A different approach to collaboration

Photo by D’Arcy Norman

In a post on HBR.org Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer investigate the relationship between collaboration and performance. They claim that not only does collaboration allows performance, but performance allows for collaboration. When people are feeling a sense of achievement and progress, they are more open to collaborate. That is why Amabile and Kramer advocate celebrating small wins, as this is a way to keep people in the team or organization energized to collaborate:

So, not only is collaboration critical to high performance, but maintaining high performance can be important to keeping collaboration going. Previously, we have talked about the importance of small wins — modest but meaningful successes along the pathway to achieving a major goal — in maintaining high performance and subjective well-being. They can also help workers maintain effective collaboration. When organizations support and celebrate small wins, employees feel like winners; the mistrust and conflict that can accompany losing will be avoided. Without those interpersonal problems, it will be much easier to achieve consistent and effective collaboration. [Emphasis added]

While I appreciate the approach of small wins and the importance of the feeling of progress for motivation and individual performance I think a focus on the effects of performance on collaboration might prove detrimental to effective collaboration.

In most business settings today, especially in knowledge work, performance is an emerging synergistic property. That means it cannot be directly predicted. It cannot be taken apart into specific check-list steps. It is uncertain and ambiguous. Innovation for example, emerges out of the interaction between team members and does not originate from the actions of one individual.

In such an environment, focusing on performance is futile. It is a classic case of Obliquity. The goal of performance can only be achieved indirectly. While this seems like semantics, it represents a different approach to collaboration. This approach doesn’t see temporal performance as an indicator for success. Instead, this approach sees continued long-term relationships as the basis of excellence. It celebrates small wins, not because they represent performance success, but because it means the process the team is engaging with is effective. In that respect it will celebrate small losses the same way, in the celebrated mythical approach of Thomas Edison – “I did not fail—I just learned 999 ways on how not to make a light bulb”.

When this approach is implemented – and there is no attempt to claim that it is easy to do so – the focus of team leaders is the relationship between people in the team. That means that the tensions produced by failure are constantly revealed and discussed even before failure occurs. Failure is an expected result and part of the process continuing of toward excellence. It is not that good performance hides tensions and allows for collaboration while everything is working. Instead, true collaboration actively and consistently attends to the undercurrents that facilitate the emergence of performance.

Reading the comments to Amabile and Kramer post suggest that their approach is resonating with many people. What does it say about organizations’ approach to collaboration? Is the dominating approach pushing us to draw the wrong conclusions and prescriptions about how to manage collaboration? I think it does.

What do you think?

Elad

Advertisements

Are you managing like an artist?

Photo by Coolm36

I was watching the Israeli version of American Idol yesterday (roughly translated to “A Star Is Born”). I noticed a recurring theme. The main feedback the novice artists received is that they need to be more in touch with their feelings. To be truly themselves. The sing from within. To understand the lyrics they are singing and connect with it. When the feedback made one of the contestants cry, her coach told her – “Now, this is real, this is what I want to see on stage” (It sounds harsher than it actually was in reality).

I was watching all that and thinking – how many employees and managers are given (or giving) this advice? How many of us truly connect with who we are and what we are when we go about our craft? Does it really matter if you are a singer or a service provider? If you are a dancer or a carpenter? Shouldn’t we all aspire to produce Art?

I used to write a monthly column to the student newspaper during my undergrad years. I did a well enough job and the editor almost always published my columns with some alterations. One day I saw a number of student behaviors that really upset me. I sat down and wrote an entire column in an hour. I sent it to the editor. She wrote back to me after a few minutes. “Wow! I can almost feel the anger in your words! I am publishing it as is in the front page, in addition to your usual column in the back of the paper. Send me more stuff like that”. The day it was published I was terrified. How will people react? I actually wrote something against my the dominating culture. Some of my best friends were behaving in ways that were covered in my column. I got only positive reviews. I can’t really say that I changed the world, but it felt so good to truly say what I felt like!

