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Self-directed innovator

Yesterday I sat in a presentation and heard the target group of Google’s products. They call it the self-directed innovator – the new class of workers that transformed out of the Knowledge Worker of the 1980s and the Office Worker of the 1950s. Some of the characteristics of self-directed innovator:

– Not process driven
– Collaborates with broad network of friends and colleagues
– Intermingled personal and work lives
– Needs information even when not at her desk
– Tends not to be patient

Basically, self-directed innovators want to get a job done. They don’t want to be busy, but productive. This is a great attitude, but it poses some problems for organizations. These are usually run from a central command structure and try to manage the landscape through processes. But this excactly frustrates this new class of worker: feeding an organizational hunger for reporting and compliance. Big organizations don’t seem to be a good place for self-directed innovators.

What would need to change? I think we need a shift along the axis of control & accountability. With the focus on processes, organizations tend to be high in control and low on accountability (you are responsible for compliance and business). If an organization could focus more on high accountability and low on control (responsible for outcomes and value), then it would really move towards a „network of brains“. Too often, initiative is tied to titles and stiffles the creativity and ownerhsip of employees beyond their own cubicle. Anyway, without being too much rock’n’roll here I think Google is on to something.

Filed under: career, energy, ,

the changing currency of work

A while ago I got an essay that a friend wrote in his business school course. In his fifites, it was a very autobiographical piece, dealing with his role in a large company with frentic changes. He was wondering: what am I doing? is it worth it?

I heard those questions quiet a bit recently. People seem a bit disillusioned at handling Excel and PowerPoint all day in order to excel in the company and powerup their career. It seems like the currency of what people look for is changing a bit. Big companies used to offer stability, variety, safety and options. With that comes a hefty dose of politics, reporting, inefficiencys, nonsense. Companies themselves seem to cancel some of the very reasons people work there: safety doesn’t hold anymore (jobs going east, struggling for survival) and stability is a joke (who has the same manager for more than a year these days?). Along with long hourse and a frustrating limited scope of what you actually can do, it is fair to ask: is it worth it? The new currency seems to be time and flexibilty. There are a number of books and articles taking up this thought.

Tim Ferriss – to live like a millionaire, you don’t need a lot of money

Tim‘s book The Four-Hour Workweek beats the drum to escape 9-5 and fulfill your dreams. His assumption is that a lot of work is unnecessary, that it could be managed much better and that you can do a lot with little money. (Actually, the hard part is knowing what to do if you are not caught up in seemingly important work projects.) He calls for a liberation from the constraints of the office. If you are not at your desk, you can be more effective, or outsource your job altogether. That boots your options in time and location.

Daniel Pink – free agent nation

Free Agent Nation was published 10 years ago – at the dawn of the bubble. Some statements sound very pre-bubblish, but the trend has being going for a while: why invest in a stale corporate environment when you have the smarts to be more flexible and work on what you want? “In free agency,” the beat of the free agents goes “people assume their own shape rather than fit the shape of some corporate box.”

Holm Friebe – digital bohemia

A German book (“wir nennen es Arbeit“) that shoots against fixed employement in favor of a digital lifestyle of small collaborative teams on the move. Sounds a bit Jack Kerouck-ish. Young people need their ideals and rebellion. But it does indicate a bigger point: why not be with the work I like at the time I like at the place I like?

The answer might be the paycheck. As any free agent finds that is not in demand – it kind of sucks to be out of money and options. Probably a lot of people who ventured off into the dreamland of doing their own thing came back to the comfort of a big corporation with company car, health insurance and days off for vacation.

I still think the trend is the quest for something more. Especially talented people are aware that the company needs them more than they need the company. With the limited budgets in the Western countries, you can’t forever raise the income of your stars (and btw: the middle 80% is what make the business tick). So what can companies do? What can HR offer? I think it would be worth a try to offer the benefits of a free-agent-lifestyle (like free location, free times) with the benefits of a corporation (paycheck, insurance, vacation). Focus on outputs and leave it up to the semi-free people to figure out how they get the work done. Sure, communication might be an issue, but is it not anyways? Which company does really have a no-waste meeting culture? Where can you really focus and get quality work done between 9 and 5?

Maybe it would be the brave new world of collaboration. In The Compensation Handbook by Berger & Berger they highligh a number of trends that affect compensation and fit within this vein: people are more open to risk and seek self-employment; people choose jobs to support personal development opportunities and to support their personal lifestyles; the invisible paycheck becomes more important than the visible; the global workforce move closer and collaborates. Maybe it’s time for HR to think through this.

Filed under: career, HR

coaching ourselves: business learning 2.0

I recently stumbled across an interview with Phil LeNir about “coaching ourselves”. This whole peer-coaching and learning-from-each-other always seemed interesting to me. Big companies spend big bucks on big training programs that often don’t have a big return. Sure, they evaluate right after the training how people liked it etc. While these figure might make for a nice PowerPoint-justification of the budget, I often have the feeling that the Dollars are not really turned into value as they should.

