And now for something completely different…

office desk lift

There is a time and a place to work of course. And there is also a time to rest and recuperate (Covey 1989).

We have discussed trends, fads and pseudo solutions in office layouts and design before. It is easy to think that changing layout will make people more productive.

However this solution addresses something quite different – a time and a place to work. The workplace is removed, so work time stops. This places the expectation on people to go away and recuperate.

For this company the ‘ritual’ of shutting away the desks sets the norm. It makes people get into the habit of switching off. And for a creative company that is important, letting the bran organise the day’s thinking without distractions of actually having to go back to work.

I wonder what the impact is on productivity…

 

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

 

See the office furniture solution on this video:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03yf3jl

 

 

 

The Need for Speed : change need not be a slow business

An earlier version of this was first posted on 13th February 2012

Change is very often considered to be a slow and often difficult process. In particular, ‘culture change’ is seen as a long and winding road. Human beings are notable as creatures that have mastered  (or, at least, have developed) the art of adapting. We have changed our knowledge, decisions, behaviour, environment, relationships, societies. It is too easy to think that we ‘don’t like change’. This is simply not the case. We are beings that not only adapt to what is around us, but we often actively choose to change what is around us. After all, it is not uncommon for us to seek to find ways to make things better or different (either for ourselves or, sometimes, others!).

My great-grandfather (who was still around when I was a youngster) was born into the Victorian age in the 1880s. He was already a young man when the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, yet lived to experience flying in jet airliners and even saw the Apollo astronauts land on the moon. His life experiences, work and education had to adapt fairly radically, but I imagine it was a fairly natural process – that’s life.

Organisations can change faster that society as a whole. Whilst change should be seen as a ‘natural’ process, it is one which we should actively influence ourselves. Change can occur in noticeable timescales; weeks and months not years. Changes should move into short timescales to become noticeable, rather than at barely-observable ‘glacial’ rates. Herrero (2006) goes further, suggesting that if cultural changes cannot be observed in short time-frames, then something is wrong.

  • “Cultural change does NOT need to be a slow and painful long-term affair.” – there is a better way.
  • “Short-term wins CAN represent real change.”  with viral networks which engage many people, small changes can lead to a big impact.

We need to accelerate change by engaging networks of people in making things happen. In a previous post it was suggested that small sets of behavioural changes, taken on and shared by informal groups of people can generate improvements in a non-linear way, as Hererro terms it, a ‘viral’ spread.

To influence others we need to encourage quick, meaningful changes; not just ticking items off the ‘to do’ list, but adopting new behaviours, new ways of thinking, new habits. These things may appear less tangible, but they do have impact, they don’t need to wait for a sign-off by top management and they do allow change to happen much quicker.

Remember to read:

Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.

Targets only motivate people to meet the target (not to do good work)

The reasons for employing people are:

1) to do the work (produce output, product, service), and

2) to improve the work.

If the person is clear about the purpose of their work, then 1 and 2 should be easy to deliver if they have the right resources, skills, and understanding of users’ (e.g. customers) needs.

But managers rarely leave it at that…

Traditionally, managers get people to do ‘better’ in their work by what John Seddon tags as ‘sweating the labour’ – getting the people to work harder or faster. The idea is that you get more output for the same hours work – essentially more for the cost (efficiency).

Of course the idea of the sweatshop is morally uncomfortable – exploitation to achieve a profit motive. Yet we still stick to the idea by setting targets: ‘You produced 100 widgets last month, let’s have you aim for 110 widgets this month‘.

It seems plausible – motivational even! What possibly could be the harm in setting a target?

Well, the widgets are being created for a purpose – presumably the purpose for which the customer buys them. And that purpose is associated with the design and quality if production in the widget that is produced.

If you create arbitrary targets (and measures of performance) you will create a de facto purpose in people’s mind which is to deliver those targets. This is different from actually delivering the purpose of the work.

Your worker will work to produce 110 widgets BUT not necessarily a widget that meets the customer needs, nor a widget that could be produced faster or at lower cost whilst still meeting the customers needs, other than by cutting corners (lowering quality or increasing risk). The worker is busy but has got his eye off the ball. This produces errors and lowers the quality of work – which will probably have to be redone – at greater cost.

