Hello friends, It’s been a while since I didn’t write something here. I am currently working on stuff about material science which I will of course share with those interested and I am also continuing my work with CAD systemes as well. More about all that will follow here. I have a lot of engineering news to share, but you’ll see that later.
For now in this post I want to share with you a bit from my experience as design engineer and what I have learnt during the years. The main topic here is the following: Companies fail to deliver a great product. And here is WHY.
There might be many issues during a product development but I can say for sure that the failures in product effort which I highlight here are already confirmed to be present in any tech-company.
When we think of a new product, everythings starts with ideas. In most companies they’re coming from inside (executives or key stakeholders or business owners) or outside (current or prospective customers). Wherever the ideas originate, there are always a whole bunch of things that different parts of the business need us to do.
In the list that follows, I’m going to share what I’ve seen so far and I consider these to be the 10 biggest problems in designing a tech-product. All these problems are very serious issues, any one of which could derail a team. In general many companies have more than one or even all of these problems.
Reasons why Product fail.
1. SOURCE OF IDEAS
This model leads to sales-driven specials and stakeholder-driven products. Let’s say that this is not the source of our best product ideas. Another consequence of this approach is the lack of team empowerment. In this model, they’re just there to implement- they’re mercenaries. This is always due to weak people management. The best product teams need missionairies not mercenaries becasue missionaries are true believers in the vision and are commited to solving problems for their customers. In a dedicated product team, the team acts and feels a lot like a startup within the larger company and that must be very much the intention. So when that is not the case, then you are working at a company with incompentent managers.
Companies fail to deliver great products, always becasue they have incompetent managers and NEVER becasue of their engineers.
This is a fatal flow. To be honest I am personally in favor of doing business cases, at least for ideas that need a larger investment. But the way most companies do them at this stage to come up with a prioritized roadmap is truly ridiculous and here’s why:
Every business case always has 2 key inputs which must be addressed, namely:
How much money you’ll make? andHow much it will cost?
Well, the cold, hard truth is that, at this stage we have no clue about either of these. In fact, we can’t know. We can’t know how much money we’ll make because that depends entirely on how good the solution turns out to be. If the team does an excellent job, this could be wildly successful and literally change the course of the company. The truth, however, is that many product ideas end up making absolutely nothing. And that’s not an exaggeration for effect. Literally nothing. (we know this from A/B testing). In any case, one of the most critical lessons in product is “knowing what we can’t know” and we just can’t know at this stage how much money we’ll make. Likewise we have no idea what it will cost to build. Without knowing the actual solution, this is extremely hard for engineering to predict. Most esperienced engineers will refuse to even give an estimate at this stage, but some are pressured into the old t-shirt sizing compromise-just let us know if this is “small, medium, large or extra large”. But companies really want those prioritized roadmaps and to get one, they need some kind of system to rate the ideas. So people play the business case game.
3. PRODUCT ROADMAPS
So far I’ve seen countless roadmaps over the years and the vast majority of them are essentially prioritized lists of features and projects. Marketing needs this feature for a campaign. Sales needs this feature for a new customer. Someone wants a PayPal integration. You get the idea. But here’s the problem – maybe the biggest problem of all. It’s what I call the 2 inconvenient truths about product.
The 1st truth is : that at least half of our ideas are just not going to work. There are many reasons for an idea to not work out. The most common is that customers just aren’t as excited about this idea as we are. So they choose not to use it. Sometimes they want to use it and they try it out, but the product is so complicated that it’s simply more trouble than it’s worth, so users again choose not to use it. Sometimes the issue is that customers would love it, but it turns out to be much more involved to build than we thought and we decide we simply can’t afford the time and money required to deliver it.
So I promise you that at least half the ideas on your roadmap are not going to deliver what you hope. (By the way the really good teams assume that at least three quarters of the ideas won’t perform like they hope).
If that’s not bad enough, the 2nd inconvenient truth is: that even with the ideas that do prove to have potential, it typically takes several iterations to get the implementation of this idea to the point where it delivers the necessary business value. We call that time to money.
One of the most important things about product that I’ve learned is that there is simply no escaping these inconvenient truths, no matter how smart you might be. The real difference is how you deal with these truths.
4. THE ROLE OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT
In fact if we wouldn’t call this role product management – it’s really a form of project management. In this model, it’s more about gathering requirements and documenting them for engineers. At this point, let me say that this is 180 degrees away from the reality of modern tech product management. I’ve seen and even work with so many so called “Project Managers” which were supposed to guide and inspire the team to work on the vision but all what they did was to make sure they remain “Project Manager” and get the yearly bonus at the end of the year.
5. THE ROLE OF DESIGN
Mostly what’s being done here is what we call the “lipstick on the pig” model. The damage has already been done and now we’re just trying to put a coat of paint on the mess. The UX designers know this is not good, but they try to make it look as nice and consistent as they can. The resposible for the failure is again the Product Manager becasue he don’t comunicate with the engineers. A good (design) engineer is always more techincal savvy that any manager, so in design engineering I would say from techincal point of view and engineer is more savvy that the product manager. Therefore communication with and empowering the design team is essential for a sucessful product.
6. ENGINEERING GETS BROUGHT IN THE WAY TOO LATE
We say if you’re just using your engineers to design, you’re only getting about half their value. The little secret in product is that engineers are typically the best single source of innovation; yet, they are not even invited to the party in this process.
7. THE PRINCIPLE AND KEY BENEFITS OF AGILE ENTER THE PICTURE FAR TOO LATE.
Teams using Agile in this way are getting maybe 20% of the actual value and potential of Agile methods. What you’re really seeing is Agile for delivery, but the rest of the organization and context is anything but Agile, regardless if the product is a software or a hardware.
8. THE ENTIRE PROCESS IS VERY PROJECT-CENTRIC
The company usually funds projects, staffs projects, pushes through the organization and finally launches projects. Unfortunately projects are output and product is all about outcome. This process predictably leads to orphaned projects. Yes, sometimes was finally released, but it doesn’t meet its objectives, so what really was the point?. In any case, it’s a serious problem, and not close to how we need to build products.
9. CUSTOMER VALIDATION HAPPENS WAY TOO LATE
The key principle in Lean methods is to reduce waste, and one of the biggest forms of waste is to design, build, test and deploy a feature of product on an entirely new product only to find out it is not what was needed. The irony is that many teams believe they’re applying Lean principles, yet, they follow this basic process I’ve just described. And then I point out to them that they are trying out ideas in one of the most expensive, slowest ways we know.
10. OPPORTUNITY COST
While we’re busy doing this design process and wasting out time and money, the biggest lost of all usually turns out to be exactly the opportunity cost of what the organization could have and should have been doing instead. We can’t get that time or money back. It’s no surprise that so many companies spend so much time and money and get so little in return.
That being said, it’s critical that you have a deep understanding of exactly why your company needs to change how it works, if indeed, your company is working this way. The good news is I promise you that the best teams operate nothing like what I’ve just described.
We are today in a worst situation than at the previous economic crisis in 2008. The Covid-19 pandemic which is a medical crisis actually turned into a huge economic emergency which is way much dangerous than the medical one. To be honest COVID-19 is not even dangerous. (but this is another topic which probably I will talk about in another post) Now the question everybody is asking is:
HOW CAN WE GET OUT OF THIS?
Well from my point of view for those looking for a 2nd chance, the good news is that many people do emerge from emergencies stronger better & richer.
The bad news is not all people emerge from financial emergencies. Many are wiped out.
If we don’t learn to cooperate, we will always be in a state of growing emergency & sooner or later we’ll have another crisis and another crisis and another crisis and so on, which is only degrading the society and humanity will be in a long-term economic war with itself. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say competition not necessary, sure it is we can not improve and progress without it. But what I mean is that the Competition must be combined with Cooperation and organizations internally should have NO Competition at all. There are too much internal hierarchies mostly in big corporations. Employees from the same company either from different departments or even in the same team compete too much internally. INTERNAL COMPETITION IS NOT NECESSARY.
So as I already said that in my previous post. We have to Cooperate more & Compete less. From my point of view It’s time to finally learn the difference between Cooperation and Competition and avoid such things like the current economic crisis to happen again any time soon. I have doubts that we will really learn something from this, but I do have hope for the better.
A GROWING EMERGENCY
We didn’t fully recover since the economic crisis from 2008 and currently we are again facing something even worse than 2008. Humanity is facing more than just o run-of-the-mill emergency. In fact we are on the edge of an evolutionary emergency and we still have the option to choose to “emerge” as a new form of humanity – or perish.
Unfortunately our leaders were not addressing these emergencies. Rather than address the emergencies facing them, our leaders continued to sweep the problems under the rug. They’d kick the can down the road…pushing the problem onto the plates of the next generation. Ignoring today’s emergencies is setting the stage for giant emergencies known as calamities, disasters or collapses.
Humans have been focused on money, power and weapons development for too long. It is time to change. It is time for all of us to make a conscious shift and put focus more on what is “livingry” than “killingry”. If we don’t make this shift we will become extinct, much like the dinosaurs.
The Big Problem.
The problem is that our inability to cooperate is causing our emergencies to grow into giant, global emergencies. These growing emergencies, if not addressed now, would overwhelm us and become bigger crises than humans could handle. The following are some of the emergencies that I can give as examples,which were growing into giant disasters and it’s not only me to say this. It’s already obvious.
1. Environmental Emergencies
As far back as the 1950s and 60’s, humans were warned of the effects of global warming.
Today, rather than cooperate to solve our environmental problems, many leaders deny there are environmental problems. Whether you believe in global warming theories or not, the fact remains that our polar ice caps are melting, seas are rising, soil run-off is polluting our oceans and fish that feed billions around the world are being depleted.
Whether a person believes in global warming or not, the facts are that our weather is becoming more violent. In recent years have been horrific hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, super-size tornadoes ripping across the Midwest and ice storms shutting southern US cities including New Orleans and Atlanta. Around the world, there is severe drought in some areas as well as flooding in other areas. I still remember in the years 80 and even 90’s the winter was an authentic one, almost always in December and mainly for Christmas and the New Year’s Eve, everything was white, snow was all over. The winter was a fantastic season, today it’s not anymore. Actually for couple of years I didn’t see snow on X-mas.
This state of emergency is growing.
2. Nuclear Emergencies.
Again in the 1950s and 60s there were voices that spoke out against atomic energy. Although nuclear power companies claim that nuclear power is “clean energy”, what they do not say is that nuclear waste is lethal.
Today, nuclear waste is stored in deep undergrounds caverns. The problem with nuclear waste is it takes hundreds of thousands of years to become inert or incapable of causing further damage. It also take billions in taxpayer dollars to safely store that toxic waste.In 2012, the tsunami that hit Japan spread atomic waste around the world via ocean currents. The effects of that single emergency will be with us for thousands of years.
3. Military Emergencies
In the 1970s and 80s , during the heights of the Cold War, human intelligence had developed weapons of mass destruction so severe that if there were a nuclear war, only cockroaches would survive. There would be no winners and losers. In the new war, there will only be losers. Even since then it was said that war is obsolete and humans needed to change directions, to evolve, to cooperate rather than fight.
Unfortunately humans killing other humans continue. Today terrorists have the power to take on the most powerful militaries in the world. Today terrorists use cell phones to incite and recruit new soldiers to fight, use our airliners as weapons and have access to information on how to build “suitcase-size” nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The united states spend trillions on its military, yet a simple inexpensive “ dirty bomb” detonated in New York, London, Tokyo or Beijing could cripple the world economy.
To give you an example let’s consider the Vietnam War In 1972. It’s enough to read a little bit about that and you will see that Vietnam was by no means a country with a fearful military power, ready to fight with the USA army. Vietnam was a poor country and it still is even if today its economy is much healthier and continuously growing. In 1972 they were much vulnerable and weak than today. But, still the USA had lost the Vietnam War. Vietnam had lost a lot but considering the force of US army, the USA didn’t win anything. There were a lot of damages on the American side as well. Vietnamese soldiers didn’t have sophisticated weapons and they were not trained to combat in war neither. The American Marines were shot down by Vietnamese soldiers using Chinese-made SA-7, a heat-seeking, shoulder-fired rocked known as the Streda. A Viet Cong soldier who fired the rocket did not need much training. All he did was point and pull the trigger, and the rocket did the rest-taking down a multi-million-dollar CH-53 Green Giant helicopter and killing 62 Marines. In 2014 a Malaysian passenger jet was shot down with the same weapon.
Today the United States spends trillions on military training and new weapons. At the same time, an untrained terrorist with a $10.000, heat-seeking rocket fired at an airliner has the power to cripple, if not bring down, the world economy. Unfortunately, fighting terrorism is not like fighting a conventional war, a war like World War II. We learned that lesson the hard way in Vietnam. Terrorists do not wear uniforms and they do not have to obey the rules of engagement of traditional war. Terrorists do not have factories, harbors, airfields or towns that can be destroyed. They win because they have little to lose. Terrorists win because they can fight anywhere, everywhere and forever. When we fight terrorism we fight an ideology not a country. Many believe that the more we focus on killing terrorists, the most terrorists we create. Rather than evolving, getting the message that “ war is obsolete” we continue to fight. This is why the emergency of terrorism grows.
4. Pandemic emergency.
Centuries ago there was the plague spread by fleas and rats and today we have Ebola and most recently COVID-19 spread by airliners.
Most probably many of you don’t know this but CoronaVirus is not that new. It was first identified at the beginning of the years 1960’s. Its symptoms on human body were known already since many years. The warnings about a future outbreak as pandemic were said long before this to happen. But due to political and economic games involving different competitors, the warning signals were long time ignored and the problem grew until at the point of today when it obvious that most advanced countries have already failed to deal with it. The Mother Nature is just teaching us a hard lesson and this is what happens when we compete more and cooperate less.
5. Economic Emergency
Today wars are fought with money, which is causing a massive economic emergency. Tragically, wars fought with money are often wars against innocent people, both young and old, rather than armed terrorists. Economic crisis are not new, and with a good cooperation such situations can be avoided or at least effectively managed. But again, the more we compete against each other the more the problem grows. The XXI Century has just begun and we’ve already had a big Economic crisis in 2008-2009, which had a negative impact on most of us. Since then we started slowly to recover but now in 2020 we have just received a harder punch. What we have now is definitely an economic disaster, I would say it’s the biggest since the Great Depression in the years 1930s.
Today billions of people live in day-to-day economic emergency.
The entire business world will not be the same as we were used with it. This is another sign that COOPERATION IS BETTER THAN COMPETITION and we have to adapt. There is no other way.
For me the year 2020 is the beginning of a new lifestyle. One step in our evolutionary process from now on would require that humans learn to be cooperative rather than competitive. Humans are naturally competitive. Since the days of cavemen, humans learned to survive by fighting, by being at war with other humans. Today humans continue to invest trillions of dollars into war and weapons…while millions of people go to sleep hungry.
I always wondered how many of our global emergencies could be solved if only we cooperated rather than competed with one another. I know it sounds simple, yet from personal experience, I know that getting humans to compete is much easier than getting them to cooperate. And the most important place where we must start cooperating is at our workplaces. I’ve seen so much internal competition everywhere I worked. At all my workplaces there was always a “fake cooperation” mainly between the team leaders and their team members. Not to say something about different departments, where there was less or no cooperation at all. Probably in small companies the things are different, yet even there I am not so sure.
In big corporation as it was in my case, there was always competition and I tell you my friends this is very wrong. I would say: We don’t need that internally, we are colleagues, we should be like a big strong team. But the sad reality is that this was never the case.
In reality, everyday my colleagues come to work and we fight amongst ourselves. And that is the root cause of a very bad leadership. This is what unfortunately most team leaders don’t understand, they forget why they are in charge. It should be written with bolt letters in their job description or if it is, they should keep a copy on their desk to have a look at it until they learn that the main task of a leader and the hardest one is to get the team members to cooperate. I’ve been working in big corporations so far and I have never seen a “leader” doing that. It seems each person wants his or her own ‘rules’ their ‘ way of doing things’ and especially their own opinion’. If we cooperated more and competed less internally, everyone would make more money.
But for that to happen it would take global emergencies for humans to cooperate. Until there was a true emergency it was human nature to compete or even worse, do nothing. The concern is that the coming emergencies would be biggest than our abilities, even if we did finally, choose to cooperate. And that my friends it exactly what is happening right now. We were not ready to deal with the pandemic we are facing within these days. After 2+ months of Lock Down We are still dabbling and we don’t know what to do. We don’t even know how to cooperate because we were never used to cooperate.
COMPETING FOR GRADES.
Why we always compete? Well… let’s have a look at our schooling system.
The School teach students to compete as opposed to cooperate. When I was in school I often wanted to cooperate…but that’s often called cheating. In many ways the classroom is not much different than a Neanderthal man’s cave. In the cave known as a classroom young kids are taught to compete against their classmates if they want good grades. Being an A student does not necessarily mean the student is smarter. An “A” means you won, you beat your classmates. It is no different than being the bully in the schoolyard, beating up on weaker classmates. Small wonder that many kids do not like school.
If the A student cooperate and helps their classmates, they are thrown out of school for cheating. Parents encourage this primitive academic behavior. They want their young, club-wielding Neanderthal to beat the brains out of his or her classmates. Although few will admit it, they want to make sure their child gets the good grades, good job and high pay. Grades in many ways are about money.
After a child graduates at the top of the class, the next cave the A student enters is the corporate world. Once hired, the young executive’s job is to ‘’climb the corporate ladder” aka “ beat on your peers”. They don’t dare cooperate because there is only one seat at the top, and they want to make sure that seat has their name on it. If businesses cooperate too closely it can be called a monopoly or if it is less formal but still anti-competitive it can be collision – both of which are often illegal;
In the world of politics, cooperation could be considered treason. Republicans do not dare cooperate with Democrats. In many cases, if a politician reaches “ across the aisle”, their own party cuts off their arm. This is why is so much “grid lock” – versus real progress – in government. Nothing gets done and the emergencies grow into disasters.
Therefore humanity’s next evolutionary challenge is to learn to cooperate and solve our global problems. The problem is, humans only know how to compete. We have yet to really learn to cooperate. Learning to cooperate would be evolutionary.
Now the question is: Can a person learn in a classroom where students cooperate rather than compete.
The answer is : Sure, of course she can.
And here I can give 2 very common examples.
1. Cooperation is essential in team sports. As they say: there is no” I” in the team, but there is an “I” in win. Too many students leave school understanding the ‘ I” in win, rather than the ”we” win in team.In team sports, the team supports each individual to be the best they can be, or the team doesn’t win.
In the classroom the individual student does not want others to be the best they can be, the individual wants to be the best.
2.In the Marine Corps Officer Candidate school (OCS) young officer candidates are evaluated not on how many times their team wins, but how well their team cooperates as a team. On some evaluations, winning or losing is not even mentioned. In other words winning is not as important as cooperating in the Marine Corp. Marines know that if they cooperate they win. This is why Marines believe they are the best branch of service. And although Marines believe they are the best of all branches of the service. No Marine, believes he or she is better than another marine. Regardless of rank, marines are taught to respect and value other Marines. this is why it’s said “once a Marine always a Marine”. The bond between Marines is spiritual not financial.
So to answer the question “Can you learn in a cooperative environment?” the answer is YES. But that’s not always true in an academic classroom. The world of academics is a world of “kill or be killed”, a world of “ survival of the fittest”, a world of “winners and losers”, a world of “winners and losers”, a world of “I’m smart and you’re not”, a world of “I win” not “we win”…and a world where “cooperation is cheating”.
You might ask me now, What exactly does that mean? Are you saying that I should start cooperating?
Well…Not exactly. Again, the generalized principle is:
“Unity is plural, at minimum two“
The marine Corps trains each Marine to be strong as an individual and as a team member. When it comes to money many individuals are weak individually so no one wants them on their financial team. In the world of money the richest people In the world operate in teams. Yet most people operate as individuals. That’s why most people are losers in the game of money. To maximize your opportunity for a second chance you have to get strong individually as well as learn to cooperate on a team. And this is what I learn from what the year 2020 is teaching us.
From now on we should STOP competing and learn to COOPERATE more.
Until now I talked about the basic roles essential to have in any company which has a business with Tech products. Again what I share here is my perspective about what I have learnt during my years in engineering, it might be not the perfect one but what’s I have seen so far for me it seems the right thing to do. I don’t have experience with other type of business, so I don’t know what could be the best approach, but for a Tech product business even I am still learning and for sure I am far to be an expert, I strongly believe that the roles I’ve described so far and also the ones I talk about in this post are the driving force for a Tech Company. If I would create my own StartUp this is what I will need for sure.
Now, after mentioning the essential roles such as Product Manager, Product Designer, Engineers and Product Marketing Manager, from my point of view this is sufficient to begin with your own Start-Up. But the more you grow the more work will be on the pipeline and at one moment sooner or later you will need other supporting roles. In big corporation these roles already exist and they really add value to the entire business. The 4 supporting roles I’d mention here are the following:
Test Automation Engineers
What I describe here is more for the Project Managers to understand How and Why to work with these guys, but for sure is good to understand in general for everyone working in a Tech Company, why these Supporting Roles are important. So let’s review that.
When we talk about how we do product discovery, we are continuously doing 2 kinds of rapid learning and experimentation. One kind of learning is qualitative, and the other is quantitative. Especially with the qualitative learning, some of our research is generative,which is understanding the problems we need to solve; and some of our research is evaluative,which is assessing how well our solutions solve the problem.
User researchers are trained in this range of qualitative techniques (and some of them are also trained on the quantitative techniques as well). They can help you find the right type of users, craft the right types of tests, and learn the most from each user or customer interaction. The key to tapping into the real value that these user researchers can provide is to keep in mind that the learning must be shared learning.
You need to witness the insights first hand, but while I want you to appreciate what user research can help you with, I don’t want you to think you can delegate to them to do the learning and then send you a report. If your company does not have user researchers, then your product designer will typically pick up these responsibilities for your team.
Similarly, for quantitative learning, data analysts help teams collect the right sort of analytics, manage data privacy constraints, analyze the data, plan live-data tests, and understand and interpret the results. Sometimes, data analysts go by the name Business Intelligence (BI) analysts, and they’re experts in the types of data that your business collects and reports. It is well worth making friends with your data analyst. So much of product work today is data driven, and these people can be real gold mines for you and your organization. In some companies, especially those with a lot of data-such as larger consumer companies-this may be a full-time role dedicated to a specific product team. In this case, the Data Analyst would be sitting and working alongside the product manager and product designer. If your company does not have any data analysts, then responsibility for this typically falls on the product manager. If this is the case, you’ll probably need to plan to spend significant time diving deep into the data to understand your situation and make good decisions.
Test Automation Engineers
Test Automation engineers write automated tests for your product. They have largely replaced the old-style manual quality assurance (QA) people. Now, it’s very possible that your engineers are responsible both for writing software and for writing these automated tests. If that’s the case, then you probably won’t have many test automation engineers.
But most companies have a blended approach in which the engineers write some of the automated tests (e.g., the unit level tests), and the test automation engineers write the higher-level automated tests. Whichever model your company has is typically up to the engineering leadership, which is fine. However, what’s not okay is if your company doesn’t have test engineers, and your engineers don’t do the testing either, and they are looking to you as product manager to do the quality testing.
While it’s true as product manager you want to make sure things are generally as you expect before things go live (acceptance testing), that’s a far cry from being able to release with confidence. The level of test automation necessary to release with confidence is significant and a big job. It’s not unusual in complex products to have multiple test engineers dedicated to each product team.
A Quality Engineer works within the quality team to ensure the overall quality of a manufactured product and is tasked with creating documentation, devising quality test and defining the criteria a test result should meet. They play a key role in fixing issues when they arise. Those QA engineers aim to help create quality products. It’s not about finding bugs, not about simple testing. The main function of a QA engineer is to prevent defects, and therefore ensure the quality of the development process and its results. It’s important to note that QAs are interested in making any product user-friendly, be it functionality or design. For this, QAs closely communicate with all team members and constantly refer to the given requirements.
Quality Assurance and Quality Control
Quality Control encompasses all activities that ensure that a product is of good quality and meets specific requirements. QC engineers focus on identifying defects in the developed products before their release. We can say that Quality Assurance(QA) encompasses Quality Control(QC).
There are some cases when a product doesn’t require QA, but only QC. For example, if a team gets a product developed by somebody else like a new software for example and it is necessary to check whether the code meets the requirements, we have a case when only QC is required.
In some development teams, QA and QC are combined with other engineering roles. Sometimes, developers/engineers try to verify their own code/product design. However, it’s not good in regards to quality, because it’s much more difficult to find bugs in your own code/design than in somebody else’s. Some Companies might call this role:
Therefore a Quality Engineer works within a wider team of quality professionals with the overall aim of maintaining the quality of the final product. They do so by following the quality management systems of the manufacturing process. Successful quality engineering ensures that final products are safe and meet customer expectations while keeping the manufacturing process as effective and cost-efficient as possible. Quality Engineers work with various stakeholders, at every part of the manufacturing process. Examples include working with:
Design teams – testing to identify product durability and areas of weakness;
Suppliers – working to ensure raw materials and component parts meet the company’s quality standards;
Manufacturing teams – ensuring that equipment and processes follow predetermined quality standards;
Customers – analyzing issues reported via customer feedback, maintaining records and implementing changes to manufacturing when necessary.
Quality Engineers will often be the individuals tasked with the creation of quality practices and documentation for a given product or facility. They set out appropriate tests and acceptable result parameters to ensure that quality testing throughout the manufacturing process is effective. Even at the point of troubleshooting, quality engineering is about more than just identifying problems – it’s about understanding the underlying issues and developing successful fixes, changing practices where necessary to ensure that standards are maintained.
What Does a Quality Engineer Do?
The role of a Quality Engineer can vary greatly between companies. In larger manufacturing operations, quality engineers can have a specific focus or area of expertise such as Quality Assurance, Quality Control, Six Sigma or even Reliability Engineering.
Quality Assurance = is process oriented and focuses on eliminating process variation by creating, revising and strictly implementing a set of tightly and precisely defined process/procedures/quality standards that when exactly followed, ensure the final quality of the product. Quality Assurance is preventative by nature.
Quality Assurance is typically reflected on the factory floor through the use of a Quality Management System (QMS). A QMS is a formalized system that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives. It helps coordinate and direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements.
ISO 9001:2015 = is the most recognized and widely implemented quality management system. Other techniques and methodologies used in Quality Assurance are: Deming’s 14 Points, Total Quality Control and Total Quality Management.
Quality Control = is product oriented and focuses on testing a sample of a manufacturing process to make sure that meets the required design specifications or quality standards. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, the sample testing is done in a laboratory so people who work in QC usually have a science/laboratory background. 100% sampling or Statistical Process Control (SPC) are some of them more widely used techniques in quality control.
Six Sigma = is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement developed by Motorola and gained industry-wide acceptance after it was championed by Jack Welch at General Electric. It aims to improve the output quality of a process by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.
Reliability Engineering = uses engineering techniques and analysis to improve the dependability or reliability of a product, process, or system in order to:
Prevent or to reduce the likelihood or frequency of failures;
Identify and correct the causes of failures that do occur despite the efforts to prevent them;
Determine ways of coping with failures that do occur, if their causes have not been corrected;
Apply methods for estimating the reliability of new designs;
In smaller operations, Quality Engineers can be tasked with a much wider remit of responsibilities, providing quality engineering support to the whole system. Whatever the specific set up, Quality Engineers are working to ensure that manufacturing processes and ultimately, final products, meet both internal and external quality standards. Based within the manufacturing facility, Quality Engineers can work on the manufacturing floor, in an office, or in a lab – depending on the specific tasks they are carrying out at the time.
When I first heard for the first time that me as product engineer have to collaborate with a guy holding the role of Product Marketing Manager I told to myself, “why the heck do I need this guy? What for?”.
The Product Manager is already sufficient to tell me what’s going on on the market and which products customers want because he is already in close contact with the potential customers, he should be well informed about the industry in which we act. In my case that was parts and accessories for automotive industry. So I didn’t see the need for a Product Marketing Manager.
But during the years I learnt more what the meaning of a Product Marketing Manager is. Indeed for a new StartUp for example it’s ok to let the Product Manager to take care of marketing stuff too, but in the best tech product companies, product marketing plays an essential role in discovery, delivery, and, ultimately, go-to-market, which is why they are important members of the product team, therefore you need a Product Marketing Manager anyway. It is equally essential for Product Managers to understand this.That being said I will continue this post aiming it to Product Managers.
As you’ll soon see, coming up with winning products is never easy. We need a product that our customers love, yet also works for our business. However, a very large component of what is meant by works for our businessis that there is a real market there (large enough to sustain abusiness), we can successfully differentiatefrom the many competitorsout there, we can cost-effectivelyacquire and engage new customers,and we have the go-to-marketchannels and capabilities requiredto get our product into the handsof our customers. Product marketing is our critical partner in this.
Modern product marketing managers represent the market to the product team-the positioning, the messaging, and a winning go-to-market plan. They are deeply engaged with the sales channel and know their capabilities, limitations, and current competitive issues.
The nature of product marketing is a bit different, depending on the type of business you have and how your product gets to market. When you make products for businesses that are sold through either a direct sales force or a channel sales organization, it is a very significant and critical job to declare the positioning – by that we mean the market position the product must occupy, in addition to the messaging – digital content assets, sales tools, and training that enable sales to effectively sell.
If your company has a sales organization, and you don’t have a product marketing partner, then this responsibility likely falls on you as product manager. This can easily become a full-time job. And given the cost of the sales organization, it’s really not an option to ignore them. But, of course, if you’re spending your day helping the sales organization, who is figuring out the product for these people to sell?
If your company sells directly to consumers, it becomes easy for the marketing teams to focus on clicks and brand at the expense of ensuring all the product work adds up to a successfully differentiated market position. This is important to the long-term prospects of any company but also brings more meaning into all the work the product team does. It is very much in your best interest to make sure you have a Product Marketing Manager to work with, and it’s absolutely worth your time to make sure you understand the market – and your product marketing colleague understands the product – well enough for each of you to be successful. There are many important interactions throughout discovery and delivery, so it’s worth making a special effort to develop and maintain a strong working relationship with your product marketing colleague. For example, ensuring the product team is getting good signal from a broad enough representation of the market. It also becomes important in the messaging and deciding on the go-to-market plan based on these early product signals.
Note here that I am talking about the modern definition of the product marketing role. I am not describing the old model wherein product marketing was responsible for defining the product, and product management was primarily responsible for working with engineering to deliver that product. Having a strong product marketing partner does not diminish in any sense the product manager’s responsibility for delivering a successful product. The best product marketing manager and product manager relationships understand their respective roles but realize they are essential to each other’s success.
In my early years I was (process) engineer myself, and I had to collaborate with the so called “experts” as Product Managers and Product Designers, the experience was good for me but unfortunately not good for them. So this is what I want to share with those of you who have never been engineers before, but somehow managed to become PMs or PDs.
My friends I honestly tell you, you can never succeed as Product Manager or Product Designer if you have never worked for a while as engineer first. It’s even impossible if you have never studied engineering before.
In this post, I describe the engineering role (also commonly known as developersor, in some circles, programmers, mechanical designers or electrical/electronic engineers ). But as with my previous post, I’m not trying to tell here how the engineers should be – I’m aiming this discussion mostly at Product Managers who need to learn how to work effectively with engineers.
There’s probably no more important relationship for a successful Product Manager than the one with your engineers.
If your relationship is strong, with mutual and sincere respect both ways, then the Product Manager job is great. If your relationship is not strong, your days as product manager will be brutal (and probably numbered). Therefore, this is a relationship worth taking very seriously and doing everything you can to nurture. This strong relationship begins with YOU: The Product Manager. You need to do your homework and bring to the team the knowledge and skills of good product management.
Engineers are typically smart and often skeptical by nature, so if you’re bluffing, they likely won’t be fooled. Ifyou don’t know something, it’s much better to fess up and say you’ll find out rather than try to bluster. It’s also hugely important that you have an actual appreciation for the demands and complexities of the engineering job. If you were an engineer before or if you’ve studied computer science, mechanical or electrical engineering in school, you’re probably in good shape. But if not, I want to strongly encourage you to take a class at a local community college or online education where you’ll learn a programing language and some mechanical/electrical engineering stuff.
The purpose of developing this programming/engineering literacy is not so you start telling your engineers how to do their job but, rather, to significantly improve your ability to engage with and collaborate with your engineers. Less obviously, but at least as important, this knowledge will give you a much better appreciation for technology and the art of the possible. It’s also critical that you share very openly what you know about your customers-especially their pain-the data, and your business constraints. Your job is to bring this information to your team and then to discuss the various potential solutions to these problems.
There is no thing wrong with you bringing a strong point of view, but you must constantly demonstrate to your team that you’re open minded, you know how to listen, and you want and need their help in coming up with the right product.
As a practical matter, you need to engage directly with your engineers every workday. There are typically two types of discussions going on each day.
In the 1st type of discussion, you’re soliciting their ideas and input for the items you’re working on in discovery.
In the 2nd type of discussion, they’re asking you clarifying questions on the items they’re working on delivering to production.
Where a lot of product managers go sideways is in how they communicate with their engineers. Just as most product managers don’t like it when an executive or stakeholder spells out exactly what they want you to build, engineers generally don’t like it when you try to spell out how to build something. So, while it’s good if you have a strong technology understanding, it’s not good if you use that knowledge to do their jobs for them. You want to give your engineers as much latitude as possible in coming up with the best solution. Remember, they are the ones who will be called in the middle of the night to fix issues if they arise.
