Archive for the ‘Organizational Behavior’ Category

When new technologies catalyze a shift in socio-economic paradigms, economic historian commonly refer to it as a revolution – the industrial revolution of the 19th century, the agrarian revolution before that.  In the wake, a new age is born. (more…)

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In the aftermath of the financial crisis of late 2008 and the resulting global recession, defenders of the US financial system maintained that it was a source of US competitive advantage.  Our capital markets facilitate the exchange of money and risk and thereby not only help maximize productivity but also attract businesses to our economy.

With the exception of some of the more exotic financial structures, I tend to agree.  Just as the shift from barter to physical currency enabled new economic prosperity, more sophisticated financial instruments and capital markets (properly regulated) benefit individuals, businesses and entire economies.

The same could be true of social capital.  Today people already exchange favors, debts of gratitude and obligations of reciprocity on a daily basis.  Indeed, reciprocity seems to be deeply ingrained in the social nature of humanity.  Dunbar’s number could be explained as the result of the cognitive limits on mental accounts in social groups.

What if companies could make all these invisible exchanges more visible?  How might collaboration and innovation benefit?  What would a system of social currency look like?  How would it effect rewards and incentives?

Such a system is both possible and relatively easy to implement using a combination of gamification concepts and social technologies.  Here is a hack that I have been mulling over recently.

Every year allocate to employees a set number of social currency point – say 200 per employee.  They can choose to hold onto the points or they can award points to colleagues as a thanks for helping out – say, 1 point for a discrete favor or for providing some much needed insight as a subject matter expert, 5 points for consistently being a team player who goes above and beyond, 10 points for saving the day and making the difference on an important project.  (Publishing very basic guidelines will help.)

Require some information on why the points are being awarded, and make that information public.  This will enforce some discipline and avoid frivolous exchanges.  Making the information public also reinforces the inherent value of the social currency.

For 1 point, the information required can just be an option in a drop down; for 5 points require an additional one or two sentences – for 10 or more, maybe a short blurb. Include the date.  As you collect information and track awards, you build a data set on social interactions that can be analyzed later.

At the end of the year, everyone is entered into a raffle for prizes with the number of entries per person being somehow proportional to the points that the entrants have accrued by the year’s end.  There can be multiple winners, and smaller prizes are probably better than really large ones.  The goal is to make the whole process fun and slightly augment the value of the currency without distorting the normal social incentives so much that employees start gaming the system just to win.

At the end of each year you can see who are the experts and who are the team players.  You can map out interactions and social networks and begin managing people with a new set of metrics.

We are only just beginning to understand the potential gains from harnessing social data.  The Enron corpus has proven to be an invaluable trove of data for analysis.  Imagine adding datasets from the exchange of social currency, one day maybe even gadgets like those that are already gaining popularity in the quantified self movement.  All sorts of new, more rewarding and more productive organizational structures and management practices could be possible.

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I recently participated in another hackathon with the Management Innovation Exchange, and I decided to re-post what I came up with here because I’ve posted before on similar themes in the past, perhaps with a more complaintive tone.  My hope is that this blog can be more about solutions than just enumerating the problems.

The (unpleasant) experience of going through our performance review process at work this summer, primed by Dan Ariely’s book The Upside of Irrationality (even better than Predictably Irrational), left questioning a lot about how we management talent.  In particular, I began to wonder whether coupling performance feedback with compensation and promotion decisions really makes the most sense.

If we got back to first principles, would the two still be coupled?  Does the performance review actually better inform compensation or does compensation distract from providing and receiving valuable feedback?  Do raises and bonuses reinforce the feedback loop of performance reviews or frustrate intrinsic motivations?  Do the business needs to award raises on a fiscal calendar compromise the timeliness and relevance of the associated performance feedback?

The hypotheses I came up with to answer these questions all went into the system of mastery feedback loops described below and the performance support groups I suggested as a near term way of realizing some of the benefits.

The name “Mastery Feedback Loops” is derived from Daniel Pinks’ Drive.  In it, he identifies three intrinsic motivations in the workplace: purpose, autonomy and mastery (to which I would also add identity, to account for the social nature of the human animal, but that’s another discussion).  The practice formerly known as performance management needs to be better aligned with these intrinsic motivations.  For that reason, mastery feedback loops would differ in three important ways:

  1. The focus would be on mastery of capabilities – Instead of obsessing on backward looking metrics, the goal would be to constantly improve and make appropriate investments in a firm’s talent (even when that means “reallocating resources” away from underperforming talent).  Coaches, rather than managers, would help individuals identify the capabilities that are important to the success of the business (collective, purpose-driven goals) as well as the individuals ongoing professional development (autonomous goals).  Metrics would then be set to monitor progress toward the ideal mastery of those capabilities.
  2. The process would be decoupled from compensation and promotions – Tying feedback to promotions and raises only increases the stress and negative emotion from both receiving and giving constructive criticism.  Taking that out of the equation returns the focus to where it should be – continuous improvement, kaizen for the individual.  Concerns about that next bump up create a distraction and can poison the employee/manager relationship.  Money may also not be the best way to motivate the desired behaviors.
  3. Feedback would be social and continuous – Freed from the strictures of the fiscal calendar, feedback could be delivered with more frequency so individuals can monitor their progress on an ongoing basis, helping to set the stage for flow in the workplace.  Brining in a greater variety of perspectives will improve the quality of feedback and incentives for improving, helping individuals understand how they are perceived by all parts of the organization (social esteem being important to human happiness).

