014 Costly negotiation with Microsoft: In negotiating an important group-wide contract on Office365 I failed to invest enough time in building my next best alternative. The skillful negotiators on the other side saw through the veils I employed to obscure that fact. We overpaid.

Failures are embarrassing…

We all have been groomed for faultless performance. That is what schools, universities, and businesses aim for. We have, consciously or not, transferred the basic performance ethics of the machine to the human social sphere: If only everyone would do the assigned job without any fault, the organization would enjoy success. Cogs in a machine doing their jobs.

Therefore we hide failures instead of learning from them. We might reflect on failure silently but rarely choose to talk about them with other people in the organization.  For the sake of keeping our outward appearance shiny and clean, we miss out on a great learning opportunity.

..but vulnerability is a must in high-performance organizations

We fear to be vulnerable. But Vulnerability is one of the core features of truly agile, innovative, liberated organizations.  One can only truly engage with others, if it is safe to speak up and if ego is not in the way of a better solution.

Looking back, one can argue that I did not fail enough: I should have tried more often and aimed higher. I could respond to that: I did try often and aimed high, but I just had success more often than I failed. Alas, that would be a lie. Careers in traditional businesses are made more by avoiding failure than by seeking success:

A failure makes a powerful narrative that may destroy careers. A success is often not more than a statistic.

So the better, time-tested career tactic is to not try too much.

Battles not picked

A second, lesser class of failure could be those times where I might have picked a battle but did not. These are more numerous.

  • Not pushing the envelope in a major global implementation. Instead, I choose to support it but husbanded my energy.
  • Not facing up to a company crisis and help to turn around the company at all costs. Instead, I choose to cut losses and leave.
  • Not transforming a company into a fast, real-time driven business with a masterful supply chain. I weighed benefits, costs, and risks and walked away from this vision. I still deem it feasible, but not in every circumstance.
  • Not driving google cloud adoption all over the company. Instead, I choose to focus on customer demands, which might have been short-sighted.

Success lies in the skill of knowing which battle to fight, and which to avoid. I might have been clever to avoid those battles. Or not. One will never know until one tries.

Failures are Silent Evidence

I think that people should not only be described by the things they have done and succeeded. Failure is an integral part of what a person is. Failures are silent evidence. Being open about it, without “humblebragging”, might be beneficial for everyone around.

Are you willing to be vulnerable?

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This blog is about finding better ways to manage organizations in this more and more digital age.

Sources

Stop Denying Reality and Start Measuring Employee Engagement Now

Employee engagement matters. Can we agree on that? Ok, so why is your organization not measuring it?  Is it, that management is too afraid of the results? Except for ignorance, I do not know other reasons, do you? But boy is that silly! That’s all the more astonishing, as you can criticize modern management practice for much, but not for not being analytical, measuring and evaluating enough. So how on earth do most organizations neglect to measure how their arguably most important resource is utilized, the worker itself?

I can’t see any other explanation then just blank denial of reality. This fear of managers to get to know what is really going on invariably leads to:

  1. the existence of a blind spot of a managers perception at a critical point
  2. an inability to learn and improve, and
  3. a severe economic underperformance.

If you know any other reason except ignorance or fear, dear reader, let me know. Fear of results, fear of feedback, fear of transparency, fear of impotence to do something with the results, fear of sticking one head’s out and being attacked by the rest of the organization for being seen to “weak on the worker.”

Yet I dare say that in 90% or more of organizations, employee engagement is not measured in any meaningful way. And if I say meaningful, I mean actionable. In some corporations, there is the odd HR survey, which results are never seen except at senior management level and with actions that rarely go farther than more investment in “one size fits all” team building,  work-life balance initiatives, or shallow employer branding exercises. Shallow and disingenuous actions at best which only achieve one result: These shallow, token actions based on pointless surveys make workers cynical over time.

It takes guts to face reality. And it takes an even greater manager to devise actions that improve things. The timid or impotent manager should stay away from measuring employee engagement. Let me explain.

Are you sure you can sustain an opportunity-rich work environment?

Motivation is the reason for people’s actions, desires, and needs. A strong motivation is a prerequisite for people to be highly engaged. Thousands of books have been written about motivation, as it is a complex, important and even crucial feature of work and life.

There is a critical caveat, which degrades the effectiveness of all motivational exercises drastically. It’s all good and well to be motivated, but all the motivation in the world is of no use if you do not have the chance to act on it. The Count of Monte Christo, in Alexandre Dumas novel,  might have been very motivated to take revenge, alas his motivation was not actionable until he got out of his prison cell.

Motivated employees face the same problem. They might arrive at the office all fired up after a highly energizing seminar or workshop. But all their motivation is worth nothing if they are not allowed to act on it.

Motivation plus action equals engagement. Motivation is worth nothing if not connected to action. Motivation itself is useless if a person does not have the opportunity to act on the motivation.

A managers job is to supply opportunities to engage. If a manager does not feel she or he can do that, measuring engagement is not needed at all.  It is a waste of money which only produces cynicism. Being a gutsy, daring manager only does damage if not backed up by competence – and a sufficient mandate to do things differently.

The IEQ – a practical way to measure engagement

The “Inclusion and Engagement Quotient” (IEQ) has been proposed by Henri Lipmanovic and Keith Candles in their 2014 book “Liberating Structures.”  While there are many ways and surveys to measure engagement, this survey has some advantages:

  • It is simple & efficient: Just 15 questions to ask
  • It is centered on engagement in meetings, not on who people feel about their jobs
  • Because of this focus on meetings, it is easily actionable

Besides that, it is aptly named IEQ, a combination of IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), two popular ways of thinking about individual resourcefulness. It’s just a name, I know, but it is catchy.

The IEQ is based on a standard list of questions that are to be answered in an anonymous survey, for example online via SurveyMonkey or any other polling tool. Each question is given with an ordinal ranking from 1 (never) to 10 (Always).  Here is the list of questions:

IEQ+1-3IEQ+2-3

The result of this survey can be pictured in a diagram depicting the cumulative percentage of people who are engaged (Y-Axis) and the one to ten rating level (X-Axis). For a typical low engagement company the curve would look like this:

IEQ

The total level of engagement of the surveyed group of people is the integral beyond the curve, which can be expressed as a percentage of the total space beneath the curve should all employees been fully engaged at level 10. A low engagement organization might have an engagement level of 20%, while a highly engaged one might be at 80%.

IEQ2

 

But there are significant downsides of the IEQ:

  • It lacks academic foundations. Basically, it has been created by its authors with the intention to show the potential that good meetings have over traditional ones
  • It is just about meetings, not about individual job conditions, the relationship to a manager or peers, or general organizational conditions
  • Each question is quite long and requires some concentrated reading

These are significant shortcomings Let’s contrast the IEQ to the Gallup Q12 survey, the “gold standard” of engagement surveys.

Alternative: Gallup’s Employee Engagement Study

Gallup, after “30 years of in-depth research involving more than 17 million employees” has settled on 12 questions to get to the heart of employee engagement:

1. I know what is expected of me at work.
2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Like the IEQ survey, all questions are ranked on an ordinal scale and are to be answered anonymously. This, the “Q12 Survey” can be bought as a service online, directly from Gallup. The tool delivers all the neat looking graphics to illustrate the result.

Screenshot 2018-05-08 10.17.23.png

The downside of the Gallup study is that it is not very actionable. Now, Gallup would argue with that. As any fine consulting company, they have a list of proposed actions in store, for each and every point. But the thing is, it is the very holistic nature of the Gallup study that restricts its usability at work level. It gives a very good holistic view, but at the expense of specific insights into any of those categories. In other words: It serves the needs for information of the board better than the needs of the frontline manager.

Actionable vs. Holistic Survey: The Case for the IEQ

Therefore, if you are a first line manager, I suggest trying the IEQ. Its limited focus on the way the individual feels about her or his role in meetings delivers actionable results. Moreover, Meetings are where people discuss every important issue of whats going on in an organization. New, improved forms of running meetings, that result in more enagaged co-workers are a catalyst for improvement in every other field.