One last thing to keep in mind: the morale of the engineers is very much a function of you as the product manager. It is your job to make sure they feel like missionariesand not mercenaries. You do this by involving them deeply in the customer pain you are trying to solve and in the business problems you face. Don’t try to shelter them from this-instead, share these problems and challenges very openly with them. They will respect you more for it, and, in most cases, the developers will rise to the challenge.
The Tech Lead Role
There are, of course, many different types of engineers. Some focus on engineering the user experience (generally referred to as front-enddevelopers, mechanical designers), and some focus on specific technologies (for example, database, search, machine learning). Similarly, as with most other roles, there is a career progression for engineers. Many go on to become senior engineers, and some go from there to principal engineer or architect roles. Others move into more of an engineering leadership path, which generally starts with the tech lead role (aka dev lead, or lead engineer).
In general, from the product management perspective, any senior engineer is helpful because of the broad knowledge he or she brings that pertains to what is possible. However, a tech lead not only has this knowledge-and is responsible for helping to share this knowledge with the other engineers on the team-but the tech lead also has an explicit responsibility to help the product manager and product designer discover a strong solution. Not every engineer or even senior engineer wants to participate in discovery activities, and this is fine. What’s not okay is to have a team of engineers in which none of them wants to engage in discovery activities.
It is for this reason that the product manager and product designer work most closely with the tech lead. In some product teams, there may be more than one tech lead, which is all the better. It’s also worth pointing out that engineers often have different work styles, which is also true for many designers. The product manager needs to be sensitive to the best way to interact. For example, many product managers are happy to speak in front of a larger group, or even a group of senior executives, but many engineers or designers are not. It’s important to be sensitive to this.
Now after I’ve shared in the previous posts about the role of Product Manager, let me share with you now what I have learnt during the years about the role of Product Designer role,in which I am still acting today. I must admit that I am still learning about this as well and of course I am not a guru are all but here I only share my perspective about it. From my point of view the role of Product Designer is equally essential in any Tech-Product Company. From technological point of view the P.D. role is even more important than the Product Manager because the P.D. really knows what’s technologically possible and what’s not.
So here I describe the Product Designer role. But I’m not trying to speak here to designers- I’m aiming this at Product Managers who need to learn how to work effectively with designers.
It’s amazing to me how many companies I encounter that just don’t understand why having strong and talented designers is so important. They understand the need for engineers, but often will waste significant time and money because they do not understand the need for design.
Hence, the modern Product Designers are responsible for the followings:
Holistic User Experience Design
Interaction and Visual Design
In the old model, designers took requirements or specifications from product managers and used that to create their designs.
In contrast, modern product designers continuously collaborate with product managers and engineers-from discovery to delivery. Similarly, rather than sitting with fellow designers, the modern product designer sits side by side with his or her product manager, a full partner with the product manager on product discovery.
Rather than being measured on the output of their design work, the product designer is measured on the success of the product. Given this, product designers have many of the same concerns as product managers. They are deeply oriented around actual customers and the value their product brings to those customers. They also understand that the product is in service of a business and can incorporate those constraints into the design of the product. Designers must further understand that the user experience is as important to customer value as is the underlying functionality.
Holistic User Experience Design
User experience (UX) is much bigger than user interface (UI). Some people even use the term customer experienceto further emphasize the point. UX is any way that customers and end users realize the value provided by your product. It includes all the touch points and interactions a customer has with your company and product over time. For modern products, this usually includes multiple different interfaces, as well as other customer touch points (e-mail, marketing campaigns, sales process, customer support, and so forth). With some products, UX also includes offline services, such as riding in a car summoned through Uber or staying in a house sourced through Airbnb. Good product designers think about the customer’s journey over time as they interact with the product and with the company as a whole.
Depending on the product, the list of touch points could be very long, considering questions as:
How will customers first learn about the product?
How will we onboard a first-time user and (perhaps gradually) reveal new functionality?
How might users interact at different times during their day?
What other things are competing for the user’s attention?
How might things be different for a one-month-old customer versus a one-year-old customer?
How will we motivate a user to a higher level of commitment to the product?
How will we create moments of gratification?
How will a user share his experience with others?
How will customers receive an offline service?
What is the perceived responsiveness of the product?
Depending on which product you design there are many techniques used to test out product ideas.In the future I will write a post about these techniques too. But here I just want to say that many of these techniques depend on prototypes, and most of these prototypes are created by the product designer. Good product designers use prototypes as their primary canvas for communicating ideas, both internally and externally. They are generally comfortable with many different prototyping tools and are able to apply the correct one for the task at hand.
Good product designers are constantly testing their ideas with real users and customers. They don’t just test when a prototype or idea is ready; they build testing into their weekly cadence, so they’re able to constantly validate and refine ideas as well as collect new insights they might not have been looking for. It also means that they aren’t as likely to become too attached to ideas before they come in contact with objective, outside opinions. User testing is broader than usability testing. Product designers and their product teams utilize the opportunity to assess the value of their ideas. Will customers use or buy the product and, if not, why not?
Interaction and Visual Design
Now even if my background is mechanical engineering, I have also collaborated with hardware and software designers, I can clearly say that Interaction and Visual design have historically been considered separate roles.
Interaction designgenerally includes the underlying conceptual models (e.g., a photo management application may have photos, albums, projects), task flows, and control layouts to manipulate those concepts.
Visual designincludes composition, typography, and how the visual brand is expressed.
Modern product designers may have different strengths but, generally, have some level of skill with both interaction and visual design. Having a more complete tool set allows them to work quickly at different levels of fidelity, depending on the context. It also allows them to design experiences in ways that wouldn’t have been natural when thinking of interaction and visual design separately. This is particularly important in mobile interfaces in which designers must often create new models of interaction fundamentally intertwined with the visual design. If you’re building devices such as consumer electronics, there’s another critical dimension to design-industrial design-which looks at materials and design for manufacturing.
The Absence of Product Design
Three situations in particular are incredibly common and serious problems:
1.You as product manager try to do the actual design yourself. Now,this is distinct from the situation where you are a trained designer and have also taken on the product manager responsibilities. In this situation, you have not been trained in design; yet, your engineers clearly need designs, so you oblige. That usually means you provide the engineers with wireframes, and they cobble together some form of visual design themselves.
2.You as product manager don’t provide the designs but, rather, provide very high-level user stories to the engineers. To begin coding or mechanical designing, the engineers have no choice but to work out the design themselves.
3.You as product manager provide the interaction design-especially the wireframes-and then you use a visual or graphic designer to provide the visual design.
All three situations are serious problems because they rarely provide good results. They don’t provide the full holistic design we’re looking for.
Apple and Samsung are 2 of the most valuable and design-conscious companies on the planet; yet few tech companies understand the importance of design talent. While everyone talks about the engineers at Google and Facebook-and their engineering is indeed strong-both companies have made huge investments in design talent.
If you are building user-facing products, it’s critically important that you get a trained product designer for your team. If you’re doing products for consumers, I would argue that strong design today is table stakes. If you’re doing products for businesses, then this is one of your best competitive differentiators. Its sad to say, but most products for businesses have awful design. They’ve been able to get away with this, however, because the user is so often not the customer-the one that buys. I’m happy to say that’s now changing, and there’s a new breed of B2B (business-to-business) companies that take design very seriously. They are displacing the old guard. In the ease of products for small businesses, the user is typically the buyer, so the bar is set as high as it is for consumer products. But getting your organization to invest in design staff is only half of the solution.
Here is why:
Many organizations wake up one morning and suddenly realize design is important. So, they spend money to bring this talent in-house; yet, they set up the operation like it’s an internal agency. You’re supposed to bring your design requests to this group of designers-often sitting together in their own little studio-and when they’re done, you get the results. If that’s the way we needed to work, we’ d probably continue to use external agencies. But it’s not. We need design-not just as a service to make our product beautiful-but to discover the right product.
In strong teams today, the design informs the functionality at least as much as the functionality drives the design. This is a hugely important concept. For this to happen, we need to make design a first-class member of the product team, sitting side by side with the product manager, and not a supporting service. Once you get a designer dedicated to your product team, here are five keys to a successful and healthy relationship with your designer:
1. Do whatever you need to do to have your designer sit next to you.
2. Include your designer from the very inception of every idea.
3. Include your designer in as many customer and user interactions as possible. Learn about the users and customers together.
4. Fight your temptation to provide your designer with your own design ideas. Give your designer as much room as possible to solve the design challenges him or herself.
5. Encourage your designer to iterate early and often. The best way you can encourage this is to not get all nitpicky about design details with the very early iterations. More generally, encourage your designer to feel free not to just iterate on the particular design approach but to explore alternative solutions to the problem.
The bottom line is that you and your designer really are partners.You’re there to discover the necessary product solutions together, and you each bring different and critical skills to the team.
In my previous post I was sharing my perspective about how to be a great Product manager which is a very important role for any company -particularly the ones in Tech-Products business. But anyway, I am a tech-guy so everything I talk about business has a connection with technology. This is what I do , I am engineer so I talk about and I do technology. Now that we’ve seen what the product manager needs to contribute to the team, let’s consider the kind of person who thrives in this environment. For that, again according to my engineering experience and based on what I have seen since 2003 I can say now that the successful product manager must be the very best versions of smart, creative, and persistent. In a tech product company each Product Manager must have at least this 3 qualities.
Smart, Creative & Persistent
By smart, I don’t just mean raw IQ. I especially mean intellectually curious, quickly learning and applying new technologies to solve problems for customers, to reach new audiences, or to enable new business models.
By creative, I mean thinking outside the normal product box of features to solve business problems.
By persistent, I mean pushing companies way beyond their comfort zone with compelling evidence, constant communication, and building bridges across functions in the face of stubborn resistance.
The passion for products and for solving customer problems is not something I think you can teach. That’s something you either have or don’t have, and it is among the first things to interview for when we are evaluating potential product managers. If you are a founder of a company I assume that you have this.
The level of time and effort required by the product manager role is extremely tough to sustain if you’re not personally passionate about your products and your role. Perhaps the most important thing I can tell you to help you succeed is that you simply must take very seriously your preparation for this role.
However, you must take this role extremely serious. Sure each product has its own particularities and to create a general template to be applied in product management is impossible. But some similarities for sure exist and from my experience as Product Designer in automotive here are some tips which I can give you. I am sure these can add value to your project as well. Doesn’t matter if your industry is different. So here they are:
1). Start by becoming an expert in your users and customers. Share very openly what you learn, both the good and the bad. Become your team’s and your company’s go-to person for understanding anything about your customer-quantitative and qualitative.
2). Work to establish a strong relationship with your key stakeholders and business partners. Convince them of two things:
I. You understand the constraints they operate under.
II. You will only bring to them solutions that you believe will work within those constraints.
3.) Become an undisputed expert on your product and your industry. Again, share your knowledge openly and generously.
4.) Finally, work very hard to build and nurture the strong collaborative relationship with your product team.
I’m not saying that doing all this is easy; it’s not. But believe me when I tell you it’s table stakes for being a successful product manager.
Product Manager Profiles
Anyone who’s ever worked in product for any amount of time knows that creating products is never easy. The big points I hope you take away from this post are:
1.Product management is absolutely distinct from the other disciplines. It’s clearly different than the contribution of the designers, and it’s also clearly not a project manager. There is some amount of project management inevitably involved, just as there is for all leadership positions. But to characterize this as a project manager is to completely miss the essence of the role. The role I would argue the product manager is most similar to is the role of the CEO. But with the obvious difference that, unlike the CEO, the product manager is not the boss of anyone.
2.Like a CEO, the product manager must deeply understand all aspects of the business. The product manager must ensure a business outcome, not just ensure a product gets defined. This requires a good understanding of the many interrelated parts and constraints of the business-financial, marketing, sales, legal, partnership, service, the customer environment, the technical capabilities, the user’s experience-and figure out a solution that works for the customers as well as for the business. But don’t think this means an MBA is required-or that you need to have all these skills yourself. You must simply have a broad understanding of how a product can affect a business and work with people from your team and across your company to cover everything that’s important.
3.The winning solutions doesn’t come from users, customers, or sales. Rather, great products require an intense collaboration with design and engineering to solve real problems for your users and customers, in ways that meet the needs of your business. In most cases the users have no idea the solution they fell in love with is possible.
4.True leadership is a big part of what separates the great product people from the merely good ones. So, no matter what your title or level may be, if you aspire to be great, don’t be afraid to lead.
Product Manager versus Product Owner
You’ve likely encountered the term product owner, and you may wonder how it relates to the product manager job.
First, product owner is the name of the role on an Agile team for the person responsible for the product backlog. Keep in mind that Agile is used in all types of companies, not just product companies. In product companies, it is critical that the product manager also be the product owner. If you split these roles into two people, some very common and predictable problems result-most commonly, the loss of your team’s ability to innovate and consistently create new value for your business and your customers. Moreover, the additional responsibilities of the product manager are what enables good product owner decisions in a product company.
Second, even if for product managers is always important to learn the development process their team is using, taking a class or certification on the product owner role covers a very small part of the responsibilities of a product manager.
To summarize, product owner responsibilities are a small subset of product management responsibilities, but it’s critical that the product manager covers both.
The Two Critical Classes for Product Managers
Product managers come to the role from any and all disciplines. Certainly, many come from computer science, while others may come from business or economics. But you’ll find great product managers that come from politics, philosophy, art, literature, history-and everything in between.
If you want to be an engineer or a designer, there is an academic education to be had that will prepare you for a career in those fields. That is not the case with tech product management. That’s because what’s most essential for this job is the smart, creative, and persistent qualities I’ve discussed. That said, I believe there are two specific academic courses that every product manager should take.Maybe not really for all industries, I am material science engineer and mechanical designer but I do consider that today and in the future the Tech products are and will be very much based on information technology and computers. I am still leaning this as well. So no mater what type of Tech-Products you deliver as Product Manager you must have at least this 2:
1. Introduction to Computer Programming
If you have never taken a course in a programming language, then this is your first necessary class. It doesn’t really matter which language but not HTML. You can try to do this online, but I will tell you that many people struggle with learning their first programming language; therefore, an actual course for which you’re accountable for turning in programming assignments every week is what it usually takes. You may love it, or you may hate it, but either way it will fundamentally expand your technology horizons and enable you to have much richer discussions with your engineers and designers. It will also give you a better appreciation for the power of enabling technology.
2. Introduction to Business Accounting /Finance
Just as you need to know the language of computing, you also need to know the language of business. If you have never done so, you need to take a course in the basics of business finance.You will need to understand how for-profit companies work and the main business key performance indicators (KPIs) that are important to your business-including, but not limited to, lifetime value of customers, average revenue per user/customer, customer acquisition cost, cost of sales, and contribution margins, among others. A good general marketing course will often cover these topics as well. The key is to make sure you gain a big-picture understanding of how businesses work. You can easily do this through a community college course or through self-study, especially if you ask someone in your finance department to guide you a little. This is a good thing to do in any case.
At all my workplaces until now I had the opportunity to work with people in different roles involved in the product development stages such as Product Managers, Product Designers, Mechanical Engineers, Software & Hardware engineers, Marketing Managers and so on. But by far the most important role which I consider responsible for the market success of a product and even the success of a tech company is the role of Product Manager.
Your company will never remarkably grow and perform on long term without a good Product Manager. So in this post I will exclusively talk about the role of Product Manager what are her/his responsibilities, how and mostly WHY this role is vital for the long term success of a tech company.
I want to be very explicit about what that really means. But first, it’s time for a little close of tough love.
For those who probably don’t know me, as I’ve already said before and I mention again, I first started as a process engineer back in 2003 and meantime I’ve changed my roles couple of times in different places. Therefore form what I have seen so far I can say that there are essentially 3 ways for a product manager to work, and I argue only one of them leads to success. These are:
1. The product manager can escalate every issue and decision up to the CEO.
In this model, the product manager is really a backlog administrator. Lots of CEOs admit that this is the model they find themselves in, and it’s not scaling. If you think the product manager job is what’s described in a Certified Serum Product Owner class, you almost certainly fall into this category.
2. The product manager can call a meeting with all the stakeholders in the room and then let them fight it out.
This is design by committee, and it rarely yields anything beyond mediocrity. In this model, very common in large companies, the product manager is really a roadmap administrator.
3. The product manager can do his or her job.
I’ve seen all these 3 situations, but I confirm that the 1st and the 2nd are the most I’ve seen. Unfortunately I don’t agree with none of those 2 ways.From my position of Product Designer I see now very clear what a Product Manager must do and I am sorry to say but both of those ways of manage a products can generate not more than an mediocre product far to be classified as a top sales product which eventually can contribute to the company’s long term success. For me the only essential way to be a good Product Manager is to apply the 3rd category.
Now probably you will ask me, “why did you not simply took over and become a Product Manager and do it yourself”. Well…such a position is very important. I am always aware about my skills and knowledge level and when I saw how people understand what and how the Product Manager must do and behave I considered that I was simply not ready to take this responsibility, I didn’t have sufficient knowledge and for me the best was to watch and learn. I always consider that first is important to learn and observe how the things are done, prepare for the future and build a strategy before to really jump in. So in the past I didn’t have sufficient experience to do this. But after some years working on different projects in different circumstances, I have now a very clear picture about what this role means and I must say that from this moment on I am always ready to take over such an opportunity, but I must be convinced that it’s worth to get involved. So I would like to share with you here my perspective about what a good product manager means.
That being said my intention here is to convince you of this 3rd way of managing a product. Namely: “The product manager can do his or her job”
It’s a lot to talk about and probably I would need to write a very long post to describe how the strong product manager does his /her job, but let me just say for now that this is a very demanding job and requires a strong set of skills and strengths.
The reason for calling this out so bluntly is that, in many companies, especially older, enterprise companies, the product manager role has a bad reputation. What too often happens is that the company takes people from other organizational roles-often project management or sometimes business analysts-and they say, “We’re moving to Agile and we don’t need project managers or business analysts anymore, so we need you to be a product manager.”
The honest truth is that the product manager needs to be among the strongest talent in the company. If the product manager doesn’t have the technology sophistication, doesn’t have the business savvy, doesn’t have the credibility with the key executives, doesn’t have the deep customer knowledge, doesn’t have the passion for the product, or doesn’t have the respect of their product team, then it’s a sure recipe for failure.
At one level, the responsibilities of the product manager are pretty straightforward. He or she is responsible for evaluating opportunities and determining what gets built and delivered to customers. We generally describe what needs to get built on the product backlog. Sounds simple enough. And the mechanics of that are not the hard part. What’s hard is to make sure that what goes on the product backlog is worth building. And, today, on the best teams, the engineers and designers want to see some evidence that what you’re asking to build is truly worth building. But if you want to know why the product manager role is considered so important today by CEOs and venture capitalists (VCs), it’s this:
Every business depends on customers. And what customers buy-or choose to use-is your product. The product is the result of what the product team builds, and the product manager is responsible for what the product team will build.
So, this is why the product manager is the person we hold responsible and accountable for the success of the product. When a product succeeds, it’s because everyone on the team did what they needed to do.
But when a product fails, it’s the product manager’s fault.
You can start to see why this role is a proving ground for future CEOs and why the best VCs only want to invest in a company that has one of these proven product people as one of the co-founders.
In that spirit, there are four key responsibilities of a strong product manager; Four things that the rest of your team is counting on you to bring to the party and these are:
Deep Knowledge of the Customer
Deep Knowledge of the Data
Deep Knowledge of Your Business
Deep Knowledge of Your Market and Industry
So let’s see what each of them means.
I. DEEP KNOWLEDGE OF THE CUSTOMER
First and foremost is deep knowledgeof the actual users and customers.To make this explicit, you need to become an acknowledged expert on the customer: their issues, pains, desires, how they think-and for business products, how they work, and how they decide to buy. This is what informs so many of the decisions that must be made every day. Without this deep customer knowledge, you’re just guessing.
This requires both qualitative learning (to understand why our users and customers behave the way they do), and quantitative learning (to understand what they are doing), which is what I’ll talk about next. It should go without saying as it’s really table stakes for a product manager, but just to be clear, the product manager must also be an undisputed expert on your actual product.
II. DEEP KNOWLEDGE OF THE DATA
Today, product managers are expected to be comfortable with data and analytics. They are expected to have both quantitative skills as well as qualitative skills. The Internet enables unprecedented volume and timeliness of data. A big part of knowing your customer is understanding what they’re doing with your product. Most product managers start their day with half an hour or so in the analytics tools, understanding what’s been happening in the past 24 hours. They’re looking at sales analytics and usage analytics. They’re looking at the results of A/B tests. You might have a data analyst to help you with this, but the analysis of the data and understanding you get of your customer is not something you can delegate.
III. DEEP KNOWLEDGE OF YOUR BUSINESS
Successful products are not only loved by your customers, but they work for your business. The 3rd critical contribution-and the one that is often considered the most difficult by many product managers-is a deep understanding of your business and how it works, and the role your product plays in your business. This is tougher than it sounds.
This means knowing who your various stakeholders are and especially learning the constraints they operate under. There are usually key stakeholders representing general management, sales, marketing, finance, legal, business development, and customer service. Your CEO is usually a very important stakeholder as well. Succeeding in the job of product means convincing each key stakeholder that you understand their constraints and that you are committed to only delivering solutions that you believe are consistent with those constraints.
IV. DEEP KNOWLEDGE OF YOUR MARKET AND INDUSTRY
The 4th critical contribution is deep knowledge of the market and industry in which you’re competing. This includes not only your competitors but also key trends in technology, customer behaviors and expectations, following the relevant industry analysts, and understanding the role of social media for your market and customers.
Most markets have more competitors today than ever before. Further, companies understand the value in making products that are sticky, and this means that it can be difficult for prospective customers to move from your competitor to you. This is one of the big reasons why it is not enough to have feature parity with a competitor. Rather, you need to be substantially better to motivate a user or customer to switch.
Another reason to have a deep understanding of the competitive landscape is that your products will need to fit into a more general ecosystem of other products, and ideally your product is not only compatible with that ecosystem but adds significant value to it. Further, your industry is constantly moving, and we must create products for where the market will be tomorrow, not where it was yesterday.
As an example, there is a major enabling technology trend sweeping through software and IT industry, which is based on machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence. I feel comfortable predicting that this will be a major technology trend for at least the next decade, and this is why you need to love technology-powered products. What is possible is constantly changing. If you’re not excited about learning these new technologies, and exploring with your engineers and designers how you can use these trends to deliver dramatically improved products and experiences to your customers, then you really need to consider whether this career is for you.
To summarize, these are the four critical contributions you need to bring to your team: deep knowledge (1) of your customer, (2) of the data, (3) of your business and its stakeholders, and (4) of your market and industry.
If you’re a designer or engineer, and you’ve been asked to cover the product manager role as well, then this is what you need to sign up for. But I warn you – it’s a ton of work.
One additional note: In some companies, there is so much in terms of industry and domain knowledge that the product manager may be supplemented with what are called domain experts or subjectmatter experts. Examples of domain experts can be found in companies that build tax software or create medical devices. In these cases, you can’t expect the product managers to have the necessary level of domain depth, in addition to everything else. But these cases are fairly rare. The normal case is that the product manager does need to have (or be able to learn) the necessary domain expertise.
It normally takes about 2 to 3 months of dedicated work for a new product manager to get up to speed. This assumes you have a manager who can give you the help and access you need to gain this expertise, including lots of access to customers, access to data (and when necessary, training in the tools to access that data), access to key stakeholders, and time to learn your product and industry inside and out.
I will write in another post about “How to thrive as Product Manager” but for the moment what I’ve just shared here is from my point of view the most important aspects to be taken into consideration for anyone who aspire to become a good Product Manager.
To continue with the principles of a strong Product team as I mentioned in the 1st Part, in order to have successful long-term business with Tech products the most important thing is to have THE RIGHT PEOPLE. And for that you must first build a strong team. Once the product team is defined the next step is to make it work.
The most important role is played here by the Product Manager who must empower the team and cascade meaning in the team. I say it again there is NO Hierarchy here, the Project Manager is NOT the BOSS of anyone, but he is the responsible to the entire product so his task is also to make sure that each team member knows WHY they do what they do. So let’s see in how this should done. The next 5 similarities about Teamwork is my conclusion based on my experience but I am pretty sure it can be applied for any project in any company.
Group II: TEAMWORK
Team Empowerment and Accountability
1.Team Empowerment and Accountability
A big part of the concept of product teams is that they are there to solve hard problems for the business. They are given clear objectives, and they own delivering on those objectives. They are empowered to figure out the best way to meet those objectives, and they are accountable for the results.
2. Team Collaboration
A product team is a set of highly skilled people who come together for an extended period of time to solve hard business problems. The nature of the relationship is more about true collaboration.I don’t mean collaboration as a buzzword, either. I literally mean product, design, and engineering working out solutions together.
The distinction must be very clear and it’s very important for you to understand that this is not a Hierarchy.
I also haven’t said anything yet about where the members of the team are physically located. While this isn’t always possible, we try very hard to co-locate this team.
Co-location means that team members literally sit right next to one another. That doesn’t mean in the same building or even the same floor. It means close enough to easily see each other’s computer screens. I know this sounds a bit old school, and the tools for remote collaboration are getting better all the time, but the best companies have learned the value of sitting together as a team. If you’ve ever been a member of a co-located product team, you likely already know what I mean. How we do our work on a product team, there is a special dynamic that occurs when the team sits together, eats lunch together, and builds personal relationships with one another.
I’m aware this can be a bit of an emotional topic. For personal reasons, quite a few people live somewhere other than where they work, and their livelihood depends on working effectively remotely. I don’t want to paint this as too black or white, but I also don’t want to mislead you. All other things being equal, a co-located team is going to substantially outperform a dispersed team. That’s just the way it is.
This is also one of the reasons why we greatly prefer members of a product team to be actual employees and not contractors or agencies. It’s much easier to be co-located and to be a stable member of the team if the person is an employee. Note that there is nothing wrong with a company having multiple locations, so long as we try hard to have co-located teams in each location.
4. Team Scope
Once you’ve got the basics of a product team, the next big question is this:
What is the scope or charter of each team?
That is, what is each team responsible for?
One dimension of this is the type of work to be done, and it’s important that a product team has responsibility for all the work – all the projects, features, bug fixes (in case you develop software), performance work, optimizations, and content changes – everything and anything for their product.
The other dimension is the scope of work to be done. In some types of companies, the product team is responsible for a complete product. But it’s more common today that the product is the full customer experience (imagine a Facebook, an Apple or a Samsung), and each team is responsible for some smaller but meaningful piece of that experience.
For example, you might be working on a team at eBay that’s responsible for technology to detect and prevent fraud or tools and services for high-volume sellers. Or, at Facebook, your team might be responsible for newsfeeds, an iOS native mobile app, or the capabilities required for a specific vertical market, or at Tesla where they must be sure the car can safely be driven autonomous.
This is an easy topic for a small startup, as you typically just have one or a small number of teams, which makes it relatively easy to split things up. But as a company grows, the number of teams expands from a handful to 20, 50, or more teams in large product companies (like Samsung for example). The coordination gets harder, but the concept is highly scalable and, in fact, is one of the keys to scalability.
There are lots of useful ways to slice up the pie. Sometimes we have each team focus on a different type of user or customer. Sometimes each team is responsible for a different type of device. Sometimes we break things up by workflow or customer journey. Sometimes, actually very often, we are largely defining the teams based on the architecture. This is pretty common because the architecture drives the technology stack, which often requires different types of engineering expertise. In any case, what’s critically important is alignment between product management and engineering. This is why the head of product and the head of engineering normally get together to define the size and scope of the teams. I will tell you there’s never a perfect way to carve up the pie. Realize that, when you optimize for one thing, it comes at the expense of something else. So, decide what’s most important to you and go with that.
5. Team Autonomy
If we want teams to feel empowered and have missionary-like passion for solving customer problems, we need to give them a significant degree of autonomy. Obviously, this doesn’t mean they can go off and work on whatever looks fun, but it does mean that they are able to try to solve the problems they are assigned in the best way they see fit. It also means we try to minimize dependencies between teams. Notice that I said “minimize” and not “eliminate.” At scale, it’s just not possible to eliminate all dependencies, but we can work hard to continuously minimize them.
Why It Works
Product companies moved to this model of product team (based on TEAM BUILDING and TEAM WORK as just described) several years ago, and it’s now one of the pillars of modern, strong product organizations. There are several reasons why this model has been so effective.
1st– collaboration is built on relationships, and product teams-especially co-located teams-are designed to nurture these relationships.
2nd– to innovate you need expertise, and the durable nature of product teams lets people go deep enough to gain that expertise.
3rd– instead of just building what others determine might be valuable, in the product team model the full team understands-needs to understand-the business objectives and context. And most important, the full team feels ownership and responsibility for the outcome.
Instead of the old project-oriented model, which is all about getting something pushed through the process and out the door, in the dedicated team model, the team is not off the hook just because something launches. They don’t rest until and unless it’s working for the users and for the business. Hopefully you’re already a member of a strong, dedicated product team, and now you just have a better appreciation for the intention of this model.
On the other hand, if your company is not yet set up around dedicated product teams, this is probably the most important thing for you as a leader to fix. Everything else depends on this. You don’t have to move the whole organization there at once – you can start a team as a pilot. But one way or another, it’s essential that you create or join a durable product team.
Principles and Techniques
The product managers must clearly understand the underlying principles of WHYwe need to work the way we do. When a person reaches the point that they have a solidunderstanding of the principles, they develop a good mental modelfor when each technique is useful and appropriate, and when it is not. Further, as new techniques emerge, they are able to quickly assess the potential value of the technique, and when and where it is best utilized. Of course over the years the techniques change fairly constantly, the underlying principles endure. So, while it may be tempting to jump right to the techniques, you must first consider the principles, and work to develop a deeper understanding of how to build great products.
When I had my first job as engineer back in 2003 I had no idea what and how a product team actually does and also didn’t know WHY a Product team is the most important part in a long-term successful business for a tech company. During the years I started to learn and today I have a very clear picture of all that.
Product teams are sometimes referred to as a dedicated product teamor as a durable product team, to emphasize that these are not created just to work on a single project or feature, or sometimes as asquad-derivedfrom the military analogy and meant to emphasize that these are cross-functional teams.
“A product team is a group of people who bring together different specialized skills and responsibilities and feel real ownership for a product or at least a substantial piece of a larger product”
There are many ways to set up product teams, but in good product companies, you’ll find that, despite the differences due to their unique products and circumstances, there are several very important similarities.
Hence, according to my experience working for multiple corporations in automotive industry since 2003, here are my 10 very important similarities which I am sure are very applicable in any organization which develop a tech product, it can be any industry ( IT, Automotive, Aerospace, Healthcare, etc). I will just put them in 2 categories:
Group I: TEAM BUILDING
Team of Missionaries
Team Reporting Structure
Group II: TEAMWORK
Team Empowerment and Accountability
In this post let’s have a look at the Group I = TEAM BUILDING
1. Team of Missionaries
There are many benefits of product teams, but a big goal is captured best as John Doerr, the famous Silicon Valley venture capitalist, who said once:
“We need teams of missionaries, not teams of mercenaries.”
Mercenariesbuild whatever they’re told to build.
Missionariesare true believers in the vision and are committed to solving problems for their customers.
In a dedicated product team, the team acts and feels a lot like ‘a startup within the larger company, and that’s very much the intention.
2. Team Composition
A typical product team is comprised of:
a product manager
a product designer, and
somewhere between 2 and about 10 to 12 engineers.
Of course, if the product you’re working on doesn’t have a user-facing experience-such as for a set of programmatic APIs (Application Programming Interface) – you probably don’t need the product designer. But many product teams do need this person on board.
Teams might also have a few other members such as:
a product marketing manager;
1 or more test automation engineers;
a user researcher;
a data analyst, and
(in larger product organizations), a delivery manager.
3. Team Size
There’s no rule that says all product teams in a company need to be the same size. It’s true there is the notion of critical mass for a product team-usually:
1 product manager;
1 designer, and
However, some teams might justify:
5 engineers and
2 test automation engineers-others even more.
There is a practical upper bound on a team, which usually works out to be around 8-12 engineers. You’ve probably heard about the 2-pizza rule, which is intended to help keep teams in this range.
More important than the absolute size of the team is the balance of skills needed to ensure we build the right things, and build those things right.
4. Team Reporting Structure
Note that I haven’t said anything yet about who works for whom. A product team is not about reporting relationships – it has an intentionally flat organizational structure. Usually, everyone on a product team is an individual contributor, and there are no people managers. The people on the team typically continue to report to their functional manager.
For example, the engineers report to an engineering manager. Likewise, the designer usually reports to a head of design, and the product manager reports into a head of product. So, this is not about reporting relationships.
To be absolutely clear, the product manager is not the boss of anyone on the product team.
5. Team Duration
Of course these teams need to be durable, but what does that mean, is it for a few months or several years?
The bottom line is that we try hard to keep teams together and fairly stable. While things do come up, and people change jobs and teams, once the members of a team get to know one another, and learn how to work well together, it’s honestly a beautiful and powerful thing, and we try hard not to mess up that dynamic.
