Do You Lead by Listening?

As Flight 1549 plummeted down, they chanted in unison to passengers, “Brace, brace, heads down, stay down,” preventing many injuries during the rough water landing; a testament to the leadership aboard the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, and to the power of repetitive and concrete instruction for provoking action (Sutton, 2010). Examples such as this one are those rare gems which can take an entire tome on leadership, and give it a single, palpable schema with which to walk away from the reading and immediately apply its lessons. Yet is leadership entirely about leading? Is being a follower both the antithetical and only alternative?

Leadership is leading, yes as the term begets, but leading is additionally listening. In a summer article for the Harvard Business Review, Martin (2007) wrote, “Brilliant leaders excel at integrative thinking. They can hold two opposing ideas in their minds at once. Then, rather than settling for choice A or B, they forge an innovative “third way” that contains elements of both but improves on each… Embrace the complexity of conflicting options. And emulate great leaders’ decision-making approach – looking beyond obvious considerations” (p. 73). The funny thing is, though, some leaders may hear this and think they must come up with all of those great options & ideas personally. ‘They put me in charge because they expect me to have all the answers’ you may say. ‘My people can’t possibly think I am weak and in need of their help to decide what to do’. I challenge this thinking to instead reply that your abilities as an individual contributor may have been what brought you praise, possibly even initial consideration for the position you now serve, but it wasn’t why you were selected.

You were selected because you see the opportunities a better run team can collectively contribute to organizational success, more colloquially known as ‘seeing both the forest and the trees’. But where can we turn for a repetitive, concrete example of how to get the best of our people by learning to listen better, rather than relying on our ideas and personal experiences alone? How about a solution dating back to 1956, Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Educators have been using it for decades, and anyone who has frequented grad school has been exposed at least minimally in conversation with fellow scholars. The crux of Bloom’s work gives us categorical direction with which to mine meaningful data from our direct reports, by simply channeling the intentions of our listening activities via the following levels of thinking as described by Anderson & Krathwohl (2001):

Remembering: Retrieving, recognizing, and recalling relevant knowledge from long-term memory.

Understanding: Constructing meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages through interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining.

Applying: Carrying out or using a procedure through executing, or implementing.

Analyzing: Breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose through differentiating, organizing, and attributing.

Evaluating: Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing.

Creating: Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.

So try this yourself with your team, by applying at least two of these levels in your next meeting, see if the conversation changes shape from what you’re used to hearing (or saying).

– Justin

Forehand, M. (2005). Bloom’s taxonomy: Original and revised. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/

Martin, R. (2007). How successful leaders think. Harvard Business Review, 85(6), 60-67.

Sutton, R. I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best – and learn from the worst. New York, NY: Business Plus.

Advertisement

Help Them Grow Before They Work For You: Community-Based Curriculum

Generally, futurologists do not attempt to predict what is going to happen in 10-15 years, but rather attempt to decide on what they want to happen so that they can then make more intelligent choices (McNeil, 2009). In order to prepare tomorrow’s business leaders for the obstacles that lay before them while acting as global citizens, we must rethink today’s curriculum at our institutions of higher education. Recent years have seen a proliferation of career schools, oriented in training practitioners to meet the demands of society’s impoverished trades. These trades, ranging from business, to healthcare, to the legal profession, give rise to a series of curriculum which are founded upon systemic views of curriculum development. The aforementioned futurists belong instead to the school of thought concerning the social reconstructionist curriculum.

Considering only those participants who are identified as members of the organization, who is recruited and how long they stay have a wide range of implications for the structure and performance of the organization (Scott, 2003). The organization of tomorrow is more likely to take advantage of advanced technologies, contribute to the abundance of information already seen by the current generation, and will be entirely composed of knowledge workers. The implication to these conditions is to develop a curriculum around the intelligence, creativity, and energy of the upcoming generation. Yet, as current curriculum is developed via traditional models intrinsic in our larger institutions, there lies a great opportunity for those institutions to embrace a school of thought which is concerned with allowing the learner to be focused on the student’s definition of self and thereby provide the catalyst for greater individual growth.

