A lot of the formal descriptions of Positive Organisational Scholarship (POS) use dry academic language. Put simply, it’s the study of what makes members of an organisation perform at their best levels, by focusing on what they do well.
These two strikingly simple and obvious questions have been answered rather well, by two British management thinkers, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Rob Goffee is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School and is a long term academic. Gareth Jones, on the other hand, has alternated between academic and corporate roles, teaching at LBS too, and also the University of East Anglia, Henley, INSEAD, and currently, IE Business School, in Madrid. But he has also held senior HR roles at Polygram and the BBC.
Their first collaboration was a relatively unremarked book, called The Character of a Corporation. But it introduced ideas that they were to return to in their second, breakthrough book, and then again in their recent fourth book.
Their second book was called Why Should Anyone be Led by You? It introduced a mass business audience to the concept of Authentic Leadership. This was emphatically not their creation, tracking back to classical Greek thinking, and the Delphic injunction to first know yourself.
But their articulation struck a chord. It came at the right time and was delivered compellingly. Goffee and Jones argued that companies are led in far too much of a technocratic way, by people acting as managers and bureaucrats. They lack sufficient human connection with their people, and self awareness about their shortcomings.
Real leaders, they argued, are confident in who they are and what they stand for. They are not afraid to put that on show and constantly act with integrity in the way that they live the values they espouse. They are able to communicate well, and remain true to themselves, whilst still coping with and adapting to rapidly changing events. Consequently, they can inspire people to extraordinary levels of commitment.
Leading Clever People
The next book Goffee and Jones wrote addressed the challenges of leading an organisation or team made of smart, creative people. This is a typical challenge for many of today’s start-up businesses. It is also important for established businesses that want to bring together innovation teams, and for professional service businesses that want to create a great culture. The book is called Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People.
A summary of the do’s and don’ts might look like this:
Explain and persuade
Give people space and resources
Tell them what
Give people time
Provide boundaries (simple rules)
Protect them from the rain
Give real world challenges with constraints
Create a galaxy
Conduct and connect
Tell people what to do
Allow them to burn out
Tell them how
Give frequent feedback
Expose them to politics
Use bullsh*t or deceive
Build an ivory tower
Recruit a star
Take the credit as a leader
Creating an Authentic Organisation
Goffee and Jones’ latest book is Why Should Anyone Work Here? It applies many of their earlier ideas to making a great organisation. At its heart is a simple mnemonic that spells out the six ingredients they argue are needed for a ‘dynamic and future-fit’ workplace: DREAMS.
Diversity increases creativity, which decreases with uniformity. Don’t do diversity because legislation compels you to. Do it because it has a positive impact on the bottom line: more creativity, better decisions, happier workforce.
(I know – a bit of a fix)
The more open and transparent you are, the happier people will feel. And if being open is likely to expose unfairness that will anger people, radical honesty will compel you to fix the problem, rather than hide it beneath dissembling..
“You need to tell someone the truth before someone else does,” said Jones. “Think of BP’s failure to control information after the [Deepwater Horizon] oil spill. Reputational capital is much more important and much more fragile than we ever thought.”
(This acronym-building is tough!)
This is not just about improving the business; it’s about adding value to the people within your business… as a means of improving your business.
There it is… Their earlier work popularised the concept, so its front and centre here too.
But, reflecting on how the ideas have settled in over the years, Goffee and Jones note that in the US, authenticity is too often read as ‘be yourself… find your true north.’ But their view is that an effective leader needs to be ‘yourself more skilfully.’
This is about ensuring everyone in the business understands the real purpose behind the tasks they do.
(one last shoe-horn!)
Businesses need systems. But this too easily leads to over-bureaucratisation. Rules need to work for the business and enable staff to do what’s right, not just prevent every single possibility of doing wrong.
Many of us in the UK (home of the Pocketblog) and the US may harbour the false belief that online global commercial domination is a purely US-centred phenomenon. After all, Amazon, Google, Facebook and eBay’s only online competitors in revenue terms are the more insular Chinese businesses JD and Tencent. But kicking at their heels, and with equally large ambitions, is a name that I suspect will become more familiar in the coming years: Rakuten. It was founded by Japanese entrepreneur, Hiroshi Mikitani.
