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Posts tagged with ‘autonomy’

Mark Birch Says 'Treat Them Like Children' →

Mark Birch supports Marissa Mayer’s ‘no remote work’ policy in an amazingly condescending way.


What I have found in observing human nature is that we are all inherently selfish.  In many respects that is healthy because we certainly should look after our own needs lest we get taken advantage of in regards to compensation, opportunities, safety, or workload.  There is a point though where it can be taken too far and many will push those boundaries to the limit. 


Maybe we should rethink the line about treating employees like adults and instead treat them like children.  That is not meant to be in the demeaning way which evokes some command and control relationship and constant browbeating.  Rather, I view this from the perspective of nurturing, guidance, and support.  That is what most people want in a company they work for and what they yearn for in their working relationships.  It fosters an environment of belonging where people feel there is worth and value in their work where they are not simply some cog in the system or number in the HR database.

Treating them like adults sounds all well and good until you realize that that is a very cold place to be.  It is all free agents all working for themselves.  It might be efficient, but it is hardly nurturing or accepting or collaborative.  It is the kind of place where you are expected to just know it and do it.  There is little room for experimentation or tolerance for failure.  Relationships are superficial and fun is only allowed during sanctioned company events.  I have worked in this type of environment.  It is very professional and clinical. While my more calculating and analytical leanings can appreciate its rigor and independence, it is not a pleasant place to work.

Childhood is a wonderful thing and sounds a whole lot better than this adulthood thing.  I had fond memories of growing up and I never had to shoulder the cares and frustrations of the world.  It was a time of play and creativity and exploration and freedom and fun.  Maybe we would be better off being more child like in the workplace instead of pretending to play grown up as poorly as we do.

I guess the implication of saying ‘we’ should treat ‘them’ like children is that Mark Birch assumes that his readers are adults, like him, and those others — the lower status workers who should be treated as children — aren’t reading his post.

Birch suggests that people want to be part of a work context in which other, more grown-up people deal with the hard decisions, and they can simply do their jobs and not have to worry. This is Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, who tells a returned Christ he is no longer needed, because the Church now exists, and that people don’t want — or can’t handle — the freedom that he offered.

I don’t agree with Mark. People don’t need to be kept in an artificially juvenile state, and looked over by (supposedly) benevolent adult managers. While people’s view of the world is self-centered, that is a necessary basis for human existence and not equivalent to selfishness. Humanness is defined by our connections to others, and human altruism is the source of most of the good in the world.

Mark basically is saying that people can’t be trusted, that they will take advantage of any opportunity to ‘cheat’, and so we should structure the workplace and work policies so that temptation is taken away, for their own good. My attitude can be summed up as  ’First trust, then trustworthiness’, or as Henry Stimson said, 

The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.

Again, as I wrote earlier this week (see The polarization around remote work comes as no surprise), the most revealing aspect of the Mayer ‘no remote work’ edict is the bright light it is casting on how deeply polarized we are regarding the autonomy involved in distributed work.

32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow - Interactive Feature - →

The Kindness Hack - Catherine Rampell via NY Times

Researchers at Wharton, Yale and Harvard have figured out how to make employees feel less pressed for time: force them to help others. According to a recent study, giving workers menial tasks or, surprisingly, longer breaks actually leads them to believe that they have less time, while having them write to a sick child, for instance, makes them feel more in control and “willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.” The idea is that completing an altruistic task increases your sense of productivity, which in turn boosts your confidence about finishing everything else you need to do.

The purpose of the modern organization is to make it easy and natural and expected for people to take risks. To lean out of the boat. To be human.

Alas, most organizations do the opposite. They institutionalize organized cowardice. They give their people cover, a place to hide, a chance to say, “that’s not my job.”

Our organizations are filled with people not only eager to dehumanize those that they serve, but apparently, instructed to do so. In the name of shareholder value or team play or not rocking the boat…

During times of change, the only organizations that thrive are those that are eager to interact and change as well. And that only happens when individuals take brave steps forward.

Giving your team cover for their cowardice is foolish. Give them a platform for bravery instead.

Seth Godin,  Organized bravery

There are no autonomous individ­uals without an autonomous society, and the autonomy of society requires deliberate and perpetually deliberated self-constitution, something that may be only a shared accomplishment of its mem­bers.

Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity

(Source: underpaidgenius)

Distribute control to adapt


One of the most difficult challenges companies face today is how to be more flexible and adaptive in a dynamic, volatile business environment. How do you build a company that can identify and capitalize on opportunities, navigate around risks and other challenges, and respond quickly to changes in the environment? How do you embed that kind of agility into the DNA of your company?

The answer is to distribute control in such a way that decisions can be made as quickly and as close to customers as possible. There is no way for people to respond and adapt quickly if they have to get permission before they can do anything.

If you want an adaptive company, you will need to unleash the creative forces in your organization, so people have the freedom to deliver value to customers and respond to their needs more dynamically. One way to do this is by enabling small, autonomous units that can act and react quickly and easily, without fear of disrupting other business activities – pods.

A pod is a small, autonomous unit that is enabled and empowered to deliver the things that customers value.

- Dave Gray

Pods – also known as self-directed work teams – have been around for more than 20 years. Pods are 30% to 50% more effective than their traditional counterparts. A survey of senior line managers offers some of the benefits derived from implementing self-directed teams:

  • Improved quality, productivity and service.
  • Greater flexibility.
  • Reduced operating costs.
  • Faster response to technological change.
  • Fewer, simpler job classifications.
  • Better response to workers’ values.
  • Increased employee commitment to the organization.
  • Ability to attract and retain the best people.

Podular design is a concept that focuses on modularizing work: making units more independent, adaptive, linkable, and swappable. But the environment that surrounds the pods is equally critical to the success or failure of a podular system. Modular components are a critical element of a connected company. But to take advantage of pods you also need a business that is designed to support them

- Dave Gray


Involve front-line people in decisions

Knowledge worker 2.0

How to get employees to act as if they own the business

The future of work is to freelance within an organisation - choose your task, assemble to work, then dissolve

I am speaking on a SxSW panel with Dave Gray and other innovators this spring, on the topic of The Connected Company.

The principal barrier to work media adoption is not old fashioned bosses who like old ways, it is our collective fear of autonomy.

Stowe Boyd

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