Thursday 18 April 2013

Reinterpreting Hierarchy in the 21st Century – An imperative for sustainability and progress

In an era where people are dealing with a multi-generational workforce, where engagement is coming back to the forefront, when we are witnessing innovation, ideas and capabilities for strategic direction or competitive advantage increasingly come from incumbents from across various levels of the organisation, we would like to bring your focus on what we believe is a widely prevalent, long held, yet under-evolved construct – Organisational Hierarchy; which needs to evolve to match the above mentioned and other requirements of these dynamic times. Here is an extract from an article I wrote on Hierarchies. 

"Why it isn’t working?

Unfortunately the hierarchies we have created and the culture thereof has had an entire set of unintended consequences.

  1. Top end decision making was considered more important than performing actual tasks that created value for the organisation and its stakeholders. Top end management was seen coming from a limited pool whereas people at lower levels were more in supply in the environment; therefore this was justified on the basis of demand-supply or experience and skills-sets. Even though this was partly owed to the cumulative effect of the way organisations function, create hierarchies, job roles and responsibilities. In complexity terms this is an example of downward causation (supervenience).
  2. Usually line managers (bosses) are also responsible for performance reviews and impact the micro-environment for down the line employees. This works from the bottom, right to the top. This means that gaining the line manager favour is almost as important as achieving your performance targets, in fact sometimes more important. Also the biases and limitations of the line manager directly impacts performance and acceptability of ideas of employees down the line. Employees are afraid to express contrarian views and speak up, sometimes even when the bosses may be working unethically, not in the best interest of the organisation or sub-optimally.  According to a survey in the USA, workers on an average spend 19.2 hours a week worrying about what bosses say or do.
  3. It is also fairly well known in a hierarchical system for line managers to frequently receive more credit for ideas and work put in by the sub-ordinates, irrespective of whether they deserve such credit. Also the pre-mature discarding of ideas presented by people down the line merely on accord of lack of time or own biases also have been reason for loss of perhaps many innovative and valuable suggestions, thereby stifling creativity, loss of value creation and de-motivation of workers.
  4. The performance targets are also set top down in most organisations, where employees just have to commit to achieve those irrespective of the amount of stress it creates or however unrealistic these may be. There are of course target setting mechanisms like the bottom up approach, and the negotiated approach, which are meant to offset these disadvantages, but inevitable in most cases top management prevails, due to explicit or implicit power implication and related pressure.
  5. Employees who want to get more benefits and rewards feel compelled to move up to ‘higher’ jobs in the hierarchy even though it may be of less interest to them. They maybe doing great at their current job and promotions may put them in positions of responsibility where they might not be able to perform as well.
  6. People at higher levels in the hierarchy get more respect both internally and externally. They automatically are considered to be more important. This is irrespective of the value employees are creating across various levels of the organisation. The same goes for self-esteem, bottom/lower and top/higher have connotations in the mind of not only others but even the employees themselves. Lower accompanies the perception of lower self worth and higher with greater self worth.
  7. Most development opportunities are linked to job roles and people at lower levels of the hierarchy are usually provided limited (usually simplistic) opportunities to develop themselves holistically. Certain development opportunities are considered more appropriate for higher levels.
  8. Incumbents at lower levels of the hierarchy usually have less participation and visibility in organisational decision making process, awareness of organisation performance and strategic direction. This limits their perspective and development, which almost puts them on a path of slow professional growth and thus puts them at a disadvantage with regards to accessing opportunities with greater rewards and benefits. 
  9. People higher up the hierarchy face their own challenges and pressures where they are held accountable for a number of targets which may not entirely be in their control. They often face acute stress owing to being held accountable and attempting to control a large set of dynamic variables. People lower down the hierarchy face even more stresses, though. According to research done by Harvard and Stanford researchers, higher level leaders in organisations experienced less stress than people in lower level posts.
Why does this need to change in the 21st century?

According to Edward Deming, hierarchies are destroying people and organisations would be better served with lower levels of hierarchy. We have chosen to live with the deleterious effects of these structures for too long and its perceived benefits have failed to deliver and have pushed us to the brink of un-sustainability. At this time in the world there are tumultuous changes occurring, fundamental assumptions being challenged and we are coming across new information and perspectives, we need to use these times and opportunity to bring about meaningful and substantial change to extricate ourselves from the precarious position and myriad crises we find ourselves in.

