Thursday, August 6, 2015

Times They Are A Changing…#4

Some Yea Buts: About Moving To An Alternate Organizing Design?

Moving to a distributed decision-making model has a clear and tangible upside – or why else would you consider it. Here are just a few immediate impacts:
  1. You get to share the responsibility of running the business
  2. You now have collaborators not subordinates
  3. Everyone can use their best intelligence to move the business forward
  4. The experience of ownership and engagement increases – for everyone

All that said, the first thing to remember about any change, is that change can be uncomfortable and disorienting – even change we want, and think we understand, intellectually at least.

Just to give you one example from my own experience – driving in the US after years of driving in the UK. How hard can that be? Yet I had months of forgetfulness as old habits took over and I found myself walking to the wrong side of the car or driving on the wrong side of the road. Creating new habits, new automatic responses, can take time and in the process can be frustrating.

What Are Some Of the Habits That Will Be Hard To Break?

To start the process of moving to a distributed decision making model, a model in which people get the make decisions autonomously given the authority and responsibility vested in their role(s) requires that we start breaking some of the habits we have acquired working in the hierarchical, top-down model most of us have grown up with.

Here are a few habits to break, over the coming weeks I will add more, and will also give examples of how people in various organization have created new practices to displace old habits:
  1. Managing, supervising, controlling and telling: we have been trained to manage, which essentially means that the responsibility and decision-making authority of our job rests with us. Sure we can and do delegate, but we are still accountable for the actions and results of the people we manage.
  2. Giving our reports goals and objects, tasks and projects: hard to think of a more effective way to reduce people's engagement and participation and to have them experience their job as an imposition, only mitigated, if it is, by the compensation that goes with it
  3. Being the go to person for information and decisions: it used to be that hoarding information and knowledge was a way to ensure job security, now it is an effective way to keep people who report to you unable to make informed and autonomous decisions. And paradoxically, it is not hard to find managers who constantly complain their people will not use their own initiative and make decisions
  4. Constantly quizzing people about their actions and results: especially in situations where you think they could and should be doing more, better and faster
  5. Keeping a tight rein on budgets and authorities: constraining how people can use the resources of the organization to forward the business is a sure recipe for disengagement. And, more than anything it communicates, you are not to be trusted.

This list goes on…we will add to it in future posts.

But then what are some of the practices we need to establish to start the transition to an autonomous decision-making model? We’ll talk about new practices to displace old ingrained habits in subsequent posts.

Some Actions to Take For Starters

Have ongoing conversations about Purpose: Answer the Why Questions. Asking why all the time didn’t go away as we grew up, we just stopped asking because we got so few satisfying answers from our elders. So keep having conversation about why you want/need a new organizing model, why the work you are all doing is important in forwarding the purpose and mission of the team, the group or the organization.

As a set up, let people know why the decision has been made to move the organization, group or team to a distributed decision-making model from the current hierarchical boss/manager-report model.

Distinguish some of the key design differences between the two models, and the benefits that those who have made the transition derived from the change. We will talk about that too in subsequent posts.
  1. Clarify the mission: in addition to having conversations about purpose, keep clarifying the mission. What is the near-term focus? Who has expectations of us, and what are those expectations?
  2. At every opportunity give people authority to make their own autonomous decisions: to start the transition from their function, job title, job description and from operating inside their box on the org chart to creating autonomous decision-making roles, stop being the go to source for every answer/decision, use those occasions to start the process of creating accountabilities, responsibilities and authorities…more about that to come.
  3. Look for tension, conflicts and breakdowns: another opportunity to distribute authority and decision-making so that they are regularly surfaced and responded to.


What Are Others Doing?


 For those who want to do some independent reading about what others are doing I recommend:
  1. Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson
  2. Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Fredric Laloux
  3. Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit From Passion and Purpose by Raj Sisodia,

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Times They Are A Changing…#3

More About How We Move To An Alternate Organizing Design?

Let's say it’s Monday morning, a new day, a new week, and the organization, group or team already has a routine, an already established way of doing things. If we are to move to a new organizing design something has to change – we need to start doing some things differently.

In my last post I proposed an overview of some key steps  – a 30,000 ft. view, if you will. Every time I have had this conversation with a tem of executives there is usually agreement at the level of the model or framework – mostly everyone agrees it all makes sense – the question is usually, yes, we need to do things differently, but where’s the best place for us to make a start?

The best place to look for an answer…the answer for you…is to start with the areas where you have the most complaints or dissatisfactions. Here are some that make it to the top of most lists:
1.     We have too many meetings, and they mostly don’t help to get things done
2.     How do we deal with, “It’s not my job”?  Then who is accountable/responsible for…[fill in the black]?
3.     How do we surface and deal with day-to-day tensions, persistent complaints and the inevitable conflicting priorities?
4.     How do we give/get feedback so we are continually improving instead of being frustrated with each other when our expectations are not being met?
5.     We say we want innovation, creativity and breakthroughs, yet we spend all our time on business-as-usual, how do we break that cycle?

