The Future Belongs to the Curious #PSKEvents

Curiosity is a critical capability for the future of work. We have reached the end of stocks of expertise.

This morning I was lucky enough to be involved in a fishbowl conversation with Cheryle Walker, Andrew Gerkens, Renee Robson, Charles Jennings and an insightful audience. The final question of the engaging conversation about learning and performance was ‘What capabilities matter for learning and development professionals in the future?’ The question prompted a great discussion of the value of strategic, business, relationship and systems acumen as learning becomes more focused on performance improvement & more integral to work.

My contribution was that curiosity is an important capability. As the attention shifts to how organisations can manage big learning systems, those facilitating this change need to be curious well beyond traditional domains of expertise. When work is learning and learning is the work to quote Harold Jarche, there is a need for facilitators of this process to be looking at their system and looking beyond the organisation with an intense curiosity. The question is not ‘what do I or our team need to know?’ The question needs to be ‘what can we learn that helps us work better and be more effective?’

Traditional approaches to learning often have an implicit or explicit assumption that there is a fixed reservoir of knowledge to be known by employees. Global connectivity has shown us that the required knowledge is constantly expanding, being shared and being created as people experiment with the edge and step into new domains or engage with new systems.

Big learning processes are key to the future of responsive organisations. Performance will depend on how fast and how effectively we learn. To shape this we must remember, the future of work belongs to the curious.

Manage Your Performance (in A Network)

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain

Organisations are moving away from traditional performance management. Expensive managers are being removed from organisations as they explore ways to be flatter and more responsive. More people are working freelance. 

Managing your own performance is more important than ever. However, managing your own performance involves real challenges both in terms of personal and network value.

A Story of Doubt

Late in 2015 I lost my way. 2015 was a good year measured on my set of measures and most objective measures. I was busy on work that mattered to me and my clients. The work was purposeful, rewarding and recognised so by clients and others. However as the year came to an end after a few needed weeks of rest, I found myself doubting my performance and my momentum into 2016. With distance from my work, I wasn’t sure how well I was actually going to do in the new year.

Quite late in December I found out I was being considered for a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award to be announced on 1 January. Until this occurred, I wasn’t even aware the award existed. In a matter of days, winning an award had become an important external benchmark to how I saw my performance. This need was an emotional, not a rational process. I slept terribly on the night of the 1 of January (due to timezones the award was announced early 2 January in Australia) and awoke to find no email from Microsoft. I was disappointed and resigned to the outcome as confirmation of my doubts. Dejected, I began reading the comments of winners on social media and congratulating those I know who had won. An hour later discovered an email in my junk mail and I realised a great insight into my personal limits of performance management.

Performance is Personal

Performance management is a personal process that happens between our ears, not on paper. We have already made the personal investment of our time and our efforts when the evaluation begins. We pretend it is rational and objective but we know that we are human with doubts, ego & emotions to manage. The SCARF model from David Rock highlights many ways that performance management can go wrong, by violating our sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness or fairness. Anyone who has been through a corporate performance management process knows that an external opaque process of evaluation of feedback can trigger all sorts of reactions. What looks simple on paper rarely works that way in real human conversations.

Moving from performance management once a year by others to continuous self-management makes the process no easier and far more personal. The movement from an external accountability to a personal responsibility improves autonomy and can reduce relationship stress but it still leaves challenges and removes many external benchmarks. It also creates hard new responsibilities to fairly assess ourselves relative to others. We still have the same doubts and challenges but in many cases we can now struggle to accurately and consistently measure the true value of our work.

Valuing Yourself Accurately

In the era of self-management, workers need the capability to accurately value their work and their performance. From pricing your work, to negotiating your responsibilities, to managing the performance and reward process are all founded on the ability to accurately value your work and be able to communicate this value to others. New ways of working give us new processes to manage performance but fundamentally these processes still rely on our ability to accurately assess our own value and to negotiate that with others. 

When I lost confidence in my own measures of success, I found myself outsourcing these to a partial external event of benchmarking. That made little sense as a process of evaluation. There was only some overlap between the award criteria and how I deliver value to my clients and what I value. The most valuable part of the process was it was a partial measure of reputation in one community (see below). The process was more akin to grasping for a lifeline than genuinely seeking to understand how much value I had created.