At the turn of the century these are views gaining ground:

  1. There is greater recognition of the fact that value is created at all levels of the hierarchy. Performance at each level is critical in delivering business/organisational success.
  2. Ideas and innovation that can create strategic or competitive advantages for organisations can come from any level in the organisation. There is greater acceptance of the fact today more than ever. Christopher Meyer talks of Centre Edge organisations, which are those that understand value creation is now occurring at the edge of organisations, with greater emphasis on limited decision making at the centre and relying more on transparency and engagement to sustain performance.
  3. There is greater recognition that people higher up in the hierarchy don’t exercise as much control and influence over the organisation as was believed earlier. The organisation is a complex entity, with a culture of its own, and with complex processes and decision making systems. It is almost impossible to attribute its success and failure especially in a dynamic environment to individuals, as it involves a number of variables that are beyond the control of individuals.
  4. Decisions can be right or wrong and given variables involved, people cannot always be held responsible for decisions going wrong; as much as they cannot get all credit for decisions going right. Humans work with the information they have (which is always partial) and try to make the best decisions they can, but in the end there are no guarantees; in a world with no absolutes we have to consider uncertainty and give people the benefit of doubt.
  5. The way to get people to develop themselves and do what is best for themselves and society is to get them to secure their future to the extent possible and engage them in a higher worthy cause with which they identify and willingly give themselves to. When there is a significantly varied reward system which can confer skewed and cumulative advantages, this generally then focuses and allows people to manipulate the system for sustaining the advantages without a legitimate basis for it thereby undermining human performance and justice in the organisation as much as in society.
  6. Every employee deserves to be holistically developed and society is better served if all workers don’t have to wait for opportunities opening up at higher levels in the hierarchy to access these opportunities.
  7. Hierarchies and work cultures are worsening health indicators by increasing stress and limiting self-expression. According to USA Today 75% of adults say that dealing with their bosses is the most stressful part of their jobs. By a recent report in India 85% of corporate employees are afflicted with health related disorders (mostly chronic), with most of them attributed to stress. 75% of American health spending is on chronic conditions of lifestyle diseases owed in large measure to preventable causes.
  8. Every human deserves equal respect and this should not be graded on equivalences of organisations hierarchies. If organisational work cultures are contributing to a class system, we need to help remove that in the spirit of egalitarian values and practices.
What can we change and how?

While these solutions would ideally be crowd sourced, my initial views are these

  1. From the lexicon of hierarchies we need to eliminate and replace words like superior-subordinate, authority, line management, order, rank, higher-lower, etc from the organisation structure and reference to it.
  2. We need to ensure that incumbents are responsible for creating a performance portfolio that should be presented to an independent performance board which should be able to eliminate bias from the performance evaluation process. The line manager should not be in a position to greatly influence the review.
  3. It is important to segregate the decision making structure from the power and control structure. One of the things that sustains the power structure and lends to its abuse is that the decision making structure is often aligned according to the hierarchy and serves as the legitimising factor for the hierarchy. Attempts such as in Google and in other companies which have tried to do away with hierarchies and encouraged decision making through the participatory approach have been criticised for the delays in decision making and inability to reconcile differences that usually in deliberation that precede those decisions. It is a mistake to think that consensus can be evolved on decisions and there will always be a need to create a decision making, decision support and impasse resolution system that takes care of that. All we need to ensure is that it is a transparent system and doesn’t mirror a power structure implicit or explicit.
  4. The variance in benefits and rewards systems should be minimised across levels of hierarchy (perhaps eliminated in the long run). We should find a way to reward performance objectively without conferring undue, longer term, especially power advantages to high performers.
  5. People should be allowed greater visibility of the business context, decision making process and the decisions taken in an organisation. This is especially done with regards to decisions regarding them, conventionally that would seem to be an exception. 
  6. Apart from greater visibility there should further be attempts to increase participation of incumbents across the organisation in decision making processes. 
  7. The focus on holistic development of all needs to gain greater importance. People should have opportunities and the choice to opt for the same in line with their preferences, not necessarily being controlled by ‘superiors’ in the organisation.
  8. People need to discourage usage and references of the hierarchy as power structure or superior-subordinate relationships. Organisational structures should be seen more in terms of specialisations and scope of decision making. It should not have horizontal or lateral references which indicate equivalences and differentials.
  9. We need to provide platforms where people can express their interests, ideas, opinions, skills and capabilities even if these were unrelated to their immediate areas of work. This would serve to discover talent and passion and draw upon these people to use their interest and further develop them in their desired areas of endeavour. While it is not quite what we mean but one related attempt is the ShipIt days at the Australian software firm Atlassian, which mandates employees to work for 24 hours on new ideas that they want to and produce new product features ideas. Google famously asked its employees to work on their pet projects for 20% of their work time.

