Four in Six

Most people in business today certainly know about CEO peer groups. They are generally based on Napoleon Hill’s concept of a Mastermind group. Most are comprised of 12-16 business leaders in widely diverse lines of service, manufacturing, retail, and distribution. They usually meet monthly, and sometimes include executive coaching of the members.Meeting

I have personally been a part of this process for the past 19 years. I joined Vistage as a member just after I returned to the States after having lived an adventurous life as an expatriate in Europe and Asia. I had just begun working on a turnaround, and was way over my head in oceans of challenges…and even a few opportunities.

Originally, the thought of taking a whole day every month out of the office to “work on the business, not in it” struck me as absurd. Even the idea of meeting with an experienced executive coach for a couple of hours seemed impossible. I was cranking on all cylinders all day and most of the night seven days a week, still living in a hotel, and was inundated by waves of doubt, worry, confusion, despair, and hope, in seemingly equal measure.

I did finally join Vistage, after coming to the realization that I needed some people with vastly different experiences and points of view to engage with me in a dialogue around my options. I desperately needed people with no vested interest in the outcome to help me see what I was incapable of seeing from the briny waters swirling all around me. I needed a calm presence in my chaotic world, in the person of my Vistage Chair, to help me take a deep breath before plunging back into the waves.

My time in that particular body of water had an excellent outcome. I had been asked to lead a turnaround of the worst performing unit in 60 countries. Within only two years, we went from being the worst to the best.  We streamlined operations and developed people and implemented a whole raft of new initiatives. All of the measures we took had their origins in the advice of my Vistage group.

And when I completed the turnaround after three years, Vistage honored me by asking if I would become a Chair myself. That was 16 years ago, and ever since, I have facilitated a group of some of the smartest, most aware and innovative people in the DC metro area, and coached each of them to support them in their quest for excellence.

This past year, one of the members of the group suggested that we break into cohorts at each meeting to focus on specific topics of interest determined by the members. We had a wide-ranging conversation about cohort topics, and two were chosen.

One group decided they needed to work on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). KPIs are one of the perennial topics of discussions that everyone knows they need, and very few companies have. The observation was made that in today’s world, it is not difficult to gather information about performance. What is difficult, however, is understanding the relevance of the massive data. That is what the cohort focused on. What emerged was a comprehensive dashboard using the data and linking it to individual employee performance. One of my tech-savvy members designed software that gives him the data, and in real time, provides information to employees on where they stand compared to the goals they have set.

The second group decided to focus on launching new lines of business. The Vistage members in this group had frequently talked about opportunities that they knew were out there that they simply had not had time to leverage. For six months they discussed and planned and researched and received feedback. At the end of the six months, four new businesses emerged. Yes, four businesses in six months, all of which are up and running today.

Neither the KPIs nor the new businesses would exist if it had not been for the Vistage group. Without a community of very smart, engaged people holding each other accountable, there isn’t much that moves forward.

One of the adages that guides the group is:

You are the average of the 10 adults with whom you spend the most time.

This is a group that constantly raises the averages of the members and their Chair. It is a privilege and an honor to be a part of this community.Average

Indeed, it is so much an honor that I am soon launching a second group. If you are interested in learning more about my new group, please do not hesitate to contact me. My information is below. Time is short. We will be launching soon. I look forward to hearing from you.

Let’s raise each other’s average by a few points.

David Belden, Master Chair

David.Belden@VistageChair.com

In an Age of Transparency

Sometime around 1980, Denmark instituted a new citizen numbering system similar to a Social Security Number in the US. During that time, I was a philosophy student at the University of Copenhagen. In one class, another student was complaining that, if you understood the construction of the numbering system, anyone could figure out the age of a person simply by looking at the number.   

Transparency

Our professor, never one to miss the opportunity to apply philosophical concepts to mundane issues, challenged us to a dialogue around the nature of truth. He asked what would happen if all information about us were available to all people? If everyone could know your age, what incentive would you have to attempt to deceive a person about it? This led to a robust exploration of how much more efficient and open life would become if deception were not sucking the energy out of most of our relationships.

Remember, this was around 1980. Since then, virtually all personal information has been collected somewhere. The question remains; whose information is it? The government apparently keeps a copy of everything. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et al, collect all of our private data and sell it to the highest bidder. We know that. It is a trade-off for ‘free’ use of their services. Occasionally, they even seem to use that massive database to do social good, i.e. Google-X and their health initiatives.

