Book Review-Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and Tyranny of Custom

Change needs leadership. To be a leader, you must be willing to change – both yourself and the organization you lead. It’s in this intersection that Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and Tyranny of Custom shines. It’s a no-holds-barred understanding not just of change and why change efforts fail but also of leadership and how one expresses it in a world where command and control is no longer the rule. Other works like Leadership on the Line include subtitles like “Staying alive through the dangers of change” but fail to weigh in on the broader issues of leadership, at least in a substantive way.

Defining Leadership

Most of the time the disciplines of change and the study of leadership don’t cross. One can look through classic works like McGregor Burns’ Leadership and Rost’s Leadership for the Twenty-First Century for an understanding of what leadership should be. Robert Greenleaf describes a form of Servant Leadership, and Chris Lowney describes the Jesuit approach in Heroic Leadership. Daniel Goleman provides his context of the emotionally intelligent leader in Primal Leadership. John Maxwell has his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. And those are just some of the books where the word “leadership” is in the title. Bookstores are filled with scores of books that seek to distill the essence of leadership for readers.

Leading Change offers several definitions of leadership, including President Eisenhower’s “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Later, they nudge this definition to include an awareness of what the followership wants. In fact, they share Drucker’s one characteristic common to all leaders: followers. (Rost would be proud.) And so, the idea of what people think leadership is – and isn’t – is woven through the text like the threads that make up a tapestry.

Change Resistance

Leading Change offers no new model for how to get change done. It leans on the development of leaders to get the change done in their organizations. However, it does offer 31 core reasons why people resist change:

  1. Homeostasis
  2. Stare decisis
  3. Inertia
  4. Satisfaction
  5. Lack of ripeness
  6. Fear
  7. Self-interest
  8. Lack of self-confidence
  9. Future shock
  10. Futility
  11. Lack of knowledge
  12. Human nature
  13. Cynicism
  14. Perversity
  15. Individual genius versus group mediocrity
  16. Ego
  17. Short-term thinking
  18. Myopia
  19. Sleepwalking
  20. Snow blindness
  21. Collective fantasy
  22. Chauvinistic conditioning
  23. Fallacy of the exception
  24. Ideology
  25. Institutionalism
  26. Natura non facit saltum (Nature Does Not Proceed Through Leaps)
  27. The rectitude of the powerful
  28. Change has no constituency
  29. Determinism
  30. Scientism
  31. Habit
  32. The despotism of custom
  33. Human mindlessness

As a catalog of potential resistance, it has more depth than Kotter’s Buy-In. It’s a wonderful listing to review whenever you perceive that you’re encountering resistance in your change project.

The Paradox of Leadership

The paradox of leadership is that everyone wants a leader, but no one wants to be led. It’s a great thing to be able to defer responsibility to another party without losing the ability to control oneself. As Compelled to Control points out, everyone wants to control, but no one wants to be controlled.

The best leaders are therefore adept at listening to their followers and constituents to hear the underlying problems and find the underlying solutions. Upon finding these solutions they must make everyone feel as if it’s their idea. Leading Change speaks of the resistance to Peter Drucker’s work at GM as having been Drucker’s work – and not theirs. It also speaks of a judge who proposed alternative sentencing on the grounds that “he thinks that he’s smarter than everybody else.” Leaders who can’t convince others that the plan is their plan has little chance of being successful.

Change Isn’t Natural

When anthropologists studied various cultures, they never saw change as a normal part of the society. Societies – like organizations, it seems – are naturally resistant to change. They’re designed to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. So, when we’re leading a change, we must realize that the system – but not necessarily the people individually – will resist that change.

Because change is not natural, we need leaders to help us navigate through it. Perhaps the best thing you can do to get started is to take a read of Leading Change.

Book Review-Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change

Call in the SWOT team. Analyze the weakness and put up a solid strategic defense to the onslaught of environmental threats. That’s the kind of language that too often permeates change projects. Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change seeks to change the fundamental orientation from one of wars and weaknesses to one of opportunities, strengths, and views of the world, which are definitively more positive and safer.

Positive Foundation

To understand the fundamental shift in thinking, it’s appropriate to point to the shift in psychology that happened with Martin Seligman at the helm of the American Psychological Association (APA). While the industry still focuses on mental diseases, Seligman and those near him looked for a more positive path. His initial work on learned helplessness would eventually become transformed into a failure to learn hope, as he explains in The Hope Circuit. Instead of rescuing people from the depths of their disease, Seligman encouraged people to Flourish.

Seligman and Chris Peterson would develop a way to assess your strengths – Values in Action (VIA) is what they called it. It was built on Seligman’s previous work in Authentic Happiness and extended it into identifying a set of strengths.

Others would follow the lead, including Barbara Fredrickson, whose research as described in Positivity established that the positive to negative ratio of greater than 3:1 in your feelings lead to an upwards spiral for you – and for those around you. (See The Halo Effect for the limits of your ability to influence those around you.)