There are lots of other employee engagement surveys out there, provided by companies or academic institutions. To sum up, the points that I like to make is:

  1. Measure employee engagement. There is no excuse to neglect this
  2. If your company does not allow you to measure engagement or there is no chance of turning insight into action: Consider the odds of these impediments vanishing in the near future. If the odds are bad, consider quitting, as the work environment may be toxic.
  3. Use a survey that delivers actionable results. There is no point in measuring anything if learning is not followed up by actions

So do not be a wimp. Face up reality and measure employee engagement and do something meaningful with the results. 

It is true that people can be actively engaged no matter if engagement is measured or not. But it certainly casts no good light on an organization if it turns a blind eye to the question of employee engagement.

This is what I think. What do you think?

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Sources:

A Recipe for High Performance: Combine Tough Accountability & Wise Fairness​​

Do you believe in the following three sentences?

  • Hire the best people, give them clear goals, give them the authority to achieve those goals, and then you get out of their way
  • Accountability is holding someone’s feet to the fire
  • If everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible

A company is a Sociotop of performers and slackers, introverts, and extroverts, engaged and apathetic, liers and uprights.  In this wilderness you want people to be motivated and engaged. The first step is to hold any of these personality types accountable for results.

Accountability is an Individual Commitment

Accountability is a necessary condition for any form of organization to succeed. One of my all-time favorite probing questions is “Who is feeling accountable?”:

  • If no one is feeling accountable, get one. Getting someone accountable is more than just assigning accountability. The person must feel a sincere desire to live up to that accountability – the person must commit as wholeheartedly as possible
  • If no single person is feeling accountable, get one person accountable. Shared responsibility – a shared urge to achieve something- is valuable and should not be done away with. Still, if push comes to shove individual responsibility is much more powerful in most situations
  • If no one can be pinpointed to be accountable, the solution is often not to declare a critical thing that must be achieved a shared responsibility but to redefine the problem to a higher level of abstraction. Usually, this means giving out a broadly defined mission and leaving the way how the work is done to the accountable person

This is a recipe for organizational success that has been proven and proven again since time immemorial. Individual rewards and punishment are still vital, even in the digital revolution.

Making Teams Accountable

In classic organizations, that are high on hierarchy and low those structures supporting self-management, making teams accountable does not work. There is simply not enough alignment of purpose, not enough trust and relationship capital around to make shared commitments work.  Therefore, a manager and not a group is made accountable for any more significant task.
In more self-managed organizations, that have invested in the 10 Habits of Organization,  making teams accountable becomes a real option. The need for accountability does not go away, but a team pledge becomes as good as an individual pledge to perform.
Making teams instead of individuals accountable is an option, once a high level of maturity, say level 3+ on the scale of liberated organizations is achieved (see 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations).

An Accountable Environment is a Tough, Results-Oriented Environment

Holding people accountable is a tough job: Using carrots and sticks in a manner that benefits the organization, in the long run, is an art. It requires personal impartiality, empathy, and a long-term perspective.
Rewards and punishment do not need to be material (e.g., money or career progress). Often immaterial rewards and punishments work better. Even the pain of having other people let down might be significant punishment for some people. Turn up the heat by highlighting that failure through individual feedback or a team based post-mortem session. The same goes for rewards. There is power is the simple act of giving praise for good work in public.
It takes an active, engaged manager or co-worker to do the straight-talking. But that is the essence of holding people accountable. In traditional settings, managers are somewhat left to their own devices to do this. In more liberated organizations structured meeting formats (76 Agile Workouts & A Fish)  help to deliver feedback regularly, in an environment where it is ok to talk about feelings and failure.

There is No Good Alternative to Tough Accountability

I challenge you to think of any workable alternative to accountability. Taking away accountability means that you end up with two scenarios:

  • Seldom: Hippy island, campfire Comfort Zone where people have a good time, and nothing gets done
  • Most of the time: Working zombies, 9 to 5, “I am in for the money,” Apathy Zone where people have a bad time and work results are uninspiring

There is no alternative to high accountability in human groups that want to achieve something of higher value. But Accountability alone is not enough. It must be combined with Fairness, or as Edmondson puts it “psychological safety”: A climate where people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings. 
Harvard Business School Professor and psychologist Amy Edmondson sums up the zones in a matrix.
4zones.png
Tough guys, this might come as a shock to you: Psychological safety is universally recognized in the academic literature as being the most fundamental requirement of high performing teams.  It’s the number one of the 5 criteria that make a good, high performing team (see Good Managers – Good Teams: Lessons from Google).
 

Beware of Fear induced Accountability

Accountability can be created by fear.
Harsh punishment of failures, by firing, demoting or shaming persons fosters accountability, which is a good thing – is it not? People will certainly take care not to let their responsibilities slip again. This recipe for accountability has been tried successfully over thousands of years.
And no, strengthening accountability by instilling fear is not a good thing. By focussing single-mindedly on accountability  and employing the methods of fear, people will:

  • Cease to speak-up
  • Cover up failures
  • Choose unambitious, risk-free targets
  • Seek to keep in the shadows: hiding at their desks
  • Feel the emotional costs

Accountability is tough, and it needs tough actions – but fear will kill off innovations, learning, and performance.

Combine Fairness with Accountability

Instead of using fear with all its unintended collateral damage, use fairness. Fairness in the organizational, managerial context has three practical dimensions:
A. Distinguish the type of failure
A punishable offense is any failure that is not based on well-intended efforts. The more complex or experimental work-environments are, the more failure is unavoidable. Alas, with the digital revolution work is getting ever more complex and experimental. That means that failure should even be rewarded, as long as the effort was well intended. Thereby risk-taking is incentivized, a fundamental requirement for any entrepreneurial organization.
B. If faced with a failure, be proportionate 
Small failures should be embraced as opportunities to learn. Learning occurs through feedback or group reflections with the target of understanding the root cause. Some failures are just a fact of life and can’t be prevented in future, but the totality of all failures an organization makes gives it a good chance to learn and improve.
Big failures are bad. But even those should be framed as opportunities to learn. Consequences need to follow and might be harsh, but always based on the factual, cool-headed analysis of what is to be done to prevent or mitigate those in the future
The credo of iterative ways of working is powerful in that context. By working iteratively towards a target, in small increments, failure can be held small, and learning is immediate. The number of big failures can be reduced. That is the very concept of agile projects methods such as SCRUM or modern Start-up methodology (e.g.,missiles Lean Start-up).
C. Be impartial
Handling failure is always nasty for everyone involved. For a manager (or a self-managed team) this means the willingness to face the facts and dish out the hard truth in an impartial manner.

It takes courage to stand proud and upright on the deck in times of failure and crisis. But standing on the deck, you must, in order to direct the ship.  

Even in more liberated organizations, this courage is hard to summon. On the one hand, the level of trust and caring enables much more insight, but on the other hand, people are reluctant to act cool, analytically towards people known well to them.

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else. (David Brin, Author)

Yet Fairness means different things to different people. Like Truth, fairness is often a high minded concept, as Rawls has shown. In the toolset of Liberated Organizations some tools help to push things towards fairness:

  • The way feedback is given and built into daily work routines
  • The way work is transparent
  • The way meetings are run in an inclusive manner
  • The way teams are set up to resolve tensions themselves
  • The true north that a hierarchy of purpose gives each team and the whole organization

Nothing might be ever genuinely fair. But by building in management practices that implicitly foster fairness, the sense of fairness can be increased for everybody.

The Learning Zone

This is where high accountability meets high psychological safety.
A workplace is the more psychologically safe, the more a team member would agree with the following statements:

  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is dealt with constructively
  • Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues
  • People on this team sometimes do not reject others for being different
  • It is safe to take a risk on this team
  • It is not difficult to ask other members of this team for help
  • No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized

In short: A climate where people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings is one where the perceived chances of being yourself and straightforward, without being subject to negative consequences, are high.
Intellectually leaders may endorse psychological safety and the voice and participation it enables, but it is difficult to forgo the raised voices or angry expressions that signify dominance. And for the coworkers is more natural to flee into the safety of silence.
Psychological safety does not imply a cozy environment. On the contrary: Make an environment too cozy and groupthink follows and performance drops.  There is a natural tendency to end up in a comfortable environment once you encourage psychological safety. We are primed by Evolution to value warmth, trustworthiness, and morality more than competence. Evolutionary, the intents of others are more critical for survival than the other’s competence.  People with evil intends are more dangerous than incompetent humans. Still, America, you shouldn’t let a world-class incompetent get access to missiles that could destroy the world several times over…
The Learning Zone:

  • It’s safe to speak up
  • It’s safe to admit failures
  • It’s safe to ask for help
  • Every failure is framed as an opportunity for learning
  • But consequences are still tied to results, especially if the effort has not been well-intended

How to Change from one Zone of Engagement to Another

The Apathy Zone is the one dominating most companies today. With disengagement at about 85% of the workforce (according to a yearly, long-term global Gallup study) withdrawal is rampant. Whats even worth, this disengagement level is not different between work and management level: Only 15% of Managers are engaged.
4za
So what is to be done to engage workers and get them out of the Apathy zone?