Under the leadership of the school, community members meet to acquire the mental outlooks, knowledge, and skills for establishing new industry central to the development and self-sufficiency of the community (McNeil, 2009). As a solution to the imperative concerning the development of curriculum to meet the needs of tomorrow, there is the opportunity to begin to engage the community. This engagement is much less about solving the problems faced today, and is more about contributing to social reconstruction via a democratized model of curriculum development based on future need. When initiating a dialogue from relevant stakeholders, there lies the opportunity to forge connections between the impressions of need felt by teacher, administrator, community member, and student alike.

It is important to emphasize that transfer and long-term retention are enhanced by learning conditions that introduce difficulties in learning initially and even impair performance (McNeil, 2009). A student can be better served with a curriculum not allowing for immediate, small successes, and instead introduces such challenge that refuge must be sought in disparate pieces of information. This gives rise to the synthesis of otherwise meaningless data in a way that forges connections throughout the curriculum, and instills a sense of student independence with regard to the learning. This, thereby creating a heightened sense of self-efficacy, and preparing him/her for the future challenges that await in an increasingly global society where an employee is as much a global, corporate citizen.

To conclude, democratizing the curriculum development effort where institutions, their constituents, community members, and students alike have a profound effect on the way essential skills are taught moving forward presents an opportunity to go beyond lesson plans which harbor activities built to the textbooks of today. In learning how to learn through long-term retention activities, and while incorporating this community-based outcome of social reconstructionist curriculum, the educational institutions of today may be better prepared to face the challenges facing them tomorrow.

– Justin

McNeil, J.D. (2009). Contemporary curriculum: In thought and action. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Scott, W.R. (2003). Organizations: rational, natural, and open systems. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Keep Employees Engaged, At Any Age

Meister & Willyerd (2010) contend, “The organizations that create a competitive advantage in the 2020 workplace will do so by instituting innovative human resource practices – by first defining an authentic core set of organizational values and then augmenting these by leveraging the latest tools of the social Web to reimagine learning and development, talent management, and leadership practices (p. 4). This done, as the authors describe the working environment we currently experience, which consists of four generations in the workplace simultaneously, and while sharing differing sets of values and beliefs.

The research of Meister & Willyerd (2010) discovered:

What happens in the workplace when these credentials-driven Millenials (born 1977 to 1997 to include Gen-X) are forced to work side by side with older coworkers, who may at times view them as out of touch with reality? To successfully answer this question and the others raised by having an age-diverse workforce coexisting in the workplace, it’s important to develop an understanding of each generation as well as the challenges the different generations bring to the workplace in terms of communication styles, career aspirations, and knowledge transfer. Understanding each generation is critical because employers who adapt the fastest to a multigenerational workforce will be able to attract the highest-quality employees when the war for talent is in full swing. (p. 43)

Generational studies remain critical to the study of organizations as those organizations continue to employ generations whose norms, values, and beliefs shift over time. The face of today’s modern workforce is more diverse than any time in recent history; multiple generations are now working side-by-side in organizations requiring today’s human capital leaders to reexamine how to respond to each generations specific needs to create an engaged workforce (Blake, 2009).

The U. S. Dept. of Labor states that those 65 and older will grow from 12.4% of the population in 2000 to 20.7% in 2050; it also states that one reason boomers will retain positions from which they would have retired or work under new compromising arrangements is that they are needed (Lindborg, 2008). It is no surprise that the Baby Boomer generation will remain a long-term fixture of the American workforce for some time, yet what is also apparent are the differences amassing between this, and its successor generation, Generation X. In a study of The Correlation of Retention, Masi (2010) studied a population “made up of participants eighteen or older, with Internet or email access, and was categorized by generational age groups (p. 2). This study on the impact of ‘manager’s behavior on retention among high potential employees from different generations’ studied a representative sample of 1,000 qualified participants of differing age categories to see just how perception dictates retention. Masi (2010) found, “the results described a medium strength of correlation, r = 0.379, between the decision to leave and the distance in perceptions between employee and manager” (p. 105). Similarly, as remarked by Pitzl (2010), “For meaningful and harmonious transition to occur there has to be a more conscious effort to better understand one another” (p. 28). These differences plague not only levels of understanding and therefore communication between generations, but can affect retention as well.