Positive Core

These are all positive perspectives on individual psychology. However, Appreciative Inquiry also includes what Cooperrider and White believe are the positive core of organizations. They are:

  • Achievements
  • Strategic opportunities
  • Product strengths
  • Technical assets
  • Breakthrough innovations
  • Elevated thoughts
  • Best business practices
  • Positive emotions
  • Organization wisdom
  • Core competencies
  • Visions of possibility
  • Leadership capabilities
  • Product pipeline
  • Vital traditions
  • Lived values
  • Positive macrotrends
  • Social capital
  • Collective spirit
  • Embedded knowledge
  • Financial assets
  • Visions of positive futures
  • Alliances and partnerships
  • Value chain strengths
  • Strategic advantages
  • Relational resources
  • Customer loyalty

Two Essential Factors

Cooperrider and White also believe that you must have two things for success. The first is management commitment, and the second is involvement of the entire workforce. While these are at some level true, they’re also somewhat idealized. Everyone says that you must get executive buy-in. Some say that you need to get everyone in the organization on board with the change.

The problem I have with the statement is not its validity but rather the lack of clarity on how to achieve these goals.

At the Heart

Appreciative Inquiry is a way to confront the generally negative view that change often takes of the current state with an appreciation for how the organization reached its current state and the people that are a part of it. While Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change may not change the way you look at change, it may help you appreciate it more.

Book Review-Management and the Worker

It started two years before The Great Depression, and the impact on what we know about management can’t be understated. Management and the Worker seems to share the insights that were discovered at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works based in Chicago, and it’s strangely richer than most of us may have been led to believe.

A Different Time

For those reading the book today, they’ll be struck by many things that would not be politically acceptable today. The workers – operators – in the relay assembly test room are repeatedly called “girls,” not women, workers, or operators. Such was the expectation then. There were jobs that women did and different jobs that men did, and it was reasonable to refer to them by gender.

In was also a time when graduating high school wasn’t common. Many of the operators didn’t finish high school, much less attend college. There were several cases documented in the book where the operators would turn over their wages to the family to help support the family unit and more than a few cases where the operator left school to get a job to help support the family.

Even back then, there was the conversation about the increasing demand for higher education, both completing high school and going to college. The concern was raised that it would become a requirement for someone to complete college to get a job, and that would eliminate the ability of poor folks to get jobs.

More interesting was the concept that single women could have jobs but that married women were taking jobs from men who needed a job to support their family. While this was at times overt, there were many cases where a societal pressure to discriminate against working married women was apparent. There were even negative comments shaped around the need for married couples to eat at a restaurant because the woman was too tired to cook.

The standard work week back then was 48 hours. This included a half day on Saturday. There was no expectation of a 40-hour week and the transition to a 40-hour week – and the resulting reduction in wages – was an unfortunate result of the Depression and the reduction of demand.

I address these here, because I want to both draw attention to the discrepancies and to explicitly share that the challenges we face with motivation of employees and the broader context of the employment relationship isn’t a sign of today’s times. It’s always been with us – we’ve just not seen it.

The Observer Effect

This book is largely focused after the famous illumination experiments that drove Hawthorne Works to be largely synonymous with the observer effect. The observer effect says that people will behave differently when they know they’re being watched. This truism has been extended and adapted over time, including “You get what you measure,” variations of which have been assigned to both Edward Deming and Peter Drucker.

The famous experiments that made the Hawthorne Works famous were variations in lighting that were done to measure the impact of lighting on performance. When lighting was increased, productivity increased. When lighting was decreased, productivity was again increased. This caused the experimenters to realize that they were unintentionally introducing another variable to the experiment. Later, they’d change bulbs with new bulbs of the same wattage. Employees were expecting increases or decreases, so they commented on these expected increases or decreases rather than recognizing that the lighting level hadn’t changed at all.

The experiments were initiated because the company was interested in how to increase productivity, and the results only spurred further interest in the way that employees worked. If the observer effect was so powerful, what other powerful forces were being left undiscovered?

The Relay Assembly Test Room

One of the many functions performed by the Hawthorne Works was the assembly of relays. Relays are electromechanical devices that are used in switching – particularly the kind of switching that was needed to operate the telephone network. The assembly operations were typically done with many operators in a large, open area. A particular section of relay assembly operators might be 100 people. To test changes in working conditions and their relationship to productivity, the Hawthorne Works pulled five volunteer operators into a specially-designed room where the conditions of work could be changed without affecting the entire group.

Care was taken to minimize the differences between the main room and the new relay test room. The intent was to have a controlled experiment, where only the changes in the working environment that the experimenters were testing would influence the results. However, what they discovered was that they unintentionally introduced major changes by separating the operators.

Social Loafing

The Evolution of Cooperation and Collaboration both speak about social loafing – or the tendency for people to slack off in a group expecting others to carry their weight. However, the effect wasn’t well known at the time of the Hawthorne Works experiments. What wasn’t realized was the extent to which the compensation system allowed for social loafing to occur, nor were they aware of how to establish countervailing forces to keep social loafing in check.

The details of the payment system for workers is largely irrelevant, but what is important is that one component of their pay was based on the productivity of the group. That is, if everyone performed well, then there would be more money in everyone’s paycheck. The problem with this is that, when spread across 100 workers, no one felt as if their individual contribution was enough to make a difference. The result is that some of the workers would loaf, because they didn’t expect that they could make a difference in their pay.

When the operators were moved into the relay assembly test room, their pool went from a pool of 100 to a pool of 5. That meant that individual performance did matter; not only that, the group norm was also something that could be influenced.

Forming a Group

One of the other side effects of the changes was that the group naturally formed into a group operating unit. That is, they started to look out for and support one another. They intentionally tried to cover for each other’s poor days and genuinely cared for their fellow workers. This wasn’t an intentional byproduct of the change – nor was it replicable in further experiments – but the fact that the group became an operating unit had a profound effect on productivity. The relay assembly test room’s productivity kept climbing even as the experimental conditions continued to be changed in ways that should have had a negative effect on productivity.

