Mike Rollings

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mike Rollings
Research VP
5 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Mike Rollings is VP of Gartner Research within the Professional Effectiveness team. His research discusses what IT professionals need to know about transformation, innovation, human behavior, contextual strategy, collaborative organizational change, communication and influence, and cross-discipline effectiveness . His research can be read by IT professionals with access to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) research. Read Full Bio

Employers ask for Facebook passwords but not social skills

by Mike Rollings  |  April 9, 2012  |  1 Comment

Lately there has been a lot of buzz about employers asking potential employees for their Facebook passwords. I heard yet another story about this over the weekend. While I don’t feel employers should be asking for social media passwords, this post is more about the irony that employers want social passwords but are not asking for social skills in job postings.

It is as alarming as it is ironic. As shown in my report “Job Postings – Hiring for IT’s Past” (published last week on Gartner.com), 95% of job postings sampled in this Gartner study pay little attention to social and other nontechnical skills. Six major job markets were part of the study and the results all point to a lack of interest in social skills. Although the postings ask for the latest technical skills, human engagement requirements were conspicuously missing. This lack of human engagement elements in job postings signals a problem for IT organizations that rely on poorly-defined job descriptions to entice engaged contributors into their workforce.

This illustrates a big problem with job postings – they really don’t ask for what organization’s need today. It evidently extends into the way that technical skills are being asked for too. Late last week I talked about the report in the post “IT job postings ask for the wrong thing”. One reader mentioned a job posting where the employer was looking for a SharePoint 2010 specialist with 10 years experience!  The jokes about job postings sometimes write themself, but in this case someone commented they were not advertising for a software engineer, but rather they were hoping to hire a Time Lord.

Most job postings are as inspiring as dry toast. Organizations need to look at the entire process that yields job postings that ask for the wrong things and lack the elements to attract engaged contributors —  the job postings and by association job descriptions, evaluations, and reward systems. We need to start appreciating and asking for nontechnical skills that tailor the specific nontechnical skill to the actual role. If you are a hiring manager, how many times have you done one or more of the following:

  • Used an existing job description as the basis for a new role because it existed in the right pay grade, made minor edits, and posted the opportunity?
  • Provide updates to the technical skills in job descriptions, but do not think about the non-technical skills you and your organization values, and why?
  • Ask for nontechnical skills in descriptions for managerial positions, but rarely ask for nontechnical skills for front-line staff? (By the way, stating “must have excellent written and communications skills” does not count. We’ve seen this tired phrase in job postings for decades.)
  • Not given any thought to how societal changes impact what people want from employment and their employer? (e.g. if individuals are looking for meaning, engagement, and the ability to contribute, then what does your outdated posting tell them? Does it attract them or scare them away?)
  • Speed through the posting process and rarely consider what traits you need in new employees in order to remain innovative, flexible and able to adapt?
  • Hire clones – “we’re missing an employee in this slot, better fill it with an identical skill set”

Many of us have done one or more of these things. The tyranny of delivery causes us to overlook systemic problems in the name of getting it off our plate. However, this is a problem that will bite you in the back later and needs your attention now. Organizations need to take a hard look at themselves and their practices, stop solely accentuating technical skills and write meaningful job descriptions that express how they value nontechnical skills. We need to think about the skills required for IT’s future and then attract the best people into those roles. We also need to provide meaningful guidance to IT professionals so they can prepare themselves for the future (either on their own or with the encouragement of their organizations to stay relevant in the IT job market).

Do you see a problem with job postings? Do you think that employers care about non-technical skills like influence, collaboration, persuasion, sharing contrarian ideas, and respectfully questioning status-quo? Do employers want engaged contributors or technical drones? Let’s hear from you.

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IT job postings ask for the wrong thing

by Mike Rollings  |  April 5, 2012  |  1 Comment

My report “Job Postings – Hiring for IT’s Past” published today on Gartner.com. This Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) report is a wake-up call for IT organizations because it shows that most IT organizations are hiring for the wrong requirements.