Dries, Pepermans, and De Kerpel (2008) take this a step further to ask whether ‘satisfied is the new successful’. To determine an evidenced response, the authors studied a total of 750 people completing a vignette task, thereby rating the success of 32 fictitious people (Dries, et al., 2008, p. 907). To complete this research, a synopsis of the four generations studied was completed. These generations included the ‘Silent Generation’, ‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Generation-X’, and ‘Generation-Y’, each with their own general and work-related values respectively. Whereas the general values of the Silent Generation included conformism, the Baby Boomers were summarized to exhibit a more idealistic tendency. Once Generation-X was reached, equal portions of skepticism and individualism were listed. The findings from the vignette tasks administered by Dries, et al., (2008) revealed “If our design accurately presented the reality of career evaluation, then, this would mean that the shared social understanding agreed upon by all generations tends to validate the internal evaluations individuals make about their own careers, no matter what their objective characteristics” (p. 923).

Hiring and retaining employees is one of the biggest challenges we face in organizations today; add in what we now recognize as four generations of employees in today’s workforce, and the challenge potentially becomes a recipe for disaster (Clare, 2009). The author continued with a classification of generations not unlike the aforementioned, yet specifically highlighting Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, and Millenials as the populations of inquiry. Through means of understanding cultural differences, and embracing those differences, Clare (2009) later concludes, “If you are able to harness the strengths of all the generations and different personality types, the results can be impressive” (p. 43).

– Justin

Blake, D. (2009). Creating generationally specific engagement strategies based on need satisfaction. Ph.D. dissertation, Capella University, United States — Minnesota. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3360065).

Clare, C. (2009). Generational differences: Turning challenges into opportunities. Journal of Property Management, sep.oct 2009, 43.

Dries, N., Pepermans, R., & De Kerpel, E. (2008). Exploring four generations’ beliefs about career :Is “satisfied” the new “successful”?. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23(8), 907-928.

Lindborg, H. (2008). A booming voice. Quality Progress, 41(9), 58-59.

Masi, F. (2010). The correlation of retention: An investigation of the relationship between what is important to employees and what is perceived to be important to their managers. Ph.D. dissertation, Capella University, United States — Minnesota.

Meister, J. C. & Willyerd, K. (2010). The 2020 workplace: How innovative companies attract, develop, and keep tomorrow’s employees today. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Pitzl, J. (2010). Building bridges between generations. Journal of Financial Planning, 28-30. Retrieved from Business Source Elite database.

Tomorrow’s Talent Management Today

Over the past generation, talent management practices, especially in the United States, have by and large been dysfunctional, leading corporations to lurch from surpluses of talent to shortfalls to surpluses and back again (Cappelli, 2008).  This, the introductory statement to the HBR article Talent Management for the Twenty-First Century describes the plight felt by today’s corporations, in an era where both the supply and demand of talent rest in environments as unstable as the economy itself.  At the precipice of this issue are the considerations for career paths.  With the greater majority of variables being as descriptive of personal characteristics as organizational ones, solutions for the merger of such concepts as career success and talent management become less frequently available.  One solution as proposed by Cappelli (2008) includes, “The issues and challenges in managing an internal talent pipeline—how employees advance through development jobs and experiences—are remarkably similar to how products move through a supply chain: reducing bottlenecks that block advancement, speeding up processing time, improving forecasts to avoid mismatches” (p. 2).  Hall (1976) introduced the concept of the ‘protean career’, characterized by individuals taking the lead in career management, driven by the change of personal rather than organizational needs;  he even argued that the ‘career’ no longer exists within organizations (Kim, 2005).