Even more influential are corporate and political data. Thanks allegedly to the North Koreans we have been provided valuable insight into the workings of Sony. No, I am not referring to the Social Security Numbers or medical records of their employees. Those are of interest only to identity thieves and voyeurs.  What does have value, however, is to learn of the true culture, as illustrated by the behavior of the senior executives of this major global economic power. The racism, sexism, and pettiness revealed by executive correspondence helps us evaluate Sony as a company and as a culture.

Why should we care about the culture of Sony? According to Sony’s own website, as of March, 2014, they had a global workforce of 140,900 people. Total revenues for 2014 exceed $75B. They are active in virtually every country in the world. In other words, how they conduct business, and how they treat their stakeholders, matters to the entire world. Information illuminating the culture and the factors impacting decision-making are not relevant just to shareholders. It matters to all of us because so many livelihoods are directly affected by what those decisions are, and how they are made.

That is true for all major corporations. Their behavior and their power determine how profits are invested and what interests are protected. The past few years have given all of us reason to reconsider concepts of justice and fairness in corporate dealings. In particular, the Holder Doctrine has dictated that specific entities have open permission to flaunt the law. They are not only too big to fail. They are also too big to jail.

Can it be justified, for example, that US banks have paid $115B – yes, billion – in fines since the financial crisis, yet not a single CEO or senior executive has been criminally indicted? Is it reasonable that the same year that Jamie Dimon’s JPMorgan Chase paid out $9B in fines, he not only avoided prison, but was also granted a 76% salary increase! Well played, Jamie!

What keeps Dimon or Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein out of prison is their collusion with the Justice Department. For some excellent documentation of this collusion, read The Divide by Matt Taibbi and Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. Add to that the incompetence of the SEC and the transition of the American legal profession (emphasis on justice) to a legal industry (emphasis on profitability), and the story line turns even more dire. Add to the mix the intentional cover-up by both Toyota and General Motors of design flaws that directly cost lives, the refusal of Walmart to pay a living wage, Exxon and BP oil spills, fracking pollution, etc. ad nauseum, and the situation worsens.

The problem we are dealing with is corporate governance, and the real issue is transparency. All of the above examples, and many, many more, too numerous to elaborate here, have a common denominator. It is that all their dealings – with each other and with all the politicians and bureaucrats who are supposed to be monitoring these activities – are held in secret. We don’t know what information or what deals have influenced the ultimate outcome of these events.

What if we did know? As Stewart Brant so famously stated, Information wants to be free. What if a serious group of dedicated, socially-minded hackers liberated all the emails and agreements between the banks and their dark pools, between corporations and their political protectors, between billionaires and PACs, between attorneys and regulators trading justice for fines?

No, we don’t need their medical records or their silly texts to paramours. This is not about drama and entertainment. This is about cleansing our economic system so that it functions with efficiency and equity to all stakeholders.

Transparent Piggy Bank

Even though Sony is not a particularly egregious corporate entity, it may ultimately be a positive act that North Korea, or whoever was responsible, blew the cover on them. I actually look forward to someone’s next installment. Yes, it will be disruptive. Perhaps some major corporations will fail, especially without the clandestine support of their political lackeys. Many regulators will be found not to have regulated the relevant people or companies. Certainly many politicians will be exposed and their collusion revealed.

That is the cost of doing business in an age of transparency.

 

Why Passion Sucks

In blog after blog, the common advice given to young people is to follow your passion. Everyone, it seems, is supposed to discover what they are passionate about, and turn that into a way to earn a living. The underlying myth seems to be that because you feel something intensely, it is inherently good, and that that “goodness” will be deservedly rewarded.
Do What You Love

The message, destructive in its application, is that all feelings are good, and that we should allow them to guide our lives. Rational thought and self-discipline become our enemy. Spontaneity and abandon become the only measures of validity. Why bother to study anything to its logical consequence? That’s hard, and takes a lot of time that could otherwise be devoted to Facebook and internet shopping.

At a recent Profiles in Success award ceremony, I heard Cam Marsten speak on generational differences. He told the story of his daughter winning a ribbon for 11th place in a swim meet. His message was that we have raised a whole generation who expect to be rewarded for their feelings about something rather than their accomplishments. In this scenario, the worst possible outcome is that someone’s feelings might not coincide with the reality – that what they care about is not the least bit important to the rest of the world. 

Author Dan Pink had very different advice about following passion. His take was that we should concentrate on what we consistently enjoy doing. Save passion for passionate times, he says, and devote the bulk of your life to contributing consistent and steady value to your family, your organization, and your world. This makes a lot more sense to me.

