Simon Terry

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Cartoon Leader

“It’s like he is a cartoon leader. He’s two-dimensional in a three-dimensional world”

Trust in leadership is declining in many spheres of life. Many leaders look more out of their depth than ever.  Clinging to carefully manufactured facades, familiar patterns of power and simple plans, they fail quickly in a complex world. Leaders need to adapt their practices to a changing world. To avoid being a cartoon leader, you need to adapt to the richness of the world as it is, not as you want it to be.

Multi-dimensional

“Wishing doesn’t make it true”

Complexity comes with a real cost. Often we will wish for simpler times and for a return to simpler old fashioned ways.  We can learn from that wish but wishing won’t make that an effective strategy.  Leaders don’t get to act in the world of their wishes. That only happens in cartoons.  Leaders must act and lead action in the world as it is. The world in which leaders must act is irreversibly multi-dimensional:

  • Today and into the future
  • Power and influence
  • Hierarchies and networks
  • Local and global
  • Expertise and learning
  • Massively scaled and personal
  • Commercial considerations and human values

Sustainable in Every Dimension

“He was there, he heard it, he says he sees the problem, but I am still not sure that he gets it”

Leadership is about influencing others to act. That influence demands leaders engage with the complexity of the real world.

Ignore a dimension in your leadership actions and you are that cartoon leader who is less rich than the world that they are seeking to influence. Ignore a dimension and you can expect to be judged harshly by those who see the complexity or demand a solution that engages that dimension. Ignore a dimension and you lose influence.

Leaders can find it hard to step out beyond the cartoon simplicity. In many cases their organizations and stakeholders are demanding simple answers and easy change. Working against an expectation that you behave like a cartoon leader takes courage and time.

One of the reasons that leadership tenure is declining in many of our institutions is that leaders ignore complexity.  They remain a cartoon that is not adapting to the changes that these additional dimensions demand. Cartoons don’t do complexity. Cartoons don’t last very long. Cartoons are short fast hits until their command on attention expires. Eventually the anvil drops. A leader engaged in the real world is far more enduring.

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The challenge for leaders is stepping out of the cartoon and engaging with the world as it is.

The Essential Ingredient is Trust

When we think about our organisations we often fail to notice the essential role of trust. Trust enables or disables our work, structures, or processes. As we move more into the future of the network economy we need to make trust explicit again.

What We Don’t See

We forget about trust because the process of trust is second nature to us.  Trust is deeply engrained in the way we manage relationships, transactions and exchanges.  This role of trust makes it critical to the way we organise our work, the way we exchange information and the decisions we make. Any organisation that is not explicitly managing the level of trust in the organisation and with its stakeholders is losing value.

Trust plays an outsized role in my work. Customers pay a premium when they trust an organisation. That customer trust is directly related to the internal trust relationships inside an organisation. They won’t give an organisation greater trust than its own employees. When Change Agents Worldwide wrote its first book, my chapter was on the need for organisations to trust their employees to enable the benefits of the future of work.  A critical underpinning of the Value Maturity Model is its ability to develop the mutual trust in organisations that facilitates effective collaboration and supports execution of strategy. Trust is key to any complex and uncertain challenge in leadership, learning or innovation.

What We Work Around

Much of business history back to the beginnings of time has been managing trust.  Ancient businesses of the Phonecians and Greeks, operating in the era of an absence of information used family relationships to ensure trust. Over time businesses built processes to enable wider networks of trust in trade, in banking, in record keeping and in management of businesses. Our organisations are built of thousands of individual interventions to manage trust in relationships.

Organisations are often tempted to see the goal as creating a trustless environment.  Build the processes & structures such that you no longer care. Blockchain promises a trustless ledger for example. The gig economy promises to make employees fungible units of production where trust in the individual is irrelevant. We trust platforms, not people. We undoubtedly can continue to build more transparency, processes & accountability to extend work relationships further down the curve of trust.