  • Moving an organization towards a comfort zone does not engage anyone. It helps social well-being, but not economic results.
  • Using fear to spur people into action is much more effective. Results will come from management by the time-proven approach of management by fear. There is a human cost to this, but economic results will improve compared to apathy or comfort.
    The trouble is: The more an organization needs to use the intelligence, creativity, and willingness to experiment and improve the status-quo, the less able management by fear is able to produce positive results. Management by fear violates the fundamental foundation of high performing teams: Psychological safety.
  • The silver bullet is to use the principles of Liberated Organizations (The 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations) to get from Apathy, with low Accountability and low psychological safety, to high Accountability and high psychological safety.
    The downside is: The path towards high accountability and psychological safety is a journey. It can’t be done at once and has to be done in a process. Waypoints for this journey are the maturity levels of Liberated Organizations (see 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations)

cm.png
This is what I think. What do you think?
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Sources:

A Recipe for High Performance: Combine Tough Accountability & Wise Fairness​​

Do you believe in the following three sentences?

  • Hire the best people, give them clear goals, give them the authority to achieve those goals, and then you get out of their way
  • Accountability is holding someone’s feet to the fire
  • If everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible

A company is a Sociotop of performers and slackers, introverts, and extroverts, engaged and apathetic, liers and uprights.  In this wilderness you want people to be motivated and engaged. The first step is to hold any of these personality types accountable for results.

Accountability is an Individual Commitment

Accountability is a necessary condition for any form of organization to succeed. One of my all-time favorite probing questions is “Who is feeling accountable?”:

  • If no one is feeling accountable, get one. Getting someone accountable is more than just assigning accountability. The person must feel a sincere desire to live up to that accountability – the person must commit as wholeheartedly as possible
  • If no single person is feeling accountable, get one person accountable. Shared responsibility – a shared urge to achieve something- is valuable and should not be done away with. Still, if push comes to shove individual responsibility is much more powerful in most situations
  • If no one can be pinpointed to be accountable, the solution is often not to declare a critical thing that must be achieved a shared responsibility but to redefine the problem to a higher level of abstraction. Usually, this means giving out a broadly defined mission and leaving the way how the work is done to the accountable person

This is a recipe for organizational success that has been proven and proven again since time immemorial. Individual rewards and punishment are still vital, even in the digital revolution.

Making Teams Accountable

In classic organizations, that are high on hierarchy and low those structures supporting self-management, making teams accountable does not work. There is simply not enough alignment of purpose, not enough trust and relationship capital around to make shared commitments work.  Therefore, a manager and not a group is made accountable for any more significant task.

In more self-managed organizations, that have invested in the 10 Habits of Organization,  making teams accountable becomes a real option. The need for accountability does not go away, but a team pledge becomes as good as an individual pledge to perform.

Making teams instead of individuals accountable is an option, once a high level of maturity, say level 3+ on the scale of liberated organizations is achieved (see 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations).

An Accountable Environment is a Tough, Results-Oriented Environment

Holding people accountable is a tough job: Using carrots and sticks in a manner that benefits the organization, in the long run, is an art. It requires personal impartiality, empathy, and a long-term perspective.

Rewards and punishment do not need to be material (e.g., money or career progress). Often immaterial rewards and punishments work better. Even the pain of having other people let down might be significant punishment for some people. Turn up the heat by highlighting that failure through individual feedback or a team based post-mortem session. The same goes for rewards. There is power is the simple act of giving praise for good work in public.

It takes an active, engaged manager or co-worker to do the straight-talking. But that is the essence of holding people accountable. In traditional settings, managers are somewhat left to their own devices to do this. In more liberated organizations structured meeting formats (76 Agile Workouts & A Fish)  help to deliver feedback regularly, in an environment where it is ok to talk about feelings and failure.

There is No Good Alternative to Tough Accountability

I challenge you to think of any workable alternative to accountability. Taking away accountability means that you end up with two scenarios:

  • Seldom: Hippy island, campfire Comfort Zone where people have a good time, and nothing gets done
  • Most of the time: Working zombies, 9 to 5, “I am in for the money,” Apathy Zone where people have a bad time and work results are uninspiring

There is no alternative to high accountability in human groups that want to achieve something of higher value. But Accountability alone is not enough. It must be combined with Fairness, or as Edmondson puts it “psychological safety”: A climate where people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings. 

Harvard Business School Professor and psychologist Amy Edmondson sums up the zones in a matrix.

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Tough guys, this might come as a shock to you: Psychological safety is universally recognized in the academic literature as being the most fundamental requirement of high performing teams.  It’s the number one of the 5 criteria that make a good, high performing team (see Good Managers – Good Teams: Lessons from Google).

 

Beware of Fear induced Accountability

Accountability can be created by fear.

Harsh punishment of failures, by firing, demoting or shaming persons fosters accountability, which is a good thing – is it not? People will certainly take care not to let their responsibilities slip again. This recipe for accountability has been tried successfully over thousands of years.

And no, strengthening accountability by instilling fear is not a good thing. By focussing single-mindedly on accountability  and employing the methods of fear, people will:

  • Cease to speak-up
  • Cover up failures
  • Choose unambitious, risk-free targets
  • Seek to keep in the shadows: hiding at their desks
  • Feel the emotional costs

Accountability is tough, and it needs tough actions – but fear will kill off innovations, learning, and performance.

Combine Fairness with Accountability

Instead of using fear with all its unintended collateral damage, use fairness. Fairness in the organizational, managerial context has three practical dimensions:

A. Distinguish the type of failure

A punishable offense is any failure that is not based on well-intended efforts. The more complex or experimental work-environments are, the more failure is unavoidable. Alas, with the digital revolution work is getting ever more complex and experimental. That means that failure should even be rewarded, as long as the effort was well intended. Thereby risk-taking is incentivized, a fundamental requirement for any entrepreneurial organization.

B. If faced with a failure, be proportionate 

Small failures should be embraced as opportunities to learn. Learning occurs through feedback or group reflections with the target of understanding the root cause. Some failures are just a fact of life and can’t be prevented in future, but the totality of all failures an organization makes gives it a good chance to learn and improve.

Big failures are bad. But even those should be framed as opportunities to learn. Consequences need to follow and might be harsh, but always based on the factual, cool-headed analysis of what is to be done to prevent or mitigate those in the future

The credo of iterative ways of working is powerful in that context. By working iteratively towards a target, in small increments, failure can be held small, and learning is immediate. The number of big failures can be reduced. That is the very concept of agile projects methods such as SCRUM or modern Start-up methodology (e.g.,missiles Lean Start-up).

C. Be impartial

Handling failure is always nasty for everyone involved. For a manager (or a self-managed team) this means the willingness to face the facts and dish out the hard truth in an impartial manner.

It takes courage to stand proud and upright on the deck in times of failure and crisis. But standing on the deck, you must, in order to direct the ship.  

Even in more liberated organizations, this courage is hard to summon. On the one hand, the level of trust and caring enables much more insight, but on the other hand, people are reluctant to act cool, analytically towards people known well to them.

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else. (David Brin, Author)

Yet Fairness means different things to different people. Like Truth, fairness is often a high minded concept, as Rawls has shown. In the toolset of Liberated Organizations some tools help to push things towards fairness:

  • The way feedback is given and built into daily work routines
  • The way work is transparent
  • The way meetings are run in an inclusive manner
  • The way teams are set up to resolve tensions themselves
  • The true north that a hierarchy of purpose gives each team and the whole organization

Nothing might be ever genuinely fair. But by building in management practices that implicitly foster fairness, the sense of fairness can be increased for everybody.

