July 9, 2009

I Can Do Better

Posted in Business, Life tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 10:26 pm by lindaslongview

My blog post of yesterday, Pace and Priority, did not meet my own standards.  It changed direction, ended abruptly, and did not provide a clear sense of navigating short view vs. long view.  Today I hope to improve…

In Pace and Priority, I describe a disconnect between “say” and “do” in the context of  “action items” for a guidance document in a community organization.  There is no doubt that all of the participating volunteers mean well in agreeing to perform certain tasks (action items), yet we have struggled to achieve traction.

I started yesterday’s post on the topic of lack of priority for the work, but the more I explored the idea, the more I realized that my thinking was too narrow.  First, I realized that there was no way for anyone to establish priority without knowing the full range of obligations and expectations each participant was juggling – only each participant can do that for him/herself.  As such, I changed direction and ended abruptly with the suggestion that people must be responsible for their own consistency with respect to “say” vs. “do.” Yet there was more to it, I just could not put my finger on it immediately…

Leadership plays an important role in defining priorities and motivating others. This is true in both market and social norms (for more detail, see Finishing School).  Specifically, in the context of market norms (PAID to do work), there is obligation to make progress against the priorities of the organization. Conversely, in the context of social norms (volunteers gain RECIPROCITY), there is no obligation.

Leadership expectations in a mixed market and social group, thus, have complex dynamics.  Add shared leadership and complexity increases.  Thus, setting priority and motivating participants in these environments requires long view thinking.

TruthTableANDI compare the shared leadership situation to the mathematical logical (Boolean) AND function, which operates on two logical propositions (true or false) and produces a value of true if and only if both of its operands are true.  If one leader demonstrates priority (true condition) and the other does not (false condition), then participants can conclude the efforts are not a priority (true AND false = false) and will not likely establish priority for their own.

The only condition when participants conclude that efforts are a priority is when both leaders demonstrate priority. In the case of paid and volunteer participants sharing leadership, the engagement of the paid leader is likely to create a higher level of influence on the participants than the volunteer.  I assert this based upon the observation that if it is a priority to the person that it impacts most (the paid leader), it is important.  Thus, my long view advice is to ensure that paid leadership be actively engaged, demonstrating by example that the effort is important.

Although yesterday’s advice was useful (create consistency between personal “say” and “do”), it was not sufficient.  Complex leadership situations require thoughtful understanding.  For the specific case of shared leadership within a mixed market and social group, leadership alignment and active participation by the paid leader is critical to achieving a consistent message of priority for participants. Once achieved, then personal consistency becomes important.

Whew!  I hope that made sense and was helpful.

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April 20, 2009

Finishing School

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:37 am by lindaslongview

balancebookseyesonlyMy mother always said that I needed to attend “finishing school,” but early on I did not see the value. As such, I started my career with poor interaction skills.  Luckily, my undeveloped social skills were tolerated because of significant technical contribution.   However, as my career progressed, I found that the technical problems were increasingly complex and without adaptation on my social skills side, it was clear that I would perish. So even though I did not balance books on my head, my latent abilities were nurtured and I learned to collaborate, lead, and be more socially refined.

I don’t have any really great stories, just an accumulated “what were they thinking?” collection in my head that has helped me to learn the following key principles:

  • Understand motivation and human behavior.
  • Get to know your colleagues.
  • Work to the strengths of each individual.

I learned from academic (reading the work of others), experiential collaborative technical projects (doing and learning from mistakes), and more recently through service and leadership in community organizations.

I have observed that there are fundamental differences in the motivation between industry (paid for service technical effort) and civic service (volunteer community effort).  The motivation for collaborative effort in typical technology organizational culture is recognition, reputation, and PAY.  Whereas in community volunteer organizational cultures, motivation is recognition, reputation, and RECIPROCITY.   Although they both share similar features (recognition and reputation), there is quite a difference between pay and reciprocity.

Others (real experts, not just amateurs like me) have studied pay and reciprocity differences.  A particularly engaging study can be found in Predictably Irrational (Ariely, ch.4, social norms v. market norms).  Ariely points out that, although social norms are more powerful motivators than market norms, the social contract required to achieve success with social norms is very tenuous! Expediency must be abandoned and long view commitments forged, because social contracts must be maintained under all circumstances to be effective.

As usual, there are blurred lines that create tension.  Industry desires to capitalize on social leverage requiring social skills of business leaders (understand motivation, get to know people, work to strengths), but is not always willing to take the long view. Conversely, sometimes, civic leaders desire expediency, in the process forgetting the social contracts they have engaged to achieve volunteer participation.

Although, more and more, we hear about self-organizing mass collaborations building value (Wikinomics, by Tapscott & Williams), motivated in unusual ways, it is not likely that it will be the case for most technology projects in the near term.  I recently read about 100,000 gamers unraveling the secret life of proteins (Wired, 17.05, There’s Power in a Puzzle), their motivation being competitive fun!  Wouldn’t it be great if we could achieve that everywhere?!

As I continue to grow, I hope to learn more, and I look forward to a future where powerful motivators, like competitive fun, can be harnessed and retained for industrial and civic service more and more routinely.  However, in the meantime, there is still much that requires coordinated collaborative leadership and excellence in social skills.

Do you have suggestions or observations that could add to this thinking?