Subsequent test rooms with similar conditions never formed a group and therefore didn’t see the continuous rise in productivity. This was likely influenced by the design of these other rooms, which specifically did not change the compensation in a way that made the room’s participants dependent upon each other and solely on each other. In other words, they sought to avoid solving the social loafing problems – and in doing so, they may have prevented the group from forming.

Group Formation

It’s time to side-step the material in the book for a moment and share the work of Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence. He was focused on how you brought people together and got them to function together as a team. He would have said that the test rooms created at Hawthorne Works would not have fallen into his criteria as a team, because they weren’t performing interrelated tasks. They formed a group identity, because, in the case of the relay room, they felt a responsibility to one another. They didn’t have the benefit of some of the way that Navy SEALs train together nor the life and death circumstances. (See Stealing Fire for more.)

The personalities and perspectives were such in the relay assembly test room that they spontaneously formed a group. Some of this may have been the wedding of one of the operators, forming a bond, or the personality of another operator to push everyone towards working together. There’s no one single cause; instead, the set of conditions were sufficient that it happened.

Allowances

Another unintended change in the test room was the change in supervision. While the operators were formally still supervised by the supervision structure of the main room, unofficially they were being managed by the experimental observer – and the relationship was very different. Instead of the kind of command and control experienced in the main room, the operators were treated with concern and compassion. One of the controls for the tests were the health of the employees, so their health was monitored.

Another was the ability to talk. While this at times exceeded the comfort level of both the observer and the individual operators, the ability to talk while they were working was greatly appreciated. While studies for fatigue were generally not successful in discovering fatigue, the ability to talk to one another was helpful in breaking up some of the monotony.

To frame this in the context of Reinventing Organizations, the test room was operating in Orange instead of Amber. The workers felt like there was a relationship to management instead of a competition with management in a struggle for power.

Power Struggle

Readily apparent and frequently repeated were the concerns that the test room was a front for management to squeeze more performance out of the workers – instead of the stated objective of providing optimum working conditions. The difference is subtle but important. If they’re just trying to improve performance, the organization can do so at the expense of the workers. If they’re trying to create optimal conditions, the workers must be inside the circle of considerations.

Concerns about whether the workers were being taken advantage of – or things were moving in that direction – was a persistent theme both in the relay assembly test room and in the subsequent tests that the organization embarked upon. The lack of trust of the worker with the organization was palpable.

While the test room continued to make progress in allaying those fears, it seems as if they were never really fully quenched. As a result, there would be, from time to time, situations where it became necessary to revisit the intent, purpose, and mission associated with the tests.

More for Less

One curious way where working less generated more productive output was the introduction of paid breaks to the schedule. Breaks were added, thus reducing the total time working, and the output still increased. The given explanation for this was that the operators were trying to compensate for the time they were being given.

However, there’s another more subtle factor here. Operators were allowed personal time for their biological needs, and though they weren’t asked to, they tended to use a portion of their break times for these purposes. In this way, it seems that when management – or in this case, the experimenters – gave something the workers gave back.

The introduction of breaks was very well received personally, thus it seems that the workers were willing to work harder during their normal work periods to continue to be allowed the privilege of the breaks. Being an experiment, they were removed for a time, and this predictably resulted in the workers looking forward to their return.

The Mica Splitting Test Room

Because the relay assembly test room was such a success, there were attempts to replicate the results without the complicating factor of changing compensation. The results were not as dramatic, but there were external factors, which likely impacted the situation.

By the time the mica splitting test room was created, the Depression was already in effect. It has created a reduction in demand for all things, including the kinds of parts that the Hawthorne works was creating. In part due to this reduction in demand, the mica splitting function was gradually being moved to another plant. This impacted the folks in the main room more rapidly than in the test room, but eventually there was no longer a way to shield the test room from the changes.

However, before the room was shut down, it was already apparent that the fear of losing their job was reducing worker productivity. As the concern for mica-splitting jobs increased, their performance decreased.

However, another key difference was evident in the mica splitting test room. The five operators never fully integrated as a group. While there are some personality reasons for this, there was also the fact that their compensation never got tied to the group in the test room. They were still compensated in part by what was happening in the main room.

Interviewing

Management and the Worker concludes with a review of the interviewing that was done in the plant and its impact. A significant effort was undertaken to listen to workers at every level and to ensure that their perspectives were captured appropriately. Despite the fact that there was never any real intent to act upon these interviews, the workers reported that conditions were improving.

This reaction reveals how just listening to employees discuss their concerns has a twofold effect on improving the situation. First, supervisors, knowing that the workers are being listened to, made changes to their behaviors – consciously or unconsciously. This resolved many of the concerns.

Secondly, and more importantly, there seemed to be a psychic discharge, where once the items were heard, they were of less concern in the mind of the worker. The net effect of which was that the workers felt better – whether the conditions changed or not.

It may be that there’s still a lot to learn from experiments that were performed 90 years ago. It may reveal more about the relationship between Management and the Worker.

Article: Maintaining Human Connection In A Remote World

Societally, we were moving towards less face-to-face time and more remote work. However, nothing prepared us for the changes that we’d have to make in the wake of a global pandemic.  For many people, the only interactions they have with other employees and extended family is through a two-dimensional screen and a data connection. Despite the limitations, it’s possible to maintain – and even develop – relationships during a global pandemic.

