Technology and Organizations
I’ve had the opportunity to do a couple of workshops on the value of data in support of leadership -- especially leadership without formal authority. A key issue is that the environment is changing such that we have less face-to-face time for leadership. This increases the value of complements to interpersonal leadership, things like training, tools, and feedback from the work itself. A culture of data can also be an excellent complement to leadership. (Slides from the most recent workshop: Notes are available if you download the slides).
In these workshops, I use a John Trumbull painting of George Washington resigning his commission and position as commander-in-chief. I love how the golden light shines down on Washington. Washington resigned as a signal that power should be in civilian hands - he led by letting go. The point of the image in my presentation is to contrast traditional face-to-face leadership with the next image in the presentation, that of shifts in population density before (diffuse) and after (dense) the industrial revolution. Our moves to more global and virtual work are the swinging of the pendulum again -- though not everywhere as noted by San Francisco Bay Area housing prices. But even in the dense Bay Area, leadership needs to work from afar.
Data is a language understood across a global organization. Data is beautiful. Data is actionable. Data is (often) apolitical. And, yes, I understand the important differences across data, information, knowledge, and wisdom, but data is the starting point.
Data is the starting point for decisions to be made via evidence rather than formal authority. Scott Cook, founder and chair of the executive committee at Intuit, describes “leadership by experiment” (see too, this article by Bryan Eisenberg). Bob Sutton and Jeff Pfeffer highlight similar issues in their book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management .
In the workshop, I then switch to a micro course on lightweight experiments for management decision-making. For my last audience, it wasn't a big leap from their scientific and engineering backgrounds to the idea of prototypes and experiments focused on anticipation, visioning, creating flexible alternatives, and initiating change - leadership behaviors identified by Ireland and Hitt (1999). They have a culture of data already and I expect this is just a new tool in their toolbox.
Data has a special power for situations where you have little other authority. Think about a negotiation: You both are and act (!) more powerfully when you have a good BATNA (Best Alternative To the Negotiated Agreement). Data is what helps you find and develop that great BATNA.
How has data benefited you in situations where you have little or no formal authority? Please add to the comments here. As I tell my audiences, when I walk into an organization, I generally have no formal authority. I don’t have a strong network inside their structure. All I have is my data and what I’m able to do with it. Hopefully I have enough data underlying this post to trigger a few lightweight experiments.
For some wonderful and sometimes free resources around lightweight experiments, see MovesTheNeedle’s page.
From LinkedIn to Elance/oDesk, Coursera, & Watson
- Elance /oDesk: Hugely successful platforms for linking people who want to do freelance project work with people who have project needs. Preferences and quality ratings from past work steer you to your next projects.
- Coursera : One of the top platforms for taking massive online open courses. They know what you know and what you are interested in and have talked about offering career services.
- IBM Watson : The artificial intelligence that won the gameshow Jeopardy! and is now supporting physicians, financial experts, and human resources directors in their daily work. I would love to see Watson become an ally in getting all of our work done. What do we want to do and what do we want to leave to Watson?
Up Soon: How Might Google Help Us Plan Our Day?
- Automation Makes Us Dumb, from Nicholas Carr in the Wall Street Journal — thank you, Lucas Mayer for the reference during our discussion of Birst.
- Why Managers Still Matter, from Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein in the MIT Sloan Managment Review, includes a reference to my colleague in the other hemisphere, Tim Kastelle.
I like to say that I know enough about technology to be dangerous. Back in the day of IBM XTs, I could code, tie devices together in new ways, and generally do a decent job of integrating technology and work without getting my hands too dirty. For a while though, I’ve felt that the world has gone beyond my skills and I let the experts do the tech side while I advocate for those trying to get their work done. Recently, I’m seeing some interesting possibilities for all of us to take back some control of the technologies that make up the tools of our work. While large firms will not be setting aside their CIOs anytime soon, and small firms still need tech experts to do their security audits, we can all still get a better grip on our individual and team tools.
Paul Pluschkell , Kandy Founder and Executive Vice President of Strategy and Cloud Services at GENBAND, helped me see a range of possibilities. At the most sophisticated are the tools that help technical people create business applications without getting into or reinventing the detailed programming that would otherwise be necessary. In the middle are specific services that help all of us do things like share files securely without managing the storage decisions one by one. At the most basic, we have tools that let us use a drag and drop, what you see is what you get, approach that otherwise would take some level of programming capability. While I agree that the basics of coding should be part of business literacy, I do not want to have to code or formally access a file server to do something simple like creating a new blog post or sharing a document with my colleagues. I (we) need platforms that take that on for us while giving us the control to more directly do our work.
(Photo credit: NASA. Image of Ed White, first American space walker -- and an image of a technology platform providing great freedom.)
Platforms as a Service
Ben Kepes gave me a simple definition of platform as a service (PaaS): PaaS is where you have a "computing platform that allows the creation of web applications quickly and easily and without the complexity of buying and maintaining the software and infrastructure underneath it” (click here for more). There are platforms across levels of Internet experience (our personal experience and the depth of the interaction).
Basic -- SquareSpace (Website Design for All of Us)
SquareSpace is a drag and drop platform that lets you build your own beautiful website, without knowing any HTML, the basic language of website design. If you do have skills, customization is only a click away. Templates and consideration of the basic needs for shops, photographers, bloggers, artists, restaurants, musicians, and weddings (and everything in between) mean that the power of the web is available to most through the thoughtfulness of the platform.