A few days ago I finished reading The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. As I understand it, Brooks tried to write a book that glorifies feelings and the unconscious. Not just gut feelings (like some think Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about, which I am not sure it is) but of truly connecting with the wonderful creatures we are and making the most out the social relationships that are all around us, relationships that are based mainly on emotions. Brooks writes at the end of the book, after thanking his wife Sarah, that he may write about emotions and feelings, but that’s not because he is actually good at expressing them. It is because he is naturally bad at them.

I think there is a lesson there for all of us. Our culture tends to view emotions and feelings in a derogatory way. In the best cases, it something for artists. Not for professionals in other fields. I think this is because putting our true-selves into whatever we do is hard. Popular culture has a tendency to support the path of least resistance. The other path, which is much tougher to thread through comes with tremendous rewards. We can spot the singer who sings from the heart immediately because it resonates in our own social being. I think this is true for every profession and for every business. I am not surprised that Howard Schultz called his book: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

And for all you managers out there, my question to you: are you managing people like you manage artists – by pushing them to connect with their true feelings? Or are you producing more mindless, soulless cogs?

Elad

Prioritizing one-on-one

Photo by Amazon

I am currently reading A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All by Wendy Koop. In it, I found this paragraph:

Joe emphasizes that the critical purposes served by these management structures go well beyond improving teachers’ effectiveness. “It doesn’t sound that revolutionary to have one-on-ones with every teacher every week, but it’s absolutely critical. This is the venue for people’s voices to be heard, for problem solving, for being sure that everyone is getting what they need to do their job.” The fact that these school leaders are thinking so deliberately about management at all distinguishes them from many conventional incarnations of the principal role. In many schools one principal is technically the manager of fifty or even one hundred teachers, and there may be little, if any, interaction–not to mention effective management–happening in that relationship. “When I was teaching, I met with my principal only once. I never met with any sort of coach,” Joe recalls. “That system just cannot get us where we need to be. I do understand why that happens. There are always twenty things tugging at a school leader. The day can become very reactive, but if you want to create an exceptional school, you have to set aside time in the calendar to hear from, coach, and manage your team members.”

I am not sure I need to add a lot.  Structured process, culture and personal humane relationships go hand in hand together with the emergence of excellence. It could be a school, a for-profit company or any other organization. Creating the right norms and maintaining them by prioritizing treating the people your work with like unique individuals is a sure proof way to succeed in the long run.

Elad

Emergence of excellence

Photo by scalespeeder

Two separate sources talked about the same issue today. Designing the conditions for success.

In planet money, the weekly podcast discussed the issue of job creation. The conclusion, job creation is not about one act of leadership. It is not necessarily about raising taxes (which could work) or lowering taxes (which could also work). It is about creating the optimal conditions in which jobs emerge.

Seth Godin discusses a different issue all together but so similar: customer service. Godin explains that it is not only about the person who actually provides the service, but actually many times, about how the environment was designed:

Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (or possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and that makes customers leave.

And I ask you, as a manager, what are you doing to design an environment which enables emergence of excellence? Are you focusing on the conditions that support success? Why not?

Elad

Threshold

Photo by Sara. Nel

Seth Godin describes 8 reasons to work:

  1. For the money
  2. To be challenged
  3. For the pleasure/calling of doing the work
  4. For the impact it makes on the world
  5. For the reputation you build in the community
  6. To solve interesting problems
  7. To be part of a group and to experience the mission
  8. To be appreciated

He then asks: “Why do we always focus on the first?”

I think it is the wrong question. We should focus on the first. The question is why do we only focus on the first?

Even the one of the most popular opponent for incentives in the way the business world usually uses them, Dan Pink, claims, in his book, Drive, that while autonomy, mastery and purpose is what really drives people, a prerequisite for that is that people are paid well. Preferably above the average pay.

I think we should think about this question as a threshold. In order to attract goof workers and demand excellence you need your pay to be reasonable. But above a certain point (which I don’t think is very high) more money does not equal better performance. To do that, you need at least one, if not more, of the rest of the items on the list.