From HR.com’s Human Experience Excellence March 2021 edition. Read more: https://www.hr.com/en/magazines/recognition_engagement_excellence_essentials/march_2021_human_experience_excellence_engagement_performance_rewards_recognition/maintaining-human-connection-in-a-remote-world_km4m6s0p.html

Podcast: B2B Nation – Ways to Deal with Burnout in Marketing

I recently sat down with Mike Pastore of the B2B Nation Podcast to discuss dealing with burnout in marketing. Burnout is becoming an increasingly popular topic one year into the global pandemic. More than half of marketers say they have felt the effects of burnout in the past year, according to one survey. And many of the prospects marketers are trying to reach are also suffering from burnout, making them less receptive to marketing messages.

You can listen to the full podcast here: https://technologyadvice.com/blog/marketing/ways-to-deal-with-burnout/

Article: Choosing a Change Model

One of the most daunting problems with change management is identifying which model to use. Some people swear by Kurt Lewin’s simple three-step model, others are hooked on Prosci’s ADKAR model, others love John Kotter’s eight-step model, and still others are using models by different change management luminaries. But why would you pick one model over another, and how do the models compare? We’ll explore the common options and explain the reasons why you may choose one versus another.

Published on the ATD blog. Read more: https://www.td.org/atd-blog/choosing-a-change-model

Book Review-The Theory of the Growth of the Firm

What makes some organizations grow and thrive and others wither and die? That’s just part of the question that Edith Penrose set out to answer in Theory of the Growth of the Firm. Her book was initially published in 1959 and was reprinted after her death. It’s a classic work about how firms grow, including the forces that lead to growth and those that inhibit it.

Optimal Size

For some time, there’s been a debate in academic economist circles. It’s a debate that focuses on the balancing loops between the economies of scale and the diseconomies of scale. In other words, does an organization generate more value by being large or by being small? More importantly, is there an optimum size that organizations should grow to in order to capitalize on the greatest benefits with the least penalties?

Penrose surmises that there is no absolute best place to be in the size of a firm and, further, that the growth of the firm is primarily a factor of its size; therefore, larger organizations will grow by a larger absolute amount than will smaller organizations.

The Game of Monopoly

One of the benefits that can be claimed by all organizations, but particularly large organizations, is to build a relatively impregnable base. This base may formed by brand loyalty or by legal protection, such as those afforded by patents. These impregnable bases create a space that the organization can grow safely. As organizations grow larger, they begin to have the ability to take on monopolistic powers, which further increase their power in a market and as an organization.

It’s the monopolistic powers that have been deemed too powerful for the forces of the free market to contain, and that’s why we have antitrust legislation that is designed to prevent any organization from unduly prohibiting other organizations from entering a market. What’s particularly interesting about this – to me – is that activities that would be allowed when an organization isn’t large are legislated against in the case of large organizations.

As an example, Microsoft faced antitrust legislation centered around the inclusion of Internet Explorer in the operating system against rival web browsers. One of the interesting aspects of this case is that the competing companies weren’t charging for their browsers, either. In this case, the expanding internet browser market was perceived as too large and important for Microsoft to establish a new, impregnable base of installed browsers.

The Power of Knowledge

Fundamentally, the growth of the firm is related to the ability to spare resources for investments in new growth. When an organization is barely struggling to get by, it doesn’t have much in the way of resources to invest in future growth, thus there isn’t much future growth. However, if investments are made over a long period of time, these investments are cumulative – like compound interest – and can therefore be an engine to increase resources.

However, in some cases, organizations may find themselves in a situation where their material resources like plant capacities and capital on-hand may be sufficient, but there may not be the management knowledge and strength to take advantage of these resources. That’s why the development of knowledge is an accelerator for growth both because it often creates the opportunity for more efficient operations and because it takes advantage of unforeseen market opportunities that a less knowledgeable management team wouldn’t see.

The Value of Knowledge

The path that led me to Theory of the Growth of the Firm was through the knowledge management and a discussion where I was trying to find a general purpose formula for knowledge so that organizations could understand its importance, need for development, and need for retention. Patrick Lambe pointed me to Penrose’s work and the ultimate assessment that knowledge isn’t something that is easily quantifiable.

The problem is that knowledge and its utility is so difficult to assess. Some of that is due to the nature of tacit knowledge and some of it is due to the lack of clarity about what the organization will need. (For more about tacit knowledge, see Lost Knowledge and The New Edge in Knowledge.)

Penrose’s entire work is about discussing factors about the growth of the firm without providing a mathematical formula. It is no surprise that she doesn’t offer any answer to the specific question of the value of knowledge – or how it specifically relates to the growth of the firm.

Centralized Control

The Soviets discovered that centralized control that planned everything didn’t work. Penrose reached the same conclusion and suggested that larger organizations no longer functioned with centralized control but instead served coordinating and tone-setting functions. That organizations eventually reached a size where the central part of the organization didn’t substantially differ from that of a holding company.

As a result, organizations must progressively give more autonomy to different business units or operations as the organizations themselves get larger, or they will unnecessarily constrain management development and therefore choke off growth opportunities.

Specialization

In the Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande shares the value of specialists for some kinds of surgeries. He explains that skill level increases with the practice of a specific type of surgery. This is consistent with Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s work in Peak. If you’re going to get very good, it’s going to take purposeful practice.