In late 2011 and early 2012 we sampled current job postings in six major job markets. We removed consulting and technology companies from the mix so that we would only see end-user IT organization postings. We determined several postings to be truly unique; that is, they asked applicants for something besides a list of technical skills and competencies, and provided applicants with something other than a list of job responsibilities that are positioned as tasks. We were particularly interested in postings that asked for the unique qualifiers in the main portion of the posting, rather than wording such as “can work well with teams,” “strong willingness to learn new technologies,” or “excellent communication skills” tagged on at the end of a list of skills as an afterthought.

We found that 95% of the postings may ask for the latest technical skills, but they lack attention to the nontechnical skills demanded by the future of IT work. Instead of seeking influencers, collaborators, brokers, integrators, persuaders, innovators and problem solvers, organizations continue to seek out technical drones.

Lately there has been a lot said about the problems with IT, the work environment, and hiring. Unfortunately for IT, my job postings research confirms many of their claims.

The CIO.com article Building a Great Place to Work examines what is important in the work environment. Read it and ask yourself if your organization is creating the “typical employee grind” or a “successful and fun place to work”, then read your active job postings to see what they say about your work environment. I bet you’ll be shocked.

MIT Sloan Management Review articleSkills That Will Remain in Demand In a Computer-Rich Worldasks “How do we win the ‘man-vs.-machine’ battle?” The author, Leslie Brokaw believes that the key is not to compete, but to partner — to develop new ways of combining human skills with ever-more-powerful technology to create value. Another essential (as discussed in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s articleWinning the Race With Ever-Smarter Machines”) is to work on skills that help you couple the best of human creativity with computer power. Does your organization care about these skills? Do your job postings and internal job descriptions say so? Do you evaluate and reward people based on them? Probably not.

A February 2012 study published by the Harvard Business School, “Breaking Them In or Revealing Their Best? Reframing Socialization around Newcomer Self-Expression”, presents two studies revealing the importance in preserving a person’s need for authentic self-expression. The two studies show that organizational and employee outcomes are better when socialization tactics encouraged authentic self-expression of newcomers’ personal identities and signature strengths. They also show that employees are more engaged and satisfied with their work, performed their tasks more effectively, and are also more likely to continue their employment when they are able to be authentic and when they have opportunities for self-expression. Have you looked at a job posting lately? Do you think we want compliant drones or dynamic individuals that openly share contrary opinions? What does your organization do when contrary opinions are shared? Do you kill the messenger or do you openly question long-standing beliefs?

The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff discusses that problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness are hard, not the typical ROI stuff. But do we say anything about this in job postings? Have we really cared what went into a posting except what a search engine can interpret effectively versus what would inspire and attract a potential employee? How long has the requirement “Must have excellent communications skills” been in you job postings without any elaboration about why you care?

Here’s What Happens When You Hate Your Job is about dysfunctional hiring processes and a need to focus on culture. The author states “There is more to our professional success than having the chops, and it comes back to how well we fit the company culture, the team’s work dynamics and our manager’s style.” You wouldn’t know it by looking at job postings.

MIT Sloan Management Review article “IKEA: Hiring on Values As Well as Skills”. This article discusses how IKEA’s standard job questionnaire downplays skills, experience or academic credentials, asks about job applicants’ values and beliefs, and comments about values and beliefs become the basis for screening, interviewing, and training and development. Even internal applications for new jobs or leadership positions focus on values “in an effort to ensure consistency”. I bet by now you are thinking “I could quit my IT job and go to work for IKEA, I might actually be inspired.”

A job posting is the beginning of the employment relationship and it is the first opportunity an employer has to reveal the best in an employee. Is your organization responding to fundamental societal changes and an individual’s need for meaning, not just a paycheck? Job postings say “No!” In fact job postings say that these fundamental human needs are not a priority, and they also indicate that the only staff expected to have non-technical skills are managers (and that’s even a stretch).

If this were online dating, would your organization be eternally single?

A job posting needs to catch the eye of the people in the room who are tired of the status quo and are secretly looking for something bold and honest and for an organization that speaks their language. As the IT landscape changes, the jobs that technology professionals do are changing and will continue to change. We all know that. But job postings have not changed to reflect the new reality. More specifically, if the job postings have not changed then, it is likely that the processes companies use to hire new people or to fill old positions have not changed either. It is also likely that the way organizations engage their employees has not changed — that is, what the organization expects, what they evaluate and what they reward.

