Archive for the ‘philosophy of work’ Category
Too Busy: 4 Takes
- My contact is too busy to talk about collaboration: “Too many deliverables, scheduled too tightly.”
- Another colleague laments the lack of time to think ahead about the broader picture. She chides the constant race to get stuff done.
- A friend observing the inner-workings of a logistics department 2000 miles from where he was trained could identify key process components missing. The very components that created the immediate chaos the team waded through each day.
We earn our keep by being busy. None of us want the boss to wander by and say, “Fire up that keyboard/drill press/classroom/spreadsheet and get to work.”
Busy is always good.
There are no exceptions.
- We lament “busy” but secretly get a buzz from opening the adrenalin spigot.
- Busy looks productive. But looks can deceive. We easily deceive ourselves with busyness.
- When taken out of action (for instance, when downsized/right-sized/laid-off/fired), we suddenly have time to ask:
- “Where am I?” and
- “What (the heck) am I doing?” and maybe
- “What was I thinking?”
- No one likes the off-balance, adrenalin-free stance of waiting, watching, knocking and waiting. Are we genetically predisposed to seek action? After all, aren’t verbs the action-heroes in our favorite writing?
It’s hard work to look at the bigger picture and make difficult choices about direction, use of resources, usefulness. And yet those are the very questions that help us move forward. As the wheel of seasons grind toward winter in Minnesota, we might take a page from the farmer’s playbook and let snowy fields lie.
Even on purpose: the fallow field may allow us productive time to consider what it means to be productive.
Versus just busy.
Dumb sketch credit: Kirk Livingston
Collaboration opens as the sharing economy pushes back into your organization
Old-School Corporate Climbers held information and doled it out on a need-to-know basis. Knowing secrets was their key to moving up and sometimes they purposely withheld information so you might fail/they might succeed.
Maybe you know someone like this.
But as we watch the sharing economy slip free of social media venues and push back into organizations (simultaneously raising the expectation of being heard), I expect we’ll see another kind of corporate operative: the sharer. Maybe I’ll call that person the Sharing-Economy Newbie. In this new world of sharing information, the Sharing-Economy Newbie shares information freely and in a way that allows others to collaborate. The power the surrounds them will not be command-and-control power, it will be the power that invites participation.
Then again, human nature being what it is, there will always be information hoarders. Old-School Corporate Climbers will always find their way. But if we intentionally build cultures that reward information sharing and collaboration, the organization, its mission, and humanity are the big winners.
Maybe there are some who prefer a command-and-control culture of being told what to do at every turn, but there will be fewer and fewer every year.
Dumb sketch credit: Kirk Livingston
How to Grow Collaborators 1-2-3
- Share your first thoughts as if they were dumb sketches.
- Wait for—look for—and welcome reactions.
- Then say “Yes, and ….”
- Rinse & repeat.
You model commitment to collaboration by sharing your first thoughts. This dumb sketch approach to life makes you vulnerable and open to criticism. And there will be criticism. But vulnerability + time creates serious ballast around the notion of getting full engagement from all those around.
Your “Yes, and…” is the other shoe that drops to indicate you are also taking your colleagues seriously. It doesn’t matter whether your colleagues are bosses or employees, “Yes, and…” works up and down the corporate food chain. “Yes, and…” is your go-to reaction to ideas. People will gradually come to understand you think the world needs more ideas with legs and feet, ideas that accomplish stuff.
As kids we taunted each other with how sticks and stones break bones but words, well…you know. But it turns out words have a more complicated existence. In many respects, words have far more power than we ever guessed. And in this growing of collaborators, our words can make stuff happen out in the world (a “speech-act,” one might say). It only takes one committed collaborant (I think I just made up a word or re-purposed a French word) to begin to clear a safe space for collaboration. That space will invite collaborators, who become a nucleus to change a team, a group, an organization—and more.
How will you encourage collaboration today?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Stay close to the work
Man is after all a finite being in capacities and powers of doing actual work. But when it comes to planning, one mind can in a few hours think out enough work to keep a thousand men employed for years.
McCullough, David. The Great Bridge (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 381. Quoted in Berkun, Scott. The Year Without Pants (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 67.
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston
LEED-like certification for human-spirit-sustainable workplaces
- Site location
- Water conservation
- Energy efficiency
- Indoor air quality
Businesses and organizations with the highest ratings display them as a sort of badge of honor for the public to see.
What if there were some system to measure and rate the culture within a company or organization? Since we worry about bullying at school and we’re starting to recognize bullies in the office and toxic corporate cultures, does it make sense to start thinking about organizations that sustain people rather than beat them?
For instance, what if any organization was judged by these four categories:
- Bias toward collaboration
- Employee engagement indicators
- Mix of top-down messaging with true conversation
- Ratio of CEO-pay to rank-and-file pay
It would be difficult to measure many of these, especially since most of the categories seem so subjective. And yet, would it be impossible to measure? Would it be worthwhile to measure? Are we already moving in that direction?
In Minneapolis/St. Paul—like any set of cities—insider talk has long identified those cut-throat corporate and institutional cultures that routinely toss human capital to the side. Insider talk also identifies those bosses, managers and C-suite people without empathy and/or ethical moorings. New employees are generally forewarned when they sign up.
Of course, business is still about earning a living for the people involved even as the organization serves some human need. So don’t think I’m championing some communistic collective. Profits will and must be made to help society move forward.
But as we move toward fuller employment, workers will become more choosy about where they spend their days. And those cultures that have a less sustainable ethos will not be the winners.
I’m not convinced I’ve identified the right categories to measure. What categories would you include?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Joe Knew Where His Success Came From
Pity: so many memorable stories.
Like the story of Joe Lueken. A couple years ago Mr. Lueken turned down the opportunity to make buckets of cash by selling his Bemidji-based grocery store chain. Instead, as he retired, he set up an employee stock ownership program and transferred the company to his workers.
He was a philanthropist who stocked shelves and took his break with the other workers in the break room. And—most telling for me—the people who worked for him had great respect for him. He was a guy whose work ethic and his caring demeanor touched lives. And it seems—at least from my reading of a couple of articles—he did so with joy.
Mr. Lueken died on July 20 after a long battle with cancer.
As we watch the explosion of CEO salaries and look with wonder on the board members who agree to these ridiculous payouts, it’s hard not to wish many of the current batch of muckety-mucks had worked for Joe. Maybe his humanity would have rubbed off.
Image credit: StarTribune