All of Earth’s successful organisms have thrived without analyzing past crises or trying to predict the next one,”writes Rafe Sagarin in HBR, free of “planning exercises,” “predictive frameworks,” or other buzzy human constructions. “Instead,” he says, “they’ve adapted.”
Decentralize like a mollusk
Consider the octopus: Fleet of tentacle and prismatic of color, the cephalopod is a paragon of flat, startup-style organizational structure:
An octopus … doesn’t order each arm to change a certain color when it needs to hide quickly. Rather, individual skin cells across its body sense and respond to change and give the octopus a collective camouflage.
If we take managers to be the brains of the octopus—a frightening proposition—employees, especially those with a customer touch point, are the spectacular, tentacular, color-shifting cells—a credo of the connected company. When you move with your feelers (or suckers, as is the case with eight-arms over there), you can move much quicker than your centralized competitors: Wikipedia over Brittanica, Google Flu Trends over the CDC.
Get more management tips from nature here.
Working Girl Revelation #11: Promotions that come as a result of a coworker leaving don’t motivate, satisfy or enhance organizational commitment.
In a surprisingly relevant study from Stern (NYU’s Business School, aka the NYU I/O rivals), we find out that our bosses really don’t listen to us:
Kelly See, an assistant professor of management and organization at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, was curious about these sorts of scenarios, so she put together an in-depth study of the extent to which people in power take advice from knowledgeable colleagues. Together with NYU Stern’s Elizabeth Morrison, Naomi B. Rothman of Lehigh University and Jack B. Soll of Duke, See ran a research project over two-and-half-years that examined advice-taking in some 1,500 study participants. The conclusion: The more power managers have, the less likely they are to take advice. “Once you’re in a position of power, it tends to make you more confident in your decisions,” explains See.
To test her hypothesis about the detrimental effects of power on advice-taking, See and her colleagues conducted four different pieces of research. In one study, they did online surveys of 208 incoming business graduate students who had been working as junior to mid-level managers at a range of companies, including health care, finance, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. They asked these managers about their level of responsibility over resources and staff. Then they asked each of them to name 2-5 colleagues who worked closely with them and could rate their behaviors. Next they gave those co-workers an online survey about the extent to which the managers took advice. The results supported See’s hypotheses about power and advice-taking: The more power the managers perceived they had, the more confidence they had in their own decision-making prowess, and the less likely they were to take colleagues’ advice.
I’m going to read through the whole journal article before I pass judgement, but it looks like Stern might have actually done something, well, experimentally real, for once.
Research published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that people who are regularly stressed out by the office jerk are more likely to take that stress home with them — and pass it on to whoever is unfortunate enough to be cohabiting with them.
“Employees who experience such incivility at work bring home the stress, negative emotion and perceived ostracism that results from those experiences, which then affects more than their family life – it also creates problems for the partner’s life at work,” Dr. Merideth J. Ferguson, the study’s author, said in a press release.
The study surveyed 190 full-time employees, as well as their working partners, and basically found that stress, much a like an out of control virus, spreads around endlessly infecting people.
Results indicated that disagreeable people — men in particular — earn substantially more in the workforce than their agreeable colleagues.
But the study affirmed another long-held belief as well: in case you were in doubt, gender double standards still exist in the workplace.
While data collected in the 2008 Census showed that American women earned approximately 77 cents to a man’s dollar — with a gap that was larger for Latina and African American women — the agreeability study compared how personality was linked to gendered wage inequality.
Although disagreeable men earned 18.31 percent ($9,772) more than agreeable men, disagreeable women only earned 5.47 percent (or $1,828) more than agreeable women. Furthermore, regardless of whether they were agreeable or disagreeable, women still earned less than even the disadvantaged “nice guys.” The gap between women, generally, and agreeable men was almost as large as the agreeable-disagreeable gap among the men.
How do we unlearn the things that we still believe in our heart of hearts are true?
Facts and statistics don’t get the job done. Charts left listeners bemused. Prose remains unread. Dialogue is just too laborious and slow.
By contrast, leadership stories can get inside people’s minds and affect how they think, worry, wonder, agonize and dream about themselves and in the process create – and recreate – their organization. Storytelling enables the individuals in an organization to see themselves and the organization in a different light, and accordingly take decisions and change their behavior in accordance with these new perceptions, insights and identities.
Four leadership stories are key
- The story of the future
- Springboard stories of the future
- The story of the past
- The story that explains why the story of the past is no longer viable
Communicating is the most important part of initiating organizational change, and OD will tell you that. There are various ways to get the message out, but if your org is one that is receptive to storytelling this is a great way to do it.
When senior managers are looking for leadership training programs for their staff, they should insist that “soft skills” and the like make up no more than 25% of the overall content. The rest should focus on more concrete themes that will help managers gain a better understanding of how to create and capture value, i.e. how to lead with the intent of boosting the firm’s performance. Specialists who conduct such training sessions should come not just from the fields of organizational behavior and psychology but also of strategy and financial management.
When looking to train leaders, senior managers must insist the following are included:
- Managing Resources
- Creating and Sustaining Competitive Advantage
- Strategic Thinking
- Financial Management
Leadership training programs that don’t take a balanced approach to what it means to lead aren’t training leaders successfully. In today’s business environment, leaders without the sets of skills mentioned above are simply outdated and cannot be trusted to drive bottom line results. Leaders without a honed ability to drive organizational excellence are like parents without the ability to discipline or guide their children – both can lead to disastrous consequences.
Interesting take, and debate, on whether leaders can be trained or not. Depends on which side of the innate-developed perspective you stand on, but I completely agree that the above skills need to be include in any leadership development program.
- Offer something special
- Share control
- Share the load
- Offer no-interest loans
- Show your appreciation
Basically, increase autonomy, give meaningful tasks and recognize good work to intrinsically motivate. Companies should be doing these things anyway.
Working Girl Revelation #10: Days off are never really days with out work. They are merely days you do work from bed, the grocery store, or the movie theater.
There is a fine line between indispensable and in the room.