Another reason that durability is important is that it can take some time to gain enough expertise in an area to innovate. If people are moving from team to team all the time, it’s hard for them to get that expertise and to feel the necessary sense of ownership over their product and missionary-like passion.
And to be clear, a product team is not something we create just to deliver a specific project. It’s nearly impossible to have a team of missionaries when they’re pulled together for a project that lasts only a few months and is then disbanded.
That’s all for now. I will talk about the 2nd group of similarities of a product team as TEAMWORK in my next post.
As we’ve already seen in my previous post, decades of research reveal that the recipe for friendship is simple. Proximity, familiarity, similarity and self disclosure all play a role. The trick is to create the conditions that naturally foster these elements and integrate them into the work environment.
After-work activities represent one approach. Many of the companies that appear on Fortune magazine’s annual list of top workplaces now offer seed money for relatively inexpensive activities that range from after-work yoga to wine-tasting classes to improv training. From a financial perspective this can seem wasteful. Yet the value these activities yield to interpersonal connections-and therefore to employee productivity-makes them a wise investment. Shared activities catalyze workplace friendships in ways few interactions can. They foster proximity between employees who rarely meet, boost their level offamiliaritywith one another, highlight similarity of interests, and leverage informal, nonwork environments to prompt self-disclosure.
By allowing colleagues to direct their attention to a common task shared activities create opportunities for dialogue without the pressure of forced conversation. In this way, they’re the antidote to a more traditional and often less successful approach to after-work socializing the cocktail party. What’s wrong with cocktail parties? Nothing at all. Unless, of course, you’re interested in fostering meaningful connections.
Cocktail parties tend to isolate people into groups of those they already know, trapping them in conversations that often feel strained and rarely result in close bonds. Partly it’s because there’s nothing to do but talk. For many people, taking the focus off the conversation and placing it squarely on an activity itself reduces self-consciousness and makes connections easier to grow. This can be especially true for the introverts in a group, who are often more comfortable bonding shoulder to shoulder with a colleague than face to face. When shared activities include a physical component, such as running or dancing, they have the added feature of increasing physiological arousal.
Research indicates that when we experience a rush of adrenaline in the company of others, we like them more, and even find them more attractive. The more opportunities employees have sharing in physical activities, like softball, volleyball, or even fishing the easier it is for them to get along. There’s a reason why so many close business connections are forged out on the golf course. Ironically, it’s what we do together outside the office that frequently offers the biggest boon to our relationships at work.
ABOLISH THE “THEY”
Another insight for sustaining workplace friendships comes to us from an unlikely source: research on conflicts that go horribly-and sometimes violently-wrong.
Superordinate goals can serve as a powerful tool for defusing tension in times of conflict. Just as important, they can also be used to inoculate coworkers before disagreements erupt. When colleagues feel like they’re working to common objective, a sense of shared purpose naturally softens the conditions for friendships. The challenge in many workplaces is that superordinate goals are often surprisingly difficult to identify. In a world in which every employee is a specialist, colleagues can sit next to one another for years and not know what their coworkers are doing. At many offices an employee’s contributions are only visible within their team. How do you leverage superordinate goals under these condititions?
The first step involves helping employees understand the way their colleagues’ work contributes to their own success. It’s when that connection isn’t evident that teams tend to splinter into factions, making friendships harder to foster. Anytime employees view colleagues in another department as a “they” rather than an “us,” you have a problem. In psychological terms what they’re really saying is, they’re lacking a superordinate goal. Some organizations work to abolish the “they” right at the start of an employee’s tenure, building cross-departmental understanding right into the onboarding processes. Making existing superordinate goals more visible is one approach. Or creating new ones.
Another opportunity for superordinate goals in the workplace is starting cross-departmental competitions and assigning employees who don’t normally work together to the same team. One example is the office version of the Biggest Loser, a game that rewards the group that collectictively loses the most weight with a cash award. Participants can only win when their coworkers are successful, leading them to support one another’s weight-loss efforts, share strategies, and plan meals around a common goal. Even better are wellness programs that reward colleagues for the amount of exercise they undertake collaboratively, encouraging teammates to work out together in groups. Superordinate goals also naturally emerge through joint volunteer efforts, sports teams, and the establishment of a company band. Ultimatelly, the activity itself is not important. What matters is bringing together employees who rarely interact and putting them in situations where collaboration is the only path to success.
SOWING THE SEEDS FOR A WORKPLACE COMMUNITY
Research highlights a surprising benefit of robust social networks. When people have a wide range of connections, it provides them with a sense of psychological security that buffers them from day-to-day stress, And because they experience stress less often, their bodies are better conditioned to fend off physiological challenges when they occur. Workplace connections offer similar benefits. When we feel supported by our colleagues, we are less likely to experience challenging events as stressful, knowing that our teammates are there to back us up. Minor hiccups appear less intimidating, which helps us keep our emotions in check and enables us to make better decisions in the face of crisis. Studies show that the way we perceive our social network is vital to our mental health. When we believe that those around us are available to provide social support-by offering assistance, advice, and emotional reassurance-we tend to be healthier both physically and psychologically. One obvious path to improving perceptions of social support in the workplace involves helping colleagues establish close friendships.
But as many organizations are now discovering, the reverse is also true when a company introduces formal practices that make social support and mutual caring the norm, friendships tend to bloom naturally. One simple way organizations can help employees support one another is by encouraging them to celebrate important milestones. Research shows that how people react to the positive events in one another’s lives is often more important to the quality of a relationship than how they react to negative events. Shared celebrations over a recent marriage engagement, a major birthday, or a recent promotion can magnify positive emotions and strengthen the fabric of a group’s bond. The occasional order of cupcakes won’t break the bank. Yet in many companies every expenditure requires the approval of a manager. Why not give every employee a modest celebration budget that they can use at their discretion?
There is also value to sharing negative events within a group. Recognizing setbacks, like the passing of a spouse or the development of an illness, can draw employees closer together and allow colleagues to provide one another with social support when they need it most.Disclosing setbacks publicly obviously requires an employee’s permission and considerable tact, but connecting over struggles can mean the difference between superficial chit-chat and a lifelong friendship. It’s when we open up about adversity that we build our closest relationships.
Organizations can also bolster employees’ perception of their support network by encouraging colleagues to pool together resources in a way that helps those confronted with financial emergencies. Starbucks, is one company that’s taken this step, creating the Caring Unites Partners (or CUP) fund that provides grants to employees in need. It’s when organizations take steps to weave employee connections beyond the office that they’ set the stage for a workplace community to emerge. And interestingly, it’s not just the recipients who profit from the additional support. Research shows that altruism often benefits givers more than receivers. Helping others-even when we’re not particularly close-improves our moods and enhances our perceptions of the support we have available, should we need it in the future.
WHEN CLOSE FRIENDSHIPS GO AWRY: WHAT TO DO ABOUT GOSSIP
No discussion of workplace friendship would be complete without addressing a legitimate concern that many managers hold about encouraging close employee relationships: the spread of office gossip. When you enhance people’s comfort level working together, you also increase their willingness to share thoughts and feelings they might otherwise keep to themselves. Occasionally, those include unflattering impressions of other employees or managers around the office. Gossip can have a debilitating effect on a workplace. It breeds distrust between colleagues, siphons time away from important projects,and injures company morale. Left unchecked, it can contribute to a culture of fear and anxiety.
So what do you do to prevent office gossip?
The surprising conclusion from a number of psychological experts is that you can’t, and that you might be better off not even trying. Now, before you dismiss this notion, consider the reason researchers believe gossip exists in the first place. Gossip, evolutionary psychologists argue, serves an important function. It provides people with valuable information on how to behave and helps them navigate the world more effectively. Say I hear a rumor that one of my associates, Cheryl, got dressed down by a client this morning for being unprepared. How does that affect my behavior? Well, first, it informs my approach to dealing with Cheryl on our afternoon conference call. Perhaps I’m a little nicer to her before we launch into our weekly update and offer her some encouraging feedback after she presents her portion. When discussing upcoming projects I also might think twice before agreeing to let Cheryl take the lead. The gossip circulating about Cheryl doesn’t do her any good, but it does make me a little better prepared for doing my job.Score one for gossip.
Another benefit of gossip: keeping people in line. As news of of Cheryl’s misstep spreads throughout our division, it conveys a subtle warning: Beware, the gossip tells all of us. Arrive at meetings without doing your homework and your reputation will suffer a similar fate.
A 2012 study uncovered yet another way gossip is beneficial: People areless likely to cheat when there’s a possibility others will gossip abouttheir actions. Gossip appears to foster prosocial behavior. When we’reconcerned that others will find out what we’ve done, we’re less likelyto act selfishly and more likely to behave in a cooperative fashion.When you consider all the value gossip brings, it’s no wonder itplays such a pivotal role in our lives. According to discourse analysts,nearly 2/3 of conversations contain some elements of gossip. Itoften goes undetected because we don’t all gossip about the samethings. On average, men tend to gossip more about high-powered authority figures who include political figures,athletes, and celebrities.Women, on the other hand, spend more time gossiping about familymembers and dose friends.
We gossip, according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, because in the past our lives depended on it. Back when our ancestors lived in small groups, they were able to monitor one another’s behaviors firsthand. But as group sizes expanded, direct observation was not always feasible. For a while, living a large group was risky, because you didn’t know who to trust. Eventually language entered the picture, and suddenly people had a tool for tracking reputations. Now, if someone behaved unethically, everyone in the group would find out, and soon enough the perpetrator would be shunned. From Dunbar’s perspective, if we didn’t need to gossip we may never have learned how to talk.
Gossip is useful, which is why it often feels so rewarding. When Your coworker Mike tells you that his boss has been spending a lot of time with a particular intern, he implicitly shows that he trusts you and views you as someone worth inviting into an exclusive social circle. It’s a flattering experience. At the same time, Mike gets to demonstrate his moral superiority on the issue of romancing interns while simultaneously proving that he is “in the know.’ That brief exchange brings you and Mike a little closer and gives both of you a temporary bump in self-esteem. As much as we’d like to believe we’re above gossiping, the reality is that we’re all susceptible. It’s an inherent part of who we are. But just because we’re prone to doing certain behaviors doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good for business. The more employees gossip behind one another’s backs, the harder it is to build team camaraderie and sustain collaborations.
Some organizations try to root out gossip by outlining formal policies or having executives issue explicit warnings. It’s an approach that displays a basic misunderstanding of human nature.Asking employees to stop talking about one another is a little like warning your kids never to yell. They can try their best, but eventually they’ll slip up, and when they do, it will only increase the distance between you. Ironically, your disapproval makes the transgression a little more exciting when it happens. The real question-the one that many organizations fail to address-is: What’s causing workplace gossip to crop up in the first place? We all enjoy a bit of gossip, but some of us participate in it more than others. How come? Research shows that teammates are particularly susceptible to gossip when they’re feeling powerless or insecure. The more people feel like they are out of the loop, the more they traffic in scraps of information.
Gossip in the workplace tends to be the weapon of the isolated and socially disenfranchised. When employees feel disconnected from the broader organization, they resort to forming cliques, drawing some colleagues close by putting other colleagues down. Ironically, it is their need for connections that results in organization-defeating behaviors that ultimately erode a team’s trust. Instead of outlawing gossip, leaders would be better off listening carefully to it instead. People tend to gossip about issues that reflect real workplace concerns. A lack of transparency about important decisions, for example, can breed uncertainty and sow the seeds for organizational chatter. Promoting openness between colleagues and building an environment where people feel safe addressing their concerns reduces the desire for talking behind one another’s backs. Another thing leaders should listen for is the source of the gossip.
The more someone gossips, the more powerless he likely perceives himself to be, which is an issue that deserves genuine attention. There are also those who wield gossip as a weapon, strategically undermining others while attempting to elevate their own status in an organization. There’s a term for them in the literature: workplace terrorists.
It’s important to identify strategic gossipers early, before they can inflict too much harm. The challenge, of course, is that when we’re handed a juicy piece of gossip, it’s easy to be seduced by the feeling that we’ve gained useful information from someone who is on our side which is why it’s important to consider the motivation behind disclosure. Is the speaker trying to help you, hurt a potential rival or both, attitudes toward gossip, like other social norms, are communicated from the top. Leaders have a disproportionate influence over many organizational behaviors, and gossiping is no exception.
If as a manager, you light up when given a piece of gossip, you’re likely to have team members who do the same and strive to feed you information. And any manager who resorts to speculating with employees about their colleagues is not only undermining organizational trust,he is also damaging his own stature as a leader. Studies show that those who gossip the most are often viewed as the least powerful.How do strong leaders respond to workplace gossip? By listening.And then, by encouraging and modeling open communication. It’s one thing to hear about Cheryl’s unfortunate turn at that client meeting, it’s another to find Cheryl and see if you can help.True friendships can only emerge when there is an openness betweencolleagues. When teammates have enough confidence in one another to raise difficult topics, even when that means having a challenging conversation.It’s what makes workplace friendships so vital in the first place.When we see that we’re surrounded by people who care about us it’s a lot easier to stay on task.
The Lessons of Friendship
I.Action Items for Managers
Onboard with an eye toward friendship.
Rather than viewing onboarding simply as a tool for getting new hires up to speed, think of it as an opportunity for sparking employee friendships. Consider starting before your new hires arrive, assigning one or two of their colleagues to reach out and give them a head start. Introduce new employees by describing their interests-not just their CV-so that they have something to bond over when meeting with coworkers. And look for collaborative assignments right at the start, so that they can continue to forge connections as part of a team Remember, you’re the host. If you want people staying late at your party, you need to give them a reason to stick around.
Empower your team to find mutual passions.
Instead of organizing social gatherings that may or may not be engaging encourage your employees to take the lead by offering to fund activities that appeal to at least five team members. Friendships don’t take when managers force employees into awkward social activities-not to mention the fact that you’re too busy to play camp counselor. Far better to show your interest in helping employees pursue their passions by asking them to identify fun events they’d like to engage in, Even better: Allow them to bring their significant others along. Encouraging employees to involve spouses in workplace-sponsored events is another way of fostering connections, simultaneously promoting healthier marriages and growing the bond between coworkers’ families.
Simplify caring. Employees grow closer when their colleagues are there to celebrate milestones and provide support in times of difficulty. Great workplaces make it easy for teammates to magnify positive events and empower them to get creative and customize their approach to each fellow employee. Here’s one example: sending automated team reminders before each colleague’s birthday and offering a modest twenty-dollar celebration budget. You might see some birthdays celebrated with a traditional cake, Hawaii- themed office decorations, or the hiring of an amateur opera singer off of Craigslist. Sound ridiculous? That’s the point. Helping employees show that they get one another makes them significantly more likely to bond.
The Lessons of Friendship
II. Action Items for Emerging Leaders
All business all the time makes you a weaker employee
We’re more effective at working with our teammates when we’re connecting on a personal level. Workplace friendships don’t happen when you’re buried in a spreadsheet. They emerge in the spaces between work, before and after a team meeting-when you and I accidentally discover that we both love jogging and happen to own the same car. Make time for chance connections. Chatting with the new guy in sales may not feel productive in the moment, but it may turn out to be the most valuable thing you do all day.
If you are struggling with a colleague, find a superordinate goal.
Often in the workplace, we get locked into our own objectives and see others as a barrier. It’s what contributesto the development of turf wars. If you’re dealing with a collaboratorwho seems to view you as competition, look forareas of common struggle, where you need one another. It’seasier to connect with someone when it’s clear you’re bothon the same side and neither one of you can succeed alone
Recognize that gossip is the fast food of social connection.
Gossip creates intimacy in the short term. But beware: It also weakens your standing in a group. Research shows that despite the immediate enjoyment people get from listening to gossip, frequent gossipers are viewed as less trustworthy, less powerful, and less likable. There’s a Turkish proverb that says, “He who gossips to you, will gossip of you,” and it appears that on some level, people implicitly believe that to be the case. If gossip is your primary means of connecting. It may be time you reconsidered your approach. It might feel like you’re bonding with others, but the damage you’re doing to your reputation makes it harder for your coworkers to view you as a friend.
Measuring workplace friendships is very important in any business for Nr. 1 reason:
It’s one of the strongest predictors of productivity. Studies show that employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused, more passionate, and more loyal to their organizations. They get sick less often, suffer fewer accidents, and change jobs less frequently. They even have more satisfied customers.
Why would friends be better at working together than acquaintances?
The reason? = Studies showed that Friends have better communication while doing the activity, and offered teammates positive encouragement every step of the way. Friends were more committed at the start of the project. They also evaluated ideas more critically and gave one another feedback when they were off course.
Acquaintances, on the other hand, took a different approach. They appeared to prefer working alone, engaging one another only when it was absolutely necessary. They were also less comfortable seeking help and resisted pointing out when one of their coworkers was making a mistake. Instead of fusing into a group and leveraging one anther’s strengths, their lack of connection was holding them back. They were operating in silos.
Research suggests that workplace friendships yield more productive employees, and it’s not just because friends are easier to work with. It’s also because there is more on the line. Feeling a connection with colleagues can motivate employees to work harder for a simple reason:
“When colleagues are close, a poor effort means more than a dissatisfied customer or an unhappy manager. It means letting down your friends. The social pressure to do a good job can often serve as a stronger motivator than anything a boss can say.”
Workplace friendships also benefit organizations for another reason. Employees with better friendships tend to stay on with their company for longer periods of time. In today’s world, loyalty to an organization has become an antiquated concept, one that rarely determines people’s career decisions. Bur when our coworkers are our friends, it suddenly becomes harder to leave. Often it’s our loyalty to our colleagues that keeps us from accepting higher salaries and better titles with another company.
What happens when there’s a lack of friendships in the workplace?
Psychologists call it process loss, and if you’ve ever worked with a difficult colleague, you’ve probably experienced it firsthand. The technical definition is “wasted energy and loss of productivity caused by interpersonal difficulties.” We all recognize the symptoms. The mild version involves the occasional miscommunication. More acute cases are : rife with unresolved tension, breakdowns in collaboration, and eventually full-on turf wars. Instead of focusing all your attention on your work, you find yourself sidetracked by interpersonal drama, which invariably makes you worse at your job.
How much is it costing businesses to leave employee friendships to chance? Well, if you don’t build friendship at workplace that will directly impact your profit and the existence of your company will be defined on short -term only.
HOW LONELINESS MAKES YOU STUPID
Part of the reason so many executives have a hard time taking the importance of employee friendships seriously is that it’s easy to confuse the concept of friends at the office with the notion of fooling around. Informal colleague relationships are often perceived as sources of gossip, interpersonal favoritism, and general workplace distractions. But research suggests that this is a misguided way of thinking about what happens when we’re working with friends. Meaningful connections are vital to our psychological and physical well-being. So much so, in fact, that many scientists now believe it’s impossible to be healthy unless we’re feeling connected to others.
Studies show that loneliness can have a crippling effect on our bodies. Lonely people have weaker immune systems, stiffer arteries, and higher blood pressure. They experience more stress, have a harder relaxing, and derive less pleasure from the possibility of reward. Often they lose sleep, which precipitates further mental deterioration. Over time, extended bouts of loneliness can lead to cognitive decline in the form of memory and learning deficits. Left untreated, chronic loneliness can threaten your life.
A recent study demonstrates that loneliness in the workplace isn’t merely an uncomfortable personal experience-it can interfere with the performance of an entire team. When employees experience loneliness, they grow more disconnected from their colleagues. Their ability to focus deteriorates and their desire to succeed plummets. Often they waste valuable cognitive resources attempting to hide their loneliness from others, leaving even less mental firepower for their work. In short, they become less capable of doing their jobs. Which leads us to the big elephant in the room: Even if friendships are vital to workplace performance, what can organizations possibly do about it? Friendships, after all, are voluntary. You can’t persuade people to become friends. Orcan you?
THE SCIENCE OF MAKING FRIENDS
As it turns out, organizations have a lot more influence over employee friendships than they recognize. To understand how companies can promote bonding between coworkers, let’s first examine some of the common ingredients at the core of successful friendships. What makes people like one another? Research suggests that there are three basic building blocks and they’re all surprisingly straightforward.
The 1st ingredient for friendship is: physical proximity. Initially, physical proximity might sound like an obvious requirement for friendship, one hardly worth mentioning, except itsimplications are profound. Consider the number of close friendships you’ve formed while living, studying, or working near people you now hold dear. How many of those relationships would have developed if the seating arrangements had been slightly different?
The same observation applies to the realm of romance. Think you and your spouse were made for each other? Maybe. But if of the 7 billion of the world’s inhabitants you and your soul mate just happened to share a zip code when you first met, cosmic destiny may have had less to do with your relationship than the principle of proximity.
When a coworker is often nearby, your chances of hitting it off are far greater than if the two of you work in different departments. There might be someone at your company sitting at their desk right now who could be the best friend you will ever have. But if your opportunities for interacting with that person are limited, you may live your entire life without knowing it.
The 2nd and strongest contributor to friendship is: Similarity.
The more we have in common with others-whether it’s a college major, a favorite TV show, or even the same birthday-the more we tend to like them. As writer C. S. Lewis once observed, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? thought I was the only one,'” Why is this the case? Because similarity is reaffirming. If I like Simon Sinek and you like Simon Sinek, your opinion validates my own and makes me feel good about myself.
A 3rd friendship requirement: familiarity. On average, we tend to like people the more we see of them, and often the effect is unconscious. There’s an uncertainty we feel upon meeting someone for the first time. But with repeated exposure we develop a sense of safetyand comfort around them. Which is why familiarity tends to liking. Studies show that the mere exposure effect doesn’t just affect our impressions of people. It also applies to paintings, songs, and consumer products. Ever wonder why Coca-Cola still bothers advertising when nearly everyone on the planet has already sampled their beverage? The mere exposure effect offers one perspective: The more often we see a logo, the more we tend to like (and therefore buy) the product.
In a study of best friends who managed to stay close for nearly 20 years, researchers found that the strongest predictor of long-term bonding is the level of similarity when friends first meet. The same principle applies to intimate relationships. Romantic comedies and sitcoms may try to convince us that in terms of personalities the opposites attract, but the research is conclusive: When it comes to long-term relationships similarity beats differences every time. While all friendships are founded on the pillars of proximity, familiarity, and similarity, psychologists have discovered that you can have all three elements and still not see a blossoming friendship there’s still something missing, a vital ingredient that sparks the relationship process. That ingredient? = Secrets.
HOW TO TURN ACQUAINTANCES INTO FRIENDS
If you want two people to connect, factual exchanges aren’t enough. What you need is for people to reveal intimate information about themselves in a reciprocal fashion. Having one person talk and the other listen won’t get the job done; it will simply leave one person feeling exposed. For intimacy to develop, both partners need to self-disclose. Another important feature is the observation that in close friendships the level of self-disclosure tends to escalate over time. When we first meet a friend or colleague the revelations we make tend to be fairly superficial. But as we grow closer, we become more comfortable sharing intimate details and expect our partners to do the same.The progression is important. Without deeper revelations a relationship can stall.
SELF-DISCLOSING IN THE WORKPLACE
After all self-disclosure might be a good way of bonding with a buddy at the gym or a new neighbor. But in a competitive work environment, where everything we say and do reflects on our level of professionalism, shouldn’t we be a little more discreet?Is opening up and sharing emotionally sensitive information with coworkers really a wise approach? Research conducted suggests it is, at least if your goal is to make friends. What the research discovered is that close workplace friendships tend to follow a distinct pattern that is marked by three key transitions.
The 1st is the transition from acquaintanceto friend.For the most part, all it takes for this transition to occur is working near a colleague for a period of about a year and occasionally collaborating on team projects. How can you tell if coworkers are friends? Ironically, by the amount of time they spend discussing nonworkplace topics. The more frequently colleagues talked about nonwork matters, the closer they tended to be. There’s an important lesson here for anyone interested in growing their influence in the workplace: When all you do at the office is talk shop, you might develop a reputation for being competent, but you’re not likely to end up with a whole lot of friends.
The 2nd and the 3rd transitions are, the ones that turned friends intoclose friends, and close friends into best friends. Here the proximity and common ground that prompted the 1st transition were nowhere near enough to catalyze a strong connection. What was? Sharing problems from one’s personal, home, and work life. The challenge for many of us, of course, is that proactively sharing potentially embarrassing information is a little like visiting an emotional casino. If your listener reciprocates with a few revelations of their own, the payoffs can be big: You stand to win a deeper and more satisfying relationship. But if your disclosure isn’t reciprocated-or worse if it’s criticized-you end up feeling exposed. And that experience is painful. The irony is that close relationships are often built upon a foundation of shared risk. It’s when we reveal our vulnerabilities that we acquire new friends.
WHAT EVERY MANAGER CAN LEARN FROM PARTY PLANNER
We know a lot about the formation of friendships, yet we seem to apply very little of that knowledge to cultivating relationships in the workplace. Consider what happens when an employee joins your company. In many organizations, surprisingly little thought is given to the way onboarding can contribute (or undermine) a sense of connection between team members.
After my graduation in 2003 I had different workplaces. All were good companies, but the managers were all lacking this approach of friendship formation. At my last workplace at AUDI for example, my onboarding process consisted of me showing up on the day and my manager removing a few boxes from a desk and saying: You can sit here for now,’ Even let’s suppose he was a brilliant guy working at a successful company. He was far too busy to give onboarding much attention. On the other end of the spectrum is a process that overcompensates, exposing newcomers to the corporate equivalent of speed dating. Meetings are stacked back-to-back at breakneck speed so that new employees can introduce themselves to important leaders in their company. While well intentioned, it’s an approach that forces employees to pinball from office to office, answering the same superficial background questions and leaving them little room to absorb information.
By the end of the day, faces have blended together and any meaningful connections that might have developed are squandered. Both extremes miss the mark for the same reason: They design onboarding from the perspective of the organization and not the employee. And in so doing, they miss a key opportunity for fostering close friendships.
Remember how you felt on your first day on the job? Proud,excited, perhaps a little anxious … You didn’t want to be ignored. But you certainly didn’t want to feel overwhelmed. What you really wanted was to find a way to show your coworkers-and especially your manager-what a shrewd decision they had made by hiring you.
Intelligent onboarding reflects the needs of employees as well as those of their companies, by addressing two concerns that often weigh heavily on the mind of new hires: demonstrating their competence and connecting with their colleagues. Entering an organization is like joining a party that has been going on without you for years. Some people are naturally drawn to mingling, but many struggle over what to do. The first few minutes are especially critical for guests, because the longer they feel isolated the more they need to rationalize their experience with negative thoughts like, “Everyone here is so boring” (defensive) or, worse still, “These people must not like me” (self-critical).
A considerate host plans ahead, finding ways to maximize people’s chances of interacting, strategically placing food in different locations, carefully positioning the bar, and occasionally enlisting the help of a few guests to introduce newcomers, highlighting what they have in common. Smart workplaces use a similar approach. They recognize that it is the responsibility of the “host” to establish subtle techniques for integrating coworkers from the moment of their arrival. One key to getting onboarding right is stretching out the process, allowing new employees the space they need to find their bearings, organize their thoughts, and get more out of their time with coworkers.
Onboarding doesn’t have to begin with an employee’s first day of work. It can start the moment they accept a job, when their enthusiasm for a position is at an all-time high. Instead of asking HR to set the process into motion, assign a team mate or two to introduce themselves via e-mail and offer to go out for coffee. Encourage them to share information about past projects and help their new colleague learn about the significance of their role. The more context new employees have before starting, the easier it is for them to feel competent and appreciative of their teammates on their first day.
Another technique for helping colleagues connect: Introduce new hires by revealing more than just their professional background. Talk about their hobbies, their favorite TV shows, or an unusual talent of which they’re particularly proud. Remember: similarity sparks friendship. What might appear to you as a trivial detail can serve as the basis for a close colleague relationship. When employees first arrive on the job, it’s tempting to get introductory meetings out of the way as quickly as possible. Resist this urge. Far better to scatter them over a few days or weeks. That may feel inefficient at first, but not if you want new hires to be mentally present and primed to make connections. It also pays to think carefully about a new hire’s first assignment.
You can use it to do more than simply get a new employee up to speed you can use it as a tool for deepening relationships. Start new hires with a series of modest, collaborative projects that discourage isolation and allow them to collect early wins. The shared accomplishment will bolster connections while fostering a sense of team pride. If stretching out and customizing the onboarding process sounds complex, that’s because it is. And it should be. Building lasting relationships takes time. At parties, a well-handled introduction can mean the difference between guests remaining late into the night or using any excuse to leave. The same is true of the workplace. How employees feel when they first arrive shapes every impression they develop thereafter.
When we’re completely consumed with trying to be happy all the time, we overlook the value of unhappy emotions, such as anger, embarrassment, and shame. Those experiences may not feel very pleasant when they’re happening, but they exist for a reason. Negative emotions help direct our attention to elements of our environment that require a response. From this perspective, artificially blunting negative emotions comes with a cost. It prevents us from acknowledging errors and adapting our behaviors.
When we feel sad for example, we send a social signal to those around us that we need help.Think about the last time you saw someone cry. If you’re like most people, you felt an immediate impulse to provide comfort and support.It’s the sadness that drew you in. Feeling guilty can also be useful. It motivates us to repair something damaging we’ve done to hurt a relationship. Even embarrassment has its upside. It tells us we’ve committed a social infraction and pushes us to make amends (for example, by telling yourself never to gamble again). Interestingly, research suggests another downside to exclusiveness: an increased tendency for making mistakes. When we’re happy, we grow confident, which at times can lead us to overestimate our abilities and ignore potential dangers. We can become more trusting, less critical, and occasionally unrealistic.
Research show that, extremely happy people reported better relationship and more community involvement, but surprisingly, they also lagged in income and education. Who collected the biggest paychecks and earned the highest academic degrees? That distinction belong to those who were slightly dissatisfied. Because these results are correlational, we can’t say for sure whether dissatisfaction causes higher levels of achievement per se. But what we can conclude from the data is this: Higher income and education are more common among people who are not continuously ecstatic about their lives.
So what are we to make of these findings?
Several observations are worth noting.
1st – happiness in the workplace is beneficial, but only up to a point. As a general rule, employees who are happy at their job are more productive than those who feel dissatisfied. But extreme levels of happiness can also interfere with work quality. Despite what we often hear, happiness in the workplace is simply not an unqualified good.
2nd – being in a positive mood can benefit some activities more than others. That means feeling happy can make us better at certain aspects of our jobs while also making us worse at others. Instead of simply assuming that intense happiness will improve everyone’s performance, it’s wise for managers to first consider the types of activities employees are expected to do. An emotional climate that’s advantageous for a team of salespeople is often different from one that’s beneficial for a group of accountants.
And finally 3rd – when organizations convey an expectation that every employee should feel happy at work all the time, they do their workers a disservice. It’s one thing to promote happiness in the workplace, but another to make it a job requirement. Studies show that the more pressure we place on ourselves to feel happy, the less likely we are to succeed. And as we’ve seen, negative emotions can occasionally be useful and actually improve performance on certain tasks, particularly ones requiring persistence and attention to detail.
The Lessons of Happiness
I. Action items for Managers
Plan happiness boosts around specific work activities.
Research shows that when we’re happy, we’re better at connecting with others, seeing the big picture, and generating creative ideas. That means that if you’re trying to get a group to bond or think flexibly-as in a client meeting or a team brainstorm-elevating people’s mood at the start by using refreshments, good news, or an interactive activity can be a wise approach. However, beware of applying the same strategy when your team is tasked with rooting out mistakes or conducting careful analyses. Feeling good can lead them to overlook potential threats, undermining their performance. Remember, positive emotions can help or hurt depending on the task. The trick is to promote a mind-set that benefits the activities you’re about to undertake.
You can get a bigger psychological bang for the buck with small, frequent positive experiences (e.g.workplace benefits that employees experience on a daily basis) than from larger positive experiences that only occur infrequently (e.g., the annual bonus). Modest workplaces perks, such as a high-end cappuccino maker or artisan pastries, might appear frivolous, but in many instances they pay for themselves by elevating employees’ moods, making a workplace feel distinct, and improving productivity.
Some perks are wiser than others.
Organizational perks can do more than sustain positive moods, they can also nudge employees into making better decisions. Having fruit and almonds available in conference rooms, for example, promotes healthy eating. Complimentary passes to a nearby gym encourage employees to exercise. Another smart perk worth considering: incentivizing employees to live near the office.
Imo, a Silicon Valley tech company, for example, pays employees who live within five miles of work an extra $500 a month. It’s by no means a small amount, yet the company views it as an investment. Shorter commute times mean their employees get better sleep, spend more time with their families, and presumably, have closer relationships with colleagues who also happen to be neighbors. When living near the office is unrealistic, rewarding employees who carpool together can also deliver considerable benefits to an organization.
II. Action Items for Emerging Leaders
Ask for variety.
It’s easy to grow bored with a job that involves doing a small number of tasks over and over. When the work we do becomes predictable, our attention falters and our engagement slips. Research shows that employees whose work involves a wide range of activities tend to enjoy greater job satisfaction, in part because variety delays adaptation. For a happier work experience, look for new ways of applying your skills instead of hoping that the same old routine will somehow recapture your interest.
Feeling unhappy can be good for you.
While the mind is designed to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, research suggests that interludes of unhappiness allow us to better enjoy the positives in our lives when they occur. When we experience anger or sadness, there’s typically a good reason for it. Noticing the way you feel and then examining the reasons behind the emotion-whether at work or elsewhere-can help you identify the changes you need to make to foster genuine happiness.