The Cost of Trust

When we engineer trust out of our relationships, it does not go away. We continue to evaluate trust in our work because that instinct is a deeply human one. When we engineer trust out of our relationships, we accept a new set of stresses and new set of demands on performance.

  • We worry about the effectiveness of our trust-replacement solutions. We stress about the quality of our human relationships. Absence of trust is a high stress situation for humans.
  • We over-invest in these systems and bear an unnecessarily high cost to performance.  Look at any compliance regimes where risk avoidance dominates thinking.
  • We are reticent to share information which results in suboptimal decision making
  • Those who don’t receive trust, don’t give it. Trust is reciprocal and an absence of trust in one direction will result in customers, employees and other stakeholders who don’t trust.

Organisations that want to perform effectively in the future of the work cannot place all their faith in processes, structures and platforms to manage trust for them. They need to remember the human relationships of trust. Create and manage an organisational culture that is rich and generous with its trust.

Three Levels of Co-Creation

As we begin to explore the collaborative potential of connection, co-creation is becoming increasingly important solution to problems. Organisations are increasingly looking to employees, partners and suppliers to be a part of efforts to co-create solutions to complex problems. Collaborative co-creation is a key part of the Solve phase of the Value Maturity Model. As we practice co-creation, we discover bigger opportunities to create value.

Co-Creating Ideas

Most co-creation begins with some kind of crowd-sourcing of ideas to solve problems. Diversifying the sources and inputs into the creation of a solution can enable big steps forward. Often new stakeholders have solutions to hand, see potential to reuse capabilities or bring opportunities to do things in new ways. Crowd-sourcing can be a fast and effective way to gather inputs from a large group of people towards a solution.

Efforts at crowd-sourcing solutions need to plan for two main challenges:

  • Lack of Connection: To contribute meaningful solutions, people need to feel connected to the problem and to each other.
  • The Volume of ideas overwhelms Execution: ideas are great but the exercise to sift and integrate diverse ideas can be a drain on execution. This is why many efforts at crowd-sourcing turn into a show of ‘engagement’ with no traction on the ideas submitted.

Co-Creating the Work

The next level of co-creation is when people come together to take a solution and execute it. The challenges of a problem don’t stop when you have an idea. People need to solve all the little issues and manage the idea until it is successfully implemented.

Make sure the expectation in you co-creation community is that work will be done to solve the problem.  Give the community the autonomy to follow their ideas. People will contribute better ideas if they think that they have to see them through.  Co-creation is more meaningful to a community that has been asked to work the problem together. Challenge them to take their ideas and see them through to implementation.

Co-Creating the Problem

The final level of co-creation goes back to the start and looks at the system from a higher view.  This level removes the constraint that the problem definition is externally imposed on the community. At this level of co-creation, the community has responsibility to find, create and implement its own solutions. To do this the community is going to need to start to ask questions about Purpose, the scope of the system and what goals they have for the system.  Bring a diverse group of stakeholders in to shape the problems and you may discover new problems and that some of your current problems aren’t such a big issue. The third level asks the community to own co-creation from Purpose, through Diagnosis, and then to the Design and Execution of any solutions.

A Conversation About Norms

We live between norms and force. When norms lose their power, force becomes the alternative option. For effective organisations and civil society, we need an ongoing conversation about expectations of behaviour.

Noticing Norms

David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement address begins with a story

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,
“What the hell is water?”

Social norms are often like water to the young fish. In the Oxford dictionary, norms are defined as:

A standard or pattern, especially of social behaviour, that is typical or expected

We don’t even notice they exist. They are simply baked into our expectations of social interactions. We follow the most common norms without reflecting on their existence. Often the first time we focus on them is in our outrage at a breach of a norm.

Norms shape group and individual behaviours. Norms that are undiscussed, and in some cases undiscussable, can have real consequences for individuals and societies ability to manage and change. These norms are also a critical component of group connection. Loss of shared norms will impact cohesion, sharing and collaboration in a group.

