Controlled Anarchy

Photo by Fail Blog

I have been delving into two sources of great management success stories in the last few days, trying to wrap my head around what exactly they have in common. Suddenly, I encountered the picture above and it suddenly made sense. Controlled Anarchy.

The first story was featured in a great podcast from the HBR Ideacast series. In this podcast they interviewed Jonah Keri, sports and stock market writer. Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First. This is the book description from Amazon:

In The Extra 2%, financial journalist and sportswriter Jonah Keri chronicles the remarkable story of one team’s Cinderella journey from divisional doormat to World Series contender. When former Goldman Sachs colleagues Stuart Sternberg and Matthew Silverman assumed control of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2005, it looked as if they were buying the baseball equivalent of a penny stock. But the incoming regime came armed with a master plan: to leverage their skill at trading, valuation, and management to build a model twenty-first-century franchise that could compete with their bigger, stronger, richer rivals—and prevail.

In the interview Keri talks about many things that helped this amazing turnaround to happen, but a few themes emerge – trust, attendance to disciplined process, focus on hiring and open-mindedness.

At the same time, I am reading A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All by Wendy Koop, founder and president of Teach for America. The stories of the schools that actually work, the schools that are able to take children from underprivileged neighborhoods and propel them all the way to college, show similar characteristics: trust, attendance to disciplined process, focus on hiring and open-mindedness.

In both these stories, between the lines, you read about a delicate balance:

1. A high dedication to numbers balanced with a focus on the people who drive them.

2. Focus on outcomes balanced with discipline to keep on the right process when the outcomes don’t come.

3. High accountability for results balanced with amazing trust in people to find their own best way to do what needs to be done to succeed and open-mindedness to their new approaches.

The last balance of the three, which is the most important in my eyes, is why I thought about the idea of Controlled Anarchy. These two success stories (and more I encountered in the past) seem to revolve around leaders and managers creating a very wide-set of boundaries and trusting their people to succeed in these boundaries. Instead of spending time and effort on micro-managing how people do their work, they focus their efforts on hiring the best available people, giving them the support and resources they need, and trying to learn from them while holding them accountable for the outcomes they produce. In other words, these leaders allow Anarchy in Controlled boundaries.

This Anarchy has another upside. As Steven Johnson illustrates in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, mistakes, failures and noise are an important factor in innovation:

The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again. And not just wrong, but messy. A shockingly large number of transformative ideas in the annals of science can be attributed to contaminated laboratory environments…

Good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error.

Is there Anarchy in your organization?

Elad

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Why are they afraid?

Photo by Gianmaria™

I read an interesting article about teleworking in the latest edition of the Knowledge@ASB. Here is a short part of that article:

With evidence mounting for teleworking benefits, the obvious question concerns why so many managers are refusing to offer the option. “It’s fear of the unknown,” says Bevis England, director of Telework New Zealand and facilitator of the Telework Australia initiative. “Some managers are simply reluctant to change. They think ‘if it ain’t broken don’t fix it’. But the system is effectively broken. In business, we have spent about 200 years learning how to cram people into concrete and glass mausoleums, justifying the rental expenses by claiming greater productivity. Now we are experiencing a new evolution in which we must unlearn those lessons.

Management style, for those who are not used to looking after teleworkers, must also shift from process-oriented to outcome-oriented management, Ward and England agree. Once the teleworker has the tools – the training, the information and the ability to do their job – the worker must then be trusted to get that job done and judged only by the outcomes of their efforts”.

What is it that managers fear so much? Why is it hard for them to let go?

I think in part, this is rooted in our own conceptions of management and leadership as top-down activities. The thinking goes something like this: “if I am the leader that means I need to tell everybody what to do. If they are not here, I can’t tell them how to do their work. If there are not visible, they might try to do things their own way. Because it is not my way, then it must be wrong”.

Sounds kind of dumb when it is put like that, right? Well, it is.

As the last sentence in the above quote implies, it is about trust, which is slowing becoming the glue that holds organizations (replacing fear and rules).