I grew up in times in many ways similar to these. The mid-to-late ‘60s were years where we rejected all prevailing norms. Many of us embraced the idea that the only validation anything needed was that it felt good at the moment. Carpe diem became both a catch phrase and a cop out, validating any escape. Today, carpe diem is replaced with YOLOYou Only Live Once – to justify any distraction that dances past our over-stimulated amygdala. The pied piper is alive and well in every mobile device, distracting us from following a single thought all the way to its logical conclusion.

When did we cease to believe that success was the result of hard work and lengthy, consistent effort? When did our expectations of luxury replace our need for basic security? And when did we decide, as a nation, that we somehow deserve to be rewarded just because it feels good?

What are the lessons passed down from my generation of excess to the current generation where lack of excess is considered deprivation? When did all sports become extreme and normal life become dull? When did all rental apartments become “luxurious”? And when did normal lose any meaning?

Good Job

So here is an appeal to reject passion. Let’s slow down on the hype. Let’s instead embrace reality. Let’s find depth. Let’s seek joy rather than fun. Let’s support the re-emergence of consistency. Let’s bring our expectations somewhere back to the realm of achievable, where it’s OK not to recognize 11th place with a ribbon.

The Executive Promise

I do only what only I can do.

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This is the executive promise I made to myself while running a 500+ person company. I kept the promise even when running a 5 person startup. It is the most important promise for any leader wishing to increase his or her efficiency.

It took me a long time to get to this promise. There were some baby steps along the way to learning to create effective organizations. Part of that learning was that not everyone enjoys the same work. As is typical for me, I learned this lesson by accident.

When I was starting out as a young manager, I led a department of four people. In the days before the convenience of the internet, we had to identify, source, purchase, and ship thousands of different items from all over the world. For me, the challenge and the reward of the job was spending hours playing detective, investigating the origin and source of a product, and figuring out how to get it from wherever it was to the remote humanitarian assistance program that needed it.

What I did not enjoy was writing purchase orders, invoices, shipping documents, and all the other paperwork necessary for the completion of the transaction. That was, however, a large part of our work. Being democratically disposed, I shared both the work I loved and the work I detested equally amongst the four of us.

At one of our regular weekly meetings, I happened to mention that I had a lot of “those damned order confirmations to write”. One of my staff jumped all over me, amazed that I didn’t like that part of the job. She loved it! She offered right then to trade her part of the work I loved for the work I hated. Deal!

That exchange generated a lively discussion with the whole team about which work each person liked best. The result was the creation of a simple spreadsheet matrix with our names across the top and all the tasks we had to accomplish down the vertical. Then, people simply checked the boxes under their name for the work they preferred.

The whole process took about 45 minutes, and 80% of all the tasks we had to do were apportioned to people who wanted to do them. The remaining 20% we shared amongst us, with no one needing to do too much undesirable work.

I have used this same approach for every start-up, turnaround, and restructuring I have done since. The basic process has never failed. I think there are two reasons for this. First of all, people are choosing work for which they have a personal preference. This is work that, to them, is gratifying. It is work that tells the individual that they bring value to the organization.

The second reason is that everyone is heard. We are actually seriously sharing with everyone that this is the work that needs to get done by this department. Then we are asking what part would you like to play in that? Each time I have facilitated this exercise, somewhere around that 80% number of all the tasks we have listed are voluntarily distributed.

Prior to stumbling upon this simple process, I had done what most managers feel is their duty (and right). I had sat behind my desk, drawing up very logical work flows for what seemed to me was the best way to do things. Though I still believe that my work flow was practical and logical, it did not even begin to take into account the human element of the people working with me. Most of the time, I don’t think I even asked for anyone else’s opinion. I was, after all, the manager, and it was my responsibility to get the work done.

Puzzle - team

Oh what a relief it was, when that became a shared burden and a common goal! How much resistance was overcome, and how quickly did people accept responsibility once we agreed on the scope of the work and a sequence that was arrived at through dialogue rather than edict.

It allowed me to fulfill my executive promise to do only what only I can do. As a manager, a leader, and an executive, it is my obligation to focus where I can have the greatest impact. That means that I have to keep myself from doing the jobs that I have hired others to perform.

Today, of course, we have some excellent psychometric tools to help us determine a person’s natural preferences. We have wonderful collaboration tools to keep each other informed about the progress of a project. We can quickly organize a hangout or a conference call. But I don’t think anything can ever take the place of an old-fashioned conversation about what unique contribution each of us brings to the team. Respecting that unique contribution is the highest form of motivation.