Find a way of making gratitude work for you.
Appreciating the things that are going right in your life is a basic requirement for sustained happiness. Yet gratitude is not something that often comes naturally. Journaling about the positive aspects of your day is one approach, and several smartphone apps (like Happy Tapper and Gratitude Journal 365) send automatic reminders that make the process easy. Some even allow users to take photos of positive events, doing away with the writing requirement that turns so many people off.
Research shows that happy people tend to be more effective at their jobs. When we’re feeling good about our lives, we connect with others more easily, think more optimistically and free up valuable mental resources to focus on novel ideas. Happiness also breeds confidence. Positive moods make our situation feel more controllable, which can give us the grit to power through challenging tasks. How exactly do you foster happiness in the workplace? Well, very simple, by taking a cue from casinos and embedding psychological triggers into the employee experience that promote a positive mind-set.
WHY WORKPLACE HAPPINESS IS HARD TO FIND
One of the more distressing facts about human nature is that we are not particularly good at staying happy. Positive emotions wear off. Whether we’ve earned a promotion, landed a new client, or moved to corner office, with time we tend to return to our happiness baseline. Often the process doesn’t take very long.
Consider what happens when you order a wonderful dish at a new restaurant. The first bite is exquisite. The second is very good. By the third, you’re ready to share. The more you eat, the less enjoyment you derive from your meal, until after a certain threshold you couldn’t bear another bite. Chances are, the next time you return to the restaurant and order the same dish, it will taste like it’s missing something. It is: novelty. The good news about our inclination to adapt is that the same psychological process responsible for acclimating us to positive events is also at work when we experience a tragedy.
Studies show that lottery winners, for example, return to their happiness baseline roughly one year after receiving their windfall. Accident victims show a similar pattern. Just 12 months after losing the use of their legs, paraplegics estimate that they will feel just as happy in the future as did before their injury. Our brains are programmed to adapt to our circumstances, and for good reason. Too happy and we’d lack any ambition; too sad and we’d never leave our beds. To some, learning about the existence of a happiness baseline can feel incredibly liberating. It means that no matter how badly you screw up your next project, inevitably your disappointment will wear off, and you’ll return to your happiness set point. So why not take some risks? After all, you’re working with an emotional safety net.
To others, it can seem downright depressing. If happiness is fleeting what’s the point of even trying? It’s the reason some researchers have equated the human condition to a “happiness treadmill.” We struggle as hard as we can, only to remain stuck in the same emotional place. Studies examining ways of slowing the adaptation process as a means of prolonging happy experiences show that If we can prevent ourselves from habituating too quickly to positive experiences, the reasoning goes, we can sustain the initial high for longer periods of time.
How do you delay adaptation? Here’s a look at what we’ve learned so far.
INSIGHT #1 – Frequency is more important than size.
Every positive experience takes some getting used to. And the more positive events we have, the longer it takes us to return to baseline. Which leads us to our first happiness insight:
Small, frequent pleasurescan keep us happy longer than large, infrequent ones.
What this means from a practical perspective is that bringing home a 10-dollar arrangement of flowers every Friday for a month is a wiser happiness-promoting strategy than purchasing a single 40-dollar bouquet. So is spacing out weekend getaways over the course of a year instead of taking a single 2-week vacation. The more frequent our happiness boosts, the longer our mood remains above baseline.
The implications from an organizational standpoint can be profound. For one thing, we may be better off splitting up positive annual events into quarterly ones. Companies often hand out bonuses at the end of the year, but delivering smaller, quarterly bonuses may be a more effective strategy. The same logic applies to parties. Instead of spending lavishly on a single holiday party, it may be wiser to divide spending into smaller increments, providing seasonal get-togethers. The importance of frequent positive events also provides a new lens for appreciating the psychological value of office perks. Offering employees relatively inexpensive workplace benefits-for example, by purchasing a high-end espresso machine or stocking the refrigerator with interesting snacks-is more likely to sustain day-to-day happiness levels than the sporadic pay increase.
From the employee perspective, access to office perks can often do than temporarily elevate mood. It also sends an implicit signal that an organization cares about them. While financial bonuses tend to be viewed as payment for performance, perks communicate on an emotional level and provide a motivational boost. Studies show that when employees feel cared for, they are inclined to reciprocate by working harder.
INSIGHT #2: Variety prevents adaptation
Increasing the frequency of positive events isn’t the only way of delaying adaptation. So is introducing variation.
Because our brains are programmed to habituate quickly to our circumstances, we tend to tune out events that happen repeatedly, no matter how positive. Our minds slip into autopilot when our environment is predictable, conserving mental energy for when changes occur. We need new experiences to keep us emotionally engaged. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s a process that’s served us well. The inevitable boredom that arises once we adapt to our circumstances is what keeps us striving for bigger and better, not how much we’ve achieved. What it hasn’t done, however, is make us very good at savoring positive experiences when they happen. The more we do the same enjoyable things, the less attention we pay them. Which teaches us an important lesson about happiness:
Sometimes, in order to continue enjoying something we love, we need for it to temporarily disappear.
This is one reason traveling can feel so rewarding. When we go away, we break the routine of everyday life. Not having access to your bed, your car, or your favorite reading corner might hardly be noticeable when you’re traveling. But when you return, you suddenly have a newfound appreciation for the little things that contribute to your comfort. In some ways, the real benefit of a vacation is in helping us recognize the pleasures of being home. Variety helps prevent adaptation, which is why creating a happy workplace involves more than just repeating the same enjoyable activities again and again. One way of introducing variety into the workplace is by linking certain in happiness boosts to specific seasons.
Summertime barbecues, fall clambakes, Halloween pumpkin-carving contests, and winter chili cook-offs are just a sampling of seasonal events that can quickly become office traditions. Some workplaces take it one step further and design unique seasonal events that reflect their company culture. By connecting positive events with certain months of the year, organizations can enhance an activity’s emotional impact while creating an additional layer to the experience: giving employees something to look forward to.
INSIGHT #3: Unexpected pleasures deliver a bigger thrill
Picture this: You arrive at the office on a Monday morning and discover that your lobby is covered in a sea of balloons. A local band is playing by the elevator. Tuxedoed waiters are handing out breakfast hors d’oeuvres. What would you think?
When something surprising happens, our brains automatically pay closer attention, lending unexpected events greater emotional weight. We’re motivated to make sense of events we haven’t predicted devote more mental energy to thinking about them after they occur. In this way, surprises provide an emotional exclamation point enhancing the impact of any event-good or bad.
This is why the one reason the start of a romantic relationship is so alluring, is that every encounter reveals something new about your partner. With each shared activity comes a new revelation about his or her interests, history, and goals. The constant flow of surprises keeps you engaged. But with time, you get to know your partner. The discoveries stop and it’s at this point that many relationships are at risk of losing their glow.
The same can be said for most jobs. When we first join an organization, each day involves meeting new people, exploring new locations and learning new practices. Then one morning the surprises stop. We know almost everything about our workplaces, and suddenly our jobs are predictable. Given that surprises enhance the impact of an event, it’s ironic that most workplaces only use surprises to communicate negative information. A colleague is fired; a department is reorganized, a product is discontinued. Some bad news is clearly unavoidable, and there’s no changing the fact that certain information is better kept under wraps. But when events like these are unexpected, it causes us to stand up and take even more notice than we normally would. By leveraging positive surprises in the workplace, organizations can get a bigger emotional bang for their buck.
How do you surprise your employees? One idea might be renting out a movie theater and taking everyone out for the premiere of a major release. Or hiring a massage therapist to walk around the office for a day. Or paying a professional impersonator to call an employee on her birthday. The goal is not just to improve mood temporarily but to create an environment of positive expectations. The more employees anticipate good things happening, the more likely they are to find them.
INSIGHT #4: Experiences are more rewarding than objects
Suppose you’ve just wrapped up a successful year. Your client base has expanded and your revenues have soared. It’s just been announced that you can expect a larger budget in the next fiscal year. Things are going well in your division, and you want to be sure you retain your current team. What’s the best way of investing the money to make your employees happy?
When it comes to choosing between different purchases options, one line of research worth consulting is the emerging science of smarter spending. In recent years a number of psychological studies have begun investigating the happiness ROI of various products and services. What they’ve discovered is that purchasing life experiences (for example, a hot-air balloon ride, a wine-tasting class, or a vacation to Italy) tends to provide a greater happiness boost than spending a comparable amount on material objects (for example, a flat-screen television, a fancy suit, or a purse).
Why is this the case? For one thing, it’s because experiences tent to involve other people, and being in the company of others elevates our happiness. Experiences also expose us to new ideas and surroundings, growing our intellectual curiosity and expanding our horizons. Material objects, on the other hand, are often used in private, when we’re away from friends and family, and rarely entail novel adventures.
Unlike material objects, experiences tend to improve with age. Think back to a vacation you’ve taken in the past. Did you have a good time? Research shows we remember events more positively the further they are in our rear-view mirror. But that overpriced watch buried in your dresser? It’s suffered a few scratches and no longer seems quite as chic as the day you bought it. When facing a choice on departmental spending, it’s worth keeping this insight in mind. Investing in employee experience –by sending staff members to conferences, sponsoring exciting group outings, or giving away a weekend getaway in place of a small bonus- can yield a bigger happiness boost than investing in new furniture or upgrading your phone system.
One cautionary note: If your office equipment is a constant source of frustration and prevents your employees from doing their jobs, investing in your business infrastructure makes good sense. But if your team is relatively satisfied with their office setup, it’s then that you should favor experiences. Not only are experiences likely to lift the moods at your office, they can also foster stronger connections among colleagues and help them see their workplace as a vehicle for continued growth.
INSIGHT #5: We don’t always know why we’re happy
Our minds absorb an enormous amount of information about our surroundings and use it to guide our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
And much of this process happens outside of our conscious awareness. One feature of our environment that we rarely pay attention to is scent.
Research shows than when we’re exposed to positive scents-as we are standing outside a cafe, a candle shop, or a bakery, for example-we tend to become happier and we don’t know why. Interestingly, the change in mood often affects our behavior. We become more helpful, less competitive, and show greater generosity. A recent study found that stores that spray pleasing scents through their ventilation systems (a practice known in the industry as aroma marketing) are rated as more colorful, cheerful, and modern. Shoppers also perceive the products sold at these locations as “higher quality” and more “up-to-date,’ which explains why they’re more willing to return to scented stores than their unscented competitors.
The fact that scents can unconsciously put people in positive moods hasn’t escaped the attention of casinos. It’s no accident that many of the world’s most successful gambling destinations continue pump fragrances onto their gaming floors, despite the fact that smoking at their facilities (which used to be the main reason for modifying casino’s scent) has been banned for years. Research shows that slot machines near pleasing scents rake in a stunning 50% more than those in unscented locations.
Music can also lift our mood unconsciously. Our heart rates tend to synchronize to the sounds we hear, which is why techno can send our pulses racing while the slow croon of Frank Sinatra can help us relax. Retailers often use music as a tool for influencing shoppers, and the research shows it’s effective. When the music in our environment is slow, we tend to move accordingly. Studies show that customers linger in stores and restaurants that play relaxing music, which often leads them to purchase more. For bar owners, however, a different strategy applies. The faster the music, the more quickly people drink, and the larger their tab.
Obviously no office wants to smell like a casino or sound like a bar. Yet the findings do hint at subtle ways ordinary workplaces can tweak their environments to promote better moods. Lavender sachets in the break room or fresh flowers near the entrance can provide a modest psychological boost. So too can jazz music in the hallway or a collection of employees’ favorite tunes playing in the restrooms. No one change is enough to single-handedly transform a work environment. But together, they add up.
INSIGHT #6: A grateful mind is a happy one
There’s another thing we can do to foster happiness in the workplace:
Train ourselves to be grateful.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds. In many ways,we’re implicitly encouraged to tune out the positive when we’re working. Much of our day is consumed with thinking about future deadlines and tasks we have yet to accomplish. The process can take a toll. Over time a continuous focus on what’s missing trains our minds to center on the negative. It’s rare that we pause to savor what we’ve achieved. The moment one grueling project ends, the next begins. But by taking a moment to direct our attention to things that are going right, we enhance our enjoyment and stave off the process of adaptation. Gratitude helps us appreciate positive events when they happen, making them last longer. We restore a balance to our thinking that elevates our moods and prevents negative emotions like resentment, envy, and regret from creeping in.
Psychologists have found that simply asking people to identify specific aspects of their lives for which they are thankful alters their perspectives in powerful ways. When we build appreciation for our current circumstances, we feel happier about the present and more optimistic about the future, which improves the quality of our work. Grateful people also recover from stress more quickly and behave more generously toward those around them. An activity that researchers recommend for cultivating gratitude in our lives is jotting down positive events, either electronically or in a notebook. The simple practice of keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to promote a healthier mental outlook and lower one’s chances of growing depressed.
While journaling may work well for individuals, implementing the practice on an organizational level presents considerable challenges. The moment you start requiring employees to document positive events, the practice gains all the appeal of filling out time sheets, So what can you do to help employees-and yourself-feel grateful?
One solution involves setting aside time every few weeks for employees to share their recent accomplishments as a group. Think of a traditional staff meeting-with an important twist. In most organizations, staff meetings involve a small subset of colleagues discussing tasks that have not been completed. It’s designed to bring everyone in a department up to speed on current projects and create plans for the week ahead. While traditional staff meetings certainly have their place, their focus on what’s missing does little to promote a sense of gratitude. An alternative to this approach is to include a broader group, inviting employees from a range of departments for a planned get-together. Instead of asking everyone to talk about what they haven’t done, use the meeting as an opportunity for staff members to share what they are most proud of having accomplished since the group last met. It’s fascinating to watch the process unfold.
When people are asked to talk about their accomplishments in front of others, they often try to shift the focus away from themselves. Inevitably, during meetings like this an employee will thank a colleague for a contribution he or she has made. And when that happens, others are likely to mimic this behavior by recognizing their coworkers and the help they’ve provided. Soon the practice of expressing gratitude-not just about the employees own circumstances but toward their colleagues-catches on. By subtly shifting the focus from what’s missing to what’s beenachieved, progress-focused meetings allow employees to reflect on aspects of their work that are going right, instead of falling for the “what’s missing?” trap.
Progress-focused meetings make these experiences easier to notice and more fully appreciate. What’s more, they also expose employees to the work of their colleagues, building a sense of connection between teammates, while helping everyone recognize the way their efforts are linked.
Let’s imagine this : You are in your office at work and it’s 2:14 p.m. your eyelids are feeling heavy, and now you’re stifling a yawn. A few minutes ago you arrived back in the office, fresh off a satisfying lunch. But now you’re in the throes of what is undeniably a mid-afternoon crash. You reach for your coffee mug and head for a refill when a co-worker stops you in the hall. He’s discovered an alternative treatment, he tells you. Like caffeine, it improves concentration and alleviates drowsiness. But it won’t give you heartburn or heighten your blood pressure. It’s also been clinically proven to elevate your mood, enhance your creativity, and improve your memory. Sound too good to be true?
It turns out that you used to use this technique all the time. So did your ancient ancestors. It’s called napping. Now, before you dismiss the idea of workplace napping out of hand, consider the facts. 20-to-30-minute naps have been shown to:
quicken motor reflexes
reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol
lessen the frequency of migraines and ulcers
promote weight loss
minimize the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer risk
Not bad for about the same amount of time it takes to visit a Starbucks. Some studies have shown that learning after a nap is as effective as learning after an entire night’s sleep. So why do most of us scoff at the idea of a mental reboot when our bodies signal the need for rest?
In part, it’s because we misunderstand napping. Because our energy levels dip after lunch, we tend to think feeling drowsy is a consequence of having eaten too much. However, research shows that people are equally drowsy 8 hours after waking, whether or not they’ve had lunch beforehand. If you find this hard to believe (as I did), consider the way you feel after breakfast. The first meal of the day energizes us. Why not the second?
Another napping misconception stems from the fact that people occasionally wake up from a midday rest feeling groggy, or find that it disrupts their evening sleep cycle. This problem arises if you allow yourself to sleep too deeply. Unlike nighttime rest, which involves all 5 stages of the sleep cycle [Stage 1 = Introduction to sleep; Stage 2 = Beginning of sleep; Stage 3 = Slow wave sleep; Stage 4 = Deep sleep; Stage 5 = REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage], napping is most effective when we wake before our bodies descend into deep sleep.
We have a biological need for rest that is no less pressing than our biological need for food or water. When we’re tired, less blood flow reaches the areas of our brain that are critical to thinking. We’re also less capable of forming long-term memories. Sure, we can power through the midday slog when we need to-but only at a reduced level of functioning. Perhaps the biggest reason that we continue to look down on naps, is that we have been misled into equating hours on the job with productivity. If you believe that performance is entirely a function of effort, you see anyone who takes a break as a slacker. In the past, this view had merit.
Line workers’ value wastied to the amount of hours they put in on the factory floor, but the vast majority of us don’t work in a factory anymore. In today’s knowledge economy, it’s the quality of your thinking that matters most, and quality thinking is directly tied to energy level. A related argument can be made for the growing importance of maintaining a positive mood. In a world in which most jobs involve building interpersonal connections and fostering collaborations , feeling irritable can have serious implications for performance. Research shows that when we’re tired, we get into more disagreements, and not just because we’re less patient. It’s because our ability to read other people diminishes. A brief midday rest recharges our minds and allows our memories to consolidate. It relaxes our mental filters and allows unconventional ideas to surface. It re-energizes our ability to concentrate and restores our emotional composure.
Midday napping may sound like an extravagant indulgence that coddles workers. And it’s true that employees reap considerable advantage. But the ultimate beneficiaries of allowing for rest are the companies that create the conditions for optimal functioning. No reasonable person expects to visit a gym and lift weights continuously without a break. We openly acknowledge the limitations of our muscles. But we don’t do so for our minds. Declining performance is not as readily visible to us in the office as it is in the weight room, and so we continue plodding along, oblivious to the fact that We are contributing at a fraction of the rate we were earlier. Ignoring the body’s need for recuperation or drugging it into submission may keep workers awake. What it won’t do is position them deliver their best performance.
IS SO MUCH HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
How often do you check your cell phone after leaving work? The answer might reveal your future productivity. When we deny ourselves the opportunity to recuperate, our performance invariably suffers. In many organizations, being available around the clock has be come an unspoken expectation. When a manager sends late-night mails, he implicitly endorses a round-the-dock work culture, paving the way for after-hours stress that spills over into the home, where a curt e-mail can spoil a dinner or ruin a weekend. While there are undoubtedly instances when staying connected is a legitimate necessity, it’s rare for a business to require that every team member stay logged on continuously. Moreover, it’s in a company’s interest to allow employees to recover. If an associate is frequently working late into the night and through the weekend, she is likely doing so at a cost to her long-term engagement.
It used to be the case that managers had to push employees to work harder. Today the opposite seems to be happening. In many industries, a key to retaining top talent involves protecting employees from working nonstop, which is why some pioneering organizations are starting to take matters into their own hands, leaving employees little choice but to recharge. A surprising number of companies have stopped limiting vacation time altogether, including IBM, Evernote, and Netflix: It’s a way of communicating trust in their employees and encouraging them to take the time they need when they need it.
The Lessons of Play
I. Action Items for Managers
Take up gardening.
Relying exclusively on leaders to come up with groundbreaking solutions is a remnant of the past How do today’s innovative companies stay successful? By fostering creativity from the bottom up. If we took away this insight on leadership in the information age then ”You have to think of yourself not as a designer but as a gardener’-seeding, nurturing, inspiring cultivating the ideas coming from below, and then making sure people execute them.” If great ideas are important to your company, start by creating the conditions that promote innovative thinking. Integrating play, exercise, and the occasional break have all been shown to spark creativity.
Exposing people to new and unexpected ideas makes them more creative. How do you put that insight to use? By setting aside time each week for a group viewing of an employee-nominated TED talk, or by scheduling a monthly show-and-tell on industry trends. You can also start a “You Don’t Have to Read the Book” club (as they did at Mercedes-Benz) to stimulate discussion on new ideas. Creativity doesn’t happen when we sink into a routine. It’s when we make exploration a habit that we find unexpected solutions.
Redirect your inner workaholic.
As a manager, if you sit at your desk for 12 hours a day and spend your weekends churning out e-mails, the message is clear: Disconnecting is bad. To get the most from your team and keep them engaged, give your employees the space to recharge. Go ahead and send those evening and weekend e-mails if you want to, but program them to arrive during work hours, so that your employees can spend their off-hours being present at home.
II. Action Items for Emerging Leaders
Put your unconscious to work.
Conscious deliberation is useful for solving simple problems, but when the challenge facing you is complex, you’re more likely to find clearer insights after a period of incubation. To get the most out of unconscious thinking, do the work of getting clarity about your goal and absorbing the data at your disposal. Then, distract yourself by taking a walk, reading an article, or working on something unrelated. Research suggests a 30-minute diversion is often ideal. When you return to your original assignment, you’re likely to see things differ entirely than before you left.
mornings for learning and look for insight at night.
internal clock that causes your body to feel sluggish in the
afternoon also influences other aspects of your performance.
Studies show that cognitive skills are sharpest in the
morning, when working memory peaks, but
that as the day wears on we tend to retain less. Feeling
tired also has its upsides. The more fatigued we are, the
weaker our internal mental filter, which means more unusual associations come to
mind. When you’re looking for a creative solution at
work, try reexamining it later in the evening. You’re likely to
discover a novel and unexpected way of seeing things.
exercise as part of your job.
Exercise doesn’t just improve your health; it gives you a mental edge. Many of us neglect going to the gym, especially during weeknights, when we’re concerned about falling behind at work. But what recent research shows is that regular exercise can boost your memory, elevate your creativity, and improve your efficiency. In short, it can make you a better employee. The more complexity you deal with at work, the more value you can derive from keeping your body physically fit.
I am sure that many of you already had some days at work , when you put a lot of focus to finish something very important than you literally skip all the breaks and you even work overtime, just to be sure that you make no mistake and to deliver your stuff exactly as expected. Unfortunately when you do that, exactly the opposite happens.You do more mistakes, you deliver crap and then you just come to the conclusion that you wasted your time being very inefficient. Almost 100% sure your work must be redone.
What the research demonstrates in such cases is that when it comes to solving a difficult problem or looking for a creative solution, working too hard can backfire. Conscious attention narrows our focus, preventing us from processing complex information and seeing the big picture. We get stuck. And the longer we wrestle with a particular problem, the more difficult it becomes to consider novel alternatives. What that effectively leads us to is an unlikely conclusion: Sometimes, what appears to the outside world like slacking off is actually the path to smarter decisions and more innovative ideas. Frequently our most brilliant insights come in the gaps betweenhard work, when we let our guard down and allow disparate ideas to emerge, in those moments when we distract ourselves with a walk to the restroom, the commute home, or the in-flight movie on a business trip.
Think back to your last truly great work-related idea. Now ask yourself: Where were you? Chances are that you weren’t sitting behind your desk. In many ways, problem solvers are like artists. Taking a few steps back provides painters with a fresh perspective on their subject, lending them a new angle for approaching their work. Problem solving follows a similar recipe, but it’s not always the physical distance that we need as much as the psychological distance – mental space for new insights to bloom. Walking away doesn’t just put our unconscious to work: It helps us see our problem with a new perspective. We become less emotionally attached and free ourselves from the influence of those in our immediate surroundings.
One way many organizations – particularly those whose employees are engaged in high-level thinking, like Google and 3M – leverage this insight is by deliberately scheduling play into the workday. Play may seem like the domain of children, and in some ways that’s the point. We are naturally creative when we’re young, in part because our brains have not quite developed the capacity to prejudge and censor our ideas. Putting ourselves in a childlike mind-set opens us up to alternative ways of thinking. As we age, we’re trained to believe that play is wasteful, that unless we’re producing or consuming information, our time is being squandered. But as the complexity of our work increases, play can actually serve as a vehicle for innovation, by providing opportunities for unconscious thinking to occur. But there’s more to play than simply distraction. When we engage in play we’re rewarded for exploring new possibilities, for practicing problem solving, and for taking risks. All of which helps us cultivate an attitude of curiosity and interest, often benefiting our work. Feeling playful also makes us more optimistic, which increases our willingness to take on challenges and helps us maintain a flexible mind-set. Then comes the question: What’s the right way of incorporating play into the workplace?
Twitter has a climbing wall, Zynga lines its hallways with arcades, and Google boasts several volleyball courts. Does that mean work amenities are the solution to getting employees playing regularly? Well… not necessarily. Simply because Play is a mind-set, not an activity. It has less to do with a fun diversion that happens to take place at the office, than it does with the attitudes managers express toward taking time out for exploration.
Ultimately, what’s important is for employees to feel safe about pursuing the occasional tangential interests without having to worry relentlessly about outcomes. That’s what contributes most to a playful atmosphere. Sure, it’s nice for employees to have access to exciting activities at the office. It certainly makes the opportunities for play more common. But placing a €5,000 billiards table in your break room won’t guarantee a playful work environment-especially if members of your management team barely touch it and there is an unspoken stigma about taking breaks.
MAKES US SMARTER
All this talk of fun and games might lead you to believe that our best insights come when we let ourselves rest. But as it turns out, sometimes the best approach to jump-starting the mind is to strain the body. Most of us have come across research showing that exercise improves mood. Recent studies have found that a regular workout regimen is an even more powerful mood elevator than prescription antidepressants. What’s less well known, however, is the profound impact exercise has on learning, memory, and creativity. To understand how exercise can influence your productivity at work, it helps to consider what our bodies were originally designed to do. The human body was built to expend a great deal of energy on a daily basis. Our ancient ancestors had to walk between 10 to 15 km a day just to find enough food to survive.
Today, of course, most of us spend the majority of our day in front of a computer, sitting. And that relative lack of mobility creates an imbalance in the body’s functioning. It’s not the only way we differ from our ancestors. Compared to Paleolithic man, our life is considerably morenerve-racking. Sure, our environment is no longer plagued by free-roaming predators, but at the same time, the number of stressors we’re exposed to on a daily basis has increased exponentially. Many of us have very little control over our schedule. We face deadlines on a constant basis. And thanks to a 24-hour news cycle, we’re continuously reminded of every murder, plane crash, and weather disaster that happens to coincide with our existence on the planet. On the whole, there’s a lot more for us to get worried about. And the tension adds up.
Encountering threatening events activates a fight-or-flight response, releasing chemicals into the bloodstream that propel our body to move into action. When we deny it that instinct, we risk incurring side effects that include anxiety, attention deficits, and depression. Exercise restores the balance. The body was designed to burn off excess energy through physical exertion. Emotional buildup requires physiological relief. Interestingly, when we exercise, we not only heighten our moods with endorphins but also prime our brains to absorb more information. Neurological studies show that when we exert ourselves physically we produce a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) that promotes the growth of neurons, especially in the memory regions of the brain. A 2007 study found that just 2-3 minutes sprints were enough to elevate BDNF secretion in runners, corresponding to a boost in memorization by a stunning 20 percent. Then: Why would exercise promote better memory?
The body was designed to be pushed, and in pushing our bodies we push our brains too. Learning
and memory evolved in concert with motor functions that allowed
our ancestors to track down food, so as far as our brain is concerned, if we’re not moving, there’s
need to learn anything. The cognitive
jolt we experience following exercise can also yield a more creative product.
Another study, for example, found that just 30 minutes on a treadmill led to improved creative performance and that the benefits endured for a full 2 hours. Running has also been linked with greater cognitive flexibility. The improvement in mood, coupled with increased blood flow to the brain, provides joggers with a significant mental boost. To their credit, a number of organizations have taken these findings to heart and looked for ways of incorporating exercise into the workplace. At many companies it’s no longer surprising to enter an office and discover a receptionist sitting on a large rubber ball. Or to learn that her manager has given up sitting altogether and now stands all day in front of an elevated desk. Most organizations can’t afford an in-house gym. But they can afford to give employees wireless headsets that allow them to walk around their office during long conference calls. Another low-cost approach is: offering employees free weights they can use over the course of the day. Rewarding daytime gym-goers with an extended lunch can also benefit workplace performance.
It was also proven that on days when employees exercised during lunch, a majority reported interacting more with colleagues managing their time better, and meeting deadlines more effectively. The gym isn’t the only place employees can get their exercise fix. There are for example companies which keep bikes in the lobby so that employees can go for a ride during lunch. Or companies which encourage employees to bike to work by offering them an incentive of 50 cents per km. Or another method is enticing employees with a desirable destination to head to by foot. A complimentary art gallery membership to which workers can go for a quick stroll is one example. Organizations can also offer to reimburse teammates who take an internal meeting on the road and pass a nearby cafe.
Walking meetings may not be ideal for every conversation, but they are likely to spark new ideas by taking employees out of the office and exposing them to a different environment. The shared elevation in heart rate that comes from walking together can also provide an added benefit: better workplace relationships. Exercising with a colleague can therefore do more than improve your health. It can also make you more likable.
So far we’ve seen how unconscious thinking, play, and exercise can all contribute to a smarter workplace. But when it comes to fostering innovation, is that really all it takes? The answer, of course, is no. A well-timed diversion can help employees process information they already have in a way that leads to better insights. But when you’re looking for outside-the-box solutions, sometimes what you really need is a way of encouraging them to be mentally adventurous.
Some people will say product knowledge is the most important thing to do before to deliver the best recommendation for maximizing the profitability, while other people will prefer to make a cross-industry expertise instead. In reality the product knowledge and cross-industry expertise are not mutually exclusive. A good marketing manager does both. But it does illustrate an important point: What we create is a function of the information we consume. Our minds naturally search for connections between ideas. And where we direct our attention determines the combinations we find.
Whenwe stare at a problem using a single lens, being creative is difficult get stuck in old ways of thinking. To uncover new solutions we need to break our mental frames. A diet of diverse mental stimulation is a vital component of creative thinking. Researches have indicated that creative geniuses have a surprisingly high failure/rate. But that is no all. It was also shown that on average, creative geniuses tend to have more unusual interests and hobbies than their less successful peers, which likely contributes to their seeing problems differently. Steve Jobs for example said in an interview in 1996 that:
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty, because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. The more ideas we’re exposed to, the more likely we are to find novel solutions. Provide enough inputs and new outputs will emerge.
The challenge in most workplaces is that employees are exposed to the same information day after day, making it difficult to come up with new and innovative solutions. But a growing number of companies, inspired by well-known success stories at Google, Yahoo and Facebook, are trying to break that mental rut. They’ve begun inviting employees to set aside a portion of their time each week for free-form exploration and for pursuing projects of their choosing. The only requirement is that their efforts have the potential for benefiting the company in some way. The practice isn’t quite as unstructured as it first sounds. At Google, for example, where developers devote up to 20% of time to self-authored projects, employees are encouraged to work together in groups. The interpersonal dynamic and shared responsibility make productive team projects a point of pride. Employees naturally want their team’s contribution to stand out, because, among other things, it means elevated organizational status.
Handing employees the keys to 20% of their time may not be workable or even advisable in every industry. But it does have a few undeniable benefits that are worth considering, no matter what business you’re in. By asking employees to identify a work-related interest and empowering them to actively deepen their knowledge base, organizations like Google are turning employees from order takers into job co-creators. It’s an approach that helps employees feel autonomous, motivates them to keep an eye out for new business opportunities, and turns every employee into a developer.
With 20% time, there’s always another product in development. For Google the gambit has clearly been paying off: Gmail, Google News, Google Earth, and AdSense- an advertising vehicle that nets Google $10 billion in revenue a year-are just some of the products that were developed during 20% time. Which raises the question: Would Google be nearly as profitable if the employees sat around waiting for Larry Page and Sergey Brin to tell them what to do? The answer is obvious: Of course NOT.
Working from home is a concept which started to gain more and more popularity in companies from all sort of industries. Many people agree that “A workforce culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation,” and also that “Technology is great; it helps us do things more efficiently and cheaper. But it has also led to a breakdown in human interaction that is bad not only for humankind in general, but for business. Therefore there’s much of debate about this. Instead of asking whether employees are more productive at home or at work – to which the obvious answer is, it depends on the specific individual and the particular task – what we should have been asking is:
What home environments can teach us about building a better workplace?
Numerous studies have found that in many cases, employees who have the option of telecommuting are more productive than their office-bound counterparts. But what is it about working from home that often boosts our output? And more important: How do we apply those insights to the office so that employees can be more effective at work?
In fairness, some comforts of home just can’t be replicated, no matter how hard a company tries. Take shaving 2 hours off an employee’s commute. Eliminating travel time reduces employees’ stress levels and allows them to spend the best hours of their day doing their job. It’s a legitimate benefit that deserves serious consideration. But there’s more to working from home than simply less travel. Consider access to a quiet, private space, for example. It’s impossible to excel at challenging mental work when we’re under a constant barrage of e-mails, conference calls, and meetings. Our brains can only handle so much. The cognitive bandwidth we each have is limited, which is why distractions can be so harmful. Allowing disruptions to consume our attention leaves us with fewer resources to attend to the work that matters. Workplace distractions also slow us down more than we might recognize. A quick visit from a colleague might only take 30 seconds but the cognitive reverberations of that diversion can last much longer.
