Command and Control Won’t Cut It #futureofwork #leadership

As your organisation adapts to the future of work, your models of leadership need to change. Leadership needs to be as adaptive as the the organisation you are seeking to create. Otherwise the potential of your people and the business will be lost.

You can’t command experiments. You can’t control networks. You can’t command customer collaborations. You can’t command engagement or purpose. You can’t control transparency. You can’t command autonomy.

Organisations that implement new agile ways of working need new leadership models. Activity based working, digital workplace tools, collaboration solutions, innovation hubs, agile projects and product management and lean continuous improvement all require leaders to work in ways that build the capability of people, manage the whole system and value the contributions of others over a leader’s rank and expertise.

As you change to the future of work, change what leadership means in your organisation. Build the leadership capabilities in leaders and the whole team to prosper in new ways of working. Make your leadership as adaptive as your organisation.

Build Real Relationships

I received an email today from the CEO of a large networking organisation. The well crafted message pointed out he had noticed that I hadn’t registered for their latest event and offered me a discount. At the end of the email he politely invited me to connect on LinkedIn.

One small flaw in this carefully crafted piece of relationship marketing. The event is in Chicago. I live in Melbourne, Australia. I have never heard of the CEO, his organisation and I’ve never given them my email.

A piece of lovely copywriting goes to waste because its premise defeats it. The CEO wanted to convey he had considered me specifically. He wanted to build a relationship so that he can sell me services and events. However, because they bought a dodgy email list and didn’t do any research into the list all that work is an evident waste.

You can’t fake a relationship. You can’t turn a transaction into a relationship by declaring it one or by good intentions. Relationships take work. A relationship is not about what you want. Copywriting won’t save you from your lack of interest in your customers & prospects. The transparency of the global economy makes old marketing methods more dangerous than ever.

If you want a relationship, build one for both parties. If you run a networking organisation, start with relationships, not unsubscribe marketing.

Whatever you do, if you don’t want to put in the effort in a relationship, don’t pretend.

An Excess of Communication

I was turning left in my car on a rainy night in the centre of Melbourne waiting for a pedestrian. An oncoming car was turning right towards me except they seemed to be coming too fast and dangerously close. It was disconcerting to look across and see the driver turning right and looking down his face lit by the phone in his lap. We avoided a collision but I had to wonder what message could be so important it needs to be read in the middle of a right hand turn.

I once worked in an organisation with a zero inbox culture. Emails pinged around at rapid speed. Every idea was on the move somewhere else. Every email was less than three lines. Velocity mattered more than value. Everyone was overwhelmed by the flood of messages and few emails created the actions they intended as they were either in transit elsewhere or lacked the information required to move forward.

I watch the politician on the television say the same vaguely reassuring phrases over and again. With masterful skill they pivot each question back to their set phrases. Challenges and doubts are dismissed or simply ignored. Short of time and well aware that the answers form a pattern the interviewer surrenders and moves on.

The legal documents were long and fell with a heavy thud on the table. The goal of the reams of paper was to cover every eventuality in a complex transaction. There were dozens of lawyers in the room and they had been negotiating for days already. Discussion fell into a quick routine as points were hammered out. I looked at the document waiting for someone to point out the small error that reversed the impact of a clause to nobody’s benefit. The conversation was moving on. Rather than paying attention everyone was relying on the amount of discussion to have caught the issues.

‘But how can our employees not know, the policy is quite clearly explained on our intranet’

‘I’m calling to follow up the text about the email on the link in the post’

As he pushed submit on his blogpost he wondered ‘Am I just adding to the excess?’

The Bottom Third

Elite sporting teams build a development culture because they know their performance can be dramatically influenced by the bottom third of players.

Discussing the many upsets and surprises in the 2016 AFL season with friends I was reminded that the performance of an elite team can be heavily influenced by the bottom third of its players. A champion forward is of little value if the ball never gets there due to errors on the way.  A champion midfielder loses value when their disposals are wasted. Even the best backs in the world can’t stop a consistent flood of attack due to the weakness of their peers.

Teams over Stars

Everyone has stars. Great stars will take you a long way. However exceptional talent is hard to come by and harder to retain. When it comes to the games that matter, great talents are also likely to be matched by great talent in the opposing teams. Everyone focuses on recruiting, rewarding and developing their stars. 