Holding Truth Lightly

The German philosopher Hegel had a wonderfully simple explanation for the evolution of thought. He said that a person will posit a thesis (this is my truth…), and that someone will disagree with that thesis (idea), and posit an antithesis (that can’t be true because…). In the ensuing dialogue, the dynamic between the thesis and antithesis will inevitably produce a synthesis, incorporating the best of both positions.Synthesis

Hegel claimed that the synthesis (synthetics are always stronger than their component ingredients), will become the new thesis, to which an antithesis will develop, creating a new synthesis, etc. ad infinitum. This seems like a really clear explanation of the development of human progress. Through this ongoing dialogue, we eventually arrive at THE TRUTH.

The immediate question that comes to mind, though, is: If we are so good at dialogue, why haven’t we made more progress on the “creating synthesis” part?

What Hegel failed to point out is that for his concept to work there is one very important factor that must be present: LISTENING! For each of us to benefit from dialogue, we must first truly hear the position of the other contributor.

A decade ago, I attended a series of workshops facilitated by Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek around their 2002 book The Communication Catalyst. A large part of each workshop was devoted to exercises around the Ladder of Listening. My huge takeaway from all of the work we did was to characterize three types of listening:

1) Listening to Convince – Listening to a conversation partner just long enough to know why they are wrong. This is what the old joke that says “the opposite of listening is waiting” is all about.

I learned this at the feet of a master. My father was a courtroom litigator. I don’t believe that, in his entire 95 years, he ever listened to anyone longer that it took him to find the flaw in their argument. He would then pounce, with an insightful element of undeniable logic, and destroy his opponent. And believe me, everyone on the other side of a discussion with my father was an opponent.

I learned well from my father. I had many discussions, and I won many arguments. I didn’t, however, win many friends. It finally occurred to me that I might be missing something in my approach, so I took a class in Active Listening.

2) Listening to Understand – In this class, I learned to mimic the body language of my conversation partner. I learned to repeat back or paraphrase what they had said. “If I understood you correctly, what you said was…”

This was certainly a step up from listening to convince. I now fully understood what my partner was saying. I validated my understanding. I sought agreement from my partner that I had grasped his or her point. Now, I was much better prepared to tell them why they were wrong!

This approach, too, left out something that was crucial to a fruitful dialogue. The Communication Catalyst offered a solution.

3) Listening to Learn – Entering every conversation with the conscious intent of being more knowledgeable after the conversation than before.

As simple as it is to define listening to learn, it turns out to be much more difficult than one would think. It requires, for one thing, that one suspend judgment. It requires that I realize that I have MY TRUTH, which is not necessarily (or even frequently) THE TRUTH. The Communication Catalyst suggests that we hold our truths lightly. They will often change as more information comes to light.Speach Bubbles Lightly

What would it be like if we all listened to learn? What would we gain? How much more easily would our dialogue with others progress if we all suspended the need to be right? How much more wisdom would be created if we opened our ears more often that we opened our mouths?

How far can you see?

 

An article in INC magazine recently reminded me that companies are still committed to annual performance reviews. One of the points of the article was that you should be able to adjust a person’s income at any time during the year when their performance merited it, not wait until the review.

Team

I would have thought by now that everyone was aware that annual performance reviews are one of the most demotivating time-wasters in any organization. It doesn’t matter if you are having your employee perform the assessment. It doesn’t matter if it is a 360 assessment. It doesn’t matter if…

The major reason this doesn’t matter has been demonstrated by the scientific research of Dr. Elliott Jaques. Jaques was a Johns Hopkins and Harvard trained psychology professor at George Washington University. He first became known for coining the controversial (at the time) phrase mid-life crisis. It was a radical theory when first delineated in a research paper in 1965, and now is an accepted stage in life as we mature.

Similarly controversial was Jaques’s research into organizational structure and work-place motivation. He spent nearly 50 years studying what he called the “time-span of discretion”. That was his term for how far into the future a person could see the consequences of their actions. His research was conducted globally. He did a massive study with the US Army, and a similar one with the Australia military, with exactly the same results.

For the business world, the central thesis of Jacques’s work is the concept of a time horizon. The time horizon is the length of time a person can work without direction using their independent discretion to accomplish a task or project.