By the way. This proposition is not mine. It belongs to the management scholar Herzberg. Here is how I described it in the past:

According to the Two-factor theory (also known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory) job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other. Two Factor Theory states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction (Motivators, e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility which give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth), while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction (Hygiene factors, e.g. status, job security, salary and fringe benefits, which do not give positive satisfaction, although dissatisfaction results from their absence. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary).

Hygiene factors are things you need to make sure are present to reasonable degree. Otherwise, in many cases, the motivators will have almost no effect.

So, we should focus on money (and other hygiene factors). But we need to make sure they are good enough and focus on making the motivators extraordinary. Then, we raise the chances for the emergence of excellence.

Elad

Share

Are you standing out as a manager?

Photo by Cameron Cassan

Jon Gordon wrote yesterday in his blog about standing out:

It’s not enough to just show up to work. In today’s economy you must stand out at work to differentiate yourself and your company.

And what are his examples for standing up? People that eagerly and passionately doing their work by truly caring and connecting with other people.

Isn’t is surprising that the species that came to dominate this planet, in large part because of its ability to create social structures and deep relationships is now so enthralled in being a cog in the machine, that all you have to do to stand out is actually act like a human being? There are not enough people who actually wake up and decide each morning to passionately connect with others. To lead through infectious being. We have all been that person who is happy to get exceptional true heartfelt service like Jon did. We have also all been the one who gives it whole and feels the difference being created, at some point or another in our lives. But organizational hierarchies, the psychological safety provided by dehumanizing others and lack of inspiration and passion all prevent us from waking up every day with an urge to make somebody else’s day.

What can managers learn from all of this?

First that it is easy, even as a manager, to stand out. The bar out there is so low and there is so much mediocrity that just by being human, you can stand out. When is the last time you really connected with your team on the human level? Second, that it is so easy to spot and find the people who are really remarkable. They stand out just by being human beings. If somebody does not act like a human being and does not try to make the extra connection and instead acts like a cog, well…, than he deserves to be a cog somewhere else. He made himself replaceable, so, replace him. And if you act like a cog, don’t be surprised that it will happen to you too…

How are you standing out as a manager?

Elad

Share

Not everybody can

Photo by ProfAlliRich

[tweetmeme]

“Anybody can pour a cup of coffee, rent out cars, sell pairs of jeans. Except, of course, they can’t. The [businesses] that are the best at these things take ‘anybodies’ off the street and make them their own ‘somebodies”

I found this quote, by Alex Frankel (from his book Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee), in a great post by John Moore from the Brand Autopsy Blog. Here is another part from the post that talks about the same point:

Turns out the quality of the employee is the difference-maker between an energetic store and a lifeless one. It can also make the difference between a loyal customer and an infrequent customer.

I really like these quotes because they touch upon a few powerful ideas I really believe in. More than anything else, it means that not everybody is equipped to do every job. I know it is not popular to say this, but we are not equal. And I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, most people can do any work, but they can’t excel at everything. They can’t create Art in the Seth Godin sense of the word. And excellence and Art is what is needed to create true engagement.

I can pour and prepare coffee. But I will never make connections with a customer in a way that makes him feel good about him or herself. And while I am sure I will make a very good employee and do everything needed, be on time and whatever else the “rule book” says, I will never be able to do the things that really matter in such a situation. I can learn how to “talk the talk” with customers, but inside, I would never “walk the walk”. I will never truly enjoy such an engagement with strangers. It is not in my character or personality. But others can. It doesn’t say anything bad about me or them. It just the wonderful differences between us.

A manager’s job is to make these connections between roles and people and in a way that contributes to the employee’s sense of self and to the goals of the business. It starts by choosing good people but it continues into listening to them, talking to them, asking the right questions and helping them find their strengths and flow.

Do that and the customers will follow.

Elad

Like This!