Targets are not motivational. They might make people move, but that is not motivation. A dog that moves is just one looking to avoid the next kick. It is not a motivated, free thinking, creative, proactive animal. Why would we exect people to operate any differently?

Reading

Herzberg, F. (1968) “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”, Harvard Business Review, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

Never forget this fact: There is no such thing as factual information

hand countThis blog title is provocatively paradoxical. The assumption is that something measured is something proved.

This is not the case.

In practice, when we decide to define a fact, we then define what it is, how it is to be measured, then measure to verify.

In deciding the measurement, we simply place a judgment – our opinion of reality, onto something that isn’t there. For example:

The label on a blanket reads “50 per cent wool” What does this mean? Half wool, on the average, over this blanket, or half wool over a month’s production? What is half wool? Half by weight? If so, at what humidity? By what method of chemical analysis? How many analyses? The bottom half of the blanket is wool and the top half is something else. Is it 50 per cent wool? Does 50 per cent wool mean that there must be some wool in any random cross-section the size of a half dollar? If so, how many cuts shall be tested? How select them? What criterion must the average satisfy? And how much variation between cuts is permissible? Obviously, the meaning of 50 per cent wool can only be stated in statistical terms (Deming 1975).

Is it now becoming clear?

“Without theory (hypothesis), data are meangingless or nonexistent. There is thus no true value of anything: true value is undefinable operationally. There are, however, numerical values that people can use with confidence if they understand their meaning (for the tensile strength of a batch of wire, for example, or for the proportion of the labor force unemployed last month).” (Deming 1967).

The trick is to understand the meaning of numbers.

Not everything that can be counted counts.
Not everything that counts can be counted.

Just because you can measure something it does not mean that you can manage it. Many things are relatively unmeasurable, but important, like staff morale, contentment of customers (or even their excitement!). Mintzberg (2015) suggests that “when we hear the word ‘efficiency’ we zero in―subconsciously―on the most measurable criteria, like speed of service or consumption of energy. Efficiency means measurable efficiency. That’s not neutral at all, since it favors what can best be measured

Deming was very clear on this point: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.” We can end up spending effort measuring and reporting the wrong things and also losing sight of the ball – forgetting the real purpose of our work.

So the first useful question about an issue of performance is:

“what do we know about this?”, then “what will help us to improve?”

Think about this next time you set a goal, or measure results…

 

Further Reading:

Deming W.E. (1967) Walter A. Shewhart, 1891-1967. The American Statistician, 21(2): 39-40

Deming (1974) On probability as a basis for action. The American Statistician, 29 (4): 146-152

Fellers G. (1994) Why Things go Wrong: Deming Philosophy in a Dozen Ten-Minute Sessions. Pelican Publishing

Mintzberg, H. (2015) What could possibly be wring with efficiency? Plenty. 9 September 2015. http://www.mintzberg.org/blog/wrong-efficiency

Let’s focus on ‘what’ and worry less about ‘how’

Right Way and Wrong thingsThe emerging consensus in discussions about leadership and management behaviour in recent decades  has focused on ‘changing the way that you lead’.

Although the ‘how’ you do it and ‘what’ you do both contribute to effective leadership, the research literature is overwhelmingly focused on the how (Kaiser et al, 2012). Hunt (1991) reviewed the body of published scholarly articles on leadership and estimated that 90% of them were focused on interpersonal processes. It is also most likely that the majority of leadership developers and consultants have a ‘how’ bias, which may influence the debate. The focus is on how you go about things.

But do leaders know ‘what’ to do? Should we agree aims, develop a vision, inspire people, create teams, empower, engage, delegate, set targets, punish, reward, restructure, enable, measure results, improve services, prioritise, plan or problem-solve? What do these things mean? Which are helpful and which just cause problems?

Of course, HOW we think about these things is important. What is the logic behind reward, recognition or blame? Is it sound logic, or convenient logic, or unfounded assumption, or testable theory (if you are into that). Do we really know what we are doing and assuming? These things must be tested in our own minds, or else we are doing little more than sleepwalking. But the outcome from this thinking must start with what needs to be done. Otherwise we will focus on the hows e.g. (doing it nicely or respectfully or considerately) and end up doing the “wrong things righter”!