In short, what Jaques discovered was that the human ability to see a certain distance into the future is hardwired, and the distance varies in length from person to person. People with a longer time horizon need to be at the top of an organization. People with shorter time horizons need to be placed somewhere in the organization where they can be most effective. Part of the delineation is who is best able to strategize, and who is best suited to execute. Paul Saffo, of Stanford University, made this observation:

Time-span of discretion is about achieving intents that have explicit time frames. And in Jaques’s model, one can rank discretionary capacity in a tiered system. Level 1 encompasses jobs such as sales associates or line workers handling routine tasks with a time horizon of up to three months. Levels 2 to 4 encompass various managerial positions with time horizons between one to five years. Level 5 crosses over to five to 10 years and is the domain of small company CEOs and large company executive vice presidents. Beyond Level 5, one enters the realm of statesmen and legendary business leaders comfortable with innate time horizons of 20 years (Level 6), 50 years (Level 7) or beyond. Level 8 is the realm of 100 year thinkers like Henry Ford, while Level 9 is the domain of the Einsteins, Gandhis, and Galileos, individuals capable of setting grand tasks into motion that continue centuries into the future.

Here are the results of Jaques’s research:

Level 1 able to see from between 1 hour and 3 months:                       45% of the world’s population

Level 2 able to see from 3 months to 1 year:                                        45%

Level 3 able to see from 1 – 2 years:                                                        5%

Level 4 able to see from 2 – 5 years:                                                        2%

Level 5 able to see from 5 – 10 years:                                                       2%

Level 6 able to see from 10 – 20 years:                                                   0.9%

Level 7 able to see 20 – 50 years:                                                           0.1%  

Level 1 has a direct correlation to intelligence. Levels 2 and above do not. We can easily have a doctor, mathematician, scientist, or programmer with a very deep, yet very narrow knowledge base. Part of the time horizon concept is the ability of individuals to see the relationship amongst disparate pieces of data.

Jaques wrote 18 books using this data to theorize about the structure that would create the most efficient organization that was satisfying to both employees and executives. His most popular (and least inaccessible) book is Requisite Organization. It is a lengthy description of both his method and a manual for creating the optimal organization.

The most valuable lesson for me in all of Jaques’s work is the realization that when we assign tasks or projects, we need to be aware of the individual time horizon of the person concerned. If a person’s time horizon is 6 months (Level 2), and the project completion requirement is 18 months, we are going to have a real problem. Someone in the line of control of the project must have a time horizon that exceeds 18 months.

It is important to not misunderstand or misuse this insight. Not being able to project more than six months out does not in any way preclude excellent work outcomes. It simply means that someone in the production chain must disaggregate tasks to fit the available workforce. For the Level 2 worker, we break the work into chunks each of which takes no longer than six months.

Let’s take the same example of an annual review of the employee with a time horizon of 6 months. This employee will not be interested in what happened more than six months ago. They will not be able to plan or project more than six months out. Why are you having this review? Isn’t it equally futile to expect annual profit-sharing to have a motivational effect?

elliott-jaques

In some circumstances, daily instruction is needed. In other circumstances, the feedback loop may need to be one week. It all depends on the work and the people at hand. What we know for certain is that by relying on an annual review for motivation, you have automatically excluded 90% of your workforce!

Finding the Whole Person

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How much fun is it to coach others? As Woody Allen said about sex, it’s the most fun I've ever had without laughing. And actually, I do spend a lot of time laughing. Sometimes the circumstances are just so incredible, unfair, or confusing that the only possible response is a deep belly laugh.

It’s pretty common in networking situations for people to ask what coaching is. I don’t have an academic definition. I don’t see much point in parsing differences between coaching, counseling, consulting, therapy, etc. ad infinitum. There is only a made-up marketing differentiation that people selling services may want to exploit.

My personal view is that anyone who retains me to help them is going to get the whole package: 48 years of business experience, 30 years of which was spent living abroad, 5 successful start-ups, 3 successful turnarounds, deep involvement with family business, transformational organizational restructuring of dozens of companies and departments.

How could I possibly separate my interests and studies in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, writing, reading, public speaking, facilitation, couples therapy, technology, economics, social science, and trending? Why would I want to? Why would you, as a potential client, want me to? Wouldn't you prefer someone with a holistic view of business as an integral component of the larger society around us rather than a specialist with a deep knowledge of a very narrow field?

As many of you know, I am a big fan of Dan Pink. His seminal work, A Whole New Mind, emphasizes the need for conceptual rather than information workers. The former is a person with the ability to take seemingly disparate pieces of information and put them together to create a picture of the whole. Many of those pieces will be from seemingly unrelated fields – perhaps music and literature connected to technology, supply chain analysis, economics, and the history of labor – to produce a comprehensive understanding of the future.