Reality check

  1. It is understood that given the prevailing work structures, culture, practices and incumbency, we cannot expect these structures to transform in a short duration of time. The intention here is to create possibilities of alternatives and to encourage early adopters to take initial steps in this direction.
  2. The expression of these ideas is to encourage others to explore possibilities which when acted upon will open up further opportunities and present challenges, which will progressively need to be addressed to scaffold on the initial attempts. As most complex structures evolve, so will this, recognizing the importance of the missteps already taken as perhaps a necessary step in the evolution of working society. It is not to condemn creators, supporters and apologists of the extant system (such as in Jan 1990 HBR issue Elliot Jaques wrote an article defending hierarchy ‘In praise of Hierarchy’, which still asked for a reinterpretation of it though) but it is the commitment to the underlying values that we hope should serve as the driver for the conviction to act.
  3. People higher up the hierarchies already are perhaps where we would envisage the most reluctance to change and it is therefore important that that is where change starts, also since that is where the power centre resides. We look forward to visionaries and courageous people from within these segments to work to make this evolutionary transformation a reality.
  4. We need further develop these ideas, find people who will promote the cause based on their convictions, mobilize opinion and seed next practices.
  5. Sometime it is easier to seed new ideas when there aren’t old structures that need to be torn down, so we believe entrepreneurs and new organisations may find it conducive to bring some of these ideas to life when they engage and collaborate with like minded people with similar values. 
  6. The people who may decide to adopt changes may also commit to creating longer term value while accepting short term turmoil, for often sacrifices are made for things of value. While attempting this they are likely to find many supporters in today’s environment where people are seeking principle based leadership in action and newer models to follow.
 A lot of new structures and related innovation may already be occurring in many organisations, some of them may also have tried and given up, or tried and built on it further, those people need to be more vocal about these practices and build understanding of this so we can gain benefit of past experience without necessary being prejudiced by it. So here’s a humble call for those to share and connect and express themselves so others can be inspired by it. "

Saturday 6 April 2013

Critical considerations in training, learning and development interventions

Training and Learning and Development (L&D) interventions quite often generate great debate around efficacy in terms of intended results,  approaches, construct  and methodology, delivery design and content, needs and evaluation techniques, etc. Questions are forever being asked around what leads to desired results and outcomes, and what requires careful consideration to avoid failure? Over the past decade and half having seen many training programmes conceptualised, implemented, evaluated and reviewed across various contexts, ranging from management training, behavioural training, competency based training interventions, teacher training, youth training programmes, etc. I have found the following reasons are generally attributed to sub-optimal results of training if not complete or substantial failure of it

1)  Poor structure of training/L&D  programme
2) Lack of accurate training needs analysis
3) Lack of post training support
4) Audiences not connecting with the trainer
5) Poor contextual fit and improbable practical application
6) Lack of individualised focus on participants
7) Poor or incongruous delivery style of the trainers
8) Lack of homogeneity among participants
9) Poor motivation of participants
10) Drawing resistance due to forced participation