Very Short Biography
Hiroshi Mikitani was born in 1965, in Kobe, Japan. His father is an economist (Professor at Yale and Emeritus Professor at Kobe University) and his mother was in business. After graduating from Hitotsubashi University in 1988, Mikitani gained a place with the prestigious Industrial Bank of Japan and there he may have been expected to stay, had he not bucked the trend of Japanese culture. But a posting in the US led him to apply for a Harvard MBA, which he earned in 1993. There he was exposed to more of the entrepreneurial culture he had experienced when his father had moved to Yale and, in 1997, at the start of the internet as commercial platform, he left the bank.
He started the business now trading simply as Rakuten and, whilst it has been acquisitive and so has he personally (acquiring a range two sports teams and more latterly, gaining senior cultural appointments), Rakuten is the platform for his business interests and philosophy of business.
Rakuten is a Japanese-based e-commerce business working in a different model from most of its large US competitors. Currently, with a 2014 revenue of US$5.6 Bn, it is the tenth largest online business in the world by revenue, and fifth largest e-commerce trader. Rakuten’s model is unlike others in that it trades by selling trading space to small and medium businesses – a bazaar model. Unlike Amazon’s market place, however, Rakuten’s traders can customise their stores entirely, allowing them to personalise their shoppers’ experiences. Rakuten’s strapline is ‘Shopping is entertainment!’ Mikitani likes exclamation marks!
I think Rakuten will continue to grow, so Mikitani’s philosophy is worth studying. Let’s look at a few strands.
Mikitani is driving all Rakuten operations globally to work entirely in English – even at home in Japan. Now, a global English speaking culture is not surprising in many of the large global corporates, headquartered in the US, but Rakuten is Japanese owned and managed. So this is a big deal that has attracted criticism and scorn from some of Mikitani’s peers among Japanese business leaders. His response is to say ‘English is not an advantage anymore – it is a requirement.’ He believes the friction in doing business between different Rakuten offices around the world is so reduced that it makes the policy the right one – even at the cost of not promoting non-English speaking corporate staff.
Readers may have barely heard of Rakuten, but you may well know some of the names it has acquired in its rapid global expansion. Mikitani seems bent on globalising his business and dominating online retailing. And one of Rakuten’s five principles for success is ‘Speed!! Speed!! Speed!!’ The double exclamation marks are theirs, not mine.
Mikitani has a real sense of mission about his desire to allow businesses to trade in the way they choose, rather than creating a corporate template for everyone to conform to. His Business-to-Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C) model pre-dates Amazon’s use of its marketplace and FBA trading, and sticks resolutely to his original vision of boutique trading.
The Web as the Bazaar
Perhaps the strongest indication of Mikitani’s commitment to global web commerce is the announcement, in March 2015, that Rakuten will soon accept Bitcoin across all of its global marketplaces. This involves a massive investment in Bitnet, a startup payment system that Rakuten will start by integrating into its U.S. marketplace to allow customers to pay in Bitcoins.
When I was a physics postgrad, all of the best electronic equipment in our lab was made by one company; the oscilloscope, signal generator, analog-digital converter and the plotter. They were made by Hewlett Packard.. My professor had a deep admiration for the quality of their engineering. Every since, I have had an almost blind faith in the quality of HP printers. Hewlett Packard was founded by two college friends, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. It was Packard who ran the company for many years, and his management style is the epitome of Theory Y.
David Packard was born in 1912 and grew up in Colorado. He attended Stanford University, graduating in electrical engineering in 1934. There, he met two people who were to dominate his life: his wife to be, Lucile, and Bill Hewlett.
After a spell at General Electric and further study at MIT, Packard and Hewlett formed a partnership in 1938, starting the Hewlett Packard business with just $538 of capital, in a garage in Palo Alto, in what is now known as Silicon Valley. HP, as it is known, quickly became a successful business, becoming one of the world’s most admired companies. This is, in large part, due to the exemplary management style of its founders and of Dave Packard in particular.
In 1969, Packard temporarily left the company to take up a political post (Deputy Secretary of Defense) in the Nixon administration. There, he became involved in resource management, setting up the Defense Systems Management College and in amending the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act to extend presidential powers to involve military personnel in certain civilian matters.
