I’m in the midst of preparing for The Internet Show in Melbourne, 13-14 April 2010. As a sponsor my employer, Elcom Technology, has several slots for presentations. We’re doing a case study on a social networking startup and a CMS clinic, but most importantly for me I am also doing a session on Web 2.0 and Social Media within the enterprise. These are the key ideas behind that talk, although this is more detailed than I will be on the day.
Passion is one of those wonderful ideas, it is hard to quantify or measure, but unmistakable when you meet it. In the business world we tend to think of it as messy, disorganised, hard to manage, hard to inspire and hard to control.
However, passion is one of the greatest competitive advantages, with something they are passionate about, people will spend more time, think more creatively and fight harder than they will with other things in their lives. It is also well-recognised that passionate employees create passionate customers, and that’s something any business should be interested in.
Deloitte’s 2009 Shift Index says that “Passion is when people discover the work that they love and when their job becomes more than a mode of income.” They describe the need for passion in terms of competing for employees:
“Why does passion matter? Because staying competitive in the newly globalized labor market requires all of us to constantly renew and update our professional skills and capabilities. The effort required to increase our rate of professional development is difficult to muster unless we are passionately engaged with our professional activities.”
A History Lesson
Around 100 years ago the Ford Motor Company implemented an assembly line in order to boost the production of the Model T. Initially, Ford raised the wages of assembly line workers to keep them interested in the innovations they were rolling out, but now we think of assembly lines as places where cost is minimised by reducing the complexity of the work across many simple steps, and therefore minimising the training (and wages) required for employees.
By simultaneously innovating to a lower price point and creating a middle class that could afford their product, Ford managed to reach a dominant early lead in the production of motor cars. This precipitated a movement from craft production to mass production and in large part was based on scientific management, a term coined by Frederick Taylor.
The motor car industry might have continued in this vein forever, except for the advent of the Toyota Production System (TPS). The founders of Toyota were unimpressed with Ford’s assembly line, but found a way to improve it greatly. Their ideas were wildly successful and a host of studies tried to understand the core ideas in the TPS in order to apply it in the western world. Thus we received just-in-time manufacturing, total quality management, continuous improvement and lean manufacturing.
Most of these ideas have failed to find as fertile soil in the west as they did in Japan – however the evidence is that the difference is not cultural (Toyota runs plants in America run as well as they do in Japan), predicated upon Japanese corporate solidarity, or based on some secret sauce hidden from researchers. In fact the key items were in plain view all the time, but hidden by the biases the researchers brought with them.
There are two key differences they ignored:
1. People Management
The first key difference was the way people were treated. In the TPS people at all levels are valued and given control of their area of work. For example, an assembly line worker is able to shut down the entire line if they find a defect, and will then be part of the team tasked with finding the root cause of that defect and solving it.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
Another key difference is that the Japanese understood W. Edward Deming’s statistical process control methodology, and saw their assembly lines as being imperfect and in need of continuous improvement, rather than the perfectly defined processes that scientific management assumed.
An illustration of this is the pottery class that was split 50/50 between students who were told they would be judged on the quality of a single pot at the end of the course, and ones that were told they would be judged on the quantity of the pots they produced. The ones who focussed on quantity ended up producing better quality pots because they learnt from each one they created, whilst the others got stuck in trying to create the single perfect pot first time.
Eventually in the mid-80’s, Ford asked Deming to help them turn around their quality problems. They were surprised when his focus was on their management methods, but his influence was quickly seen in the profitable Taurus-Sable line.
Today these principles are working their way into other areas of work, through Agile software development and the general concept of Lean. An important key concept is the idea of waste – whether it be spare inventory, transportation, defects, unnecessary motion, over-production or over-processing. The well-known Scrum methodology lists three important pillars for empirical process control:
Know what is happening and be able to measure everything.
Regular and frequent inspection of the process to ensure it is functioning without waste.
Adapting the process to remove any waste.
A big part of Deming’s management principles was helping people re-discover “pride of workmanship” (or passion!) in their work, and removing barriers to them doing this (e.g. work standards, quotas, annual ratings, management by objective, etc.), substituting leadership for those barriers.
Whilst Deming’s methods have transformed the manufacturing industry, with companies like Dell and Boeing taking lessons from the TPS and applying them well, there are many industries where Taylor’s scientific management methods still rule, mostly because of habit and management (mis)training.