The Learning Zone

This is where high accountability meets high psychological safety.

A workplace is the more psychologically safe, the more a team member would agree with the following statements:

  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is dealt with constructively
  • Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues
  • People on this team sometimes do not reject others for being different
  • It is safe to take a risk on this team
  • It is not difficult to ask other members of this team for help
  • No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized

In short: A climate where people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings is one where the perceived chances of being yourself and straightforward, without being subject to negative consequences, are high.

Intellectually leaders may endorse psychological safety and the voice and participation it enables, but it is difficult to forgo the raised voices or angry expressions that signify dominance. And for the coworkers is more natural to flee into the safety of silence.

Psychological safety does not imply a cozy environment. On the contrary: Make an environment too cozy and groupthink follows and performance drops.  There is a natural tendency to end up in a comfortable environment once you encourage psychological safety. We are primed by Evolution to value warmth, trustworthiness, and morality more than competence. Evolutionary, the intents of others are more critical for survival than the other’s competence.  People with evil intends are more dangerous than incompetent humans. Still, America, you shouldn’t let a world-class incompetent get access to missiles that could destroy the world several times over…

The Learning Zone:

  • It’s safe to speak up
  • It’s safe to admit failures
  • It’s safe to ask for help
  • Every failure is framed as an opportunity for learning
  • But consequences are still tied to results, especially if the effort has not been well-intended

How to Change from one Zone of Engagement to Another

The Apathy Zone is the one dominating most companies today. With disengagement at about 85% of the workforce (according to a yearly, long-term global Gallup study) withdrawal is rampant. Whats even worth, this disengagement level is not different between work and management level: Only 15% of Managers are engaged.

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So what is to be done to engage workers and get them out of the Apathy zone?

  • Moving an organization towards a comfort zone does not engage anyone. It helps social well-being, but not economic results.
  • Using fear to spur people into action is much more effective. Results will come from management by the time-proven approach of management by fear. There is a human cost to this, but economic results will improve compared to apathy or comfort.
    The trouble is: The more an organization needs to use the intelligence, creativity, and willingness to experiment and improve the status-quo, the less able management by fear is able to produce positive results. Management by fear violates the fundamental foundation of high performing teams: Psychological safety.
  • The silver bullet is to use the principles of Liberated Organizations (The 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations) to get from Apathy, with low Accountability and low psychological safety, to high Accountability and high psychological safety.
    The downside is: The path towards high accountability and psychological safety is a journey. It can’t be done at once and has to be done in a process. Waypoints for this journey are the maturity levels of Liberated Organizations (see 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations)

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This is what I think. What do you think?

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Sources:

Can Agile, Liberated Organizations Succeed in Overturning the Status Quo?

To be an idealist is a great asset to the world as it takes a non-conformist to change the world. But the graveyard is full of – mostly young – idealists whose ideas fell victim to the harsh realities of the status quo they were (naively) trying to change.

The whole Agile Movement is an idealistic movement. A movement of smart people who want to change the way people collaborate into a more liberated, engaging and fundamentally more humane way. In this effort, the Agile Movement has much better chances to succeed than many other idealistic endeavors, as it appeals to the profit motive that is so predominant in today’s business world. The obvious success of Silicon Valley and those liberated ways of working provide companies with a justification to try those high minded agile management practices. In other words: The profit motive is a strong reason to embrace Agile.

But still, the odds are steep, and the fight will be one for generations. Let me explain why.

Being a Great Company is Optional

Peter Drucker listed the three things that a company really needs to be great.

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A company can only exist if it serves a customer need by supplying a product.  This is mandatory. In contrast to this, having a great company culture is helpful but not required to build products, good economic results or to simply survive as a company in the long run:

  • A company may survive quite comfortably for a long time if the competition is as badly organized as it is
  • A great culture improves the odds of building a great product, but you might end up with a great product just by chance even with a mediocre culture
  • The law of high numbers is at work here – provided that many try, some will get lucky

According to economic theory, competition will come in the long run and uproot the underperforming companies, simply because there is a profit to be made. This might be what is happening today in the digital revolution, but this process takes time.

The Status Quo is far from abdicating

Agile or Liberated companies (as I prefer to call them) have great working cultures. They are, therefore, systematically more likely to achieve great results than companies running a command and control model. But is that enough to win against the status quo en masse? Here are some reasons why the command and control paradigm might still win:

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  • More and more Start-ups are sold directly to corporate investors. Mostly, they become a part of the established way of doing business thereafter
  • Every generation, even the youngest, is still primed for command and control. The Education system is still built on conformity to hierarchical norms
  • The economy gets more and more geared towards monopolies or oligopolies. It is the very nature of the platform and digital economy that the winner takes all benefits (e.g. Amazon, Google, Facebook). By their very nature, the dominant strategy for monopolies and oligopolies is to exploit their customer, as this is a much safer way to compete than risky innovation
  • Income inequality and the rise of the new right in global politics (e.g. Trump, Brexit) and of autocratic leaders (Erdogan, Orban, Al-Sissi, Putin) will not leave economic structures of the companies unaffected. With the suppression of free speech in the political realm, facts becoming optional alternative facts and filter bubbles companies will not be able to hold a space for truthful and open speech, two core pillars of liberated companies in jeopardy
  • The prevailing mindset today is that of shareholder value, which is centered on making profits no matter what while still being legally compliant. With Liberation, managers got to pick up a trick: In order to achieve profits, it is better to approach the profit target indirectly,  obliquely: Do not go directly for the Sale or the cost cutting but manage by values. Sales and efficiency will follow.

In total: Not a pretty picture- the Imperial forces are strong, young padawan.

What can be Done?

The most often heard criticism of Liberated Companies is that it takes an enlightened benevolent dictator for it to succeed. A leader who holds the space for the values of the Agile Manifesto, for the 10 Habits of Liberated Companies and who allows people to implement Agile management practices.

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That kind of leader is hard to find. Plus, an organization running on liberal principles is inherently unstable, once its top leader changes (or changed her mind). This instability is even greater in Liberated Companies than in Command & Control Companies. Things like trust, open speech and individual autonomy and freedom to act are very fragile things, time-consuming to grow and very easily destroyed. In contrast to this, command and control organizations are much more stable: Everyone knows the rules, the direction might change with a new leader but the way work is done is almost never changing to a significant extent. People might need to learn a new trick to please their superior, yes. But not much more.

As long as there are private property rights, people remain entitled to run their companies (or delegate running their companies) the way they or the stock market wants. This won’t change over a foreseeable period.

Hold the space, young Padawan

Let me explain why I still think that liberation is worthwhile:

  • Every period of Liberation is likely to produce superior economic results
  • Everyone involved in a Liberated Organization picks up skills and mindsets, that will make it easier to work on a higher level for her at any point in time in the future
  • With every agile practice the DNA, the organizational memory of the Organization, evolves. A part of this DNA might become inactive for a time, but it can be reactivated

Meanwhile, we Corporate Rebels, Management 3.0 enthusiasts or Holacracy champions, need to work on achieving a tipping point. There definitely is momentum for Liberation within even the conventional business community, and the Liberation movement is getting at least nearer to a Tipping point:

  • There are more and more important multipliers embracing the values of Liberated Organizations, like for example Management Thinker Gary Hamel or Microsofts CEO Satya Nadella.
  • The staying power of the leading figures (e.g. Brian J. Robertson, Jurgen Appelo or Frederick Laloux) is strong and their number of energized followers is expanding
  • Liberated Organizations have all the hallmarks that deliver a deep sense of motivation to individuals: Innovation, Self-Fulfillment, Human Betterment and even Profits and Efficiency – what a package!

This package might feel too good to be true. But many inventions made people feel that way. Liberated Organizations are a social invention. Social inventions take more time than technical inventions to take root. But it might propel humans to new heights by enabling humanity to use our collective intelligence more systematically than ever before.

So young Padawan: Hold the space.  Embrace an Agile Mindset. Fill organizations with the 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations. Management Practice by Management Practice.