The lack of human engagement elements in job postings is alarming. It signals a problem for IT organizations that rely on poorly-defined job descriptions to entice engaged contributors into their workforces. Managers and practitioners alike can benefit from my research findings and recommendations. Managers, especially those who have active postings, will learn how to update postings to reflect their organizational values and the most beneficial nontechnical skills. IT professionals will learn what to do to prepare for their own career advancement.

The future of IT depends on a lot more than technical skills. Recycled job descriptions aren’t going to attract the innovative, flexible and engaged thinkers and workers that organizations need to succeed. Job postings need to change, and it is likely that other employment related aspects must change too.

So what do you think?

  • When was the last time you looked at job postings?
  • What kinds of requirements or responsibilities made you more interested in a position?
  • What kinds made you roll your eyes?
  • Have you – (either personally or your company) written a job description you’re really proud of? Did you notice different caliber of responses than normal?
  • Have you seen a job description lately that is truly pathetic? What made it so bad?

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Inversion of Control

by Mike Rollings  |  February 14, 2012  |  Comments Off

According to Wikipedia, inversion of control (IoC) is an object-oriented programming practice whereby the object coupling is bound at run time by an “assembler” object and are typically not knowable at compile time using static analysis. The binding process is achieved through dependency injection. In practice, Inversion of Control is a style of software construction where reusable code controls the execution of problem-specific code. It carries the strong connotation that the reusable code and the problem-specific code are developed independently, which often results in a single integrated application. Inversion of Control as a design guideline serves the following purposes:

1. There is a decoupling of the execution of a certain task from implementation.

2. Every module can focus on what it is designed for.

3. Modules make no assumptions about what other systems do but rely on their contracts.

4. Replacing modules have no side effect on other modules.

Technologists might come to think that an organization and the humans within it operates under the IoC system engineering principle. But then they’d be wrong.

They may believe that:

1. What we want executed is decoupled from implementation – that we can precisely and completely specify the dependencies that will guide implementation. We can specify what must be done to the point where all the implementer must do is think solely about what we have disclosed to them to conduct the matter at hand. No other thought required. There are those who tell and those who do.

2. Every person can focus on what it has been designed (certified) for.

3. That specialization within IT has gotten to the point where individual staff members rely on contracts (e.g. specifications, documentation, job practices) to do implementation. They make no assumptions about other staff members actions. This would give the illusion of being able to focus on “their” work, but also mandates that someone tells them precisely what to assume and thereby relieves them of any extraneous thought or musings about the task at hand. A perfectly efficient system.

4. People, due to specialization, are replaceable modules and their replacement has no side effect on other modules – sorry, people – nor does it effect the outcomes that we intend to achieve.

Yes, it would be wrong if we thought the system engineering definition for IoC applied to people and to the organizations to which we contribute.

The first misstep, in thinking that an organization could operate as if IoC were true for people, would be believing that those who ‘tell’ could capture all the assumptions to the point where no thought is required at implementation – by those who ‘do’. This false notion is founded on the premise that control and certainty can be achieved. This arrogant belief ignores the fundamental human condition that we will ignore elements due to our own self-interests and due to our displeasure with cognitive dissonance. We can’t help but to miss (more strongly – ignore) assumptions.

The next misstep would be in seeing the chain of idea, specification, implementation (or strategy, planning, execution) as a three-step process within an organization or within a single human’s mind. All one needs to do to see the brokenness of this concept is to examine your own idea flow. The imprecise nature of thought is a symphony of brain cells and firing synapse. Our ideas, our specifications (e.g. concepts, mindsets, beliefs, mental models), and our implementation (e.g. experiences, trial/error) have a lively interplay. It is in no way precise. We lie to ourselves if we believe that organizational interplay is less chaotic, unplanned, and that it does not benefit from the multitude of thought.

We are individually and organizationally a symphony of synaptic firing. Organizationally the role of the synapse is social interaction for sharing, making a contribution, and illustrating new perspectives. The interplay co-creates everything.

