The Courage to be You?

Futures Rambling # 79
by Laurie Aznavoorian

The Human Research and Ethic committee overlooking a current research endeavour has once again not disappointed in making our research team jump through hoops to gain ethics approval for the upcoming data collection phase of our next research initiative. Historically, I’ve poked fun at the committee for holding projects like ours to the same standards as those that could have far more serious consequences than determining whether a desk is occupied or not.

In this case it’s warranted, our research participants will be wearing Sociometric badges and there is an understandable concern the electrical pulse from the sensor might mess with pacemakers. However, that was not the question that flummoxed us it was another, which I am embarrassed to admit we hadn’t even considered. It was about the benefit of involvement in the research to the participant.

Pretty lame given we tout ourselves as professionals who care about occupant’s experiences in the workplace! Surprisingly, or perhaps no so much, we had only articulate the benefits of the research to our clients and ourselves and hadn’t given two minutes thought to what might be in it for the guinea pig. Surely there would be something.

Fortunately a compelling answer surfaced without too much mental duress. When you think about it, it’s quite simple, who wouldn’t want to know more about the effectiveness of interactions they have with co-workers? After all, information is power, and understanding the nuances of how we interact with one another will help lay the foundation for more meaningful and productive collaborations.

The Sociometric readers we are using will provide a great amount of valuable data, but unfortunately, it will not lead to knowledge that will break the back of many serious maladies that plague the typical workplace. To be more specific, to some extent they will measure variables that will allow us to monitor behaviour, since they do not record speech, we will never really know when a colleague is being a jerk and talking behind another’s back or trashing someone in the corridor.

Shocked? That doesn’t happen in your office, not true if you subscribe to Robert Kegan’s ideas about being yourself in the workplace, he’s a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of education who believes most interactions in a ‘normal job’ have nothing to do with the real work we perform and have much more to do with a second job we have that is arse covering, looking good and hiding shortcomings.

I concur. I’ve met several people who’ve spent their entire career dedicated to this exact endeavour! Kegan maintains that even though we know covering our weaknesses, inadequacies and uncertainties is counter productive; we do it anyway and it is typical in the ‘normal’ organisation where people feel compelled to hide their less developed parts, or true self.

It makes no sense if you think about it logically, our employers hire us not because we’re perfect, but to realise the potential they see in us. After all we are human and therefore imperfect. In reality, we are not logical, so we spend enormous amounts of time everyday trying to be something, or someone were not, by putting on airs and covering our shortcomings and errors. Unfortunately, this makes us more likely to continue making the same kinds of mistakes hampering growth for each of us personally and for the companies we work for.

Patrick Lencioni lists these same exact attributes in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, suggesting that hiding weaknesses and covering mistakes, amongst a number of others, are indicative of organisations that lack trust, not to mention one that is standing still because it’s too timid to evolve. Lencioni supports what our Trust Research, and many others, concludes and that is a lack of trust in an organisation impacts productivity and profit, and it makes people feel downright miserable.

Our sociometric readers are not going to remedy this completely; they will record signals that will provide insight into the authenticity, honesty or sincerity of co-workers interactions. But they can’t really tell us when one employee behaves like a complete tool, in an unproductive or unprofessional manner. What they will tell us is how people interact with one another during various phases of the collaborative process and from this we can bridge the gap to infer how the environment helps or hinders it.

We will most definitely succeed in capturing insights that will inform designers and clients on the spatial attributes that support phases of the collaborative process, but going back to the Ethics Committee question, what’s is this research doing for the people? How do we help them achieve richer interactions and encourage them to be their complete self in the workplace by boldly exhibiting their passions, enthusiasm, wacky ideas and warts? How can we create a company culture, because this is not about a workplace, where employees are not ashamed to be who they are?

That is the $60,000 question, and one that is important to understanding, what Keagan describes as, our ‘new economy’. In the new economy employees seek benefits beyond a paycheck, of the old economy of salary and benefits will continue to be important, but in the ‘new economy’ employees will seek incomes that address “the psychological person”. These incomes support happiness, not in smiley face kind of way, but rather a state of happiness as an evolutionary process that comes from the Aristotelian concept of unfolding, growing and developing as a person.

This probably sounds familiar to many I’ve spoken to recently who are searching for fulfilment and happiness and not finding it at work. Undoubtedly there are a host of reasons for worker dissatisfaction, but one could be not working for a DDO, a deliberately developmental organisation. These are companies that walk the talk and go out of their way to draw employees into a process that helps them grow and become better versions of themselves.

Sign you up to work in a DDO you say? Well maybe think twice, because for most the level of openness required to promote personal growth is a little too scary a proposition. It is true, being in a workplace where there are no secrets and every conversation is an open one can lead to discomfort. Kegan gives an example of an organisation in Connecticut that records every meeting. An extreme example, but one it gives a taste of what true transparency is.

You might rightly surmise, it is not everyone’s idea of fun, but for those that do preserve, working in a DDO can be exhilarating. Some see it as an illustration of the organisation’s generosity with time and a willingness to make an investment in their future. They believe the organisation really cares about them as a person and do not see them as just a means to an end. They thrive in the organisation, would not consider working for ‘normal organisation and the company benefits from excellent results.

For others it’s too confronting and this is why many DDO’s have high turnover rates, and face it not everyone wants their co-workers to know who they really are, you never know they may be in the witness protection program or they want everyone to think they are better than what they are. Those that feel that way have many organisations to choose from that are ‘normal’

I imagine if we had wanted to record this type of information in our research we would not have been given ethics approval, because we could easily delve into people’s psychological well being, and find ourselves outside of our pay grades. Both researcher and participants could find out things they prefer not to know. Like that famous line from A Few Good Men, we think we want the truth but we can’t handle it.