The meeting place of these ideas may rest in the concept of organizational interventions.  As Kim (2005) in Organizational Interventions Influencing Employee Career Development Preferred by Different Career Success Orientations describes a “study [which] explores Korean employees’ perspectives on organizational interventions that influence their career development, according to personal definitions of career success (p. 48).  A sample of 1,000 respondents of a wireless communication company responded to a survey which identified career success orientations and preferred organizational interventions.  Kim (2005) describes the findings as, “From a practical perspective, at the organizational level, the findings of this study imply that organizations may want to design their career mobility systems or performance incentive systems in accordance with employees’ career orientations” (p. 59).

Where the existing literature becomes scant, is when the task becomes elucidating what is meant by creating organizational-individual alignment for like-minded career planning to optimize career success in talent management. Research which has shed some light on this topic, however, includes Martin & Schmidt (2010) in How to Keep Your Top Talent, wherein they list the 10 critical components of a talent development program (p. 6).  These components include (a) explicitly test candidates in three dimensions (ability, engagement, and aspiration); (b) emphasize future competencies; (c) manage the quantity and quality of high potentials; (d) forget rote functional or business-unit rotations; (e) identify the riskiest, most challenging positions; (f) create individual development plans; (g) reevaluate top talent annually; (h) offer significantly differentiated compensation; (i) hold regular, open dialogues; (j) replace broadcast communications about the company’s strategy with individualized messages for emerging leaders (Martin & Schmidt, 2010).

“We conducted a survey of human resources executives from 40 companies around the world in 2005, and virtually all of them indicated that they had an insufficient pipeline of high-potential employees to fill strategic management roles” lament Ready & Conger (2007) of Make Your Company a Talent Factory.  In an industrial environment where organizations are forced to forgo contracts, which contribute to either substantial gains in revenue and/or market share, few organizations have in-place what the authors call “talent factories”.  In these scenarios, they marry functionality, rigorous talent processes that support strategic and cultural objectives, and vitality, emotional commitment by management that is reflected in daily actions (Ready & Conger, 2007).  While the study speaks to the development and retention of key personnel in adopting this approach, the further benefit is an alignment with some of the preferences of the current organizational population including achievement, realism, and conscientiousness emphasized in evidence-based decision making.  Adding a layer of predictability to this inter-organizational movement arms companies with the ability to be cognizant of where resources should be allocated for this process of utmost importance, and as the generational shift which has sparked the ‘War for Talent’ continues with a level of fervor not before seen among corporate ranks.

– Justin

Cappelli, P. (2008). Talent management for the twenty-first century. Harvard Business Review, 86(3), 74-81.

Kim, N. (2005). Organizational interventions influencing employee career development preferred by different career success orientations. International Journal of Training & Development, 9(1), 47-61.

Ready, D. A., & Conger, J. A. (2007, September 15). How to fill the talent gap. Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition. p. R4.

Martin, J., & Schmidt, C. (2010). How to keep your top talent. Harvard Business Review, 88(5), 54-61.

Leveraging Support Systems for Unparalleled Performance

Tacit-explicit interactions largely determine the extent to which participants make use of others’ knowledge, build on others’ creative insights, and harness the synergistic potential of product-innovation settings (Biscaccianti, Esposito, & Williams, 2011).  While the authors were expressly referring to product innovation, this conclusion is equally applicable in nearly all organizational situations where knowledge exchange occurs.  This universality is the direct result of the need for those who possess greater experience – who thereby possess greater tacit knowledge – to then share this with those who may possess greater explicit knowledge – such as those acting on the cutting-edge who are perhaps less experienced yet aware of emerging trend.   The meeting place of the tacit-explicit interaction is therefore a situation where at least two participants part ways sharing collectively deeper levels of understanding in the nuance of current, experience-supported technical expertise.