A University of California-Irvine study found that when we’re distracted from an activity in which we are fully immersed, it takes us average of more than 20 minutes just to regain our previous momentum unlike in the workplace, there’s also less pressure in a quiet home environment to multitask. While we like to believe that we’re good at multitasking, research suggests it’s rarely an effective strategy. What appears to us as tackling several activities at once often involves simply shuffling between tasks, for which there are serious consequences. When we multitask, our performance suffers, and our stress levels spike. In part, it’s because redirecting our attention from one task to another depletes our cognitive resources, leaving us with less mental energy than if we had simply devoted our full attention to one activity at a time. Researchers are also finding that chronic multitaskers – those of us who can’t help but read e-mails while talking on the phone for example – are especially prone to experiencing boredom, anxiety and depression.
Another benefit of working from home: personalization. At home we get to control many aspects of our environment – everything from the setup of our office to the lighting of our desk to the temperature in our room-which improves our comfort level and allows us to direct our focus to our work. Bur personal comfort isn’t the only reason personalization is important. Human beings are territorial animals. When we have the freedom to shape our surroundings, we experience a heightened sense of personal control, which reduces stress and improves our confidence. In contrast, believing that we lack control over our environment leads to a decline in motivation. Psychologists have found that organizations that encourage employees to customize their work-spaces tend to have happier workers. Not only does decorating an office make employees feel more comfortable, it also promotes a sense of personal ownership and belonging.
When we work from home, we also have access to restorative experiences, like glancing out a window, going out for a run, or taking a nap. At most organizations, opportunities like these are rare. Having the freedom to recharge in ways that many workplaces discourage, undoubtedly plays a role in facilitating a telecommuter’s productivity. It’s no wonder so many employees believe they are more productive from their home office. It’s because in many cases, they are. When we’re placed in an environment that’s conducive to complex thinking, our minds respond. But the real lesson of telecommuting, the one that every CEO would do well to consider, is that there’s something deeply wrong with the design of a workplace when the only way for an employee to feel productive is to physically leave the building. When coming in early staying late, and working weekends become implicit requirements for keeping up, this much is clear: The current model is broken. So what’s the alternative? Well…Telecommuting could be one option to be taken into consideration.
What the research tells us is that we can enhance employee performance by leveraging their surroundings. That we can foster better outcomes by designing environments that help employees meet the cognitive demands of their work. Unfortunately, that’s far from the way most offices are designed. Instead, the vast majority of organizations embrace a one-size-fits-all approach, asking every employee to toil in the same setting, regardless of their actual work assignments. Marketers, accountants and salespeople are all lumped together into identical office spaces and expected to excel at their jobs, with little to no environmental accommodation. But there’s an alternative to this approach. And it’s one that’s rapidly gaining favor in the technology sector – an industry that’s been at the forefront of applying psychological insights to workplace design for many cutting-edge companies, such as Google, Cisco, and eBay.
The model for the modern workplace is no longer an evolved version of the factory floor, but a modified version of the college campus. What can companies learn from a college campus? Well, they learn how to create an environment that fosters self-direction, for one thing. Within a college setting, students receive a set of expectations at the beginning of the semester. How they approach their work is up to them. If they succeed, they are rewarded with good grades and the prospects of a better future. If they fail, they may be asked to leave. Universities offer students a range of settings, from private and semiprivate dorm rooms to quiet libraries to communal spaces like cafeterias, a quad, and the gym. The campus serves as a tool. It’s up to students to utilize the facilities and develop their own formulas for success.
Many organizations are now designing workplaces that embrace a similar approach, offering employees a variety of settings and giving them the option of choosing their own paths. Employees receive a desk of their own, access to a selection of locations designated for quiet focus work, and a range of communal spaces that facilitate collaboration, as well as spontaneous interactions. Depending on the type of work a company does, they can also choose to incorporate some fun, eclectic designs, creating an assortment of vibes (a café, a quiet library, an inspiration room) that employees can draw upon to match their project. The value of this method is that it allows employees to adapt their setting to the demands of their work, instead of the other way around. When companies offer employees a choice of location, they don’t just create an environment that better positions workers to succeed – they empower their team members, demonstrating trust in their decision-making abilities. There’s another benefit to providing employees with a spectrum of opinions, and that’s creating an environment that’s rich in both cavesand campfires.
In order to describe our evolutionary penchant for both quiet, restorative spaces and interactive, group settings it’s enough to see that some of us have personalities that make caves more appealing, while others have personalities that draw us to campfires. But we all need access to both settings in order to thrive, which is what the campus model delivers. It allows people on both extremes to find their preferred environment in a single workplace. A campus approach may sound complicated or expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. Sure, having the Googleplex’s 26 acres at your disposal would make it easier. But even smaller offices can zone spaces according to activity, turning the corner office into a public “thinking space” where employees come to focus can do far more for a company’s Rate-Of-Investment than using the same room for barricading its most talented executive. And when spare rooms aren’t available, room dividers and sound machines can be used to create distinctive spaces with a unique feel.
In PART 1 (see my previous post) we encountered a difficult question:
How do you choose among cubicles, private offices, and open spaces when all three present significant downsides?
There is a simple answer: You don’t. By breaking free of the single space mind-set, organizations can leverage many of the productivity insights as I’ve just mentioned in Part 1 and Part 2. One thing the research has taught us is that no single environment is conducive to every task. By offering a selection of options, companies can support both focus work and collaboration, using the space they have to enhance their employees’ efforts which brings us back full circle.
Imagine a hallway with three doors. Door N° 1 leads to a room with plants, tall ceilings, and expansive views. It’s where you go to find big ideas. Behind door N°2 is a small soundproof room with bare walls and a healthy supply of red pens. It’s where you go to tweak, edit, and root out mistakes. Enter door N° 3 and you’re in an open-plan space, where you and your colleagues can park your laptops, grab a snack, and do your thinking in the company of others. It’s where you go when you’re looking for a collaborative spark. We can continue fantasizing about this workplace. Or we can build it.
The Lessons of Workplace Design
I. Action Items for Managers
with the end in mind.
Some activities require disciplined, distraction-free
attention. Others benefit from instant
communication and collaborative interactions. The best
companies design workplaces with the end in mind creating
spaces that facilitate the work their employees do. No
single environment is effective for every task, which is why
more and more companies are creating hybrid spaces that
offer employees a range of uses.
like a caveman.
Many of the insights shared by evolutionary thinkers can be easily applied to enhance office settings. Some design elements, like the addition of plants, aquariums, and images of nature, are relatively inexpensive. Others, like offering plenty of natural light and seating with views of the outdoors, are worth considering when selecting or designing a new space.
Brand your workplace experience.
Great companies do more than
make their employees comfortable. They
craft experiences that make their workplace distinct. A
unique workplace communicates an organization’s priorities, demonstrates
managerial competence, and grows employee engagement. You
can start by mapping out your organizational touchpoints
(like your lobby, bathroom, and break room) and find
ways of enhancing each employee experience in a way that is
consistent with your brand.
II. Action Items for Emerging Leaders
your psychological comfort.
Many employees rarely give much consideration to the decor of their workplaces. Research suggests that they might be more productive if they did. The more comfortable we are, the more cognitive resources we have available for focusing on our work. Which is why taking the time to personalize your workspace (to the extent that you can), from modifying the layout and direction of the furniture to making even modest changes, such as adjusting the height of your monitor or the amount of lighting available at your desk, can have a reliable able effect on your productivity.
your attention, step outside.
Much of the work we do
requires deep concentration, of which we have only a limited
supply, But studies show that we can replenish our mental resources
by going outdoors. When we’re in natural settings,
it’s easier to let our attention wander and allow our minds to
recharge. No matter how well your office is designed, leaving
it for brief periods can help make you more effective.
a workplace soundtrack.
We often take for granted the noise levels in our environment, yet studies reveal that sound can influence our performance in surprisingly powerful ways. Leaving the office not an option? A pair of headphones can do the trick. Websites like Coffitivity.com recreate the low hum of a café, which research suggests can provide a creative boost, while Simplynoise.com offers the constant swish of white noise to mask distractions when your work requires deep concentration.
As we most of us working in an office, it is generally agreed that our performance at work is strongly shaped by our work environment. And one very important factor at workplace is How the Office is designed.
Going back in time, some 50 to 55 years ago the typical office consisted of a vast open space, with rows and rows of identical desks crammed tightly together. Employees were afforded little in the way of privacy, which was by design.The bullpen office, as it was known, was a natural extension of the factory floor. The goal was to keep everyone visible, as a means of ensuring that they stayed on task. Since then different attempts were done in order to improve work experience in the office.
Around 1968-70 Cubicles were introduced to address the need for personal space and privacy. Unfortunately they achieved neither. In the 1970s, the average worker was allotted 500 square – office space. In 2010, that number was down to 200 square feet. Privacy is hardly fairing much better, while a cubicle’s panels may prevent employees from making eye contact, privacy consists of more than just not seeing someone who sits a few feet away. Acoustic privacy is equally vital. Hearing someone you can’t see can often be more of a distraction than having them in full view.
Studies show that working in a cubicle can be mentally draining psychologically stressful, and physiologically harmful. Being subject to constant disruption, high noise levels, and a lack of personal space elevates our anxiety levels and raises our blood pressure, which takes a toll on the body’s immune system. When employees are continuously stressed, their motivation, performance, and satisfaction are bound to plummet, because they have less energy to bring to their work.
To be fair, the alternatives to cubicles have plenty of downsides of their own. Private offices eat up a lot of real estate, seal employees off from one another, and introduce barriers to communication. Frequently, the higher up in an organization you go, the more space you’re allotted and the more inaccessible you become. Status begets isolation, which can have a crippling effect on teams whose work depends on collaboration. Innovation, it is often argued, comes from spontaneous interaction. It’s hard to have those unplanned encounters when seeing other people requires an Outlook meeting invitation.
In recent years, a growing number of organizations have begun rejecting both the cubicle and the corner/private office, embracing an open-plan layout. Advocates contend that placing everyone in the same location promotes collaboration and fosters better communication. It’s an egalitarian approach that affords every staffer the same amount of space. In a world where success is predicated upon effective team-work, what better way of making sure people work together than by eliminating obstacles to communication and ensuring that everyone is treated equally?
It’s a noble idea. But does it work? The research raises some serious concerns. While open-plan designs may increase communication between colleagues, they often do so at a cost to individual work. When our office is riddled with disruptions, we end up consuming the very mental resources we need to think clearly. Ironically, the frustration we experience when we’re not getting our work done inevitably interferes with our ability to collaborate. It’s hard to feel cheery toward teammates when you constantly feel like you’re behind.
Some also question whether having colleagues so accessible is really such a good thing. Many studies show that people have shorter and more superficial conversations in open offices because they’re self-conscious about being overheard. So sure, open spaces might get you a larger number of conversations, but not all communication is equally valuable. And even ifcommunication were anunqualified good, it’s worth remembering that collaboration represents just one facet of what it means to be productive.
All of which
should make one thing abundantly clear: If Cubicles, Private Offices and Open Space
are none of them the best options to design an office, what is a company to do?
Well… alternatives exist, it’s just up to each organization to decide what is
better for them.
THE CAVEMAN’S GUIDE TO BUILDING A BETTER OFFICE
Ask the average CEO how to optimize a workspace and they might suggest you consult with an interior designer. Ask the same question of an evolutionary psychologist and he’ll direct you to a very different set of experts: our ancient ancestors.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that many of our current design preferences can be traced back to our shared history on the savanna. We’re drawn to environments that promoted our survival as hunter-gatherers, and feel uneasy in situations that would have put our forefathers at risk. These preferences, they argue, are largely unconscious. We simply experience safe settings as pleasurable and dangerous ones as repellent, without being able to identify exactly why.
One example: Most of us instinctively enjoy sitting in sheltered locations that overlook expansive areas like parks and oceans. Think waterfront property or apartments overlooking Central Park in New York. In the past, the desire for settings that offered security and a view of our surroundings kept us alive and positioned us to find our next meal. Locations offering prospect and refuge are inherently pleasing, while areas that deny us shelter or a view tend to generate discomfort. We no longer need these features in order to survive, yet we can’t help but prefer them.
Brain imaging research
demonstrates the deep-seated nature
of these preferences: Our desire for prospect and refuge is so strong,
it even affects our perception of
art. A 2006 study found that the pleasure centers of the
brain consistently light up when we’re viewing landscapes, especially when their vantage point is one of refuge. Our
desire for safe locations also explains why sitting with
our backs exposed can leave us feeling tense. We don’t enjoy
having others sneak up on us and seek to minimize
potential threat. This is one reason that restaurant booths
fill up more quickly than freestanding tables.It
seems our ancient ancestors felt the same way.
Another evolutionary insight: We’re happiest when we’re close to outdoors. As hunter-gatherers, being outside was essential to our survival. It meant proximity to food, water, and other people. An extensive body of work reveals that nature is essential for psychological functioning. Having a view of the outdoors has also been shown to promote performance in the workplace. Employees who sit near a window are better at staying on task, show greater interest in their work, and report more loyalty to their company.
Research even suggests that the amount of direct sunlight entering an office can reliably predict the level of employee satisfaction in a workplace. What is it about access to nature that makes us feel better? Some experts believe exposure to sunlight plays a major role. A 2013 study found that employees whose offices have windows sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night than those laboring in windowless rooms. Another study published the same year found that after the sun’s rays hit our skin, our bodies release nitric oxide, a compound that dilates the blood vessels and lowers our blood pressure.
Others believe that the benefits of nature extend beyond the physiological. A number of researchers argue that natural settings are also cognitively rejuvenating and help us restore our mental resources. In contrast to the overwhelming stimulation we often encounter at work, where we’re frequency inundated with calls, e-mails, and text messages for hours on end, natural settings engage our interest but demand very little of our attention. We have the freedom to let our minds wander, noticing as much or as little as we like, entering a state of “soft fascination.” The result is an elevation in mood as well as replenished mental energy that improves our memory and enhances our creativity.
Studies show that the mere presence of plants can also provide surprisingly large benefits. Office workers report feeling healthier and more energized when their workplace features live plants and fresh flowers. When views and plants aren’t available, even reminders of nature appear to help. Research suggests that access to aquariums and fireplaces put us at ease and open us up to connecting with others. Pictures of landscapes make us less anxious. Brief exposure to blue and green, colors ever-present in fertile environments rich in vegetation, water, and nourishment, make us feel safe and improve our creative output. It’s not hard for the evolutionary psychologist to see why so many offices fail to engage their employees. Depriving people of sunlight restricting their views, and seating them with their backs exposed is not a recipe for success-it’s a recipe for chronic anxiety. So is placing workers in expansive rooms, inundating them with stimulation, and failing to provide them with an area for refuge, where they can recover from attention fatigue.
We tend to assume that employee engagement is about the work, that so long as we give talented people challenging tasks and the tools to excel, they will be happy. But that formula is incomplete. Our mind responds to the signals in our environment. And the less comfortable we are while doing our work, the fewer cognitive resources we have available. And this is why design ultimately matters. It’s because engaging employees is about creating an environment that positions people to do their best work. Paleolithic man may be long gone, but he can still teach us a few things when it comes to designing a better workplace.
USING SPACE TO TELL A
Building a workplace that supports employees’ performance is clearly a worthwhile endeavor. But it’s not the only way of using workplace design to benefit an organization. We can compare a company’s use of office space to its “organizational body language” It’s a fitting analogy. When a person says one thing and their body communicates another, listeners are left confused. The same can be said for organizations that claim a particular characteristic but fail to follow through in their interior design. They come across as inauthentic to their employees, whose impressions inevitably trickle down to clients.
The more a company’s message is reinforced in a workplace environment, the easier it is for employees to integrate that vision and relay to the people they meet. This is why so many top organizations now investing in designing interiors that are culturally distinctive and deliver a consistent message-one that the company wants to communicate with the outside world. Workplace design has also become an important tool for attracting and retaining top talent. Studies show that employees use the quality of an office environment to draw inferences about the competence of an organization’s leaders. When a workplace is well designed, employees’ confidence in their management team lifts, as does their willingness to stay on in the years to come.
How do you use design to make an organization feel distinct?
One approach is to borrow a practice used by many successful retailers that involves creating a touchpoint map. Touchpoint anticipate every element of a customer’s experience, from the instant they walk through the door to their final steps back to their car, identifying communication opportunities along the way. The goal is to turn every consumer interaction into a brand experience that reflects the retailer’s message.
If you’ve ever visited an Apple Store, you’ve probably noticed how different it feels from other electronics shops. The decor is clean and uncluttered. There’s no middleman between customers and access to Apple’s products. Registers and the long lines they produce have been eliminated; at the Apple Store just about any employee can cash you out. Every aspect of the Apple Store’s design reflects its brand message: simplicity.
In the same way Apple uses its space to communicate a message to its external customers, organizations can use the workplace environment to send a message to their internalcustomers. The key is to first identify a message the organization wants to convey-say, innovation insight, or caring-and then design employee touchpoints that bring that concept to life. Lobbies and hallways represent key touchpoint opportunities, ones that can be used for sharing an organization’s history, traditions, and achievements. Often companies limit their design investments to their lobby because it’s the element of their environment that’s most visible to clients. This is a mistake. Anytime there is a disconnect between the front of the house and the heart of the house, there’s the potential for employees to wonder whether their organizational message is simply a facade. Many successful companies have begun using behind-the-scenes space to highlight a commitment to their employees. A related approach, often used by organizations in creative industries, is to put employees’ artwork up on display, presenting them much like an exhibit.
Another way of using a space to engage employees is by getting them personally involved in the design of their workplace. Naming conference rooms is another tool for making a workplace feel unique. When we label a space we create expectations in the minds of visitors that shape their experience. Research shows that when we anticipate having a positive experience, we’re more likely to do so.
Most organizations use generic names for their meeting spaces like Conference Room A and Conference Room B. Not at Poggled, a Chicago company selling Groupon-like bar and club gift certificates. The company is committed to delivering memorable nightlife experiences, which is why, if you’re looking for Poggled’s management team you’ll likely find them in one of two locations: the “It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere,’ or the slightly less formal “Stay Thirsty, My Friends”
Another workplace touchpoint: office furniture. How rooms are furnished communicates an implicit message about which behaviors are appropriate. Interestingly, it’s not just the layout of furniture that affects our experiences-it’s also the physical composition. A 2010 experiment conducted by researchers at MIT Harvard, and Yale found that people seated on hard wooden chairs are less willing to compromise than those seated on chairs with soft cushions. What this finding suggests is that the furniture an organization selects can have an impact on the way a workplace is experienced.
Rather than simply choosing furniture based on its aesthetic appeal, it’s worth considering the way it feels and the message it communicates. Law firms, for example, are often partial to bulky wooden tables and stiff leather chairs. The traditional decor helps communicate stability and trust, which may be useful when conducting a negotiation or persuading a prospective client to use their services. What it’s unlikely to do, however, is help visitors relax, silence their inner censors, and come up with out-of-the-box ideas. Which goes to show: What’s right for one location can be entirely wrong for another. The key is to first think about how a room is going to be used and then build an experience that’s consistent with that objective.
One organizational touchpoint that often gets mysteriously overlooked: the bathroom. Most office restrooms are bleak and unwelcoming. But for many employees, it’s one of the few opportunities they have for stepping away, letting go of trivial details, and refocusing on the bigger picture. Instead of treating bathrooms with disdain, some cutting-edge organizations are now using them as an opportunity for stimulating creativity, by displaying interesting artwork, leaving out thought-provoking magazines, or playing unusual music.
At Google, for example, bathrooms are where employees go to learn. Back in 2007, a group of engineers starred posting interesting articles on bathroom stalls as a means of educating their colleagues about new methods of code testing. The idea caught on, and soon their coworkers began complaining when the material wasn’t being updated quickly enough. To this day, when an engineer at Google says, “Excuse me, I need to go read about testing,’ it’s clear exactly where he’s headed. On the surface, that might seem like just a quirky anecdote. But what it demonstrates is how even a simple bathroom visit can be used to reinforce a company’s commitment to intellectual growth.
A final touchpoint worth considering is the design of an organization’s gathering spaces. Lunchrooms, locker rooms and coffee stations serve important logistical functions, but they also double as vital social hubs. When communal spaces are lacking in a workplace, the quality of employee relationships suffers. In fact, research conducted by Gallup shows that organizations that neglect to build gathering space have half the number of employees with a best friend at work as those that do.
We often give a lot of thought to formal meeting spaces. But often it’s the informal spaces that can have a bigger impact on the quality of our workplace relationships. Offering appealing indoor or outdoor spaces for employees to gather is a vital organizational touchpoint in just about any industry-one that can bolster employee relationships, create networking opportunities, and spark creative interactions.
In general FAILURE is seen as something to avoid at all cost. We are very afraid to fail. At workplace, people are sometimes so afraid of making a mistake that they rather accept to be humiliated or micromanaged by their managers. Such employees accept to do whatever their manager ask (even in disagreement) than to take the initiative to do something creative without asking the manager first. Employees prefer to stay in their comfort zone than to take the risk and eventually make a mistake. That’s why in many companies employees are not feeling safe to tell the truth and they lie about their tasks at work. If we do a mistake and the manager doesn’t know about it yet, our first instinct is to hide everything and when the managers want to know what the status of a specific task is, we lie hard. In fact people at work are realty terrified by failure. But managers too. As a general rule managers have the highest pay-rate in a company, most of them are overconfident about their knowledge and because they want to show who’s in charge, they are in fact the ones who lie the most.
But this tendency of hiding the mistakes and lying comes from our early stage of development for the adult life. It all begins from our school-years. Failure is actually a good thing because it sparks the creativity. But unfortunately what’s odd is, that in many ways it’s the precise opposite of the view espoused in most classrooms. From an early age, children are taught that success means having the right answers. That struggling is a bad sign, the sort of thing you do when you’re not quite “getting it,” or the work is too hard. Throughout much of their education students are encouraged to finish assignments quickly. Those who don’t are sent off to tutors.
After 12 years of indoctrination, it’s no wonder that so many of us view failure the way we do: as something to avoid at all cost. We’re implicitly taught that struggling means others will view us poorly, when in reality it’s only by stretching ourselves that we develop new skills. What was originally introduced as a feedback tool to foster better learning has had the opposite effect. When we reduce performance to As or Bs, pass or fail, good or bad, we make the learning opportunities that failure provides hard to appreciate.
Failure, per se, is not enough. The important thing is to mine the failure for insight that can improve your next attempt. But research suggests that the approach of rewarding intelligent failure may be more of an impact on students than we might initially suspect, especially when it comes to promoting a thinking style that’s conducive to innovation. The reason is that when the possibility of failure looms as a major threat, our mind does some funny things.
How TO SPARK CREATIVITY
You know that aha! feeling you get when you solve a difficult problem with a clever insight? Let’s see if we can recreate that experience now. We’re going to play a little game to test your creativity. I’m going to list three seemingly unrelated words. Your job is to be up with a fourth-one that conceptually connects the first three words in a group.
The answer is cheese: (Swiss) cheese; cheese (cake); (cottage) cheese.
Now let’s see
how well you do on some of these.
PAINT DOLL CAT ———-
FALLING ACTOR DUST ———-
STICK LIGHT BIRTHDAY ———-
These are just a few items from the Remote Associates Test (also known by the somewhat unfortunate acronym RAT), a tool psychologists use to measure creative insight. To find the right answer – in this case: House, Star, and Candle – you need to discover a link between ostensibly unrelated concepts, the same activity at the heart of many creative endeavors. Now suppose we raise the stakes. Instead of doing the RAT for fun, I’m going to start paying you based on how well you do. You’re going to see 10 RAT items. For each item you get right, I’ll give you a crisp 5-euro bill. OK, ready?
But wait. Before we start, let’s pause here for a second. Take a moment to examine the way you feel. Are you eager?Focused?Engaged? If so, you’re likely experiencing an “approach motivational state.”
When people are in an approach mind-set, their focus is on achieving positive outcomes, because they see the potential for gain. Contrast that with the feeling you get when we change the terms of the exercise slightly. Instead of paying you after every correct response, I’ll just give you the full 50 euros right at the start. Not bad, right? But here’s the catch. This time around, for every mistake you make, I’m going to take away 5 euros. Notice the shift in the way you feel. If you’re like most people, your attention is no longer centered on the potential gain. Instead you’ve become sensitized to the possibility of loss. You’ve entered what’s called an “avoidance motivational state.”
Every task we engage in, can involve an approach or avoidance mind-set. Take a relatively low-stakes activity, like visiting a gym. Some of us exercise in order to gain a fitter body or impress a romantic partner (approaching a positive outcome), while the rest of us may do so in order to stop gaining weight or stave off high cholesterol (avoiding negative outcome). In each case our action is exactly the same. But the difference in our psychological framing can strongly influence our experience, affecting everything from the emotions we feel stepping onto a treadmill to our likelihood of returning the next day. Our motivational mind-set is particularly critical when we’re engaged in creative activities. Research shows that when we’re energized possibility of gain, we adopt a flexible cognitive style that allows us to easily switch between mental categories.We take a broader view, seeing the forest instead of the trees, while exploring a wider array of possibilities. In sum, when we’re energized by approach motivation, we instinctively use the very mental techniques that make us more creative.It’s a different story when avoidance motivation enter the picture.
The moment evading a negative outcome becomes the focus, our attention narrows and our thinking becomes more rigid. We have a hard time seeing the big picture and resist the mental exploration necessary for finding a solution. All of a sudden, insights become a lot more elusive. In part, the reason is physiological. When avoiding failure is a primary focus, the work isn’t just more stressful; it’s a lot harder to do. And over the long run, that mental strain takes a toll, resulting in less innovation and the experience of burnout. Ironically, allowing for mistakes to happen can elevate the quality of our performance. It’s true even within roles that don’t require creativity.
SUCCESSFUL TEAMS MAKE MORE MISTAKES
When the consequences of reporting failure are too severe, employees avoid acknowledging mistakes altogether. But when a work environment feels psychologically safe and mistakes are viewed as a natural part of the learning process, employees are less prone to covering them up. The fascinating implication is that fearful teams avoid examining the causes of their blunders, making it all the more likely that their mistakes will be repeated again in the future. Having a team that’s afraid of admitting failure is a dangerous problem particularly because the symptoms are not immediately visible what appears on the surface to be a well-functioning unit may, in fact be a group that’s too paralyzed to admit its own flaws.
In contrast, teams that freely admit their errors are better able to learn from one another’s mistakes. They can also take steps to prevent repeating those mistakes by tweaking their process. Over the long term, encouraging employees to acknowledge mistakes is therefore vital first step to seeing improvement.
THE RIGHT WAY TO REWARD FAILURE
For example, large pharmaceutical companies have begun rewarding scientists for pulling the plug on major research projects, in an effort to discourage researchers from laboring on ineffective products for fear that admitting failure might cost them their jobs. Merck & Co., one of the world’s largest drug manufacturers, gives additional stock options to scientists who admit their research is yielding undesirable results. The faster scientists fail, the thinking goes, the sooner they can be reassigned to a project with stronger potential. The alternative is throwing good money after bad.
“You can’t change the truth you can only delay how long it takes to find it out”
“If you don’t encourage people to take risks, then you end up with incrementalism forever”
Software development company HCL Technologies takes it one step further by inviting executives to create a Failure CV. To enter the firms highly coveted internal leadership program, applicants are required to list some of their biggest career blunders and then explain what they’ve learned from each experience. To advance their careers, potential leaders must first show that they have the ability to turn failure into progress. Those who can’t seem to identify any mistakes are presumably told they now have something to put on future applications. It’s an interesting approach. One that begs the question: What would the Failure CV of someone like William Shakespeare or Steve Jobs look like? And how would their Failure CV compare to yours?
One thing we can predict with some certainty is that the Failure CV of most high achievers tends to be surprisingly lengthy. Which when you think about it, is quite refreshing. We don’t often think of those at the top as a bunch of chronic failures. But in a way, that’s precisely what they are. It’s what enabled their success in the first place It’s a lesson with strong implications for the workplace.
When organizations communicate that failure is not an option, they incur an invisible cost: one that triggers a psychological reaction that restricts employee thinking, rewards lying, encourages cover-ups, and fuels the proliferation of more mistakes. It’s an approach that ignores a basic reality of how learning and innovation really happen. We want to believe that progress is simple. That Success and Failure provide clear indicators of the value of our work. Bur the path to excellence is rarely a straight line. If there’s one unifying insight we can draw from the experience of extraordinary achievers it is this:
Sometimes the best way to minimize failure is to embrace it with open arms.
The Lessons of Failure
Action Items for Managers
I. Reward the attempts, not just the outcomes. Want to see creativity in the workplace? Then incentivize employees for trying new approaches and occasionally taking risks. When successful outcomes are the only things that are recognized, employees fall back on a conservative approach,sticking with what’s worked in the past. The only way to promote risk-taking is to reward the attempts, reinforcing behaviors you want to encourage.
II. Mine failures for opportunities. When a team’s efforts fall Flat it’s natural to want to move on by burying your nose in your next assignment. But expert performers know that failure often contains powerful clues for improvement, especially when the focus is on what can be improved in the future. Be careful, however, not to turn postmortems into witch hunts by fixating on who made the mistake. Far better to ask future-oriented questions like, “What’s one thing we can do better next time?”
III.Play the long game. No one likes failure. And tolerating setbacks as a manager is certainly a risk. But successful companies know that creating the space for intelligent failure is an investment, one that can yield major rewards in the long run. Think like Google. Or Gretzky. Or Jobs. It’s not just about your organization’s performance today. It’s about its performance in five years.
The Lessons of Failure
Action Items for Emerging Leaders
I. Ask yourself, “What have I failed at today?” High achievers don’t see failure as a personal indictment. They view it as a sign that they’re on the brink of growth. If everything you do at work comes easily, consider this: You may not be pushing yourself hard enough. Developing your skills is like waging a negotiation. If the opposition says yes right away it might mean you’ve aimed too low.
II.Anticipate the J Curve. We like to think of progress as a straight line, where one development builds on top of another, leading to steady and unswerving improvement. It’s a comforting model, But when it comes to complex creative endeavors, it’s also unrealistic. The relationship between creativity and progress is messy and often looks less like a straight line and more like a J, with a heavy dip at the start representing early challenges and setbacks. Anticipating your early struggles makes it easier to stick around for later gains
III. Failure not an option? It may be time to go.In a knowledge economy, unless you’re acquiring new skills, you’re slowly becoming obsolete. Some organizations want employees to repeat the same behaviors again and again without variation. This is not in your interest. Workplace experimentation is the only path to developing the skills you need to remain both relevant and valuable.
Some years ago, people in different locations used to communicate by phone. That’s nothing unusual since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone around the year 1875. For more than 140 years since then, 2 people easily communicate verbally by phone. And that’s still OK when we talk about general or personal topics. But what about talking business or very important technical details for a project involving a lot of high technology, when usually the information must be heard and even seen by a team of participants in different locations in different countries? Can we easily communicate our message and ideas just using the classical phone? Of course we cannot. We need a better way to share our ideas and insights. We need a better interface. We actually need a new product of better communication.
Like in many other fields, new products that can improve the User Experience for which they are created. Today we can communicate very easily not only audio but also video. We can share everything in real time, doesn’t matter how many participants are involved or where they are located. This was only possible due to intensive work of UI/UX Design Engineers which are becoming more and more in high demand. The UI/UX Designers are helping people to create new products that can improve life and work. These engineers are design thinkers.
For design thinkers, however, behaviors are never right or wrong, they are always meaningful. Just simply saying that the job of a designer is: “converting need into demand” by putting people first. This is exactly what a designer does. On the face of it, this sound so: just figure out what people want and then give it to them. But if it’s so easy , why don’t we see more success stories like the iPod? The Prius? MTV and Amazon?
The answer is that we need to return human beings to the center of the story. We need to learn to put people first. There is lot of written material out there about “human-centered design” and its importance to innovation. But since there are few truly compelling stories, it’s good to ask WHY is it so difficult to spot a need and design a response. The basic problem is that people are so ingenious at adapting to inconvenient situations that they are often not even aware that they are doing so: they sit on their seat belts, write their PINs on their hands, hang their jackets on doorknobs and chain their bicycles to park benches.
Henry Ford understood this very well when he remarked “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘a faster horse’”. This is WHY traditional techniques such as focus groups and surveys, which in most cases simply ask people what they want, rarely yield important insights. The tools of conventional market research can be useful in pointing toward incremental improvements, but they will never lead to those rule-breaking , game-changing, paradigm-shifting breakthroughs that leave us scratching our heads and wondering why nobody ever thought of them before. Our real goal as design thinkers, then is not so much fulfilling manifest needs by creating a speedier printer or a more ergonomic keyboard; that’s the job of classical designers. Our goal as design thinkers instead is helping people to articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have, and this is the challenge of design thinkers.
How should we approach it? What tools do we have that can lead us from modest incremental changes to the leaps of insight that will redraw the map? There are actually 3 mutually reinforcing elements of any successful design program. These are: INSIGHT, OBSERVATION and EMPATHY.
INSIGHT = Learning from the lives of others
Insight is one of the sources of design thinking and it does not usually come from reams of quantitative data that measure exactly what we already have and tell us what we already know. A better starting point is to go out into the world and observe the actual experiences of for example commuters, bikers or registered nurses as they improvise their way through their daily lives. Just observe simple things such as: the shopkeeper who uses a hammer as a doorstop; the office worker who sticks identifying labels onto the jungle of computer cables under his desk. Rarely will the everyday people who are the consumers of our products, the customers of our services, the occupants of our buildings or the users of our digital interfaces be able to tell us what to do.