A third misstep would be believing that replacing one person with another person or contracted activity does not affect the outcome. For this misstep I’d like to focus on the outcome. A caution is that the outcome that you think you want today may not be the outcome you want tomorrow, however you may not be in the position to recognize that change and instead the implementer is. The correctness of what we think we want as the outcome may be negated by the experiences of the implementer. The implementer within the call center may see that treating customers like nameless widgets no longer works, but the correctness of the call center’s efficiency may still work for those directing the call center. IoC as an organizational construct reinforces status quo. Replacing the implementer may obscure an insight about the outcome forever.

With that I call upon us to embrace an alternate definition for inversion of control as it applies to organizations and people. This version of IoC posits that the inverse of control is influence, and that instead of precisely defining execution we instead enable choice and contribution. This inversion of control would recognize the uniqueness of human thought and contribution. It would put humans in a more revered perspective than the technologies that are intended to replace them or the rigid practices which blunt their contribution.

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Failures in Communication – Don’t Tell Me! Engage Me!

by Mike Rollings  |  January 3, 2012  |  2 Comments

For frequent readers, you know that I tend to look at issues through a humanistic lens.  Many of my client inquiries start with a request for the best way to represent “x”, or the way to describe something so that people will do “y”.  Instead, I like to think about “What are you trying to do?”, “Who are the people involved?”, “What decisions need to be influenced?”, “What behaviors and beliefs are roadblocks?”, and “How do you develop understanding for autonomous action?”.  I have found that if we can uncover the interconnected decisions and understand the human elements then we get traction.

One of the biggest failures with communication, and hence behavior change, is that many people believe that you can tell someone to do something and they will just do it. I see the telling trap played out every day within organizations. It is played out in management, in program implementations, in methodological indoctrination, and in practice improvement. What I find ironic is that even traditional change management exhibits this problem. Many think that managing change is solely about telling staff what is happening, what is going to happen, and what the staff needs to do. Sorry, but one-way communication is telling, and to affect change you need engagement.

Change involves altering relationships and real communication – you know, the bi-directional kind found in the exploration of ideas and learning. That’s where this NPR article “Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool” comes into play.

We don’t need to look much further for the failures of telling than in education. In the NPR article Emily Hanford writes about the end of the lecture. Instead of using the factory assembly line approach to education, Eric Mazur chose to change his approach. He chose to impart conceptual understanding so that people could apply it, rather than look to age-old recipes that, although popular (the lecture), do not work.

“At a recent class, the students — nearly 100 of them — are in small groups discussing a question. Three possible answers to the question are projected on a screen. Before the students start talking with one another, they use a mobile device to vote for their answer. Only 29 percent got it right. After talking for a few minutes, Mazur tells them to answer the question again.

This time, 62 percent of the students get the question right. Next, Mazur leads a discussion about the reasoning behind the answer. The process then begins again with a new question. This is a method Mazur calls “peer Instruction.” He now teaches all of his classes this way.”

No more mind-numbing lectures telling you what to do, not just rote memorization of rules to apply and formulas to follow, but actual learning and applying concepts. THE ABILITY TO DEVELOP REAL UNDERSTANDING AND THE ABILITY TO APPLY KNOWLEDGE WITH YOUR PEERS!

Don’t we all wish that organizations operated this way?


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Luck, Serendipity, and the Contextual Strategist

by Mike Rollings  |  December 27, 2011  |  Comments Off

Recently, @davegray @tetradian @nickmalik and I (@mikerollings) had a brief twitter exchange about the role of luck in strategy. What is luck anyway? Isn’t it just a happy accident, an unexpected happening, a simple explanation for the unexpected, a serendipitous association that leaves us in awe of the randomness of life?

In that context, strategy has everything to do with luck.

Strategy’s biggest problem is that it has lost its co-creative link to execution. Look at your own organization. Has the relationship between strategy, planning and execution become so skewed toward planning that the organization feels mechanistic and lacking innovative improvisation? If so, luck may be exactly what you need.

Strategy has lost the ability to be informed and reformed by all the insights found in doing. Strategy’s context guides doing, and doing reshapes strategy. You cannot learn without doing, and strategy is an experimenting and learning exercise. Just try to make strategy concrete without doing. Just try to finally discover the way to operationalize an idea without learning from doing. I don’t believe it can be done, do you? If you do believe it can be done, just look at how you learned key insights into your strategy, it had to come from some form of doing.