The size of the organization, however, influences the degree to which that you can afford to have specialized skills. The larger the organization, the greater the probability that the specialization can generate differential value. Consider for a moment that specialization increases net productivity by 20%. For the organization that has 90% of full-time of a given activity, it’s a 10% increase in productivity – even if the person is sitting idle 10% of the time.

Conversely, an organization that’s smaller only has a need for 40% of that skill. As a result, they cannot afford specialization in that skill – or at least not to the same degree as the first organization. Maybe they make a short-term investment to lose some efficiency to develop the specialization until the specialization is sufficiently utilized, or maybe they choose a somewhat specialized person who only increases efficiency by 10% – until it can become a full-time thing.

All is not lost for those who don’t have the size to support specialization. As David Epstein explains in Range, having a variety of skills makes people more able to adapt – something that’s important in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. Reengineering the Corporation even argues that the specialization that was driven by the Industrial Revolution was over-specialization, and much of the work to gain efficiencies in an organization are accomplished by making tasks require less specialization.

The Role of Technology

Railroads replaced canal for the transport of goods. Mini-mills overtook classical foundries in the production of steel. Technological advances that can be leveraged by organizations can fuel their growth – even overcoming the benefits of a large organization. We see the results of these technological advances, but sometimes large organizations cannot.

Kodak is a pale reflection of what it once was having emerged through bankruptcy court. The organization was hurt by the declining sale of film and related developing chemicals as the digital photograph boon happened. The irony of this is that Kodak was the originator of digital photography.

From a consumer point of view, digital photography allowed for instant feedback and therefore better pictures. As the technology matured, it became as good as or better than traditional film-based approaches, and as a result, the industry of making and developing film evaporated. Of course, competition from Fuji did hasten the demise, but fundamentally, the technology available shifted. As it did, organizations that were able to take advantage of it thrived where those that didn’t barely survived.

Does It Apply Today?

Penrose lays out persuasive arguments in many ways. The logic seems flawless – at least until the last decade or two. The large investments that large organizations can make seem to convey greater advantage than the small consumer could potentially hope to accomplish – even with better management.

However, I’m beginning to question whether all the economic theories and perspectives still hold true today. Consider that we’ve now got 3D printers that can print many parts – even medical assistive devices – without the need for inventory or a big production plant. Now anyone with an idea can be an author through a free blog – or even become a book author for less than $100. (See Self-Publishing with Lulu.com for more.)

The move to cloud-based software offerings and cloud infrastructure removes the capital requirements for buying software or hardware. Instead of having to build servers and deploy software, you simply need to agree to a recurring charge.

Certainly, there are efficiencies to doing larger production, but the ability to make low-risk test runs and try things before making serious investments has lowered the bar of competition against large organizations. As a result, I wonder if the diseconomies of scale – if only in their lack of agility – may be sufficient to turn the tide towards smaller organizations.

The data seems, at least on the surface, to support this. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the percentage of employment by small firms is increasing. This was predicted by Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class. The creative class tends to like to work for themselves. (See Drive and Why We Do What We Do for more on the importance of autonomy.)

So, the short version is, I don’t know. The factors that Penrose explains are still in effect today. The question is whether the reduction in market friction for small size batches isn’t the same kind of transformation that we saw as the mini-mill steel production plants that drove the huge foundries out of business. As with most things, the answer is probably it depends.

Consumerism – The Treadmill of New

We’ve become enamored with the treadmill of new. We’ve got to have the latest car, the latest phone, and the latest everything else. The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard explains how marketers drove us to desiring the latest and greatest even when what we had was objectively good enough. Not only did we have to “keep up with the Jones” – we deserved better. The manipulation of our emotion overwhelmed our rational senses, as we would upgrade our cars and our electronics at a startling pace. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about the powerful influence emotions have on us.)

So, maybe instead of picking up the latest trend in business books, it makes sense to look at a classic – Theory of the Growth of the Firm – for a better understanding.

Book Review-Childhood and Society

When I started reading Childhood and Society, it was to learn more about Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. I wanted to learn more about how children develop and the stages that they must go through to become an adult – at least according to Erikson. In addition to more about the stages, I gained a glimpse into his world. Born in 1902 in Germany, he had important thoughts on both Hitler and Russia.

Stages of Psychosocial Development

Fundamentally, Erikson believed that humans went through a series of stages in their development and that each of these stages culminated with the resolution of a fundamental conflict. In resolving this conflict, the person was able to move to the next stage. If they moved to the next stage but were unable to resolve the conflict in the prior stage, they’d be continuously pulled back to that stage to face the conflict again and again until they found a resolution to it. The stages are:

Stage Name Conflict
I Oral-Sensory Trust vs. Mistrust
II Muscular-Anal Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
III Locomotor-Genital Initiative vs. Guilt
IV Latency Industry vs. Inferiority
V Puberty and Adolescence Identity vs. Role Confusion
VI Young Adulthood Intimacy vs. Isolation
VII Adulthood Generativity vs. Stagnation
VIII Maturity Ego Integrity vs. Despair

The primary value, to me, is that this frames development as a series of fundamental conflicts that we must all find our own resolution to. It structures our evaluation of how to grow and become an adult around resolving these conflicts.