I often play a role in hiring senior executives for my client’s companies. While my clients focus on the resume or curriculum vitae, I focus on the whole person. What are her interests? What does she do when she is not working? How did she decide on her career path? What are her levels of complexity in thinking through a challenge? Who does she most admire, and what does that say about her values? How has she handled adversity? What is her level of resilience?

Hand in hand with Pink’s delineation of the conceptual worker, goes the current trend for progressive companies to hire fewer and fewer employees at higher and higher levels of ability. We are no longer throwing massive numbers of information workers at a problem. We are focusing on a smaller number of spatial thinkers, and providing them autonomy to go outside normal boundaries to find unique and creative solutions. 

And this is happening everywhere. I work with a large number of service companies around the Washington, DC region. I work with a primarily blue-collar company in Pennsylvania. I recently facilitated a seminar for a group of manufacturing companies in Iowa. The situation is the same for all of them. We are all in intense competition for the best and the brightest who can deliver outcomes, not resumes.

The latest evidence of this massive sea change is the military. Chuck Hagel recently proposed a reduction in overall force level from 520,000 to 440,000 – a reduction of 80,000 troops, or just over 15%! At the same time, he proposed an increase in Special Operations Forces of 4,000 to 69,700 – an increase of 6%.

The Special Operation Forces, of course, are the archetypal conceptual workers defined by Dan Pink. They are people who are given a problem to solve and the autonomy to make it happen…and they don’t get to say no. They don’t get to say that the job is too hard. They accept responsibility for devising and implementing a solution. And they bring all of their skills to the task at hand.

Green Beret Solitary

It seems to me that this is exactly what we are looking for in today’s workplace. There are not a lot of conceptual workers available. They are, for the most part, already employed. They are also demanding of us, expecting us to be as interested as they are in a wide range of interconnected topics and trends.

Our greatest challenge in this fluid economy is identifying, recruiting, hiring, and retaining conceptual workers. We need them at all levels. We have to create organizations that will appeal to their need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. How can we possibly do that if we are not conceptual workers ourselves? 

Which takes us back to the issue of choosing a coach: Why would any of us want to limit ourselves by applying someone else’s definition of who we are and what we do? Why would we hire a “coach” when we can hire a whole person?

Silence is Agreement

We are making this too difficult! Everyone talks about how we are not communicating. Hundreds of workshops are held to help people converse. Everyone and her grandmother is in on the act.Silence is Agreement

Over the past 15 years, ExecuVision International has worked with nearly 200 companies. One component of every engagement has been around the topic of communication. In all that time, I have never met a single company or team that told me they had mastered the art. Every single person has acknowledged that the communication channel was not working.

Of course, I have also heard a lot of reasons for the lack of communication. Those reasons usually have to do with the other person’s inability to pay attention, or with the senior executive level’s inability to communicate openly. Somehow, it is always the other person who has some missing quality that, if it were present, would magically alter the state of the relationship.

The most important communication in any organization, though, is not the individual, one-on-one conversation. It is, rather, the conversation we have as a group. It is how we handle group conversations that truly define the culture of any organization.

Why is it that we cannot say publicly what everyone already knows? Why is it so hard to make transparent the truths that every single employee has divined for themselves? And how stupid do we have to make ourselves in the eyes of everyone around us before we face up to a few simple truths? Aren't we supposed to be the leaders here?

Years ago, when I was still running a large company, I learned some Rules of Engagement for meetings that I have used ever since. Simple rules, understood by all, posted on the walls of our conference room.

1)      No spectators allowed (posted outside the conference room)

If you have been invited to the meeting, it is because we believe that you have something to contribute. Our meetings are inspirational, not informational. We do not hold meetings to simply transfer information. We interpret the information provided prior to the meeting. You are here to participate. If you cannot do that, please don’t take up space in this room.

2)      Silence is Agreement

If you don’t agree with what is being said, you have an obligation to either ask for clarification or share your point of view. You don’t get to passively ride the time out, and then later tell everyone, “I knew it wouldn’t work.” If you know it won’t work, you’d better tell us now.

3)      Any issue that affects the group is a group issue

This is the most important rule of group dynamics. If the behavior of a team member is negatively affecting the group’s performance, we need to talk about that as a team, because we are all affected. Most negative behavior is unintentional. That doesn’t make it less negative, but it does mean that the perpetrator may not be aware of the consequences of that behavior. We have to make that apparent, and we have to make it public.