TIP: Pick one area at a time to go to work on:
    1. If it a process that needs to be changed, do you have standard operating procedure to change processes? If yes, use it to cause the needed changes. If no, job #1 is design the mechanism you will use to change and improve processes – how do you do it; who get to decide; how are changes shared…?
    2. If it is a behavior/habit that needs to be changed, don’t try and fix the behavior/habit, create a new practice that will displace the behavior/habit that you don't want.
    3. As you notice things to work on, keep asking, “What role should have the accountability/authority/responsibility to attend to this?” Make sure that every activity, everything you are working on, belongs to a role. More about that later, and in subsequent posts.
Creating Roles – A Key Design Element

In the emergent, distributed decision-making model – the context for what I am talking about in this series of blogs – every person in the organization, group and team has a role, more likely a set of roles – each person acts like an entrepreneur, Founder/CEO within their role(s) exercising their authorities to execute their accountabilities.

Roles may well be grouped in categories, like R&D, IT, marketing, finance, and business development, however the expectation is that people will have roles in more than one category. This is the most effective way to get out of the silo/functional mindset most of us have been trained and steeped in during our careers.

The key design elements of a role include:
  1. An activity expressed as verbs ending in –ing. See some examples below. In subsequent post I will give examples of companies who are advocates of this approach and do this well
  2. That activity is expressed as an accountability, so that the expectations of everyone in the organization, group, team are clear
  3. With specific responsibilities
  4. Specific decision-making authorities [that no one can trump without violating the authority of the role]
  5. All while meeting the expectation of other role holders.
A role holder can have roles in different functions of an organization/group/team.

A role is different from a task in a job description, or a job description in total, mostly because job descriptions to not include all the design elements of a role.

 A few examples of roles:
  1. Finding new prospective customers
  2. Converting prospective customers to customers
  3. Responding to customers’ questions is a role that someone(s) needs to be accountable for, with particular responsibilities, specific decision-making authorities, while meeting the expectations of other roles.
  4. Preparing and disseminating regular performance updates
  5. Capturing and disseminating new knowledge

The ongoing intention is to keep expressing every element of work as a role, or part of a role, and assigning roles to someone who is willing to be responsible for all the elements required for the performance of that role.


More about designing and managing roles in upcoming posts.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Times They Are A Changing... #2

How Do We Start Creating An Alternate Organizing Design?

How do we move to a new organizing design? Especially when things are already under way – the organizing design/model is established, and people come to each interaction with long established ways of doing things. Further, there is a built in, mostly implicit, expectation about how “things should be done around here”.

The challenge is even more daunting for many when they are unconsciously at the affect of a myth that includes beliefs like: change can only start at the top; you have to have permission or authority to cause change; change takes a long time and requires resources… all these beliefs have the effect of giving permission to inaction, resignation or a reluctant acceptance of the status quo.

We first need to recognize/acknowledge that our prevailing mindset is biased in favor of a worldview in which predict and control is the operating state.  If we can’t predict outcomes, and if we can’t control things on the way to desired outcomes, then we are, de facto, not ready, we are not prepared. We need more predictive data.

Instead, we need to start practicing operating with an emergent worldview in which the operative mode is sensing what is happening in our immediate environment and responding to what we see, sense and feel – sensing the gap between what is going on now and what could be in the furtherance of our purpose.

This moment-by-moment sensing will inform how to respond, NOW, with appropriate next actions – what to stop, what to start, what to do differently, and what to make sure we continue, all to forward the group’s purpose

Here are the key steps:


Start with Purpose

Why does the group exist? Who or what is it designed to serve? Who would care if the group no longer existed – in what way would they be impacted that would be a detriment to them?

Alignment with, and passion for, the purpose should be a fundamental, must meet condition for including people in the group – both in the initial recruitment stage and in the ongoing continuing to belong phase.

Add Values

Clearly articulated, and shared, core values help shape decisions about mission, strategy, governance, policies, rules, systems and day-to-day operations.

As Thomas Jefferson puts it, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Principles, or core values are non-negotiable, and are another fundamental must meet condition in decisions about who should be in the group.

Align on The Mission

The mission, or strategic intent, is a time-bound expression of intention for the group. It is aspirational and it is an articulation of things like scale, rate of growth, impact, and reputation, to name a few.

The value of articulating a mission is that it helps to guide conversations about resources, priorities, infrastructure, systems and day-to-day focus, goals and priorities.

Design The Groups Key Organizing Elements

  1. The Organizing Structure: Organize the work that needs to be done into roles and functions [groupings of roles] that are needed – do not organize around people, job titles or job descriptions
  2. The Governance Process: Governance is a continual/ongoing process to decide how to break down each element of the work into roles, what authorities each role has, what to expect of each role, and what resources and permissions each role has
  3. Operations: the focus of operations is on getting things done. In tactical meetings the group reviews metrics, update projects, processes tensions – tensions being the gap between what is present now, and what could be to forward the group’s purpose.

 Some Guiding Perspectives

The more explicit we can be about guiding perspectives the easier it will be to align, collaborate, produce desired outcomes, and resolve tensions and conflicts.