He returned to the company in 1972 and remained Chairman, and then Chairman Emeritus, until his death in 1996. He left around 4$ billion to the charitable foundation that he and his wife founded, and which is now administered by his son and three daughters.
Packard’s Contributions to Management
Not only was Dave Packard a model of humanistic management, but he is closely associated with his own particular style of management…
Management by Wandering About (MBWA)
Management by Wandering (or Walking) About is exactly what it sounds like. He and Hewlett would wander about the business, engaging staff in conversation, listening to them, showing respect, and empowering them to do their best work. They valued both the informality and the egalitarianism (in a time when the senior management of most US corporations ate apart, in a management dining room). This seemed to come naturally to them both and is not, perhaps, too surprising, as they were both, like many of their staff, skilled and enthusiastic electronics engineers. You can get a good sense of the level of respect that Packard had for his people from 11 rules that Dave Packard presented at HP’s second annual management conference, in 1958 – a year after he wrote the first version of The HP Way. We cold all do a lot worse than to try and live by these rules, which you can see on the HP website.
Another important principle that HP lived by was the need for organisational agility. They maintained this by breaking the company up into smaller divisions whenever any of them grew too large (1,500 people or so). By keeping a business made of small units, each one could stay focused and its leaders could fully understand what was going on and, crucially for a cautious business leader like Packard, stay aware of the risks it was incurring.
Innovation and Compassion
In 1972, despite early scepticism, HP introduced its first pocket calculator, which led to another round of significant growth and its subsequent investment in the computing business. I still use my HP12C financial calculator, which is so admired that there are numerous apps cloning its looks and functions on my iPhone.
But Packard’s innovative sense could also be applied compassionately. In 1970, the US economy fell into recession and many of HP’s competitors made massive lay-offs. HP did not. Instead, it agreed with all workers and management to cut wages by 10% in return for them working only 9 days out of ten. This meant that no-one lost their job and, to the company’s advantage, it also meant that there were no costs of redundancy and , when the economy recovered, they could get back to full productivity without the costs, delays and pain of re-hiring.
The final lesson to learn from Packard is his over-riding commitment to the quality of the firm’s products. This was what had so enchanted my professor and won his loyalty. In one memo to HP staff (1961), Packard wrote:
‘Our main task is to design, develop and manufacture the finest [electronic equipment] for the advancement of science and the welfare of humanity.’
That is an ideal worthy of our respect, as well as the loyalty of one eminent physics professor.
Susan Cain took the world by [quiet] storm at the start of 2012, with the publication of her her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. It won many plaudits and quickly became (and remains in autumn 2014) an international best-seller. In it are some gems that can transform the world of managerial and professional work radically.
Susan Cain (formerly Devenyi) was born in New York, in 1968 and grew up loving reading. So it seems little surprise that she took a degree in English at Princeton. She followed this with Harvard Law School, where she graduated with a doctoral degree in 1993. This led her to practise corporate law on Wall Street in the firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, representing blue chip corporations.
She put her commercial experience to use in co-founding the Downing Street Group, a strategic research and consulting firm, and founding The Negotiation Company. In the latter, she was making good use not only of her experience as a practising attorney, but also of having studied negotiation intensively while at Harvard Law School, with Roger Fisher, author of the seminal book on the subject, Getting to Yes.
But she wanted (needed?) a quieter life, so took seven years to write and research her best-selling book. Now, ironically, she has become a major public figure, much in demand as a speaker (her TED talk, which you can watch below, is one of their most watched ever with approaching 10 million views).
More recently, she has also established ‘The Quiet Revolution’. In her 2014 TED talk (not yet available online) she announced three objectives:
Transforming office architectureto make offices once again a place where extroverts can flourish and where everyone can gain some solitude and quiet thinking time (‘hurrah!’ he says from his quiet office).
Helping companies train the next generation of quiet leaders. A lot of her book is about the strengths of introverts and the power of quiet reflection to deliver better leadership.
Empowering quiet children. Creating the tools that will allow schools to give introverted children the same opportunities to thrive as extroverts.
What is Introversion?