Sources:
Are You the “Real You” in the Office? HBR IdeaCast 5:45 PM March 27, 2014

Russell, Joyce E.A., The importance of trusting co-workers; Australian Financial Review, April 17, 2014

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Changing of the Guard

Futures Ramblings # 73

By Laurie Aznavoorian

 

It is an interesting time for Australians, following the election this weekend we have a new Prime Minister. The result will be a different middle aged white man plodding around Kirribilli House and The Lodge in Canberra in their bathrobe and Ugg boots. For most of us, a new political party at the helm signals little real, or rapid change; however, for the poor folks who service the Prime Minister it could be another story all together. 

Consider the coffee guy at Kirribilli house. You’ve finally perfected KRudds double strength, no fat, soy latte and suddenly you are responsible for producing decaffeinated soy cappuccinos with low fat chocolate sprinkles on top. It could be hair splittingly tense with great potential for disappointment. There is significant possibility it might end in tears, as is so often the case when leadership changes.

The website ‘AskMen’ targeted to the ‘better man’ with the by-line Power & Money, offers tips for people like the coffee guy who not only need to ensure they are on the ball when times change, but also have a plan for making first impressions on a new boss. The suggestions are:

  • Don’t choose sides.
  • Wait till the storm has cleared.
  • Resist brown nosing.
  • Volunteer for small tasks, because it takes time to build trust.
  • Don’t be a know it all.
  • Use the opportunity to rebuild your professional image.

 

As designers it is not unusual to be in this same unpleasant predicament. Not because leadership in our company has changed, but in our client’s. The experience can be quite traumatic, for example take Arthur Andersen. Although it’s not technically a changing of the guard, more a spontaneous combustion, the mere mention of those words in our office still has the ability to ashen faces. At the end of the day the result was the same; an amazing design up in smoke along with Enron and Andersen – sati style.

The last time I dealt with a client’s leadership transition the impact was amazingly painless. It occurred on the Telecom New Zealand project when Theresa Gattung announced her departure and handed over the reins to Dr Paul Reynolds from BT. The shift could have spelled disaster for us, but the work we did in building our accommodation and property strategy on business principles and clearly articulating our recommendations and the reasons for them, gave the strategy sticking power that lasted well after Theresa left.

We are not always so lucky. Take the saga of the CEO with strong opinions who was very involved in defining every element of the space we were designing from its look and feel down to the policies for behaviours in the new environment. When he left his successor sent us back to the drawing board. Compounding the pain of the redesign was a sneaky gut feeling the changes would result in dissolution of policies and a half measure implementation because the agreed solutions didn’t necessarily resonate with the new leader.

But let’s not focus on sad stories, there are plenty of positive anecdotes where the relationship we have with our client has helped soften the pain of the changing of the guard. One of these is Westpac; we have been working with the organisation since the mid nineties and undergone three leadership changes. I asked Peter McCamley, who has worked with them for nearly two decades what it was that held the integrity of our designs together through leadership change.

The catalyst of our success he says, comes from doing what we do; not only in a design capacity, but in our insatiable quest to dig deep and gain real understanding of the client’s business. In doing this we become the custodian of their business knowledge. For some clients, we may be their only link to history when their own people move on. We become a key part of the succession plan, the transferrers of knowledge, and the only ones who know the story of why the workplace is the way it is.  

Our success also comes from a willingness to accept there will be change with a new leader, not to mention the natural and logical evolution as the organisation responds to the times. As designers we must have a preparedness to evolve our thinking to align with a new leader’s intentions and ideas.

With Westpac we have not only weathered multiple leadership changes, but have also stood by them through the acquisition of new companies. When this occurs the organisation evolves by virtue of the influence each entity has on the other, which can also impact the work we do and the relations we have with them.

Organisations like Westpac recognise the role designers play and have accepted our offers to induct their new leaders. We communicated project time lines, explained why things are the way they are, and apprised them of the drivers for their accommodation solutions. They gained a greater understanding of the property portfolio and could then avoid making subjective judgements. Their credibility was reinforced due to a stronger connection to company history.

Often of greater impact to us is a change in the property team, particularly when we wear the organisation’s badge and play the role of chief historian. Property people have a tendency to move on when projects complete, frequently leaving us to communicate the project rationale to their successor. On the upside, together we collectively develop process, policy, standards and an approach to the effective execution of a project and that is highly transferable.

The most challenging situations can result from an intermediary shift; this is often more difficult because they are anxious to prove their own value and sometimes demonstrate that by putting us to the test, or returning the job to the market. The strength of our relationship with the client is often stronger, never the less; intermediaries are often in a position to make judgement calls on the value we bring. Since their measurements deal with cost, as opposed to adding value through effectiveness and efficiency, we frequently find our status in jeopardy. 

So what advice do we have for keeping our client relationships alive and strong enough to endure a changing of the guards? First, develop multi layered relationships within the business that extend beyond the top leaders. Hopefully some people will remain through a transition and think highly enough of us to step forward to sing our praises to the new boss. Having an insider attest to our passion, determination and value carries much more weight than self-pontificating.

We must also remember relationships are not about projects, but clients. We live and breathe them, and through our relationships, establish a very deep understanding of what makes them tick. You could say, ‘nobody’s going to love you the way we do’. On the flip side it is critical to continually demonstrate freshness by exposing our long standing clients to new ideas that might be important to them and to other projects we are working on.

It’s very dangerous to assume a client knows everything about us.  I am repeatedly flabbergasted when I chat with clients we have worked with for a long time who say “I didn’t know Geyer did strategy, or worked in tertiary education or had the capacity to do change management. Worse is when they learn this after they have given a project to someone else because they didn’t know we could help them.

Real risks to our relationships come from doing more of the same, assuming our clients are comfortable with the status quo. There is always the danger of projects gaining such momentum that we focus on the technical aspects of doing a job, rather than adding value. To remedy this we need to establish dialogues outside of the project to create a vehicle for the flow of information about what is happening in world of design and in their industry.

