Are you always too available?

photo by Alaskan Dude

I am managing a number of students working on a moot court event. In this capacity I am coaching the students to build their own arguments and develop their legal writing skills. I am constantly there to provide them feedback and ideas and try to stay out of their way and let them do the work and learn from it.

From day one I emphasized how available I am for them. I try to be responsive and reply to every e-mail as promptly as I can. Whenever they call, I usually take a few minutes and make sure I answer their questions.

In the first few months of the project, I was struggling with how to make them use me more. Because what they are doing is so new and different from everything they have done so far, they have many questions and sometimes they did not comfortable “bothering” me all the time. It was hard to convince them that I am here to help them and that it is not only my job but I also enjoy doing it.

This week I learned the other side of this balance. I was preoccupied and was not able to answer a call from one of the students. When I returned to her a few hours later to ask if I can help, she said: “no, it is OK, I had a problem, but I found my own solution”.

It suddenly dawned on me. Sometimes, it is important not to be too available, on purpose.

In a Knowledge@Wharton article titled “The Problem with Financial Incentives — and What to Do About It”, Wharton management professors Adam Grant and Jitendra Singh discuss the importance of autonomy:

For example, in a study at a printing company, Michigan State’s Fred Morgeson and colleagues found that when teams lacked clear feedback and information systems, giving them autonomy led them to expend more effort, use more skills and spend more time solving problems. Numerous other studies have shown that allowing employees to exercise choices about goals, tasks, work schedules and work methods can increase their motivation and performance.

This was another lesson on the importance of balance in the everyday life of any manager working with people. Yes, you should have people’s back and make sure they have the knowledge and resources they need to do their work. At the same time, you need to know when the get out of the way on purpose.

Are you intentionally creating autonomy moments for your employees and team members or are you always too available?

Elad

The challenge of diversity and innovation – a different way to approach motivation

Photo by Sanj@y

Last week (yes I know, who writes about things that happened last week anymore, right?) John Kotter wrote an interesting post on HBR.org titled: What a Physicist Taught Me About Leading Change. In it, Kotter describe the importance of diversity for developing new ideas:

Whenever you get people with diverse backgrounds looking at the same thing you can come up with ideas that might not have developed otherwise. That is hardly news. But I’ve learned in studying large-scale change that if the people are very different, in relevant ways, and want to work together (not appointed to be on one more task force), the possibilities are great.

I emphasized the words “and want to work together” in the quote because it touches the heart of the challenge of managers today that have to deliver innovation if they want their companies to survive.  As Kotter says, some types of innovation will only develop out of diversity. These are usually the game changing, radical innovations. And if we want to keep delivering them, we need to keep at putting together diverse teams.

But here lies the challenge. Diversity is hard. More than that, innovation is hard. Innovation out of diversity requires learning that is difficult, because it involves heading right on into areas you are not familiar with along with someone who doesn’t really speak your language or gets you. And in order to that, you have to be truly motivated. A kind of motivation that can only emerge and cannot be mandated.

Our management structures, unfortunately, are not built to support this kind of motivation. This is a kind of motivation that will not come out of mechanisms of control or rules, but only out of autonomy, mastery and especially, purpose. That is the real challenge of diversity. It demands a change in our leadership mindset.

So, how do you make sure your diverse group wants to work together?

Elad

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When should a manager force employees to do things they don’t want to do?

Photo by alancleaver_2000

Dan Ariely wrote an interesting post about the Chilean pension system that mandates savings by all citizens. Not surprisingly, Ariely calls the post: “Want People to Save? Force Them”. This connects with an earlier post by Ariely (which I also wrote about) that discussed an experiment which showed  that by limiting the list of questions people could use to engage in a conversation, deeper and more meaningful conversations were brought to life.

These two posts got me thinking. In this blog I write a lot about rules in management and about how managers should let go of the mechanisms of control. I generally believe that the basic concepts Dan Pink presents in his book, Drive, of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are three of the most important tools managers have in their disposal.