There are many factors which impact the success and failure of training, learning and development interventions. But some (ten) of the fundamental factors which often are obscured and overlooked are as follows
1) Expectations – most people expect training to deliver instantaneous and complete transformations and competence, which is almost never the case. Of course if you are very narrowly scoping the intervention focusing on very few details as the case maybe in introducing simple processes or product attributes, you may meet expectations, but for most behavioural, perspective building, competence developing programmes this is generally not the case, especially around short term programmes. One must always remember that to understand the simplest of things often requires the greatest amount of time, experiences and efforts. So a good way of scoping the intervention in a lot of cases may be to aim for what is most important and spend as much time on it.
2) Viewing training as a complete solution for the learning and performance need – This is a mistake most managers make, even though there is growing understanding around the issue. Most people attempting to bring about performance change and affecting learning rely on training interventions as the solitary option, not recognising that there are many more variables involved and approaches required. Learning and performance are contingent upon a supportive and conducive ecosystem which takes time to create and delivers over time as well. This is why while commissioning training most managers make the mistake of defining outcomes and results which are not realistic to bring about with mere training interventions. An understanding of performance and human behaviour is critical for trainers/training and L&D managers.
3) Focus on preparing the learners, contextualisation for the individual participants – This is one of the most important steps that planners and trainers miss addressing. Generally this is a construct error, and is usually also the differentiating factor between great and average to poor trainers/training interventions. The best trainers/training and L&D managers know that it is important to make the participants receptive to the message and content of the training; once they have taken care of that, the rest is very simple.  Most average trainers try to do this on the go if at all, they merely use a very simple activity to tick the box of ice breaking and getting the candidates to think about what they are going to receive. That is really nearly not enough. This is also a part which is most important to remove the resistors to change, bias towards forthcoming content, creating trust and shared purpose and understanding.
4) Pre-structured and inflexible content – Most training programmes have pre-decided content, which is sequentially organised and structured to fill the duration of the training programme. This really means that certain important unresolved issues, which are emergent and require greater deliberation and addressing, are often dealt with and pushed aside. Often the reason stated for doing so is lack of time and it being beyond the scope of the programme. Generally these leave gaps in understanding and acceptance on part of the participants. This undermines the perception of efficacy of proposed applicability as it is not considering the environment and context of operation holistically.  Sometimes trainers/training and L&D managers need to be prepared to junk the training plan and content in order to engage participants and address important emergent issues and therefore even at planning stage this needs to be factored in.
5) Appreciation of diversity and uncertainty – Most training is based on the view that this is what the participants need and need to do or develop or become. The underlying conviction is that we know better, we know what you need and we want you to do this. What is not fully appreciated is the usefulness of the content for the audiences, 'ours versus theirs' need and/or priority, alternatives to what is being proposed (which could be as if not more useful), divergent views among the participants and respect for it, right of audiences to be and choose, acceptance of the fact that uncertainty pervades and underlies everything (all models, meanings and attributions are based on assumptions that involve uncertainty), etc.
Appreciating diversity and accepting uncertainty brings about a change in approach of trainers where they move from a position of higher ground to equal ground; where a trainer moves into a sharing mode rather than the sermon mode. This makes the connection to the audiences more real, the discussion more participatory and builds shared perceptions from which people can then move into agreement for action learning.
It is interesting that while in competency based learning especially in sensitive areas of operation where the objective of the trainer is to have zero variance in transmission of learning, trainers often see this as something that involves no uncertainty and scope for diversity of opinion. These are sometimes referred to as pilot checks or surgeons checklist. It is important to know that the underlying fundamentals in these areas also involve uncertainty, but since we have considered risks and choose not to take on those risks especially by people who are not in a position to alter the environment to mitigate those risks. Mostly specialists are the ones who push boundaries and undertake calculated risks based on necessity or to evolve understanding and practices in these areas. Since we don’t want anyone to undertake those risks without considering those in detail we choose to regiment those processes. But yet sometimes we also are introduced to effective new practice and understanding on the same issues sometimes by others with little experience and divergent views and need to be looking out for those.  
It is not necessary that the prevailing or more widely accepted views are the best and most reliable. Experts and models are increasingly proving to be wrong as newer views are rapidly emerging and challenging truly entrenched and established models of understanding around almost everything. This is ranging from areas such as healthcare and understanding of human body and mind, to economic models and our understanding of scientific facts and understanding of the universe. It is interesting to see books such as ‘The end of certainty’ (Prigogine), ‘Wrong-why experts keep failing us’ (David H Friedman), ‘Unintended Consequences’ (Edward Conrad),’ The assumptions economists make’ (Schlefer) and a host of other views from various and almost every discipline or area of work which highlight on how the information or models we work with is fraught with uncertainty and prevailing views are partial at best if not wholly expert manipulation of perception.