But, in order for all of us who are involved in execution to make mindful choices, we must understand the context for a strategy as it traverses the layers of an organization. How does it apply to my circumstances? Do we actually know if it applies? Are we just testing a hypothesis, or have we really figured out a way forward?

In order to do that well, we must all become contextual strategists.

A contextual strategist is anyone, without regard to title or position, who actively manages and operates with a firm understanding of the strategic context for his or her actions. Leaders understand that it is more important to understand and convey the context of a decision than it is to manage activities. When you have a leadership ecosystem that communicates and grooms context, then the entire organization has the ability to autonomously operate within a strategic context. It releases the ability to be surprised by the unexpected. It makes you ‘lucky’.

Anybody out there have good stories about releasing luck? If so, please share.

For Gartner IT1 clients, the document “Becoming a Contextual Strategist” helps managers and staff understand and reshape the work practices and human behaviors that cause a disconnect between execution and strategy. Instead of focusing on new processes and disciplines, its purpose is to help organizations and individuals become less operationally rigid and instead become more experimental, co-creative, forgiving of error, and responsive. Its purpose is to help your organization become ‘lucky’.

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i-i-i is about Focusing on the Individual and Not Yourself

by Mike Rollings  |  November 21, 2011  |  Comments Off

The “i” generation – not quite the selfish focused gang that was recently called out in the UK by its Chief Rabbi and noted by c|net’s Chris Matyszczyk. Like prior generational movements, this one too is misunderstood. The “i” generation is about the importance of the individual which is profoundly different than focusing selfishly on yourself. We have plenty of selfishness in the world today, but i-i-i is about emerging from the selfishness to recognize the importance of other people – individuals.

In order to focus on the needs of others one must realize that all humans are individuals – unique and special – and that realization begins by developing a sense of self. We have individual needs, ideas, beings, and beliefs. We are not statistical collections of generic classifications used by marketers to push messages at us. We are not drones who, like Taylor’s view of human machinery, are only worthy of doing mechanical tasks until machinery is adapted to efficiently replace us. Instead, “i-i-i” is about recognizing an individual’s uniqueness, emotions, imagination, initiative, and cognitive contributions. It encourages empathy.

Today we awake to a new global economic condition, new social expectations, and full swing consumerization. Businesses are being changed by Zuboff’s relationship-based economics — an economic paradigm that demands a human-centered approach to business-consumer relationships. Individuals no longer desire impersonal economic relationships. Organizations must become human to their customers, and we each in turn must become human to others.

This is changing the fundamentals upon which every efficiency-oriented organization thinks about managing people . The nature of work is fundamentally changing. It is returning to a human and naturally social environment. I can only imagine that the current generation entering the workforce cannot believe that work has become so mechanized, impersonal, and non-participative.

If i-i-i was about selfishness then co-creativity would be dying instead of on the rise. Individuals want to be engaged in co-creative relationships where they collaborate with others (i.e., individuals, groups, communities, mobs, markets, and firms that shape the direction of society and business) to solve problems, fundamentally shape products, and redefine economic relationships. New forms of social uprising and funding have emerged where individuals are able to make a difference. It stands in stark contrast to the actions of someone that is only out for their own self interest.

I certainly hope that the “i” generation succeeds in transforming the world. I hope that we learn to focus on the needs of others, think deeply about the contribution we can make to others, and appreciate the perspective of other individuals. I also hope that we realize that unlike other generational movements this one need not stay confined to a generation. This movement transcends generations because we are all individuals.

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Steve Jobs – Preparing Us for One More Thing

by Mike Rollings  |  November 2, 2011  |  Comments Off

This weekend I read Steve Jobs eulogy written by his sister Mona Simpson. Anyone with a beating heart can appreciate it and will be touched by it. The love shared between them is apparent, as is the love he had for his family and his life’s work. Yet he was always preparing us for one more thing. His last words were “OH WOW. OH WOW.OH WOW.”