Their actual behavior, however can provide us with invaluable clues about their range of unmet needs. The creative process generates ideas and concepts that have not existed before. These are more likely to be triggered by observing the odd practices of an amateur carpenter or the incongruous detail in a mechanic’s shop, than by hiring expert consultants or asking “statistically average” people to respond to a survey or fill out a questionnaire.
The insight phase that helps to launch a project is therefore every bit as critical as the engineering that comes later, an we must take it from where we can find it. The evolution from design to design thinking is the story of the evolution from the creation of products to the analysis of the relationship between people and products, and from there to the relationship between people and people.
OBSERVATION = Watching what people don’t do, listening to what they don’t say.
Walk into the offices of any of the world’s leading design consultancies, and the first question is likely to be “Where is everybody?” Of course, many hours are spent in the model shop, in project rooms, and peering into computer monitors, but many more hours are spent out in the field with the people who will ultimately benefit from our work. Although grocery store shoppers, office workers, and schoolchildren are not the ones who will write us a check at the end of a project, they are our ultimate clients.
The only way we can get to know them is to seek them out where they live, work, and play. Accordingly, almost every project we undertake involves an intensive period of observation. We watch what people do (and do not do) and listen to what they say (and do not say). This takes some practice. There is nothing simple about determining whom to observe, what research techniques to employ, how to draw useful inferences from the information gathered, or when to begin the process of synthesis that begins to point us toward a solution. Observation relies on quality, not quantity.
The decisions one makes can dramatically affect the results one gets. It makes sense for a company to familiarize itself with the buying habits of people who inhabit the center of its current market, for they are the ones who will verify that an idea is valid on a large scale-a fall outfit for Barbie, for instance, or next year’s feature on last year’s car. By concentrating solely on the bulge at the center of the bell curve, however, we are more likely to confirm what we already know than learn something new and surprising. For insights at that level we need to head for the edges, the places where we expect to find “extreme” users who live differently, think differently, and consume differently-collector who owns 1,400 Barbies, for instance, or a professional car thief.
EMPATHY = Standing in the shoes (or lying on the gurneys) of others.
It’s possible to spend days, weeks, or months conducting research of this sort, but at the end of it all we will have little more than stacks of field notes, videotapes, and photographs unless we can connect with the people we are observing at a fundamental level. We call this “empathy,” and it is perhaps the most important distinction between academic thinking and design thinking.
We are not trying to generate new knowledge, test a theory, or validate a scientific hypothesis-that’s the work of our university colleagues and an indispensable part of our shared intellectual landscape. The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives. Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations. If we are to “borrow” the lives of other people to inspire new ideas, we need to begin by recognizing that their seemingly inexplicable behaviors represent different strategies for coping with the confusing, complex, and contradictory world in which they live.
The computer mouse developed at Xerox PARC in the 1970s was an intricate technical apparatus invented by engineers and intended for engineers. To them it made perfect sense that it should be taken apart and cleaned at the end of the day. But when the fledgling Apple Computer asked us to help it create a computer “for the rest of us,” we gained our first lesson in the value of empathy.
A designer, no less than an engineer or marketing executive, who simply generalizes from his own standards and expectations will limit the field of opportunity. A thirty-year-old man does not have the same life experiences as a sixty-year-old woman. An affluent Californian has little in common with a tenant farmer living on the outskirts of Nairobi. A talented, conscientious industrial designer, settling down at her desk after an invigorating ride on her mountain bike, may be ill prepared to design a simple kitchen gadget for her grandmother who is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. But even empathy for the individual, as it turns out, is not sufficient. To the extent that designers have one at all, their prevailing concept of “markets” remains the aggregate of many individuals. It rarely extends to how groups interact with one another. Design thinkers have upped the ante, beginning with the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I could have written more about the fake life we have at workplace everyday. There is a lot o shit happening out-there but this is the last lie I write about.
If you would ask 1000 people: why they work for a company?, more than 80% of them will tell you that it’s because they have to, but not because they want so, and not because they do it with pleasure. And If I extrapolate this to the world population I guarantee you the a massive majority of people will tell you the same, they work because they have to. You don’t believe me?? Alright, then go ahead I provoke you to try and do the exercise. Ask randomly 1000 people why they work of a company? And draw your own conclusions. 🙂 :-). But indeed, why do we behave like that? Well …it’s because many of us think that we must obey to those who lead, because we are also told that LEADERSHIP IS A FEATURE and we all must agree with that. Well ….I this post I will tell you that this is nothing but a LIE. Leadership is NOT a feature. Not even a little one.
But this post is not about leadership. And I can say a little more. I can say that there appears to be broad agreement that certain people exhibit a definable, consistent, and meaningful quality called leadership. That there are some characteristics of a person that are in some way above and different from that person’s technical skills (whether he or she can write good code, for example, or good English) and that also transcend that person’s interpersonal or “soft” skills (whether he or she can make the sale, or negotiate a deal) and that make the person a leader.
I can also say that we tend to agree that all the best leaders possess this quality, or set of qualities – so, leadership is something that lives, specially, in those who lead and is in some way responsible for their ability to do so. And I can say that, as a consequence, most of us would agree that if you want to be a leader, you have to have this set of qualities.
There is a frustrating circularity to this argument – that there’s a feature called “leadership“, and we know it’s a feature because leaders have it, otherwise they wouldn’t be leaders. It’s like saying your cat has catness because he’s a cat: it might be true, but it’s hardly helpful to your hamster if he dreams, someday, of being a cat. This know-it-when-we-see-it vagueness explains, in part, why we can talk about leadership so much without usefully advancing our understanding of it, or “getting much better at it”. Perhaps to combat this vagueness, some go further and begin to try to specify some of the qualities that make up leadership. As for example:
Being inspirational seems to be important.
Being able to create and articulate a vision matters a lot.
The ability to formulate strategy is good, as is the ability to distinguish a good strategy from a bad one.
Sometimes mastery of execution makes the list – the art of getting stuff done.
Setting a direction for an organization is important, and, in concert with this, bringing people into alignment with that direction and motivating them to move ahead.
Decision making is high on the list, together with managing conflict.
Innovation and disruption usually put in an appearance.
Communications skills also rank highly, and having what’s commonly referred to as “executive presence” is also felt to be critical.
To this collection of long-limbed characteristics are added some personal traits. Leadership requires:
authenticity (the ability to come across as a “real” person) and often, too,
vulnerability (the courage to be imperfect in public, to relinquish the need to be right or to be the smartest person in the room).
These things, and a few others, are said to be needed so that our leaders can build effective relationships with others. And yet these characteristics are curiously circumscribed: authenticity is important, right up until the point when the leader, authentically, says that he has no idea what to do, which then fractures his vision.
Likewise, vulnerability is important until the moment when the leader’s comfort with his own flaws causes us to doubt him, and to question whether he is sufficiently inspirational. Apparently, we require authentic sureness and reassuring vulnerability, however contradictory those things may be. The personal qualities that make the list are Goldilocks qualities-they must be neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right.
These little inconsistencies, however, melt away in the face of our conviction that leadership is a great good at work – it is always better for a person to have more of it, and the more leaders an organization has, the better. This much, at least, appears settled – and as a result you will be told that the most important thing you can do to advance your career is to “grow your leadership.”
Now, some might choose other attributes for their lists, but those above are a reasonable summary of the theory-world view of leadership. And the reason that this isn’t a post on leadership is not that the qualities listed aren’t useful (they are) or that this topic has been done to death (it’s dose) but, rather, that when I look critically, I realize that we may well have misunderstood leadership altogether. Indeed, the lie that we encounter at work is that leadership is a feature. Well it is NOT.
As reference for leadership I can not find a better example – which for sure will be remembered forever in the leadership history- than the story of Martin Luther King.
This guy is an icon for real. What he did and the consequences of his actions have definitely changed the way we thing about leadership today. To make it short, seeing the story of Martin Luther King I can simply say that it’s a story about the other 11 men who followed him, and it’s a story that –in all the theorizing about leadership, in all the competing lists and competencies, in all the articles and surveys and assessments and books, in all the dissection and analysis and categorization – is sadly lost. For leadership does not live in the abstract, does not live in the average. It lives, instead, in the real world. And if we look at that world, this is what we see.
1st – the ability to lead is rare. It was not inevitable that Martin Luther King Jr. would emerge from the Montgomery bus boycott as a national leader whom millions would follow-there were other good people guiding the Montgomery Improvement Association, just as there were other, earlier bus boycotts a couple of years before 1956. But something about King in Montgomery was special. The fact that we lionize those who have this special ability; the fact that we spend so much time looking for it and trying to get more of it; and the fact that it plays such a prominent role in how we think about our organizations: these point not to its ubiquity but to its scarcity-and this scarcity, in turn, belies the supposed ease with which we’re all meant to be able to get better at it. If leading were easy, there would be more good leaders. If there were more good leaders, we might be just a little less focused on it.
2nd – leaders have shortcomings. Their skill set is incomplete. We don’t need extra surveillance files to reveal that King was not in possession of every quality the perfect leader should possess. And this is confounding, because it challenges the notion that there is in fact a list of leadership qualities, each of which is essential. For every quality on the list, we can think of a respected leader in the real world who lacks it.
If leadership is about being inspirational or visionary, then what should we make of Warren Buffett, whose principal activities as a leader seem to consist of sitting in an office in Omaha, Nebraska, drinking Cherry Coke, and finding companies to buy?
If leadership is about creating a winning strategy, then what should we make of Winston Churchill, whose disastrous policies in the 1920s and 1930s led to his exile from government?
If leadership is about execution and communication, then what should we make of King George VI of Great Britain, who was revered for his leaders hip of that nation during the Second World War, but who could barely speak in public, and who wasn’t in a position to execute anything?
If leadership is about building a winning coalition, then what should we make of Susan B. Anthony, whose falling-out with her fellow women’s-suffrage leaders created a split in that movement that lasted twenty years?
If it’s about ethics, what do we make of Steve Jobs‘s buying a new car every six months to avoid registering it, so as to be able to park in handicapped spots whenever he wanted to?
If it’s about caring for those in your charge, what do we inake of General George Patton and his physically assaulting soldiers with PTSD?
If it’s about authenticity, where does that leave John F. Kennedy and his hidden illnesses and affairs?
What does it mean for all the models and lists if the things on them are optional? The lesson from the real world is not that there is any particular collection of qualities that every leader has, but rather that every leader we can think of has obvious shortcomings-that leaders aren’t perfect people, not by a long way.
And finally 3rd – it follows that leadership is not about being the most well-rounded of the well-rounded people. As I explained in Lie Nr. 6 The best people aren’t well-rounded. The same is true for the leaders we see in the real world-and even more so. As with some of the great performers I mentioned earlier – think Lionel Messi and his amazing left foot – we don’t see the most respected leaders spending much time trying to round themselves out, trying to develop abilities in areas where they have none. Instead, we see them trying to make the best use of what they already have, with the result that whenever we look closely, we see them going about the task of leading in very different ways. In this way, leading is the same as all other fields of human endeavor-high performance is idiosyncratic, and the higher the level of performance the greater the level of idiosyncrasy.
This is why the idea that “leadership is a feature”is a lie. When you take any of our definitions of that feature, and then try to locate it in the real world, you encounter exception upon exception upon exception. The very least I can conclude is that if there is some magical set of attributes, we haven’t yet figured out what they are, and that plenty of leaders are doing plenty of leading without many of them. And if that’s the case, then the things that supposedly make up leadership neither add to our understanding of it nor help us be better at it.
But if the real world shows us what leadership isn’t, does it give us any clues at all that we can learn from?Can we say nothing more than that leading is a free-for-all, a grab bag of different skills and attributes and states and traits that will remain ever mysterious? Or is there a different way to understand what’s going on?
What’s most remarkable about the events in Montgomery in 1956 is not that one individual took a stand and was imprisoned as a result, it is not what this one man said or did. It is rather that others chose to follow him. What is truly before us is a story of a leader (M.L. King Jr.) and his followers – and it is because, on that day, the 11 chose to follow that 60 years later we know their names. In the midst of physical attacks and intimidation and firebombings, the 11 saw something special in King, something that they chose to follow, and because of what they did, and then because of what countless thousands and millions did in the ensuing years, we recognize him as a leader.
This is the true lesson in leading from the real world: a leader is someone who has followers, plain and simple. The only determinant of whether anyone is leading is whether anyone else is following. This might seem like an obvious statement, until we recall how easily we overlook its implications. Followers – their needs, their feelings, their fears and hopes – are strangely absent when we speak of leaders as exemplars of strategy, execution, vision, oratory, relationships, charisma, and so on. The idea of leadership is missing the idea of followers. It’s missing the idea that our subject here is, at heart, a question of a particularly human relationship-namely, why anyone would choose to devote his or her energies to, and to take risks on behalf of, someone else?? And, in that, it’s missing the entire point.
This notion – that a leader is a person with followers – does not emerge from a list of skills, or tactics, or competencies; it doesn’t coincide with a person’s level within a hierarchy; and it doesn’t actually tell us very much about the nature of the leader him -or herself. But it does capture a condition for leading. And that condition is precise – it’s about the presence, or absence, of followers.
So the question we should really be asking ourselves is this one: Why do we follow? With its following additional sub-questions:
What is it that makes us work hard late into the night to go beyond what’s expected of us?
What makes us move someone to the front of our queue?
What makes us voluntarily place some part of our destiny in the hands of another human being?
What makes us give our breath to another?
What made those 11 men entrust their well-being and their hopes to Number 7089 (Luther King)?
Broadly speaking, we want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves – the “Best of We” – while, at the same time, feeling that our leader knows and values us for who we are as a unique individual – the “Best of Me.” More specifically, we follow leaders:
who connect us to a mission we believe in,
who clarify what’s expected of us,
who surround us with people
who define excellence the same way we do,
who value us for our strengths,
who show us that our teammates will always be there for us,
who diligently replay our winning plays,
who challenge us to keep getting better, and
who give us confidence in the future.
This is not a list of qualities in a leader, but rather a set of feelings in a follower. When we say to ourselves that leadership is indeed a feature, because we know it when we see it, we’re not really seeing any definable characteristic of another human. What we are “seeing” is in fact our own feelings as a follower. As such, while we should not expect every good leader to share the same qualities or competencies, we can hold all good leaders accountable for creating these same feelings of follower-ship in their teams. Indeed, we can use these feelings to help any particular leader know whether or not she is any good.
The 8 items I’ve introduced in LIE Nr. 2 are a valid measure of a leader’s effectiveness. We need not dictate how each leader should behave, but we can define what all good leaders must create in their followers. And since we measure this by asking the followers to rate their own experiences, rather than rating the leader on a long list of abstract leader qualities, this measure of leader effectiveness is reliable.
Leadership isn’t a thing, because it cannot be measured reliably. Followership is a thing, because it can.
And it’s a lie that leadership is a feature because no two leaders create followers in quite the same way. What’s true in the real world is that leading is many different things. Your challenge as a leader is not to try to acquire the complete set of abstract leader competencies – you will fail, not least because the first hurdle you will fall at is authenticity. Instead, your challenge is to find and refine your own idiosyncratic way of creating in your team these eight emotional outcomes. Do this well and you will lead well.
Interestingly and happily – these two are linked. Your ability to create the outcomes you want in your followers is tied directly to how seriously and intelligently you cultivate your own idiosyncrasy, and to what end. The deeper and more extreme your idiosyncrasy becomes, the more passionately your followers follow-and while this is frustrating to us when we happen to disagree with the ends of a particular leader, it is so nonetheless.
When King was in jail in 1960 in Birmingham Alabama due to some accusations that he organized a nonviolent campaign against segregation he had written what is now known as the Letter from Birmingham Jail. It’s a long letter-an impassioned letter. It’s a plea against settling, against compromise, against the path of least resistance. And in it, King talks about extremism. “The question,” he says “is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be.”
Warren Buffett, the uninspiring Coke – drinker from Omaha, is an extremist. He’s exceptional at finding and buying companies. Winston Churchill, while he might have been a poor policy maker, was exceptional at inspiring uncompromising resistance. Susan B. Anthony was really good at focusing her energies, and those of the people around her, on a specific goal. Steve Jobs was really good at creating hardware and software that was delightful to use. George Patton was really good at fighting, with his whole being, whatever was in front of him on any given day. And John F. Kennedy was really good at making the future feel universal and morally uplifting. What each of these leaders had in common was that they were really good at something – each was, in their different way, an extremist.
We have seen, already, that the best people aren’t well-rounded, but are instead spiky – they have honed one or two distinctive abilities that they use to make their mark on the world. What we see in the best leaders is a similar extremism – a few signal abilities refined over time. But now, these abilities are so pronounced, and the leaders so adept at transmitting them to the world, that they stand out to all of us. And so this truth: we follow spikes.
This particularly human characteristic presents a challenge for you, the modern day leader. You are charged with rallying your team toward a better future, yet many on your team are fearful of this future. And this fear isn’t unjustified. It’s adaptive. Those of our forebears who lacked it, who paddled their little rafts toward the horizon, asking themselves “Ooh, I wonder where the sun goes to sleep?” often didn’t return to pass on their genes. Being a bit cautious can be a sensible thing. As a leader, you can’t be dismissive of this fear. You can’t tell your people to “embrace change” and to “get comfortable with ambiguity.” Well you can, but you will then get them thinking ever more deeply about change and ambiguity, which will, in turn, increase their anxiety and lessen your effectiveness as a leader.
The final characteristic of the best teams, as we saw in Lie Nr 2, is the feeling that, for each team member, “I have great confidence in my company’s future.” This confidence in the future, it seems, is the antidote to our universal uncertainty. And it explains why we follow.
The act of following is a barter-we entrust some part of our future to a leader only when we get something in return. That “something in return” is confidence. And what gives us confidence in the future is seeing, in a leader, some great and pronounced level of ability in something we care about. We follow people who are really good at something that matters to us. We follow the spikes.
It’s as if the spikes give us something to hook on to. We’re well aware of our own shortcomings, and we know that what lies ahead of us in life is unknowable. We’re aware, also, that our journey will be easier if we can do it in partnership with others. And when we see, in those others, some ability that offsets our own deficits, and that removes for us, even if only slightly, some of the mist of the future, then we hold on. We don’t necessarily follow vision, or strategy, or execution, or relationship building, or any of the other leadership things. Instead we follow mastery. And it doesn’t much matter how this mastery manifests itself, as long as we, the followers, find it relevant.
One of the lessons of all the lies I’ve wrote about is that when we blind ourselves to what’s around us, and instead theorize about how the world ought to be (or how we’d like it to be if only it were tidier), our people vanish. We stop seeing them. We mute our curiosity, and we replace it with dogma and dictum. The same happens with the people we call leaders-the moment we start theorizing, they vanish, too. And here are the truths that vanish along with them:
The truth that no two leaders do the same job in the same way.
The truth that as much as we follow the spikes, they can also antagonize us.
The truth that no leader is perfect-and that the best of them have learned how to work around their imperfections.
The truth that leaders are frustrating-they don’t have all the abilities we’d like them to have.
The truth that following is in part an act of forgiveness-it is to give our attention and efforts to someone despite what we can see of their flaws.
The truth that not everyone should be, or wants to be, a leader-the world needs followers, and great followers at that.
The truth that a person who might be a great leader for me might not be a great leader for you.
The truth that a person who might be a great leader for one team, or team of teams, or company, might not be a great leader for another.
The truth that leaders are not necessarily a force for good in the world-they are simply people with followers. They aren’t saints, and sometimes their having followers leads to hubris and arrogance, or worse.
The truth that leaders are not good or bad-they are just people who have figured out how to be their most defined selves in the world, and who do so in such a way that they inspire genuine confidence in their followers. This isn’t necessarily good or bad. It just is.
The truth that leading isn’t a set of characteristics but a series of experiences seen through the eyes of the followers.
The truth that, despite all this, we reserve a special place in our world for those who make our experience of it better and more hopeful.
And the truth that, through it all, we follow your spikes. We spend vast sums of money, in the corporate world, on training and developing our leaders. We never ask why, given your particular jumble of characteristics, anyone would follow you. We never ask how-given that one-of-a-kind mixture of states and traits that makes you who you are-you would use those things to create an experience for the people around you, and use what you have to help them feel better about the world you’re all walking through together, and, while we’re at it, how we might give you some measure of that so you can adjust your course as you go.
So we need to stop with the models. Stop with the 360-degree assessments. Stop with the minute and meaningless parsing of how to move your “effective communications” score from a 3.8 to a 3.9, while also figuring out why your peers gave you a 4.1 on “strategy” yet your boss gave you a 3.0. Stop with the endless lists of abstractions. Stop debating whether it’s authenticity or tribal leadership or situational leadership or level-five leadership or whatever the latest leadership nirvana thing is. Stop with the one-size-fits-all.
Instead, let’s get humble -the experience of the people on our teams and in our organizations is a true thing, and we don’t simply get to choose what it is. Let’s get curious about that experience and how our actions shape it. And let’s follow our own reactions to real people in the real world. When we feel uplifted by what someone does or says, we need to stop and ask why. When we feel a fresh rush of energy after talking with someone, we need to stop and ask why. When we feel, in response to another human being, that mysterious attraction tugging on us – like a fish on a line, or like a needle twitching in a compass, an attraction that says here, something is happening, something true and visceral and substantial, something that will change, however slightly, the arc of our future – we need to stop and ask why.
We need to get to know real leaders in the real world, and we need to come to know them as followers ourselves. Then we can start learning. We follow a leader because he is deep in something, and he knows what that something is. His knowledge of it, and the evidence of his knowledge of it, gives us both certainty in the present and confidence in the future.
Leading and following are not abstractions. They are human interactions; human relationships. And their currency is the currency of all human relationships-the currency of emotional bonds, of trust, and of love. If you, as a leader, forget these things, and yet master everything that theory world tells you matters, you will find yourself alone. But if you understand who you are, at your core, and hone that understanding into a few special abilities, each of which refracts and magnifies your intent, your essence, and your humanity, then, in the real world, we will see you.
Ok, this is a topic highly promoted mostly in the so called “multinational companies”. And at some points I would truly agree that indeed diversity can bring a big added value to any business. While the traditional notion of workplace diversity may refer to representations of various races, genders and religious backgrounds, today’s concept of workplace diversity is all – encompassing. Aside from these variables, considerations are also made on: personality, age, cognitive style, skill-set, education, backgroundand more. The focus of workplace diversity now lies on the promotion of individuality within an organization, acknowledging that every person can bring something different to the table. An organization that is committed to a diverse workforce, therefore, is one that aims to harness a pool of individuals with unique qualities, seeing this combination of differences as a potential for growth rather than opportunities for conflict.
Let’s see first the background theory. Attached to this commitment is also an intention to nurture and develop the potential of each individual. So what is it about diversity that can give organizations an edge?
Here I try to sum up 5 advantages I can consider of having a diverse workforce.
1.Various opinions and perspectives
Employees with different background and experiences will bring together a variety of perspectives, thereby evoking alternative solutions and approaches when discussing a topic or issue. If managed well, the strengths and best insights of every individual can be harnessed to heighten productivity and deliver better results. The composition of a team will dictate its potential for success. There needs to be a mix of capabilities to ensure that essential components and skills fromstrategic planning, execution, follow uptocommunication abilities and conflict resolution are present.
At times we overlook the need for diversity, given the pressures that a limited pool of resources puts in organizations. However, if we give in to this pressure, we will ultimate suffer the consequences of having a workforce composed of individuals that can only see things from the same perspective and are unable to contribute different points of view or alternatives due to their limited and similar background, exposure and experience. This amalgamation of diverse individuals also sets the stage for creativity as different ideas can be tested against one another, and new ones may be birthed. Employees stand to experience more personal growth in an environment where they are exposed to differences in culture, opinions and ideas.
2.Growth of employees
Employees stand to experience more personal growth in an environment where they are exposed to differences in culture, opinions and ideas.
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” goes the Aristotelian saying. 🙂 But the following can also be said: The more you know, the better your capacity to test and refine your own perspectives and opinions. Employers will have to improve their ability to adapt to different circumstances in a diverse environment. They have to work through differences in personality, culture and background. Underlying ethnocentric notions may finally be brought to the fore and confronted as they learn to work with different styles and cultures.
3. Unity of diverse strengths
Diversity also presents the opportunity to unite specific strengths to the advantage of the organization. As every person has different skills and possesses varying strengths, these can be combined for greater performance and productivity. Technical strengths in one individual can be united with the management strengths of another, and the sales strength of yet another. Likewise, the cultural expertise of diverse individuals can be leveraged for the benefit of the company. Especially for global organizations, diversity in a workforce can optimize an organization’s ability to meet the needs of each market. Representatives of specific demographics can be paired with clients of the similar backgrounds, helping clients feel more comfortable and sense an affinity with the employee, and thereby, the organization.
4.Make company attractive
From the marketplace perspective, a company that promotes workplace diversity and an inclusive work environment adds to its attractiveness as an employer. A work place that is open to exploring new ideas and styles is especially appealing for the adventurous open-minded employees of Generation Y. If an organization makes it known that they focus on what individuals can bring to the table more than the candidate’s socioeconomic background, ethnicity and the like, they are more likely to attract a diverse range of applicants.
5. The schedule advantage
is also a practical advantage in having a diverse workforce. As individuals
have their unique time commitments, having a varied group helps ensure that work
tasks can be fulfilled at all times of the year. Various races are represented
particularly in their roles that involve shift work. Acknowledging that various
ethnicities and religions have different celebrations they adhere to, making
sure they have a diverse group of employees ensures there is a workforce across
different festival periods during the year.
THE CHALLENGES OF DIVERSITY
Now let’s look realistically at all the aspects I mentioned above an I will demonstrate that the title of this post “Diversity is the best way to succeed” is in fact a veritable lie.
There are, however, natural obstacles to embracing and implementing diversity in an organization. We would be ignoring the challenges firstly of advocating diversity and then managing it in a manner than ensures it is a strength, and not a human resource and operational nightmare. The goal is to create an environment where every employee has opportunities to be successful and where their differences are leveraged for the success of the organization. The challenge is “the issue of inclusion” or “muscle memory” as one of the main obstacles to workplace diversity, referring to the attitude that says “This is how it has always been done. Why change it?”
Hidden biases form a major component in the formation of this “muscle memory”. Subconsciously, every person has a tendency to draw on their hidden biases when making decisions about who they think will be the best candidate for a particular role or opportunity. They may favor people of a particular race or educational background, gender or individuals of a certain a personality type. A quick glance at the leadership composition of an organization can reveal predispositions that they are inclined towards. You may hear phrases like “It’s not intentional,” . “It’s just this feeling that I’m more comfortable with people like me.” Concerning this is advisable that people, especially managers, must be aware of their personal biases and understand that they may be preventing them from considering other possibilities.
CLASH OF APPROACHES
There is also the very real issue of differences in perspectives leading to a clash of approaches. Culture, personality and background differences can erect social divisions between employees that they need to recognize and overcome. Naturally, this can present disruptions when working in teams as individuals learn to adapt and understand on another. However, this can turn to an advantage if individuals recognize that different, sometimes conflicting ideas, are important to make sure a team does not have tunnel vision. We can see it as a “dynamic tension” that can bring the best results.
So with other words : it is simply better to leave Rome to the Romans. Such theories about diversity are just theories, but in reality saying that “Diversity is the best way to succeed” is of course a lie. The best way to succeed is not Diversity, The best way to succeed is Professionalism.
The art of persuasion makes the difference.
And this is one of the most crucial business skills. Without the ability to persuade others to support your ideas, you won’t be able to attract the support you need to turn those ideas into realities. And though most people are unaware of it, the ways you seek to persuade others and the kinds of arguments you find persuasive are deeply rooted in your culture’s philosophical, religious, and educational assumptions and attitudes. Far from being universal, then, the art of persuasion is one that is profoundly culture-based.
That was the hard lesson which I learned during my career working with people coming from different culture than mine. My longest experience is with Germans, but I also had opportunities to work with French, British, American, Brazilian, Japanese, Chinese, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, and many others; usually all in the automotive industry. But I must admit that the most easiest for me was to work with Latin, American and British people. But now after some years in the field I have learned the German style too. I realized that being persuasive in German environment would require a different approach than in American environment for example. Talking with Americans was quite easy for me to persuade them, a but Germans are a bit the opposite. I feel more comfortable between Americans and Latins anyway. But I am already very used with Germans too.
When I think back to my first meetings with German managers and colleagues, I wish I had understood the difference and hadn’ t let their feedback get under my skin. If I had held my cool, I might have been able to salvage the situation. I was born in Romania and I also spend my school years in Romanian culture as well, I did have some short time jobs in 100% Romanian environment also. Before having the first contact with Germans I was used to behave as all Romanians do. But later on, I have discovered that all Latin cultures are pretty much the similar. Romanian, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese culture have something in common. But American and Germans are 2 totally different cultures.
Therefore, when I worked with my Latin people I had almost not problem to share my ideas and to make them clear for everybody. I did that with Americans too. What I did is (and I still do) are projects in engineering in automotive industry, discussing new design solution and creating new products, with other words mechanical engineering and design stuff. Currently I also do quality engineering.
When I was offered a similar position as mechanical engineer working for a German company in automotive industry, things were different. After visiting several German automotive plants, observing the systems and processes there, and meeting with dozens of experts and end users, I have collected a set of recommendations that I thought it would meet the company’s strategic and budgetary goals. So, I traveled to Germany couple of times to work there for a while and finally to participate to some meetings concerning the part design I was working for and to make a sort of a one-hour presentation in front of decision makers and a group of German managers. The success of those meetings would have given me the opportunity to get other future innovative projects and therefore at my first such a meeting in preparation, I thought carefully about how to give the most persuasive presentation, practicing my arguments, anticipating questions that might arise, and preparing responses to those questions. I was in fact applying the American style of persuasion.
I delivered my presentation in a small auditorium with the directors seated in rows of upholstered chairs. I began by getting right to the point, explaining the strategies I would recommend based on my findings. But before I had finished with the first slide, one of the manager raised his hand and protested, he said:
“How did you get to these conclusions? You are giving us your recommendations, but I don’t understand how you got here. How many people did you interview? What questions did you ask?” Then another manager jumped in: “Please explain us what methodology you used for analyzing your data and how that led you to come to these findings.”
I was taken aback. I assured them that the methodology behind my recommendations was sound, but the questions and challenges continued. The more they questioned me, the more I got the feeling that they were attacking my credibility which puzzled and annoyed me. I have a master degree in material science and engineering and my expertise in injection molding and plastic parts design was widely acknowledged so far. Their effort to test my conclusions, I felt, showed a real lack of respect. What arrogance to think that they would be better able to judge than I am! So I reacted defensively, and the presentation went downhill from there. I kick myself now for having allowed their approach to derail my point. Needless to say, they did not approve my recommendations, and some weeks of research time went down the drain.
The stone wall I ran into illustrates the hard truth that our ability to persuade others depends not simply on the strength of our message, but on how we build our arguments and the persuasive techniques we employ.
On the other side one of my German colleague who worked some years in the U.S.A. experienced similar failures at persuading others, though the cultural disconnect ran in the opposite direction. He recalled problems he’ d had the first few times he tried to make a persuasive argument before a group of his American colleagues. He’ d carefully launched his presentation by laying the foundation for his conclusions, setting the parameters, outlining his data and his methodology, and explaining the premise of his argument. He was taken aback when his American boss told him:
“In your next presentation, get right to the point. You lost their attention before you even got to the important part.” My german colleague was unsure. “These are intelligent people,” he thought “Why would they swallow my argument if I haven’t built it carefully for them from the ground up?”
The opposing reactions that me and my German colleague received reflect the cultural differences between German and American styles of persuasion. The approach taken by the Germans is based on a specific style of reasoning that is deeply ingrained in the cultural psyche. Later on my colleague told me:
“In Germany, we try to understand the theoretical concept before adapting it to the practical situation. To understand something, we first want to analyze all of the conceptual data before coming to a conclusion. When colleagues from cultures like the U.S.A or the U.K. make presentations to us, we don’t realize that they were taught to think differently from us. So when they begin by presenting conclusions and recommendations without setting up the parameters and how they got to those conclusions, it can actually shock us, We may feel insulted. Do they think we are stupid-that we will just swallow anything? Or we may question whether their decision was well thought out. This reaction is based on our deep-seated belief that you cannot come to a conclusion without first defining the parameters”
My colleague’s time in the United States taught him that Americans have a very different approach. They focus on practicalities rather than theory, so they are much more likely to begin with their recommendations. Unfortunately, this reasoning method can backfire when making presentations to an audience whose method of thinking is the opposite-as I discovered.
THERE ARE TWO STYLES OF REASONING: PRINCIPLES-FIRST VERSUSAPPLICATIONS-FIRST
I. Principles-first reasoning(sometimes referred to as deductive reasoning) derives conclusions or facts from general principles or concepts.
For example, we may start with a general principle like “All men are mortal.” Then we move to a more specific example: “Elon Musk is a man.” This leads us to the conclusion, “Elon Musk will eventually, die.” Similarly, we may start with the general principle “Everything made of copper conducts electricity.” Then we show that the old statue of a leprechaun your grandmother left you is 100% copper. Based on these points, we can arrive at the conclusion, “Your grandmother’s statue will conduct electricity.”
In both examples, we started with the general principle and moved from it to a practical conclusion.
