Category: Management

 

 

My October newsletter is out!

Again this month it’s a combination of research and practical insights, some timely and some timeless:

– A Microsoft study on the impact of remote work on collaboration among its information workers,
– The best worker not always being the best candidate for manager,
– The real challenge about organizing data,
– Yo should up your hiring game,
– The weakest link in the collective intelligence of a team,
– The full dimension of a meeting’s “check-in”,
– It’s time to re-onboard everyone,
… and more!

Happy reading and feel free to share these management and leadership insights with your friends and colleagues.

Also, if you want to receive your own copy by email, subscribe!

Doing novel things and doing old things… is not enough

Cliff Hazell:

Building a successful organization is a mix of doing new/novel things, old things, and very old things. I think we usually spend too much time talking about the new and novel as if it’s a silver bullet. Doing the old and very old things consistently and well is overlooked.

I would add an additional distinction: there’s the new/novel and there’s the timeless. There is also the timely: doing things at the right time.

 ==
Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter.

The CIA’s 8-point plan for disrupting meetings and conferences

From the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual, here is an 8-point plan for disrupting meetings and conferences. You will probably recognize some of these from your own circumstances:

(1) Insist on doing everything through ‘channels’. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

(2) Make ‘speeches’. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your ‘points’ by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.

(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration’. Attempt to make committees as large as possible—never less than five.

(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

(7) Advocate ‘caution’. Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

“(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision. . . . It might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.”

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter

Reading notes (2021, week 25): On first systems as explicit norms and the moral imperative of what we do

First systems as important as first hires

Important, yet often forgotten:

So much startup advice comes down to one common element: Hiring the best people. Whether it’s Twitter threads about how the first 50 hires set the cultural tone, or blog posts recommending that a founder interview the first 100 employees, most pointers are about keeping an unwavering focus on the people who power startups.

“While I definitely agree that people are your most important asset, I’ve noticed that most content doesn’t talk as much about the systems. What I don’t come across as often is a read about how the systems that those first hires build are the manifestation of the culture,” says Fishner.

In his view, it’s not an either or — it’s both. “While early employees are of course a driving factor for the company culture, they’re only half the equation. The other half is the foundational systems,” he says. “The comparison I like to draw is the nature versus nurture debate. Both your genes and your memes are highly influential on your outcomes. Likewise, both your people and your systems are highly influential on your company’s outcomes — but the system side doesn’t get as much attention as it should.”

Fishner expands on why he thinks systems deserve equal footing. “While early employees help set implicit norms, building systems early in a company’s lifecycle sets explicit norms. How do decisions get made? How are meetings structured? How are goals set? These systems are much easier to build when the company is small, and very challenging to put into place as the company grows,” he says.
(…)

Fishner’s conviction here surprisingly comes from his college days. “I studied philosophy. My thesis was on the impacts of subconscious advertising techniques. Theories of economics are built on the foundational belief that individuals are rational, well-informed and autonomous. But in practice, none of those things are true. For example, we’re far from autonomous — each person influences other people,” he says.

“In my reading and research for the thesis, I came to more of a determinist worldview that free will is overrated and our willpower is overstated. We’re actually much more influenced by the environments that we’re put in.

==
source:  “Focus on Your First 10 Systems, Not Just Your First 10 Hires — This Chief of Staff Shares His Playbook” in First Round Review  (accessed 210601)

The moral imperative of what we do in tech

I reconnected to Om Malik’s observation on tech and emotions via L.M. Sacasas’ newsletter “The convivial society“:

Having watched technology go from a curio to curiosity to a daily necessity, I can safely say that we in tech don’t understand the emotional aspect of our work, just as we don’t understand the moral imperative of what we do. It is not that all players are bad; it is just not part of the thinking process the way, say, “minimum viable product” or “growth hacking” are.

But it is time to add an emotional and moral dimension to products. Companies need to combine data with emotion and empathy or find themselves in conflict with those they deem to serve. 

This comes up quite often in my coaching conversations. For now, I’ll say this: the choice to ignore the emotional and moral dimensions of one’s work, services, or products is itself an emotional and moral stance.

