Friday, 30 May 2014

I reorganize ergo sum

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

A reorganization has taken place. A new structure amalgamating old divisions is in place and now the ways of doing must change. The Big Consulting Company has left (well, not quite, they never do) and there is a myriad of PowerPoints and fresh materials articulating the new structure, the new operating model and the new processes and systems in extreme detail.

Senior management cascades this information down through all the layers of the organization (from VPs to directors to managers) in a series of workshops. It’s all very rational, sophisticated and legitimized by the enormous budget used to reach this point.

(1) The ‘small’ detail of how people are actually going to work together in the new regime...is not in ‘the slides’
A key component for successful change is that people not only understand the new structure (they are now de facto part of it) or the new processes (they all make sense on paper), but also that they actually behave differently. Suddenly, they have to share information with people who they have not worked with before.

They can no longer draft their business plan in the cosy isolation of their office with the assistants of their three loyal lieutenants. Now, they have to ‘co-develop it’ (sic) with a dozen of interconnected ‘stakeholders’ who didn’t need to know about each other before (or if they did, they pretty much ignored each other without the sky falling down). There is nothing in the colossal stack of PowerPoints left behind by the Big Consulting Company that even touches on explaining, suggesting or helping with how people are going to behave differently. Why? Because the Big Consulting Company operates in world I and in world I, the availability of the information is an end in itself. After all, if new B is better than old A, Homo Sapiens will do B. ‘OK, and if not, we’ll train them.’

(2) So they make an attempt to define which new behaviours are needed
Their management team has become acutely aware of ‘the small detail’ mentioned above and now develops a series of exercises to define the kind of behaviours that may be needed.


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Monday, 26 May 2014

The two worlds side by side

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

Mr Sapiens and Mr Imitans live in different places, but though they should build bridges between them and then use them every day, they should also be very mindful of their different worlds. World II objectives cannot be achieved in world I territory. Social infections (world II) are not created by posters. Revolutions are not announced. Well, not usually. Social movements and cultures are not created by training.

Communication (world I) is not change.

As the figure on the previous page illustrates, the maths of world II could not be more different from the maths of world I. Attrition is to world I what build/scale-up is to world II. World II effects start small, often unnoticed, with selected behaviours being practiced by a small number of individuals.

These are then copied by people in their immediate circle of influence and create ‘clusters of new behaviours’: true new critical masses, copied and spread by others like an infection, eventually generating ‘new norms’.

Let’s look at the differences between world I and world II in some real-life organizational examples. Note that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the contents of world I, but its main problem is poor scalability and sustainability, for which it needs the help of world II as we will see later on. When you look at the highlights in each column, you may have lots of questions.

Don’t worry, as the rest of the book will hopefully answer all of them. For now, it’s enough to simply appreciate the differences or perhaps increase your awareness of which world you spend most of your time in.

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Friday, 23 May 2014

Repetition

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

In an information-cluttered working environment where many ‘initiatives’ compete for airtime, repeated topdown communications become terribly inefficient. In Cluttered Corporate Inc, noise and signal get blurred. Eventually all is noise. The biggest health hazard of world I is information pollution. In fact, the mathematics of world I are the maths of attrition: start with aiming at everybody and then
cascade down. Information will reach initial destinations (stocks). Some people will pay attention. From those first ‘receivers’, some people will pay enough attention to understand. From those, some will consider doing something.

From those, some will actually attempt to do something. When you get to the terminus, a relatively small percentage has been truly influenced by the communication(s). Attrition is not only embedded, amazingly, we have come to accept that this is perfectly OK, a natural part of the process.

To fight attrition, we usually have a not-so-secret weapon: repetition. A new, bigger and better communication campaign will take place. This time perhaps communication packages will be prepared for VPs. VPs will brief directors, directors will have workshops with managers and managers have meetings with staff. And this way, ‘everybody will have gone through it’ (this is the language you hear) to ensure consistency. It is a noble and expensive goal. Large budgets are allocated, but the programmes have relatively small impact.


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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

‘Deus ex machina’

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

In this world, big seems to be beautifully linear as well: the more information pushed down to the bottom, the more pipes or channels used, the more flow created...the better it seems. Indeed, this is a world of channels, vehicles and their language: flow, block, saturation, etc. The pathways are algorithmic, pardon my language. It means that usually the roads are more or less preset and laid out like on a geographical map. You can go from A to Z via different roads—either meandering along the scenic route or taking the highway—but you have to stick to the map. In large organizations, the organization chart represents the information highways (algorithms) for the ‘cascade down’.