Let’s be clear, of course, there is never any excuse for ‘doing the wrong things wronger’, and little benefit in ‘doing the right things wrong’. So this doesn’t let bad management off the hook. Instead, getting our own thinking right (‘what’) is an important start point because it drives better consideration of ‘how’ to go about our business.

Our own styles and preferences (hows) are different to the preferences of each member of our team. We need to be able to adapt in order to interrelate with others effectively. Whilst positive interactions with people are sometimes the icing on the cake, the cake itself must be always be sound. Remember – if we don’t get the ‘whats’ right we will only be deluding ourselves.

Hunt, J. G. (1991). Leadership: A new synthesis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Kaiser, R. B., McGinnis, J. L., & Overfield, D. V. (2012). The how and the what of leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 64(2), 119.

Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.

Engaging people in change – let’s consider mind, emotions & matter

An earlier version of this was first posted on October 4th 2013

Our brains process rational, physical & emotional responses to the wider world in which we live, work, learn & adapt.

It has been mentioned several times elsewhere on this blog site how easy it is to shrug off the importance of emotions at work. Emotions, rather than being dealt with and utilised, are often herded into one of two extreme boxes; on one hand ‘negative‘ feelings (e.g. fear, discouragement, upset, depression, disillusionment), whilst on the other ‘positive‘ feelings (e.g. celebration, recognition, encouragement).

However if we are sharing opinions or ideas or even managing more complex changes in the workplace, we should take more care to consider the importance of the emotional engagement of colleagues.

Rarely does rational argument win the day; often either physical elements (e.g. hierarchy) or emotional elements (e.g. engaging support) are also needed.

As Seddon states, time and time again, change is a normative process. What does he mean by this? What IS ‘normative’? Normative status is based upon our social understanding and values – we stick to what we stick to; we believe what we believe. Until these perspectives (or ‘paradigms – there is that word again!) are challenged and a person is willing to re-educate themselves, then different possibilities will often remain rejected or ignored.

Change has to be an experiential process and part of that process is to ‘un-learn’ previous thinking. It is possible to do this – even world -class golfers can unlearn and re-learn how to hit a golf ball in order to make significant improvement. Nevertheless this is a difficult thing to do. A person has to be ready and willing – emotionally engaged – to want to make the change. And that is just to change a golf swing!

STRATEGIES FOR CHANGE    –    which will work best?

Power ~ Coercive

BUT…

Assumes that people are generally compliant so will usually do what they are told or can be made to do. Change is achieved by exercising authority and by imposing sanctions. Relies on authority, and the ability to police future actions.

 Empirical ~ Rational

BUT…

People are rational and will follow self-interest — once those interests have been revealed to them. Change is based on the communication of information and offers of incentives. Focuses on incentives, which need to work over the long term.

Normative ~ Re-educative

*TRY THIS APPROACH!

People are social creatures and will follow cultural beliefs, traditions and values. Change is based on redefining and reinterpreting these norms & values, and developing people’s commitments to new ones.

If you encourage people to seek knowledge and identify helpful changes, you steer learning towards the issues which those people need to address to make things better.

Further Reading:

Bennis,W. G., Benne, K.D. and Chin R. (1969) The Planning of Change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, NY

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science, Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

Sherkenbach W.W. (1991) Deming’s Road to Continual Improvement, SPS Press, Knoxville, TE

“Resistance is Useful” – opportunity from dissent

An earlier version of this was first posted on 1st September 2012

If, as leaders, we want to press for improvement, and for improvement to occur in a meaningful, timely and impactful manner, we need to appreciate any resistance that we encounter from people in a different light. Rather than considering dissent and complaint as an unhelpful roadblock to change, we should view it as both an opportunity and an indicator of progress. The opportunity is that resistance opens a door to new dialogue with others. As an indicator, resistance shows us that people are noticing what we are doing. Furthermore, if that resistance is within the team, it indicates that the team itself is maturing – feeling able to challenge.