At the same time, I do believe that sometimes, managers should force some processes on their employees. Just like people are bad at saving and need to be made to save, because in the longer-term it is better for them, there are things employees would not do and need a manager to force them. Engaging in more meaningful conversations is a great example. And if we can do that by designing the rules of the meeting differently (for example), this is an important tool that managers should use.

This is a very difficult conclusion for me as it goes against many of my personal beliefs about liberty and the importance of choice (more on this unrelated subject – see here). But I do believe that great leaders and managers know how to walk the line between allowing autonomy and forcing people to engage in some important paternalistic processes. I don’t have a complete list of these instances, but I am planning to start thinking more and more about this subject.

Any ideas? In what issues do you think managers should force employees to do things for their own long-term benefits?

Elad

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What can we learn from eggs about teamwork, creativity and more importantly, rules

Photo by epSos.de

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I could not believe it. A prestigious program in the city that is the financial capital of the world. A class in the respected MBA program at NYU Stern. About 40 students, working in teams of five or six people, huddling over… an egg!

The objective? Build a device using an assortment of objects that will keep the egg from breaking when it falls from the ceiling. Besides the objects there were only a few rules to the competition. A time constraint. The criteria by which the device is going to be measured (does it work? Is it creative? Is it beautiful?). And that’s about it. The results? Five totally different designs that worked in totally different ways.

The idea behind this exercise was to learn about teams and teamwork. I was assigned as an observer of one of the teams and noticed subtle issues of communications, roles and how ideas are developed. Yet, with all the issues relating to teams in the exercise, I feel the real lesson I learned is totally different. It is about rules.

I believe in the concept of outcome management. Not telling people how to do things and instead telling them what the desired outcome is and allowing them to find their own way to reach it. A manger, instead of trying to dictate to people how to do things and creating lists of rules, should concentrate instead on other, more important activities. Concentrating on the purpose, the process, taking hurdles out-of-the-way and on people’s need for autonomy and mastery seems to me as a better choice. Surrounding employees with rules is not a recipe for phenomenal results.

When I think about the “eggs class” this is exactly the lesson that comes out of it. Our professor could have come to class, with a recipe, a cookbook or a script of how to create the device, and we would still see the teams struggling and notice different ways in which they worked together to follow the rules in order to create the device. But instead, she came only with a limited number of rules pertaining to the process, not to the content. And what was the result? Five different device, each ingenious in its own way, that a single person could not have thought about. Granted, some of the devices were better, some were worse, but I am confident that if you take the best part of each device, you could create a super device.

We think we know what the best way to do things is. However, we are never smarter than a group of people. We might know the best way for us, but we can never know what the best way for others is. We can help, we can suggest, but ultimately, it’s about giving them the freedom to find their own ways.

What is the equivalent of this idea in your organization? Do you have rules about content or rules about process?

Elad

BTW, if you are interested to see some of the pictures from the event, here you go.

Some management advice – treat your employees like serfs!

Photo by Erik Charlton

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I was reading a post called Eight Things Your Employees Want from You by Melissa Raffoni on the HBR.org blog. Here is the list:

1. Tell me my role, tell me what to do, and give me the rules.
2. Discipline my coworker who is out of line.
3. Get me excited.
4. Don’t forget to praise me.
5. Don’t scare me.
6. Impress me.
7. Give me some autonomy.
8. Set me up to win.

I could not disagree more.

Just look at the language. I, the little employee, need you, the big boss, to take control. I cannot excite myself. I need you, my liege, to get me excited. I want you, my monarch, to impress me and set me up to win. You are on top. I am in the bottom waiting for your holiness to give me some autonomy.

Really? Are you serious? Has it turned 1900 and I haven’t noticed? Or maybe more like the 1200?

Why instead won’t we treat employees like human beings? Like partners? Like people with different wants, needs, talents and strengths. Human beings that work with us for a common goal and that sometimes need our help, but that can help and teach us just the same. Human beings who thrive on actual autonomy (not one that is given – what are we – salves?), that want mastery and look for and develop a sense of purpose. Human beings who are smart and capable of showing practical wisdom and are shackled by all the rules and mechanisms of control the “managerial monarchy” levis on them.