Both Malik and Sacasas’ newsletters/blogs are well worth following.

We all think we’re great drivers

1.

We all think we’re great drivers

I have lived and worked in many countries and in some of these countries I have lived and worked in many cities. I travel for work, domestically and internationally, and I often rent cars to get to my destination. In other words, I have driven thousands of miles, in hundreds of cities, in tens of countries, and here’s a universal fact: everyone rates themselves as great drivers. It’s not a normal (bell curve) distribution around the “good” mean. Most people think they’re great drivers.

And here’s what I suspect is another universal fact: upon reading the above statistic you thought “well, some people are just not realistic about their driving abilities. I wish they acknowledged it. The roads would be safer”.

What does this have to do with management?

It turns out that several surveys report that 70% of managers rate themselves as “inspiring and motivating”¹. Seventy percent – that is not a normal distribution either. And I know what you’re thinking: “well, some people are just not realistic about their management abilities. I wish they acknowledged that. The workplace would be better.”

And while you ponder on how you fare with respect to other managers, here’s the reality: 65% of employees would forego a pay raise if it they could fire their managers² and 82% find their managers to be uninspiring.

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2.

More numbers

There are 120,000 excess deaths per year attributed to ten workplace conditions³ and they cause approximately $190 billion in incremental health care costs. That makes the workplace the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. — higher than Alzheimer’s, higher than kidney disease.

I’m going to list them here. As you read through the list, please identify the ones that are directly within a manager’s purview:

  1. Being unemployed sometimes as a result of a layoff.
  2. Not having health insurance.
  3. Working shifts and also working longer periods, e.g., ten or twelve-hours shifts.
  4. Working long hours in a week (e.g., more than 40 hours per week).
  5. Job insecurity (resulting from colleagues being laid off or fired).
  6. Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict.
  7. Having relatively low control over one’s job e.g., workload.
  8. Facing high work demands such as pressure to increase productivity and to work quickly.
  9. Being in a work environment that offers low levels of social support (e.g., not having close relationships with co-workers.)
  10. Working in a setting in which job- and employment-related decisions seem unfair.

In my leadership programs as well as in my coaching conversations with managers we often go over these items, identify the ones that are directly under one’s control as a manager and distinguish them from those that are more broadly defined by the organization’s policies and cultural norms.

There are two that most often stand out:

6. Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict.

7. Having relatively low control over one’s job e.g., workload.

#7 speaks to intrinsic motivation. As per data from McKinsey & Company, when employees are intrinsically motivated, they are 32% more committed and 46% more satisfied with their job and perform 16% better.

This makes sense: it is easier to derive satisfaction from the work itself, to feel good or fulfilled about a job well done, when we have autonomy over the work we do. In other words, it’s hard to experience the work as “my” work when there is little to none of “me” in it.

This begs the question: Am I the type of manager who tells people what to do (and how to do it) or am I the type of manager who provides clarity on the expected outcome and allow for people to attain that outcome on the manner they see fit. And just as in the case of the quality of one’s driving, we should focus not on what we think but on what our direct reports experience.

Spillovers

We come to #6: Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict. For now, I want to focus on the latter. The short version is this: the way you treat your direct reports has an impact not only on them but on their families and the communities to which they belong. A person frustrated at work necessarily carries that frustration with them in their communities – it spills over. The longer version of this point is that what is even more detrimental than the frustration we experience at work is the effort we put in trying to “compartmentalize” and not have it spill over. Unfortunately, it always does. If not to others around you, at the very least to your own health.

Managers have the ability to impact the lives of their direct reports in significant far-reaching ways. The way they treat people day-to-day over a period of time has an impact on their psyche, on their body, on their families, and on their communities.

In other words: your manager is more important to your health than your primary care doctor.

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3.