6) Understanding of and sensitivity to human beings and behaviour – most trainers/training and L&D managers are subject matter experts with variable expertise in training delivery and related areas. They are generally limited by their understanding of the complexities of human behaviour. The best of these personnel constantly expand their understanding of human behaviour and use that to inform their practice. This has to be factored into both design and delivery elements of the training. It is interesting that an even more important omission made is the sensitivity to humans, quite often as trainers we have a job to do and that is the paramount objective, in that role as in management or any other job role we often forget that we all are human first and people ought to first be respected and understood as that before we decide to start discriminating them on the basis of their experience, job roles, attitudes, background, knowledge, receptivity to training and the trainer and behaviour.
7) The evaluation of training and the ROI approach to training – The perception of why training has not worked can often be created owing to how we choose to evaluate and communicate the results of the evaluation. Most training evaluation attempts to quantify impact through recording changed behaviour, impact on business results and ROI approaches (easily manipulated by those attempting to isolate the attribution to training), audience reactions, evaluating change in knowledge and/or competency (testing). In the end all of these in themselves or put together rarely ever capture the impact of training in relation to eventual performance. We are of course still free to choose any combination of these to satisfy or criticise stakeholders for it.  The reality is that the more we move from the realm of procedural to behavioural to beliefs and attitudes the more and more we deal with dynamism and interconnectedness of variables involved and the larger the number of variables with which we work; therefore the more indiscernible the impact of training. The game we actually end up playing is of building perceptions of and around training. This by no measure is indicated to undermine the importance of training and other learning and development initiatives the critical role it can play for growth and development of individuals, teams, organisations and society at large.
8) Appreciation and understanding of constraints of training interventions – Every intervention has a number of constraints; these may be in terms of scope, resources (time, funds, materials, space, etc), support and buy-in from others, training construct, etc. These are generally key factors while designing the intervention whereas is lost sight of while evaluating the impact and effectiveness of the training. It is important to keep track of the adjustments and compromises made at the outset and develop a shared understanding of the final design and expected outcomes and then use the intervention as an action research model to inform and modify subsequent approaches. This one is particularly interesting because it is greatly influenced by the paradigm you operate from, "is it one of achieving a result or of expressing and sharing?"
9) Alignment between various stakeholders – Training results are often viewed as successful or under-achieved based on different views of people involved. This again is predicated upon what paradigm one is operating from. A shared understanding and alignment is critical where it is more important to satisfy those decision-making or evaluation focused stakeholders whose perception at the end is important for the trainer or training company. Whereas training interventions which look at being more accountable to participants and are more driven by trainer conviction to share and express may not consider this as important for wider group of stakeholders, but are still important for those involved. In the latter case what becomes paramount is that the trainer belief, values, interests, convictions, words and actions are aligned and in harmony. It is very noticeable when trainers, also other people, are performing in areas which they feel passionate about they are in greater if not complete alignment and usually perform to a much higher standard than in areas which they don’t feel as passionate about and are delivered as a routine or job-demand.
10) Focusing on what doesn’t work or what does – While fear is considered to be a greater motivator for change many people believe desired results have a greater chance to be achieved if we focus on what does work. It is also considered better by an increasing number of trainers to focus on techniques like appreciative enquiry, using the ‘what you focus on expands’ maxim to bring about desired change. Of course while we are considering the ‘what’ it is equally if not more important to consider the ‘why’. Why do we even want to achieve what we want to achieve, a common technique of 5 whys to arrive at a deeper understanding is a good place to start I think, though I am not sure there could not be more than 5, especially since quite often you’ll find yourself jumping between the same sets of answers a couple of times at least.
The positive and the negative are usually two sides of the same coin; if we consider one, inevitably you will consider the other. What works usually will also mean you will develop the perception that the opposite will not work. If you learn how not to cut your finger while chopping onions you do learn how to put it at risk, when you learn the ‘right’ word pronunciation, you also learn of what in the world is not it.  Therefore lets for the moment put it at rest. We have in life to deal with the negative as much as the positive; likewise in training, learning and development interventions right-wrong, good-bad, desirable-undesirable, approved-unapproved, go hand-in-hand. But once we have learnt about both sides we develop the choice to focus our being and what thoughts we want to hold in our head. Mindfulness and meditation are techniques now being globally explored to keep oneself calm and positive for the effect on body and mind, but we are only aware since we know the effects of anxiety and fear on us. But then what we reinforce as practice is a choice we make and ‘we are what we repeatedly do’ so it probably makes sense to practice the right, positive things as much as we can then. At least until we know any better.