Studying Children

One of the realizations that I reached from Childhood and Society is that Erikson’s studies weren’t just of the western European and American children, as most studies are. His work included two different tribes of Native American Indian tribes. This – and his research into the customs of other cultures – informed his thinking about how children develop. He observed how different customs and approaches influenced the way children went through the stages, but the stages themselves remained relatively unaffected. In this, his work reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s work in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the recognition that all heroes’ stories follow a similar arc no matter what the culture.

He could also observe how different cultures had different values, how those values become virtues, which are by their nature rigid, and how those virtues can interfere with the ability for a society to adapt – and therefore survive. He called it a paradox, and it mirrors the kind of paradox that organizations face. Organizations by their very nature are resistant to change. This provides the necessary cohesion of the organization, but at the same time, it necessarily rejects the kinds of change that are needed to adapt to the environment.

The cohesion is built around the idea that everyone does things the same way. It’s what Michael Gerber explains in The E-Myth as why organizations can become successful and scale. Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence frames this in terms of the degree to which teams have internal cohesion compared to their willingness to accept the expertise and input of others. He explains that there’s a middle ground that teams must find to be the most effective. They reject some things but remain open enough to accept new input.

Child’s Play

One of the ways that Erikson learned about children was through their play. He’d watch them build towers, fences, gates, and cities. From this, he would draw conclusions about their worlds and things they wanted to express but couldn’t quite say. As Stuart Brown explains in his book called Play, play is an important part of becoming an adult. The rehearsal and the practice allows them to try out ways of interacting with others without committing social faux pas.

Erikson noted that boys built towers and girls built gates; and often, the specific ways that they would arrange their space would communicate the dynamics they were dealing with. In play, they had a much higher degree of control than they have in real life.

The Making of Hitler

Erikson turned his focus on Adolph Hitler and, in particular, how his childhood development had left him so scarred that he could order such atrocities. Hitler was a man that many like to analyze. Albert Bandura and Philip Zimbardo have both taken a shot at it in Moral Disengagement and The Lucifer Effect, respectively. However, Erikson makes a point of the abusive father, the submissive mother, and the ways that he suffered in life.

Analogies were drawn with vulnerability and the number of times that Germany had been conquered by foreigners, as being in the middle often led them to be. Germany, Erikson concluded, would therefore develop a collective psyche as a submissive country. The way she was held submissive left her with a transformation that led to Hitler’s rise.

After World War I, Germany’s army size was limited. The response to that was to train an army of specialists. In effect, the army size was smaller, but the knowledge and skills were greater. This led to a more efficient army – with the ability to quickly expand as necessary. This change in the makeup of the army made it susceptible to the desires of Hitler as he rose to power.

Perspective by Profession

Perhaps one of the more striking realizations was that our perspectives are shaped by our profession. By nature of the work, we choose we shape our perspectives. If you’re in law enforcement, you’re likely to support causes that increase and protect law enforcement. If you choose a career in a non-government organization that’s committed to the peace in the world, you’re likely to have a perspective that doesn’t favor increased police strength.

That’s not that surprising. What’s surprising is that your views on other things that are seemingly unrelated shift as well. The constant and continuous reinforcement from your profession can sway your thinking on seemingly unrelated topics. It might shift your feelings about welfare as well. In fact, law enforcement may find that they’re more sympathetic to the soup kitchens and homeless shelters, because they encounter the people who need this kind of help every day.

This means that as you’re talking to folks, you should be curious how they came to believe what they believe. Did they arrive at their opinions and then join their profession, or is it the other way around?

The answer may be found to some degree in the person’s childhood and some degree in the society. It may be worth reading Childhood and Society to learn how to separate the factors for yourself.

Book Review-Influence Without Authority

“Nobody has ever had enough authority – they never have and they never will.” It’s the first highlight in Influence Without Authority, and it is the defining statement for why we need to learn how to influence others without authority. Coercive influence is corrosive to relationships. It must be used sparingly when it is available, and it’s often not available. The fundamental message on how to influence through authority is through the law of reciprocity.

The Law of Reciprocity

In some circles, it’s known as tit-for-tat. (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more on tit-for-tat.) Fundamentally, it’s an awareness that when you do something good for someone else, they often feel a psychic debt to repay your kindness, generosity, trust, or material gifts. (For more on how trust is reciprocal, see Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited.) The power of reciprocity is so great that it’s worked its way into campaign and public service laws as well as the guidelines for many organizations. In its Latin form, quid pro quo is an ethical challenge and something that politicians and business leaders want to steer clear of.

In its smallest forms, the law of reciprocity may hardly be noticeable. You’re more inclined to hold a door for someone if you’ve had a door held open for you. Whether you hold the door for the person who held it for you or not, a single random act of kindness can set off a natural chain reaction of kindness that sends ripples in all directions for a long time.

The Model in Six Steps

The model for influencing with authority is six simple steps:

  1. Assume all are potential allies – Fundamental attribution error will drive us towards thinking the worst of other people, but we must fight the tendency. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow and How We Know What Isn’t So for more on fundamental attribution error.)
  2. Clarify Your Goals and Priorities – Get absolutely clear on what you want. We often confuse the means that we’re striving for with the ends that we really want. (See Who Am I? for more.)
  3. Diagnose the World of the Other Person – This is one part getting into the other person’s head – mind-reading – and one part finding their perspective. See Mindreading for more on getting inside the other person’s head. See Incognito and The Ethnographic Interview to understand perspectives and for tools for learning about the other person’s world, respectively.
  4. Identify Relevant Currencies: Theirs and Yours – “Currencies” here means motivators, things you can give them that they desire and vice-versa. Here, the work of Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind and Steven Reiss in Who Am I? have illustrative of models for evaluating the other person.
  5. Dealing with Relationships – Here, the key is to relate to the other person. That takes a degree of emotional intelligence. (See Emotional Intelligence for more.) It also requires skills to carefully navigate difficult conversations. (See Crucial Conversations for more.)
  6. Influence through Give and Take – Here, the key is to give the other party what they want – and ask for the things that you want.

