Motivating Teams with Focus

26 Sep

Below is an article published by the company In The Moment (link to their website). In The Moment specialize in coaching, team dynamics and organizational behaviour, and in the excellent article below discuss how project focus plays such a positive influence on performance. This might seem obvious, but it is certainly taken for granted in organisations. We have seen in our research that clearly communicated, and understood, objectives are too often assumed. The article drew me to make comparisons between two areas of communication we have researched- 1) sharing objectives and focus, and 2) the cost of not having clear objectives and focus.

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Human Judgement and Cognitive Computing

13 Sep

McKinsey have published an outstanding interview with Gary Klein and Danial Kahneman. The interview is a reflection on Klein and Kahneman’s classic paper- Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree (2009). Whilst the interview reflects on the two authors positions when it comes to intuitive decision making, the prime focus is on executive judgement- is intuition a good basis for top level business decision making? In this article I’ll briefly reflect on some of the key points raised by Kahneman and Klein, and how aspects of cognitive computing could potentially support some of the author’s suggestions.

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The Psychology of Organizational Change

23 Aug

Interesting article on Psychology Today addressing the topic of organisational change, and entitled The Psychology of Organizational Change. I’ve quoted the conclusion from this article below in full

Traditional change in management tactics in organizations are based more on animal training than on human psychology and neuroscience. Leaders promise bonuses and promotions (the carrot) for those who go along with the changes, and punish those (the stick) who don’t with less important jobs or even job loss. This kind of managerial behavior flies in the face of evidence that shows that people’s primary motivation in the workplace is neither money or advancement but rather a personal interest in their jobs, a good environment to work in and fulfilling relationships with their boss and colleagues” Article available here

It’s difficult to argue with the logic of the conclusions. Evidence does clearly suggest that meaning, social interaction and a good environment are the most important workplace considerations for staff. However, the job of change is never done. The external environment changes jobs which had so much meaning, people who mean so much move on, and revenue can impact on offices which everyone enjoyed working in. So even successful organisational change, is simply a point on a continuum, and never done.

The above point highlights the importance of leaders and planners staying in frequent touch with frontline workers. This is important because not only is change an ongoing process, a way of life which can be too often left to chance in organisations, but human beings are notoriously poor at anticipating how much positive and negative change will impact upon their lives in the medium to long run (Kahneman, 2011, Wilson et al, 2003).

The consequence is that short term data on success can show very positive attitudes towards change, and then once adaption kicks in, the data can look like a decline in satisfaction. The two key points are 1) try and avoid declaring change as complete or a success too soon, and 2) leaders should stay in frequent touch with frontline workers to monitor adaptions. Otherwise the gap between implementation and feedback can cause inaccurate responses, for example

This data shows a sharp fall in satisfaction, we need to review the effect of our change strategy

Everyone has just adapted to change, it’s only natural that it’s no longer seen as something significant

Both these points require accurate feedback data to back them up, otherwise what’s really going on is lost.

We’ve written about the above points here and here in more detail

Reading

Wilson, Timothy D.; Daniel T. Gilbert (2003). “Affective Forecasting”. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 35: 345–411

Kahneman, D (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/the-psychology-organizational-change

When Expertise Works And When It Doesn’t

25 Jul

At this link is a Google talk delivered by psychologist and Nobel Laurette, Daniel Kahneman. The topic of the talk is expert judgement in decision making, and Kahneman discusses the collaborative work he carried out with Gary Klein.

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The Problem With Declaring Success Too Early

19 Jul

The most common complaint I’ve heard people make about the books of sci-fi author, Philip K Dick, is that the books don’t end, they simply drift off. I’ve noticed the same thing when reading Dick’s work, but the slow drifting away is one of the things I liked most about his books. The reason is that the endings mirror real life very closely.

In many of Dick’s books a relatively normal person is swept up in extraordinary events, only to drift back to a life which the protagonist didn’t particularly enjoy or troubled them. In my mind, these endings were realistic, as many of us hope that big changes, decisions and restructures will transform ourselves, lives, teams or organisations only to see everything slowly drift back to the status quo. And this is the problem when trying to judge whether change has been a success, at what moment, if any, do you chose to declare there has been a successful transformation?

