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.
I’ve just come back from a family celebration – a 100th birthday [not mine!] – in Yorkshire, England.
Having grown up on stories of village life as depicted in shows like ¬†”All Creatures Great and Small”, I’d assumed at best they were either¬†¬†a glimpse at an idyllic [if challenging] past or complete fantasy.
So I was very struck by the reality of village life I saw on this visit – the central square that you inevitably pass through no matter where you’re heading, the weekend market, the hussle and bustle as stores open in the morning, the quiet calm of the evening, the conversations on the street corners as friends bump into friends and share stories, the friendly ‘Hello, luv’s', the call of the church bell. ¬†Now I’m sure there are downsides of village life – everyone does seem to know everything – but on balance it seems to function well as it has for centuries.
I’d been thinking about this and organizational life: what are our equivalent of a central square? what are the rythmns that punctuate our daily and seasonal business life? how we greet each other in the parking lot, reception, hallways of the places we work? how we tell our stories? what is the equivalent of the church bell to call us out of ourselves and put our work lives in context? What can we as leaders and communicators learn from village life?
And, then I came to Robert Fritz’s most recent post¬†where talks about his own village in Vermont to show how “freedom as a value not a concept”. ¬†It struck me again, that we have even more to learn from village life. ¬†As Robert points out it can be a pretty effective way of organizing ourselves to bring things that matter to us into being. After all isn’t that what our organizations are about?
Here in Canada, the first day after Labour Day begins a new school year for many children. ¬†And one of the important lessons our kids learn before they head off to school is to “Stop. Look. Listen” before crossing the street.
And, maybe it’s a lesson we as leaders and communicators can learn from too¬†as we get back to work after the summer and start in on this new business season full of the pressures of strategic planning and budgeting, achieving last quarter and annual results, annual performance reviews and objective setting for next year.
Last week I read ¬†an article in the Globe and Mail‘s Report on Small Business. ¬†The article is part of a regular weekly series where the paper asks experts to advise small and medium-sized businesses on how to handle a particular business issue.
In this case¬†¬†the CEO of a small agency felt his company had become the training ground for other, bigger¬†agencies. ¬†The company provides compensation and benefits in line with bigger firms. They’ve started funding professional training and development.¬†They offer “perks that would make it fun to work there – from beer flowing on Fridays to staff bonging outings.” And still they’re losing employees. Recently 3 employees were actively headhunted and recruited by one company.
Three experts offered their advice.
- Implement a bonus plan
- Get potential employees to work harder to get the job in the first place by having them do a presentation to all staff so they’ll be less likely to leave. ¬†Reduce the number of employees and pay them more
- Identify and get to high performers faster to demonstrate your commitment. ¬†Titles matter.
Not one of the experts suggested asking employees what they want. . ¬†Maybe beer on Fridays isn’t what they’re after.¬†The truth is the CEO doesn’t know. And, he won’t know unless he asks them.
For exiting employees: ¬†Why are they leaving? ¬†Is it something we have control over or not? ¬†I think the exit interview is one of the most under-utilized communication channels. ¬†And even when it’s used the information gathered doesn’t seem to be fed back into the system in a way that makes any meaningful difference.
For current employees: ¬†What do they like about their work? the agency? their teams? ¬†What would they like to see change?¬†What aretheir expectations for their careers?
For new employees: ¬†How did they make their decision to join the agency? ¬†What attracted them? ¬†What expectations do they have for the work and their careers?
Sometimes there’s really nothing that can be done organizationally. ¬†Turnover can just be a feature of the industry [and may even be welcome]. ¬†And sometimes we can learn a lot and make even small changes that make it easy for employees to stay. ¬†It starts by asking and listening to employees!
In¬†Amber Naslund‘s recent post¬†”Critical thought is an endangered species“and in the comments that follow, the general conclusion¬†seems to be that not thinking [mindlessness] is easier than thinking. It’s easier to go with the flow. It’s easier to do what you’re told. It’s easier to join the whining hordes. It’s easier to follow the path of least resistance.