I don’t have a problem with some of the behaviors Raffoni espouses (even though, number one really troubles me). You know what, I guess they probably work. I have a problem with the underlying assumptions. Just because something works, does not make it right. Employees are not cogs. They are not jackasses. And they are not serfs.

Wouldn’t you want to be treated like a human being? Are you treating your employees like serfs?

Elad

Management by reducing restraining forces

Photo by Jason Clapp

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I was reading an article by Daniel Kahneman titled Reference Points, Anchors, Norms and Mixed Feelings for a negotiation class I am taking, when I encountered this intriguing paragraph:

I find it encouraging that this prescriptive conclusion coincides with that of a very different analysis. In a marvelous essay, Kurt Lewin (1951) deduced from an analysis of behavior as dynamic equilibrium that it is more efficient to induce others to change their behavior by “reducing restraining forces” than by “increasing driving forces.”

Our thinking is so entrenched in the carrots and sticks and incentives thinking that we developed a bias towards “increasing driving forces”. We focus so much of our time trying to think of ways influence others by pushing them that we neglect to understand that pulling is also possible. We focus our attention on futile attempts to control and reduce heterogeneity. Listen to the language most managers use – How can we motivate people? How can we incentivize them? How can we make them act in the ways that we want?

Isn’t it time we develop a different kind of thinking and a different kind of language. One that tries to “reduces the restraining forces”. To help them gain autonomy and mastery and to reach a sense of purpose. To take hurdles out of their way. Unshackle employees and take off some of the stupid rules that surround them. Change the language to a language that is based on humanity and talks about shared purpose, partnerships and creativity.

What forces are restraining your people and what are you going to do about it?

Elad

Embrace the revolution – overcome the Illusion of control

Photo by Steven Snodgrass

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In the last few days I have read a lot about heuristics. For those of you who still haven’t been exposed to this intriguing concept, here is a short definition from Wikipedia:

[A]n adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer, or ‘optimal solution’. Heuristics are “rules of thumb“, educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. A heuristic is a general way of solving a problem

We all use heuristics every day. We have to. If we had to think about every decision and process every input fully, we would be totally overwhelmed. So we use these intuitive rules to make quick decisions. From estimating distances according to how well we see the object to estimating numbers instead of doing complex calculation. From deciding we like someone because he reminds us of someone else we like to taking business risks because of over optimism in our abilities. And many times, these are great mechanisms (we sometimes want people to take risks… because this is how progress is created, so it is good to be a little over optimistic, for example). However, as the research of behavioral economics has taught us heuristics are not always a smart way to make decisions.

In his book, Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, Max Bazerman writes about one heuristic that sometimes goes wrong, The Illusion of Control:

People falsely believe that they can control uncontrollable events …, and they overestimate the extent to which their actions can guarantee a certain outcome… Evidence suggest that experienced dice players believe that “soft” throws are more likely to result in lower number being rolled…

Two other researchers, Dan Lovallo and Daniel Kahneman, in an article in Harvard Business review, wrote the following paragraph:

Managers are also prone to the illusion that they are in control. Sometimes, in fact, they will explicitly deny the role of chance in the outcome of their plans. They see risk as a challenge to be met by the exercise of skill, and they believe results are determined purely by their own actions and those of their organizations. In their idealized self-image, these executives are not gamblers but prudent and determined agents, who are in control of both people and events.

Yes, you read it right. Managers have an illusion that they are in control of people. That their actions, more than anything else, will determine the success of the people around them. That if people will only do as they said, everything will be all right. That everybody around them is a cog to be used just in the right way. And why shouldn’t they have this illusion. For so many years, it worked. Bill Drayton and Valeria Budinich reminds us of how it used to work in a post on the Harvard Business review blog:

Fifty years ago, Detroit was the symbol of American ingenuity and prosperity. Henry Ford and his small group of managers did all the thinking and told everyone else what to do. This command-and-control approach works in a relatively static world where most tasks are repetitive — such as building cars on an assembly line. It does not work in today’s fast-paced, change-is-the-name-of-the-game world; and it will not work tomorrow.

