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We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. | Marshall McLuhan

Beacon NY - 2018-08-04 - It's been a week where I've been rereading material from years ago: research a decade old, writing of mine from five years ago or older, and David Ronfeldt's Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks from 1995 (see the quote of the day at the bottom).

I think limiting ourselves only to the breaking news and this week's posts on Medium cramps our thinking, makes us parochial, and out of balance. By reaching back to older writing we can enlarge our perspectives just like we can by interacting with a more diverse group of people. And just as with contemporaneous diversity, it can be hard work to wrap our mind around Ronfeldt's thinking about social evolution from 1995, or even my pitch for 'connectives' from 2015.

But I think it's worth the effort.

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On Evidence-Based Management

from More Science, Please

In a stark expose of the anti-scientism in today's management, Eryn Brown investigates the sad state of affairs in 'evidence-based management', where findings from scientific research could be applied to critical management initiatives and decisions, but generally are not:

Getting companies to pay attention to science and engage in so-called “evidence-based management” is a challenge that has been driving industrial-organizational psychologists nuts for the better part of 20 years. Whether it’s hiring staff or determining salaries or investing in technology, managers making high-stakes decisions have a vast scholarly literature at their disposal: studies conducted over more than a century, in labs and in the field, vetted through peer review, that show whether pay incentives drive internal motivation (often not); whether diversity training works (only under the right conditions); whether companies should get rid of performance ratings (yes, Colquitt would say); how to train effective teams; and more.

Executives love hard numbers, and they desperately want to know how to keep their best employees, how to make more widgets, how to be more creative. So you’d think they’d lap up the research. “It’s hard to find students in graduate school who don't hear the idea of evidence-based management and say, ‘Yes! Of course!’” says Neil Walshe, an organizational psychologist who teaches the approach at the University of San Francisco School of Management.

Except most companies don’t. Occasionally, a firm will make a splash — the poster child these days is Google, which gets kudos for its data-centric, research-based “People Operations” (a.k.a. human resources) department. But most executives would rather just copy another company’s proven ideas than do the hard work of assessing evidence relevant to their own circumstances. Managers falter, victims of inertia (“but we’ve always done things this way!”) confusion (“industrial-organizational what?”), even downright hostility to expertise.

The first advocate for evidence-based management was Denice Rousseau of Carnegie Mello University, who proposed the idea in 2005. She had thought companies were paying attention to industrial psychology research findings, and had discovered they weren't.

Slowly it began to dawn on her that that wasn’t the case. It was an epiphany that “blew my mind,” she says today.

Even after a decade of pushing, advocates admit that evidence-based management hasn't made much of a dent:

“We’d love to see a commitment from a leader that says, ‘I expect our decisions about people and work and the organization to have evidence behind them,’” says John Boudreau, research director at the Center for Effective Organizations, housed in USC’s Marshall School of Business. “I don’t know that I have seen examples of that. Especially at the high level, the CEO level.”

“I’m a little baffled that it’s not more widespread,” says Jennifer Kurkoski, director of Google’s People Innovation Lab (PiLab), the internal research and development team behind the company’s People Operations department. “Companies spend billions on R&D, almost none of which is devoted to making people work better. It’s not something we understand yet. And we should.”

Brown enumerates the reasons why managers have been slow to get on the bandwagon (but they are all excuses):

  1. It's a lot of work.

  2. People fear change and risk.

  3. Managers put more faith in intuition than they put in science.

  4. Parsing the scientific literature can be hard.

So, they are basically lazy and stupid, and unwilling to change.

Meanwhile, evidence mounts that dumb management fads are harming companies' productivity and employees wellbeing and engagement:

Studies that find open offices don’t, in fact, encourage conversation and collaboration. Studies that find employees resent the corporate fad of hot-desking— jumping from desk to desk instead of having a dedicated workspace, based on a notion that this will spark synergies and blue-sky thinking.

In one recent paper calling on industrial-organizational psychologists to put “an end to bad talent management,” [Alan] Colquitt [the author of Next Generation Performance Management: The Triumph of Science Over Myth and Superstition] … called out companies who fall for consultants promising to help them understand “the brain science of millennials” and other trendy topics, with little or no evidence for any of it.


On Connectives

from More Science, Please

Yesterday, I included a mention of a piece by Kate Dalby, Tour de Workforce -- here comes the collective economy, and I omitted the link. So I am remedying that goof.

I had an email interchange with her, as well, and because of my suggestion that she use the term 'connective economy' rather than 'collective economy', I also shared a link to something I wrote back in 2013, Community is Plural:

As companies transition away from slow-and-tight organizations, based on collective long-term strategy and identity, the unitary community within a business shakes out into a multiplicity of overlapping communities. Some will still feel and act like the older, slow-and-tight organization, but many will become fast-and-loose, adopting the cooperative logic of ‘connectives’, shaped by the self-organizing dynamics of social networks rather than the imposed order of business process and ordained strategy.

These various communities within a single business pose a new challenge for leadership. In the past, creating a corporate culture meant indoctrinating people into a single collective, with explicit shared goals: especially a long-term and exclusive commitment to the company’s vision of the future and the company’s place in it. Today, in a time of radical change and ‘innovation vertigo’, wise leaders do not promulgate a single, official future, and in fact will encourage a variety of diverse ideas of what the future may bring. If only for that reason, we are confronted with the need to reject a single monolithic culture in any reasonably large business, and even in small ones that want to grow to become large.

The emergent properties of social networks — like knowledge creation, innovation, and sense making — may be the greatest leverage a company has, so allowing more communities within a single company will lead to higher levels of innovation and adaptation. Rather than a monolithic organization trained to operate as a single unit based on a single fixed set of rules, we are now confronted with an economic context where it’s more rational to have a spectrum of communities operating independently, inventing and rewriting their own rulebooks along the way.

And the self-awareness that this is going on in the business is the psychographic that these communities will share, so that this apparent disorder is understood as a source of strength, resiliency, and competitive advantage.

Five years have passed, and this insight is increasingly relevant.

On Robot Hands and Robot Minds

from Theory of Mind, Theory of Hand

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