Success in world I is defined by the quantity and quality of the currency that reaches its destination points. In a 1,000-employee organization, the aim of a communication campaign is to reach 1,000 points of arrival. Simple. The assumption is then that 1,000 people will understand the message and that, as a result, 1,000 people will be ‘engaged’ in a particular way (intellectually, emotionally). The latter is difficult to validate other than by invoking the corporate equivalent of the ‘deus ex machina’: the post hoc fallacy. In other words, we did communication campaign A, we improved B (results, performance, employee survey data), ergo, the communication campaign did it. In most cases, this is a very weak argument dominating a strong and convenient management belief.


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Friday, 16 May 2014

Currency is Information

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

In this world, the currency is information: verbal, written or electronic information that flows all around and between us. This is the world of facts, the world with pieces of data or packages of knowledge flowing from one place to another. Homo Sapiens and management love this world. The information is packaged and pre-cooked so that it is digestible, usually presented in PowerPoint dishes or contained in spreadsheet prisons (after all, we call the boxes ‘cells’). Bullet points flood corporate life, encapsulating and summarizing thoughts.

In this world, company visions are presented and declarations of intention made. We ‘send’ guidelines, announcements, directions, pieces of news, congratulations, threats, tricks, explanations on the steps needed to go from A to B and anything else that the label ‘communication’ can accommodate. The ‘organizational logic’ is explained and distributed this way. It travels ‘down’ using traditional communication vehicles (from emails to posters, newsletters and magazines) or more modern media (video, audio or a combination of both).

Formal verbal interactions take place in world I. A significant amount of our time is dedicated to this world. We have ‘collaboration devices’ to facilitate the currency exchange: meetings, forums, workshops, town hall presentations, seminars, webcasts and podcasts. Technology has helped us to communicate in bigger and better ways. Fibre optics can now transfer 10 trillion bits of information per second.

Information can be used, reused, packaged and repackaged. And what’s more, it’s able to reach your eyes/screen/earphones on demand. E-mail is pervasive in this world. The corporate executive or the individual professional is ‘always on’, on demand, connected to a server 24/7. The arrival of a piece of information to your (big, small or minuscule) screen is announced by a blip that triggers a Pavlovian reaction. There is no way that information, the currency of world I, would not get to you.


For more visit www.viralchange.com

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

We’ve been getting it wrong time after time.

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

We’ve been getting it wrong time after time. Change management programmes that fail to deliver, many
inefficiencies in the management of organizations, the poor performance and big disappointments of government orchestrated social change interventions, the failed civic or religious campaigns to develop and implement a ‘social agenda’, the slow, painful and often unsuccessful health education and promotion initiatives...in short, lots of failed attempts to change behaviours in a large population, either inside the firm or in the outside world.

They all have something in common. All these failures stem from the misunderstanding of the differences between two separate worlds, each with their own rules and their own tempo: the world of communication (world I) and the world of behaviours (world II).

These worlds are very different. I have summarized these differences in the graph at the end of this chapter. Yet we mix up these worlds all the time, like mixing apples and pears, pretending that they are the same. After all, they’re both fruit. We cross the border between these two worlds at our  convenience and we use their attributes indistinctively. And this is where the problem starts.

I deeply believe that achieving success in any of the goals described before, from internal management in the organization to an external macro-social change, depends on mastering both (a) the understanding of and respect for the differences between the two worlds and (b) the establishing of bridges between them without getting them mixed up. Management in particular has not learnt the distinction between world I and world II. It muddles them together as if they were one single territory. The consequences are a series of messy and wrong expectations either about people or ‘management systems’. Things that belong to world I are expected to deliver outcomes that belong to world II and vice versa. For example, behavioural change (world II) is expected to follow an information or communication cascade (world I). Every single day in the management of organizations this mistake is made. The mistake costs time, effort, and results, at the very least, in inefficient management and leadership. Let’s look at this in detail.


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Thursday, 8 May 2014

Incredible Plasticity

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

If the Social Sciences teach us anything, it is about our incredible plasticity, which we are always more ready to attribute to others than to ourselves. And this fantastic capacity is precisely the good/bad news to consider. Bad news à la Iraq, good news à la all the possible good that roles and uniforms could provide in daily life. And since most of our daily life is spent at work, all the above applies to management and leadership. The problem is that management science has developed thick membranes, as if it needed to protect itself from intrusions by Psychology, Sociology and the other Sciences de l’Homme. Milgram and Zimbardo are not taught in business schools, but I can’t think of a better starting point to discuss leadership.

Back to the news. Another article I read was cynical about the ‘new’ Iraqi police. The occupying forces had finally realized there was no option but to bring back the old police force and the military that had been disbanded. The columnist joked about seeing the old moustaches and the old faces back” and could not understand how we should expect new behaviour from them. Most people would sympathize with this point of view but the tiny minority that belongs to the Social Psychology tribe would have no problem accepting it. If the context changes (and, indeed, it
has) this police force may surprise people with its ability to comply with the new regime. A change of uniform and context may create some good, even with the old moustaches. Similarly, providing a positive context in organizations (this is the leader’s function) makes roles and uniforms constructive. The same roles—managers, directors, project leaders, heads of HR and vicepresidents— in a negative context create havoc.