Similarly, we need to spice up life for our own people by considering succession. Designers get bored when they’re forced to repeat the same exercise over and over, it causes them to drink heavily and spend too much time shopping on line for shoes and skin care products that fight the advanced signs of ageing.

Try as we might, there is often little we can do once a decision has been made to throw out the baby with the bathwater. This is why we can’t wait to establish the right perceptions with a new leader. Going back to Kirribilli House, the new Prime Minister doesn’t know the coffee guy from a bar of soap. He is unaware of his ability to make a mean mocha or chai latte and may have prejudged him as a pedestrian latte flogger.

It is therefore up to Mr. Coffee to demonstrate his capability. In addition, every now and again, for good measure, he should pull out whatever the sexy lingerie equivalent is to coffee service, and surprise the PM with something new: a slice of banana bread, a chocolate raspberry muffin. Otherwise he may get passed over with the PM believing his only claim to fame is decaf latte.

Sources:

Hui, Samuel; Dealing With a New Boss; au.askmen.com

McCamley Peter, an enlightening conversation about the history of Geyer and Westpac.

Montague, Ty; If Your Leader Departs, Preserve the Company’s Story First; HBR Blog; August 7, 2013

Taylor, Bill; Are You Learning as Fast as the World Is Changing?; HBR Blog; January 26, 2012

The Yahoo About Working From Home April 8, 2013

Futures Rambling # 68

by Laurie Aznavoorian

It was quite refreshing at last week’s Corenet summit in Shanghai to eavesdrop on conversations about something other than ABW; unfortunately, the topic that captured people’s interest and undeserved media coverage was nearly as yawn generating and misguided as the whole foolish ABW debate. What was the topic that has jaws wagging? The edict passed by Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer that Yahoo employees could no longer work from home.

In the event you were in a coma, Mayer has insisted all Yahoo employees go to work! Good Lord, what a shock. It has proven to be so controversial in the US that a national debate has ignited over workplace flexibility, family and women’s rights. The debate came dangerously close to eclipsing more entertaining stories such as Dennis Rodman playing basketball with Kim Jong Un or the ‘budget sequestration’. That’s the new name for the abyss entered when you go over a fiscal cliff.

There is great speculation as to why Mayer made this decision and what she intended by insisting all 5000+ employees of Yahoo physically go the Sunnyvale office in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some have suggested the real catalyst was correcting abuses; it seems 200 employees work full time from home. Some of them have proven to be expert multi-taskers, not only do they pick up a yahoo pay check, but run their own companies on the side. Others say the move was designed to build moral and improve employee motivation, as well as place a focus on innovation and collaboration. Most likely all of these contributed to the CEO’s decision.

The indisputable facts are the company missed two of the biggest trends on the internet: social and mobile, its home page and email are losers, Facebook and Google have trounced them when it comes to selling advertising and the stock price is in the crapper. It is understandable that morale is low and that the company’s culture could use a reboot. Apparently it is so bad that employees won’t even admit working for Yahoo when they go to Friday night beers at the Silicon Valley geek bars.

What is disappointing is many of the sentiments that have emerged in this debate are unreasonable, one is the link between a proactive decisions made by a CEO to reverse a downward trajectory and an attempt to right the wrongs plaguing the business, with an all encompassing value judgment on flexible working and women’s equality. These two are not related; allowing the company to fail would be far more alarming than asking 200 people to come to work and one could argue company insolvency would have a far more devastating impact on 5000 employees and their families.

It is only mildly ironic, and doesn’t bode well for Mayer, that she a nursery built next to her office in the Sunnyvale headquarters. This affords her the luxury of having her infant son by her side, releasing her from the angst many working mothers experience. Not many employees would have the latitude to impact facilities in this way, not to mention the funds. She did pay for it herself; she has accumulated a sizable nest egg from her past job as a Google executive. Is it too much of a stretch to compare this to extravagances of other CEO’s whose club memberships and golf games go unquestioned?

A host of arguments both for and against working from home surrounds this debate. According to a Stanford University study performance improved by 13% for one business who allowed employees to work at home, few can deny the convenience of wandering downstairs to work in your undies, or beat the commute times. Some managers claim having employees working at home is better because it forces them to set clear goals and review progress more frequently eliminating both employee and manager from becoming delusional over work quality and what has actually been accomplished.

Additional benefits include retaining talent that may not have the ability to physically go into the office every day, or who choose to live in remote locations. Most arguments against home work stem from an inability to compartmentalize and create appropriate separations between home and work and a not unfounded fear that ‘good work’ is tough to accomplish when employees are watching reruns of Green Acres, putting in a load of laundry or changing nappies.

The downfalls of working at home can often be overcome with the right technology, personal habits and the right company mindset. Often overlooked in the debate about working at home is the need for everyone in the team to communicate online, even if only one team member is remote. This ensures the locus of control and decision making is outside the office. Otherwise the remote worker will be left out, have minimal input on decisions and feel disconnected and the company will run the risk of becoming politically unbalanced.

Most of us crave the social interaction going to work brings and make the decision to work at home only on occasion: to complete a task requiring special focus, care for a sick child or meet the cable guy. There are few managers (including managers at Yahoo) who prohibit some degree of personal choice and mobility if it helps an employee balance personal and work needs; however, there still are many managers who will not allow their employees these freedoms.

Sadly, the uproar over Mayer’s decision steers us away from the real issues of integrating work and family life and addressing the impact that it has to economic, social and political outcomes. Working from home plays a role in retaining employees in a shrinking talent pool and solves other productivity problems. There is no question that increasing the range of possibilities and choice for workers and weeding out managers who are too lazy, or selfish, to allow their employees some degree of choice will help society, the economy, our families and communities.