Our lives are a series of one more thing. We start as a child, become adults, and are shaped by our many experiences. The experiences shape us, but our minds play a critical role in how they shape us. Are we actively listening and choosing how those experiences shape us, or are we just along for the ride with a less intentional mind? Intentional isn’t always associated with an act of malice. It’s not the only use of the word. Doing things intentionally is to do things on purpose or as I prefer, with purpose. It is not the free ride through life, but instead it is intentionality that puts you in the driver’s seat. Steve Jobs epitomized intentionality and I can only imagine that his choice of last words was purposeful to give us all something to contemplate.

However, beyond the contemplation of last words, Steve Jobs life brings into light the inspection of one’s own intentionality and perception. If you are not doing things intentionally then your intentions are defined solely by how others perceive you. The actions taken intentionally tell a story as do those actions that are not. As we act unintentionally, we give others the opportunity to define our intentionality for us. Their perception of our actions, to them, is our intention. What do your actions tell others about your intentions?

Since the majority of my readers are IT professionals, I’ll frame this in an IT view. Examining intentions can have profound implications on what you choose to do today and tomorrow. It is a matter of what we each choose to do with it. Is our intention to do things the way we have always done them and to be known as ‘the builders and creators’, or to reframe our actions in today’s context – to be businesspeople and partners – engaging, brokering services, and innovating? Is it our intention to have the IT department viewed as the controllers who feel entitled to do technology-related work, or is it to intentionally help our business succeed, to realize we aren’t the only ones with technological ideas, and to make a solid contribution in the flow of business?

Our intentionality will define what is next in our future, and I’m thankful for being reminded of its importance.

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Fight inertia and resurrect entrepreneurs

by Mike Rollings  |  July 18, 2011  |  Comments Off

All organizations at some time in their history have experimented, gained knowledge, and operationalized it – experimentation is synonymous with entrepreneurialism. Entrepreneurs test many theories as they launch an idea. They are not afraid of making errors and learning from their mistakes. As they refine ideas and gain more knowledge through experimentation, they eventually reach a stage where they operationalize their model, seek optimizations, and improve efficiency to scale. But for many organizations today, experimentation is dormant or invisible. They have been living in the operational phase of business too long to remember their roots. Their challenge is to resurrect experimentation, acceptance of error, and the curiosity of the entrepreneur.

Many authors have focused on the transition from experimentation to the operational stage. They have characterized the challenge as ‘Crossing the Chasm’ or other titles that convey an avoidance of death. But organizations whose operational models are sputtering or on the outs must overcome years of being operationally focused to restore entrepreneurial experimentation. It is a massive challenge because they must deal with organizational inertia caused by years of successful experiences – experiences that make them believe that their path is best and that they should ignore new signals.  They don’t recognize the are dying from inertia till they are beyond treatment.

imageOrganizational inertia results because the more experience an organization has cast into successful operational programs, and the more successful the programs have been, the stronger are the forces which strive to make the organization continue along its current route. Left unaddressed, inertia is exhibited within several negative organizational behaviors including cognitive bias, the suppression of new ideas, and the punishment & fear of failure.

Inertia slows an organization’s ability to respond to change. As Hedberg and Jonsson discuss in “Designing Semi-confusing information Systems for organizations in Changing Environments”, many organizations force the creation of an enormous amount of counter-evidence to convince the organization that they should change course. Not only does it take a threshold amount of counter-evidence to challenge old behaviors, but that threshold increases with success. This is why early indicators of emerging trends appear meaningless to the status quo. These early signals are based on small amount of data that fail to clear the counter-evidence hurdle. As a result, the organization waits till the rest of the world recognizes the new trend (<sarcasm> So much for sensing and responding).

Another problem associated with organizational inertia is that once the counter-evidence threshold is exceeded, you are still not done, it takes further effort to unfreeze old behaviors and replace them with new ones. This results in being glacially slow to adapt – slow to recognize new trends (due to low counter-evidence) and once you do recognize the trend, it requires enormous effort to change behavior. In fact, the organization is probably so slow to adapt that it is miles behind those with early awareness.

Learning organizations succeed by keeping the entrepreneurial mindset alive, and having experimentation continue in concurrence with operational activities. If we want to escape the gravity of our existing operational stage, we must pay attention to resurrecting the entrepreneur in all of us and create the atmosphere required to experiment while we maintain operational effectiveness.