Midrange -- Platforms that Help Your Organization Get Work Done
Egynte, co-founded by Vineet Jain, a Santa Clara University alum, is a platform for your files and how you store and share them. Egnyte’s vision is that organizations need more control over where their files reside, but that this needs to be strictly under the control of the organization. Whether the file is behind the company walls, in the cloud, or some combination of employee and customer phones, tablets, and computers, Egnyte provides the choice and flexibility through it’s platform.
Consider a construction company working with large files - files too big to be email attachments and files that need to be a single source of truth. Platforms like Egnyte offer secure and effective collaboration strategies that give flexibility and power to the people doing the work. Balfour Beatty used the platform to enable an $800M renovation, while being paperless and saving $5.1M in the process. So much for blueprints.
Sophisticated -- Platforms for Technology Professionals, or Talented Do-It-Yourselfers
Kandy , for example, is a “platform as a service” for integrating communications into your existing applications and business processes. While the Internet, security and all, is increasingly complex, more modularized approaches wrap deep expertise into reusable nuggets that help us get work done. For Paul Pluschkell’s firm, these are “little pieces of Kandy” offering video shopping assistance, a live customer service button, instant multi-party video, and the like. You (or your web developers) don’t have to start from scratch to build in the communications components for your website. The nuggets are there giving more control with less need for technical sophistication.
Toy Genius uses Kandy to enable their expert clerks (lab coats and all) to communicate in real time with customers, including being able to show videos of the toys in action. Clerks can also help customers put the toys into their virtual shopping cart and move through the check-out process. The Internet shopping experience becomes much closer to the brick-and-mortar one, but the inclusion is powered by the platform, not custom software.
- Be sure your IT staff understand that power is to be shared to the point where the work is being done. If there is a way to leverage a platform to let the people doing the work design their own tools, go for it.
- Look for opportunities to move to platform as a service, but be sure to understand where your information is being held and how safe it is. Your needs will be specific to your organization so have a good mental image of what information is where and who has access to it.
- Feel free to experiment (having taken points 1 & 2 into account). The beauty of the platform as a service is that you aren’t buying, you're renting. Just like AirBnB can let you try out different neighborhoods, try different platforms until you find the one that best suits your needs.
How have you seen technology enable us to share power? Any specific platforms as a service that let you "lead by letting go?"
This week we premier our 21st Century Management executive education program. Designed and offered at Northwestern University’s James L. Allen Center, the program is five days offering:
- How to lead with all your resources — human, technical and organizational — working in concert
- How distributed teams, crowdsourcing, cross-cultural settings, and “new machine age” opportunities lead to broader, organization-wide considerations (e.g., building a strategic platform, creating a social business)
- Key issues that arise during organizational transformation; developing tools for managing challenges, mitigating risk, and balancing priorities
- New methods for motivating others, engaging teams, and leveraging innovation and networks
- How to use social network analysis to understand 21st century opportunities
My sessions cover Thursday and Friday, but I’ve had the opportunity to preview many of the slide decks and I’m happily familiar with the work my co-conspirators presented earlier in the week:
Background and More
To any of the involved executives -- here are links to some of the material we will cover and a couple of sneak peeks at what I’ll suggest for further reading (for the rest of you, think of it as a teaser and join us in one of our upcoming versions in July or December):
- Leadership Is More than Interpersonal Skills (One of my HBR Blog posts)
- Innovation Catalysts (HBR article on Intuit)
- Backgrounder on the Open Talent Economy (Deloitte)
- Elance/Odesk Online Employment Report
- Racing With the Machines TED Talk (Erik Brynjolfsson)
- Zappos & Holacracy (Forbes)
- Why Teams Don’t Work (HBR)
- Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor (Warren Bennis et al.)
- AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs (Pew Research)
- Manager and Machine (McKinsey)
- How Do You Design a Hospital That Can Foster Great Ideas? (Wired)
- Managing Crowds in Innovation Challenges (Malhotra & Majchrzak, abstract)
- Let go of traditional job reviews. Instead of the momentous annual sitdown, provide 24/7 performance feedback as needed. The colorful former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz once fired a manager with no notice after the manager fought so hard for her idea--ultimately successfully -- that she alienated the colleagues she’d need to enact it. Salesforce.com’s Work.com makes feedback as easy as checking-in on Facebook. Younger workers want more feedback and transparency in their work -- embrace that, as great ideas can come from unexpected places in the organization.
- Let go of stay-in-one-place work rules. Marissa Mayer may have had her reasons for cancelling telecommuting at Yahoo, but if you have the right systems, technology, and people in place, flexible workplace strategies are an important part of most organizations. You get access to a global workforce and the work environment can better match the task.
- Let go of education requirements of old. Google is hiring more people without college degrees -- if they can do the work. Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com) hires into its global workforce by having candidates take on a project as a contractor first. Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, edX, and many others provide online, often free, ways to keep up the skills needed in the modern workforce. If you do want a degree, realize that you’ll eventually need another one or two to stay on top of the changing needs of the workforce.
- Let go of traditional mentoring roles. Mentoring is a two-way street where younger workers can share rapid-fire communication strategies and more senior colleagues can share wisdom around how to value the firehose of information. And like jobs, mentoring relationships can be more fluid with online matching services.