A friend and ex employee of a multinational financial institution chimed in on the debate stating “Why do they think telecommuting was a humanistic vision in the first place!  It was an economic decision to reduce real estate costs.  Now the corporations all have excess real estate (at inflated rents that make buying out leases less than great for the balance sheet) – so they can call all the sheep back to the pen without great expense and cull the herd after appropriate observations.”

That view, while being admittedly cynical, is not entirely wrong and serves to remind us of the context in which Mayer’s decision should be considered. What we should be asking is as the CEO of a faltering company in need of cultural transformation, was it an appropriate choice to make? Many I’ve talked to in the past weeks say yes, they covertly whisper that it is better to keep people together and on the same page, especially in quickly changing times, they are too scared to say this out loud for fear of being tarred with the same brush as Mayer.

Today organisational trust in a company is built from the bottom of the company up; it has evolved from the dictatorship models of the past to one of leadership. We look up to our company and its leaders and formulate trust bonds based on their reaction to external forces, such as the GFC, an oil spill or simply negative PR. We trust our leaders if we agree with their reactions and actions, consider them fair and in alignment with what we believe are the company values and of course our own personal values.

If Mayer demonstrated a failure in leadership, it had less to do with her decision which most think will help the company out of its dire straits and more to do with communicating its context to both employees and the media. Had this been done, it is possible a whole lot of worry and boring debate may have been avoided; we could focus on the issues of work / life balance and affordable child care and have gone to Corenet and talked about other more salient topics like the Kardasians.

Sources:

Chaey, Christina; “Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, And The Pros and Cons of Working From Home” Fast Company Online; March 7, 2013

Wakeman Cy; “Is Yahoo Right to Ban Working From Home?” Forbes On line, March 7, 2013

Essig, Todd; “Bodies Matter: The Inconvenient Truth In Marissa Mayer Banning Telecommuting At Yahoo”

Friedman, Stew; “We Are All Part of the Work_Life Revolution” HBR Online; March 15, 2013

Fullerton, David; “Seven Great Reasons To Encourage Working Remotely” Fast Company; March 1, 2013

Greenfield, Rebecca; “Marissa Mayer’s Work-from-Home Ban Is Working for Yahoo, and That’s That”; Atlantic Wire; March 6, 2013

Larson Leslie, Peterson Hayley and Reuters Reporters; “Yahoo! Boss Marissa Mayer Under Fire for Building Personal Nursery Next to Her Office – Before Telling Employees They Can NOT Work From Home; Mail On-line February 27, 2013

 

 

Influence

Futures Ramblings # 53
Influence.

Some of you know my son Harry, he used to help us with video editing back when we did that kind of thing. Harry has always been a smart kid, who had quite an advanced vocabulary even as a young child. His first words were somewhat typical of early speakers: Mom, Dad, No, Mine and then the little snark started saying dammit when he dropped his bottle. We immediately blamed our rogue rouge nanny for this; certainly we were not at fault, we were doting model parents who had read every baby and early childhood book published!

Our nanny denied every swearing around Harry, the solution to this mystery came to me one day as I was driving in Chicago where we lived. Another driver cut me off, naturally I delivered a colourful diatribe on his driving skills and overall level of intelligence. You most certainly would have done the same, after all, if we common people don’t stand up and educate others our society will be reduced to the lowest common denominator! Basking in the sense of release and community pride, my gaze fell to the rear view mirror; there he was, my adorable little sponge brain son absorbing it all. That was the moment I realised the power we have to influence other human beings. It was also the moment I was thankful that small children have a harder time pronouncing words with S or F in them.

Every day we influence people and other people influence us; for parents, governments and companies being able to harness that influence is critical to achieving goals. Understanding how to do this is particularly challenging today when pulling out the old chestnut ‘do this because I am the boss’ has little sway. Heck this line rarely works with children once they reach ten, so why would we believe that in this time of building self esteem and confidence we could use it on a young adult co-worker? This my friends, is why having the ability to motivate, direct, persuade and influence people is more necessary today than ever before.

So what do we know about influencing others?

Researchers have done studies on persuasion; one experiment done in 1968 and reported in the Journal of Personality found that people physically stood closer to one another once they learned that they had something in common. In another, researcher F. B. Evans found that people buying insurance were more willing to purchase a policy from a salesperson who was the same age, religion, or even had similar habits – such as smoking. What these studies show is being able to persuade others is reliant on deeply rooted human drives and needs. People want others to like them; therefore, they are influenced by people they like and who are like them.

When it comes to influencing decision making another key factor is reciprocity. If someone has done us a favour, we feel the need to return it. This is precisely why furniture manufacturers bring us food and hang around chewing the fat with designers in the office. We sometimes fool ourselves into believing that these gestures of good will do not influence our decision making, but that would be more than somewhat naïve. In fact, many organisations recognise the sense of obligation is human nature and therefore prohibit their people from accepting gifts, lunches or expensive conferences. My husband works for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and as an employee of the federal government he can’t accept a candycane from a supplier at Christmas without fear of losing his job.

In his book Influence author Robert Cialdini writes of the ‘awesome strength’ of our nature to reciprocate when someone does us a favour. “So typical is it for indebtedness to accompany the receipt of such things, that a term like ‘much obliged’ has become a synonym for ‘thank you’ not only in the English language but in others as well”. According to Cialdini there is no human society that does not subscribe to the rule of reciprocation and sense of obligation, it is pervasive in human culture. So I guess you could say resistance is futile and rather than fight this, understand and use it.

Within the office the situation is similar, we gravitate toward people we like and those who think, dress and act the same as we do. The term ‘yes men’ came from this type of behaviour and for obvious reasons it has its downfalls. Particularly if you are an organisation that cares anything about connecting with clients, pushing innovation or basic business evolution. These tendencies can be especially limiting when it goes beyond simple reciprocity of favours, to influential people in the office making it clear that rewards will come to those that help them and retribution will come to those that don’t.

