Technology and Organizations

21st Century Management: Agile, Connected, & Designed for Execution

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:

Holly Raider has nurtured a seed of an idea into an actionable session for executives.
Mohanbir Sawhney kicked off the week with material from his book, Fewer, Bigger, Bolder: From Mindless Expansion to Focused Growth, and more. 
Nosh Contractor and Paul Leonardi are colleagues with amazing breadth. Here they focused on social networks, strategy, and change.
Loren Nordgren painted a picture of “Motivation 3.0” that I look forward to sharing the next time I cover the topic in my own classes.


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):

Where to Start: Lead by Letting Go

As many of you know, I’m blogging toward a book on just how we do that  -- how do we design and lead organizations as the boundaries loosen and work is done by a blended workforce of employees, contractors, freelancers, alliance partners, and computers/AIs?
I had the chance to share some of my starting points with the MarketWatch community. Here are the bullets, but I hope you’ll take a look at the longer version in MarketWatch — and most importantly, please share your own perspective and experiences in the comments. How quickly do you think these transitions will take place? Will it be the same for large and small organizations?

How To Lead By Letting Go

  • 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.’s 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 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.

Thank You

Deborah Lohse of Santa Clara University made this post happen. She kicked off the MarketWatch opportunity by interviewing me after my Women of the Channel keynote and then walked me through edits for the OpEd format. 

Walked 6 Miles First Day of Electric Car

My walking was not the fault of the car; the car is great. The car is, however, part of a bleeding-edge ecosystem of apps, charging stations, employer support for sustainability, parking rules, university websites, and my commuting choices. I thought I had followed my own advice to work with all my human, organizational, and technological resources -- but it just wasn’t so.

What I Did to Prepare

  • Verified that I can get to work (47 miles) on a single charge (85 miles, 104 with special option)
  • Verified on website that my employer offers free charging with valid ($300/year) parking permit
  • Pre-registered with the charging network installed in the parking lots
  • Studied map of chargers across the different parking lots at work -- those near my office are free!
  • Bought car, downloaded apps to track charging, registered the keytag sent by charging network

What Happened

  • Drove to work and parked at free charger -- “Not Authorized” blinks after using my pre-registered tag
  • Called the charging network help number, told I need a number provided by my employer
  • Deep dive into employer’s website (using smartphone from parking lot) -- including filling out newly discovered online form to get needed secret code
  • Ate lunch while waiting on secret code
  • Walked to my organization’s parking office to learn more face-to-face and ask if code could be expedited
  • Moved car to other side of campus pay-as-you-go charger while waiting for code 
  • Got some work done (sidenote: someone unplugged car before it was fully charged -- not cool and against the etiquette of charging station use -- app messaged me, but didn’t take a picture of the perpetrator, would be useful feature)
  • Received secret code and submitted it to charging network website, saw that approval status switched to pending
  • Moved car back to free charger after receiving email of approval
  • “Not Authorized” still blinking
  • Called charging network help number and then moved car back to distant pay-as-you-go charger when told approval hadn’t percolated through all the databases to the charger and it could take overnight
  • Skipped going to the gym (I’d done some par course pull ups on one of my six walks across campus)
  • Got some work done
  • Drove home -- 16 "miles" left as it didn't have time for a full charge

What I Should Have Done

  • Realized it couldn’t be as easy as just pulling up to the charger I’ve been driving by for six months. It never is. That would be a silver/magic bullet and those don’t exist -- unicorns maybe; magic bullets, no way. No single technology, person, or organizational system stands alone.
  • Realized that electric car ecosystems are new for everyone and that the people in the parking office will have the curse of knowledge  -- they know how the system works, so communicating the practices to novices is more difficult, especially if they haven’t had to go through it themselves.
  • Gone deeper than the promotional material on my employer’s website. Yes there is free charging, but you have to be pre-approved by both the employer and the charging station network -- takes time and several loops of interaction as there is money at stake. Don’t expect the Internet of Things to come together in one day.
  • Taken note of who’s describing the process that seems so simple. The version that made it appear seamless was coming from our sustainability office, not the people who run parking and have to do the verification. The sustainability office must manage their search engine optimization better as theirs was the top result.
Systems like this are our reality and our future. As I look at my desk, I think my coffee cup is the only thing that isn’t part of a larger system of interactions. My Hint water has codes in the cap I use for promotions. My TV remote is just the beginning of three levels of service providers. Every piece of paper is tied to a website and system of deeper interactions.

What I Learned

If it looks easier than you expect, dig deeper. Think about each of the interactions across the human, technical, and organizational dimensions and what has to be happening in the background. Had I gone through a full checklist, it would have occurred to me that there had to be a way to tell the charger that I had the right to free power -- there had to be a secret code/handshake/incantation and I should have been looking for it. Then again, I did walk off my lunch.