II.Applications-first reasoning(sometimes called inductive reasoning), general conclusions are reached based on a pattern of factual observations from the real world.
For example if you travel to Seattle 100X during January and February, and you observe at every visit that the temperature is considerably below zero, you will conclude that “Seattle winters are cold” (and that a winter visit to Seattle calls for a warm coat as well as a scarf, wool hat, glove and ear warmers). In this case, you observe data from the real world, and, based on these empirical observations, you draw broader conclusions.
Most people are capable of practicing both principles-first and applications-first reasoning. But your habitual pattern of reasoning is heavily influenced by the kind of thinking emphasized in your culture’s educational structure. As a result, you can quickly run into problems when working with people who are most accustomed to other modes of reasoning.
Take math class as an example. In a course using the applications-first method, you first learn the formula and practice applying it. After seeing how this formula leads to the right answer again and again, you then move on to understand the concept or principle underpinning it. This means you may spend 80% of your time focusing on the concrete tool and how to apply it and only 20% of your time considering its conceptual or theoretical explanation. School systems in Anglo-Saxon countries tend to emphasize this method of teaching.
By contrast, in a principles-first math class, you first prove the general principle, and only then use it to develop a concrete formula that can be applied to various problems. As a French manager once told me, “We had to calculate the value of pi as a class before we used pi in a formula.” In this kind of math class, you may spend 80% of your time focusing on the concepts or theories underpinning the general mathematical principles and only 20% of your time applying those principles to concrete problems. School systems in Latin Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania), the Germanic countries (Germany, Austria) and Latin America (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina) tend to emphasize this method of teaching.
In business, as in school, people from principles-first cultures generally want to understand the WHYbehind their boss’s request before they move to action. Meanwhile, applications-first learners tend to focus less on the WHY and more on the HOW.One of the most common frustrations among French employees with American bosses is that the American tells them what to do without explaining why they need to do it. From the French perspective, this can feel demotivating, even disrespectful. By contrast, American bosses may feel that French workers are uncooperative because, instead of acting quickly, they always ask “Why?” and are not ready to act until they have received a suitable response.
In the U.K. for example the learning is all about concept. Only after we struggle through the theoretical we do get to the practical application. The U.S. was exactly the opposite. Compared with other European cultures, the United Kingdom is quite applications-first. But when the United Kingdom is measured against the United States, it appears strongly principles-first-a vivid illustration of the power of cultural relativity to shape our perceptions.
You may be wondering where the Asian cultures fall on the persuading scale, since they don’t appear in the diagram. Actually, the view of the world most common in Asian cultures is so different from that of European-influenced cultures that an entirely different frame of reference, unrelated to the persuading scale, comes into play.
HOLISTIC THINKING: THE ASIAN APPROACH TOPERSUASION
Across Western countries, we see strong differences between applications-first and principles-first patterns of thinking. But when considering the differences between Asian and Western thought patterns, we need to use a different lens. Asians have what we refer to as holisticthought patterns, while Westerners tend to have what we will call a specificapproach.
I give you here some best example of psychological research which clearly show these 2 patterns of thinking. In the 1st study two distinguishable professors: Prof. Richard Nisbett (from University of Michigan and prof. Takahiko Masuda (University of Alberta) presented 20s animated video vignettes of underwater scenes to Japanese and American participants.
Afterwards, participants were asked what they had seen and the first sentence of each response was categorized. The results of the study were remarkable.
While the Americans mentioned larger, faster-moving, brightly colored objects in the foreground (such as the big fish visible in the illustration) the Japanese spoke more about what was going on in the background (for example, the plants or the small frog to the bottom left). In addition, the Japanese spoke twice as often as the Americans about the inter-dependencies between the objects up front and the objects in the background. As one Japanese woman explained “ I naturally look at all the items behind and around the large fish to determine what kind of fish they are.”
In a 2nd study, Americans and Japanese were asked to “take a photo of a person”. The Americans most frequently took a close-up, showing all the features of the person’s face, while the Japanese showed the person in his or her environment instead with the human figure quite small in relationship to the background
In the 3rd study prof. Nisbett and prof.Masuda asked American and Taiwanese students to read narratives an watch videos of silent comedies – for example, a film about a day in the life of a woman during which circumstances conspire to prevent her from getting to work and then to summarize them. In their summaries the Americans made about 30% more statement referring to central figures of the stories than their Taiwanese counterparts did.
Notice the common pattern in all three studies. The Americans focus on individual figures separate from their environment, while the Asians give more attention to backgrounds and to the links between these backgrounds and the central figures.
So the same happens in the multinational work environment with multinational managers. While Western European and Anglo-Saxon managers generally follow the American tendencies of specific thinking patterns, East Asians respond as Japanese and Taiwanese did in this research.When Westerners and Asians discuss these studies, the dialog is the following:
Western participant:but the instructions said to take a photo of a person, and the picture on the left is a photo of a person.The picture on the right is a photo of a landscape. Why would the Japanese take a photo of a landscape when they have been asked to take a photo of a person?
Asian Participant:The photo on the left is not a photo of the person. It is a close-up of a face. How can I determine anything about the person by looking at it? The photo on the right is a photo of a person, the entire person, including surrounding elements so you can determine something about that person. Why would Americans take a close-up a face which leaves out all of the important details?
Perhaps it is not surprising that Westerners and Asians tend to display these different patterns of interpretation. A common tenet of westerners philosophies and religions is that you can remove an item from its environment and analyze it separately. Cultural theorists call this specific thinking.
Chinese religions and philosophies, by contrast, have traditionally emphasized inter-dependencies and interconnectedness. Ancient Chinese thought was holistic, meaning that the Chinese attended to the field in which an object was located, believing that action always occurs in a field of forces that influence the action Taoism, which influenced Buddhism and Confucianism, proposes that the universe works harmoniously, its various elements dependent upon one another. The terms yin and yang (literally “dark” and light”) describe how seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent.
With this background in mind, after considering the fish and photo research studies we can say that: Chinese people think from macro to micro, whereas Western people think from micro to macro.
For example, when writing an address, the Chinese write in sequence of province, city, district, block, gate number. The Westerners do just the opposite they start with the number of a single house and gradually work their way up to the city and state. In the same way, Chinese put the surname first, whereas the Westerners do it the other way around. And Chinese put the year before month and date. Again, it’s the opposite in the West.
It’s easy to see how these differences in the characteristic sequence of thinking may cause difficulty or misunderstanding when people from Asian and Western cultures are involved in conversation.
A typical example is that Westerners may think that the Chinese are going all around the key points without addressing them deliberately, while East Asians may experience Westerners as trying to make a decision by isolating a single factor and ignoring significant inter dependencies. This difference affects how business thinking is perceived in Western and Asian cultures. In the eyes of Asian business leaders ,European and American executives tend to make decisions without taking much time to consider the broader implications their actions.
AVOIDING THE PITFALLS, REAPING THE BENEFITS
With words like “diversity” and “global” all the rage, many companies are seeking to create multinational, multicultural teams in an effort to reap benefits in the form of added creativity and greater understanding of global markets. However, as we’ve seen, cultural differences can be fraught with challenges. Effective cross-cultural collaboration can take more time than mono-cultural collaboration and often needs to be managed more closely, here are two simple tips that can help you realize the benefits of such collaboration while avoiding the dangers.
Tip 1 =on a multicultural team, you can save time by having as few people in the group work across cultures as possible. For example, if you are building a global team that includes small groups of participants from four countries, choose one or two people from each country-the most internationally experienced of the bunch-to do most of the cross-cultural collaborating. Meanwhile you can leave the others to work in the local way that is most natural to them. That way, you can have the innovation from the combination of cultures, while avoiding the inefficiency that comes with the dash of cultures.
Tip 2 =think carefully about your larger objectives before you mix cultures up. If your goal is innovation or creative, the more cultural diversity the better, as long as the process is managed carefully. But if your goal is simple speed and efficiency, then mono-cultural is probably better than multicultural.
So that being said, in order to be successful in your business apply ProfesSionalism thinking first, not Diversity.
I’ve been in this situation a lot of times until now. I would say that I’ve been more rated than rater. But either way, this is the most impossible thing that a human can do to another human. Those at HR departments who think they will ever have any accurate results to such ratings, they are definitely wrong, in most cases they rate good guys with bad results because they are simply disconnected from reality and their ratings are totally based on wrong data. Or if some still thing that they do a good job, HR partner or team leader or manager of whatever his/her rank is, then I have some questions for you guys. Give me a clear answer to the following questions:
How much do you think you can know about a person simply by watching him?
If you work with him every single day, do you think you can figure out what drives him?
Could you spot enough dues to reveal to you whether he’s competitive, or altruistic, or has a burning need to cross things off his list every day?
How about his style of thinking? Are you perceptive enough to see his patterns and pinpoint that he is a big-picture, what-if thinker, or a logical, deductive reasoner, or that he values facts over concepts?
And could you parse how he relates to others, and discern, for instance, that he’s far more empathetic than he appears, and that deep down he really cares about his teammates?
Perhaps you can. Perhaps you are one of those people who instinctively picks up on the threads of others’ behaviors and then weaves these into a detailed picture of who a person is and how he moves through the world.
Certainly, the best team leaders seem able to do this. They pay close attention to the spontaneous actions and reactions of their team members, and figure out that one person likes receiving praise in private, while another values it only when it’s given in front of the entire team; that one responds to dear directives, while another shuts down if you even appear to be telling him what to do. They know that each member of their team is unique, and they spend a huge amount of time trying to attend to and channel this uniqueness into something productive. So then I keep asking:
How about rating your team, though? Do you think you could accurately give your team members scores on each of their characteristics?
If you surmise that one of your team is a strategic thinker, could you with confidence choose a number to signify how good at it he actually is?
Could you do the same for his influencing skills, or his business knowledge, or even his overall performance?
And if you were asked how much of these things he had in relation to everyone else on the team, do you think you could weigh each person precisely enough to put a number to each person’s relative abilities?
This might sound a bit trickier – you’d have to keep your definition of influencing skills stable, even while judging each unique person against that definition. But if I gave you a scale of 1 to 5, with detailed descriptions of the behaviors associated with each number on the scale then:
Do you think you could use that scale fairly, and arrive at a true rating?
And even if you are confident in your own ability to do this, what do you think about all the other team leaders around you? Do you think they would use the scale in the same way, with the same level of objectivity and discernment as you?
Or would you worry that they might be more lenient graders, and so wind up with higher marks for everyone, or that they might define “influencing skills” differently from you?
Do you think it’s possible to teach all of these team leaders how to do this in exactly the same way?
It’s a lot to keep straight – so many different people rating so many other different people on so many different characteristics, producing torrents of data. But keep it all straight we must, because this data represents people, and once collected, it comes to define how people are seen at work.
At least once a year, a number of your more senior colleagues will gather together in a room to discuss you. They will talk about your performance, your potential, and your career aspirations, and decide on such consequential issues as how much bonus you should get, whether you should be selected for a special training program, and when or if you should be promoted. This meeting, as you might know, is called a “talent review”, and virtually every organization conducts some version of it. The organization’s interest is in looking one by one at its people-its talent-and then deciding how to invest deferentially in those individuals. The people who display the highest performance and potential – the stars, if you like-will normally get the most money and opportunity, while those further down the scale will get less, and those struggling at the lower end of the scale will more than likely be moved into a euphemistically described Performance Improvement Plan (P.I.P.) and thereby eased out.
These talent reviews are the mechanism that organizations use to manage their people. They want to keep the best people happy and challenged, and simultaneously weed out those who aren’t contributing. Since, in most organizations, the largest costs are people’s wages and benefits, these meetings are taken very seriously, and the most pressing question-a central preoccupation of all senior leaders in all large organizations-is, “How can we make sure that we are seeing our people for who they really are?”
This is a wake-up-in-the middle-of-the-night sort of question for senior leaders, because they worry that their team leaders might not, in fact, understand the sort of person the organization needs nearly as clearly as the senior leaders do, and further that the team leaders might not be objective raters of their own people. To combat this worry, companies have set up all sorts of systems designed to add rigor to this review process. The one you may be most familiar with is the nine box.
This is a graph showing performance along the x-axis and potential up the y-axis, with each axis divided into thirds – low, medium, and high-to create nine possible regions. Each team leader is asked to think about each person on his or her team and then place them, in advance of the talent review, into one of the nine boxes -to rate them, that is, on both their performance and their potential. This system is designed to allow a team leader to highlight that a particular person might have bags of potential, and yet not have translated that potential into actual performance, whereas another team member might contribute top-notch performance, and yet have very little potential upside – he’s maxed out in his current position. With this data displayed in the talent review, the leadership team can define different courses of action for each person: the former will be given more training and more time, for example, while the latter might just be offered a healthy bonus.
Many companies also give people performance ratings on a scale of 1-5, either in parallel with or as an alternative to the nine-box process.
Again, each team leader is asked to propose a rating for each person on his or her team. Then, before or as part of the talent review, there is a meeting called a “consensus” or “calibration” meeting, which goes something like this: your team leader talks about you and defends why he ended up giving you a 4 rating, and then his colleagues weigh in on why they gave their people 5s, or 4s, or 3s, whereupon debates ensue about what really constitutes a 4, whether a 4 on one team is the same as a 4 on another team, whether you truly deserve a 4 this year, and if you do, whether the organization has enough 4s left over to allow you to have one.
If the organization has run out of 4s -which happens often since many team leaders are reluctant to give a person a 3 or, perish the thought, a 2 – then your team leader may have to give you a 3 and tell you that, though you truly deserved a 4, it wasn’t your turn this year, and that he will look out for you next year. This is called “forcing the curve,” which is the name given to the rather painful process of reconciling the organization’s need to have only a certain percentage of employees show up as super-high performers with the team leaders’ tendency to give high ratings to everyone so as to avoid having unpleasant performance conversations.
Forced curves are no one’s idea of fun, but they are felt to be a necessary constraint on team leaders, and a way of ensuring that rewards are appropriately “differentiated,” so that high performers get much more than low performers. Perhaps wanting to add more precision to the words performanceand potential, many organizations have created lists of competencies that team members are supposed to possess, and against which they are rated at the end of the year.
I am still in doubt that these models are true reflections of what performance looks like in the real world. Does anyone really have all of the competencies?Can we really prove that those who acquire the ones they lack outperform those who don’t?
Nevertheless, many organizations still rate each person against such standard checklists. To aid in this, each competency is defined in terms of behaviors, and then the behaviors are tied to a particular point on the rating scale. So, for example, on a competency called organizational savvy and politics, if you see that the person “Provides examples of savvy approaches to successfully solving organizational problems,” then you’d rate her a 3. If you see that she “Recognizes and effectively addresses politically challenging situations,” you would rate her a 4. Using your behaviorally anchored competency ratings as your building blocks, you would then be asked to construct an overall rating of her performance and potential, and this is how she’ d be represented during the talent review.
Historically, the talent review has happened only once or twice a year. With the arrival of smartphones it’s now technologically possible for an organization to launch short performance-ratings surveys throughout the year. Each person can be rated by their peers, direct reports, and bosses, and then the scores can be aggregated either at mid-year or at year’s end to produce a final performance rating. This race to real-time ratings appears as inevitable as it is frenzied, and all of it is in service of the organization’s interest, which is to answer the question, “When it comes to our people, what do we really have here?”
Your interest in all this is related, but different. You won’t be too worried about competencies, and calibration sessions, and behavioral anchors, all of which probably sound a bit esoteric. Instead, you’ll be acutely aware of a few real-world practicalities that boil down to the fact that your pay, your promotion possibilities, and possibly even your continued employment are being decided in a meeting to which you are conspicuously not invited. The people who are in the room-some of whom you know, and some of whom know you, and others of whom you’ve never met-are talking about you, and people like you, and they are rating you, deciding which box you go in, and thereby deciding what you will get after a year of hard work, and also where your career will go next. You may not realize this during your first couple of years in the workforce, but once you do, it will preoccupy you.
You’ll think to yourself: Do I really want these people to think well of me?. Do I really, really want these people not to think ill of me. But most of all, I want the truth of me in the room where the decisions are made. This is your interest.
You will come to wonder about these rating scales, these peer surveys, and these always-on 360-degree apps, and you will hope that there is enough science in them, enough rigor and process, that you-ideally, the best of you – will be portrayed accurately. After that, let the chips fall where they may. At least, then, you will have been given a fair hearing on your true merits as a person, and as a team member.
It is going to bother you greatly to learn, then, that in the real world, none of this works. None of the mechanisms and meetings – not the models, not the consensus sessions, not the exhaustive competencies, not the carefully calibrated rating scales – none of them will ensure that the truth of you emerges in the room, because all of them are based on the belief thatpeople can reliably rate other people. And they can’t. This, in all its frustrating simplicity, is a lie.
It’s frustrating because it would be so much more convenient if, with enough training and a well-designed tool, a person could become a reliable rater of another person’s skills and performance. Think of all the data on you we could gather, aggregate, and then act on! We could precisely peg your performance and your potential. We could accurately assess your competencies. We could look at all of these and more through the eyes of your bosses, peers, and subordinates. And then we could feed all this into an algorithm, and out would come promotion lists, succession plans, development plans, nominations for the high-potential program, and more. But none of this is possible, despite the fact that many human capital software systems claim to do exactly what’s described above.
Over the last forty years, we have tested and retested people’s ability to rate others, and the inescapable conclusion-reported in research papers is: that human beings cannot reliably rate other human beings, on anything at all.
We could easily confirm this by watching the ice-skating scoring at any recent Winter Olympics – how can the Chinese and the Canadian judges disagree so dramatically on the scoring of that triple toe loop? This is extremely subjective due to on single factor: the unique personality of the rater. The same happen at work. Each rater-regardless of whether he or she is a boss, a peer, or a direct report – displays his or her own particular rating pattern. Some we have very lenient raters, skewing far to the right of the rating scale, while others were tough graders, skewing left. Some had natural range, using the entire scale from 1 to 5; while others seemed to be more comfortable arranging their ratings in a tight cluster. Each person, whether he or she realize it or not, has an idiosyncratic pattern of ratings, so this powerful effect come to be called the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect.
Here’s what’s going on. When Lucy rates Charlie on the various subquestions in the competency called strategic thinking, there is a distinct pattern to her ratings, which her organization believes reflects her judgment about how much strategic thinking Charlie has. For this to be true, however, when Lucy then turns her attention to a different team member, Steve, and rates him on the same competency, the pattern of her ratings should change, because she is now looking at a different person with, presumably, different levels of strategic thinking. We can therefore conclude that Lucy’s pattern of ratings does not change when she rates two different people.Instead her ratings stay just about the same-her ratings pattern travels with her, regardless of who she’s rating, so her ratings reveal more about her than they do about her team members.
I think that rating tools are windows that allow us to see out to other people, but they’re really just mirrors, with each of us endlessly bouncing us back at ourselves. And this effect is not, by the way, associated with unconscious bias on the part of the rater for or against people of a particular gender, race, or age. These biases do exist, of course, and we should do everything we can to teach people how to see past them or remove them – what I can clearly say is that the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect applies regardless of the gender, race, or age of both the rater and the person being rated. This is the first hurdle we must face.
The idiosyncrasy of the rating pattern sterns from the uniqueness of the rater, and doesn’t appear to have much of anything to do with the person being rated. In fact, it’s pretty much as though that person isn’t there at all. When we rate other people on a list of questions about their abilities, the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect explains more than half of why we choose the ratings we do.
Since you’re most concerned that the truth of you be in the room, this should worry you enormously. The rating given to you tells us, in the main, about the rating patterns of your team leader, and yet, in the room, we act as though it tells us about the performancepatterns in you. And even if we could in fact correct for our rating idiosyncrasies, we’d still have another hurdle in front of us. The people you work with simply don’t interact with you enough to be able to pinpoint the extent to which you possess, say, influencing skills, or political savvy, or strategic thinking, or frankly any abstract attribute.
People at work are preoccupied (with work, mainly), and paying attention to you closely and continuously enough to be able to rate you on any of these abstractions is a practical impossibility. They simply don’t see you enough. Their data on you is insufficient-hence the name for this second hurdle: data insufficiency.
If Olympic ice-skating judges can’t agree on the quality of each triple toe loop, when the only thing they are doing is sitting watching triple toe loops one after the other, then what hope does a busy peer, direct report, or boss have of accurately rating your “business acumen”?
Even if we changed the world of work, and created a job category of roving raters whose sole responsibility was to wander the hallways and meeting rooms, to watch each person act and react in real time, and then to rate each person on a list of qualities, we still wouldn’t get good data, in part because our definitions are poor.
A triple toe loop = is defined as a take-off from a backward outside (skate) edge assisted by the toe of the other foot, followed by three rotations, followed by a landing on the same backward outside edge-and this is the only definition of it.
Business acumen = is keenness and speed in understanding and deciding on a business situation … people with business acumen … are able to obtain essential information about a situation, focus on the key objectives, recognize the relevant options available for a solution, [and] select an appropriate course of action.
And this is just one of many definitions you’ll encounter. Furthermore, there is a world of difference between the specificity of “take-off from a backward outer edge” and the vagueness of “essential information,”“key objectives,” and “appropriate course of action.” But then let me ask you:
Essential to whom?
Key objectives as determined by whom?
Appropriate course of action as determined how?
Of course, each of us reading the definitions thinks, “Well, I could easily define those for myself”– but that’s the point. When we rate people on abstractions, there is even more scope for our ratings to reflect our own idiosyncrasies. And because one person’s understanding of business acumen is meaningfully different from another’s, even when two highly trained and focused raters rate the same person on the same quality, they find it extraordinarily difficult to arrive at the same rating for the same quality. To all this talk of the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect and data insufficiency, however, some will tell you to calm your fears. The truth of you will indeed emerge in the room, they’ll say, because even though one _ person might be an unreliable and idiosyncratic rater, many people won’t be.
The problem with almost all data relating to people-including you – is that it isn’t reliable. Goals data that reports your “percent complete”; competency data comparing you to abstractions; ratings data measuring your performance and your potential through the eyes of unreliable witnesses: it wobbles by itself, and fails to measure what it says it’s measuring. One of the most bizarre implications of this systematic unreliability is that, in what is supposedly the age of big data, no organization can say what drives performance-at least, not knowledge-worker performance. We may be able to say something intelligent about what drives sales, say, or piece-work output, because both of these are inherently and reliably measurable-they can be counted.
But for any other work-which means most work-we have no way of knowing what drives performance, because we have no reliable way of measuring performance. We don’t know:
whether bigger teams drive performance more than smaller teams.
whether remote workers perform better than colocated workers.
whether culturally more diverse teams are higher performing than less diverse ones.
whether contractors are higher performers than full-time employees, or if it’s the other way around.
We can’t even show that our investments in the training and development of our employees lead to greater performance.
We can’t say anything about any of these things, precisely because we have no reliable way to measure performance.
I began this post by asking you how you can be confident that the truth of you is in the room during the talent review-how you can be confident that decisions about your pay, your next role, your promotion, and your career are being made based on a true understanding of who you are. But actually, you don’t want the truth of you in the room. You don’t want someone to be in any room pretending that they have a reliable measure of who you are.
In the same way that you hated your singular performance rating-you were never just a 3, because you were never just a number-so you will come to despise the newer tools that now claim, ever more loudly, to capture all your essential competencies. They don’t, and they never will: they simply add gasoline to the conflagration of bad data purporting to represent you. Any tool that pretends to reveal who you are is false. What you want in the room is different: not the truth of you, but just the truth. You don’t want to be represented by data that attempts, arrogantly, to divine who you are. Instead, you want to be represented by data that simply, reliably, and humbly captures the reaction of your team leader to you. That’s not you, and it shouldn’t pretend to be you. It’s your leader, and what he feels, and what he would do in the future. And that’s enough. Truly.
This is again something that many managers think so. They really thing that THE BEST PLAN ALWAYS WINS. Sometimes I just stay alone and ask myself, why the business world and (not only) is ruled by so many incompetent people which are easily promoted in management position without having done anything remarkable, except the fact they were just in some favorable circumstances or as many of them are just there because their company is a incubator of assholes (and here I include big multinational organizations which are quite favorable places for such things) where if you reach the maximum level of being asshole then you have the chance to become the biggest asshole in that company and then when you are on the top, you think you are “The one and only”. Those guys,in fact have no idea how to grow a business. Some are literally stupid. I fail to understand who the hell they become managers, no matter how much I try.
Do The Best Plan Always Wins??== Absolutely not. My answer to that question is: a big FUCKING NO. The more in detail you plan, the more in detail you’ll fucking fail. The level of details you put in that plan, is equivalent with the level of how deep you go in the shit afterwards. Or at least perhaps you succeed in some proportions, but you still get some tracks of bullshit as payback reward. So here is the thing, don’t plan to much, play smart and you will have 10X changes to win than by doing the best plan in advance. You don’t need to waste your time trying to plan something in too much details which in almost 100% of cases it won’t happen as foreseen anyway.
Let me give you a simple example. Have you seen the movie “Mission Impossible” with the main cast Tom Cruise?
I guess this is a stupid question, right? :-). Of course, that even if, there is someone who didn’t see the full movie set, at least saw a trailer with this movie. The first movie in this set was so successful that until today the 6th installment has been already released and it is still not over. The directors already announced that the 7th and 8th installment are on going and prepared to be released in the near future. So for those who didn’t see the movie yet, I really recommend you to watch it. It is an action movie full of adrenaline and it keeps you awake and alert all the time. It’s a movie full of special effects and includes very dynamic action scenes.
For those who already have seen it then, I am sure that you may have noticed that in this movie called “Mission Impossible” in fact, what Tom Cruise is doing it turns to be “Mission Possible”. In the movie the flow of actions are very diverse and the suspense is always there, showing that everything which was well planned in advance didn’t truly happen as expected. Instead Tom had to deal with all sort of difficult situations which he all the time make them turn in his favor, but not because he planned to be like that, but because he played his role perfectly and his intelligence made him succeed without planning anything in advance at all. He had good fellows around him and they trusted in each other. But this is in the movie, in real life the opposite is happening. So as we talk about work, let’s put this in the context of working in an organization. The opposite is happening in business every day.
If you’ve recently been promoted to team leader, the first thing you’ll be expected to do is create a plan. You’ll be asked – before you even start, most likely – what your plan is for your team, or, more specifically, what your 90 day plan is for your team? You’ll have to sit down, think hard, survey your team members (many of whom you will have inherited), and then do your best Tom Cruise impression and make your plan.
And when you do this: you’ll quickly realize one of the many differences between your team and Cruise’s: his team works alone, while yours appears to be connected to a whole host of other teams, each with their own version of the plan. In fact, poke your head above the parapet of your team for a second and look out across all the other teams in the company, and you’ll discover something of a planning frenzy. Every team is about to go, or is away on, or is just back from, or is just debriefing from, their off-site, during which they formulated, or perhaps reformulated, their current version of the plan.
It won’t be immediately obvious to you, but after a few years you’ll discern that there is a pattern to this planning, a predictable rhythm that repeats itself year after year: in September, in advance of the November board meeting, the leaders of your company will go away on a senior leadership retreat. They may do a SWOT analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats – and it’s just as fun as it sounds); they may bring in outside consultants to help them; and after much analysis and debate and proposal and counter-proposal, the white smoke will emerge from the chimney, and the leaders will emerge with:
The Strategic Plan.
They will then present this plan to the board, and once it’s approved, they will share it with their direct reports. This plan will then be sliced up into many other plans (departmental plans, divisional plans, geographic plans, and so on), each slice-finer and more detailed than the preceding one, until you, too, are asked to take your team off – site and construct your version of the plan.
We do this because we believe that plans are important. If we could just get the plan right, we think, and weave every team’s plan into the broader company plan, then we could be confident that our resources were allocated appropriately, that the correct sequence and timing were laid out, that each person’s role was clearly defined, and that we had enough of the right people to fill each required role. Buoyed by this confidence, we’d know that we’d only have to galvanize our teams to give their all, and success would follow. At the same time, there is a yearning quality to all this planning. We are attempting to shape our future, and our plans can feel like scaffolding stretching out into the months ahead, upon which we’ll build our better world – their function is perhaps as much to reassure us as it is to make that world real. Plans give us certainty, or at least a bulwark against uncertainty. They help us believe that we will, indeed, walk out of the casino with the cash.
And yet, just as this cycle of big plans leading to medium plans leading to small plans is familiar to you, so – surely – is the nagging realization that things rarely, if ever, turn out the way you hope they will. Sure, planning is exciting in the beginning, but the more you sit in all these planning meetings, the more a feeling of futility creeps in. While it all looks great on paper, tidy and perfect, you sense it’s never really going to play out like this, and that as a result you’ll soon be back in yet another planning meeting. You’ll leave this one with the broad contours of your plan sketched out, and you’ll agree on the next steps necessary to refine those contours into something specific and actionable, and then the meeting to make things actionable will get postponed a bit, and then, when it finally happens, it will drift off in another direction. And then, when your team finally gets around to nailing the details, some new idea or thought or realization will emerge that leads you to rethink what you started off with. Tom Cruise never had to deal with this.
But in the real world you’ll have to. The defining characteristic of our reality today is its ephemerality – the speed of change.
Everywhere we look we see this speed of change. When you put your plan together in September, it’s obsolete by November. And if you look at it in January, you might not even recognize the roles and action items you wrote out in the fall. Events and changes are happening faster than they ever have before, so dissecting a situation and turning it into a meticulously constructed plan is an exercise in engaging in a present that will soon be gone. The amounts of time and energy it takes to make a plan this thorough and detailed are the very things that doom it to obsolescence. The thing we call planning doesn’t tell you where to go; it just helps you understand where you are. Or rather, were. Recently. We aren’t planning for the future, we’re planning for the near-term past.
And where are the people who are making the plan? So far behind the front lines of the company that they don’t have enough real-world information upon which to make the plan in the first place. How can you make a plan to sell a particular sort of product to a particular sort of customer when you’re not out selling every day? You can’t, not really. You can make a theoretical sales “model” based on your conceptual understanding of an abstract situation, or on an averaged data set that summarizes trends. But if it’s not grounded in the real-world details of each actual sales conversation-when do the prospects’ eyes glaze over, when do the prospects lean forward, when do they start to finish your sentences-your plan will always be more assumptive than prescriptive.
Your people want and need to engage with the world that they’re really in, and to interact with the world as it really is. By harnessing them to a prefabricated plan, you’re not only constraining your people but, quite possibly, also revealing how out of touch with reality you are. This is not to say that planning is utterly useless. Creating space to think through all of the information you have in your world, and trying to pull that into some sort of order or understanding, has some value. But when you do that, know that all you’ve done is understand the scale and nature of the challenges your team is facing. You’ll have learned little about what to do to make things better. The solutions can be found in the tangible and changing realities of the world as it really is, whereas your plans are necessarily abstract understandings of the recent past. Plans scope the problem, not the solution.
So, though you are told that the best plan wins, the reality is quite different. Many plans, particularly those created in large organizations, are overly generalized, quickly obsolete, and frustrating to those asked to execute them. It’s far better to coordinate your team’s efforts in real time, relying heavily on the informed, detailed intelligence of each unique team member.
If you move information across an organization as fast as possible, and do so to empower you will get a immediate and responsive action. Underlying the assumption that people are wise, and that if you can present them with accurate, real time, reliable data about the real world in front of them, they’ll invariably make smart decisions.It’s not true that the best plan wins. It is true that the best intelligence wins.
What can you do as a team leader to create such an intelligence system for your team?
First: liberate as much information as you possibly can. Think about all the sources of information you have, and make as many of them as possible available to your team, on demand. Planning systems constrain information to those who “need to know.” Intelligence systems don’t – they liberate as much information as possible, as fast as possible. So don’t worry too much at first about whether your team will understand the data or be able to make use of it. If you think the information will help your people gain a better understanding of their real world in real time, share it. And encourage your team to do the same. Help them understand that sharing what they know about the world, frequently, is vital. Make sure your team is swimming in real-time information, all the time.
Second : watch carefully to see which data your people find useful.Don’t worry too much about making all this data simple or easy to consume, or about packaging it for people, or weaving it together to form a coherent story. The biggest challenge with data today isn’t making sense of it – most of us deal with complexity all the time, and are pretty good at figuring out what we need to know and where to find it. No, the biggest challenge with data today is making it accurate-sorting the signal from the noise. This is much harder, and much more valuable for our teams. So be extremely vigilant about accuracy; watch which information your people naturally gravitate toward; and then, over time, increase the volume, depth, and speed of precisely that sort of data.
Third : trust your people to make sense of the data.Planning systems take the interpretation of the data away from those on the front lines, and hand it off to a select few, who analyze it and decipher its patterns, and then construct and communicate the plan. Intelligence systems do precisely the opposite – because the “intelligence” in an intelligence system lies not in the select few, but instead in the emergent interpretive powers of all front-line team members. You are not the best sense maker. They are.
A pretty good way to ruin someone’s day is to fill it with meetings. Meetings, for most of us, are a way of taking time that could be put to good use in doing real work, and instead using that time to hear presentations of varying relevance to our immediate challenges, or to discuss topics that might appear important in the grand scheme of things, but that hardly seem urgent on any given day. And while countless meeting “best practices” (have a written agenda, document follow-up items, and so on) at least – ensure some degree of utility, the fact remains that most meetings contain one or more people thinking to themselves that they could be doing something useful, if only they weren’t doing this.
