Category Archives: Culture

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.

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.

Avoid the ‘bolt-on’ management method

Maybe not the best way to improve management

Sometimes approaches to managing people simply do not work. However, I have heard people defend the failure of particular management approaches (like appraisal, ISO9000, quality circles etc.) by saying ‘its because it is not being done right‘. While this may be ‘true’ (in the sense that successes can occur), I think that a more circumspect approach must be taken when considering these methods:

  1. If it doesn’t’ work, is this failure a generally observed occurrence? (i.e is it something that predictably fails)
  2. Is it only failing on an unusual, ‘exception basis’ – once in a while?
  3. Might the approach be fundamentally flawed?
  4. Could there be a better way of achieving the desired outcome (assuming the desired outcome is genuinely that the manager wants to do a better job of managing) – in other words is the well-meaning manager barking up the wrong tree?

The problem with bolting ‘good’ approaches onto bad is that it proliferates the work of management, which adds cost, hassle and meddling with the real work (of serving customers, providing public services, educating, making cars, or whatever is our business).

Treating people well, usually involves doing something (‘nice’) to compensate for the default situation, where they suffer some sort of indignity, disappointment or frustration as the general state of affairs. The ‘nice’ idea masks the fundamental problems.

John Seddon openly criticises this type of woolly thinking – not because he thinks people are not worthy of being respected and treated with dignity, but because the respect and dignity should start in the way that their work and the system they work within is managed. In other words:

  • don’t punish people for things out of their control,
  • don’t design work to frustrate them from doing a good job,
  • don’t waste their time.
  • don’t make systems which expose them to unnecessary grief
    (from customers and users)

Deming used to talk about dignity (long before most others used the term) and, as shown throughout his writing, appears to assume that everyone would be following the same ethos. Doing a ‘respect for people programme‘ would, to Deming,  be absurd. Just as doing appraisals would be absurd, or adhering to standards, or setting targets. What do these approaches say about what managers really think about their staff (lazy? untrustworthy? unmotivated? stupid?)?

Some things in life are worth restoring and refurbishing, even upgrading. But others are just so fundamentally flawed that an upgrade is not worth the effort. The same can be said for many management methods.

Just make sure that you are not applying bolt-on management.

 

Helpful reading:

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK

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

 

However, the alternative perspective is offered by Bob Emiliani:

http://www.bobemiliani.com/kudos-to-john-seddon/

 

Experience versus Vitality and Innovation

Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard & Chris Smalling

‘Experience’ is an often-quoted strength in a job candidate or team member.

If this is relevant to the work that needs to be done, then great. However the term experience is often read as ‘knowledge’ and that is not always the case. An experienced person may refer back to situations that are not relevant to the present. An experienced person may rely on apoproaches which are not the best, but which merely work ‘OK’.

An experienced person’s views may now be out of date. In the 1960s a Japanese delegation visited a British car factory in the midlands and were guided around the operation by a proud production manager. The visitors had many questions about the facility and how it worked but felt they were not being given the answers that they wanted. One of the Japanese vistors asked the manager ‘How long have you worked in this factory?‘ to which the manager answered ‘Over 20 years!‘.

The Japanese visitor was oveheard to mutter ‘more like 20 minutes…

The manager did not know what was really happening in the production facility – they did not have relevant knowledge, nor an understanding of how to improve the work or quality of output.

A valuable, experienced professional is one who has the humility (and experience!) that allows them to ask the right questions and not to be the source of all the answers.

Reading:

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK

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

Happy staff, happy work ; happy work, happy staff

santaTo paraphrase Richard Branson, ‘happy staff = happy work’, and for Branson, that means that customers will also be happy and your organisation will be successful.

Motivational theory and systems theory tells us that a work (the way it is designed and the constraints placed upon people doing it) also influences whether people are satisfied with what they do. In other words, happy work creates happy  people.

Deming talked about dignity in work decades before it became a focus of attention in Human Resource departments. His philosophy was ‘centered on people and the dignity of work. He believed that people should have joy in their work, that the system within which they work should be designed to make this possible and to enable workers to reach their full potential to contribute to the enterprise‘ and that system is management’s responsibility (Tortorella, 1995).

So for happy also read ‘joyful‘. Quite an expectation! But consider this: whilst a happy person is satisfied, a joyful person brings renewed energy and vigour into their activities, interests and relationships – exactly what we need in a high performing team. And a joyful person can be as quiet and dignified as they wish, or as outwardly enthusiastic as they wish, but their joy will rub off positively onto the people around them.

It is motivation…for free.

Reading:

Oswald, A.J., Proto, E. and Sgroi, D. (2014) Happiness and Productivity. http://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/35451/1/522164196.pdf

Nazarali, R. (2014) Happy People are more Productive. http://ridiculouslyefficient.com/happy-people-are-more-productive/

Raymundo, O. (2014) Richard Branson: Companies Should Put Employees First. Inc.com, OCT 28, 2014. http://www.inc.com/oscar-raymundo/richard-branson-companies-should-put-employees-first.html

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

Tortorella, M.J.  (1995) The Three Careers of W. Edwards Deming. Siam News https://www.deming.org/content/three-careers-w-edwards-deming

 

The A-B-C of motivation

shark canoeInterestingly, research suggests that in terms of guiding behaviour and performance, people tend to prefer feedback (i.e. a consequence of what they have done) rather than guidance (an antecedent). Time spent highlighting rules and having team meetings to brief people on work or remind them of key issues (like health and safety) is less effective in shaping the desired behaviour required at work. This is important in deciding where interventions are needed to enable people to become more productive (not much productivity is achieved by attending a meeting!).