So how do you combat inertia? Do you double your efforts to identify counter-evidence? Do you hire swarms of behavior-changing specialists? I don’t think so. Instead I would address the underlying human beliefs that allow inertia to grow, thrive, and to stagnate progress.

First, recognize that organizational inertia is real, it affects your organization, and that it has a huge impact on responsiveness. Second, be willing to interpret situations in a new way. This includes welcoming new information and being open to many points of view. Third, rather than being certain and overconfident, treat all future actions as hypotheses, with degrees of certainty to be assessed, perspectives to be sought, and experimentation used to gain feedback about assumptions. Treat even the most “certain” actions like hypotheses. This encourages the organization to collaborate and explore many new ideas.

Finally, value every individual’s experimentation and feedback, and let their insights influence new and established mindsets. Their context is important! Encourage the exposure of factors that make an idea unworkable without killing the messenger (even if it is your current recipe for success), and give credence to the smallest signals as part of a hypothesis-based approach to action.

By working to undermine the overconfidence that causes organizational inertia we create an atmosphere to resurrect entrepreneurialism. Organizations need the experimentation, acceptance of error, and the curiosity of the entrepreneur.

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Context breaks Taylor’s hold on strategy

by Mike Rollings  |  April 26, 2011  |  1 Comment

Last week’s post “Replacing Taylorism as our Management Doctrine” called for the end of Taylorism. Thankfully, I am not the first to call for the end of Taylorism or to write about human characteristics which businesses frequently ignore. There are many before me who have added significant insights into this debilitating management doctrine and all the other facets surrounding it.

For instance, Gary Hamel has spoken directly to Taylorism in the book “The Future of Management”; same for the work of MIX. Others have described how work is fundamentally changing, how the economy has changed, and how work needs to become more engaging, educational, inter-personal, and more human. Others still have enriched our understanding of human characteristics which are far more important to our success than the worship of a single management doctrine. I’m personally thankful for the work of Shoshanna Zuboff, John Seely Brown, Roger Martin, Ellen Langer, Dev Patnaik, George Soros, Seth Godin, Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, Dan Ariely, Richard Coyne, Howard Gardner and several others who occupy my bookshelf.

So, no, I am not the first to suggest that we need to change the way we think about work, ourselves, or our interactions with others. But that doesn’t mean that people have actively dismantled the heuristics that we have applied blindly. Changing our Tayloristic mindset isn’t solely about changing the beliefs of executives to yield new platitudes about how the organization cares for people, or convincing a subset of managers to adopt management 2.0 precepts, or for individuals to embrace a revolutionary call for revolt. To use a term from Ellen Langer, it is about asking ourselves if we mindfully make choices with the best insights available, are we asking ourselves why we think the way we do, or are we mindlessly letting Taylorism, and the dictates created by it, guide our every decision?

It is my examination of “Why do we do what we do?” and “Why do organizations do what they do?” that leads me to this point in my research related to my favorite topic – the connection between strategy and execution… or more aptly the connection between execution and strategy. The order is important because when you reverse your point of view it becomes obvious that execution happens with little or no awareness about strategy and the outcomes being sought.

No matter how much we want to believe Taylorism and his mandate to “know exactly what you want men to do, and then seeing that they do it in the best and cheapest way”, the top-down hierarchical approach to strategy cannot direct execution activities effectively. For decades, less than 10% of all strategies (some think even less) have been executed as conceived. Again, I’m not the first to recognize the ineffectiveness of the connection between strategy and execution; Henry Mintzberg, Walter Kiechel, Tom Peters have all written about it. My curiousity lies in addressing “What can we do about the disconnect between execution and strategy?”

If all this time we’ve been looking at strategy through Taylor’s eyes, what would it look like through the eyes of an individual situated in execution? It would be the antithesis of Taylorism. Instead of “knowing what you want men to do”, those creating the strategy would realize that the collective brain of the organization, along with the external collective, is more powerful than the brains of a small pile of executives conceiving a strategy disconnected from execution. Secondly, we would not focus on “seeing that they do it”, or solely managing activities. Instead organizations would seek contribution from many individuals especially those closest to the constituency that the strategy means to affect. They would let those interactions co-create our strategy and our execution simultaneously.