We are all people with complicated emotions and while we should, we do not always base our decisions on logic. The fact is we frequently are not aware of how much we rely on emotions to make decisions. Once this is recognised, you can use it to your advantage and become a more powerful influencer by appealing to a person’s values, self image and sense of belonging. I for instance have commented over the years on how nice Peter Geyer’s hair looked and you can see the personal rewards that has brought.

It often helps to couch requests in a larger purpose vision and express confidence in a person’s ability to do the job. By listening for clues you can determine what motivates another person and appeal to that. For an excellent tutorial on this technique I recommend watching Leave it to Beaver a 1960s American television show, note the behaviour of Eddie Haskel. I watched this show faithfully in my formative years, again you can see the personal rewards it has brought.

Some would not label the behaviour I have described as influence, but might call it office politics. This term is often labelled with negative perceptions, as it is believed to lead to a decrease in job satisfaction, low morale and commitment; and can become a catalyst for employees leaving the organisation. However this is only if you’re on the wrong side of the equation. Empirical research shows that being politically savvy and seeking power actually pays off, this is because there is a correlation between managers’ primary motivations and their success. Some managers need to be liked, others like to achieve targets or goals, others are interested in power. I am motivated by money, so the few people in the organisation that report to me would find that making a small cash contribution towards my son’s school tuition would serve them well.

Power, like office politics gets a bad rap, this is something we should all get over because the experts claim that to be successful and influence other people, you must develop personal power. According to Colin Gautrey, this need not be Machiavellian, nor does it need to be a violation of personal integrity. Gautrey maintains Influence is the outcome of people doing something they would not otherwise do, Power is something about you which motiviates people to be influenced by you and Politics are the behaviours which people use to influence others in a positive or negative way. He believes that by focusing on developing personal power, people will become less dependent on the use of politics to create influence. In other words those that have power don’t need to be political, even though they sometimes are.

Some of the things that can make an individual powerful are:
Position on a particular project
Ability to veto or sign-off proposals
A friendly and fun personality
Qualifications, skills and experience
Good relationships with key people around the organisation
Being very tall and/or attractive (fortunately for me – sometimes ugly and menacing works)
Positive public profile
In a position to provide help and support.

Of course if that is all too hard you could just hire someone to build your influence, I recommend Mekanism in New York. Mekanism, they bill themselves as a production company, but they are really an advertising agency that has been focusing on the Web. The company is known for being quite unconventional, never the less have created spots for a number of established companies like Microsoft, Frito-Lays, and Unilever. Jayson Harris from Mekanism makes the bold guarantee that they can create an online campaign go viral. Their confidence isn’t all cocky luck, for each campaign they leverage social-media tools like Quantcast, Visible Technologies, and Visible Measures. They also tap into a list of influencers to pair the right tone and content to get the proper balance of reach and credibility.

Fast Company magazine is so interested in this they have challenged Mekanism to create a viral marketing experiement whose outcomes will be documented in the magazine’s November issue. This experiment called The Influence Project, is attempting to measure influence on the Web and explore how influence and influencers spread and kill ideas on the Internet. Mekanism has suggested a number of possible site ideas that could be used for the experiment, one a Twittering Business Jesus who responds to companies in distress, another titled f&*k China were passed over. Fast Company settled on something more mainstream, individuals who participate will measure their influence based on how many people click the link to their personal profile. If you participate you will get your photo on the cover of Fast Company so if you’re interested there is still time. While the project hasn’t taken off as quickly as David After Dentist, or Dog Poo girl it has been quite popular in the US with people resorting to bribes and other underhanded means to get others to open their link.

While you may not believe an individual’s personal online influence is any measure of real influence, it is interesting to note the people who made Time Magazine’s list of most influential people. According to the list Lady Gaga, Bill Clinton and Brazil’s leader Luiz Inacia Lula da Silva top the annual list. How does the leader of Brazil, whose behind the drive to end social injustice and inequality, and someone who wears no pants (Lady Gaga – not Bill, although one could argue he has on occasion dropped his) get on the same list? Time says it is because these are the people whose ideas and actions are revolutionising their fields and transforming lives.

This brings me back to the beginning of this piece, you never know who you are going to influence, or how you might do it. I for instance, might influence you with this article and while I may intend it to be taken one way, you may take it another. Just as when twenty years ago while doing my civic duty I influenced my young son. Perhaps it was me who influenced a whole generation of young people to use swear words– as nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs, a trait that appears to cross cultural, educational and economic lines.

The moral to the story is quite simple, as with so many things the more you practice your influencing skills the better you become at it. By noticing what floats another’s boat: logic, emotion or relationships you can give yourself a leg up, but be careful relying too much on one of these may blind you to opportunities with another. You need more that one tool on your tool belt. If you practice extending your range in different situations and take note of the responses you get, you can develop your own style of influence and build personal power.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to start right now – If I were to own a dog, the only dog worth owning would be one of those Monopoly dogs – Scottish Terriers I think and of course it would have to have a regal name. People who own those dogs are really smart.

Sources
Borden Mark; Gary Vaynerchuk on Influence, Emotion and Being a “Douche Bag”, Fast Company; July 6, 2010

Borden, Mark; Popularity, Ego and Influence – What is the Influence Project?, Fast Company, July 7, 2010

Cialdini, Robert B, Harnessing the Science of Persuasion, The Harvard Business Review, July 1, 2010

Gautrey, Colin, Personal Power and Influence, The Sydney Morning Herald

Hoffman, Greg, The Art of Corporate Influence, The Age, July 12, 2010

Hurley, Robert F, The Decision to Trust, Harvard Business Review,

Nicholson, Nigel, How Hardwired is Human Behaviour, The Harvard Business Review, August 1, 1998