The key is the existence or absence of agreement on nonnegotiable behaviours, hopefully, but not necessarily, linked to a value system. These non-negotiable behaviours were probably absent in Abu Ghraib, or everything there was possible and negotiable in a contingent way – that is, depending on what needs to be achieved; for example, weakness in the detainees. Contingent approaches in management and leadership are wonderfully convenient and deeply dangerous, not something that traditional business education is prepared to accept. My unofficial father of contingent leadership is Jack Welch, ex-CEO of General Electric.


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Monday, 5 May 2014

Roles, Power and Uniforms

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

The pictures that shocked the world will still be in many people’s minds when the name Abu Ghraib is forgotten. The scenes of Iraqi prisoners and their American custodians made front pages and prime time everywhere. The sense of disgust was universal, but apart from this there was a varied spectrum of reactions. There were the politico-military questions. How on earth could this happen? Were the perpetrators just a few bad apples? How far up the chain of command did it go? There was the socio-political question: to what extent can this type of thing be justified? And there was the plain, ‘normal citizen’ question: how on earth can human beings do this to one another?

Now the blame has gone in several directions, the buck has stopped somewhere, so we are told, and the whole thing will soon more or less evaporate into history. American writer Gore Vidal reacted to the events of 9/11 with a sharp, cynical and otherwise politically incorrect comment: “It will be all over by the Christmas sales.” It didn’t quite happen like that, but he wanted to make the point of just how fragile our collective memory is. The Abu Ghraib saga, I suspect, will be contained one way or another, and soon consigned to the black book of black history. Period. Among the thousands of articles and references relating to Abu Ghraib there was an unpretentious, not terribly prominent and matter-of-fact column published in The New York Times, which revealed that, at least for a tiny sector of the population, these events were no surprise whatsoever. Anybody with a degree in Social Psychology would have said: “Aha! This is Milgram and Zimbardo revisited.” These were the authors of some old psychological experiments that have since been repeated several times. The article mentioned the studies and sought the opinion of people who had taken part.

I referred to Stanley Milgram in a previous article (‘It’s the system, not me’, May 2004). In a nutshell, it involved the citizens of the US town of New Haven who had volunteered to take part in an experiment on the effects of punishment on learning. They played the role of teacher, reciting words that the learners had to repeat correctly or receive an electric shock. The intensity of the shock rose with each mistake, and the learners screamed with each increase, eventually pleading with the teachers to stop. But the psychologist directing the experiment encouraged the teachers to continue regardless. Some refused and some carried on to the maximum voltage, which was labelled ‘dangerous’. The proportion of people who continued administering the voltage was 65%. Interestingly, laughter was sometimes the teacher’s first reaction when hearing the learner’s initial discomfort. The catch, as students know and readers of this column will remember, was that the learners were actors.

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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Good news: In management we don’t have electric shock.

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

The good news is that in management we don’t have electric shocks. The bad news is that there is a worse kind of pain than that inflicted by voltage: psychological pain. The dynamics of power in our organizations are very rich. We exercise power, obey orders and follow instructions. We also challenge them, resist or decide not to comply. In the process, organizational life sometimes serves as a coverall excuse for many things that would not be accepted in normal life. How many times have we said, or heard, “It’s not me, it’s the system. If it were up to me, I would let you do it.”

I have always been fascinated by the pervasive use of ‘they’ in organizations. ‘They’ want this. ‘They’ forced me to do that. What fascinates me even more is how often I have heard it used by senior people, even those at the very top. Who is ‘they’ in those cases? In my experience, it’s a virtual, almost Olympic ‘they’ – the system, the best, most convenient and unaccountable management black hole.

We don’t need the man in Milgram’s lab to tell us, “Keep pushing, it’s an experiment, for goodness sake. Do you think you can break the protocol just like that?” Our managers, supervisors, directors and vice-presidents, you and me—65% of us, if Milgram is right— will say “I am sorry, John, it’s not me, it’s the system. I have to inflict this pain on you. I don’t want to, but I have no choice.” In organizations, such behaviour comes in many forms and shapes. A 30-volt shock, for example, is forcing people to do something that is a hassle, unnecessary and serves no purpose other than to boost the ego of the person giving the instructions. A 50-volt shock might involve denying someone that little, perhaps one-off, opportunity for flexi-time that would make all the difference to the employee’s family and no difference whatsoever to the business. A higher voltage could entail submitting somebody to unnecessary humiliation and considerable psychological pain by requesting an action that serves no purpose other than as a public show of power.

I have seen the latter done to someone going through a terrible family crisis. Nevertheless, she was told, “I am sorry, we have to do this, it’s the system. There is nothing I can do.” It was a fantastic lie; there was a lot the manager could have done.

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