If you study the best team leaders you’ll discover that many of them share a similarly frequent sense-making ritual-not with 2000 people, but with 2. It’s called a check-in, and in simple terms it’s a frequent, one-on-one conversation about near-term future work between a team leader and a team member. How frequent?Every week. These leaders understand that goals set at the beginning of the year have become irrelevant by the third week of the year, and that a year is not a marathon, planned out in detail long in advance, but is instead a series of 52 little sprints, each informed by the changing state of the world. They realize that the key role of a team leader is to ensure that Sprint Number 36 is as focused and as energizing as was Sprint Number 1.
So, each and every week these leaders have a brief check-in with each team member, during which they ask two simple questions:
What are your priorities this week?
How can I help?
They are not looking for a to-do list from the team member. They simply want to discuss the team member’s priorities, obstacles, and solutions in real time, while the work itself is ongoing. Making sense of it together can happen only in the now. The generalizations that emerge once the passage of time has blurred the details are not the stuff of good sense making. So, doing a check-in once every six weeks or even once a month is useless, because you’ll wind up talking in generalities. Actually, the data reveals that checking in with your team members once a month is literally worse than useless.
While team leaders who check-in once a week see, on average, a 13% increase in team engagement, those who check in only once a month see a 5% decreasein engagement. It’s as if team members are saying to you, ”I’d rather you not waste my time if all we’re going to do is talk generalities. Either get into the nitty-gritty of my work and how you can help right now, or leave me alone.”
Each check-in, then, is a chance to offer a tip, or an idea that can help the team member overcome a real-world obstacle, or a suggestion for how to refine a particular skill. Check-ins can be short-10 to 15 minutes – but that’s plenty of time to do a little real-time learning and coaching. And, like all good coaching, this has to be rooted in the specifics of the particular situation the team member is facing, the psychology she/he is bringing to it, the strengths she/he possesses, and the strategies she/he might already have tried. Again, the only way to surface these sorts of microdetails is to make sure that the conversations are frequent.
This leads us to one of the most important insights shared by the best team leaders: frequency trumps quality. They realize that it’s less important that each check-in is perfectly executed than that it happens, every week. In the intelligence business, frequency is king. The more frequently and predictably you check in with your people or meet with your team-the more you offer your real-time attention to the reality of their work-the more performance and engagement you will get. In this sense, checking in is akin to teeth-brushing: you brush your teeth every day, and while you hope that each brushing is high quality, what’s most important is that it happens, every day. Twice-a-year super-high-quality teeth-brushing is as absurd as it sounds. So is twice-a-year super-high-quality intelligence. A team with low check-in frequency is a team with low intelligence.
And this realization in turn gives the lie to the complaint-heard so often from senior leaders and HR executives-that “our team leaders aren’t skilled enough to coach their people!” The data reveals only that those team leaders who check in every week with each team member have higher levels of engagement and performance, and lower levels of voluntary turnover. It doesn’t have anything to say about the quality of those check-ins. We know for sure that if a team leader checks in often with a team member, the team member gets something really positive out of it. And besides, if the team leader struggles initially with his check-in quality, at least he’s able to practice it 51 more times with each team member every year. No matter what his starting point, or his level of natural coaching talent, he’s going to get a little better.
Now, you, the team leader, might think: “Well, I would love to check inwith my people every week, but I can’t. I’ve simply got too many people!“If that’s you, then yes – you have too many people. One of the longer-running debates in the world of people and organizations is the span of control debate, which grapples with exactly how many team members every team leader should manage. Some say between 1 and 9 employees. Others say between 1 and 20. Some nurses manage staffs of 40; some call-center managers lead 70 or more.
But by pinpointing the weekly check-in as the single most powerful ritual of the world’s best team leaders, we can now know the exact span of control that’s right for every single team leader: it’s the number of people that you, and only you, can check in with every week. If you can check in with 8 people, but you can’t fit 9 into your schedule, your span of control is 8. If you can find a way to check in with 20 people, then your span of control is 20. And if you’re one of those people who can legitimately manage a weekly check-in with only 2 people, your span of control is 2.
Span of control, in other words, isn’t a theoretical, one-size-fits-all thing. It’s a practical, function of team leader’s-capacity to give attention thing. Your span of control is your span of attention.
In the service of intelligence, then – in the service of making sense of real – time information together – the weekly check-in is the anchor ritual. You need to design your teams, and their size, to enable it. And if ever you become a leader of leaders, you’ll need to ensure that your leaders know that this check-in is the most important part of leading. Checking in with each person on a team –listening, course-correcting, adjusting, coaching, pinpointing, advising, paying attention to the intersection of the person and the real-world work-is not what you do in addition to the work of leading. This is the work of leading. If you don’t like this, if the idea of weekly check-ins bores or frustrates you or you think that once a week is just “too much” that’s fine-but then don’t be a leader.
In many situations it can be critical for team members to come to trust their team leader. Frequent sense making together in your weekly check-ins-can help with this since it leads not only to better decisions but also to the building of trust. 2 of the 8 engagement items (as I mentioned in my previous post about Lie Nr.2-People do care which company they work for) directly address this issue of trust:
“In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values” and
“My teammates have my back.”
When these items receive low scores on a team it’s easy to assume that the problem is one of intent-that team members don’t really care for one another or want to support one another. More often than not, however, low scores are a function not of bad intent but of poor information: team members don’t know how to support one another, because they don’t know what’s going on in enough detail to offer assistance. If they don’t know what one another is doing, how can each learn what the others truly value?
Likewise, if they don’t know what work each is engaged in, how can any one of them feel safe? You can’t watch someone’s back if you don’t know where his or her back is. The more frequent sense-making rituals you establish on your team, the more information you will liberate, the more intelligence you will generate, and the more trust you will engender.
It is far more powerful for a leader to free the most information and the most decision-making power than it is for that leader to craft the perfect plan. Another of the 8 aspects (see LIE NR. 2) that distinguish the best teams, as we’ve seen, is the sense of every team member that:
“At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.”
Whether informed by any number of management truisms in between, or simply by what seems intuitive, our assumption has most often been that the best way to create clarity of expectations is to tell people what to do. It turns out, however, that by the time you’ve managed to do this, your directions are wrong because the world has moved on. In this way, the systems we’ve built to tell people what to do at great scale-planning systems-fail. The best, most effective way to create clarity of expectations is to figure out how to let your people figure it out for themselves. This isn’t a question of removing complexity, but is rather one of locating it in the right place-not hidden from view as the input for a grand plan, but rather shared for all to see. To do this, give your people as much accurate data as you can, as often as you can-a real-time view of what’s going on right now-and then a way to make sense of it, together.
If you only care about your future projections in career, then your team will behave accordingly, meaning that they won’t give a fuck on your plans.
This statement is very common in many organizations. If you want to apply for a job which require a high qualification and offers you nice benefits in return, you will get first a long list of requirements from that company which is asking you to prove your competencies in as many of your future tasks as possible. You must be skilled and experienced in a lot of things and you have – let’s say 1 hour for the interview – to prove that. If you are weak at some criteria or you really don’t have one of the required skill or competency at all, you may already expect to be rejected without too much talk. The company will tell you usually after few days that they decided for another candidate, which in many cases is a lie. They didn’t decide for anything, they just did not find the perfect candidate which can fulfill 100% all the requirements. They are all following the idea that the best candidate is well-rounded and therefore they put effort to spend time and money to find that candidate. Well… let me say, that anything more stupid in any hiring process than this it can not be.
Those organization who have this approach are just wasting their money for nonsense. It’ s definitely wrong to judge like that, saying: the best staff is well-rounded. Maybe at some point in the future the Artificial Intelligence will create such a tool perfect for everything, but humans will never ever be well-round for any job. This is a very big lie. I am gonna talk about this lie in this post.
Look, the best example I have in mind in this moment is Lionel Messi.
For all the football fans, there is no need for me to tell you who Leo Messi is. In case there are still some who probably don’t know about him, Messi is one of the best (because Cristioano Rolanldo also is 🙂 ) football player in the world. We won’t see another one like him soon. He is good in this sport. Extremely good. But he has all the credit for that; First he has talent and second he plays with pleasure, he really loves what he does. He gained the admiration of the whole world and he really shine in his actions on the football field.
Messi plies his trade on the world’s largest sporting stages, but you may have experienced similar admiration for colleagues at work. One of them puts together a presentation and delivers it with wit and clarity, and you smile. Another handles a grumpy customer with just the right mix of empathy and practicality, and you marvel at how easy he made it look. Another defuses a complex political situation, and you look at him in awe and wonder how on earth he did it. As humans we are wired to find joy in seeing someone else’s talents in action. We resonate with the naturalness, the fluidity, and the honesty of a thing done brilliantly well, and it attracts us and draws us in.
You will have recognized the Messi’s joy when it is your own performance that you’re experiencing, too – that is, when you are expressing your own strengths. This sensation is not, at root, created by how good you are at something. Rather, it’s created by how that activity makes you feel. A strength, properly defined, is not “something you are good at.” You will have many activities or skills that, by dint of your intelligence, your sense of responsibility, or your disciplined practice, you are quite good at, and that nonetheless bore you, or leave you cold, or even drain you. “Something you are good at” is not a strength; it is an ability.
And, yes, you will be able to demonstrate high ability – albeit briefly – at quite a few things that bring you no joy whatsoever.
A strength, on the other hand, is an “activity that makes you feel strong.”
This sort of activity possesses for you certain definable qualities. Before you do it, you find yourself actively looking forward to doing it. While you are doing it, time seems to speed up, one moment blurring into the next. And after you’ve done it, while you may be tired and not quite ready to suit up and tackle it again, you nonetheless feel filled up, proud.
It is this combination of three distinct feelings – positive anticipation beforehand, flow during, and fulfillment afterward – that makes a certain activity a strength. And it is this combination of feelings that produces in you the yearning to do the activity again and again, to practice it over and over, to thrill to the chance to do it just one more time. A strength is far more appetitethan ability, and indeed it is the appetite ingredient that feeds the desire to keep working on it and that, in the end, produces the skill improvement necessary for excellent performance.
This is what work does to Stevie Wonder when he composes and sings – he finds joy. This is what work does to Lionel Messi when he dances round defenders and finds the net from impossible angles – he finds delight. This is what we see when we see anyone who is really good at their work – we see someone who has found love in what they do. And this is what your company hopes your work will do for you. When your leaders say they want you to be creative and innovative and collaborative and resilient and intuitive and productive, what they are really saying is, “We want you to fill your working hours with activities that bring you joy, with tasks that delight you.”
Oddly-and sadly-this set of observations is often dismissed in business circles, because business is meant to be about rigor and objectivity and competitive advantage, next to which the idea of looking for joy in work, as a precursor to excellence in work, seems rather soft. Fixing shortcomings, no matter how hard that might be, seems like the hard-boiled business of business; finding delight is the province of poets.
Somehow, on the best teams, the team leader must be able not only to identify the strengths of each person but also to tweak roles and responsibilities so that team members, individually, feel that their work calls upon them to exercise their strengths on a daily basis. When a team leader does this, everything else recognition, sense of mission, clarity of expectations-works better. But when a team leader doesn’t, nothing else that he or she tries, whether in the form of money or title or cheerleading or cajoling, can make up for it. Ongoing work-strengths fit is the master leverfor high-performance teams: pull it, and everything else is elevated; fail to pull it, and everything else is diminished.
Nothing thus far should be particularly surprising. We’ve all seen people like Lionel Messi demonstrate their brilliance, and been uplifted by the sight. We’ve watched colleagues excel, and we’ve felt happy wonder in their success.Which makes it all the more surprising (or frustrating, or depressing) is that companies are not, in fact, built to help us pinpoint and then contribute our unique strengths. Intheir systems and processes and technologies, in their rituals and language and philosophies, they evidence exactly the opposite design: to measure us against a standardized model, and then badger us to become as similar to this model as possible. They are built, that is, around the lie that the best people arewell-rounded.
At some point in your career, if you haven’t already done so, you will bump into a thing called a competency model. A competency is a quality you are supposed to possess in order to excel in your job. They look like this: strategic thinking, goal orientation, political savvy, business acumen, customer focus, and so on. The idea behind them is that excellent performance in a job can be defined in terms of the right grouping of competencies.
Thus the company’s top leaders will be asked to examine a long list of these competencies – there are literally thousands to choose from-and then pick the ones that everyone agrees each incumbent in each job should possess. One widely used model, for example, identifies five categories of competencies (core, leadership/management/business/interpersonal, job functional, job technical, and technical-task specific) and then a further list of competencies within each of these, so that “core,” in this case, includes for example 22 leadership competencies, 18 management competencies, 45 business competencies, and 33 individual competencies, for a total of 118.
Entry-level jobs are assigned fewer or simpler competencies, and the further up the hierarchy a job is, the more numerous and the more complex the competencies assigned to it tend to become. Having defined competencies for each role, the leaders will also usually define a desired proficiency level for each competency on a scale of 1 to 5, so that they can say, for instance, that such-and-such a job requires strategic thinking at a proficiency level of 3, whereas it needs customer focus at a proficiency level of 5.
This entire construct – the chosen competencies and their required proficiency levels, for each seniority level, for each job, across some or all of an organization – is called a competency model. In a typical model, a given job might be defined to require a few dozen competencies at varying proficiency levels.
So far, this might seem unobjectionable, if a little unwieldy: a group of leaders getting together to define what they feel the ideal employee should look like. It might not be our first choice for how they should spend their time, but at least no one has been harmed in the making of this model. It’s what happens next, however, that leads us into choppier waters, because once created, the competencies show up everywhere.
Your manager and your peers will rate you on them, and your overall performance rating will be derived in large part from how much of each of them you possess. During annual talent reviews, the competencies will be the language used to describe your performance and potential: if the consensus is that you possess them all, you will be considered for promotion, or paid more, or selected for plum assignments; whereas if you do not possess them, or display gaps in a few of them, you will be told to take the relevant training programs, and work on proving to your company that you have plugged your gaps. These competencies will become the lens through which your company sees you, understands you, and values you.
All of the major Human Capital Management tools – the enterprise software systems that companies use to keep information about you, pay you, allocate benefits to you, promote you, develop you, and deploy you – are built around competency models, and how closely you and your colleagues match up to the models. The concern here is the theory of work that those companies embody and that underlies so much of what we do in organizations today. (in automotive industry all of them are guided by such competency models: B.M.W, Dailmer, AUDI, VW, Renault, Toyota, Ford, NISSAN, and so on, all of them.)
In the FIRST part =The theory goes something like this: we live in a world of machines, code, and processes, and when these break, we have to identify the faulty component or line of code or process step and fix it – to take dysfunction and repair it. The first part of this competency theory of work, then, extends this thinking to performance. Once we’ve located you on our proficiency scales, we tell you that your lowest scores – those where you are most “broken” – are your “development areas,” and that the best path to greater performance will come from unrelenting focus on these areas.
The second part of the theory takes this line of thinking to its logical conclusion: we reason that if improvement in performance comes from remedying shortcomings, then high performance excellence – must be the result of having removed shortcomings across the board, from having a high score on every scale. Excellence, in other words, is a synonym for all-round high ability: well-rounded people are better.
This is the lie that underpins the tyranny of competencies, and it is persistent and pervasive. But to see the truth, we need only to understand two particular facts
FACT NR. 1 = competencies are impossible to measure.
Take “strategic thinking” as an example. Is this a state, something that is variable and subject to flux? Or is it a trait, something that is inherent and relatively stable over time? Well…We can measure these two phenomena quite differently. When we are measuring states, we either devise surveys that ask a person about his or her state of mind, or we create tests with right and wrong answers to determine whether a person has acquired the necessary knowledge.
STATES = A person’s voting preference is a state, as expressed in a survey. We presume it can change, such that when we ask a person about it at Time 1, and then give her new information, we expect her preference might well be different at Time 2. Mood is a state. Although it does appear that each of us has a unique happiness set point, we assume that a person’s mood can change around that point, such that when we ask about it at Time 1, and then a change in situation or circumstance occurs, we may well observe a difference in the person’s mood by Time 2. Similarly, skills and knowledge are states. If we test you on a certain skill or knowledge base at Time 1, and then give you more training in these areas, it’s likely that you will get more of the answers right at Time 2. These are all states, and we expect them as such to change over time.
Traits = on the other hand, are inherent in a person. Extroversion is a trait, for example, as is empathy, and competitiveness, and need for structure. Each of us possesses certain unique predispositions and recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior, and the overwhelming evidence is that, while each of us can learn over time to be more intelligent and effective at contributing through these patterns, the patterns themselves persist throughout our lives. Traits cannot be measured with a survey or a skills test. Instead, they have to be measured using a reliable and validated personality assessment. The two most prevalent kinds of personality assessments are self-assessments (involving a number of carefully worded statements measured on a strongly agree-to-strongly disagree scale) and situational judgment tests(involving a number of situations with a list of possible response options from which the test taker selects the one that fits her best).
Before you set about measuring something you have to decide which of these – states or traits – you are trying to measure, so that you can properly select your measurement method.
Here’s the point. Seen in this light, what is a competency such as “strategic thinking”? Is it a state or a trait? We need to know, if we want to measure it – and the entire purported purpose of competencies is to measure something.
If we think a competency is the former, a state, then we should measure it either with a survey asking about the person’s state of mind or with an actual test that has correct and incorrect answers. I should never ask your manager or your peers to rate you on it, because they can’t possibly know how much of this abstract quality you possess, any more than they can accurately divine your voting preferences or the score you would get on a test.
And if we think a competency is the latter, an inherent trait, then we should use a personality assessment to measure it, and I should never tell you to take a “strategic thinking” class so that you can improve in it, because if it’s a trait, then, by definition, it probably won’t change much.
But the truth about competencies such as strategic thinking, political savvy, or any of the others is that they are a haphazard mix-up of states and traits. I don’t know whether goal orientation, say, derives from the way you are wired, or from what you have learned to do, or from what you have been told to do. I don’t know whether “customer focus” is a different piece of your wiring, or a different skill you have learned, or the same skill used differently, or something else entirely. A scientific approach to performance would start with what is measurable, and only then study how those things contributed to performance.
Because competencies are unmeasurable, it is impossible to prove or disprove the assertion that everyone who excels in a particular job possesses a particular set of competencies. It is equally impossible to show that people who acquired the competencies they lacked outperformedthose who did not-that, in other words, well-rounded people are better.
These two statements together are the foundation for most of what companies do to develop the talents of their people, yet each of them is unfalsifiable – you will find no academic papers in any peer – reviewed journal proving the necessity of possessing certain competencies, and no proof that acquiring the ones you lack nets you any increase in performance. Both of these assertions, despite the good intentions that created them, are conjured from thin air-and we can never know if they are correct.
But hang on, you may say:
Isn’t the art of business the art of making decisions with incomplete data?
Isn’t that what business people get paid for-taking risks in the face of uncertainty?
Even if we can’t prove, measurably, that acquiring a list of competencies helps a person to excel, what’s wrong with trying nonetheless?
Surely a good team leader should encourage each of his people to pinpoint capability gaps, to strive to plug these gaps and thereby become more well-rounded. Surely both the team and the individual would benefit from getting each person to conform ever more closely to the well-rounded ideal. Indeed, surely that’s what growth is – the process of gaining ability where we have little.
Well …again, no. Which brings us to the second fact.
FACT NR. 2 = the research into high performance in any profession or endeavor reveals that excellence is idiosyncratic.
The well-rounded high performer is a creature of theory world. In the real world each high performer is unique and distinct, and excels precisely because that person has understood his or her uniqueness and cultivated it intelligently.
We see this most easily in the world of professional sports. If we were to design the theoretical model of a high-performing attacker on a football team, we would not create a Lionel Messi, with his diminutive stature and ineffectual right foot. Instead we might devise a player who looks more like Cristiano Ronaldo – a taller, more physically imposing player who is equally at ease with his left foot, his right foot, and his head (though even here we would likely erase from our theoretical design Ronaldo’s ego, individualism, and occasional petulance).
In our theoretical world, in other words, we would pick and mix the qualities we thought preferable. But obviously, in the real world no one gets to do this, whether they’re a football player, a tennis player, or a team leader.
In the real world each of us learns to make the most of what we have. Growth, it turns out, is actually a question not of figuring out how to gain ability where we lack it but of figuring out how to increase impact where we already have ability. And because our abilities are diverse, when you look at a great performance you see not diversity minimized but rather diversity magnified; not sameness but uniqueness. But these are all extreme examples, and might seem remote from the real world of work. What happens when we measure the strengths and skills of a regular job? Do we find idiosyncrasy or well-roundedness?
Excellence in the real world, in every profession, is idiosyncratic. In the theoretical world that exists inside most of our large organizations – a world preoccupied with the need for order and tidiness – the perfect incumbent of every role possesses all the competencies that can be dreamed up and defined. In the real world, however, these long lists of intricately defined competencies don’t exist, and if they did, they wouldn’t matter.
In the real world, each of us, imperfect as we are, strives to make the most of the unique mix of traits and skills with which we’ve been blessed. Those of us who do this best – who find what we love about what we do, and cultivate this love with intelligence and discipline-are the ones who contribute most. The best people are not well-rounded, finding fulfillment in their uniform ability. Quite the opposite, in fact-the best people are spiky, and in their lovingly honed spikiness they find their biggest contribution, their fastest growth, and, ultimately, their greatest joy.
On some level, we have all long known this. But then why do these competency models and their associated 360-degree assessments, feedback tools, and development plans exist?What could have prompted otherwise sensible people to have spent so much time and energy and money building models whose efficacy is intrinsically unprovable, that require enormous amounts of time and energy to create, and that fly in the face of our own experiences in the world? The simplest answer is that, though we are deeply aware that each of us is unique, and that no amount of training or badgering will remove that uniqueness, it is still quite overwhelming for a busy team leader to allow himself to come face-to-face with the fact that each of his team members thinks differently, is motivated by different things, responds to relationship cues differently, and gets a kick out of different sorts of praise.
Who has the time for all these subtle shadings of diversity? Better to just define a model, and then manage to the model (hence the automated feedback writer we encountered earlier). For a company, it’s all about control. The strong instinct of most corporate leaders, faced with the teeming diversity not just of gender, race, and age but of thought, drive, and relationship inside their organizations, is to look for some way to exert control – to rein it all in, to impose conformity on the chaos, and hence to be able to understand what’s going on, and to shape what will happen next.
And so companies have spent, and continue to spend, large quantities of time and money trying to work around each person’s uniqueness – and this is where these models bubble up from. The models promise rigor – a dear set of characteristics against which everyone can be measured, a sort of “apples-to-apples” comparison (even though in the real world it is always “apples-to-oranges”).
The models promise analytical insights a way to understand the entire workforce. (It’s no accident the systems are known as performance management systems) The models promise fact, evidence, truth. The creeping suspicion, on the part of more and more leaders, is that the models offer none of the things they promise, is an inconvenience to be minimized. And to be dear, it isn’t just the competency models that are dubious but the ideas behind them. There is the idea that improvement comes from repairing our deficits.
There is the idea that failure is essential to growth. Failure by itself doesn’t teach us anything about success, just as our deficits by themselves don’t teach us anything about our strengths.
Just let’s consider for example that recently the following:
Facebook is facing numerous government inquiries intothe use of its data to influence elections;
Uber has curtailed its self-driving-cartesting because one of its cars hit and killed a cyclist;
Yahoo has long sinceceased to exist in any meaningful sense.
It is unlikely that anyone is celebrating these and other failures, and the “fail fast” speed with which they’ve been achieved.
And then there is the idea that our strengths are to be feared-that we should avoid overusing them because that will somehow pull us away from our proper focus on failure and shortcomings, and instead pull us toward laziness and complacency. Of course, if we were able to watch a great athlete training, or a great writer writing, or a great coder coding, we would see that honing a strength is hard work – it is by no means easy to find that incremental margin of performance when you are already operating at a high level-and that a strength is not where we are most “finished” but in fact where we are most productively challenged. Yet we are told to resist the temptation to “just”play to our strengths, and instead to work constantly on our weaknesses.
Yet these are the ideas that competency models, 360-degree assessments, talent reviews, feedback tools, and much more are built on – that what is most important for us is to understand our deficits, embrace failure, and be wary of our strengths. To be dear, I are not, here, making an absolutist argument: I am not saying that there is nothing to be gained from trying to improve our shortcomings, or that we shouldn’t try new things for fear of failure. I am, however, arguing for priority, for focusing first, and predominantly, on our strengths and our successes, because that is where the greatest advantage is to be had. And the great shame in all of this is that the very systems that we might hope would be aimed at discovering and unleashing each person’s unique talents have, in fact, the effect of inhibiting those talents, and denying what makes each one of us unique. They don’t, in the end, help performance. They hinder it.
While the outcomes of high performance are visible and clear, the ingredients of high performance vary from person to person. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to human beings; and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to great performance.
Well-roundedness is a misguided and futile objective when it comes to individual people; but when it comes to teams, it’s an absolute necessity. The more diverse the team members, the more weird, spiky, and idiosyncratic they are, the more well-rounded the team. Competencies, and all the other normative and deficit-focused tools we have, don’t push in this direction – of expressing and harnessing diversity. They do just the opposite, as we’ve seen.
So we should remove from our competency models the levels of ability, the individual evaluations, the feedback, and all the other things that they have become encumbered with, and we should instead simplify them, clarify them, recognize them (and name them) for what they are, and stick them on a wall for all to see. When we carry our competencies across the measurement bridge, we enter a fake and dangerous world-as a tool of assessment, order and control, they are worse than useless.
Again this is of course an illusion. It is a very big lie which most people are so brainwashed that finally they truly believe that it’s a great truth. No it’s not. It’s another fat mistake that an incredibly big amount of companies continue to use it in their business. Goals are the same like feedbacks (as I said in my previous Lie -Lie nr.4). People don’t need feedback they need attention. The same here, people don’t need to receive a set goals for their work, they need to understand the meaning of their work.
Unfortunately in the majority of big German companies/organization (such as VW, BMW, CONTINETAL, BOSCH, AUDI, DAIMLER,SIEMENS, etc… and put any other like that in the list) they still promote this idea that people must have a set of goals for their work. In fact this trend is more or less present in all international organization worldwide, not only within the German ones. I am talking here about big organization because this is according to what I’ve seen so far during my work experience. But I may be wrong in the case of other small enterprises or Start-ups. At least in the case of Start-Ups I would not be surprised to see different approaches. But due to this wide-spread concept between big corporation, it can be general accepted that in order to be successful in business , it’s necessary to cascade goals.
Well, I DON’T agree with that. No, absolutely not. goals are not necessary to be setor cascaded, and above that it is completely a nonsense to evaluate someone’s performance strictly based on how much of his/her imposed goals have been reached at the end of the fiscal year. In my future company I will never cascade goals for my employees, instead I will definitively cascade MEANING. But to make it more clear what I want to say with that, allow me to go more deep in detail with this. I will explain why I thing like that. So here is my argument…..
Goals are everywhere at work – it’s hard to find many companies that do not engage in some sort of annual or semi-annual goal-setting regimen. At some point in the year, usually at the start of a fiscal year or after bonuses and raises have been paid, the organization’s senior leaders set their goals for the upcoming 6 or 12 months, and then share them with their teams. Each team member looks at each of the leader’s goals, and figures out what to do to advance that goal, and thus sets a sort of minigoal that reflects some part of the leader’s goal. This continues down the chain, until you, and every other employee, has a set of goals that are miniversions of some larger goal further up in the organization. Insome organizations, goals are also grouped into categories, so that each person is asked to set, say: strategic goals, operational goals, people goals, and innovation goals.
Once the goals have been created, each is then approved by the person’s immediate leader, and then by the leader above that person, and so on, with each layer assessing whether each goal is sufficiently challenging, and whether it’s properly aligned with the goals above, up and up and up the chain. As the year unfolds, you may well be asked to record what percentage of your goals you’ve completed. This “percent complete” data is then aggregated into bigger and bigger groups so that the company can, at any point during the year, say things like, “65 % of our teams have completed 46 % of their goals. We need to speed up!”
And, at the end of the year, you’re asked to write a brief self-assessment reflecting how you feel you’ve done on each goal, after which your team leader will review this assessment and add his own, in some cases also saying whether he thinks each goal was actually met, or not. After HR has nudged him a couple of times, he’ll input all this information into the company performance management system, where upon it’ll serve as a permanent record of your performance for the year, and will guide your pay, promotion opportunities, and even continued employment.
If you’re in sales for example, your sales quota will work in a similar way – an overall corporate sales goal is sliced into parts and distributed across the organization. The only difference being that your quota, or your team’s quota, is usually just a single number handed down to you from above, defining you and your work throughout the year – which is why salespeople, in most companies, are referred to not as people but simply as “quota carriers.”
And, in the era of the smartphone, once-a-year goal-setting has been deemed Not Enough, and so your phone will soon be dramatically upping the frequency of all this goal – setting, assessing, and tracking, if it hasn’t done so already – all because we have come to believe that the successful companies cascade goals.
The names we give these goals have changed over the years. It started with MBOs, (Management by Objectives). Then came SMART goals, (goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound), followed shortly by KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). The latest incarnation, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), originated at Intel and is now used for defining and tracking goals and measuring them against your “key results.” Across all the different technologies and methodologies, massive amounts of time and money are invested in this goal-setting. When companies like these shell out dose to €1 billion on something every year, there must be some truly extraordinary benefits. What are they?
Well, every company is different, of course, and each makes its own calculus, but the three most common reasons put forth for all this goal-setting are:
The First = that goals stimulate and coordinate performance by aligning everyone’s work;
The Second = that tracking goals’ “percent complete” yields valuable data on the team’s or company’s progress throughout the year;
The Third= that goal attainment allows companies to evaluate team members’ performance at the end of the year.
So, companies invest in goals because goals are seen as a stimulator,a tracker, and an evaluator – and these three core functions of goals are why we spend so much time, energy, and money on them. And this is precisely where the trouble begins. In terms of goals as a simulator of performance, one great fear of senior leaders is that the work of their people is misaligned, and that effort is being wasted in activities that drag the company hither and yon, like a rudderless boat in a choppy sea. The creation of a cascade of goals calms this fear, and gives leaders the confidence that everyone on the boat is pulling on the oars in the same direction. Of course, none of this alignment is worth very much, if the goals themselves don’t result in greater activity – if the boat doesn’t actually go anywhere. As it happens, no research exists showing that goals set for you from above stimulate you to greater productivity. In fact, the weight of evidence suggests that cascaded goals do the opposite: they limit performance. They slow your boat down.
Before to continue, let me ask you something: Have you ever tried to hail a cab in New York City on a rainy day?
Believe me, it’s not easy. That’s exactly what happened to me when I was in New York. But this not just an isolated case, it is really happening in general almost all the time when it rains. You stand there on the corner of 52nd Street and 3rd Avenue waving frantically at any vehicle that’s even vaguely yellow and bemoaning the fact that every one of the (suddenly scarce) cabs is taken. If you’re up on your economics, you might even surmise, as the water drips off your nose, that the rain has increased the number of taxi hailers (demand) while not changing the number of taxi drivers (supply), hence the problem.
But actually that’s not quite what’s going on. Cab drivers have an informal “daily goal”, or quota, for the fares they want to earn before they allow themselves to stop working – for most cabbies that number is twice the cost of renting the cab for the day. The moment the day’s receipts add up to twice their rental fee, they head home and rest up for the next day of battle. Now, they have this goal every day, but on rainy days – because more people choose to take a cab – they hit that goal earlier in their shift, and the moment they do they vanish off home.
The same thing happens with sales quotas. Leaders set quotas because they want to stimulate the performance of their salespeople. But quotas don’t actually work like that. The very best salespeople hit their quota months before the end of the year, whereupon they do the sales equivalent of vanishing off home – that is, they start to delay the closing of their deals so that they can “bank” them and ensure that they begin the next year with a head start. Sales goals actually degrade the performance of top sales people – they function, as they do for New York City cab drivers, as a ceiling on performance, not a catalyst for more of it.
But what about salespeople who are struggling, or middle-of-the-road?Won’t goals serve to stretch them upward toward their quota, in much the same way as a guy who runs a marathon goal will help to stretch him upward toward greater endurance? Well, again, not exactly. In reality, what happens to middling or struggling salespeople is that their imposed quota increases the pressure on them. And this is not the self-imposed pressure that comes from attempting to achieve something we feel is important the sort our marathon-training friend will feel on a Sunday morning when he forces himself to get up and go running. No, this pressure to achieve company-imposed goals is coercion, and coercion is a cousin to fear. In the worst cases, fear-fueled employees push and push and, falling short, resort to inappropriate and sometimes illegal tactics in order to meet their goals.
None of which is to say that sales quotas are useless. In fact, they can be an excellent forecasting device. Senior leaders can use them to estimate what the company’s top line is going to be for any given period, and then announce this to the board and the investment community so that all interested parties can get a sense of the expected revenues, against which costs, investments, and ultimately cash flow can be assessed. The best executives are good guesstimators – they have a sense, born of long experience, of what the median quota should be, the “line of best fit” around which the variation of salespeople’s performance will cluster. Some will outperform their quota by 10 %, others will fall short by 10 %, and thus at year’s end the sales goals, when guessed well, will be hit. But these sales goals don’t beget more sales; they just anticipate what the sales will be.
How about tracking performance?Do goals allow companies to do that? Hardly.