When you get to the games that matter, team performance will win you the game. Team performance is about collaboration, people playing their role and outperforming the entire other team, not one or two individuals. In that scenario, where star power is usually closely matched, consistently high performance is about the performance of all players. The game can be shaped by the relative performance of the two bottom thirds in how well they execute, learn and collaborate.

Now many use this rationale to adopt ruthlessness to drive performance edge, cut poor performers and replace them with new talent. At GE, Jack Welch was famous for recommending the bottom 10% of performers be cut, a practice that is widely copied. Accountability through choice of who is on the team is required in any high performance environment. 

Develop the Team

However, teams come together from groups of individuals working in concert. The stars need to work alongside everyone else. Stars need support.  More importantly, better performances come when everyone lifts their performance together. The collective effort determines the outcome. 

There is not always enough top talent available. The attraction of your organisation to top talent often depends on the team culture and particularly how you invest to develop everyone. Even Jack Welch and the successful GE organisation he led recognised that a development culture was important. Lifting the middle and bottom third through work on the development of people’s capabilities and by creating a great team culture is critical to sustained high performance.

Your Bottom Third

At an individual level, elite athletes recognise that there are good days and bad days of performance. Making sure that the bottom third of performance is better through mastery, practice and experience is critical to their ongoing careers. The bad moments are those where you fall back on elite disciplines and experience to see you through.

When you are good, you are good. How good are you when you are awful? How you use the least effective third of your time plays a key role in ongoing performance.

Talent matters. Investing in a team culture and the development of all individuals including the bottom third will matter to sustained performance.

Innovation is the Execution Challenge

Organisations tie themselves in knots about whether a focus on innovation will distract from execution. Innovation is the execution challenge for all organisations. The same is no longer good enough. Better takes innovation.

Innovation is not a distraction

Innovation comes in many forms in the modern organisation. Not all innovation is the hard and often uncertain work of taking novel technology and applying it in the organisation.

Innovation can and should include continuous improvements in service delivery, service redesign, new product development, expansion to adjacent markets, changing management approaches, redesign of infrastructure, support and other processes. Led by customer insight and delivering clear strategic value, this innovation is at the heart of the execution of any strategic plan. Every strategy calls for the work to improve and it will take innovations to make that happen.

Organisations need to master the execution of these forms of innovation to build the capabilities to tackle larger challenges like technology or business model innovation. The skills learned executing continuously on small daily challenges build the organisational capability for larger change.

Innovation is the challenge

We operate in an environment where your competitors are looking to be more agile, more responsive to customer need and more effective. Like it or not, their execution focus is building foundational skills for innovation. On top new competitors are eyeing your business with entirely new mindsets & capabilities.

With this competitive environment it is harder to outperform with just a few percentage points of growth and a few percentage points of cost cutting in an otherwise stable business. Organisations need to be responsive and enable all their employees to create customer led change to drive strategic value. Innovation is not an execution challenge off to the side. Innovation is the lifeblood of competitive advantage.

Innovation drives effectiveness. That makes innovation the execution challenge.

Feels Like Work

Avoid work substitutes and improve your personal productivity.

Working for yourself you soon discover a change in your work practices. You become acutely aware of what is work, when time is your income and personal productivity your only mode of delivery. In our busy work lives, it is too easy to be fooled by things that feel like work. 

Travel: Today is a travel day for me with transit to the airport, checkin, waiting and flights to another city. All big grown up activities but none of it actual work. The only work in this time is this blogpost written from my seat. The daily commute can also feel like work but it rarely adds any value. 

Meetings: meetings are the commonest work substitute. Discuss status. Make personal connections. Drink coffee. Push ideas round in circles. Mute the call. Decide others need to do something. Play a little politics. All these activities are great work substitutes. 

Research: whenever I am particularly anxious about work, I feel the need to research. It is a great form of work avoidance. Rather than tackling the actual topic, you accumulate useless information, muddy the waters and waste time on distractions. Research gives the illusion of progress without requiring output. 

PowerPoint: What other application offers every business person the opportunity to fiddle with a message, bury it in distracting graphics and tweaks pages of bullet points and data tables. PowerPoint provides useless work for the recipients who must sort through the pages, print the deck and carry it to the meeting where they will be handed another carefully collated copy. Then they sit and listen to someone read the slides to them. 