Support systems, such as this interaction where an innovator supports another, is a source of unparalleled performance based on a mutually beneficial relationship.  Once a particular passion or interest is unleashed, constant interaction among group members, with their varying skills and talents, functions as a kind of peer amplifier, providing numerous outlets, resources, and aids to further an individual’s learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011).  On the scale of an organization, this same amplification is seen at a collective height where an individual’s benefit is multiplied many times over.  This distinction becomes inherently crucial when regarding organizational performance, as the focus is normatively on the proper comprehension & execution of a strategy and its objectives.  Yet in situations where a strategy is poorly articulated or understood – or in situations where workers are charged with conjuring their own plans of attack – gaps in the collective knowledge of an organization begin to amass as portions of the organization advance in disparate directions to satiate the same goal(s).  As remarked by Merchant (2010), “In Silicon Valley, we call that gap an ‘Air Sandwich’: the empty void in an organization between the high-level strategy conjured up in the stratosphere and the realization of that vision down on the ground”.

Support systems, in this instance referring to any opportunity for the knowledge/skills/abilities of one to provide benefit to another, can unlock potential stifled by these structural and communication-based barriers to execution and therefore performance.  One such strategy includes building an advice-and-counsel network of trusted advisers within and outside the organization with whom to talk through what you are experiencing (Watkins, 2003).  Additional strategies include mobilizing organizational change by setting the fast zebras free, and melting the frozen tundra by seeding a movement and ultimately proving the movement works (Katzenbach & Kahn, 2010).  In nearly every instance, a terse summary of the suggested approach for eliminating the void and driving unparalleled performance requires a collective representation of knowledge both in storage and in use.  This knowledge, as well as opportunities to identify positive deviance such that they may be communicated as best practice which will ultimately drive structured efficacy toward pointed, consistent organizational measures of performance allows for an evolved lens with which to view performance toward a single, holistic purpose.

– Justin

Biscaccianti, A., Esposito, M., & Williams, L.C. (2011). The M3C model of cooperative contextual change. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises.

Katzenbach, J. R. & Khan, Z. (2010). Leading outside the lines: How to mobilize the (in)formal organization, energize your team, and get better results. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Merchant, N. (2010). The new how: Creating business solutions through collaborative strategy. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown.

Watkins, M. (2003). The first 90 days: Critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Leading Down the Path of Greatest Resistance

A culture of high performance depends on commitment at the highest levels of the organization—not only to set it in motion but also to maintain the momentum that ensures ongoing high performance (Thomas, Harburg, & Dutra, 2007).  Change is not a concept in its infancy nor is change an easy process, yet as the c-suite continues to rely on those reporting to them to execute change within an organization, the potential result is an unmanned and underperforming change effort.  To set the stage for fluid change in an organization, one can begin with an exploration into the concept of leadership as it applies to this effort in particular.  Perhaps not because leadership is all that makes a change effort successful, yet rather because a lack of leadership can be all that is needed to make a change effort a failure.

Transcending our own egos, entering uncertainty, being open and seeking increased awareness, challenging our own hypocrisy, being purpose-centered – it all sounds very intense and difficult to sustain (Quinn, 2004).  Leading change at the individual level can often be confused with simply taking tenacious action.  Yet, as Quinn describes, it is far more about undergoing a transformational effort within the self regarding perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and patterns of behavior.  Rather than looking at the organization juxtaposed to personal life, perhaps a more efficacious approach is to view the organization in conjunction with personal life.  This done not because it is acceptable to bring personal  turmoil to the workplace, rather because it is sought that every leader who has the opportunity to succeed in a change effort brings the life lessons, attitudes, and beliefs of self to the organization instead.  Once congruence is reached between the personal and professional lives of a leader than true action can begin.  And once a leader is congruent, focus, perseverance, and a true sense of leadership can emerge.