While many norms are taken as given, they are not fixed. Our expectations are constantly adapting based on our experience of the behaviour of others. Sustained violation of norms can and will cause change. This is one reason that so many protesters violate social norms. They want to disrupt a range of expectations to gain notice and to influence people to reflect on the need for change. Where change has been driven by social change movements, the changes are largely positive for society with new norms being more inclusive, equitable and better able to support civil society.

The Power of Norms

‪We live between norms and force. When norms lose their power, force becomes the alternative option to regulate social behaviour. The functioning of our organisations and our civil society depends on effective norms.

Over summer I read Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, a book that examines the lessons from traditional societies. The book explores how many tribal societies experienced life that involved continuing violence. The violence was an outcome of the challenges of sustain norms between tribal groups, leadership within tribes depending on authority and because disputes were often resolved by force. Many of the mechanisms we expect to prevent violence, such as peaceful acceptance of strangers, were not norms in these societies, because they represented real dangers to individuals and the group.

Change movements often seek to smash existing norms. Equally important is the need to foster and develop the new behavioural expectations that will follow. In the absence of shared expectations, any group will increasingly have to use force to maintain behaviour in a group or fail in its shared endeavours.

Let’s consider an example of the justice system. What makes our laws effective is not the courts or a constitution. The first element is a community expectation that we will follow the law, respect the courts and honour those decisions.  When individuals fail these norms, the executive branch of government has a range of force to bring to bear on social behaviour and enforce the law. We simply expect that the courts and the executive will collaborate to maintain the law. The history of the breakdown in civil societies around the world shows us that this is one of the first norms to fail.

Norms in Organisations

In organisations, the equivalent force is the power of exclusion. Few organisations have the power to use force against their employees except to show them from the premises. Misbehave persistently and you will be sacked and denied an ability to remain in the community. Exclusion presents a cost to the individual and a loss of capability to the organisation. Exclusion of large groups can be incredibly disruptive as strikes and lockouts show.

Organisations depend on norms to keep the peace and to foster cohension and collaboration. A few of those norms are on posters. Many are inherited from the society in which the organisation operates. As our organisations involve more temporary workers and as they become more open to the networks around them, managing these group norms becomes more important.

Most of those norms are never discussed. Some are seen as undiscussable. Rather than force people to exit when they have an issue with norms, we have offer people the alternative of voice. Exit is too easy in our networked era. Voice should be the easiest option. Encourage people to discuss their issues openly, especially those seen as hardest to raise. Celebrate resistance as a form of engagement. When norms are often invisible, it can also be a great learning experience to leverage the insights of those who can see.

The functioning of our society depend on explicit and implicit norms of behaviour and interaction. Let’s invest in the conversations and actions in community necessary to sustain norms and keep the use of force at bay. ‬

Tall Poppy Podcast with Tathra Street

I recently did a podcast with Tathra Street on making leadership safe for humans.  Tathra has an series of interviews on the idea of Human Centred Leadership. In our 30 minute conversation, we discussed my leadership lessons, how work is changing, the demands of digital culture, working out loud and more.

The discussion was great but sadly the audio quality did not hold up to the content of the discussion.

Work Ahead for 2017: Foundations, Personal & Organisational Work

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As the end of November approaches, that time has come again when we must consider whether we have the right initiatives in place for ourselves and our organisations as we get ready for 2017.  How are you transforming the capabilities and work practices in your organisation to make sure that your teams are more effective in their work?

Why is Work Changing?

The way we work is fundamentally changing under the influence of five main drivers:

  • Pervasive Global connection: As internet connectivity has gone mobile, we now have the ability to connect with, to converse with and to see the whole system of our stakeholders any time anywhere.
  • Automation: Digital technology has enabled us to automate simple tasks and string together increasingly complex processes and systems.
  • Data and Analytics: As digital connection and digital automation expands so does our ability to gather data and analyse that data to provide insight and run complex algorithmic processes.
  • Changing Consumer Expectations: As consumers are exposed to the potential of digital through consumer technology and consumer services, the businesses must meet disruptive and exacting standards for convenience, service, value and speed.
  • Accelerating Pace of Change: Disruption, greater responsiveness to change and ever-shortening cycles of feedback are the new norm for business and our work practices must adapt to enable our businesses to keep up.