4)      What’s said in the room stays in the room

The Las Vegas rule is critical. If we are to have an open dialogue, then safety is essential. We can only establish that safety when we know that every idea and possibility can be explored without fear of reprisal or ridicule. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to create that safety, in part, by enforcing this rule.

5)      A voice is not a veto

Yes, everyone has a need to be heard. Being heard is not the same thing as always having your point of view accepted. Democracy revolves around an open dialogue, followed by a decision. The majority rules only after the minority has been heard. The minority accepts that we now have a decision and, as part of this team, I am obligated to support it. If I cannot support it, then I no longer belong on this team.

Following these five simple rules won’t guarantee the success of every organizational conversation. It will, however, significantly improve your odds for getting said what needs to be said. Wouldn’t that be an improvement?

All it requires is that you do not remain silent!

Two Solutions

Last week, I wrote about the acceleration of robotization in three major industries that employ massive numbers of people without formal educational requirements. I have previously written about the lack of circulation of the money supply, as well as the innate need for human beings to contribute to society. It seems to me that there is a convergence of these three threads leading to a dialogue about the economic and social future of modern societies.Data Mining

Social anthropologists maintain that we each have a very deep psychological drive to contribute to our community (tribe). In ancient tribes, when a member could no longer contribute to the community, they were left behind for the good of the tribe. Psychologists claim that our desire to contribute is an attempt to delay this event for as long as possible. We have come, in the business world, to equate our worth with how much we contribute to our company.

We managed, during the beginnings of the industrial revolution, to convince most people that the true measure of their contribution was how much value they added to the company’s profit margin. That belief has been highly effective in motivating people to focus their contribution on economic activity to the great benefit of that company’s shareholders. It has been wonderful for the economy; not so great when whole tribes get left behind.

The twin challenges then, are to find an equitable means to move money into the marketplace, and find a way for people to contribute. Here are two non-invasive ways to accomplish both objectives. The first is what I have once described as The Social Computer.

The Social Computer, roughly defined, is a combination of computational tasks and human pattern recognition capabilities on a global scale. Computers are used for the repetitive and data collection tasks for which they are so well-equipped.  Humans, it turns out, are better at creativity and pattern recognition.

The guiding concept behind the Social Computer is disaggregation. In practice, disaggregation simply means taking a large, complex unit of work – a project, for example – and breaking down each component of the project into smaller, discrete tasks. Those tasks are then further reduced to microtasks. The microtasks can be completed by virtually anyone with a modicum of computer skill and connection to the internet.

The hierarchy of work is diamond-shaped rather than a pyramid because once the microtasks are completed, they are returned to the center which had originally disaggregated them for reaggregation. This model requires, then, highly competent, conceptual thinkers at the top of the diamond and again at the bottom of the diamond.

The work done in between can be done by people of varying skill and ability. It can also be done virtually anywhere, at any time. Examples of Social Computer websites are Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, oDesk, eLance, Freelancer.com, Staff.com, and many more. They are found in both very general categories and for very specialized niches of industries. Income earned by workers ranges from a few pennies per click to over $135/hour, depending upon the skill and experience required.

The advantage to companies is that, rather than hiring employees, the work is performed remotely. It is a variable rather than a fixed cost. It does not represent a long-term, capital-intensive investment. The advantage to the person performing the work is that they are no longer dependent upon the vagaries of the particular company in which they would, under other circumstances, be employed. The work can also be done anywhere, at any time, as long as deadlines and quality specifications are met. This is truly a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).

The second form of recirculation of currency is a very different model. What do Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, etc. all have in common? Mostly, it is the massive collection of private data which is then manipulated and sold to advertisers. In other words, the raw material of this entire genre of companies is our data.

Data about us is collected every time we use our computers, the internet, mobile devices, electronic payment services, credit cards, etc. We provide the essential raw material to the aggregators and they refine and sell that information. Without the data collected, the aggregators would not exist, and certainly would not have accrued the vast fortunes upon which they now sit.

Is it unreasonable to expect payment for the raw data collected? My local supermarket repays the information it collects through a “membership club” by granting rebates on my purchases. They, in turn, use that data to predict buying patterns and determine which goods are more likely to sell. Everyone benefits.

Why is that not true of the major aggregators? It would be a simple matter for Google to return a micropayment to my cyber-account every time they collect a piece of information about me. When every other aggregator does the same, some of the billions of dollars the aggregators accrue would be returned to the economy. My friends in technology assure me that this is not a difficult task. After all, Google knows exactly where it collected the information about me!Cloud Money

In a world where fewer and fewer people are necessary to produce the goods and services which we have chosen not to live without, we are forced to find a new structure within our economy to keep the currency circulating. Mandatory redistribution through taxation and government programs has not proven to be an efficient method. In times of chaotic economic change, waiting for the market to magically readjust ignores the immediate desperation of great numbers of people.