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This what I think. What do you think?

Sources:

Let a Thousand Nerds Blossom!

Granted, liberating companies is the way to go in this Digital Age. For-profit, for innovation, for resilience, for the liberation of people – whatever – pick your motive. But how to pull off the Liberation? I think you need to weave your revolutionary tapestry of actions using 6 steps.

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Step 1: Plan & Adjust

The target is to build a high-performance organization, one that lets people engage and brings out their talents for the benefit of the organization and themselves.

The first step is to plan out this journey. I suggest planning on three levels: Mindsets, Habits, and Practices.

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You start with describing the Mindset the organization should show, according to the situation the business is in and where it (probably) needs to go. Next, you break these high-level mindsets down into a list of principles. A principle is a basic idea or rule that explains or controls how something happens or works. While coming up with principles, you will need to address each of the ten habits of liberated organizations and determine where your organization will take a stand, as explained in The 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations.

The third step is a bit easier, as it is more analytical: Choose the first set of liberated Management Practices that are by the principles. By practicing these new ways of engaging people, the organization and will work itself into a new mindset.

A word of caution: Do not copy any existing approach: Creating a learning organization requires building an agile mindset which can only be learned step by step. If you choose to copy an approach, chances are you, and your organization won’t be ready enough to sustain it.

By embracing new, agile, liberated management practices the final goal is not the practice. These will change and morph. All practices are just a way to create an agile mindset. Gaining a Growth Mindset is what a Learning organization is all about.

The important thing is:

  • Plan for the Mindset and the Principles you think your organization needs to embrace
  • Then, choose the first set of Liberated Management Practices that support those Principles and Mindset
  • Try out and implement those Liberated Management Practices.

Do not approach the new mindset directly, like a traditional change management effort would.

Instead, approach it from an oblique angle: An organization will work itself into a new mindset over time

 

Step 2: What to Liberate (next)?

Start with what you have and let it grow.  The “Capability Maturity Matrix for Liberated Organizations” might provide you with some orientation.

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Pick any of these dimensions or combinations as your next target. Then, pick some concrete Agile Practices to make the make the transformation tangible.

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Step 3: Decide on the Angle of Attack

Now that you know what to liberate, determine how to do that. Typically, in best piece by piece”elephant-eating” manner, some parts or practices of organizations go first, while others continue to operate as before.

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You may choose to approach the liberation from multiple angles. For example by selecting a unit that advances in their management practices, while the whole organization is just trying out – for instance -new ways of meeting or delegating. Or you might set up a community of interest who act as change agents in whatever parts of the organizations they happen to be, and let them conduct experiments of their own choosing. Every approach is valid, every combination can be helpful, according to local circumstances. To know more, have a look at Joost Minaars Post on Corporate Rebels.

But do yourself a favor and choose units or practices that face off to customers. These might be external or internal customers, it doesn’t matter. By making the Liberation outward looking you will achieve:

  • Much more significant business impacts, as most value is created on the interface with customers
  • much more sticky results, as chances are that the customer will like what the new way to collaborate
  • that the Liberation initiative has a lower chance to bog down and degenerate into just another corporate meta-exercise: Well meant, but not crucial. The Management fad du jour that may be ignored.

Step 4: Establish a clear Schwerpunkt

Now that you know what and where to attack, muster your forces and concentrate them with explicit focal attention on the point of decision. In other words, don’t do a bit of all, instead do a few things that really matter, decisively.

What is decisive in a Liberation? Well, as in any other Revolution it is getting to the Tipping point: Making people stand up for the new status and sweep away the status quo. Create a momentum that makes the Liberation self-sustaining. Luckily, Malcolm Gladwell as some advice for this.

tipping

Here is some guideline how to set a Schwerpunkt in an organizational transformation:

  1. Set the Schwerpunkt where decisive results can be expected. The stronger the business need or historical trend or chance, the better.
  2. Do not try to energize any groups with more than 150 people. The more anonymous the team gets – and it empirically research that people can not make that more than 150 somewhat meaningful relations –  the more energy will dissipate into the realm of corporate entropy. Keep the target population small, and the social dynamic will drive the change effort forward.
  3. Gather and keep a close circle of change agents nearby you. Focus your attention (and time!) on these promoters. Most valuable are people that are adept at connecting people with one another (“Connectors”), people that facilitate solutions (“Mavens”) and people adapt in convincing others (“Salesman”)
  4. Do whatever you choose to liberate in a high-quality fashion that captures hearts and minds of people. If working in the new liberated way creates new perspectives and experiences people will wake up, be energized and become promoters of the liberation effort themselves

Seeing the liberation as an exercise to create a “tipping point” is important. Other, more traditional change management practices won’t help much. After all, it’s a social movement that needs to strive towards these new ways to run a company. There are no things like command, control or cozying up to please the boss. Agile practices will always fail if it fails to capture hearts and minds of people. Agile is, at its core, a mindset

Step 5: Coordinate your Forces

These days KANBAN is used to track all kind of things in the Lean or Agile Community. So why not using it to coordinate the evolution of Management practices. I developed such a board for a typical, traditionally run company.

  • Only Management practices are shown on this board. This includes Leadership practices and some HR practices (Development, Hiring) as well as some systems which main intent is to coordinate work (mostly Workflow Systems)
  • Each Card on the board shows one managerial practice. There can be some overlap between practices, as the components of the realm of management are not as simple to define. It is rather impossible to have practices defined in a mutually exclusive or a collectively exhaustive manner. Do not crazy in over defining. Embrace ambiguity instead.
  • Each column indicates which state a management practice is in. On this board, it’s either part of the organizational DNA or a new initiative which is somewhere on the horizon or something in the implementation

A Company Board of Managerial Practices

Have a look at an example. Maybe the kind of organizational DNA that this (actual) company has sounds similar to your (traditional) organization.

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As I worked to fill the board, I struggled to come up with new management initiatives that are currently being tried in this sample organization. It is actually quite shocking that nothing much is going on regarding new or revised management practices. Isn’t the digital revolution out there? Isn’t it time to raise hell and get the f..ck going with changing management and leadership practices? So why are so few things to be listed in the two leftmost columns?

I think the reason is that this company, and others, are first of all way to static in general (a result of the formalistic hierarchy) and second, companies tend to work on the wrong things. Lots of people still believe that digitalization is about fancy new IT Systems, so they are working on those, with lots of people and lots of time.  I think there are two reasons for this:

  1. To mistake Digitalization for IT is an easily understandable misperception. The deeper workings of Digitalization,i.e., experimenting, accelerating, making sense out of data, allowing failure, let a thousand Nerds blossom, sense-making which re-engages workers to the cause of the customer
  2. By spending all this money on Systems and Business Processes, no one is really threatened. The Internal hierarchy stays all the same. Noone needs to shift her or his mind to the digital age. Noone needs to change behaviors. Spending money is easy. Shifting Worldviews and Habits are hard.

But you know what? Revolutions are tough. And the Revolution is here and real. Now. So better get going.

Liberation Board

Here is what a Liberation Board for a progressive company could look like. This company does the hard but vital stuff and changes its managerial practices and (thereby) mindsets. This board is not based on a waterfall view of transformation (e.g., Plan, Implement, Operate), but on an evolutionary view of the company and its managerial practices: Practices are experimented with, modified until shelved or proven and then scaled.

libboard.pngBy viewing managerial practices as evolutionary results that may stay, change or die according to the needs of an organization, the organization is transforming on its deepest level. The level that governs the relations between all people in the organization and its customers, too.

Any evolutionary learning model can be used for this. Kata‘s, the Deming PDCA Cycle or the OODA Loop. Personally, I favor that the OODA loop. The ODODA loop has been invented by John Boyd, a trainer of elite fighter pilots in the US Top Gun Program. And that alone makes it makes it my favorite. Deming (PDCA) and Taichii Ohno (Kata) were engineers. Nothing against engineers, but to pull off a corporate revolution, I am going with the fighter pilot.

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To learn more about the OODA loops origin, check out Taylor Pearsons Post.