We have already seen great change in digital transformation.

Further dramatic changes in the nature of work are here but ‘not yet widely distributed’ to borrow the phrase of William Gibson..

2017 Future of Work Recommendations

With these pressures on the way we work, every business should have a focus on how it is changing the way its people work and the practices that will support ongoing transformation of work. Here are my recommendations on what work you should have on your backlog for the new year:

Foundations:

These five are in place in your organisation today. However, they may not be well understood, managed or serving your purpose.  As you look to 2017 it is always worthwhile to ensure that the foundations are sound and well aligned.

2017-foundations

Purpose: Be clear on your personal purpose. Look for that purpose in the work you do. Clarify the shared purpose in your organisation. Don’t impose a purpose designed around the leadership table. Discover the purpose through the stories and the work that bring your organisation together.

Strategic Value: What value are you trying to create to fulfil your purpose? What kinds of value matter most to your stakeholders? When do they know you are creating value? What measures tell you that you are achieving your goals?

Networks: To compete in the network era, your organisation must be networked. How are you bringing people together to connect, to share, to solve problems and to respond to the networks around your organisation? The technology matters less than the connection, the behaviours and the shared purpose. Are you clear on the strategic value of your communities, are they well supported with sponsorship, investment and community management so as to accelerate their value creation?

Culture: Move beyond words on a poster. Move beyond generic platitudes. Move beyond an agglomeration of individual team cultures. What specific values are shared across your organisation? Why do these help fulfil your purpose? How do those values translate to expectations about behaviours in and across your teams? Is the culture in your organisation effective for your purpose and the value you are seeking to create? How do you personal role model the behaviours you expect from others?

Employee Experience: Are you working somewhere that values the employee experience and is adapting it to changing work and changing roles in the organisation? How have you aligned your employee experience to your desired customer experience? Does your workplace create rich value for employees and enable them to express their potential in fulfilment of purpose? Does your employee experience work as well for the one-hour temporary contract worker as the long term employee? Does it work equally well for all levels of the hierarchy and all corners of your network?

Personal Effectiveness:  Four Key Future of Work Practices

These four personal practices are enablers of the future of work. They enable an individual employee to deliver greater value in their work by responding to the opportunities and information in their environment. Agile and adaptive they empower employees to continuously improve and innovate.

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Working Out Loud: Sharing work in progress in a purposeful way with relevant communities will accelerate learning, sharing and feedback cycles. Start working out loud now.

Personal Knowledge Management: Learn how to turn the personal information flood into effective sense making, learning and sharing. A critical skill to make sense of complexity and to leverage networks for learning.

Adaptive Leadership: Enabling the rebel and the change agent to lead more effectively in any system. Improving understanding, influence and the increasing the breadth of leadership techniques to create collective change in any system.

Experimentation: Move beyond the limits of your expertise. Learn by doing. Resolve uncertainty through action. Shorten cycles of decision making and feedback to increase personal effectiveness.

Organisational Effectiveness: Scaling & Accelerating Change

Organisations are made up individuals. These four practices of organisational effectiveness scale and accelerate the personal practices through a focus on design of systems for connection, learning and adaptation.

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Open Collaborative Management: Middle managers are often those who find a change to digital ways of working most threatening and disrupting. Open up the work of management. Move management from planning, allocation and control to facilitation, alignment and coaching. Shorten cycles and improve the performance value of feedback. Foster the role of managers as network navigators and brokers. Management can be a critical point of leverage in achieving more open, more collaborative and more effective work.