Most personnel involved in training, learning and development work in a complex area that involves driving change in attitudes, values, beliefs, perspective, behaviour and performance. There are many variables involved, as there are approaches, pitfalls and risks. It is important that people who are in these areas develop themselves as they undertake a great responsibility attempting to influence and steer the development and being of people in a particular direction. They are taking people’s time, quite often money and attention in doing so. While they may not think or feel themselves to be responsible for others state of being, they do impact on it. It is important that they do so conscientiously and while developing their own perspectives, values and understanding with an ever greater commitment to respecting, assisting and collaborating with others, to bring about positive change in self, others, organisations and society. 

Wednesday 3 April 2013

School systems are delivering suboptimal results, but why things are likely to get worse

The school system is a legacy institution which has not evolved as rapidly as it needed to. The foundation of the school system was set on standardisation, where students were expected to learn standardised content and assessed through standards based and standardised testing mechanisms. In earlier days relatively low numbers of students were going to school and it was the school systems job to get kids in order and align parenting to achieve school based academic and developmental outcomes. Those students who were underachievers were considered abnormal; something was considered to be wrong with them. They were subjected to disciplinary measures, threats, remedial interventions at schools, parental interventions and clinical interventions, expected to catch-up or be consigned to a special school or such if not abandoned as a lost case. But what has happened over the years is that there has been a growing realisation among various people including students, parents, educationists, development specialists and people at large that it is okay to be different and to learn differently. It is also ok to learn different things too. Also that, students as much as teachers, schools and school systems are different and involve non-standardised transactions, owed to who they are and factors that are sometimes in the control of school authorities but mostly not.
There is a liberation from the need to conform and people are now no longer willing to accept their being branded as inadequate and abnormal, knowing that just because they learn differently, or are interested in different things, or value different things, they still can lead healthy, normal and successful lives and that they deserve respect, rights and privileges as much as anyone else. Muted diversity is now finding self-acceptance, confidence and expression, as it should. This factor is driving fundamental changes across society, its institutions, ideologies and practices.
This in turn has put the pressure back on teachers and education systems to engage and offer education and developmental opportunities to children who are diverse, without necessarily forcing them to conform. Now given teacher – student ratios, standard curriculum, legacy effect of teaching practice and teacher education, limited funding and a host of other factors this situation is going to demand more skills, perspective and time of teachers to keep these kids engaged, offer customised educational and developmental content, facilitation and instruction and use non-standardised assessment methods while attempting to meet an academic performance standard increasingly being demanded by societal stakeholders (government, funding agencies, parents, educationists, etc.), all within a timeframe. Given the added pressure from funding systems and evaluation criteria for performance of school and teachers the overall situation has little hope of a turnaround. Of course at another level to add to the complexity, the same goes for teacher educators and administrators responsible for teacher education and development.
What is happening concomitantly is that the employment world is changing; while large numbers of employers are complaining of lack of adequate skill sets among job candidates (graduates or school leavers), employers are also now creating competitive advantage based on innovation, usually derived by engaging outliers. These outliers inevitably are non-conformists, as these non-conformists become successful there is a greater influence on people to pull away in the direction of their dreams and passions, with focus on becoming a master in one field rather than acquire the full set of complementary academically derived skill-sets and knowledge.  Given that there are newer non-traditional learning opportunities in the environment now accessible to students including those who haven’t completed schooling,  which are self access learning materials and MOOCs, apart from certificate programmes from a host of private and other providers, learning is no longer confined and constrained to schools. Also the hierarchy of learning as in the school curriculum structure will no longer hold good as students will engage in non-sequential, trans-disciplinary, self-paced learning. All this will contribute to unschooling as a growing trend. The products of these learning systems are increasingly going to meet employer needs and therefore people are going to rely less on the schooling system for employment, which is what people see the primary benefit of the school system as. 
The school system will still remain a place where most parents who don’t have time to tend to their children will send them to and those desirous of continuing their higher education (which has its own dynamics and challenges) will continue to patronise apart from many others. The pressure on teachers and schools systems to respond with changes will only keep growing though. The shackles of standardisation and educationists' fetish for it will have to give way. Given the shortage of teachers in most countries and given the rapidity with which influences in the social sphere spreads, there will always be a lag in institutionalising ideologies, perspectives, practices and processes that need to be in place to cope with the changes outside of school and its influence on student behaviour, parental and other stakeholders’ expectations. This will make the situation increasingly untenable for school systems, being constantly challenged until redefined and evolved into a new construct. Till then expect a lot more dissatisfaction and pressure on the school system. 