Pfeffer, Jeffrey, Power Play, The Harvard Business Review, August 1, 2010

Lady Gaga, Bill Clinton, Lula Top Time’s Influence List, The Age, April 30, 2010

Communication May 8, 2008

Communication – Issue 34

After I sent out the last article Sally stuck her head over the top of the partition and suggested the topic of the next Future’s Ramblings be communication. This was after she suggested I call Kevin Rudd and ask to be invited to the 2020 summit. Sadly, Kevin had already sorted his list of attendees by that time and it didn’t include me. A foolish move I think, I most certainly would have made a greater contribution to our country’s future than Kate Blanchette’s baby Iggy. Also, I can assure you that if Kevin had asked me to facilitate a workshop the participants wouldn’t have been whining afterwards that their ideas were not incorporated into the final recommendation. Just ask some of our strategy clients about my tenacity to record all that was said in a workshop. One recently got very snarky with me for including comments from participants who were younger. Apparently they were of the opinion that only the CEO’s opinion was relevant. It makes you wonder, why if these people’s views were not considered relevant; they were invited in the first place?

We have been communicating with one another since we lived in caves and grunted to let each other know something had been caught to eat, or vice versa – something was going to feast on us for dinner. This grunting is remarkably similar to the way teenaged children behave today, except the cave is now air conditioned and has a computer. Although it may seem that it is the computers that set us apart from our cave dwelling ancestors; in a tangential way, it is the behavours the computer induces that links us. Why? The way we communicate with one another using a computer is very reminiscent of tribal societies.

The patterns and profile surfing, messaging and ‘friending’ that goes on in most social networking sites is a resurgence of an ancient pattern of oral communication. Lance Strate, a communications professor at Fordham University is convinced that the popularity of social networks stems from their appeal to deep-seated, prehistoric patterns of human communication. Communication devices such as, blogging, posting of videos and now services like Twitter, which limits a user’s message length to 145 characters, make social networking a lot like face to face communication.

The concept of social networking was not developed with the web; it in fact dates back to ‘small world’ experiments conducted by mid-20th century sociologists who explored how people connected. Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook are all variations on this theme. What all of these networking sites do is allow people to map out their social interactions, and then overlay those with applications to do useful things, like tell your mates what to watch on TV, what music to listen to or whether you are eating a ham sandwich.

‘Orality’ is the word that is used to describe human experience, it refers to things that are participatory, interactive and focus on the present. The concept of ‘secondary orality’ describes the tendency of electronic media to echo earlier oral cultures by uniting people together. When you create an oral culture you are doing more than just talking, there are dynamics at work that lead to a strong and binding sense of community. As a result of computers, and ‘secondary orality’ we can mimic that dynamic without being face to face and this poses interesting opportunities and challenges.

On the opportunity side there is a new class of technology vendors springing out of the woodwork who stand to make a nice profit off of this new communication phenomena referred to as ‘socialprise’ – a mash-up of social networking features and standard enterprise computing applications. Companies with names like InsideView and Genius combine internet searching with social networking and business intelligence to give workers access to pools of information that are related. These companies produce software that gives employees a means to map their contacts and their contact’s relationships, resulting in the ability to create networks or communities of people with similar interests. For example if we had this at Geyer Tony Alberti could create a network around footy tipping and I would never have to hear about it again because it would be on the social network site and not our company e mail.

Using social networks in the workplace is not going to be a flash in the pan, if it was companies like Oracle, IBM and Microsoft would not be adding social networking features to their corporate software applications. Also, if this was a passing fad you would not be hearing about guys like Joe Busateri who is a senior leader in the Global Technology and Operations business unit at MasterCard who has turned to social networking to get his people talking to each other. He has established blogs and wikkis, including one called Priceless Ideas, where employees can let everyone in the organisation know when they have had an ‘Ah Ha’ moment.

Of course all of this does not come without its drawbacks. The web and the communication style it has bore is wreaking havoc with written English. A study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in partnership with the College Board’s National Commission on Writing found that two – thirds of 700 students surveyed said their e-communication style bled into school work. They omitted proper punctuation and capitalisation and a quarter said they used emoticons such as smiley faces to get their point across. Good lord ! Some people think that as the English language evolves these e mail conventions, such as using smiley faces and omitting capital letters and punctuation will become acceptable. Good lord !

There are drawbacks in the workplace too. Many businesses today spend a great deal of time debating whether they should allow their employees to use social networking sites at work. We have had a similar debate at Geyer, mostly among those of us over 40 who feel left out because we can’t figure out how to turn on Facebook. So to those of you who have asked me to be your friend, it is not that I don’t want to be your mate, I just don’t know how. That should make you LOL.

Of course this is not the first time communication styles have been developed that intentionally or unintentionally exclude others. By example, in the US there are gangs of Latino girls who have developed a new language that is a sophisticated transposition of letters in a word; it is a type of pig Latin that allows knifings against rival gangs to be planned at school without the teachers catching on. How beneficial! Similarly, nerd gamers like my son have made up their own language so they can talk to each other without the rest of us knowing what they are talking about. I suspect they communicate about why none of them have ever had a date.

I suppose at the end of the day, what is important is not how we communicate, but that we communicate. To do that, we need to acknowledge that words we sometimes use that we think everyone understands are industry jargon. To drive this point home I will leave you with an e-mail my brother sent me. He is a rocket scientist (no I am not kidding) if you can figure out what he is talking about please let me know.