When we look back at our experiences at work we can all acknowledge that our managers have played a significant role in making our lives somewhere on a continuum:

miserable – tolerableacceptable – enjoyable – inspirational

And once we acknowledge this for ourselves as someone’s direct report then we as managers can at least be deliberate about what we want our direct reports to experience. And I’m not suggesting that “inspirational” is what all managers should be aiming for, if only for the simple fact that not all direct reports want to be inspired. A lot of folks are fine with “acceptable” and “enjoyable” (“tolerable” entails some form of discomfort and I’m assuming that no one wants to be “miserable”). And if you’re deliberate about what you want your direct reports to experience you can then identify

  1. Ways in which you will carry that out as well as
  2. Some means by which to identify whether your direct reports are there: your own means (ones that befit the people on your team and the context in which they work) rather than the general and generic corporate engagement survey.

I acknowledge, as I did earlier, that the workplace experience is affected by company policies and culture. It is also nonetheless affected by how managers treat their direct reports.

I’m not talking about the one-time, the extraordinary, the heroic, the bandied-about in the company’s newsletter. I’m talking about the every day, the day in and day out, over the course of weeks, months and years. It’s not what you think you’re doing or the impact you think you’re having, it’s about what your direct reports experience.

In this regard I believe that people have a misguided sense of legacy when they think it’s about the accomplishments that people are going to remember about them. In reality, what we carry with us after a manager leaves, what stays with us after they are gone, is how they treated us, and how they made us feel.

==

4.

So, how’s your driving?

 


footnotes:
  1. “Why frontline workers are disengaged”, McKinsey Quarterly, March 2, 2016.
  2. Casserly, Meghan, “Majority Of Americans Would Rather Fire their Boss Than Get A Raise”, Forbes, October 17, 2012.
  3. Cavaiola, Alan A., “Is Your Job Killing You? Literally Killing You?”, Psychology Today.
  4. McGregor, Jena, ”This professor says the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.”, The Washington Post, March 22, 2018. This reference and the previous one are both drawn from Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book, Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It, Harper Collins, 2018.
  5. As distinct from the outcome of the work: recognition, acknowledgement, salary, etc.
  6. I want the book to be a “could” book rather than a “should” book. The purpose is to make the reader think and come to their own conclusions. There are enough management books that tell you what you should do and the challenge with these prescriptions is that they might have been effective for the person writing the book but management is contextual, so the prescription might only work if you find yourself in the very same circumstances as the author of the book. On the other hand, you could think about things you have not thought about before, think in a different way about things you have already thought about, and/or be invited to re-think things you have thought about a while back when your circumstances were different and maybe you also were different.
  7. Nor am I talking about, as I shared in an earlier post, what we do and the example we think we give, but also (and perhaps more importantly) who we are to them.
  8. As per the Maya Angelou poem.

 

These are thoughts on the book I am writing. They were first delivered to readers of my free, monthly newsletter. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

Thursday sundry links

How Patagonia Learned to Act on Its Values
Patagonia’s path toward living up to its own commitment to sustainability has involved decades of acknowledging flaws, solving problems, and finding ways to bring along suppliers, employees, and customers. But by highlighting values and using environmental constraints as a source of innovation, the company has found profits.
The Pandemic Conversations That Leaders Need to Have Now
It’s time for leaders to rebuild the bonds that COVID-19 has shaken. First step: Start talking.
Self-awareness is what makes us human
Because of our ability to think about thinking, “the gap between ape and man is immeasurably greater than the one between amoeba and ape.”
Building Better Work Models for the Next Normal
Office-return planning offers a rare opportunity to transform lessons learned during the pandemic into a more sustainable work model.
Leader, know thyself
To improve executive performance, thinking about thinking is a really good idea.

When in doubt, draw a distinction

By far the most substantial piece of content I read recently is from Jay Rosen. He is a press critic who writes about the media and politics. He is a professor at the School of Journalism at New York University.

Here is how it starts:

And here are some of the distinctions he draws in this Twitter thread:

  • Public vs. audience
  • Journalism vs. the media
  • Truth-seeking vs. refuge-seeking
  • Political vs. politicized
  • Issues vs. troubles
  • Ritual vs. transmission
  • Expect vs. predict
  • Subscription vs. membership

He says that

For distinctions to work, the terms have to be sufficiently close that prying them apart clears space for thought. If I write, “bending is not the same as breaking,” well, who said it was? That one is going nowhere. But “naked is not the same as nude” is an idea with legs.

