This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.
Archive for October, 2010
I’m reading âWhere Do Good Ideas Come From?â by Steven Johnson for my book club. Iâm not that into it, but thereâs one thing reading it has reminded me. Sometimes your best and most creative thinking happens when youâre not trying.Â For me my biggest insights happen when Iâm walking up Mont Royal or when Iâm asleep [and yes sometimes I even remember them].
So that means that one of the conditions we need to create for ourselves if we want to have good ideas is downtime.Â Time away from the pressure to write, think, make, perform.
For anyone working in, or near, institutional environments knows that this is virtually impossible.Â We’re now working at least 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days/week.Â More work piling on with every passing day. At the same time as virtually every organization I know is looking for more insight into and innovative solutions for their business and organizational challenges, and every government I can think of is looking to recreate our economic model, weâve got less and less time to just down tools and let our brains do what they do â noodle when weâre not thinking about anything.
Thereâs something wrong here and we donât have the time to stop and think about it.
Michael and I were on our way to London, Ontario from Montreal.Â For those of you who’ve made that trip you know that once youâre on the 401 you just want it to be over.Â Itâs like youâre in a long and endless slip stream of traffic going 120 km/hour.Â We stop in Kingston for lunch.Â And as always at our favourite spot the food doesnât come fast enough.Â 10 minutes â “Donât they know weâre on the road?”Â 15-minutes â “Will it never come?”Â 20-minutes.Â “Oh yeah now I remember they make the burgers from scratch.”Â Itâs what we love about the place.Â Delicious.
And today, I went to Birkâs Jewelers to see about having a sterling spoon repaired â you canât drip bleach on silver.Â Who knew?Â The poor woman behind the counter was apologizing before we even started.Â âIt will take a really long time just to see if the silversmith can do anything.â I know a long time.Â I once took a gift my mother-in-law had given me â a small leather agenda cover – back to HermĂ©s for repair.Â It took nearly a year and came back like new.Â âThatâs OK,” I said, “How long?” “Three weeks.” she said.Â “But even then if they can do something it will take another 4 to 6 weeks.”
Four to six weeks to have a master craftsman repair something with value beyond silver.Â Whyâs she apologizing.Â Why arenât we celebrating the mastery.
These stories I think say a lot about our relationship to time.Â Weâre running.Â Heck weâre sprinting â at home and at work.Â Weâre piling more and more into our days.Â And weâre forget that mastery takes time and itâs worth the wait.
Itâs sometimes easy to think that the professions â doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects â are the only fields that have professionals.
Today, our roofers finally arrived.Â Weâre at the top of a 4-story condo facing winter in Montreal with a 21 year old peaked roof.Â To say we were glad to see them is an understatement.
Itâs been a couple of months since we signed our agreement.Â Our contact has kept us in the loop [read managed our expectations] in terms of timing and weather issues, etc.Â Yesterday he called to say that the team would start today at 7:30am.Â Hallelujah.
They arrived at 6:45 and were ready to go at 7:30.Â Immaculate truck.Â Immaculate equipment.Â Hard hats and safety gear in place. One guy â the yellow hard hat guy â clearly in charge. They built a scaffold up the side of the building in record time.Â A truck with a hoist long enough to lift the materials up to the roof in place and ready to go.
We went out for a walk â thereâs not much they can do about the noise so we might as well get a little exercise inâŠ As we left, the shingles and other materials were being delivered to the roof.Â By the time weâd come back, theyâd created a 4-story shoot to carry all the debris down to a huge container.Â On the roof theyâd started pulling up the old shingles and piling them in one place on the lower level [itâs got two levels].Â There one guy was in place at the top of the shoot.Â His job to make sure it all made it down the shoot to the container.
This team is more professional than many corporate teams Iâve seen.Â Theyâre doing what they said they were going to do when they said theyâd do it.Â Itâs obvious from here that each of them has a role knows what it is and has what they need to do it.Â And, you get a feeling that they take pride in the work they do.Â They also do it with joy [and a little fun â there have been a few good laughs from up there].
And, unless I am sorely mistaken by the end of the day tomorrow weâre going to have the best roof on the street.
In organizational life there are a lot of âthemsâ.Â And, they are all up to no good.Â You know them:
- The executive who must have been smoking something when they came up with that idea
- Those senior managers who clearly don’t know what they’re doing
- Those executive assistants who have nothing to do but gossip
- Middle managers and front line supervisors who are simply incompetent and never do the cascades [read anything] the way they were supposed to
- All employees who come to work to do a bad job, waste time on the internet, stand around talking, break the rules
- Those guysÂ in corporate who are always asking us for reports and making our lives miserable
- Those guys in the region who never do what we ask and make our lives miserable
- Our colleagues upstream/downstream/in operationsÂ who just canât get their processes right, deliver on time, do anything right
- Those guys in region X or product Y who don’t do ‘it’ like they’re supposed to
- The consultants who cost too much and deliver so little
- Our customers who question our service, arenât happy with our products.