By making work available to anyone from anywhere (Solution One), and by paying for the raw material of profit generation (Solution Two), we at least have a viable model to move money out of corporate coffers and into the hands of consumers who can then generate more business.

Neither model is new. They both exist in limited form today. They provide an immediate solution to an increasingly serious problem. How can we accelerate their acceptance?

 

3 Industries — 1 Trend

A few months ago, I lunched with a local robotics manufacturer. Quite naturally, we were talking about how his line of robots had streamlined manufacturing. As we pontificated on the economic effects of this trend, I asked where people, especially at the low end of the skill scale, are going to work in the future. I further made the flippant comment that, “not everyone can work at McDonald's”.

My friend’s reply was that the fast food industry was the next target of robotics. After all, a robot can be programmed to prepare a highly sophisticated meal. The programming is very complex and difficult, but once it is done, the program can be replicated without additional cost to thousands or even millions of other robots. He claimed that within the next two years, all meals in fast food restaurants will be prepared in this way. Then I stumbled upon this article:3D Hambuger

   ROBOT SERVES UP 360 HAMBURGERS             PER HOUR

     No longer will they say, “He’s going to end up flipping burgers.” Because now, robots     are taking even these ignobly esteemed jobs. Alpha machine from Momentum               Machines cooks up a tasty burger with all the fixins. And it does it with such quality and efficiency it’ll produce “gourmet quality burgers at fast food prices.”

 A couple of months after this initial conversation, I read the following in Fast Company:

     Chili's, the casual-dining chain, will begin to offer customers access to tabletop                      computer screens at more than 800 locations in the U.S., starting Tuesday rolling out            through early 2014. The Wall Street Journal reports customers will be able to use the            tablets to order food and drinks, pay the bill, and play games.

Apparently, it is not only in food preparation that technology is taking over. The entire dining experience is being transformed as you read this post. In the very near future, fast food will eliminate the need for employees in both the front-end and back-end of your next visit.           

The second huge job eliminator was reported by The Economist:

     The 3D Printer That Can Build a House in 24 Hours

     The University of Southern California is testing a giant 3D printer that could be used to        build a whole house in under 24 hours.

     Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis has designed the giant robot that replaces construction Conture Crafting Home     workers with a nozzle on a gantry, this            squirts out concrete and can quickly build      a home according to a computer pattern.        It is “basically scaling up 3D printing to            the scale of building,” says Khoshnevis.        The technology, known as Contour                  Crafting, could revolutionise the industry.

      Will Builders be Out of Work?

     What the implications are for builders is, of course, a major concern. Building and                  construction has largely escaped the construction line automation of other industries          and remains solid employment for millions worldwide. According to the International              Labour Organisation construction employs nearly 110 million people worldwide and              “plays a major role in combating the high levels of unemployment and in absorbing                surplus labour from the rural areas.”

Another of the final bastions of entry level or lower end employment providing decent income has been order fulfillment in warehouses. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on  Kiva robots being used by 10 of the top 100 fulfillment centers. The notable exception was Amazon, who, WSJ noted, “has figured out how to do this with humans”.

Less than 2 years later, Amazon acquired Kiva for $775 million, and is expanding their warehouses using robots by 17 for a total of 69 this year. Jeff Bezos promises that this is only the beginning.

In the Mastermind group I facilitate, we are universally in awe of the incredible advances made through technology. Many in the group are early adopters, and have created innovative organizational structures to accommodate it. We are also, however, sobered by the realization that every aspect of our economy is strongly impacted by it.

Some would maintain that the employment situation I describe is primarily a political issue. Those of you who are more politically astute may have seen evidence that there are a few politicians acknowledging the incredible fluidity of our work culture. I personally have not. In any event, I would be extremely reluctant to relinquish the discovery of a solution to this impending crisis to a political system better structured to govern a century ago.

How are we, as a nation, going to accommodate a growing number of people unequipped for the new, more sophisticated requirements of the jobs created by technology? How are we, as creative entrepreneurs, going to design a new economic and social order that will recognize that vast numbers of people are being left behind? I encourage you to join in the dialogue with your thoughts and ideas. They are critically needed!

 

Next week: Let Them Pay – A simple solution to the money circulation conundrum.