I was thinking this whilst reading some successful organizational change management case studies. The results had been frozen at a particular moment, where it was clearly possible to declare some form of success. However, the problem with change and life is that there is always a sequel, always a next day which unfreezes the frozen moment of success. This was a popular criticism of Peters and Watermans book, In Search of Excellence (1982). Fast forward a few years, and the companies researched for the book were no longer performing excellently.

This point does not mean that any change really works. Nor does it mean that if you wait long enough all change ends in failure. These are just straw man arguments. What it does mean is that some decisions do not, and should not, end with a moment, they are a continuous cycle of sequels which require constant management. In other words, we cannot just freeze a moment, declare success, and then take our eyes off the ball. If we do, the change might end like a Philip K Dick novel, a sleep-walk back to the status quo.

Reading

Peters, T. Waterman, R.H. In Search of Excellence-Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies. Collins Business Essentials.

 

Our Future Selves and Decision Making

7 Jul

Below is a link to a TED Talk by the Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert. The talk is entitled, The Psychology of your Future Self, and illustrates how we, as human beings, have the capacity to get our expectations of the future so badly wrong. Gilbert addresses some key reasons why anticipations of future states can be so adrift, and within this article I’m going to reference these reasons to highlight how experience and imagination can significantly improve our ability to forecast, acquire expertise and make better decisions. But first, a small detour to ancient Greece.

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5 Golden Rules for Flexible Project Management

13 Jun

I previously wrote about methods to improve two aspects of project management

  1. Knowledge capture, and
  2. Communication

A focus on the importance of capturing knowledge and improved communication was inspired by a recent publication by Raconteur (Project Management, raconteur.net, #0376, 22\05\2016). Within this Raconteur publication was a piece entitled “The Five Golden Rules of Project Flexibility” (p.4), and provides the inspiration for this article.

Flexibility is essential for sustainable success, but for human beings, it can be very difficult to think and behave with flexibility. Below, I’ll outline some reasons behind this difficulty, before revealing Raconteur’s 5 Golden Rules.

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Improving Project Management

6 Jun

The special interest publisher, Raconteur, recently produced a paper on Project Management (raconteur.net, #0376, 22\05\2016). Two reoccurring themes ran through the collection of articles

  1. The importance of knowledge capture in project management
  2. Effective communication when managing complex projects

As both of these themes frequently appear throughout the articles and research featured on this blog, it’s a good opportunity to share methods we’ve applied to improve knowledge capture and communication across projects, and with teams and organisations. So firstly, knowledge capture.

In their Raconteur contribution, Jim McClelland, addressed the importance of knowledge capture in his article entitled “Mindset and not toolset-it’s all about people…” If a project is complex (multiple partners, sites, boarders, regular surprises, changing environment etc.) then the degree of learning is potentially high. Managing a complex project involves multiple frontline adaptions as initial plans and strategies run into the “friction” of everyday life (Freedman, 2013).

The problem identified in the McClelland article is that the knowledge gained from managing project friction, remains the tacit property of frontline workers, and\or project managers. This problem is aggravated when project managers and key staff are transient, they move from project to project, company to company, taking their knowledge with them.

A potential solution is the implementation of methods which capture knowledge. This means frequently capturing and evaluating what project managers and frontline workers notice and prioritise in a work situation, how they notice contradictions to initial plans (when something starts to go wrong) how the contradictions are made sense of, and what adaptions take place to course correct or innovate around problems (see Starbuck, 2001, Klein, 2007, Rankin et al, 2014 for examples of this in various project environments).

Below is quick example of a method, a debriefing questionnaire, focused on capturing knowledge in a fast paced project environment. The questionnaire is designed to capture problem solving, with an emphasis on changing expectations, situation recovery and risk analysis-

What did you notice?

What surprised you?

What did you do?

How would you advise someone else to tackle a similar situation?

What should they avoid doing?

The second theme is communication. I would argue that a key component of effective communication is shared sense making, being able to shadow the thinking of someone else (see Klein et al, 2013 for examples).