Or perhaps it’s just that we’ve never learned to think and ask questions. ¬†We haven’t been, and aren’t, challenged to think by our¬†teachers, mentors and coaches,¬†leaders – CEOs, Prime Ministers, Bishops or Rabbis, Generals, etc. – fathers and mothers, friends and colleagues. ¬†We aren’t encouraged to¬†ask good questions? Heck to ask any questions.
As Amber concluded: “We have to snap the hell out of it.” ¬†But how?
Stop being lazy. Get curious. Don’t wait to be encouraged. Practice asking questions. ¬†Learn how to ask better and better questions. ¬†¬†[BTW - this is the basis of structural consulting as taught by Robert and Rosalind Fritz. ¬†Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of their work and have been studying with them and using the principles of structural dynamics¬†to better support my clients for many years]
As an exercise, next time you’re reading anything, watching tv or a movie, in your next conversation or meeting:
- Start with nothing – no preconceived notions, no comparative thinking [this is actually harder than it sounds]
- Picture what is being said, not what you think is, could or should be being said.
- And ask a question where there’s one to ask [i.e. where there's a discrepancy, a need for clarification, an implication, etc.] – if you’re reading, watching tv or a movie this may be the end of the exercise unless you’re only part way through, in which case the answer may become apparent as you read/watch on and/or new questions will emerge.
- Picture the answer
- Repeat as needed. And encourage those around you to do the same.
And, let me know how it goes. ¬†Mindfulness takes practice, so be patient. ¬†Guaranteed it will be worth it.
For a little summer fun, check this out. ¬†Is Perry Mason starting with nothing?
Saying goodbye to our favourite jargon isn’t that easy. ¬†A recent chat on the IABC linked in page asked for jargon no one wanted to hear ever again.¬† Here are just a few examples:
Incentivize, c-suite, granular, customer-centric, innovation, collaboration, creative, low hanging fruit, breaking silos, verticals, blueprint for change, under the tent, run of play, strategic architects, rolldown, scaling, flight risk, thinking outside the box,¬†pick my brain, value-added, leverage, make an ask, reach out, bandwidth, deep dive, drill down, ramp up, onboard[ing], quick wins, tactical execution, think laterally, going forward, socialize, run it up the flagpole, circle back, face time, strategic decision‚Ä¶
And more. Many, many, more.
I think we all agree. ¬†Jargon is a bad thing. And yet, most of us have been guilty at one time or another of contributing to our jargon-filled world. Jargon just sticks.
So, now what?¬†I‚Äôm thinking we may need a good exorcism.
This morning I came across three articles. Three different perspectives. Same conclusion. The more connected we are as leaders and as organizations the better.
Perspective 1 -¬†CEOs.¬†A study of 65 chief executives from around the world discovered that CEOs spend an average of 6 hours out of their 55-hour work week alone. The remainder of the time is spent in business meetings [virtual and face-to-face] and lunches and on the phone. CEOs may not like it, but it is how their work gets done and confirms Henry Mintzberg‘s seminal study “The nature of managerial work” ¬†.
Perspective 2: Leadership teams.¬†In their new book Strategy & Business, Rob Cross and Jon Katzenbach describe how: “In most companies, the phrase top team is a misnomer…” Instead, they go on to say: ¬†[P]ower comes from … members’ informal and social networks, their determination to make the most of those connections, and their ability to work well in subgroups formed to address specific issues… [A]s much as 90 per cent of the information that most senior executives receive and take action on comes throughout their informal networks – not formal reports or databases.” The conclusion: Enriching networks enriches organizations.
Perspective 3: Organizations.¬†”Web 2.0 … promote[s] significantly more flexible processes at internally networked organizations: respondents say that information is shared more readily and less hierarchically, collaboration across organizational silos is more common, and tasks are more often tackled in a project-based fashion.” This study goes on to demonstrate that the more networked an organization the more business benefits. If you, or your leadership team, ever had any doubts it’s worth taking a look.
