Archive for the ‘Intangibles’ Category
I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of actionable and predictive team analytics recently and a post from Naomi Bloom struck a chord.
From her piece:
Analytics — what types of actionable, embedded, and/or predictive analytics with what types of visualizations, e.g. network analyses is becoming quite prominent when organizations try to figure out what roles and individuals have the greatest business impact? And I should emphasize here that this is about getting real insight to decision-makers in a form they can use when they’re in the middle of making that decision rather than just having a wonderful report-writer or business intelligence solution with which they can figure out the questions and search for the answers. Please note that I haven’t treated so-called “big data” as a separate topic (although everyone’s calling anything big data at the moment) because the real goal is actionable, ideally predictive, analytics, for which the management of big data is a necessary but not sufficient capabilities.
The significance of actionable and predictive team analytics cannot be understated. Tools that offer decision makers simple, actionable, valuable and consistent advice is key. Additionally, these capabilities have arguably been missing from the practice of anyone wanting to improve the engagement, well-being and performance of their staff or team members.
Based on the recent comments from Stowe and Justin, the idea of a Physics of People is both valuable and represents something potentially unique. Given that the idea has the potential to transform business, the following post outlines the five criteria by which any transformation might take place.
A Starting Assumption
Although there is no shortage of models, assessments, psychometrics and techniques that help raise self awareness and provide insights, none offer predictions about people that are either regular or reliable enough to be used on a widespread basis.
The large number of tests, models and approaches is evidence of this. If a particular tool did provide useful and reliable predictions that improved understanding and decision making, then it’s usage and popularity would increase over time. Given that the vast majority of techniques and approaches have been on the market for 20 or 30 years plus, this is ample time for a consensus or market leader to have emerged with these qualities.
The other example that illustrates this assumption is the perception that HR doesn’t add value to the business. There is no shortage of commentary around this and in many cases, this line of reasoning has persisted since the Personnel Department was renamed Human Resources. The fact that HR can’t call on any widely used method or approach that offers reliable and actionable predictions and insights about people is probably one of the reason’s for this current perception of HR.
Despite the fact that the term ‘peopleware’ was first coined in 1977 and a book by the same name was published in 1987, there is little contemporary mention of peopleware today in social business circles. With this in mind, there was an interesting call for the need to balance the software tools of social business with ‘peopleware’ via Jamie Notter recently.
From Jamie’s piece:
Today’s environment requires speed, which, in turn, requires the people and departments in your organization to collaborate effectively. Friction there slows everything down. We put up with that in the past and did okay, but the same won’t be true moving forward for a real social business. So I think as leaders start paying attention to what “social business” means, they will start to employ tools that enable better collaboration, both inside and outside the organization.
As the use of social business tools increase the speed of change, interactions and collaboration, previously hidden inefficiencies and communication problems are going to be discovered. It doesn’t matter how these inefficiencies are discovered (social network analysis, project delays, employee feedback etc.), the point is what to do about them.
Jamie believes that organisations will turn to more software tools but that the software tools themselves won’t resolve these frictions.
But I have a prediction: [companies] will over-rely on technology to solve this problem. The tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and easy to use. So by all means, jump into those tools, but also recognize this: online tools won’t solve your silo issue. Collaboration software alone is not going to resolve conflict.
Further to Stowe Boyd’s piece Socialogy and a Scientifically-Grounded Understanding of People and his Physics of People tag, I’ve been thinking about other people’s thoughts and ideas on the subject. What does the idea of a ‘Physics of People’ consist of and how it might take shape? The following extracts and quotes chart the thinking and writing on the subject over the past ten years or so.
Starting Points for a ‘Physics of People’
The first idea that I’m aware of comes from an article in the IBM Systems Journal. Written in 2003 by Cynthia Kurtz and Dave Snowden, the following extract is an initial call for a ‘Physics of People’, along with the recognition of the challenge involved:
We would like (but do not expect) to see simulations of human behavior able to encompass multiple dynamic individual and collective identities acting simultaneously and representing all aspects of perception, decision-making, and action.
This quote really leaves nothing on the table, conjuring up the idea of an omnipotent, all-knowing reality. Whilst this has an unmistakable element of ‘Big Brother’ within it, it’s also reassuring to know that physics itself seeks an understanding of reality that is equally, if not more profound.
Stowe Boyd is starting some interesting research into what he’s called Socialogy. Stowe defines Socialogy as “The theory and practice behind social business, its tools and techniques, and their impact on business culture, structure, operations, and people.”
From the piece:
I am going to be talking with a lot of researchers, visionaries, and practitioners who are working to push business into the 21st century, and to explore their ideas about moving onto a philosophy of business grounded in what we know about the human mind, social networks, and the emergent behaviors of connected groups.