Remember the ABC of motivation: Consequences drive Behaviour more than Antecedents. However, this does NOT mean we should manage people by ‘punishment and reward’! Punishment and reward conditions people into behaviours, stifles creativity, reduces feedback and suggestions and encourages people to hide mistakes or problems, even to cheat the figures (otherwise they get punished). Punishment and reward is a very blunt and undiscriminating instrument – it can easily punish good behaviour and reward bad behaviour (think bankers bonuses here!).

Consequences must be carefully design: do people know the purpose of what they are doing, be committed to it, be able to monitor their work to achieve it and be able to adapt and improve things intelligently to achieve the desired outcomes?

Further Reading:

Deming, W. E. (1994). The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Center
for Advanced Engineering Study.

Kohn, A. (1986). No Contest: The Case against Competition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Komaki, Judith L. ; Collins, Robert L. ; Penn, Pat  (1982) The role of performance antecedents and consequences in work motivation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 1982, Vol.67(3), pp.334340

 

Creating job titles that mean something

Hello-My-Job-Title-Is

In relation to job titles, feedback from our colleagues at the Liquid Café (Excellence Through Partnerships) event in November 2014 included:

“The term “Clerical” is very outdated and job titles should reflect this”

“We need clear definition of job titles and job roles”

Colleagues in administrative roles are of the opinion that some job titles shape stereotypical impressions or contribute to old fashioned notions of subservience and reinforce the historical hierarchy prevalent within some university environments.

This is where we need to work more in partnership with managers who write job descriptions and with our resourcing colleagues in HR.  Firstly, it is important to ensure gender-fair language to ensure that job descriptions are not inadvertently linked to either masculine or feminine characteristics.   Over the past few years, there has been a lot of articles and studies about the glass ceiling, about the struggles women face at the top, yet there has been barely a murmur about the gender imbalances at the bottom of the corporate ladder.   Perhaps we should consider eradicating the title of ‘Assistant’ in some instances, and replacing it with ‘Coordinator’, ‘Advisor’, or ‘Officer’.  At the end of the day, assistants often do so much more than purely ‘assist’, anyway, and by removing the subservient connotation that the word ‘Assistant’ can imply, we might also remove the bias many men have toward these roles. Likewise, the term ‘Clerical” smacks of the 1930’s/50’s and it is a time a new job title was defined for colleagues performing a front line student advisory service.

To this end, and as part of our project “Who do we think we are – the professionalization of administrative staff”, we have asked our peers in the Sciences Faculty to let us know what they really think about their job titles; what they prefer, and what they dislike.  We have even asked colleagues to think of brand new job titles which they feel adequately describes the function they perform, that in an ideal world, they would use.  All the results we receive will be relayed to our colleagues in HR in order to better inform them of employees thoughts on this issue.  Indeed, there does seem to be a case for letting employees choose their own job titles as demonstrated at the Make-A-Wish-Foundation  Here employees who created their own job titles were left feeling positive by the experience and felt that their new titles provided self-verification and helped them express more of their own identity and personality.

Let’s start creating job titles that actually mean something and reflect the professionalism of the roles that we perform and the value we bring.

 

What’s in a name (or job title)?

whats in a name

Invariably, when you walk into a social gathering and realise you will have to introduce yourself to others, your mind races, thinking ‘What should I say?’, since job titles form an important source of social standing and personal identify.  What most people want to know, indeed, they will often press you to find out, is what you do for a living?  What is your job title?

In today’s society, we have become significantly defined by our job titles, and we often define ourselves by our titles.  Job titles serve a number of roles; communicating your authority on a subject to people, letting people know what you do in your job, in a short-hand way.

This is what a job title does; it gives people you meet, and your customers and clients, a clear idea of where you work, what you do and at what level you do it at.  It should give you credibility in your field.  It’s something you use as a springboard on your career ladder.  A good job title can acknowledge the value the company sees in your efforts and earn you respect from your peers and customers.  It can indicate importance or “reward” employees in lieu of a salary increase.

You want a job title that not only accurately describes the work you’re employed to do, but also a title that reflects your pay ranking and seniority within the organisation.  Job titles can be used as a measure by those who hire and recruit – they are a sort of yardstick.   Recruiters gauge career progression by job titles (job titles are indicators of that progression as long as they are accompanied by job description and achievements that back up the title). In many cases, having a strong job title is your catapult to your next job.

Job titles also have emotions and expectations attached, as individuals have a need to feel intelligent, influential and important.  Finally, job titles can empower employees, and they may even prompt positive behaviours, such as taking more initiative or displaying greater leadership.  For all of these reasons, enhancing job titles can be extremely motivating to employees.  For example, using the term “Manager” in a title implies that you manage resources, manage clients/customers, their accounts or manage projects.

Having titles that are clear, common, well respected, and well understood is very important.  Having titles that are regularly reviewed is also important.  Sometimes, the title is even more important that the salary.