Tiempo Speeds Pay and Motivation

Tiempo example

Aug, 12, 2014: After writing this post, I was invited to invest in Tiempo. I've accepted the opportunity and any future posts will include the disclaimer that I have a stake in the business.

The data entry portion of time-tracking generally isn’t value-added time in our work. In my #SummerOfWorkDesign, I’m interested in finding tools and tricks that help people focus on their work, and not the transaction costs of that work. Y Combinator participant, Tiempo, and other new approaches to time-tracking help speed up pay processes, accounting, and even personal monitoring.

Tiempo co-founder and CEO, Tad Milbourn, is an entrepreneur and intrapreneur I’ve been following for a while. (His Intuit Brainstorm project is the focus of the last chapter of my book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive.) With Tiempo, Tad and his co-founders (all Intuit alumni), Kyle Kilat and Peter Terrill, take Intuit’s focus on helping people manage their finances and run small businesses and extends it to the time-tracking process -- and integrates it with the Intuit suite -- with more integrations to follow.

Tad recently described Tiempo’s approach to me:

We're trying to create a world where service businesses can get paid instantly for the work they do. No more waiting to track time, waiting to create invoices, and waiting to get paid. Our first invoices that we processed were paid in an hour!


This isn’t just about cash flow. It’s also about motivation and engagement. Yes, I hope we all work at something we have a passion for -- feedback from the work itself is a great motivator (and one of the levers of work design I mentioned in an earlier post). However, motivation comes from a combination of outcomes and the tighter all the outcomes, including pay, are tied to the work, the better the motivation. Economists and management faculty alike will agree on that one.

In Tiempo, pay is the focus, but there is also a “Kudos” button you can click on as you are approving the time someone entered. Tiempo user, Joseph Graves of Workshed says, "Even though my coworker and I work so closely together (literally sitting next to each other), it's a good reminder for me to give praise for a job well done."

Tiempo has competition, which signals to me that other people see the need to take the friction out of this piece of our work design. No more watching my friends scramble as they realize they are about to miss their timecard deadline -- and no more having to listen to them grumble about what a waste of time it is.

Do you have a suggestion for my #SummerOfWorkDesign? A tool or trick that helps you or your organization do better at designing work that is valuable, provides feedback from the tasks themselves, and helps you get the collaboration you need?

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Work Design for All of Us: Location, Location, Location

Where will people do their most effective work? I’m in the middle of selling my old house and just bought a new one, so the common real estate refrain, “location, location, location” has been going through my head a lot. Do people need to work at an organizational site to be engaged? Can they work effectively away from a formal office?

In my prior post, I said,

If more work is being done with fewer jobs ... the remaining jobs, and work in general, must be being done differently. What are the levers we can pull as we do this redesign? Who should be doing this redesign? These are the questions that everyone, from CEO to the newest freelancer, are -- or need to be -- grappling with.

I’ll be working on answers all summer, but today I’m taking on location with the first set of results from research I’m doing with Emma Nordbäck, John Sawyer, and Ron Rice.

The Study

We asked this question in the context of a northern European telecom company. Eight hundred thirty employees responded to our survey. Ninety-nine percent worked full-time for the company and ninety-seven percent had a standard employment contract. They’d been with the company an average of 17 years and largest age group of respondents was 41-50 years old. Perhaps not your standard picture of telecommuting superheros.

Does working away from the traditional office reduce engagement?

Not for this group. Neither was there a significant impact on how often they communicated with their supervisor, though even I expected that the people working away from the office would communicate less. I should have thought about who these people are. They work for a telecommunications company -- they are good with the tools and have been doing this a while.

Carlson and Zmud (1999) looked at how people deal with shifts from communicating face-to-face to using email, and we’ve expanding that thinking to include texting, mobile phones, and conference calls. They found that how well you communicate can depend on your experience with your co-workers, your tools, the organization, and your work. Given our telecom employees’ experience, they have the foundations for working effectively from afar, at least to the extent that it might otherwise affect their engagement with the work.

Next Steps

We have a new set of data just in from both this same company and a northern European travel provider. We expect that the telecom employees have more experience with the telecommunications tools that make up modern work communication, so we do expect to see location playing a role when we compare that company to the travel company. If it turns out that the travel company employees are more engaged when they are co-located with their colleagues, and if the telecom employees again don’t show a difference… then we’ll be able to make stronger suggestions about how best to design work given your particular base of workers’ experiences.

Even before those results come in, I do believe there is value in creating signals around coordination, knowing when someone needs help, or is best able to provide help. Different tools and practices may substitute for things we might miss if we are working from home, a coworking space, a plane, or a client’s office. It may also be that similar tools and practices can make us better connected even when we are co-located with our colleagues.

What tools and practices have you seen provide coordination and signalling value? Does “working out loud” (see this background from John Stepper, and this earlier one from Bryce Williams) fit in this category? #SummerofWorkDesign


Thank you to Tekes and our universities for funding and other support.


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