The energy and moral power of people in the fundamental state of leadership tends to be contagious (Quinn, 2004).  This excerpt pertains to the concept of Emergent Leadership.  Emergent Leadership is much less about the hierarchical means of process integration as prescribed by industry for prior decades, and is instead regarding the leadership role each individual on a team takes when relative strengths can become both apparent and utilized in a change effort.  Teams in organizations have a tendency to gravitate toward structure, isolating leadership within a team, and assigning accountability based on either title, pay grade, or political standing.  Emergent Leadership conversely discusses an individual becoming the team leader only insomuch as they create the opportunity for each team member to feel free to lead each aspect of a change effort where individual talents can emerge.  As such, to lead a team thereby becomes much less about exacting orders, and much more about bringing to light the individual talents of each member of the team, while simultaneously empowering them to use those talents. Organizations need to change constantly, for all kinds of reasons, but achieving a true step change in performance is rare (Meaney & Pung, 2008).  Ever-Increasing Integrity is a term used to envelope all concepts surrounding revitalized, transformational leadership via the methods as described.  Quinn posits that with ever-increasing integrity; organizations have the ability to empower individuals at all levels to contribute to the leadership of the change effort in such a way that a more contagious, shared-values approach is seen throughout the transformation.  It is with Ever-Increasing Integrity, in combination with Emergent Leadership & personal congruence, that leaders of all levels have the opportunity to contribute toward a successful transformation effort.  Rather than finding themselves responsible for forcing the change onto the organization, they are no longer leading down the path of greatest resistance.

– Justin

Hrebiniak, L.G. (2005). Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing

Meaney, M. & Pung, C. (2008). Creating Organizational Transformations. New York, NY: McKinsey & Company

Thomas, R.J., Harburg, F., & Dutra, A. (2007). How to Create a Culture of High Performance. New York, NY: Accenture.

Attribution Errors in Viewing Organizational Complexity

If concepts such as The Corporate Lattice, Management Innovation, Positive Deviance, Collective Leadership, and Hyperspecialization teach us anything, it is the organization of today will soon no longer exist.  Yet sea change as a concept to envelope what’s happening is quickly becoming a tired excuse.  Rather than committing the fundamental attribution error of assigning all blame to one construct, can we instead begin to chip away at the solution by beginning to dissect the myriad contributions to its existence?

As remarked by Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel (1998), “Cognition aside, in reviewing a large body of literature, ten distinct points of view did emerge, most of which are reflected in management practice… each has a unique perspective that focuses [on] one major aspect of the strategy-formation process” (p. 4).  These ten points of view include the Design, Planning, Positioning, Entrepreneurial, Cognitive, Learning, Power, Cultural, Environmental, and Configuration Schools.  Each school looks at the strategy process differently, and includes many sentiments regarding which is the key actor, and what drives strategy.  Of particular note in this research is the Environmental School.  The Environmental School depicts the strategy process as being outside of the organization, and the organization instead more of a ‘mirror’ to what surrounds it.  The consequences of such a premise include both the organization’s requirement to respond to environmental factors or be selected out, and include the clustering together in distinct ecological-type niches, or positions where they remain until resources become scarce or conditions too hostile (Mintzberg et. al, 1998).

In a recently published article entitled A Corporate Climate of Mutual Help, Edgar Schein, known as MIT’s ‘sage of organizational culture’ spoke of the need for interdependence to be at the heart accountability in organizations.  Schein (2011) remarked, “Better teamwork requires perpetual mutual helping, [across] boundaries…  I don’t see how we’re going to get there unless we create cultural ‘islands’ – situations in which people can go outside the organization’s norms and practices and explicitly create [this relationship]” (p. 3).  This recalibrating of organizations speaks to pointed efforts to reduce or eliminate the boundaries seen in organizations whereby functions are departmentalized, and senior leadership does not exercise opportunities to make others ‘feel psychologically safe’ as Schein describes.  Based on this evaluation, there exists a need to reorganize the organization to be one exhibiting more matrix characteristics, where specialized teams can be created across cultural boundaries to solve the problem at-hand.  Creating a culture of true collaboration, and one where the skills of one department, function, or team are not isolated from another based on organization, and one where the organization itself is not a precursor for how work is done.

Howard Gardner, in his text entitled Five Minds for the Future (2006), chronicles the aptitudes which will be in high demand in the coming future, and describes these abilities in greater detail.  These minds include the disciplinary mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.  In order to assess value, one must consider the world of the future – with its ubiquitous search engines, robots, and other computational devices – will demand capacities that until now have been mere options (Gardner, 2006).  These five minds become important, as understanding persons unlike us can be a tumultuous endeavor.  An effort wrought with misunderstanding, with confusion, with undetected bias.  Yet, in considering these five minds, we are bestowed a template with which to evaluate a person’s ability to contribute to organizational success, and a means for evaluating best fit once self-regard is known.

Design, culture, and aptitude do not encompass all which attribute to the change both here and on the horizon.  Certainly no one discipline can answer this question for us either.  Yet these three lenses are indeed a beginning to the learning which is and will continue to be required of us, if we are to aggregate human effort for the purpose of elevating the societies which our organizations intrinsically serve.

– Justin

Gardner, H. (2006) Five minds for the future.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press

Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B., & Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy safari: A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management. New York, NY.: The Free Press

Schein, E. (2011). A corporate climate of mutual help. New York, NY: Booz & Company, Inc.

Updating the Definition of Workplace Teams

According to Benko & Anderson (2010), “Companies use forty times as many projects now as they used twenty years ago, heightening the need for teamwork… Work is changing so fast that the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 60 percent of all new jobs in the twenty-first century will requires skills that only 20 percent of current employees possess” (p. 2).  Teams are a complex topic, ruled by a simplistic mindset, including getting people together, communicating a problem, electing a leader, and assigning work.  Good teams add measures (metrics) ahead of time to assess how they’re doing as they go, while better teams incorporate communications about themselves ahead of time to better evaluate how each will add to the project’s collective success (individual value propositions).  Yet is this really it?  In a Google/YouTube/Flickr world, are we really doing everything we can to bring teams into the 21st century, and is technology the only possible contributor today?  Not really.

Consider the Spring 2011 edition of the MIT Sloan Management Review.  In the article, Why Project Networks Beat Project Teams, the question was how can organizations help teams successfully tackle complex projects (Cummings & Pletcher, 2011).  Findings included the following:

  • By tapping the personal networks of team members to create a project network, a team can receive valuable information and feedback from “noncore contributors” not part of the official team.
  • The number of noncore contributors who helped a team was a positive and significant predictor of team success.
  • Managers can explicitly encourage the formation of project networks.

The implication here then is the concept of a project team has for too long been too rigidly defined.  Open source is another great example of this, and the overarching idea to both concepts being the team does not need rigidity to garner performance; whereas the collective is a more powerful contributor to team success. Have you ever looked on, as a team just outside of your  each could have been helped by something you knew, and you sat back asking, “why didn’t they just ask me?”  That is this concept in action.  Today’s organizations are not the hierarchies of yesterday, and are not the fixed installments of positions / roles / rights / responsibilities we once knew.  Departments work together more seamlessly, challenges require the collective insight of the whole, and team structures must change in order to equally adapt.

As a final thought, to truly conceptualize the shift discussed, consider this from Blenko, Mankins, & Rogers (2010) of Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in your organization:

“The ultimate challenge for any organization is not just to fix individual [decisions].  It is to create an environment where best practices happen naturally – where the whole organizational system supports people in making and executing good decisions quickly.  To sustain great performance, you have to determine which elements of the organization actually do reinforce good decisions and which don’t.  Then you can adjust the parts that are getting in the way.”

– Justin

Benko, C. & Anderson, M. (2010). The corporate lattice: Achieving high performance in the changing world of work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Blenko, M.W., Mankins, M.C., & Rogers, P. (2010). Decide & deliver: 5 steps to breakthrough performance in your organization. Boston, MA: Bain & Company, Inc.

Cummings, J. & Pletcher, C. (2011). Why project networks beat project teams. MIT Sloan Management Review, 52(3). 75-80.

Hamel, G. (2007). The future of management. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Aligning Paradigmatic Reality in Organizational Inquiry

Positivist adherents believe action to be either a form of advocacy or a form of subjectivity, either or both of which undermine the aim of objectivity (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).  With this definition in mind, it requires the researcher regard positivism and participatory study as mutually exclusive when discussing the call to action.  This based on the positivist view that including action in the research reduces validity, as opposed to participatory study which says that action is where the study derives its validity.  If action is not the responsibility of the researcher in positivist study, and action is crucial to validity in the participatory paradigm, it is clear that in order to ensure that validity of the research with respect to both approach and axiology, the participatory paradigm must remain with respect to the call to action as well, such that the interactions of the participants and confirming actions regarding exploring a solution can be assessed.

Paradigmatic formulations interact such that control becomes inextricably intertwined with mandates for objectivity (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).  Whether objectivity is determined as control residing solely in the researcher as in positivism, or where control is a more shared feature among participants as in participatory study dictates not only the level of control, but the application of control within the study.  Templates of truth and knowledge can be defined in a variety of ways – as the end product of rational processes, as the result of experimental sensing, as the result of empirical observation, and others (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).  With respect to the relationship of truth & knowledge in inquiry, positivism regarding these as foundational, whereas participatory study regards these as non-foundational.  More recently, truth and knowledge in research have been regarded as the empirical, and not without some human interaction.  Yet, as truth and knowledge become the foundation of what is perceived as in positivism, it leaves little room for interpretations of reality within participants in a collaborative or competing environment.

As participatory study regards truth and knowledge as non-foundational, these empirical or implied realities which dictate participant perception of their surrounding world are not the foundation on which the study is grounded.  Rather, as the axiology suggests, the values, beliefs, and spirituality of the participants in the shared environment become the collective reality.

With this definition in mind, from an axiological standpoint participatory study offers the most value, from a commensurability perspective these two paradigms are mutually exclusive, and from control, truth & knowledge, and overall efficacy of study; participatory study offers a higher value proposition in an environment where shared attributes and experiences are most emphasized throughout the research process.

– Justin

Coghlan, D. & Brannick, T. (2005). Doing action research in your own organization (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications,  Inc.

Denzin, N.K., & Lincoln, Y.S. (2005). The sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Herr, K. & Anderson, G.L. (2005). The action research dissertation: A guide for students & faculty. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications,  Inc.

Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Research versus Intuition in Innovation Decisions

An organization’s values are the criteria by which employees make prioritization decisions – by which they judge whether an order is attractive or unattractive, whether a customer is more important or less important, whether an idea for a new product is attractive or marginal, and so on (Hesselbein, Goldsmith, & Somerville, 2002).  Optimal operational capacity, thematic emphasis along four planes of strategic capability, and environmentally driven responses using aligned business units are all effective methods with which to assess what work should be performed in the predictable future.

Yet not all questions require analytical responses, nor do all aspects of an organization’s strategy require maps and process diagramming.  There are decisions to be made that reside in the intuitive ‘gut’ level as well.  To fully appreciate the efficacy of making these intuitive decisions requires a minimalistic approach toward emphasizing a preexisting condition within the organization.  The values of a company can guide a multitude of questions that are otherwise regarded as either technical or complex decisions to make.  An organization’s values may begin as expressed mantras, yet ultimately become an intrinsic part of what the organization has evolved to become.  It is these values that can give the members of an organization a window into what can be done, and ultimately resolved, at the intuitive level.

The values of successful firms tend to evolve in a predictable fashion on at least two dimensions (Hesselbein, Goldsmith, & Somerville, 2002).  It is with this initial emphasis on the organization’s values that one can then begin to predict which decisions require a process driven approach utilizing research along thematic lines, and which decisions can be intuitively deduced via a simple reminder of what the organization’s values are.  Yet whether an intuitive or thematic route, a clear starting point of assessing the market environment – and acknowledging reaction to it is key – becomes the successful linchpin of effective strategic decisions.  As Biscaccianti, Esposito, & Williams (2011) remark, “Values determine the definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.  Values are closely related to the ideals people share and serve as a moral benchmark against which aspirations and behaviors are judged” (p. 45).

– Justin

Biscaccianti, A., Esposito, M., & Williams, L.C. (2011). The M3C model of cooperative contextual change. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises.

Hesselbein, F., Goldsmith, M., & Somerville, I. (2002). Leading for innovation: And organizing results. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.