  1. The focus of leadership is on organizing work, not people
  2. Everyone in the organization is considered to be a leader
  3. Every leader’s primary job is to advance the roles they fill
  4. Each roles is defined to include:
    1. Specific accountabilities
    2. The decision-making authority and permissions the role has
    3. The responsibilities of the role for things like transparency, communication, surfacing and processing tensions
    4. Managing expectations
    5. Participating in conversations about operations
    6. Contributing to governance conversations.

Some Essential Practices

A practice refers to a designed, regular and intentional set of actions that interrupt old habits [ingrained unconscious “practices”] and create new activities designed to generate the behavior and the results, wanted to forward the group’s purpose.

Practices need to be shared and need to be part of everyone’s day-to-day behavior to yield their value.

After the essentials are in place additional practices will be identified as missing in the day-to-day process of identifying and resolving tensions. In governance meetings proposals will be accepted to add new practices, as they are needed.

Starting essentials:

  1.  Sensing and responding NOW, displacing predicting and controlling the future
  2. Conversations for action – requesting, promising, making offers
  3. Maintaining an existence system – a visible, distributed display of measures and metrics, next actions, and projects
  4. Surfacing and dealing with conflict
  5. Operational meetings
  6. Regular governance conversations
  7. Managing meeting to stay on purpose
  8. Distributed decision-making


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Times They Are A Changing…

The Context for an Alternate Organizational Design

Unless we design something different each person, team or group in an organization will naturally adopt the default organizing design, given it is the one we have all been trained and acculturated in.

The aspiration of (almost) everyone in an organization is that work be productive, that relationships be empowering, and the experience of being at work be one of doing something worthwhile that makes a difference to a very specific set of stakeholders.

None of us goes to work to be unproductive, to be frustrated by colleagues such that we end up with the experience of having wasted one’s time, or worse, having missed out on opportunities to experience really fulfilling work. Yet this is what the prevailing organizational design gives most of us – a lot of frustration, and the experience of a lack of fulfillment and satisfaction.


So we need to rethink our organizing model and our practices, so that being at work is meaningful, enjoyable, productive, and makes a difference. So that being at work provides the maximum opportunity for each of us to fully express our genius and the contribution we have to make – the most sustaining reward of work is the intrinsic reward that comes from knowing ­– I made a difference.

The Prevailing (Default) Organizing Design That Needs To Be Changed

Here are some of the key elements of the default-organizing model:
  1. Hierarchical – executives, managers, supervisors, individual contributors, each in their box on the org chart, and most with a relationship of deference that increases the further down the hierarchy one is placed
  2. Command and Control – policy, strategy and decision-making cascaded down from the top
  3. Power-based – status, tenure, expertise, access to resources and connections decide where power and authority to act on one’s own initiative lies
  4. Authorities often unclear, and even when they are clear can easily be trumped by someone further up the hierarchy, or someone with access to more power or resources
  5. Goals and objectives mostly “handed down”, and frequently occur as a loaded challenge rather than an opportunity
  6. Failure can be career limiting, and is best avoided
  7. Risks are to be mitigated, and best avoided
  8. Trust is low, so watch your back
  9. Value statements are usually more slogans than “the way we do things around here”
  10. Why we are doing what we are doing is mostly unclear – beyond making money and staying in business
  11. Engagement is low, as is enthusiasm
  12. The raison d’ĂȘtre of the organization is, implicitly, to maximize the returns to shareholders and investors.

A Possibility For An Alternate Organizing Design

Creating an alternate organizing design/model requires:
  1. An alternate mindset
  2. New practices, and 
  3. New agreements

To use a computer metaphor, adopting a new organizing model is akin to switching from years of using a PC with a Windows operating system to using a Mac and a Mac operating system.  There is a lot that is familiar and a lot that is radically different, even frustrating and confusing.

Anyone can start the process of creating a new organizing model – the impact and leverage increases as the community of participants grows.

Here are some key building blocks of an alternate organizing design/model:

  1. The group [team, function, organization] is purpose-driven – everyone in the group knows why they are together and are aligned with, and enlivened by, the purpose they are pursuing
  2. Values – are designed to shape actions, decisions and the groups mood and vitality, and they are lived by everyone
  3. Shared language – the group works with a shared language with shared meaning, a lexicon that speeds mutual understanding and aligned actions
  4. Rules – providing a context for how to work together, they constrain some actions and behavior
  5. Roles – all work is articulated as a role that needs to be filled. Everyone has a clear role(s), which means everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and their colleagues in the day-to-day workings of the group
  6. Authority, Accountabilities and Permissions are vested in each role
  7. Sensing and expressing tensions helps drive change – sensing tensions between what is and what could be and taking action to resolve a tension is a SOP
  8. Make a distinction between Governance – the process by which the group alters roles, adds roles, changes policies, adds policies, alters procedures, and adds procedures in a decision-making model so that executing change can happen safely and swiftly, and Operations the day-to-day interactions in which the work of the group is accomplished.

How do we start creating a new organizing design? That is the topic of my next post.