Ultimately it means that every individual in an organization is operating autonomously within a strategic context and they have the ability to influence changes to that context.  Choices within execution are situated within strategy and strategies are reshaped by it. So instead of organizations being masters of efficiency and managers of activities, we reshape organizations into being masters of context and enablers of contribution. We all become Contextual Strategists.

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Category: Altered States Economy Human Behavior Management Strategic Planning Transformation Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , , ,

Replacing Taylorism as our Management Doctrine

by Mike Rollings  |  April 18, 2011  |  11 Comments

Over the last 239 years, organizations have been applying hierarchy, and top-down command-oriented management. This mindset erupted with the dawn of the steam engine in 1771, and in the late 1800s it was honed to razor sharpness by Frederick Winslow Taylor – the father of efficiency thinking and the science of productivity. Taylor’s work is credited with the productivity gains of the 21st century. But Taylor and his many disciples have exacted a huge toll on the role of humans in the workplace.

Taylor believed that an empirical, data-driven approach to the design of work would yield big productivity gains. His ideas are the foundation of current-day thinking about efficiency and methodologies like Six Sigma. Taylor believed that efficiency came from  “knowing exactly what you want men to do, and then seeing that they do it in the best and cheapest way”. Solving the problem of inefficiency has been business’s mission for the last 239 years, and efficiency has been pursued ahead of every other goal.

As a result, humans have become cogs in business machinery pursuing efficiency. The mental image it inspires dominates organizational management and the way people work. It is a debilitating mental model that negatively influences how every executive, manager, and employee performs their role:

  • There are two kinds of people in organizations, the machinery and people that control the machinery.
  • Every cog has its role, and not another.
  • Machines do not think, cogs do what they are told to do.
  • Efficiency increases productivity – true for machines, but not so true for human endeavors.

Organizations have institutionalized the idea that we are machines awaiting instruction. It is hardly the model we would have chosen if we had the choice at the very beginning. Two hundred thirty-nine years of deterioration is much easier because it is incremental. It is hardly noticeable until something happens that makes that model unpalatable.

The global economy, the work environment, and the world around us has changed.

There is a story about coffee producers in the 1960s who experienced the collapse of the coffee crop. One producer facing cost increases for the best beans decided that instead of raising ground coffee prices they would add a lesser grade bean to their coffee. Taste tests with their coffee drinkers indicated they could not perceive a difference between the best beans and the grind with lesser beans added. The efficiency of the idea caused the producer year after year to incrementally add more of the lesser bean and make more profit. Each year their coffee drinkers validated that they could not tell the difference.

New coffees entered the market using only the best beans. They asked people new to coffee drinking to compare their new brand to the incrementalist’ brand. These new coffee drinkers found that the taste of the incremental blend was so horribly different that people were asking “Why would I want to drink that bitter coffee over this new one?” The old coffee producer had incrementally destroyed the taste of their coffee and woke up to a crisis – the only people who liked their coffee were those who stayed with the brand through the incremental changes.

Businesses today are in the same state of crisis as the coffee producer of the 1960s. By incrementally adding Taylorism to business we have removed the human aspect of business and destroyed our blend. Today we awake to a new global economic condition, new social expectations, and full swing consumerization. The businesses we have honed into efficient cog-filled environments are poised to be changed by relationship-based economics. It is an economic paradigm that demands a human-centered approach to business-consumer relationships. The impersonal economic relationship is no longer desired. Organizations must become human to their customers.

But issues with the business-consumer relationship are just the tip of the crisis. What hides below the waterline changes the fundamentals upon which every efficiency-oriented organization thinks about managing people. The nature of work is fundamentally changing. It is returning to a human and naturally social environment.

I can only imagine that the current generation entering the workforce are the new coffee drinkers who cannot believe that work has become so mechanized, impersonal, and non-participative.

We have some serious work to do in order to return humans, their cognition, their curiosity, and their interactions back into the nature of work. Work has lost ‘context’ which determines meaning and gives us the autonomy to make a relevant contribution.


Category: Altered States Economy Human Behavior Management Strategic Planning Transformation Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , ,