Archive for May, 2016

Innovation by (organisational) design

Dr Amantha Imber is an innovation psychologist who knows her stuff, you don’t get to run your own consultancy for 8 years if you’re not valuable to your clients (and I’m sticking to that, as we’ve been around for over 15).

She points out in her latest book that one of the most important factors for innovation is that people feel the right amount of challenge in what they are doing.  Key point being ‘the right amount’…in my words, in the tradition of one our better known cereals…what you are doing is not too heavy, not too light (showing my age there!)

Quoting from Amantha now: ”

The notion of challenging work leading to increased innovation is not surprising to most people. What is surprising is how little consideration is given to appropriately and deliberately matching the challenge or task complexity to the individual person.*

This is spot on.  She points out that managers need to consider both the complexity of the task AND the person when assigning work to try to create the right amount of challenge.  Absolutely.

So why isn’t this considered more? Read more…

An easier way to do ‘accountabilities’

It’s that time of year when many HR/OD areas are sprucing up their performance appraisal systems, our long-term clients included.  It’s all part of an ongoing cycle, so the setting of accountabilities is naturally also on the agenda.

It’s that middle part of the last sentence that I’ve been pondering (because that’s the sort of thing cool people do)…the notion of ‘setting accountabilities’.

I’ve always advised this, I’m often brought in to help with this, and it’s important – any decent research into both performance and innovation shows that clarity of goals is a condition for both performance and innovation (after all, both ‘performance’ and ‘innovation’ are just work, and ‘work’ is the use of judgement to make decisions to achieve a…..goal.  But that’s another post)

Back to ‘setting accountabilities’.  One word at a time.

The word ‘setting‘ carries a certain implication…’set and forget’, ‘set in stone’, ‘we’re set to go’….it all implies that we’re now done, final, complete.  Which makes it seem like a huge deal, and something we can’t get wrong.  Like building a skyscraper. Read more…

Leave managers alone!!

It’s de rigueur at the moment to bag managers.  Scroll through your LinkedIn feed and see how far you can get before you find a post that someone has shared that essentially says…

Managers Suck.  Leaders Are Awesome.

People posting these things are not doing so because they are mean.  They genuinely want things to be better….they want their organisation to be better.

And when they look at perhaps their own organisation, they see 1) thing suck.  2) there are managers.  Then you see the latest tweet from Richard Branson, who is considered to be a ‘leader’, and that all seems to be AWESOME!

(Il)logical conclusion….Managers Suck.  Leaders Are Aweseome.

This is rubbish, and so insulting to hundreds of thousands of good people all around the world just trying to do a difficult role called ‘manager’.

How many people posting ‘Managers Suck’ posts would send them to their own manager?  To their CEO?  

None of the managers I work with (and I’m talking the spectrum of CEOs of multi-divisional businesses to people running teams of people on lawn mowers)  come to work to do evil.  They don’t want their people to suffer.  They want their people to do well and to celebrate achievements with their people.

‘Manager’ is an honourable and important role. Read more…

From plans to reality

There’s something that’s been lost over the last few decades.  It probably started back when ‘strategy’ was coined in the 1960s, and quickly after that consultants in strategy popped up like weeds in a field after the rain. (Businesses were doing strategy way before it was a ‘thing’, it was just called ‘doing stuff that makes sense given who we are and where we are’.  But that’s another post.)

The thing that’s been lost is the converting of ideas, or intentions, or plans into actual work.

By actual work, I mean the assigning or agreeing of what will actually be produced.  To use terminology of Elliott Jaques, tasks are  a quantity of things of a given quality, delivered by a certain time, done for a purpose, with resources and within limits, and all within a context.

A bit of a mouthful.  We can also just say ‘what-by-when‘.

But this is the often missing element between the lofty ‘strategies’ and the people who actually produce things that in the end make customers happy.

It’s not much use saying ‘by 2018 we will better understand our customers‘ and leave it there.  At best, this fits the purpose part of the Jaques definition.  For work to happen, people need to know the actual task, the actual deliverable, the thing that needs to be produced that will lead to the result we need. Read more…

One advantage of organisations…

An old friend from school dropped past our office last week.  He’s left work in the corporate world to do what he likes doing the most – developing houses.  He’s good at it – a combination of trade know-how (he pretty much built his own place years ago) combined with the ability to organise, get along with people and take a risk.

As we often do, we got to talking about how things get done.  He was talking about the balancing act of having to schedule various trades to work on his properties, all of whom have other work on, with the whole thing relying on each trade doing their bit on time so the  next one can start.  And even if everyone puts in a great effort, sometimes the weather thwarts everyone…there’s just nothing that can be done.  But then the next tradie has to decide who they are going to let down…my friend, or the next customer whose job will now start late.

“But that’s how it goes” he said.  “Because they’re all running their own business, they’re not employees.  So why should they wait for me?”

Fighting to get people to show up.  Cajoling, negotiating and trying to get ‘buy-in’ so your project comes first.  Does this sound like your organisation?

The key difference between organisations and my friend’s occupation as a developer is that organisations have roles that have the authority to decide what gets done next and to allocate resources.   They’re called managers, and it starts with the CEO.  Make good decisions in this area and everyone’s talents become more valuable and are directed toward something bigger that they are a part of.  Sounds good.

But if this fundamental work isn’t getting done, then why have an organisation at all?


The real foundation of your cross-functional issues

Does the discussion in your meetings often turn toward other departments and how they are letting you down?  Actually, why am I even posing that as a question?  Let me start again:

When the discussion in your next meeting turns toward why and how other departments are letting you down, trying saying this:

Sounds like we’ve got ourselves an org design issue.

You can predict the response: “What do you mean org design?  They know what they are there to do.  They should just do their job and deliver“.

But here’s what’s missed….the other area is staffed by people just like your team is.  And they’re probably putting in some sort of effort just like your team is.  And they probably know how to do their job about as good as your team knows how to do theirs.

So the problem isn’t the other department.  The problem is that what the other department sees itself as accountable for differs from what your team thinks it should be accountable for.

And what do you call the work of sorting out what departments and roles are going to be accountable for?  Organisational design.

It’s what sits at the foundation of your organisational issues.  It’s the key to developing your organisation.

But you won’t see it until you see  it.