Scalable Capability Development: Turn each employee’s learning into a contribution to scalable system for delivering strategic value. Create Big Learning systems that scale learning around strategic capabilities for the organisation’s success. Coordinate your learning agenda as an agile change program. Curate the capability building of your teams, leveraging learning from peer communities and leverage social learning to bring 70:20:10 and a performance-oriented approach to learning to life at scale and in the workplace.

Effective Networked Organisations: Take advantage of the networks in and around your organisation to rethink your business model and organisational design choices. Break the centralised/decentralised binary and move beyond hierarchy. Enable autonomy, foster alignment and improve effectiveness for purpose. Skill your teams to achieve effectiveness in the wirearchy. You don’t need to purchase a new management system. You need to adapt your approach to managing knowledge, trust, credibility and results to your purpose, culture and community.

Agile Innovation & Change: Adapt to the changing needs of the environment and stakeholders to deliver new value. Accelerate innovation and change through new approaches and by putting in place the systemic support for employee-led innovation, change and transformation to a more responsive organisation.

Simon Terry provides consulting, advice, speaking and thought leadership to global clients through his own consulting practice, and as a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals, specializing in Future of Work technologies and practices.  The focus of Simon’s practice is assisting organizations to transform innovation, collaboration, learning and leadership. 

Changing Work is Hard

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Some time ago I published a post on five small changes that we can each make to make work more effective. Tanmay Vora turned the post into the great sketch above that has been widely shared. On the weekend I wondered whether all this sharing actually helped anyone to change their work. Tanmay and others responded that they were using the sketch as a guide to their work. However, my question remains open. Do we have as much change as we should? Do we act on the small ways to improve work?

Changing Work is Hard

Changing work is hard.  We would all like work to be more effective, but we continue to cling to ineffective practices. We know there are better ways but we don’t always use them. Why is there a gap between our future of work intent and action.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why changing work is difficult.

Reactive not Reflective: We are busy.  Being busy often deprives us of the time to reflect on how best to do our work or how we could improve our work.  While time pressures should present an incentive to plan a better way, we often think it is better to just start.  Take the time each day, if only for 5 minutes to reflect on how your work could be improved.

Habit: There is comfort in habit. Habits provide patterns of certainty in an incredibly volatile and uncertain world. Habits can be behaviours or habitual mindsets. Together they create ingrained and unthinking behaviours. Sending an email or organising a meeting is a routine next step and others will share the habit making it harder to break.  Find triggers for new habits. Make a choice to think and go another way and lead people away from bad habits.

Social Capital: Dave loves his meeting. Dave has perfected his meeting to suit his needs and his project. How do I tell him that it is a complete waste of everyone else’s time? We aren’t always great at feedback and we hate to put our accumulated social capital in jeopardy, particularly if what we are asking is out of the usual. Explore better ways of working with your work colleagues through collaborative coaching conversations. Encourage them to reflect and to help you find better ways of working too.

Fear: Our workplaces are full of fear. Fear power, fear of ostracism, fear of loss of status or wealth or purpose. Our workplaces put the full neurological gamut of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness under threat. Adding change to the mix risks upping the fear quotient. We need to make the benefits of change clear to ourselves first and then to others. We need to use these elements of our uncertainty to help us, not hinder us.

Conscious Incompetence: New skills are hard. They don’t work as well as our habits. We may have been unconsciously incompetent at our old approach, but as soon as we try something new we are conscious of the gap in our skills. Practice and experience is the only way to improve our skills. We need to do the work and get better.

Initiative: Nothing changes unless someone acts to influence change. We can wait for our boss or others to discover the change themselves.  However, to bring about change sooner we need to exercise individual leadership and take on the challenge of making change happen. We must be our own role models. We need to find our voice and lead with our actions to change the way we work.

 

Simon Terry provides consulting, advice, speaking and thought leadership to global clients through his own consulting practice, and as a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals, specializing in Future of Work technologies and practices.  The focus of Simon’s practice is assisting organizations to transform innovation, collaboration, learning and leadership.