Saturday, August 30, 2014

Management Lessons from Dr. Who: Robert Sutton Edition

The Doctor: "So tell me, what do you think of the view?"

Half-Face Man: "It is beautiful."

The Doctor: "No, it isn't. It's just far away. Everything looks too small. I prefer it down there Everything is huge. Everything is so important. Every detail, every moment, every life clung to."

Did I mention the balloon is made out of human skin?
Perhaps a reflection of how "small" people were to the cyborg.
The above is one of my favorite lines from the Season 8 premiere of Doctor Who, featuring Peter Capaldi as the brand new face of the Doctor. It takes place in a hot-air balloon above the city of London as the Doctor attempts to reason with a cyborg built largely out of human parts ("Hello, hello...rubbish robots from the dawn of time..."). It isn't getting the praise that the Doctor's alley scene or the Clara/Doctor "egomania" restaurant spat are (which are both brilliant), but it was a small glimpse into how the Doctor sees the world. "Those people down there," the Doctor growls, "they're never small to me." The line about big and small resonated with me not only on both a theological and moral level, but even from a management perspective. Stanford professor Robert Sutton has addressed the management vs. leadership trend by pointing out the danger behind it:

[T]his distinction seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve... “Big picture only” leaders often make decisions without considering the constraints that affect the cost and time required to implement them, and even when evidence begins mounting that it is impossible or unwise to implement their grand ideas, they often choose to push forward anyway...[T]he worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies. Therefore, harking back to the Bennis theorem I quoted above, let me propose a corollary: To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done” (bold mine).

Sutton sees the distinction between leadership and management as 

accurate but dangerous because it distorts how too many bosses--at all levels--view and do their work. It encourages bosses to see generating big and vague ideas as the important part of their jobs--and to treat implementation, or pesky details of any kind, as mere “management work” best done by “the little people.” Even if left it unsaid, this distinction reflects how too many bosses think and act. They use it to avoid learning about people they lead, technologies their companies use, customers they serve, and numerous other crucial little things. Among the CEOs, Brad Smith of Intuit (maker of popular software such as QuickBooks and TurboTax) reacted most strongly to these arguments. He explained they struck a nerve because of his experience with developing new managers: The best are obsessed with learning details about every aspect of the business; the worst--the least promising and most arrogant--treat such nuances as being somehow beneath them (bold mine).

Sutton warns of what he calls “Clusterfugs”: "a deadly blend of illusion, incompetence, and impatience [that] creates disasters." These are often "attributable to a failure to “do things right” rather than a failure to try to “do the right thing.” For a recent brilliant analysis of one such “clusterfug” see Harvard's Amy Edmondson’s piece on the botched Obamacare rollout. Such sad tales further reinforce my view that thinking about what could happen, and exhorting people to make it so, is a lot easier than actually getting it done. What's that old saying? Isn't it, "strategy is for amateurs and logistics are for professionals."

Organizations, according to Sutton, need both poets and plumbers. They need to "weave together the "birds eye view," the big picture, with "the worm's eye view," the nuances and tiny little actions required to make bold ideas come to life." As a 2,000 year old Time Lord, I think the Doctor understands this quite well. Managers should take note. 

With that, watch the Doctor regenerate into his newest incarnation (Capaldi) below. And watch Season 8. It's shaping up to be amazing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Meeting Core Needs

Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath of the Energy Project have an excellent article in The New York Times titled "Why You Hate Work." The gist of the article demonstrates that organizations must be recognized as communities (my word, not theirs) made up of actual people. This requires organizations to meet what the authors call "core needs":

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

The more effectively leaders and organizations support employees in meeting these core needs, the more likely the employees are to experience engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy at work, and the lower their perceived levels of stress. When employees have one need met, compared with none, all of their performance variables improve. The more needs met, the more positive the impact.

The specific examples of increased "engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy" are impressive:

Renewal: Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being. The more hours people work beyond 40 — and the more continuously they work — the worse they feel, and the less engaged they become. By contrast, feeling encouraged by one’s supervisor to take breaks increases by nearly 100 percent people’s likelihood to stay with any given company, and also doubles their sense of health and well-being.

Value: Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.

Focus: Only 20 percent of respondents said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, but those who could were 50 percent more engaged. Similarly, only one-third of respondents said they were able to effectively prioritize their tasks, but those who did were 1.6 times better able to focus on one thing at a time.

Purpose: Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable in our survey. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.

It is exciting that the evidence points to a more human-driven business model. According to the authors, "more and more companies are taking up this challenge — most commonly addressing employees’ physical needs first, through wellness and well-being programs. Far less common is a broader shift in the corporate mind-set from trying to get more out of employees to investing more in meeting their needs, so they’re both capable of and motivated to perform better and more sustainably." 

I hope to see more organizations focusing on all core needs. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Alain de Botton on Work

I just downloaded author Alain de Botton's book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, but haven't cracked it open yet. The following inspired me to check it out.

Is the daily grind of work an escape from the big questions? Is daily work about imposing order on the seemingly meaningless chaos of human existence? Does work allow us to become something greater than we are ordinarily?

Questions to think about.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Don Bradley & the Sanctification of Progress

Below is a presentation by historian Don Bradley at the 2014 Conference for the Mormon Transhumanist Association entitled "Mormonism: The Sanctification of Human Progress." It has significant overlap with some of the themes in my own paper (co-authored with and presented by Allen Hansen) from the same conference.

Some of my favorite quotes:

  • The idea of a necessary apocalyptic bottleneck in our future progress is the only obvious barrier (that I can see) to accepting Mormon theology's implication that all human progress is progress toward the deification of human kind and the transfiguration and ultimate celestialization of the earth.
  • On this vision, the principle of stewardship extends to every human endeavor. Stewardship doesn't just apply to church callings and families, it also applies to work, personal consumption, management of resources, care of our community, and every other domain.
  • Perhaps our approaches to the spiritual and temporal should reciprocally inform each other. Maybe instead of just transferring the simplicity with which we often approach spiritual problems to deal with temporal problems, we should transfer some of the complexity and rigor we've developed in dealing with temporal problems to how we engage spiritual problems. In temporal problem-solving we take for granted that we might need to learn methods and practice, practice, practice in order to hone skills. Yet, in spiritual problem-solving we seem to expect that God will do all the work except for the nominal "studying out" the problem in our mind, after which God is obligated to give us the right answer...We expect that calculus will be hard, but that gaining revelation from God Almighty will be easy. One implication of the intimate relationship of temporal and spiritual is that lessons learned in our temporal lives may have relevance for how we pursue our spiritual lives