This demand for accuracy in valuation challenges us all to tackle the reality of our performance in new ways. Traditionally we both under and over estimate different elements of our performance. Many traditional self-assessment process take advantage of this using benchmarks to knock off our over assessments but leaving our undervaluations. Just like my experience, they work as partial measures of the value we create, over reliant on benchmarks and competitive assessment on narrow criteria. 

Managing our responsibility to be accurate demands we test our self-perceptions continuously, focus on creating greater value and shake those crises of self-confidence that hold us back. We need to genuinely learn from failures and not reposition or hide them. We need to overcome our triggers to hold a true growth mindset. We need to become our own performance leaders, helping ourselves to become as great as we can be.

We also need to start to value ourselves far more as players in a complex system rather than a widget in a mechanistic process. 

Your Value in a Network

The most underutilized resource still waiting for discovery may be our ability to cooperate much more deeply than the systems of work have so far envisioned. – Esko Kilpi

All the value that we create is delivered for others and negotiated with others. We cannot escape the networks in our work. We are not an island widget producing output in a process. We are humans tackling increasingly complicated problems in webs of relationships that stretch through our organisations and out to the networks where our purposes have their effects.

Creating this network value is the key challenge and as Esko Kilpi highlights in the article above this depends more on cooperation and collaboration than competitive mindsets. Most performance management is competitive, dividing a scarce pool as an incentive. Network performance management is abundant, encouraging collaboration and cooperation to create new innovative value for individuals and for the stakeholders who benefit from the organisations purpose. Network performance management starts to bring us back to elements very similar to those of the SCARF model directly:

  • How we gain status (in the form of authority, reputation & influence) in our networks
  • How we react to and embrace uncertainty as a source of value creation through learning and experimentation
  • How we manage our autonomy and translate our opportunities for personal agency into value creation and fulfil our purpose
  • The breadth and depth of our relationships through our ability to broker connection, coordinate activity and access necessary information and capabilities
  • The fairness of our network exchanges in terms of reciprocity and mutual value creation.

Leadership in networks is a critical capability for all of us in the future of work. As Harold Jarche has noted, this kind of leadership is less controllable than traditional management, which presents its own issues for the management of collaboration. Leadership matters because it is the critical element to creating and sustaining value creation in networks as Dion Hinchcliffe has eloquently explained.

Managing performance in networks requires us to focus on both the need for new accuracy in our personal assessments and leadership of collective aspects of the abundant opportunities for greater performance through collaboration & cooperation. Individually and collectively we will need new measures, new confidence and to learn as we go on better ways to work.

The Value of Extra

Many organisations performance management values only more. When your organisation values extra outcomes, you lay the foundation for collaboration and innovation.

I meet organisations whose performance management schemes are so tightly managed that the only outcomes that are valued are those planned at the start of the year. Not surprisingly the narrow focus on more of one or two outcomes limits the potential of people and the organisation to change. Their efforts on new ideas or new collaborations will not be counted.

This focus solely on more value is another example of the Golden Goose School of Management. Specifying performance of people like widgets is only a localised maximum. The most obvious consequence of managing performance in this way is getting more of things you no longer need when circumstances change.

I have generally chosen to work where people value both more and extra value. The simple addition of extra value enables people to step beyond the box of their role. They can pursue new ideas, projects and collaborations without the need to seek approvals or changes to performance scorecards. This enables people to respond to changes and do what needs to be done. If that means a CEO of a small healthcare payments business sponsors the parent group’s enterprise social network, it happens and it is valued.

Make sure you value the extra contributions of your people whatever they are. The future of work will demand the flexibility in value and performance.

The Continuous Partial Attention of Management


The story is too common in the modern organisation: a team has a member who is not contributing but they go on being a part of the team for months or even years. Waste, frustration and disengagement mount in the team. Despite the negative impacts and length of time the manager responsible does nothing to rectify the underperformance.

We have more performance data than ever. We have more sources of information than ever. We interact in more ways than ever. We live in an age of increased performance transparency.

How Can Sustained Underperformance Be Common?

All that data, information, interaction and transparency brings more for managers to do. Complexity is the fundamental challenge of the modern manager and without careful husbanding of their attention the time of the manager can be subsumed into busy work.

Continuous partial attention has crept into management practice. Challenged to keep up managers are constantly skimming across the top of the work. Interactions with employees are staccato bursts. Busy managers spend less time understanding what is actually going on. Flitting in and out of observation of their employees, managers can be lulled into a false sense of confidence if the numbers look good. 

