As our information moves faster, we move faster. And as more of humanity comes online (2.3 billion more people in 2016–2017 alone), it’s causing a fundamental and spontaneous restructuring of our collective behavior. The overlay of our evolving planet wide digital nervous system has taken the perennial drivers of change — human needs, politics, geography, culture — and woven new patterns from them. All of us, especially those who are guiding businesses, need a new framework to understand and adapt.
Many of the key practices and approaches that enable the transformation of organisation receive pushback from managers initially because they don’t fit into a traditional management mindset of task efficiency.
Employees will often push back on new digital practices like collaboration, design thinking, agile and experimentation. If you are busy, the returns of this work are uncertain, the demands of your role are exacting and your organisation values expertise foremost, being asked to test your assumptions and engage with others on your ideas can feel like a waste of your valuable time.
First of all, flat organizations aren’t strictly flat. In order to grow, allow communication to flow, and projects to move forward, certain principles start to emerge. The flat terminology isn’t about grouping or structure, it’s how the decisions flow inside the company, which is more peer-to-peer and less top-down.
“For me, this is an example of the role of the manager. I was not the leader because the idea to form a circle in the middle was not mine. I was not a coach because I didn’t help any person with their contribution. And I was not a director because I didn’t provide any specific rules or instructions.
Instead, I just observed the system and I intervened by announcing that it wasn’t doing its job well. I then let the system work out the details.”
There has always been a class of worker that is paid for their labor, not for their expertise. There is a reason they were called “laborers”. The IT professional used to be part of the workforce where they were highly skilled and earned a premium for their experience. Now employers, often while employing contract IT labor through agencies, look for a few base criteria, and then differentiate only on price. The IT professional might not be digging ditches, but they are now a “laborer”.
Working out loud is typically looked at from the point of view of the person doing the work out loud, with tips and ideas on how to work out loud more effectively. But it is also important for those who are “consuming” this out loud work to understand the process and how they can leverage it in their own work. No one has more to gain, and probably more to learn, from working out loud than the managers of those doing the work. Consider, for example, meetings.
Meetings, in general, assume that the process of work is hidden and that the only thing that matters are the results or, in many cases, the current state of the work. So managers will call meetings, or even worse schedule recurring meetings on a regular basis. These meetings are often set for an hour, because that is the default in Outlook and generally the time blocks by which conference rooms are scheduled.
What other factors do you take into account when you plan / schedule a meeting? Some items might include:
Actually, if you don’t count the availability of a conference room, the only real consideration in the scheduling of most meetings is the agenda, even though it is more likely than not that the agenda is more an outline or a “let’s go around the room so everyone can fill everyone else in on what they have been working on”. The “this is what we’re going to talk about” gets a lot of attention, the “what do we want to achieve” gets a bit less, and the “how does this contribute to our work” gets barely any attention at all.
When, of course, the most important aspect of meetings, the easiest to measure, and the most overlooked – dare I say ignored – is the bottom line. The value of the meeting. (Not just the cost, but the return you get on paying that cost.)
From the book ReWork:
When you think about it, the true cost of meetings is staggering. Let’s say you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour, and you invite ten people to attend. That’s actually a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. Your trading ten hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time. And it’s probably more like fifteen hours, because there are mental switching costs that come with stopping what you’re doing, going somewhere else to meet, and then resuming what you were doing beforehand.
Which doesn’t take into account the productivity loss for the time required to prepare for the meeting, type up and distribute notes, etc….
When it is possible to work out loud, however, the work is not (need not be) hidden and the current state of work, along with all of the context that goes with it, is readily available to all who may need to see it. Including managers. But this requires a change in how managers approach management, and how they interact with the people who report to them.
Instead of asking to be “kept in the loop” through individual emails or by scheduling meetings, it becomes incumbent on the manager to ensure that their employees are working out loud and that they, the manager, keep themselves in the loop.
Thinking in bits isn’t just about changing the way we design forms to collect information or using fancy techniques to push customized content to our users. It also has far reaching implications and potential in how we design our work and the organizations in which we perform that work.
When talking about management, what most people are thinking about is efficiency, maximizing output per unit of input. Many (most?) people talk about the need for leadership in addition to, or even instead of, management.
But what exactly do we get from leadership? What is its purpose?
The first word that comes to mind is “effectiveness”. But most measures of effectiveness are based on a desired end-state, which to me makes this just a different way of measuring efficiency.
Is leadership just another way to get people to do what you want them to do so you can accomplish your own goals? Or is it something different, something more?
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When you “manage” something / someone, the best you can hope for is what you ask for. When you “lead” someone, there is no way to know ahead of time what you will end up with.
Maybe the question is better addressed in the context of the Cynefin framework:
Management : Simple :: Leadership : Chaotic
(and possibly disorder), with a sliding mix of the two being appropriate in complicated or complex situations.
Of course, I’m not the first person to consider this question. There are many (many many) more thoughts on this question out there, as you can see in the Google search results for leadership vs. management.
Part of the reason for my time away from this blog has been my role in planning a trampoline and tumbling meet here in St. Louis. With just a couple of weeks to go until competition begins, things are really starting to cook. And, like with many projects, there is quite a bit of what could be (politely) called last-minute running around.
We all know the experience of doing (what we think is) our best work as a deadline approaches . Or the frustration of managing a team that works this way. And maybe it is something that we should – if not encourage – at least indulge, in moderation. For what is pressure if not competition. Granted, it is competition against the clock, but competition nonetheless.
And we all know that competition, in proper doses, is a very good thing.