Picturing the transformation on a Kanban Board has many advantages:

  • It visualizes status and progress
  • It communicates who is working on what
  • People can choose to volunteer to experiment or scale with this or that initiative. They do not necessarily need to be assigned
  • It helps to keep the number of changes (the WIP “Work in progress” under control)

Last, not least it spells out the organizational DNA explicitly. Of course, this requires a lot of openness, which is tough, as it lays open the hard assumptions that managers have about people: Tell me how you manage people, and I tell you what your attitude you have about them.

If a company is just beginning its journey towards liberation, there will be the natural and tactful tendency to sugarcoat things. After all, some kind of consensus needs to be built about the transformation of the company to a liberated model or organizing. You got to start somewhere, over time trust and openness, even when it comes to talking about weaknesses and vulnerabilities, will increase.

Step 6: Set-up Overwatch

The Liberation effort needs to be organized with a team driving it, and informed and active agents in the organization.

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Prepare

The first step is to prepare the cut-over, by deciding on the rationale and the scope of the overall liberation effort. Steps 1 to 6 of this post provide a good guideline for this.

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Second, all colleagues need to be involved. They need to understand that they, from now on and more and more, are invited to work in a different, more liberated manner. To list the current management practices is a good starting point.

Next, make clear what the limits are. Some practices like negotiating salaries or significant investment decisions might not be on the list of practices to liberate. Designate the practices that may be liberated if people choose to do so.

Not only the choice which practices to liberate is up to the colleagues. They need to have a say if a unit wants to transform certain or any management practices at all.  Pushing down management practices on people is likely to be counterproductive: Enforced liberation is tyranny. People need to actively opt for liberated practices.

Start

After co-workers have understood the intention of the Liberation effort and their unusual strong say in this effort, compared with all other conventional corporate change initiatives, it is time to try out different liberated management practices. By doing this, people and the organizational units work themselves into new behaviors and mindsets. As a result of this, people start to experiment with more advanced practices and pull those inside the organization, too. A positive feedback loop will drive the revolution forward.

To have a dedicated transit team, that supports the rest of the organization in this, is very useful here. On the tool side, the Liberation KANBAN Board can be helpful in planning, monitoring and coordinating the effort.

Scale

To scale liberated management practices is unlike traditional scaling methods. Traditionally a standard is set for, let’s say the way a store operates or an IT system works. This standard “Template” of processes and systems is then trained and imposed on an increasing number of stores or business units. There is not much of a say that the targets of “Roll-outs” have.

To become a more liberated company by imposing things won’t work. Scaling liberated practices means to offer colleagues to come forward and drive things. It is an offer, that can be turned down. Naturally, there will be some units or groups of people who actively pull in new practices. If those are better than the old management practices, the chances are that more reluctant units will follow. This process might take months or even years, depending on the size of the company.

Develop

The final stage is not a static one. It is one where the company keeps on adapting to changing customer needs and the business environment. It is forever evolving through implicit or explicit experimentation (using, for example, the OODA Loop). It is forever seeking to learn and improve.

Let Thousands Nerds Blossom

The last sentence sounds like an incredibly high aspiration. But I am not saying that the company will forever optimize itself and find a new optimal state with every challenge thrown at it. That would be unrealistic since social forms of collaboration have a certain degree of stickiness, too. They won’t always be optimal. In many cases, they will just muddle through, just like hierarchies do.

But with the right degree of stewardship, a servant leader, a Gardner- like attitude to leadership, a lot of trust, that lets everyone open up and speak up, liberated companies will be much better positioned to deliver better business results in an ever-changing world.

After all, evolution is all about survival of the fittest. Dinosaurs had there time until some nimbler competitors took over. In a digital, knowledge-driven economy we need liberated organizations that let “A thousand Nerds blossom”.

This is what I think. What do you think?

Sources

 

The 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations

I must confess. I am a Nerd. A special type of Nerd. I am a Nerd in Organizations. I am captivated by the way organizations work, by the ways humans arrange themselves to collaborate with one another.

Like every Nerd, I think that my thing, “Organizing”, is the most important thing in the world. Let me explain why.

Like so many boys I liked adventures. While playing, listening, reading, or just imagining there were so many adventures to be found, everywhere. The biggest ones to me were the stories of conquest and mortal peril: The Legions of Caesar, Pirates, Prussia, the Byzantine Empire, Genghis Khans Hordes, Japanese Senguko Jidai or the two world wars – all stories. Or the epic business stories of the East India Companies, Apple, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, etc.

That fascination stayed with me until now. It just metamorphosed from a boyish adoration of heroes to a quest to understand the inner workings of the organizations.  After all, most great people could not achieve anything without great organization and management.

That’s why I want to share with you what I call the “10 Habits of Organization”. It took me 48 years, a couple of hundred books and a lot of reflection to identify them.

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A word about naming: Please not that I alternatively rfer to the “10 Habits” as “10 Wonders”, too.

I. The Habit of True North

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.13.06.pngSome think the power of a unifying vision lies in being a great motivator. I disagree. The motivational aspect of share vision is not what is really important in an organizational context. For organizations, the coordinating aspect of a vision has far greater usefulness.

Motivation is a fickle thing, as humans are fickle. Most of us can’t be Mother Theresa all the time. But if we fall on hard times and got to make difficult choices, a vision will help. Moreover, the vision will help us to predict how others in the organization will act.

There is the illusion that a monolithic vision of a company will suffice: The one sentence like Facebooks “connect the world” or Googles “organizing worlds information”. But it is much more important to break down the vision so that every unit has a purpose so that an organization becomes a purpose-driven organization:

The Habit of True North: A hierarchy of purpose helps to replace a hierarchy of coercion.

Yet most organizations neglect visions and thereby relegate themselves to “just another place to earn money.” A pity, as it prevents people from bringing out the best version of themselves.

Working on a vision is hard, and it needs to start at the top. It takes a disciplined visionary at the helm of the organization – a combination seldom found.

II. The Habit of Caring

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.15.20.pngThe deeper we dig in us, the more we know that everything that matters is what we do for others. This is no sentimental sentence of a Gutmensch (do-gooder), this is an empirical fact according to worlds longest running study performed at Harvard University.

The Habit of Caring: Give people something to care of, and they will care.

Give everyone a clear line of sight to the customer – no matter if external or internal customers. Give each individual the chance to make someone else happy.

III. The Habit of Teams

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.16.07.pngPsychology and Neuronal science have shown again and again how fallible the individual human mind is. Every one of us is so blinded by his senses, prejudges, moods, attitudes and the very mechanics of his brain. There is no way around that, no matter how hard we try.

But if we engage in open, mindful exchange with others and allow us and others to reflect, the team can produce results that far and reliably outstrip the results that anyone alone can do.

We are, especially in the western world, so enamored with the narratives of the lonesome hero, that we tend to trust individuals more to do great things than we trust teams -despite all empirical evidence.

The Habit of Teams: Truely united teams are the nucleus of high performance

The conventional management hierarchy fails to produce high performing teams. It does so systematically, as autocratic structures foster fear and dependence – which are poisonous to a teams performance.

But wait: More Teams means more meetings, right? Most of us hate meetings: A waste of time. But we might fail to realize that all that tedious meetings are just a symptom of the failure to lay the foundations of successful teamwork. Some of those foundations are trust, deep relationships, shared missions and a structured meeting format which allows everyone to participate and open up – not just the talkative ones.

Indeed, good teams will have fewer meetings, as they do not require them: They achieve their coordination by more personal, shorter and more meaningful exchange.

IV. The Habit of People

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.16.41.pngSince the eradication of slavery, the right of every adult to make her or his own decisions is right, front and center of our global culture. We trust individuals to make the right decisions every time, no matter if the individual takes up sky-diving or purchases a house for hundred thousand dollars, or opt for a facial tattoo. Go ahead, you are the master of your own fate!

But since the abolishment of the medieval menial service of farm hands, achieved in the industrial revolution, there remain basically two areas where humans are not trusted to make the right decisions. In the education system, and in companies people are subordinated to other persons. In exchange for regular pay, employees forego their right to make their own decisions.

This is, of course, an advance from slavery and menial labor, but still, people are not welcomed as adults in a company. With the signature of their work contracts, people enter organizations as kids, not as adults. Bosses can order people around like they are kids. And as kids employees try to please their parents, even if it means bending the truth.