An interesting area for further investigation might also be how to align performance management better to the intrinsic motivations of groups as well as individuals.  As the social behavior of hives and swarms suggest, it cannot just be assumed that the same intrinsic motivations will dominate in a group.

The management hack “Just-in-time Teams” suggests some ideas for how mastery feedback loops might be implemented, bottoms up.
  • Organize into groups of 7-13 individuals, ideally around specific capabilities or competencies that the constituents are looking to develop or that are important to their roles at the company
  • Meet regularly (weekly if possible) for an hour or so over coffee (or other refreshments) in something like a performance support group (hmmm, maybe that’s what we should call this hack)
  • Working together without any nominated leader, set mastery goals for each person in the group; maybe assign some at home individual pre-work so the process moves quickly while meeting
  • Help “coffee chat” members set specific metrics to monitor their progress toward mastery and figure out how to take the necessary measurements
  • Each week (two weeks or month), discuss where each person is at and provide advice on how to improve
  • Use an online tool (e.g. wiki, Google Site, etc.) to post metrics of progress and to solicit and provide feedback asynchronously
  • At the end of the year and start of the formal performance review, prepare documentation on each group member, signed collectively by the group, recording how that person’s performance has changed over the course of the year; this document can be brought into conversations with management as an additional data point in the review/evaluation/appraisal and help make the case for promotions and raises where appropriate

Visit http://www.mixhackathon.org/hackathon/getting-performance-without-performance-management to read the original post as well as other hacks of the same sort.

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As a young, single professional, I spend a lot of time thinking about my career and dating.  It should be no surprise, then, that I have come to see a lot of parallels between job hunting and dating, particularly online dating.  Recruiters should take notice as well.

In online dating, you fill out a profile presenting a filtered version of yourself (your resume) filled with positive illusion and tailored to (hopefully) attract the attention of the kind of person or persons you would like to date.  You then spend a lot of time browsing through other profiles (job postings) looking for someone that approximates your ideal mate (employer), all the while knowing on some level that (s)he has created a profile with the same positive illusion and ulterior motives as you.

When you are lucky enough to find a good match, you carefully craft a message (cover letter) that shows you’ve read the profile and have something in common that makes you a good match, while still trying to stand out somehow in the cacophony of other messages.  If you succeed, you might exchange numbers, then text or talk on the phone (phone interview) before meeting up for a first date (real interview), usually in some abbreviated format like happy hour drinks.  A few dates later, if all goes well, you (ostensibly) decide to commit to one another in an exclusive relationship and delete your dating profile (you’re hired!).

In both job hunting and online dating, you are trying to learn as much about someone with limited time and imperfect information before making a decision about how good a fit you are for one another.  If it’s going to work, it has to be reciprocal.  You look for shared values and similar expectations from the relationship.  In dating and careers, there are the gold diggers and the people that want to connect on a deeper level.

There is a bit of cat and mouse game to both job hunting and online dating.  You both want to highlight your best attributes and downplay your worst faults, but then you aren’t really painting an accurate picture of yourself.  What’s she hiding?  If he’s so great, why is he on this dating site?  People say they hate games, but still we play them.  Wouldn’t it really be more efficient just to announce our shortcomings so the other person could decide up front whether they want to hire/date you in spite of them?  No one is perfect after all.

New jobs and new relationships always seem to start out with a lot of enthusiasm and optimism that dissipates over time.  Paralleling the decision more people are making to put off marriage or opt for nontraditional family structures, the era of the organization man is giving way to the free agent and creative class.

I am surprised that no one has picked up on these commonalities and built a career site modeled more like a dating site.  The problem with most career sites, for both the recruiters and the job hunters, is the sheer volume.  There are too many resumes for a recruiter to effectively sort through, and it is too easy to get lost in the crowd when you submit a resume, witty cover letter notwithstanding.

What if you had a site that was free for anyone to use, recruiters and job seekers alike, but you could only access a finite number of job postings or applicant resumes per time period without paying and which ones you saw were decided by an algorithm?  Maybe charge a nominal finders fee for matches, say a $5 charge to reveal an applicant’s contact information or $1 to submit your resume.  For a paid account, you could access more postings/applications and actually toggle between the full population and a subset determined by the algorithm.

Build it on Facebook Connect and you can match candidates to openings on a much richer data set than just key word searches (watch out Branched Out!).  Let users create questions with structured answers the same way OkCupid does today to help discover interesting correlations.  Recruiters could attach the questions to their job postings and candidates can pose questions to companies to learn more about what it’s really like to work there.

If Monster wants to stay relevant in the face of competition from LinkedIn, they need to innovate.  A good start might be poaching some of the talent away from over at Match.

