The Jerry Maguire moment

The low-rent version, anyway.

I’m wrestling with a bunch of ideas right now. They seem incredibly important; they possess a kind of urgency to them, like I want to vomit them out onto someone’s shoes. That won’t work, though — obviously if I’m going to convince anyone, it wouldn’t do to have to give them a towel to clean up after me. Unfortunately, these ideas are only half-formed. So I’m trying to bring some semblance of order to my thoughts on the issue of organizational health and development. I’m not naming names, though anyone who knows me knows perfectly well what I’m talking about.

Skip this unless you want to hear my incomplete hack theories that would probably get me laughed out of any third-rate B-school. I’m serious. Buzz off.

Still here? What the hell is wrong with you? Fine, then:

  • Leadership: requires “seriousness” — you can’t lead if you’re not serious about your work, and if you’re not serious about your work, what the hell are you doing there in the first place? Related point: if you can’t define the core functions of your business, and then commit to them (with the attendant implications; see below), you probably won’t be able to lead anyone effectively.
  • Most people, beyond being happy at work, also want to be inspired to do great things. Few people get up in the morning thinking, “I’d like to do a really mediocre/crappy job today.” Challenge of leadership: harness that energy and bring it to focus on problems of the business. Nurture natural desire of staff to find solutions, create safe spaces to try and fail, encourage employee innovation and set a low limit ($1000?) to test ideas — all ideas, no matter how absurd they might seem, can get funded up to the limit, and if they work, adopt across the organization?
  • Owning the work: if you’re supposed to do something, and you don’t have enough resources to do it, either the expectation has to change, or you need more stuff. If the expectation is set as a matter of public or organizational policy, it is incumbent upon people to have honest discussions about whether the expectation is reasonable, and if not, realign expectations. Regardless, all in the organization must be committed to that goal, and if resources cannot be allocated to expectations, people should think about whether they’re prepared to continue in their roles. (Call this the “laying down in front of the train” theory — or think about James Webb.)
  • Belief in duty and honor not something that should be limited to the Forces — it applies to everything we do in life. Conflicts and disputes happen in many cases because no one, on any side, was willing to stand up and, against the prevailing dynamic, say “this is wrong” and try to stop the slide into chaos. “Do the right thing” as a way of being? As a component of a way of being? “We hold these values to be critically important, and so we will not act in any way that compromises them, even if it is bad for business/puts us in a weaker negotiating position/gives us an embarrassing rash.”
  • Commitment to process is more important than commitment to outcomes:
    de Podesta process/outcomes matrix
      Good Outcome Bad Outcome
    Good Process Deserved success Bad luck
    Bad Process Dumb luck Poetic justice

    Most organizations these days seem to be happy to live in the bottom left-hand corner and don’t know how to move up (and don’t recognize when moving right, either).

  • “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk”: “The best way to have an efficient plant is to have happy workers who are secure at their jobs.” Ok, maybe don’t offer alcoholism counseling, but then again, why not? Marginal cost of doing something nice for employees << return on investment. Not the same thing as trinkets — commit to employees as human beings first, as employees second, and progress is inevitable?
  • Related: pluralistic deontology as a guiding theory of employee relations — people as an end in themselves, rather than means to end (production/service). Commitments to beneficence, non-malfeasance, justice, self-improvement, reparation, gratitude, and promise-keeping as core organizational values that then guide decisions affecting staff. (Side note: holy hell W.D. Ross was smart.) Economic cost of not being an dicks = minimal?
  • A health care organization is not going to bring its budget into target range by finding creative new ways to deny patients care (this is what the US insurance industry does; see “this is wrong,” above, see also “embracing the task”).
  • Dispute resolution: focus tends to be on the resolution itself and the process that leads to that resolution. More effective to think about “the day after” — what does the day after the dispute is resolved look like, and how do we get there? Even if “the day after” does not lead to obvious solutions to disputes, thinking about the day after might lead to a less acrimonious process.
  • Related point: “Some day soon, there’s going to be a reckoning, and once again, people are going to have to answer for what they’ve done” — or didn’t do, come to that.
  • Interest-based negotiations: not enough to make Charlie Brown-adult-type noises, must actually believe in principles. “These are the things we believe, here is the common set of things we believe in, and so this will guide our stance(s) through this adventure.” (See comments on pluralistic deontology.) Negotiations not zero-sum?

There’s probably a lot more to come. Send e-mail!