I know that I learnt how to manage very much in line with scientific management techniques (mainly by osmosis from poor managers). Plan, control, punish, reward, etc. The reality is that there is a shift in our working lives, we need more passionate creatives than ever, more artisans or craftspeople than unthinking drones. There is scarcely any industry or business that does not need at least some of their people to be passionately involved, engaged and thinking outside the box.
That last point is key to applying this. For some organisations the amount of passionate creative work that overlaps their routine work is minimal, for others there is almost a total overlap. The trend is towards more passionate creative work, and we will see that increasingly the leaders in their field are organisations that tap into this and harness it properly. Ford’s initial success in keeping their assembly workers by doubling their pay was short-term, soon the rest of the employment market matched their wages and the middle class expanded rapidly thereafter.
Your efforts need to match the amount of passionate creative work that overlaps routine work in your industry – but don’t shy away from finding ways to move away from the industry average and get more creative work in there.
How Can We Do It?
The question is how do we help people tap their passionate creativity in the workplace so they want to stay?
“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And here is what science knows. One: Those 20th century rewards,those motivators we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. Two: Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity. Three: The secret to high performance isn't rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive. The drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things because they matter.”
In summary Daniel points to three key ideas for managing people in the 21st century:
The urge to direct our work and have some say in what we do.
The desire to get better and better at something, to make progress and overcome challenges.
The yearning we have to work in the service of something greater than ourselves.
There was some interesting research reported in the Jan-Feb 2010 Harvard Business Review that supports the power of mastery in motivating employees:
“On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.”
Deloitte’s 2009 Shift Index had similar findings about autonomy and mastery:
“24 percent responded that flexibility, freedom, and autonomy were the reasons they “loved their job.” Similarly, 23 percent of the respondents cited challenges and opportunities for problem solving and creativity as the reasons they loved their job.”
These keys can all be found within the TPS, and are the foundation of any great 21st century business. If they can work for assembly line workers in one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, then surely they can work in our office environments?
More to the point, if we don’t offer work environments that have these keys, then we can expect to see more of our best and brightest leaving to go freelance, or joining that new startup, or even finding a big company that gets this idea.
Getting a Leg Up from Enterprise 2.0
I’m a Technical Director, so of course at some point I want to see just how technology can help us, and in this area as so many others there are some interesting possibilities thanks to Enterprise 2.0.
Modern creative work places a huge demand on people to be constantly learning, diversifying their experience and increasing their speed of uptake of new ideas and skills. More then ever before success demands that people self-educate themselves, and with information overload and the skyrocketing complexity of our global business environment (where your competitors may just as easily be half a world away as down the road) that is harder than ever.
Enterprise 2.0 offers lots of help in the area of learning and knowledge transfer.
These are great for helping people record their knowledge, and then allowing that knowledge to be reviewed, improved, updated and generally kept alive.
Fantastic for putting ideas out there and getting feedback on them. They can provide employees with acceptable avenues for bridging great gaps in relative seniority (e.g. letting a new hire question the corporate vision statement) as they can allow people other than the original author to respond and correct mistaken ideas. The ability to browse posts by chronology and/or tags means that content is more usefully categorised than it would be in an email inbox.
- Social Bookmarking
Whilst bookmarks can be overrated, if properly categorised and rated, they allow people to make new information available to their colleagues and can act as scent as to who is most interested or interesting.
- Enterprise search
Having an effective and useful enterprise search tool is a must-have Enterprise 2.0 tool. Most Enterprise 2.0 content is unstructured and a good search tool is essential to ensuring that people find the right content when they need it.
There is a need for us to connect with ever greater numbers of people, and being increasingly time-poor to find the right people to connect with. Research has shown that high performing individuals maintain better networks than others, and in particular that their networks are more diverse/disconnected. This allows them to “see the big picture better, generate innovative solutions by integrating the expertise of those with unique backgrounds, position their efforts well, bypass bureaucratic gridlock and obtain necessary resources and support.”
Enterprise 2.0 makes it possible to find the right people in your network by reviewing their ideas and following the commentary and discussion about those ideas. It also helps people develop connections beyond their immediate team or management hierarchy.
- Corporate directory
Having an active and useful corporate directory, one that tracks projects worked on, positions held and teams an individual has belonged to can help identify key people.
- Employee pages
Giving employees their own page to talk about themselves can be risky, but for those passionate creatives it can offer a way to get their ideas out there, attracting others that have similar interests and passions.
The commentary and discussion facilitated by blogs, along with their attachment to individuals (and hopefully the corporate directory), makes them an ideal place to connect with others and find out who else you should connect to.
Internal tweeting tools like Yammer offer interesting possibilities as people can follow who they like within the organisation and find out who is following them.
One of the main reasons people fear worker autonomy is that they will lose oversight of what is going on. Obviously implementing transparency properly means this is not an issue, but there are problems with managing transparency when collaboration is limited to email inboxes and offline meetings.
Enterprise 2.0 offers ways for collaborative work to be both done at a distance (of either time or place), and to be recorded in ways that allow for relatively easy monitoring by managers who want to help ensure that responsibility is taken seriously and known problems are not repeated.
Tracking progress on a wiki gives managers insight into what is happening and an avenue for querying ideas and outcomes.
- Online document collaboration
Collaborating on a document online makes the draft version available to people beyond the immediate team, often in a read-only version.
online project management tools like Basecamp are highly regarded for their ease of use, simplicity and ability to facilitate complex project discussions and task workflow.
- Google Wave
Still in Beta, and with real performance and usability problems still, Google Wave offers interesting possibilities with low-overhead asynchronous conversations organically evolving into rich document collaboration opportunities and even real-time conversation.
We have seen that a key motivator is the sense of making progress, achieving real results and conquering challenges. One way our current systems can rob us of this is by interrupting our state of flow and causing us to drop out to check something that turns out to be unnecessary – it is estimated that a 1 minute interruption kills 15 minutes of productive time. Two deadly forms of this are unimportant emails and face to face social desk visits.
Enterprise 2.0 tools can help reduce the amount of email flow by moving items to more useful forms of communication that rely on a pull method of distribution (where users choose to use it), rather than the invasive push method employed by email.
- RSS feeds
By eliminating the push nature of methods like email, RSS feeds give a generic method for tools like blogs and wikis to make their data available for the user when they want it.
By bringing micro-blogging to the enterprise tools like Yammer remove the instant interruption hassle of instant messaging (IM) and provide an outlet for broadcasts of ideas that may be useful, but don’t need to be considered immediately.
Enterprise 2.0 tools can help move social interaction away from invasive face to face time in the office to more asynchronous means, or at least ones that include less wasteful interruption time.
Social engagement via micro-blogs like Yammer is ideal because it is asynchronous, based on the push/broadcast mode of communication and carries an implicit understanding that it is not important content.
Placing social event information online, and providing interactive photo galleries can help reduce the amount of social interaction that must occur face to face.
Deciding to manage work empirically, through transparency, inspection and adaptation can help give your employees the sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose that is necessary to untap their passionate creativity.
There are key ideas I have not covered here, such as the willingness to accept failure as learning experiences, the need to align authority with responsibility, and responsibility with ability that must be addressed for this to work well.
However untapping passion is not only possible, but well within our reach. It fundamentally depends on the willingness of senior management to set the direction, free their people and unleash their own passion.
Finally, Enterprise 2.0 offers some interesting tools to help manage and enable this change in our organisations. But as ever, technology plays an enabling and supporting role rather than being the driver of true change.
There is a lot packed into this particular post, but a few people were key in helping me understand these issues.
Jason Yip, from ThoughtWorks Australia, whose passion for Lean got me interested in looking at Agile software development and whose ideas and blog have helped me work out my own thinking.
Lachlan Heasman, also from ThoughtWorks Australia, who runs the Sydney Scrum Meetup, and is a good friend and great Scrum trainer.
Craig Bailey, who in a year as my boss ignited hope in me for great managers once again, and who has gone on to embody following your passionate creativity wherever it may lead.
Chris Scoggins, my first great manager and a great example to me of how to mentor and build leadership into your staff.
Daniel Pink for bringing the hidden truths about motivation into plain view, and pointing out the Emperor’s New Clothes of management.
My Dad, for always making me question what is true, and helping me understand my own passionate creativity.