Hello everyone,
Well we finally launched Atlantis, and it is on its way to the ISS to continue assembly. This is a big flight for us, as we will be installing the P3/P4 truss (photo enclosed). This truss will add 2 additional power channels to the two we have now. Each channel is capable of about 12 kW of electrical power. There is of course a thermal control system needed to cool the batteries and other equipment on the truss. We will also deploy a photo-voltaic radiator (photo enclosed), which rejects the waste heat to space. I am on console (mission ops) the 2nd half of the flight. Hope all is well, I’m relieved that it is finally starting to cool off!
Love Brett

Sources:

Flynn, Laurie J. “MySpace Mind-set Finally Shows up at the Office”. The New York Times, April 9, 2008

Holson, Lauren M. “Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old”. The New York Times, March 9, 2008

Lewin, Tamar. “Teachers have to LOL – or They’d Cry” The New York Times, April 26, 2008

Ruehl, Peter. “English the Language of Opportunity”. The Australian Financial Review, April 29, 2008

Wright, Alex “MYSPACEBOOK Past – Friending Ancient or Otherwise”, The New York Times December 2, 2007

Walsh, Mike. “Network Narcotics” Australian Anthill Magazine, December 2007/January 2008

“Twitter Launches in Japan, Land of Haiku” The New York Times, April 23, 2008

Neuroleadership – September 22, 2008

By the time you read this the hoopla of the Singapore Office opening will be a thing of the past, the only remainder will be the void in brain cells of the Geyer people who attended. I am describing a situation that will occur in a few days time, when this hits your in box; the situation right now is a bit different, the event is yet to occur. It may come as a surprise to some of you, but these events always make me a bit nervous. I fear that inevitable point in conversations with people you have just met, where all goes quiet. After you talk about how great Geyer is and what we do and what we care about and who we work with, you hit that awkward stage when you realize that you have nothing more to say.

I am sure I am not the only one who fears this and that is why I am going to help you out and share a tip for making it through these types of events. My advise is to survive, you must prepare yourself with cocktail party buzz words. Of course you will want these to have some relevance to the event or people attending. You won’t get very far if you are using a phrase like ‘2N redundancy’ with textile manufacturers or dropping the term ‘double rubs’ with mission critical engineers. Some people would say all you need to do to make it through a networking event is to read the paper, but I think that we can all agree the news of late: Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Sarah Palin would more likely make you want to put your head in the oven, rather than kick back and party.

One of the issues with buzz words is that they are always changing, what is a hot one year wont be hot the next. As always, my goal with these articles is to help you, and that is why I am going to save you all the reading and just tell you what the business buzzword of 08 is. With this word at your disposal, you will have the ability to rock up to any corporate event and when that awkward pause in conversation arrives, you can pull out this word like a secret weapon. Please note I said work related, if you try to use this to get a date it will most likely have the opposite effect.

The word is NEUROLEADERSHIP and it is one of the hottest business crazes today.
What is it? neuroleadership proponents believe that by understanding how the brain functions, a leader can better deal with the daily challenges of running a business. They believe that if we want a new behaviour, we need to give ourselves a new mental map and over time it will become embedded in our brain.

Of course, like most new ideas neuroleadership has its critics who say it is nothing more than a repackaging exercise of past leadership trends, in particular Daniel Golemans’s ‘ emotional intelligence’. Academics like Warren Bennis from the University of Southern California have concern for “people being taken in by the language of it and ending up with the stuff we’ve known all along”. It’s a valid point I suppose, but underneath such statements I am sure there is some degree of professional jealousy. They’re just sorry they didn’t think of it, because it is making some people a lot of money.

Face it, do you really care if a trend has happened once already, does it make it less popular or relevant? I am looking out the window of my hotel (you will learn how critical this is to my thought process later) and there is a big ferris wheel smack dab in the centre of Singapore, it is like the one in London and the one in Melbourne and one at Darling Harbour, except that one is an embarrassing little runt. Does the fact that this was something invented in 1893 by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. for the Worlds Columbian Exhibition in Chicago mean people are not going to ride the thing today? Does the fact that I wore clothing in the 8th grade that looks nauseatingly similar to today’s fashions keep any of you from buying clothes?

The reality is, that despite what the naysayers think, to some people neuroleadership is the next best thing since sliced bread. Chris Blake the regional general manager, people and organizational development at NAB is so excited about this he says “In my view this is the most important innovation in leadership in the last decade.” He is not alone, Siobhan McHale who heads the cultural transformation team at ANZ is also a fan of neuroleadership and so is Daniel Byrnes, a consultant and lecturer in leadership and change management at Australian School of Business. At the moment business leaders are so into this, that there are whole conferences dedicated to the topic, including a major Australian conference being planned for next year.

Of course there are some that are not as enthusiastic. One reasons is that initiatives that are designed to change leader’s behaviour get ignored when the commercial pressures of running the business begin to bear down. Another reason for a luke warm response is that many have seen this all before, hence the criticism of repackaging old ideas. Catherine Fox of AFR described this skepticism beautifully in her article It’s all in the Mind. “No matter how many times you observe the phenomenon there’s something intriguing about the metamorphosis of a new management trend. From relative obscurity or an unrelated field of expertise an idea is plucked, packaged and pitched to a business audience, buoyed by some media hype.”

Again, do you really care? A trend is a trend and who in their right mind would not take advantage of riding on the fast train, even if it won’t be in service next year? Certainaly not David Rock, he is the guy that thought up neuroleadership. Rock is not a scientist, nor does he have an MBA, Rock is an organizational coach and for those of you who think this is another goofey American thing, you can wipe the smug look off your faces, because Rock is an Aussie. Rock coined the phrase neuroleadership as the nexus between the science of the brain and business management. He believes that by understanding how the brain functions, people can be better leaders.

Dr Evian Gordon who established the Brain Dynamic Centre at Westmead Hospital and now the leader of Brain Resource Company believes the interaction of neuroscience and business has come at the right time because companies are worried about maintaining market position in an economic downturn. He says “There is a very real serious look at how to better effect behavioural change in the workplace and the reason is because of the massive economic cost of stress and massive economic cost of absenteeism and the massive upside of productivity, resilience and motivation”. Reading between the lines, leaders are scared and they will try any kind of snake oil they can find to not follow Lehman, Merrill or AIG on a clockwise spin down the toilet, which would be counter clockwise in the Southern hemisphere.

Neuroscientests have been researching this with the goal of discovering what happens in your brain when you come up with a great idea or insight. They have found that the brain’s power is limited when it comes to complex cognitive tasks What this means, is we are not wired to constantly come up with great ideas. In fact, our capacity to do difficult thinking for most people, is only a few minutes a day. So think about it, you work for 8 to 10 hours a day at Geyer, and of that eight hours you put in, only a scant few minutes will deliver what we consider to be the life blood of the company – innovative insight!

Having great ideas, those Aha moments, or brilliant insight is tricky business. We know this because Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognative neuroscientist at Northwestern University has spent the past fifteen years studying what happens inside your brain when you have an insight. To isolate the brain activity that defined the insight process he developed a set of verbal puzzles which he named Compound Remote Associate Problems or CRAP for short (really I am not making this up) Jung – Beeman had people solve the puzzles and used MRI and EEG technology to construct a precise map of the process of insight or innovation. What they found, is that people who solved puzzles with insight, activated a specific subset of areas of the brain.

The first areas of activity during problem solving are in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulated cortex. scientists refer to this as the ‘preparatory phase’ where the sensory areas of the brain, the visual cortex, go silent to suppress distraction. This allows you to you to focus by blocking out other things the same way you might close your eyes when you try to think.

The brain then goes into the “search phase” where it begins looking for answers in relevant places. Your brain can get frustrated at this phase and it is up to what Jung – Breeman calls the executive-control area to keep on searching, devise new strategies or search somewhere else. It is during this phase, where you might have an Aha moment. Your Aha will come with a burst of brain activity. If you were on an EEG it would register a spike of gamma rhythm, the highest electrical frequency generated by the brain. Gamma rhythm is thought to come from the ‘binding of neurons’ as cells distributed across the cortex draw together.

How do they draw together you ask? The scientist realized that a small fold of tissue on the surface of the right hemisphere of your brain, the anterior superior temporal gyrus, was unusually active before an insight, this was demonstrated by an intense surge of electricity, leading to a rush of blood. They think that neurons use the fold of tissue as a bridge to close the gap between parts of your brain, allowing the right hemisphere of your brain to collect information from other parts.

So in order for you to have a great thought, your brain needs to work together and let the neurons flow. You are going to be so surprised to learn, that in order to do this, the cortex needs to relax or it will be unable to go looking for information from the other parts of the brain that you need for insight. This is why so many insights happen in the shower, your relaxed. So right about now you are probably thinking, I need a neuroscientist to tell me this? I’ve known that since I was five. Just wait it gets better!

From all of this science, we now know that it is important to concentrate, but we also need to let the mind wander or relax. If your mind is in a clenched state, you suppress the very type of brain activity that leads to insight. Making people focus on details, as opposed to big picture, can significantly disrupt the insight process. Now for the final, utterly profound, advise from Jung – Beeman “If you’re in an environment that forces you to produce and produce, and you feel very stressed, then you’re not going to have any insights” Geeze give me a break, I am no PHD and I could have told you that.

Back to the beginning. Guys like David Rock, the organizational coach, are linking elements of brain function to business leadership and they have come up with the following insight for why some management practices work and others don’t. These insights are as follows:
1. Since complex problem solving and creativity is done in the prefrontal cortex, which we now know can only work for a few minutes, you must give it a break. Rock suggests one way is to write things down rather than trying to remember them. He suggest we allocate time for deep thinking that is free from distractions and finally, give your brain a break by doing mundane tasks.
2. Protect the amygdale of your people, that is the part of the brain that makes people act impulsively and incites the fight or flight response. In other words, good managers must avoid upsetting people.
3. Switch off the conscious thought processes that lock us into one path and allow unconscious processing to take over. So let your mind ramble. Concentration, it seems comes with the hidden cost of diminishing creativity.
4. Free up the prefrontal cortex by engaging your basal ganglia, that is the part of your brain were routines and habits are stored. Let the basal ganglia take care of things that are repeated routines, so you don’t have to think about them.
5. Observe your own thoughts, meditate to get more control over what you do and say.

Here is a little side note on meditation. You might be interested to know that the Dalai Lama was invited to address the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference. Not everyone thought it was appropriate for ‘His Holiness’ to do this, some saw it as a political ploy to lend scientific legitimacy to Buddhism and press the Chinese government to give Tibet a break. Others questioned the breach in the barrier between science and religion.
The reason they invited him was that when scientists asked monks to meditate on ‘unconditional loving- kindness and compassion they noticed powerful gamma activity in their brains. The gamma waves were 30 times stronger than students asked to do the same. These results implied to some scientist, that there was the ability to change brain function through training, which gets us back to David Rock.

I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would dispute the value of making lists or being nice to people to get the most out of them. Most of us can agree that we don’t work well when pressured and who would argue that staring out the window to gather ones thoughts is a negative? Whether you consider this as science being hyped as explanation or an exciting new approach to leadership, one thing is certain. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about neuroscience. My prediction is that if we don’t see David Rock on Oprah in the next six months it will because someone has come up with another fad and trumped him.
Maybe it will be me.

Sources

Fox, Catherine “It’s all in the Mind”. Australian Financial Review, 09 November 2008

Geirland, John. “Buddha on the Brain” Wired, issue 14.02

Greengard, Samuel. “Head Start” Wired, issue 5.02 – Feb 1997

Katayama, Lisa. “I Was a Neuroscience Guinea Pig: How Scientists Scrambled My Brain” Wired November 26, 2007

Lehrer, Jonah. “The Eureka Hunt – Why do good ideas come to us when they do?” The New Yorker, July 28, 2008

Nixon, Sherrill. “How to Mend a Blocked Brain – New Ideas Transform the Way we Operate in the Workplace” The Sydney Morning Herald, July 12 – 13 2008

Rock, David. “A Brain – Based Approach to Coaching – based on an interview with Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. International Journal of Coaching in Organisations, 2006