National ‘Gump a Meeting’ Day

A couple of days ago I Gumped my first conversation. It was a wonderfully liberating feeling and for the benefit of humanity and productivity I’m declaring today National Gump a Meeting Day. It will improve the nation’s meetings – if only for one day.

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Here are the reasons for National Gump a Meeting Day

1. Too many meetings feature people reiterating previous points in the hope this makes them look smart or will somehow be treated as new
information
2. Too many meetings go on too long because of the above
3. Life is too short for that kind of shenanigans

Here is what you need to do

1. When someone asks you to expand on a point you have already made simply state ‘That’s all I have to say about that’
2. When someone starts repeating a point say ‘I think we’ve covered that point in enough depth already… And that’s all I have to say about that’
3. If someone starts speaking – and you know them well enough to realise it is like someone just selected the extended version of ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ at the office karaoke and the pain of their voice won’t stop for seemingly hours – simply gently interrupt them a couple of times to ask if they think anyone else would have something to say about that.
4. If you are feeling bold then feel free to state ‘Sorry, I think I really need to Gump this’. You are then allowed to explain what Gumping is. If someone asks you to explain again see point 1.

This is Gumping. If you want the world to be a better place then go Gump a meeting today.

And if you aren’t sure what will happen then simply remember that life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.

But it will be chocolate and if you check the side of the box it normally has a key identifying what chocolate you will actually get. So it isn’t that mystifying really.

And I’m aware that sometimes the world would benefit from people Gumping me. This is an open invitation for people to do so.

Collaboration and Watch Cogs

One of our Values at the CIPD is collaboration. As with any value it can mean different things to different people. Years ago, at a prior employer, I remember our CEO and COO describing one of our Values in two different ways that were inherently mutually exclusive (they did this within a five minute window).

To some people ‘collaboration’ might just mean having everyone involved – but to me the best outcome based test of collaboration is that you couldn’t have achieved what you did without the people that were involved. Otherwise it’s just people in a room. I saw a lovely point on Twitter last night that most organisations would require you to get a spend of £200 expenses signed off – but calling a meeting of 20 people for an hour is perfectly acceptable…

Career success has long been too focused on personal delivery and not been focused enough on bringing the best out of others. Of course these two aren’t binary – bringing the best out of other people should be a hallmark of personal achievement. Yet I still see leaders of people hired for technical expertise, rather than what they add to others.

The easiest way to be a good leader is to hire a good team and let them get on with things, yet when was the last time you asked a potential senior hire about how they do that? How do you identify that the person sitting in front of you with an exceptional track record didn’t just inherit an exceptional team from someone else? How will they build here?

Measuring the success of people who collaborate well is difficult. It seems modern business continues to value an employee who makes their own business unit work 5 per cent better than one who makes 20 other business units work 1 per cent better. Too much of the good work is hidden simply because visibility dissipates. It’s tricky to measure so we don’t.

Let’s take the example of meetings.

Most companies have an unofficial group of people that they would like in all meetings. They increase your percentage chance of making the correct decision or of creating a good option. You could probably name them in your organisation. If you get a few of them in the same room then you know you have a better chance of project success. Unfortunately this is the least visible work they do each day. Their intelligent nudge that then leads to other people’s performance is rarely credited to them in any meaningful way.

When it comes to that person’s performance review any dip in performance means they will be told they are ‘spreading themselves too thinly’ and that they aren’t focused enough on their core role. I can understand the point of the manager, but surely average performance in one part of the role is outweighed by increasing total organisational performance elsewhere?

It’s as if our focus on role outweighs our ability to acknowledge net business gain. I’ve done it myself with my team (mea culpa…) and it’s a hugely silo driven approach.

Instead of acknowledging the difference they’ve made to the business I focus on my own backyard. The least productive of choices. The choice that actually feels least like genuine leadership.

The trick is to understand that the watch won’t run without every cog. Even the smallest one is enabling the rest of mechanism to function. A good collaboration is the same. The job of a leader is to assemble the cogs and then understand that each one holds a key to smooth performance. And each should be valued as such. Size is irrelevant, it’s about the final result.

Recognition of what would have been impossible without a group is the first step to effective future collaboration.

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And do I think of people as cogs in a machine? Only for the purposes of this piece. I think of people working well together as capable of creating a smoothness of action, precision and fluidity to rival the most expensive watch. Each playing a unique role in that.

I don’t think of us all as waiting to be assembled…but I do think of assembling groups of people as an art.

The Jurassic Park Problem – Part 2, HR, Data and Tech

Hello again. It’s time for more on raptors and HR.

I got to see Jurassic World on Sunday (finally) and it prompted me to write a follow up on my original blog on the Jurassic Park problem and HR’s approach to data and technology. To summarise – I’m not afraid of the technology, I’m afraid of what people do without thinking. They are different things, but hopelessly intertwined.