Being Heard

One of the most frequent causes of conflict and the reason that people resist influence is that they don’t believe they’ve been heard. They confront you with some concern that you quickly dismiss, and they feel as if you’ve not given it proper attention. It can be that it’s not applicable, but the summary dismissal makes the other person feel unheard, and that can create problems.

Helping other people be heard and understood – without necessarily agreeing – is a difficult art. It’s one that Miller and Rollnick discuss at length in Motivational Interviewing. They work with addicted individuals and convince them that their addiction is bad. Despite this, they must first develop a therapeutic alliance – a relationship through which they can say difficult things. (See The Heart and Soul of Change for more on therapeutic alliance.)

Our ability to communicate and read others’ minds may be the difference between us and other animals, but it also comes with an expectation. We’ve developed an expectation and need to be heard and understood. It’s something that we call need. (See The Righteous Mind and Mindreading for our ability to read others’ minds – and the evolutionary impacts.)

Hearing Objections

It’s too easy to dismiss objections and, when that doesn’t work, allow fundamental attribution error to kick in and think the worst of them instead of focusing on how their perspective or values are different. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on fundamental attribution error.) It’s a starting point to acknowledge and learn more about the other person’s objectives. It’s advanced work to recognize that others aren’t bad people even if you struggle to understand their perspective.

With curiosity, you can begin to see objections and irritants as clues to the perspectives and values of the other person and thereby create a pathway to asking more questions and learning more.

Reality

Too often in our attempts to influence others, they bring their own version of reality that is difficult for us to hear. They see aspects of reality that we’d prefer to ignore. However, denying reality doesn’t make it less so. In fact, to deny reality makes it more dangerous for us, since we’re unable to respond wholly to the world around us.

Perhaps the best way to take a step towards the reality that we need to learn more about and get accomplished what you want through others is to read Influence Without Authority.

Book Review-Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution

Evolution, it seems, doesn’t follow one slow, methodical path towards progress. It stalls. It leaps. What we see as a smoothness is an illusion caused by the distance of time. Even evolution reaches points where slow and steady won’t win the race. Instead, it’s time for something radical to happen. That’s what reengineering a corporation is. It’s a radical change. Reengineering the Corporation: Manifesto for Business Revolution is a guide to this radical process that organizations must go through at some point – or several points during their lifecycle.

Defining Reengineering

Because the term “reengineering” has been so broadly used, it’s been used inappropriately. In some circles, it’s equated with layoff and reasons why people lose their livelihood. However, reengineering doesn’t mean doing things with fewer people – it can mean doing more with the people you have. Similarly, it doesn’t mean the kind of slow, incremental improvements that continuous quality improvement (CQI) cycles mean. (See Plan, Do, Study, Act as an example of a CQI cycle.)

Reengineering is fundamentally about rebuilding the organization’s processes. It’s about testing the foundational assumptions on which the organization is built. And that starts with testing the foundations of the industrial revolution.

The Industrial Revolution

To be sure, the Industrial Revolution granted a great deal to humankind’s material wealth. (See Capital for more.) The combining of steam power, standardized parts, and automation made it possible to make many more of the things that people needed. When Henry Ford started with his corner of the industrial revolution, he added new components like the moving assembly line and, perhaps more importantly, the breakdown of tasks such that people could be trained to do them quickly.

Ford’s growth meant pulling in more people, and the more people he pulled into his organization, the further outside his circles he had to go. The population of the United States had not yet migrated to large cities, and as a result many of the people he was hiring were sons of farmers or hired hands. They had little or no manufacturing background and often not much schooling.

The solution was to divide each task so small that you could teach a man to do the job quickly. If he didn’t work, he could be replaced just as quickly, like defective parts in a machine. The problem is that this lost the wholistic view of the process and, importantly, how one person’s behavior impacted another person and the customer.

Systems and Process

Most people thought in their small world. Their department was the scope of their involvement in the organization, and as they seemed to be doing their thing, all was well. This, however, ignored the downstream consequences they couldn’t see. They weren’t thinking about systems of interaction, and the system suffered. (See Thinking in Systems for more about systems.)

The radical view that drives reengineering is undoing the damage that was done with the Industrial Revolution and restoring accountability to a team for the total output rather than just their part. By becoming focused on how the customer experiences the organization rather than their responsibilities, they can sometimes radically improve the performance of the organization.

This isn’t an easy task, as every department manager or director wants to protect their fiefdom. It’s hard to find people who have enough authority to really pull of the kinds of radical changes that can mean huge savings.

Cellular Manufacturing

I grew up in manufacturing. My mother would take us to the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) meetings. They would have them at Holiday Inns, and we’d go swimming while they’d learn all about the latest innovations. Well, they were the latest innovations that we Americans would accept as many of them were started by Demming – an American – who had to go to Japan to find a willing audience.