For an under-performing employee that means the ability to escape action continues as long as the deadline has not yet arrived, the numbers look acceptable and underperfomer has an answer for the first quick query from a manager. The commonest trick is for the under performing employee to send their busy manager an email asking for a complex decision. Likely overlooked or deferred, it becomes an instant performance excuse. Instead of asking for help the employee uses the pressures on their manager as a chance to hide their performance issues. Time, pressure and waste mount up.

In rare cases, managers may see the problem situation but the pressure of other demands means that they do not prioritise action. They trust in the systems, the employee’s peers or the reporting to correct the underperformance or hope that the employee’s lack of action is temporary. These managers prioritise the work and the system over their people to the detriment of everyone.

Refocus the Attention of Management on the Process of Work

Psychological studies show that multitasking & continuous partial attention don’t work. People who practice these approaches feel that they are more effective but aren’t. We need managers to get off the treadmill and reconsider their approaches to performance:

  • Shared Purpose & Goals: In many of these situations the underperformance is simply because the busy manager has not set, clear goals for the employee and the employee has no rationale for their work. Engage employees upfront on the purpose and goals of their work.
  • Enable and Empower: If managers don’t have the bandwidth to guide and manage, organisations must ensure that employees have the ability to manage themselves and their work. That takes an investment in skills and the freedom to make decisions without waiting for a busy manager to respond.
  • Targeted Fast Agile Delivery: Ask an employee to work on a lots of  things for months and they will be as bamboozled by the status & priorities of the project as their manager. Instead ask an employee to deliver a few focused things in a short cycle of delivery. The need for reporting, status updates & chatter goes down as observable delivery increases.
  • Real conversations: Any genuine one-on-one conversations with an employee & their peers of more than 10 minutes will begin to surface the real issues in a team. Asking good questions and listening to hear between the lines of the answers is critical in management. Managers must prioritise this to enable their teams to succeed.
  • Act now: The busy nature of work is not an excuse to defer needed actions or to defer complex decisions. If something triggers a suspicion, then dive in.

Great managers shape the process and performance of the team. Great managers enable every member of their team to realise their potential and contribute to creating a more responsive organisation. They are not slaves to the reporting, information and decisions that flow through them. Managers must step out of continuous partial attention to the ongoing work process and get involved in the design of the work.

The work of leadership is to realise the potential of people. Leaving someone stuck in a rut of continued underperformance is failing that individual’s potential.

Lead Human Complexity.


The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor – Campbell’s Law

Traditional management often seeks to reduce complex human behaviour to a single measure to manage. This approach works well for unthinking machines but it struggles with the complexity of human ability to shape behaviour on expectations.

People aren’t Widgets

Economists have been looking at the impact of human expectations on policy decisions for centuries. However, too little of this thinking has made it into industrial models of management thinking.

Traditional industrial models of management treat human beings on the same basis as other elements of machinery in the manufacturing process. This approach does not allow for the difference between a machine and a human’s ability to alter performance based on their own expectations and as result of interactions with others. The creative potential of collective human intelligence quickly outstrips this approach.

John Maynard Keynes highlighted in 1936 how expectations can make even the simplest choices quite complex when interactions of other human actors are involved. His simple example of a prize for nominating the best looking six faces in a beauty contest:

It is not a case of choosing those [faces] that, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

The impact of expectations is found in many work activities. The expectations of peers can increase or decrease performance. Expected rewards shape behaviour, whether they are financial, status or emotional. Many highly skewed incentive schemes fail to achieve expected performance change because humans form a view of the likelihood or value of the returns for effort on offer. In some cases, a combination of human creativity, expectations and collaboration between employees & others will even produce totally unintended results

Human expectations of the future change the behaviour of people now. The accuracy of expectations does not matter. A critical role for leaders is to be a part of the conversations that are shaping the ongoing expectations in a team. Designing an incentive scheme and tracking the measures is not enough.

Networks Accelerate the Making and Sharing of Expectations

In our increasingly networked world, it is much less likely that any individual in an organisation will behave like a machine that has no choice but to optimise performance.  The networks inside and outside the organisation will create new expectations and accountabilities on individuals in the organisation. Expectations are just one part of the collective sense-making that will go on as people work to create value.  No individual or organisation is an island any more.