Connecting is what we as human beings do. We’re social creatures. Our organizational work gets done with, and through, other people.
Helping your employees connect.¬†A little idea with huge potential business benefits.
It’s a potentially beautiful thing.
Last week I checked out a Kevin Rose interview with Chris Sacca thanks to a referral from Mitch Joel’s blog. ¬†For those of you who are like me and not part of the geek tech world, Kevin is the founder of Digg and serial start-up guy and Chris¬†is a tech investor whose investments include things like Twitter.¬†The interview is, as Mitch promised, an interesting look at this world.
Near the end, Chris describes the kinds of people he likes to work with and that he would hire or invest in. ¬†As you might expect, they aren’t your usual Corporate criteria. I thought his take was pretty interesting and worth repeating here.
To start with, ¬†you need to be the kind of person that Chris would like to hang out with. ¬†I think we can assume that you need to be smart. ¬†But you’ve also:
- Done at least one tough job – you’ve gotten your hands dirty doing real work
- Lived and worked in a foreign country – it’s humbling living somewhere where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture
- Played sports – you’re more likely to be balanced about the boundaries between work and life
Though not essential but good to have: you’ve gone to and excelled at college. ¬†He particularly likes a liberal arts education. You learn how to think.
Otherwise, according to Chris he can “Just hire a Dalek”. ¬†Just a bit harsh… ¬†But what do you think? Is there anything we as leaders can learn from Chris’s criteria?
One year ago today,¬†Atos Origin‘s CEO and Chairman, Thierry Breton, announced Atos Origin would [like to] become a zero email company within three years.
At the time, Mr Breton said:
‚ÄúWe are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. At Atos Origin we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business. Managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails. They are already using social media networking more than search, and spend 25 per cent of their time searching for information. At Atos Origin, for example, we have set up collaboration tools and social community platforms, to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation and Lean Management through to sales. Businesses need to do more of this – email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business.‚ÄĚ
In their press release they also reported that:
- By 2013, more than half of all new digital content will be the result of updates to, and editing of existing information
- Online social networking is now more popular than email and search
- Middle managers spend more than 25% of their time searching for information
- 2010 : Corporate users receive 200 mails per day, 18% of which is spam.”
Atos Origin has created a page on their site that expands on their position and approach -¬†here.
I’m curious about how they are doing on their mission to become a zero email company. ¬†Good, bad or indifferent there will be lessons here. ¬†So, I’ve asked them – by email [oh dear!].
As for the rest of us, over the past year I think we’ve all been feeling the pressure. Virtually all “organizational” men and women are increasingly tethered to email through their mobile devises 24/7.¬†We’re initiating, receiving and responding more.
When you add email to all of the other ways we are sending and receiving information it can all be a bit overwhelming.
Let’s hope Atos has some good news and a few insights about their journey so far that they are willing to share! Standby.
When you drive a big rig, the time you drive and rest is regulated for safety reasons.
When you fly a plane, the time you fly and rest is regulated for safety reasons.
When you’re a senior leader making decisions that affect 1,000s, maybe 100,000s, of people – employees and customers and communities – you can, and likely do, work many more hours than the 40 hour, 5 day standard work week [at least that's what it is here in Quebec, Canada].
I recently read a post ¬†-¬†”How to accomplish more by doing less” -¬†that brought the implications of this to my mind again. Here Tony Shwartz talks about the absence of regular rest and renewal during the day and a good night sleep on individual performance. ¬†And, that made me wonder about the impact it’s having on the quality of thinking and decisions that are being taken by leaders who are are working 60+ hour weeks. Not getting breaks or lunches away from their desks. Working evenings and weekends because they are in meetings from 8 to 6 or later each and every day. Not taking vacations.
Could inadequate rest and renewal have led to our current global economic and political situation?
How can we help our organizations focus and prioritize?
Do less [but more of the right things]. Do it well. And maybe we can change the world!