Friday, February 25, 2005

Appreciation and Empathy. Is it your Mirror Neurons at work?

Why is it we connect so deeply when we watch other people, especially when we have some knowledge of the actions they are performing? Why do we get so involved with sports teams and have such emotional reactions to movies?

It could be our mirror neurons. Studies with monkeys tracked brain "noise" when they picked up a peanut and initially thought that this was a motion indicator. When the motionless monkey saw someone else pick up the peanut, its brain made the same "noise". We know we learn by watching and then copying. Is this what we are uniquely designed to do? Watch this PBS clip and hear scientists speclating that we are predisposed to empathy and social contact. If we weren't we would need the mirror neurons...and we wouldn't have them.

The implications for learning at work are immense. If I don't see you do something, does this mean I can't really empathize with your needs, challenges and successes? Information and checklists may intellectually teach how another group performs it's tasks. If we want people to care - they got to see!

Take a look.

If there's more, read it here...

Monday, February 21, 2005

HBS Working Knowledge: Organizations: Surfacing Your Underground Organization

"Then there's another mindset I call the defensive mindset. The idea is that even if you are seeking valid knowledge, you are seeking only that kind of valid knowledge that protects yourself or your organization or your department—it is defensive. From a defensive mindset point of view, truth is a good idea when it isn't threatening or upsetting. If it is, massage it, spin it. But if you massage it and spin it, you're violating the espoused theory of good management. When you spin, you have to cover up the fact that you're spinning. And in order for a cover up to work, it too has to be
covered up."

Margaret Wheatley reminds us that for every measurement, or truth, that we focus on, we leave behind other measures or truths. What if we went back to every measurement we have chosen and looked at the ones we left behind? What story do they tell - do they keep us honest, reflecting the real theory instead of the theories in use? I once asked a quality group how many of them measure conformances. After the laughter, the thought remains...what is the truth about how well we are doing? We are where we are because of all the actions and decisions "we" the organization have made. Therefore, our subsequent actions and decisions can create what we want to be. QED.

If there's more, read it here...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Poor Productivity? Blame it on Management!

According to the 2005 Workplace Productivity Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM.) Workers believe the number one factor that negatively impacts employee productivity is poor management. The SHRM ( survey polled a sample of 478 human resource professionals and 613 employees to collect information about workplace productivity and asked employees, “Which of the following factors negatively impact your productivity at work? (Check all that apply.)”

Responses were as follows:

  • Poor management. (58 percent)
  • No longer being motivated by the work. (38 percent)
  • Organizational changes. (26 percent)
  • A lack of defined goals in the job. (24 percent)
  • Readiness to leave organization. (16 percent)
  • A lack of accountability in the job. (13 percent)
  • Pressure by management to show face time. (12 percent)
  • Other (16 percent)

Is this management bashing? Not really? After the decimation of management ranks in the last ten to fifteen years it's hard to find skilled managers...and skilled mentors. Without positive role models it's difficult to grow and learn. A focus on raising management skills will highlight where emloyees have found a great excuse, or more likely been conditioned to, blame everything on the managers. "Not my job, man" is often the result of a blame based workplace where failure is punished and taking personal responsibility is risky.

Organizations need to examine the culture that they have created and change the norms and rewards to those that value and demand high performance. Skilling and supporting the managers is a good place to start.

If there's more, read it here...

Top Down: The Plight of Middle Managers

The demise of the corporate pecking order is a myth, says Stanford professor Harold J. Leavitt. Middle managers are the ones who bear the brunt when an organization pretends that everyone is equal. "One must also ask another question: If networks are, in fact, the designs of the future, can we feel confident that they will do significantly better than hierarchies?" Leavitt doesn't think so. He believes that the real problem lies in the pressures of inhabiting that dangerous world of middle management. With the ever present opportunity for making a CLS (career limiting statement), middle managers need to tread delicately in the minefield between upper and lower management. See a book excerpt from Top Down at HBS Working Knowledge: Leadership: The Plight of Middle Managers

If you are interested in "middles" also try Barry Oshry's book "Seeing Systems" for insights into the interplay, beliefs and tensions between tops, middles and bottoms.

If there's more, read it here...