Having a good “parent” in business is fantastic, but much rarer than in families. After all, the connecting tie is not one of blood but one based on an economic relationship between superior and subordinate. Cold hearted exploitation is often the result.

The Habit of People: Treat people like adults, and they will start to make adult decisions.

It’s not easy, but even in hierarchical organizations there are techniques to do that, see, e.g. 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations.

V. The Habit of Freedom

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.17.19.pngRules and Policies stifle innovation. They restrict the freedom to act so much, that organizations may fall into sclerosis by entangling everyone in the organization in a byzantine web of bureaucracy.

It is as simple as that: Most company rules punish everyone for the misbehavior of the few. The more rules there are, the more loopholes there are, the more apparatchiks will prosper, and the less entrepreneurial an organization will be- but an Enterprise without Entrepreneurs in it should be a contradiction in terms.

The Habit of Freedom: If you want your company to fly, don’t lock everyone up in secure boxes.

Do not make a mistake to equate a company with a minimal number of rules to an Anarchy: As long as there is discipline, grown trust and shared values, the organization will be functional and innovative. Not just functional, as most hierarchies are.

VI. The Habit of Seeing

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.18.49.pngTake a step back and look at an organization. What do you see?

  • An Organization Chart showing a lot of boxes
  • People working in predefined jobs, doing their duty
  • Offices where people labor on their assigned tasks

This is all good and well for the industrial age, where work can be neatly parceled out to employees by all-knowing superiors. Efficiency dictated that the amount of information available to an employee is determined by what the employee needs to fulfill a job. To give more information was simply uneconomical.

The Habit of Seeing: Everything there is to know beats all you need to know.

Nowadays, in complex, ever-changing environments it’s more and more unclear what an employee needs to know to do a job. Even more important, research has shown time and again that good teamwork can only happen in an environment of mutual trust. Transparency, the pervasive availability of information to anyone, is creating trust, it is enabling decentralization of control and is enabling learning.

VII. The Habit of Learning

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.18.02Learning is the only sustainable competitive advantage there is. By now, this piece of wisdom might feel rather stale. So many companies have tried to become a “learning” organization – and so many failed.

Robert Kegan, a Harvard psychologist, and organizational researcher argues that much of these failures can be attributed to our lack of understanding of learning:

  • Learning happens not before or after the action, but primarily during the action
  • If we put feedback loops into every day to day activities, in an environment built on trust and openness, people will learn
  • Managers have to master pedagogy (techniques how to teach) and have a curriculum (whats useful to learn) in mind

The Habit of Learning: Saturate an organization with opportunities to learn and it will learn

People will not learn because they should. Some will want to learn. Other simply can’t avoid learning if nested in an organization where learning opportunity is abundant and embedded in every activity that they do.

VIII. The Habit of Gardening

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.19.18.pngDuring the last 100 or years, most managers have been thinking about themselves as problem solvers, with a heavy streak of day to day, “street-wise” (pragmatic), troubleshooting.

In a fast-moving, knowledge-driven economy, this self-view is fundamentally outdated. Now, decisions need to be made at the location of highest competence. They need to be made fast, on the spot. Therefore, a manager becomes both the designer of an organization and its caretaker and is less involved in the day to day actions.

In the words of Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO (which arguably is worlds most innovative organization): A Manager needs to become a Gardner.

The Habit of Gardening: Tend to an organization: Seed, water and protect it- and it will blossom.

Well, that’s a huge shift. From an all-knowing, often micro-managing decision maker to a Gardner that steps aside and lets ideas, people and finally business performance blossom. Many Managers won’t be able to do this shift, despite all evidence that the age of the servant leader has begun.

But do not mistake this for a green utopia. A Gardner arranges his garden for a purpose, and he cuts back rigorously if need be.

IX. The Habit of Exploration

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.20.48.pngIn today’s knowledge-driven economy, there is so much knowledge inside co-workers and so much data to be analyzed. Basically, making ever new hypothesis, trying out things, reflecting, revising the hypothesis and experimenting, again and again, becomes a core individual working technique rather than a high profile exercise of research teams.

Today, we are all explorers who try new things and are rewarded by our efforts. Just look at the way you are working on your smartphone. Chances are that the more you invest in getting to know its capabilities, the more personal utility you derive from the device. The quickest way to learn is to watch others and imitate their way of doing, for example, calling a taxi via uber or solving a tricky excel problem by finding a youtube tutorial.

Like it or not, we are all already explorers in today’s vast worlds of knowledge.

The Habit of Exploration: In a knowledge economy, everyone is an explorer.

The more everyone is stepping out of his daily work, explores, and brings home new nuggets of knowledge that are put to work in the local context, the better business performance will be.

X. The Habit of Practice

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.21.11.pngThe new, modern organization is a journey, not a destination. The speed of the journey will be determined by the quality of the practice. Willy-nilly adoption of this or that practice won’t achieve anything. What is called for is:

  • Deliberate practice
  • Encouragement to experiment & tolerance for failure
  • Iterative ways of working in small increments, in forever self-correcting feedback loops

The Habit of Practice: Organization is a journey that will go nowhere without value driven discipline.

Moreover, an Engineer-like (or should I rather say “Gardner-like”?) self-restraint in doing one thing after another without losing sight of the big picture. There is no point in expecting everyone to perform at stellar champions league level all of a sudden. It takes practice, blood, sweat, and tears to built great organizations.

But the discipline does not lie in slavishly following a method. The discipline must be in following the agile mindset and the values described in the 10 Habits.

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How to start

Seldom an organization will be able to follow all Habits of Organization. I suggest starting with aquiring at least one habit, as the benefits are immediate. Just pick one, any of the ten will do.

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Experience shows that work on the other habits will follow in due course: Go forward and allow – for example – more transparency and trust will likely increase, enabling more delegation and more autonomy.

I will elaborate how to start liberating in a later post. For now, have a look at 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations.

A Wonder to Awe the World

There are few things that are more worth aspring to then to liberate people. Still,  the way we organize work today is build on – often mindless- subordination. This is one of the last left-over of the feudal and industrial age.

I think it’s time to move past that, by using the tail-wind of the digital age: The Economic results of Liberated Organizations are simply superior.

It all comes down to this: It makes a huge difference weather you just show up at work or you really engage in it.

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This is what I think. What do you think?

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Special thanks to Sketch Note Artist Yasmin Cordes of Sketchworks. I met Yvonne last year at Re:Publica in Berlin and she ventured her help in visualizing the concept. A pleasure to work with you, Yvonne!

The Liberated Organizations Canvas – A workshop tool to sketch directions for aspiring builders of wonderful Organizations

liberatedCanvas.png

Sources:

 

 

 

Management Debt and Organizational Entropy

Do you know the fundamental value proposition of Organizational Research? This value proposition is the very reason why theoretical and empirical research in this field is done at all, why a record number of business books are published today, why magazines like Harvard Business Review exist:

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A simple as it is, this statement stayed with me for all these years. How many organizations have you seen, that are “historically grown” or outright dysfunctional instead of being planned? How many managers did you ever meet who where just administering their areas, without ever conjuring up the willpower or taking the risk to better things, to even try to sketch out a better state for their organization? Chances are, you met a lot of those.

“A planned state of an organization is more effective than an unplanned one”: This statement is a call to action, that sends you on a never-ending mission to think ahead and try things. For me, it’s a call to have a mission, to be one step ahead. To continually hone your organization.

Granted, it’s not as bold as Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg “Move fast and break things” motto. It’s more down to earth. Coming from Jürgen Hauschildt, who has been a renowned professor within the German-speaking countries, it carries special weight for me. Mr. Hauschildt specialized in “Innovation Management,” wrote a highly successful book on that subject which is with its 6th edition still in distribution today. Mr. Hauschildt was a significant proponent of empirical organizational research. He accepted no truth, just because it was theoretically plausible, everything had to be tested with hypothesis, experiments, tests and statistical analysis until proven.

Of course, that’s just basic science. But as most business books, especially the successful ones, reflect opinions and narratives, but not empirical, data-driven scientific analysis, Mr. Hauschildt’s style of work is needed today as ever.

Yet, most managers fail to take a scientific perspective of an organization. Managers are pragmatists. They do not have time to be scientists.