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If you or someone close to you is part of the 8.9% unemployed right now, then you know there is a plethora of career advice out there on how to write a cover letter, create a resume, and answer common interview questions, but if everyone is following the same advice, how can you ever expect to stand out?  Over at Oktrends, they did a really interesting analysis of attraction, and it got me to thinking about how the same principles might apply to job searches.

What if instead of trying to project the version of yourself that you think perspective employers want to see, you downplay the usual qualities (team player!) and instead highlight what makes you quirky and perhaps just a little polarizing (disdain for hierarchy anyone?)?  Sure you’re likely to limit your over all number of job prospects, but the ones remaining will probably be a much better reciprocal fit.  Both the employer and employee benefit. With all that is the interwebs, there is no reason you should wait until the interview to tell employers about why you’d be great for their company.

Lot’s of people these days are concerned about privacy on the internet.  While some of it is well founded (I don’t want just anyone knowing where I live and when I’m out of town), much concern is overstated.  You can spend a bunch of time fine tuning your Facebook privacy setting and removing tracking cookies or you can embrace the new transparency and begin developing your personal brand online (not to mention enjoying a more personalized web experience).  The notion isn’t really new.  I stumbled across a 1997 Fast Company article in my Twitter feed the other day titled The Brand Called You advising readers on #personalbranding (of course, Twitter and the hash tag markup did not exist yet then).

I recently decided to take this tack myself.  I set up an about.me page as a hub connecting my online presence across various platforms, including Quora.  I formally articulated my mission, vision and values to help market myself as a free agent across said platforms, and I even had my own take on business cards printed up.  Some companies are going to see this and decide to take a pass on me, and that is fine.   With less time wasted pursuing poor fits, I can spend more time cultivating the ones that count.  Sometimes the most important decisions we make are what opportunities to let pass us by.  I have an expression for it – Varsity Blues.

The dream job offers haven’t started pouring in (yet), but I feel good about the quality of the connections I am beginning to make.  And with my upcoming trip to Austin for the greatest music festival anywhere, who knows what may happen.

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I’m currently working on a project for a client where every work group is very thinly staffed – a consequence of layoffs and hiring freezes during the Great Recession.  These sorts of cost saving measures have helped some companies book record profits while still just brining in underwhelming revenues.

There’s an unaccounted for cost here though.  Everyone is very defensive about taking on any additional work.  There is no team spirit, go the extra mile, help a friend out.  They have all retrenched back into their respective fiefdoms, and if it isn’t their explicit responsibility, well, figure it out on your own because I’m not telling you.

I don’t think I can understate how much wasted effort this creates.  Time spent trying to find the right person, debating who the right person is, not to mention snide emails that sour working relationships, rejecting pleas for assistance.  I am wholly convinced that more effort is spent arguing about whose responsibility it is than would actually be required to just chip in, regardless of who has it in his or her job description.

Some of this is cultural, no doubt, but this isn’t a company known for its toxic culture.  It’s known as one of the best places to work in the US and one of the world’s most admired companies.  The critical difference is that people are already being asked to do too much.  Their hours are long enough and their email inbox overflowing.  Work life balance exists only as a catch phrase on the Careers section of the company web site.

I think there is another benefit to the 80/20 rule at places like Google (20% of your time goes to pet projects).  If you are going to free up 20% of an employee’s time for pet projects, then you have to be cognizant of the actual workload tied to the “job description.”  Employees that are not overworked are more cooperative.  They’re also probably happier, more creative, and more productive.

I understand the need for cost cutting, but instead of lay offs, companies should be exploring more flexible compensation structures that can adapt to macro economic conditions and the business cycle.  Rather than reallocate the workload over fewer employees, effectively driving up the denominator of hourly wage equivalent for salaried employees, why not adjust the numerator?



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I just came across a great NY Times article.  It articulates the source of so much of the frustration I’ve felt at various points in my career.  I especially liked the quote from Professor Bob Sutton:

Unhappiness with your career choice goes to the root of your identity and your sense of authenticity.

Add that to Dan Pink’s list of intrinsic motivations: autonomy, mastery, purpose and identity.  Identity is part of why hackers hack (or contribute to Wikipedia or open source projects).  All four motivations are interrelated, but identity is distinct from the other three.

While identity is about me (who I am), purpose is about something bigger than me.  Autonomy is the choices I make, and mastery is what I aspire to be.  My values are what connect them all together – how I see myself, who I want to become, the impact I want to have, how I want to get there.

Admittedly some people are more extrinsically motivated, but for the rest of us, what we do is part of who we are.  When you don’t feel like your work reflects your values, it creates cognitive dissonance – the source of both personal and professional unhappiness and stress.

The problem as I see it is that many norms of “professionalism” seem to stamp out individuality.  Employers want cookie cutter employees, right down to the bland business casual dress code.  It is part of the command and control method of organizing, instead of freedom and responsibility.

Why should I have to pretend to be someone at work that is different from who I am outside of work?  Can I really keep the two separate?  The interweb is redefining the bounds of personal privacy.  Maybe employers should redefine professionalism.  Start by making “Casual Friday” everyday.

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