Any assertion that “people are resistant to change” should be questioned (Herrero, 2006) – people experience and engage with change in many forms; technology, services, art and culture, lifestyle – even the weather! It is too easy to assume that “there will always be casualties – people not accepting change – and you need to identify and deal with them.”    The occasions when people become resistant is when change is imposed by managers who assume that people will most likely resist – in other words people need to ‘have change done to them’, that “skeptical people and enemies of change need to be sidelined” (Herero 2006). Extending that idea, Seddon (2005) suggests that the reason people are resistant to change is that they often don’t see its relevance to their work, because the rest of the system – how they are managed, doesn’t change. One rule for one  group (change yourselves and get on with it) and another rule for managers (we will stick to our way of doing things).

Instead, with the right encouragement, supposedly resistant people can actually identify and discuss the other areas where change might be required. Those ‘resistors’, with the right support, can themselves start to influence wider change and improvement.

Instead when we manage change, Herrero suggests that greater care is required;

  • don’t assume that people have excluded themselves.
  • expect resistant behaviours to disappear when alternatives are reinforced.
  • give sceptics a bit of slack (they may well have something to contribute).
  • suspend judgement, be willing to be surprised, and don’t write people off too quickly.
Changes in your behaviour will influence others

We should also recognise that discord provides opportunity for debate and the development of new ideas. We always need to examine what ‘outsiders’ are saying and learn from them what the issues or problems really are. It is too easy to assume that “People used to not complying with norms will be even worse at accepting change.” Herrero instead suggest that, ‘non-normative’ people often make good champions once they are convinced that change is relevant.

This means that anyone involved in change, at whatever level, needs to take on responsibility for getting on with the change, to be seen to do the things that need to be done. Be open minded and able to discuss and debate effectively, not quash dissent, but seek opportunities for engaging new ideas. This takes proactivity and a consideration of alternatives (Covey, 1989)

Rather than challenging the nay-sayers with a dogma that ‘resistance is useless’ perhaps we should have a new perspective that will engage their input: resistance is useful!

Read more…

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

Middle managers will copy the boss’s behaviour (if they work in proximity)

Here is an interesting one – Researchers at Erasmus University and Cambridge University  identified that middle managers copy their boss’s behaviour if they are working in close/adjacent proximity to that boss. Conversely, if the boss is not in close proximity (e.g. has an office down the corridor), then the middle manager may behave differently to the boss.This includes good and bad behaviour.

♦Red light warnings♦: an over-bearing, micro-managing and ever-present boss is likely to spawn equally over-bearing middle managers and subsequently a wonderfully consistent but wildly dysfunctional team. On the other hand an over-bearing boss who is remote from the team will get…er… disappointed and will wonder why the team doesn’t do what they expect (perhaps).

♦Amber warning♦: An effective boss who is too distant may not get the cooperation expected – good bosses need to get down to the coalface and see what is happening and whether their middle managers are doing things in the ways that are needed.

♦Green Light♦: An effective boss who is close to the team will have a coherent set of middle managers and a consistent culture across the team.

Dr. Gijs Van Houwelingen who co-wrote the survey says: “It is crucial that organisations understand the threat of overly close and highly interdependent relationships between lower and higher management in the organisation. Managers at all levels in any organisation need to strike a balance between a certain sense of closeness to ensure efficiency, and some sense of distance to ensure that negative top-level behaviour does not spread unhindered through all layers of the organisation.”

Finally the survey identifies two measures of distance: social (the distance you feel from the other person) and physical (i.e. space). Interestingly we have much more choice over social distance – i.e. who we choose to spend time with and be seen with – and how that impacts on the way that we choose to behave. You just need to be conscious of who to associate with and who to avoid.

Links:

HR Management (2015) Middle managers copy bosses’ bad behaviour. http://www.hrgrapevine.com/markets/hr/article/middle-managers-copy-bosses-bad-behaviour

van Houwelingen, G., van Dijke, M., & De Cremer, D. (2014). Fairness Enactment as Response to Higher Level Unfairness: The Roles of Self-Construal and Spatial Distance. Journal of Management.

You couldn’t make it up!