It’s not just semantics. Well, it is, but it’s more than that. It’s a show of clarity of ideas in your field of endeavor. In his case, it’s media and politics.

And it occurs in all fields.

Just last week, I bumped into a few more instances:

  1. My friend and colleague Ed Carvalho invited us to draw a distinction between intelligence and intellect;
  2. And then this one in the Harvard Business Review between habit and routine:

When we fail at forming new patterns of behavior, we often blame ourselves, rather than the bad advice we read from someone who doesn’t really understand what can and cannot be a habit.
A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, while a routine involves a series of behaviors frequently —and intentionally— repeated. A behavior has to be a regularly performed routine before it can become a habit at all.
The problem is that many of us try to skip the “routine” phase.

There are other distinctions that Rosen does not discuss in his thread, including

  • Lying vs. bullshitting
  • Experience vs. expertise
  • Exit, voice, and loyalty
  • Information overload vs. filter failure

Anyone who took part in one of my leadership development programs will have heard me discuss exit, voice, “loyalty”/conformity, and sabotage as a way to distinguish how different people react differently to finding themselves in conflict situations.

The take-aways from this piece?

  1. When in doubt, draw a distinction;
  2. Doing so is a way to manifest that you are a thinker – that you don’t take things at face value but you do reflect on them and come out with your own thoughts;
  3. Drawing distinctions is also a manifestation of where you put your attention, that is, what your field of endeavor really is.

And since a lot of readers of this newsletter are managers then it begs the question: are your distinctions mostly about the domain of expertise that preceded your becoming a manager or are they about management itself?


The content of this post is an edited version of an entry in my free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

A genius is the one most like himself: Thelonious Monk’s tips for musicians

list of tips, onboarding

I’m a jazz fan, always have been. And I’m a Monk fan.

Monk created this list when a musician joined his band for a multiple-week gig.

I encourage the managers I work with to have a readme document for themselves and to have a structured, personal way of welcoming new members to their team. It also goes a long way for that welcoming to include peers.

In any case, here’s Monk’s list. What does yours look like?

 

  • Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  • Pat your foot & sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  • Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!
  • Make the drummer sound good.
  • Discrimination is important.
  • You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  • All reet!
  • Always know… (monk [backwards])
  • It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  • Let’s lift the band stand!!
  • I want to avoid the hecklers.
  • Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  • The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  • Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined.
  • What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.
  • Always leave them wanting more.
  • A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  • Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, & when it comes, he’s out of shape & can’t make it.
  • When you’re swinging, swing some more!
  • (What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!
  • Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.
  • These pieces were written so as to have something to play, & to get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  • You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (to a drummer who didn’t want to solo).
  • Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  • They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it.

Source: Open culture

 

 

On the difference between management and leadership

Managing is getting something done, stabilizing existing processes, controlling and correcting deviations to ensure quality and reliability.

Leadership is about doing something new or better, whether a simple process improvement or a transformation. It is more about reframing for improvement. It likely calls upon people to learn new skills and shift beliefs.

Our tendency to ascribe leadership to individuals that hold a formal entitlement as head of a team, group, or function is unhelpful when distinguishing management from leadership as activities with different purposes.

Leadership is not the property of a formal position, but rather an activity that occurs anywhere in the company. A person responsible for such a change is therefore in a leadership role irrespective of title.

 

source: “Culture shift with Ed and Peter Schein” in Dialogue. Also a Twitter thread.

 

 

 

Here’s why you are skeptical about empowerment

The principle: Humans crave independence and control so giving it to them at work should be a good thing.

The caveat: As people feel increasingly autonomous, they can also become unmoored from others’ needs, expectations and social norms.

Research results: Managers who value being respected will respond to empowerment initiatives by, in turn, empowering their workers. But, managers who value being in charge will respond to empowerment initiatives by closely controlling and dominating their employees.

In other words, empowerment can lead to more autonomous employees, but micromanagers will micromanage.

— from a journal article by Nicholas Hays and Russell E. Johnson of Michigan State University, and Hun Whee Lee from Ohio State University.