Like every heuristic, The Illusion of Control is rooted in truth. But also like every heuristic, there comes a time when it becomes detrimental and instead of helping people make decision, it actually limits them and forces them to make mistakes and err in judgment. As Drayton and Budinich so accurately point out, the historic validity of the illusion led to the creation of mechanisms of control and to the creation of conventional wisdoms about how people should be managed, conventional wisdoms that are built on Tayloristic assumptions that people are just parts in a big machine of productivity.

We are in a time of revolution. The mangers who will be able to overcome their heuristic towards control and understand that today, the power in every aspect of business lies in letting go of control and not in trying to sustain things as they are, will embrace the indirect power that comes with an environment with no rules, no mechanisms of control and that gives employees autonomy and purpose. It is not going to be easy, but this is one heuristic, that I believe managers can overcome.

Elad

Embrace the revolution – overcome the Illusion of control

Photo by Steven Snodgrass

[tweetmeme]

In the last few days I have been reading a lot about heuristics. For those of you who still haven’t been exposed to this intriguing concept, here is a short definition from Wikipedia:

[A]n adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer, or ‘optimal solution’. Heuristics are “rules of thumb“, educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. A heuristic is a general way of solving a problem

We all use heuristics every day. We have to. If we had to think about every decision and process every input fully, we would be totally overwhelmed. So we use these intuitive rules to make quick decisions. From estimating distances according to how well we see the object to estimating numbers instead of doing complex calculation. From deciding we like someone because he reminds us of someone else we like to taking business risks because of over optimism in our abilities. And many times, these are great mechanisms (we sometimes want people to take risks… because how progress is made, so it is good to be a little over optimistic, for example). However, as the research of behavioral economics has taught us heuristics are not always a smart way to make decisions.

In his book, Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, Max Bazerman writes about one heuristic that sometimes goes wrong, The Illusion of Control:

People falsely believe that they can control uncontrollable events …, and they overestimate the extent to which their actions can guarantee a certain outcome… Evidence suggest that experienced dice players believe that “soft” throws are more likely to result in lower number being rolled…

Two other researchers, , in an article in Harvard Business review, wrote the following paragraph:

Managers are also prone to the illusion that they are in control. Sometimes, in fact, they will explicitly deny the role of chance in the outcome of their plans. They see risk as a challenge to be met by the exercise of skill, and they believe results are determined purely by their own actions and those of their organizations. In their idealized self-image, these executives are not gamblers but prudent and determined agents, who are in control of both people and events.

Yes, you read it right. Managers have an illusion that they are in control of people. That their actions, more than anything else, will determine the success of the people around them. That if people will only do as they said, everything will be all right. That everybody around them is a cog to be used just in the right way. And why shouldn’t they have this illusion. For so many years, it worked. Bill Drayton and Valeria Budinich reminds us of how it used to work in a post on the Harvard Business review blog:

Fifty years ago, Detroit was the symbol of American ingenuity and prosperity. Henry Ford and his small group of managers did all the thinking and told everyone else what to do. This command-and-control approach works in a relatively static world where most tasks are repetitive — such as building cars on an assembly line. It does not work in today’s fast-paced, change-is-the-name-of-the-game world; and it will not work tomorrow.

Like every heuristic, The Illusion of Control is rooted in truth. But also like every heuristic, there comes a time when it becomes detrimental and instead of helping people make decision, it actually limits them and forces them to make mistakes and err in judgment. As Drayton and Budinich so accurately point out, the historic validity of the illusion led to the creation of mechanisms of control and to the creation of conventional wisdoms about how people should be managed, conventional wisdoms that are built on Tayloristic assumptions that people are just parts in a big machine of productivity.

We are in a time of revolution. The mangers who will be able to overcome their heuristic towards control and understand that today, the power in every aspect of business lies in letting go of control and not in trying to sustain things as they are, will embrace the indirect power that comes with an environment with no rules, no mechanisms of control and that gives employees autonomy and purpose. It is not going to be easy, but this is one heuristic, that I believe managers can overcome.

Elad

Bazerman Judgment in Managerial Decision Making<img src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thecompaadvan-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0470049456&#8243; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b31569e20120a73d1f5f970b

http://blogs.hbr.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/5531