Leaders need to prepare to engage with this increasing complexity and to join the conversations to shape the expectations that will drive human behaviour. Creating a collective vision, building trust, realising human potential and fostering collaboration can all contribute positively to the expectations of individuals in a network.

If you leave the conversation to the network, you are losing your influence as a leader. You are also surrendering the potential for better performance.

Are You Leading for the Quarter or the Future?


No rational person would jeopardise their future to meet an arbitrary 90 day milestone. Too many corporate incentives are structured exactly this way.

There are many eloquent complaints about the danger of the short term focus of corporations, especially publicly listed ones. My concern is that this short term focus stands in the way of more human and more responsive organisations. This short term focus divides accountability.

Time is short

One force driving the pathology of traditional management approaches is short time frames & arbitrary division of time. Results are fragmented down to hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly targets. We engage in the division of time as much as we divide work.

Incentives and management processes are tied to these short term results. Dividing time in this way values values the present quarter or time period to the exclusion of almost all else. As a consequence the arbitrariness of the short time frame becomes an invitation to treat the entire process as a game and to push the future far from consideration.  

Getting the number

When a decision is made with the sole objective of delivering a number, we enter a realm of dangerous ethics and considerable risk to the future. Purpose, customer relationships, employee engagement and community reputation are immediately in jeopardy, as everyone focuses to deliver the certainty of the financial outcome required.

The pressure of a short time frame immediately eliminates activities:

  • that may require upfront investment, time or effort
  • that may involve uncertain returns like experimentation, new product development, enabling customers, employees or other stakeholders, etc
  • that involve thought, analysis, research, input or consultation
  • that deliver large benefits beyond the time period
  • that have any form of initial dip in performance

This remaining options usually come down to one or more of the following:

  • bringing forward returns, usually at a significant discount
  • grabbing more value in the relationship with another stakeholder without regard to longer term consequences in the relationship (for example by raising prices without regard to impacts on loyalty or market position, demanding rebates from suppliers, etc)
  • arbitrary cost cutting, especially employees or ‘discretionary expenses’ like marketing, training, maintenance, support, etc where effects are not immediate 
  • accounting treatments, particularly relating to the recognition or allocation of revenue or costs and the valuation or recognition of assets and liabilities
  • outright fraud and deception


Some of these changes may cut waste or realise value, largely by accident. In many cases, the organisation responds to the changes with innovations that ameliorate the longer term impact or at a minimum defer them for another quarter. Pressure can inspire creativity and efficiency. The negative future effects and ongoing pressure can also generate a treadmill of even greater pressure.

We must be clear that this activity is waste. Playing the numbers game is wasteful effort. It risks the future and compromises the core value creating relationships in the business. The demands of the ‘numbers game’ work to unravel any efforts to become a more responsive organisation. The ask to meet numbers always pushes for planned outcomes, maximum control and a lack of transparency in decision making.

No Division of Accountability

Accountability for outcomes is core to the future of any organisation. Ending number games does not mean an end to accountability. It means greater accountability.

  • Let’s be accountable to make every decisions in line with purpose and values.
  • Let’s ensure all employees are accountable to deliver now, for a better future and to realise people’s potential.
  • Let’s ensure that the accountability is an accountability to all stakeholders.
  • Let’s also work to deliver each day in a realistic manner to our long term goals, not just scrabble to manage an arbitrary day that we choose to report.

We need to end the division of accountability.



Success often isn’t complicated. It is just hard.

Why is it hard?

It requires relentless pursuit of improvement.

Many of us only have a passing interest in doing better. We like comfortable patterns and a minimum of stress and effort.  The quick hit that delivers a quick win appeals as a way to get there easily.  

Others might learn, but do they keep applying that learning to do better next time?

Success takes a huge and consistent learning effort (10,000 hours, anyone?). Learning, applying learnings and constantly moving forward is what creates the best chances of success.

What does a relentless pursuit of success take?

  • Know why you want to do better – purpose motivates effort and helps you set clear goals that take you where you want to go
  • Have a short term goal to achieve – achievements give focus and satisfaction
  • Do – practice matters most
  • Measure progress to your goal – measurement enables learning
  • Learn – take time to reflect on how to do more, better, different or less
  • Do more next time

Simple steps. A simple process to do once. Hard to do relentlessly.

Simple things become hard when they must be done over and over again, better and better each time.  

That relentless process of focused attention on learning and improvement is what drives the best performance.