One of the innovations was to organize manufacturing into cells. The cell would have a person or a team running a set of machines that completed an entire part – or at least a major aspect of the part. This didn’t require much more training, and the results were generally higher quality and better performance. (See Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management for more on manufacturing ideas.)

This approach flew in the face of traditional manufacturing thinking about breaking jobs down into small parts, but it worked. It worked because it reduced the friction between steps both in terms of distance and in terms of communications issues.

This is at the heart of reengineering. It’s testing your assumptions about the best way to do things and sometimes trying things that seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Management Layers

It was the 1980s and 1990s when it became popular to flatten organizations and remove middle management. Organizations had quietly amassed people who were becoming human bridges to make the process work, and the work of coordinating the work was becoming more challenging than the work itself. The diseconomies of the Industrial Revolution didn’t show up directly on the manufacturing line. Everyone kept optimizing for each step. Instead, the diseconomies showed up when one department needed to interact with another department, the problems had to be smoothed out, and the critical information had to be communicated.

It’s because reengineering tends to reintegrate processes and remove layers of management that it’s often seen as a ploy to justify a layoff. However, done effectively, it’s quite possible that everyone in the old management structure may be deployed – to productive activities.

Knowledge Management

Invariably, when you integrate multiple departments and positions inside a process into a smaller group of people, you’ll see speed increase – and you’ll increase the amount of knowledge necessary to do the work well. The fact that it was perceived as difficult to train people led to breaking jobs down into component pieces in the first place. If you’re going to integrate a process, you need to be able to educate people better – and support them better.

The work of Malcolm Knowles and his colleagues on The Adult Learner only goes so far. The research into Efficiency in Learning isn’t enough. Often, particularly in what Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class calls “creative class” jobs, it’s necessary to find ways to decouple the necessity of knowledge from the individual contributors. Instead of breaking the task down, however, reengineering triages the complexity of the tasks. Some things fit the models so well they can be automatically addressed. Other things fit the models well enough that a generalist can take care of it. (See Range for more on why being a generalist is a good thing.) Only the truly difficult cases require the specialist and their unique knowledge. Here, experts become resources to the people who are processing the volume of the task.

Better yet, where possible, the tacit knowledge that resides in the experts’ heads is made explicit. This can be in the form of guidelines, flowcharts, or other explicit documentation about what to do and when. (See Job Aids and Performance Support for more on aids to performance that aren’t people or learning.) This is an important aspect of managing knowledge effectively, as, too often, the corporate expertise walks out the door when the experts do. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit knowledge and the need to convert knowledge to explicit knowledge.)

Even when explicit knowledge is available in some repository, that doesn’t eliminate the need for experts. Only so much of what we know can be converted to explicit knowledge, and that’s why it’s important for reengineering success to leverage knowledge management strategies that take advantage of both content and connections to experts. (See The New Edge in Knowledge for more on content vs. connect.) The truth of the matter is that some expertise is just expertise and transferring that to others is difficult. (See Sources of Power for Gary Klein’s research on recognition-primed decisions and why they can’t be easily taught.)

Loose Controls

One of the other aspects of reengineering is to reverse the process of creating controls for processes. What typically happens in an organization is that someone abuses a policy, so the policy is tightened. Sometimes, it’s tightened with additional checkpoints and oversight. The controls that are added to prevent abuse do, however, come with a cost.

The tight reigns of traditional approaches are replaced with looser controls that tolerate a larger degree of abuse but have controls to prevent it from getting out of hand. This makes financial sense, because the costs for controlling things such that they can’t be abused is higher than the cost of accepting some abuse. This greater flexibility implies trust with limits. (See Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more on the impact of trust to economies.)

Empowerment

Much has been written in the past few decades about the importance of empowering workers. It’s about getting their minds involved as well as their bodies, they’ll say. It’s about allowing people to make decisions without “running them up the ladder.” Empowerment addresses both agility and capacity. Because authority is diffused, it’s possible to get answers quicker and respond to problems immediately. Because decisions are diffused, you get generally better, more nuanced decisions.

Despite these advantages and the relative amount of writing that has been done towards the goal of employee empowerment, we’ve not moved the needle much in terms of the perspective of employees in general. They still feel just as disenfranchised as before – but now they’re frustrated that more is expected out of them.

Part of the reluctance to behave like empowered individuals is due to a perceived lack of safety in the organization. (See The Fearless Organization for more on psychological safety in an organization.) Part of it is undoubtedly because few people are taught how to harness their courage. (See Find Your Courage for more.) However, a non-trivial degree of resistance is likely because few organizations give their employees the tools that they need to feel as if they’re empowered. It’s hard to feel like you can make important decisions if you can’t get the tools you need to be effective in your job.

Communications Are Never Good Enough

It’s an easy win. The client says they’ve just run an employee survey to assess engagement and they got low marks in a few areas. One of them is almost always communication. I can lead with, “So how bad were your communication numbers?” and I get murmurs as the collective room begins to take an intense interest in the carpet. Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available. A corollary is that the demand for communication will outstrip the channels and tools available. (See “Effective Internal Communications Channels” for more.)

Start at the Edges

While it’s tempting to start trying to reengineer the core processes in the organization, experience says that sometimes it’s better to start at the edges and learn how to reengineer effectively before taking on core processes for reengineering. The core processes of the organization are likely to have people much more protective than processes on the edge, which fewer people care about. Once you have successes with the edge processes, people are more likely to want you to help with the core processes. However, an even better starting point is reading Reengineering the Corporation.