Whatâs this all about?Â What about us?
There is no one solution for employee communications.Â But one thing is for sure, formal cascades are still around, and unfortunately in many organizations they are viewed as just that: The way we get information out there.
Now Iâm actually a supporter of formal cascades â for the right kinds of communications, and done the right way at the right time and never as a standalone.
More often than not though, messages are pushed out to managers who donât know exactly what and when they have to communicate [we've forgotten to tell them]; don’t have the skills or the time to translate them for their employees; are ill prepared to answer questions; and worse donât have the courage to have honest conversations with their superiors about the issues and concerns they and their employees might have.
Itâs like a really bad night of Karaoke.Â The lyrics are beautiful.Â The tune catchy.Â The voice is excruciating.Â The pacing painful.Â And, the drinks are watered down.
When people say âbe honestâ in an organizational setting I think they really mean âtell the truthâ.Â As an individual telling the âtruthâ is easy.
You know what you know.Â You know what you donât know.
You know how you feel. You know how you donât feel.
You know what youâre going to do.Â You know what youâre not going to do.
Institutionally, itâs a lot harder.Â As an institution you may or may not know. Iâm not saying impossible to know.Â Iâm saying it’s harder.
Understanding and being mindful of the difference is key to great institutional communications.
Todayâs post is inspired by the girls at Underworldâs on Coronation Street [yes, I watch them all].Â Things are going badly for the business.Â Carla has just come back to save the day after two âbadâ characters have apparently left the business in shambles.Â No Christmas for the girls at Underworldâs.Â As one character points out âJust because the owners have done a bad job why wonât we get our Christmas party?âÂ Why are they being punished because of the failings of the owners?Â Well life [and certainly work life] is not fair.
Just buckle down and get on with it.
The CEO and his team want you to be âengagedâ in a âbig changeââŠ
- But, by the time they tell you about it itâs either wrapped with a big bow or itâs still so conceptual you canât make head nor tail of it.Â You just buckle down and get on with it.
- But, in order for the change to happen you will need to take on new projects.Â Your performance objectives havenât changed.Â Your âday jobâ priorities havenât changed.Â Your client needs are still the same.Â The length of your day is still 24 hours [I actually heard an exec tell another senior manager that].Â So, you layer on this new work onto your current work.Â You just buckle down and get on with it.
When “change” came every now and then it was manageable.Â But today weâre asking employees [and I admit it may be even worse the more senior you are] to do back-to-back sprints instead of marathons.
Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?Â Whatâs really changing?
Gary Hamel has started a movement over the summer designed to rethink management.
The other day, he and Veneet Nayar, CEO at HCL spoke about a cultural transformation that has been going on at HCL over the past 5 years.Â It was very thought provoking.Â [for more including a link to the webinar]
His logic is that the value in the business is created at the interface between employees and customers.Â And, according to Nayar the main way to maximize organizational value is to âenthuse, encourage and enable employeesâ.Â And what they realized very early on was that they had delegated that role to the Human Resources function.
For management to add value they were going to have to change their focus on control to a focus on actively supporting employees. Of course, there would still need to be control.Â But, whereas in the past it focused one way, the accountability would now be shared between management and employees.
Now this is where it gets really interesting.Â They didnât just invert their hierarchy and redraw their organization chart.Â They didnât just say the words and leave it to the organization to figure out what it meant.Â Â They started experimenting with different ways to build a culture focused on employees first.
It has not been an easy or short journey. According to Nayar theyâve made âsome big mistakesâ.Â But over the past 5 years theyâve achieved significant growth, seen double digit improvement in employee and customer satisfaction and learned how to better support and engage employees.
Much to learn and think about here.Â What do you think?
Thereâs something in the air and itâs not just that crisp smell of a Canadian fall.Â Iâm noticing more than the usual reflection on whatâs not working in organizations and how to fix it.Â And, thereâs not just more reflection, it seems deeper and maybe even profound.
Many of the themes are very familiar for those of you who follow this blog and/or my friends at CommScrum:
- Think and act from the inside-out.
- Take a system rather than a functional or professional view
- Stop thinking that communications is about crafting and pushing messages
- Get out of your cubicle, off the executive floor and learn from employees and others outside your function/profession
- Empathize.Â Bring a deep human understanding to your profession.
Have I missed any?