Part of the problem might be the unreal setting of those workshop-programs. Away from the people I work with. Concepts that don’t easily fit my reality. Little follow-up after these sessions. Maybe it is not so much concepts that need to be taught but rather attitudes, behaviors and approaches. It is telling that most companies don’t track the impact of a training some months after the trainings. That might be too revealing, so you measure where it still looks good. So why go do companies keep going with this kind of training? I suspect that they don’t have any better alternatives.

But maybe there is a better alternative. In these web2.0-days of openness, collaboration and bottom-up intelligence, it seems time for a change in the training departments. Here are a number of these approaches that point in the direction of learning2.0:

Workout – this approach to problem solving was developed at General Electric under Jack Welch and is well documented. Basically, you bring a big group of people together (20-200), state the problem to them, let them come up with specific recommendations and then decide on what to implement. I have worked with this: very bottom-up-ish, very effective and very empowering. 

Wiki & Crowdsourcing – the idea of having an open everyone-contribute encyclopedia seemed very edgy a few years ago. These days wiki sites are amongst the first in almost any Google search and many people rely on its information. Crowdsourcing takes this idea to how work gets done in a company and opens it for the undefined crowds. iStockphoto is an example: people upload their photos and they are sold through iStockphoto with the money being split. What used to be a specialists job (shooting great images) is now up to the crowd.

Open Source Car – the OScar project is a very interesting consequence of this open approach. The idea is to create a car based on the open source principles with the hope of designing breakthroughs in mobility. There are a few basic specs, but the rest is open to everyone with no patents or legal limitations. The current version is at 0.2 but we will see if this approach works.

Omidyar Network – eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, set up a foundation that tries to enable individuals to improve the quality of life. They invest in people with ideas in areas such as microfinance, participatory media, open innovation, open source and transparency in government. They have an interesting set of projects they founded. What is interesting though is the decentralized nature of their venture. Not some hired researches that crank out great ideas, but funding of the most promising results of the network.

Coaching Ourselves – coming back to the learning issue in organizations. This approach works by getting a small group of learners together, meeting once a week for 90 min and discussing their experience and some relevant concept. No authority is present that teaches and no pre-readings, ppts, actions plans are used. Just one basic theme that is discussed in the group. The premise is that people learn best from their experience. Reflection and relevance are the two ingredients that fuel discussion and learning.

I also like the focus of these sessions. By using the five minds of managers from Henry Mintzberg (the reflective mindset; the analytic mindset; the worldly mindset; the collaborative mindset; the action mindset), the approach tries to keep a balance and not become one-sided. So not just people management, not just strategy, but a balance between the managerial mindsets.

I am just running pilots with this program in a management team. They love it so far. Finally, something non-fluffy and real. Other groups are interested and we want to extend it to non-managers. It is too early to tell, but from the reactions I see in learners and my own assumptions of how to learn best, this might be just the right idea at the right time. Being cost-effective, learning-effective and scalable this might be the better alternative that is currently missing.

Filed under: career, change, coaching, team

It’s a matter of attitude

Building a career might not be as straight as you think. A recent study by RHR shows what companies look for in their future flock and what they perceive as effective for getting there. What strikes me in the demands of future leaders is the amount of soft factors that make for a successful career – the business thinking and strategic focus that is at the core of most management magazines doesn’t seem to have such a high value as is often assumed. On the development side there is also a big impact when the right relationships are in place and the assignments fit the person.

What Companies Look for in their Future Leaders
(Percentage of companies that endorsed each ability, N = 111 )
• Ability to build strong relationships internally and externally: 86%
• Openness to change and growth: 81%
• Courage to make the “right” decisions: 75%
• Ability to motivate and inspire others: 75%
• Level of self confidence: 70%
• Awareness of one’s own strengths and limitations: 68%
• Personal desire to succeed: 68%
• Commitment to the success of business, even when personal sacrifice is involved: 67%
• A core set of leadership values that the individual lives by: 67%
• Broad, comprehensive knowledge of the business: 65%
• Decisiveness: 60%
• Ability to identify and develop talent: 57%
• Superior intellectual abilities: 45%
• Other: 12%

The Perceived Effectiveness of Development Experiences
(Average rated effectiveness of each activity where 1 = ineffective and 5 = extremely effective)
• Developmental, “stretch” assignments within company 3.9
• Involved boss 3.7
• Development assessments by outside consultants 3.5
• In-house executive education programs 3.4
• Formal development planning 3.4
• Mentoring relationships with senior executives 3.4
• Use of outside the company coaches 3.3
• Coaching relationships within company 3.3
• Rigorous monitoring of progress against development goals 3.2
• External executive education programs 3.1
• Peer contact and feedback 3.1

So its time to build some interpersonal skills

or hire smarter people around yourself, as Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi says.

Filed under: career