Conferences, offsites and training: done well these events create connections, foster learning and coalesce actions for individuals and teams. Done badly they are work substitutes of the highest order. Distracting PowerPoint fests with no consequence far from the pressures of work. Worse still, like travel, this is a highly expensive work substitute. 

Email: every down moment we check if another message has arrived and furiously respond. Surely that’s progress?  All that email creates less value than an open share of the same information or a quick phone call. Email has the illusion of work because it is a digital production line for memos. However what we gained in speed and response has caused a loss in thought and value. 

Self-assessment: we spend a lot of time judging our own performance. Self-awareness has value. However too much of the self-assessment we do is not work. Either we assess ourselves against our intentions, not performance or we assess ourselves without action. The best assessment is in work and leads to new actions. All the rest is just an elaborate form of self-doubt or egotism. 

Work is hard. Adding things that feel like work to the calendar make it only more difficult. 

The Hidden Craft

“We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steven Furtick

We see only outcomes. Worse still, we see mostly successful outcomes because the other outcomes are hidden from view or disappear quickly. No matter what we tell ourselves, it can be hard not to take the highlights reels around us as a measure of our own shortcomings.

We don’t see the hours of craft. For every magical moment there are hours of creation, rehearsal, tweaking and learning again. Every overnight success is a long time coming. There are hours and hours of outright failure. Great craft comes from great practice. As we struggle in our practice, we compare ourselves to the great and we wonder if the gap will ever close.

Forget the comparisons. Devote yourself to your craft. Put in the time and the effort. Share your craft openly, connect with others working the craft and learn from their efforts too. Focus on the 99% of perspiration and the rest will follow.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” Picasso

Your Own Facts

‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.’  Attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Once debate was a contest of opinions. There may have been disputes around the edges about the facts but the common ground was clearly agreed.

Increasingly we see the facts themselves as the subject of a debate. Each side girds itself with its own view of the world and the facts. Read the paper, listen to the radio, watch the television or study social media and you will see people put forward the facts that justify their position and deny all others. Without common context, any hope of agreement or resolution is slim.

‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ 19 Century British Political Phrase

The growing availability of data in our world and the increasing ability to connect a niche audience for your data is only likely to make this an increasing challenge. Even if we put aside the patently false, selective use of data can tell almost any story. Fact checking can only go so far before it meets differing references periods, unclear definitions, crossed purposes and misinterpretation.

Our focus on science, political science, economics and scientific management has been part of creating an intense focus on the idea that the answer is in the data. However, data confirms hypotheses and arguments. We cling to data as the trump card in debate. A wide choice of data enables many competing approaches to be confirmed. As we deal with ever more complex and more global systems, we are reaching a point where a single data story can no longer be the simple answer.

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, But I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr

We need to accept that no argument will be won with a data point or a trend, however appealing that simple approach may be. As reassuring as they are our own facts are useless in society. Allowing ourselves to be divided into tribes with their own facts is far too unproductive and dangerous to our future. Civil debate begins by finding the common ground and creating a growing shared context. That takes leaders who can explore what is shared rather than focus on differences of facts.

We also need to embrace a greater share of the complexity of life in our global interconnected world. We can no longer rely on the simple answers. That trend may lead only to a local maximum or miss some wider ramifications of the decision. We need to go hunting together in the complexity, experimenting and genuinely debating the paths forward together. Continuing open dialogue that builds a shared common ground is the path to a new contest of ideas on the other side of complexity.

What is the Opportunity Cost of Your Time?

Opportunity cost is the value you give up by making a choice. Every moment of your life has an opportunity cost. What you decide to do with that moment is a choice. Every moment offers other choices that can create new value and opportunities for you.

If you don’t make choices, there is a good chance opportunity costs are accumulating against you. The paths you haven’t considered and the choices you have deferred might be more rewarding. These choices are rarely as difficult as you think.

If you don’t insist on reciprocity for your relationships and your efforts, then you will likely find that you will rue the opportunity cost of your choice. Work, relationships and other opportunities tend to be like buses. They all come at once. Take the first one on unfavourable terms and you might rue the missed opportunities later.

Consider the opportunity cost of your time. You will make better choices.