In the series, I pose one question to my guests consistently: ‘How do you think a scientifically-grounded understanding of people as social beings will change business in the future and how?’
Incidently, Socialogy isn’t the first term that Stowe’s coined – he’s the originator of the term ‘hashtag‘ and also coined ‘social tools‘ back in 1999 so it will be interesting to see how this new term does.
Socialogy and the Potential to Transform Business
Given Stowe’s question, I thought I’d have a go at answering this from the perspective of Four Groups.
A scientifically-grounded understanding of people, such as 4G, has the potential to change business in hugely profound ways, perhaps on a scale comparable to the industrial revolution, the introduction of the PC or the rise of the internet.
Such a statement is naturally loaded with many assumptions and implications, so it’s worth exploring both in further detail.
Team deficiency accounts for startup failure almost 33% of the time, as reported by ChubbyBrain and Bruce Lynn. Although the original research includes 32 failed companies, it’s important to be cautious given the likely possibility of sample bias.
From the research:
Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.
An article on the HBR written by Paul Ellingstad and Charmian Love called Is Collaboration the New Greenwashing? makes some good points about collaboration and the importance of ‘walking the walk’, rather than ‘talking the talk’.
The authors start by highlighting the importance of the human element of collaboration.
From the article:
Who are the players you want to work with? What does each bring to the table? Why would each player be motivated to work with the others? Figuring this out upfront is critical. The next hurdle is figuring out how people are going to work together in practice, including which tools and resources you have available to facilitate the process.
One response to the points above is that commercial interests and remuneration account for people’s motivation whilst various communication tools determine how everyone will work together in practice.
Whilst this is reasonable, I think that an important piece is missing from this equation, namely how to determine team dynamics and group relationships amongst everyone who is collaborating. Although this is arguably inferred in the section above, it’s by no means clear and explicit – there’s nothing directly actionable.
Understanding people isn’t just a HR skill for managers.
This has to be one of the oldest clichés in management and HR. I came across this gem via a post from Harold Jarche who wrote about a presentation by Danah Boyd titled Networked Norms. Whilst the major focus for Jarche and Boyd is around increasing internal and external connections for employees and businesses, I think the message about understanding people is as interesting.
From the presentation:
Understanding people isn’t just an HR skill for managers. For better or worse, in a risk economy with an increasingly interdependent global workforce, these are skills that everyday people need. Building lifelong learners means instilling curiosity, but it also means helping people recognize how important it is that they continuously surround themselves by people that they can learn from. And what this means is that people need to learn how to connect to new people on a regular basis.
Brad Feld put up an great blog post (here) discussing the role of “The Formula” in guiding organisational and individual decision-making. The Formula is a beguiling notion, the idea that sticking to what you know works and has been successful in the past holds deep appeal. For example think Hollywood’s interminable sequels and rejigging of former hits (Feld uses Aaron Sorkin’s TV dramas as to illustrate his point). The trouble with The Formula is that with constant repetition, it becomes commoditised, losing effectiveness and the introduction of new players and copy cats signifies the relentless drop to the lowest common denominator.
The Formula is everywhere, it is not just organisations that refine and perfect an approach to the market, repeatedly returning to what has been effective in the past both for themselves and their competitors. As individuals we constantly revert to what has worked in the past and delivered success, in part this is because we are programmed to replicate successful endeavours. For example, when given a new promotion, many individuals will continue with the behaviour that got them the promotion in the first place, when in reality, their new role calls for a completely different set of behaviours.
The Formula appeals to our desire to simplify and control the complex world around us. However, whilst it can deliver results in the short and medium term, in the long-run it inevitably paves the way for steady yet noticeable decline. This is the problem that organisation’s big and small have the face up to and deal with if they want to really innovate.
Over at HBR (here), Bill Taylor hits the nail on the head regarding the current obsession with innovation. Much like the focus on engagement a couple of years ago, innovation is the current area of focus. Business leaders have co-opted the phrase to launch a number of top down programmes focusing on championing innovation. The advent of the Chief Innovation Officer and innovation teams shows an element of misunderstanding of what is actually required.
Taylor argues that the problem is one of language, the overt use of the word innovation actually hides the fact that very little innovation is actually taking place. Whereas, the companies that really are truly innovative hardly ever, if at all describe what they do as innovative. Instead it comes from passion and purpose, a need to have innovation is a by-product of curiosity
Now, I’m all for leaders who want to ramp up the energy of their colleagues to take more chances and challenge conventional wisdom. But what strikes me about the organizations I’ve encountered that are genuinely innovative is that they rarely use the language of innovation to describe what they do or why they do it.
For me, this comes down to culture, if your organisation doesn’t have a culture of innovation it is almost impossible to artificially create.