Communication between different partners, professions, organisations, sites etc. is inherently problematic. The instruction of “fast” for example, has a lot of potential responses, all dependent on individual sense making. Unless organisations, teams and individuals develop methods which allow the intention behind plans to be fully understood, then regular problems can occur.

Communication problems are particularly acute when teams are distributed across organisations, geography, professions etc. As discussed earlier, plans encounter friction and need to be adapted. Projects run more efficiently when these adaptions are carried out by frontline workers with intimate knowledge of a current situation, and a real time view of what’s going on in the environment. Without clear intentions, adaptions can either be completely out of kilter with a plan, or frontline workers lack the clarity to deal with a problem, and keep referring to management for further instructions.

Both of these intention problems have significant consequences for the success and safety of a project. For example, adaptions in the wrong direction can correct a local deviation but weaken the broader project. A project may be running over budget and a team leader is told to cut costs. During this period an engineer gets a new job and leaves the project. To save money the leader of the engineer’s team decides not to re-recruit. The team leader adapts by carefully reorganising the remaining team member’s roles. Short term it’s a success. Then an unexpected event occurs and the team lack the flexibility to absorb and correct the shock.

The other side of the problem occurs when no adaptions take place. This occurs when frontline workers lack the clarity to adapt to changes in local circumstances. As a result, when an unexpected event or obstacle occurs on a project, instead of applying initiative, the frontline instead seeks instructions from further up the hierarchy. This situation eats into time, reduces the amount of available options to tackle a problem, places responsibility in the hands of someone who is nowhere near the situation and who only has a limited understanding. All these issues create extra demands and increase management pressure, destabilising the project further.

Communication problems can be avoided by applying methods which calibrate sense making. A useful method of communicating intent is a script developed by Karl Weick (see Weick et al, 2007 for examples). Below is a version of Weick’s intent script, and similar to versions we’ve used in our work with clinical decision making and organisational change-

This what I think we face

This is what I think we should do

These are the reasons why

This is what we need to look out for

Now talk to me

This article has featured quick examples of how to improve knowledge capture and communication. I would strongly agree with McClelland that successful project management is a mindset. I would also add that applying simple methods designed to collect knowledge and improve communication, develop and support the best conditions for project management success.

Reading

Starbuck, W.H. Hedberg, B. (2001) Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge; M. Dierkes, A. Berthoin Antal, J. Child, and I. Nonaka (eds.); Oxford University Press, 2001

Klein, G. (2007) The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency

Rankin, A. Woltjer, R. Rollemhagen, C. Hollnagel, E. (2014) Resilience in Everyday Operations: A Framework for Analyzing Adaptations in High-Risk Work. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making March 2014 vol. 8 no. 1 78-97

Freedman, L. (2013) Strategy: A History. OUP USA

Klein, G. Hintze, N. Saab, D. (2013) Thinking Inside the Box: The ShadowBox Method for Cognitive Skill Development. International Conference on Naturalistic Decision Making 2013, Marseille, France.

 

 

 

Health Care and the Tacit Database

24 May

In a recent article (here), I discussed the potential of an organisation’s tacit database- an organisation’s frontline expertise and rules of thumb which are highly effective, but remain hidden from the wider organisation.

Tacit skills can remain hidden due to a separation between planners and frontline workers. For example, when a strategy is created by a planner (director, manager, board etc.) it is adapted to local conditions by frontline workers. This results in the strategy being changed, so it is more effective in a particular situation. Unless the adaptions are feedback between the frontline and the planner, these adaptions are lost, they become “ghost cases”. The adaptions represent the application of theory into practice, and unless this interaction is recorded, the opportunity to continually learn, improve and adapt is wasted.

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The Effect of Culture on Decision Making

16 May

In my early days researching organisations, culture was never high on my list of priorities. I was mostly focused on behaviour, cognition and decision making. This meant I was investigating how people make sense of their environment, use their environment as a resource, make choices and update choices (or not) based on environmental feedback. As much as this research tells you, it plays out on a stage which influences both behaviour and cognition. And this stage could be described as culture. In other words, culture, as part of an environment, enables, influences and loads both behaviour and reasoning within an organisation.

I consider culture a vital part of the environment people interact with, use and are influenced by in their decision making in organisational settings.

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