Monday 1 April 2013

Be on time!...why don't we catch up instead

In this day and age of connectivity and progressed management thought and practices, we still display a great deal of outmoded behaviour. It is reflective of our inability to translate knowledge into perspectives and related informed action. Take for instance the phenomenal obsession of some managers to adhere to ideas of punctuality.  I use the example of time because it is a very common everyday issue; also most people will easily understand this and have an opinion bordering almost on controversy. I also want to use this to draw your attention to something far more fundamental but usually obscure. In a day and age when connectivity and flexible working hours for the knowledge worker is being talked about and practised in many industries, there are managers still mired in antiquated thought and practice. Unfortunately while we recognise certain areas and job roles where it is important to adhere to time, a number of managers are unable to grasp the applicability of it to different contexts, relying on a 'one size fits all and all the time' phenomenon.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that where we are dealing with mature people who understand the implications of time and duty and usually deliver responsibly on their deliverables, even very often staying late and travelling around on work on personal times etc. and who really do not have to be in office on time to complete their work, we not only de-motivate them when we make an issue out of it, we often also are implying they are not mature enough and may not have a justified reason for their actions. If you view this in light of the Pygmalion effect let me encourage you to think of the most likely kind of workforce we are helping to engender. 

The need in today’s environment is for managers to not only know what contexts they are dealing with but more importantly they need to build understanding and appreciation of the people they work with. This is one of the biggest challenges we are working with and hopefully the 21st century would draw us out of this manufacturing industry’s standardisation overhang, where business was conducted in an impersonal way both in the macro and micro contexts. Organisations around the world are suffering from this management’s inability to get out of patterns that they get caught in and management by personal bias (ego-centered management) is ruining the ability of people to become effective leaders. For we are neither creating the relationships that we need to really create trust and lead people nor are we able to understand the triggers and contexts that people come from, which is not only obviously very dear, real and live for them, but greatly relevant to the organisation as well (something we have so far ignored and washed our hand off from), especially if we want to develop employee loyalty and an engaged workforce.

I think managers would be better served if they saw their jobs as facilitating performance and engagement rather than as someone who is focused on controlling behaviour. This reminds me of a Marcus Buckingham book I read in my early management education days, "First break all the rules", which is a good read for some ideas on high performance managers.

Some of the key reasons why there is great reluctance from managers to translate new management practices into action are

1)  Legacy effect – the most obvious not only in terms of practices these managers have been following for years, but also because they were held to the same guidelines.
2)  Ego – This one is ‘if I come on time how come others don’t’. This is because most managers equate coming at a different time which is usually an accommodation to a luxury.
3) Hard pressed for time – most managers don’t have the time to build relationships, we cant fit in the time for the most important aspect of our work and lives; now that says something about time management of managers, doesn’t it?
4)  Lack of skills and perspective - most of the managers lack Intrapersonal skills required to engage their staff and build relationships and there are those who don’t even know why it is important.

And now for the most interesting one… Most managers live and come from their very own personal contexts and are uncompromising on what they value and find convenient. They like to feel good about themselves and what they are able to achieve, in other areas where they aren’t as good they usually use the same reasons of contextual factors for justification for accommodation. In fact they are just no different; the more people delve deeper into foundations of behaviour the more we begin to understand the importance of beliefs, biases, diversity and related profound implications and insight that holds for management, leadership, achievement in the context of the individual, the team, the organisation and society.