Lynda Gratton put it wonderfully while giving a eulogy to organizational loyalty:

But whilst loyalty is dead…long live trust. Loyalty is about the future – trust is about the present. Trust is core to the relationship between the employer and employee – without it relationships become simply transactions and work is mired and slowed through continuous checks and monitoring. CEO’s may not believe their executives to be loyal in the sense that they will be with them indefinitely – but they have to believe they are trustworthy. Trust is one of the most precious organisational assets – slow to build and quick to be destroyed. The precursor to trust is fairness, justice and dignity – demonstrated in how processes operate and how people are treated when the going gets tough

Until we come to the understanding that in many areas of business, top down just doesn’t work anymore and embrace the ideas of emergence, Equifinality and trust, we would probably keep fearing the unknown and making excuses. Are these activities you are comfortable with? I know I am not.

Elad

The combination of a killer process and almost religious trust

Photo by schmollmolch

Seth Godin writes about Finding inspiration instead of it finding you:

One approach to innovation and brainstorming is to wait for the muse to appear, to hope that it alights on your shoulder, to be ready to write down whatever comes to you. The other is to seek it out, will it to appear, train it to arrive on time and on command.

Your first idea might not be good, or even your second or your tenth, but once you dedicate yourself to this cycle, yes, in fact, you will ship and make a difference.

This falls right in line with what I wrote about teamwork just a few days ago:

The idea that someone “from above” will “direct” the individual accomplishments is not only outdated, it is insulting. It reminds of me of how serfs were treated in the old days.

Instead, we need to understand that teamwork, like passion, creativity and initiative (all the required ingredients for success in the today economy) are emergent properties. Teamwork is not about doing what the boss says. It is about Synergy. And Synergy cannot be commanded and controlled from above. It can only be emerge by an enabling atmosphere.

Same same but different. It is not about commanding or deciding or just doing. It is about taking a commitment that translates into habit. It is about creating the right atmosphere and environment. In the world of productivity you know that if you show up and do what the rulebook says, you will produce something. In the world of creativity, you can show up, there is not real rule book, and even if you do what all the experts say, you might come up with nothing or come up with bad ideas.

But that is exactly the point. Trust the process. As That Guy with the Nametag writes:

Whatever you’re currently disciplining yourself to do, there comes a point where you have to affirm: “Look, I might not like doing this right now. But I have great faith. I honor and trust the process. And I know it’s going to pay dividends. And sure, I might not know what those dividends are yet. Or when they’re going to surface. But when they do, I’ll know that the wait was well worth it.”

The combination of a killer process and almost religious trust is the only combination that can work for innovation. And the cool thing is, the only one who can find the right process for you and develop that reverence like trust… is you.

Are you still here?

Elad

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Which do your prefer – happiness or trust?

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Photo by yewenyi

Today in our marketing class we talked about customer’s happiness and trust. If you create a simple 2 by 2 matrix you can allocate your customers to 4 groups. Then you need to think about how you treat each group and what the reasons for the existence and size of each group are.

And that got me thinking about transferring the same kind of measurement and thinking process to other arenas. Let’s think about politics. If you are a president or a prime minster, what is more important – that the citizens trust you or that they are happy with what you are doing? Or think about being a manager – do you want your employees to trust you or do you want them to be happy?

I know that trust and happiness are interrelated. I also know that the definitions are not completely clear. But life (and leadership and management) is about making decisions in a scarce and uncertain environment. And when your resources are limited you are faced with the choice of what to concertante on.

If I was a marketer, I think I will concentrate mainly on happiness. But as a leader and a manager of people, I would go with trust every time. In the marketplace of the consumers – happiness will generally lead to trust. In the leadership sense, happiness is important – but doing the right things and making the right decisions is a way that will lead to trust, is even more important. The trust will lead to happiness.

Leaders and managers need to make tough choices even though their followers will not always like it. In a book I am currently reading called: “The last argument of kings” one of the characters uses the phrase: “One cannot be a great leader without a certain … Ruthlessness”. I believe this is true. First create trust in your vision, in your cause, in your decision making. First create respect. Happiness will come.

What do you think is more important? Happiness or trust?

Elad