When I first posted a couple of people made contact to point out there was another key incident in the story that highlights our inability to use data and information prudently. It is to do with how we evaluate our expectations and is reasonably well linked to the concept of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to interpret information in a way that is beneficial to our current way of thinking. We look at data and we pull out the elements that support our world view.

The information in your favour is seen as useful, any information that is seen as ambiguous is interpreted in your favour and finally the information that doesn’t support your case is given less weight..

In the book of Jurassic Park the dinosaurs have started to reproduce and nobody has noticed. The reason is that nobody expected them to reproduce – and consequently the only check in place is through sensors to check that the population doesn’t fall.  Because the system is set up to search for and confirm a number rather than calculate the number there is no flag raised to suggest anything is wrong. The system is designed around confirming an optimal expected outcome.

In real life? You set a target for ’employee attrition’ and you are delighted that you are beating it whenever you get a report – and then you realise that the reason is nobody is prepared to effectively manage performance anymore.

Or you want to increase diversity and you are delighted when you recruitment reporting suggests you are increasing the attraction of applicants from minority groups in percentage terms – only to realise that it is only the fact that you have fallen behind market rate on salary and your traditional attraction methods have just stopped attracting from your normal hiring pool

We live in world where we are steadily reducing things to numbers, to strings of data, to attempt to solve puzzles by being told whether the answer is right or not by a machine. We lock into assumptions about people and organisations and then find supporting evidence. We read the latest report from a large consultancy and find the fact that it confirms what we thought reassuring – without pausing to consider that it also confirms their services as being of value. We look for individuals who are a cultural fit – without pausing to think what just adding more of the same robs us of.  We don’t look for the counterpoint, for the evidence that suggests we are wasting our time or misdirected, as we don’t have time or inclination.

Generalisations – but a hint of truth in there for most people. That’s the second facet of the Jurassic Park problem – we don’t stop to think about whether we should do activity – and if we do stop we are simply looking for confirmation that we were right in the first place.

We believe what the system tells us.

“We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. No one thinks about the givens. Isn’t it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.” Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Digital and Leadership – #digiskills15 #CIPD

A few weeks ago I was at The Oval cricket ground for the IBM Smartworking Summit, part of a roundtable about the increasing digitisation and socialisation of work. The way we access and process information is increasingly taking similar formats inside and outside of the office. The adoption of this is not evenly distributed, but the capability is there. The days of technology being clunky are numbered, we will simply start not accepting poor user experiences. Google, as you might expect, cuts through any jargon and simply states that you should be able to ‘work the way you live’. I couldn’t agree more. It is at the heart of the challenge for technology – to be user centric, not task centric and to be as much about accessibility as it is function. And that’s why most of my life runs through Google – they keep things simple and allow for high levels of integration and flexibility.

It is increasingly important for business leaders of all disciplines and areas of focus to appreciate the changing external landscape. This isn’t change driven by the odd hipster in Shoreditch, this is a change in the way that the world works. A change in the information we can access, a change in how we can process it and a change in what we can use it for. That change will increasingly become apparent in all walks of life, in all areas – it will just take time. And less time than most people think. The first iPad was released in April 2010. Facebook is only 11. Twitter is only 9. Uber is 6 and has only operated internationally since 2012.

This evening I’m attending a CIPD event on digital skills at the Google Offices in London (sold out…sorry). For any readers with exceptionally long memories going to Google completes the list of workplaces I wanted to visit when I had much shorter hair. It is also a chance to listen to business leaders talk about the challenges and opportunities that these changes bring. With any change comes choice.

The most obvious choices are

  • Go fully ostrich and hope it will go away
  • Stand to one side, observe what happens to early movers and cede that advantage – but avoid the risks that come with making early commitment
  • Become an early adopter and see where that takes you

With digital skills the chance to become an early adopter has passed or is passing. If you are not digitally aware you risk not just missing out on the opportunities that come with adopting early, you risk being that ostrich – unaware of what is going on around it and therefore unable to adjust to the external environment.

We’ve never before had the opportunity to carry so much of the world’s knowledge in our pocket. We’ve never before had the ability to connect with so much of the world instantly and at such little cost. We’ve never before been able to access so much content to enable us to learn and live better. Businesses have never been in a stronger postion to understand the needs and responses of their customers. We’ve never before had to consider how we live our lives when we are connected to the world 24/7. We’ve never before had to live in a world where so much of what used to be private is potentially public.

To live in that age and not make the most of those opportunities or to understand those risks – well that doesn’t feel or sound like leadership. Digital or not.

This isn’t a ‘if you don’t tweet then you don’t count’ blog. This is a ‘if you ignore any external factor that is significantly changing people’s behaviour you aren’t doing your job as a leader’ blog.

Wikipedia put the Encyclopedia Britannica out of business in 10 years, that organisation had been running for 243 years. Change is coming – it is up to leaders to decide how to react – or if they will react.

PS – our events team asked me to write about this the day after the event… but unfortunately I’m with an employer that day talking about the increasing requirement for HR to understand an increasingly digital age. True story.