For Managers “betterment-now” beats “optimum-never”.

That’s all right and fair. Here is the problem with this: Most Managers do not have a holistic view or understanding of their job. They think of betterment as to solve an immediate issue – but lacking a holistic perspective, sometimes even on their part of the organization-  they tend to come up with solutions that may have severe tradeoffs in areas where they are blindsided. 

The Blind Sides of Managment

When about Organizations, we tend to think about the, what Harvard Professor Robert Kegan calls, the Exterior of an Organization. But there is more to an organization which needs to be planned:

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Quadrant 1: Exterior view of Organizations

This is what springs to mind when thinking about organizations. These are all the usual stuff we think of as managers and organizers. They are tangible, written or at least practiced rules and processes.

Quadrant 2: Exterior view of Individuals in an Organization

These are the responsibilities, roles, problems, and tasks that individuals in organizations are faced with. It is the individuals understanding of his role in an organization, her day to day job.

The individual’s view of a job is determined by Quadrant 1: All rules and processes defined have repercussions on individuals day to day work. Every intrusion that restricts the local autonomy to act impacts the way people view their job. Every purchasing guideline, every management approval, every assignment, every project, every HR regulation.

Quadrant 3: Interior view of Organizations

These are the nontangible, harder to see aspects of an organization. This Quadrant is usually described as the organizational culture, i.e., “the way we do things here.”

Organizational Culture is notoriously hard to change. According to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.”

Screenshot 2018-01-04 08.45.34

(credits for this picture goes to Torben Rick)

Yet with everything, a manager organizes and regulates, culture is changed. At the same time, Culture restricts what regulation from Quadrant 1 is being made and determines what regulation will be successful.

Quadrant 4: The “Psychology” Quadrant

The Interior view of Individuals, that’s the trickiest quadrant of them all. It’s the things that like beliefs, values, fears, and vulnerabilities that are hidden in everyone. It’s psychology, it’s neuronal science, i.e., the way the brain works.

Everything an individual does, in any quadrant of the organization, is governed by Quadrant 4. Yet managers often neglect the impacts of their actions on the psychology of people.

Historically Managers are Administrators, not Psychologists.

Why do Managers need to learn about their blind spots?

Management’s goal is to achieve optimal outcomes “in the transformation of resources into utility,” a definition used by Management thinker Fredmund Malik.

For knowledge work, that “transformation of resources into utility” can only be optimized, if managers are able to plan ahead for the next state of an organization – not on just Quadrant 1, but on all four quadrants. The individual’s state of mind might not have been critical in a command and control coal shoveling steel mill, but it sure is of central importance in today’s knowledge economy.

All the hard facts, the rules, and regulations set in Quadrant 1 determine all other Quadrants, but most the Individual, Micro level of an organization.

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Of course, all Quadrants are somewhat interdependent. Still, Quadrant 1 is much more easily changed by a rational process, as everything in it can be much better controlled and measured. The Organizational level sets the frame for each individual, where else the individual is much less powerful to change the collective, notably the lower she is on the corporate ladder.

Blindsided managers let their organizations incur Managerial Debt by choosing ways of working that appear to work on an exterior level, but destroy the interior side of the organization (by undermining trust, disengaging people, treating them like children etc.):

  • Managerial Debt accrues over time: Disengagement of workers will cause products, service and finally profits to degrade over time.
  • Like accrued interests, bad managerial solutions will cause new bad managerial solutions to spring up over time
  • Unaddressed management debt increases organizational entropy overtime: Energy that is lost to the void: Filling out reports that no one needs. Doing Approvals that no one approving understands. Never working on fundamental issues but only on patching up the mistakes of the flawed organizational system

Managers need to become Engineers of all Dimensions of Human Work Environments

In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), knowledge-driven and the ever more digital world, Managers need to become just that: Engineers of human work environments.

Robert Kegan, calls this mission to built a “Deliberately Developmental Organization,” a Learning Organization. Shockingly, a learning organization needs the manager to become a teacher or Unversity decan who does two things:

  1. Set a curriculum of what is to be learned
  2. Engage in Pedagogy (the science of learning) to optimize the rate of learning

Now Managers need to get a better understanding of psychology and pedagogy, too. An even major challenge. But a challenge that can not be ignored in our times. Times, where the Agile Mindset and Agile Management Practices appear to be the way forward for organizations.

That’s a challenge that Jürgen Hauschildt,  would have eagerly taken up.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

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Sources:

 

Going Native: The Best Way to Link Traditional​ Companies and Start-ups

From a corporate perspective, the Startup world is chaotic, hard to understand, seemingly irrational and even irresponsible. Similar feelings come into play if just a unit inside a Company adopts Agile working principles, for example, an IT Unit adopting SCRUM as its project method.

It is here that the paradigm of Control & Predict meets the paradigm of Autonomy & Evolutionary Purpose. There are bound to be misunderstandings, crisis, conflicts, drama, and frustration in this interface between the traditional corporate world and the Start-up World.

Yet many Companies are rather inept dealing with this interface. A typical reaction is to assign a single point of contact (SPOC) by each supporting unit, such as IT, Logistics, Purchasing, Accounting or Legal to take care of any issue raised by the Startup. The well-meant message to the Startup is: “Do not worry. We will take care of your issues”. And so the trouble starts – boys and girls working for the startup usually:

  • Don’t know which question to ask. There are there for a mission, but the intricacies of e.g., corporate IT, Legal finesse or accounting laws are not their area of expertise nor their primary concerns. All their focus is to get a product with a viable business proposition off the ground
  • Don’t know how to formulate question, so that the experts in the supporting unit can understand it
  • Are not sure who should ask a question. In such a fluid way of working as a Start-up environment demands, responsibility can hardly be pinpointed to single person
  • Have other concerns. Yes, there might be this or that – for example – legal quirk with this or that decision, but this is often a secondary concern. Too many decisions need to be taken at a moments notice
  • Change their questions fast. Even if a question is formulated, with all the experimentation going on, there is no guarantee that the question will not be outdated tomorrow
  • Need answers real fast. A hierarchy, where there is an awareness that answers are nothing else than commitments, and commitments costs resources, needs a lot of time to come up with an answer. After all, the hierarchy is built for reliability and efficiency – not for speed and effectiveness

Giving these problems, the single point of contact model is doomed to fail.

Going Native

So what is the alternative to the SPOC model? It is not waiting for issues to be raised by someone in the Startup but integrating some co-workers deep in the Startup. Thereby those co-workers, which might be described as liaison officers, agents or advisors, stay  in the full context of the Start-up and are able:

  • to scout for issues with all their knowledge
  • to solve issues by directly addressing real or potential issues with their support unit
  • to work relive the tensions between the Supporting Unit and the Start-up

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Costs

The support unit has to dedicate the liaisons, which can be hard given that the liaisons will be the more effective, the more knowledgeable, the higher their social skills and the better their existing network is.

The Start-up has to accept an increase in their number of co-workers. If multiple supporting units do send liaisons, the number of persons to be integrated can be quite large. But Start-ups need to be close-knit teams where communication is plenty and relations are close and meaningful.

Therefore the liaisons should be integrated not into any single team of the start-up. In the open space facilities so typical of start-ups, the liaisons should have their own table. But they have the permission to change their desk to this or that team table from time to time, just like the situation demands it.

It is the liaison’s job to make themselves useful to the start-up, to seek meaningful work where the start-up team might not be able to identify it and be instrumental in solving it.

Conclusion: Time to move, HQ!

I think that going native is a very good option – after all, the agile way start-ups are working, with lots of experimentation and engagement, lights a way for the corporate world to change.

It is the corporate units that got to integrate into the new world of working- not vice versa.

“Going Native” allows this. It is challenging for the leadership of the support unit to be faced with this new way of working, that provides so much autonomy and decision making authority to the liaisons. But this is exactly what needs to be learned to survive in the digital age.

This is what I think. What do you think?

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Sources:

  • Kotter, John “Accelerate” 2014 – gives a good hunch what it takes to lead a conventional, command and control organization (first “operating system”) and simultaneously a second agile one (second operating system)

Special thanks to Holger Balderhaar for making me rethink my position on Kotter’s 2nd Operating system.