Picture the scene…a middle aged man digging in his garden, when he hits an object, possibly a root, which slows his spade. Lifting the top 3 inches of turf away, he clears the space to find that the object is an intact, unfired rifle cartridge – complete with bullet. He thinks ‘Hmmm – either an intact live cartridge or a replica, but 3 inches under my lawn‘ and decides to call the police non-emergency helpline to request its secure collection (the nearest police station is over 10 miles away).

The helpline service is reasonably helpful – it automatically patches the call to his county police constabulary and after a little wait he gets through to a real person. The operator is personable and thorough, takes note of the details (the middle-aged man used to be a marksman, so knows a bit about bullets and was able to convey this). The operator agrees to call back to arrange the collection.

About 5-10 minutes later the Police helpline operator calls back and informs the man that after consultation with her supervisor they have advised that the bullet is simply disposed of. The man suggests that he will not throw it in a fire or anything, but how should he dispose of it? He is told to put it in a bag and pop it in the dustbin.

The waste bin was collected by the council service that day…

The man, knowing a bit about ammunition, had already decided that he will not put the bullet in the waste and instead plans to find a way of getting it to the authorities – ‘waste worker shot in freak accident‘ is not a headline he wants to see in the Sunday newspapers.

Two minutes later the helpline call again: ‘sorry‘, says the operator ‘my supervisor and I have spoken to the inspector who suggests we get someone to collect this bullet from you. You haven’t thrown it away have you?

What is the point of this story? It is this:

However good your procedures and however willing and polite and committed your operators, a helpline service must have expertise at the point of transaction – the operator. If not, you tend to add re-work (e.g. lots of follow-up calls) or waste (or worse).

Sadly, most advice centres are NOT designed this way, instead using less-qualified people on the phones; creating waste, error & discouraging users.

In this instance neither the operator nor their supervisor had the expertise (or judgement) to make this decision. How did the discussion and advice arise between call 1 and 2? How did the second discussion with the inspector arise – was it luck, or part of the procedure of escalation? What would have happened if the inspector had not been there? What if the man HAD put the bullet in his dustbin? What if the man had gone shopping before the third call was made?

How many police would have been required to search the man’s bin, or worse, the contents of 5,000 bins at the council refuse centre had the bin been collected? Or what if all bin lorries had to be stopped on the roads for inspection to remove the suspect bullet? What if the bullet had exploded? You get the point.

This was a real incident involving real people on a Bank Holiday Monday sometime in the past year. You really couldn’t make it up.

 

Further reading on call centres:

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

 

Stuck in a rut? How to reinvigorate your team

An earlier version of this was first posted on 13th June 2013

  • Are the same old issues arising in your team?
  • Have you joined a team that is stuck in its ways?
  • Is the team intimidated by new challenges which seem like one step too far?
  • Have you ever felt “we’ve been here before“?
  •  Are the moaners still moaning?
  • Would the team, if honest, say that they are stagnant, uninspired, or just jogging along?

What would make a difference; how can things change; are people the problem or is it something else?Don't Panic

                                               In the words of Douglas Adams1

All teams go through various stages of development, from confidence to crisis, from challenge to success, from discomfort to familiarity, from suspicion to support. These cycles can occur in any order, sometimes a positive progression forwards but occasionally involving backsliding and disillusionment. A third common state is no change at all – being stuck in a rut – for months, or maybe years.

The classic observation on team development was made by Bruce Tuckman and his memorable ‘Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing’ model. It helpfully sets out some of things to address which will  oil the wheels of positive team development.

Clear goals, clear ground-rules (i.e. the ways we work together, talk to each other, and use the time and space that we share), clear roles. These are the simple building blocks of effective teams. These things give space for individuals to get on with the work that they do alone and to interact effectively in the things that they need to do together. Clarifying these things as a team should also give space for people to raise questions or challenge things which don’t work well or appear to have little purpose.

So change the way the team works without meddling with the people in it. This gives everyone the choice to make progress alongside their colleagues – which, frankly, most people are quite happy to do.

Reading:

Tuckman, B.W. (1965) Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin 65, no.6: 384–99.

Tuckman, B.W. and Jensen M.A. (1977) Stages of small-group development revisited. Group and Organization Studies 2, no. 4: 419–27.

Optional bedtime reading:

1Adams, D. (1979) The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Pan Books Ltd., London.