Introverts are not necessarily shy. Cain describes shyness as: ‘the fear of social disapproval or humiliation’. Introversion, on the other hand, is a preference for quiet, low stimulation environments. Introverts like to have time to themselves, to be with their thoughts.
Compare introverts with the opposite end of the scale: extroverts. Extroverts crave stimulation; especially from social situations. Note, however, that neither you nor I are either an introvert or an extrovert. We all lie somewhere on the scale from a arbitrary archetype of introversion to an equivalent extreme of extroversion. And, in the middle, lie ambiverts. These are people who are equally comfortable in stimulating social environments and in quiet private spaces.
Here is Cain’s description of the two types:
‘Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.’
Cain describes introverts living in a world that puts a premium on extroversion as being like ‘second class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent’.
Introverts are compelled to spend a lot of their time in ways that they would prefer to avoid, and therefore find it hard to be at their most creative and productive.
Creativity and Solitude
Cain’s research has led her to conclude that most creative people are introverts. The short video, below Cain’s TED talk at the foot of this blog, shows just how true this is of author, John Irving. His description of himself in the first half is clearly one of an introvert and has great similarities with Cain’s description of herself at a young age.
She goes further. Solitude, she asserts, is vital for the creative process. At the end of her TED talk, whilst acknowledging the value of collaboration, she says: ‘Let’s stop the madness of constant group work.’
In the book, she cites studies that show that performance diminishes as group size increases: bigger groups generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to smaller groups. She quotes organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham as saying that ‘evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups.’ Her conclusion is stark:
‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’
Transforming Office Architecture
This extends to the way we organise offices. I recall hating open plan offices, and it seems I am far from alone. Research in many industries all points in the same direction. Open-plan offices reduce productivity, impair memory, and increase staff turnover. Ironically, they diminish the quality of communication, decreasing motivation, increasing hostility and stress, and leading to more sickness and absence.
What is the solution if you are stuck in an open plan office? Mine has always been to seek refuge when I need to think: in meeting rooms, in foyers (ironically – in fact they tend to be fairly isolating) and in coffee shops.
Susan Cain setting out a summary of quiet in an astonishing TED talk in 2012.
And here is author John Irving speaking of himself in very similar terms.
‘a socially endorsed management process that
grants people genuine control and authority
within the work place’
That was a bit of a mouthful, so I turned to Mike Applegarth and Keith Posner’s excellent Empowerment Pocketbook for their definition:
‘Authority, Power, Licence.’
Far snappier than mine and the emphasis is theirs. in fact, licence carries most of the burden of their definition. They say that ‘to licence is to empower’.
Another valuable point they make is that empowerment is a word managers use but rarely really explore. My favourite definition comes from their introduction, not just because it makes the clear link with organisational culture, but because it tells us what empowerment really feels like, in the real world, and away from the book, journal or web page:
‘…the only culture where no one gets blamed,
is the one where it really empowers’
Some Nice Models
There are some nice adaptations of familiar models in the Empowerment Pocketbook. They have adapted the Johari Window to team working and have a situational leadership model that places empowering as a leadership style that is high in two-way involvement and suitable for people high in responsibility and initiative.
I think the latter of the two is my favourite, so I will share it with you.
Applegarth and Posner say:
‘Enabling the individual is an important step to achieving an empowered workforce, yet it is the one most often ignored.’
I think they are spot on with this. Their toolkit for enabling the individual seems to me to be the heart of their Pocketbook and to provide some of the most practical content.
Too often empowerment is just a good word to bandy around. if you are serious about it, though, it takes hard work and persistence. The pay-off, however, can be huge. Eventually, you will get better, more committed staff, who are able to work with less supervision, innovate beyond the means of their bosses, and delight your clients and customers.
I have always had a soft spot for John French and Bertram Raven’s model of Social Power Bases. I am pretty certain in my recollection that this was the first management model I learned on my first management course as a new and eager management consultant fresh out of university.
Basic Consulting Skills was the course and, to my sorrow, I never found a slot for it in any of my consulting skills programmes. Clients will insist on setting requirements that suit them, rather than indulge a trainer’s preferences*.
French and Raven looked at the power within organisations. They determined that all power originated from social interactions, rather than from the organisations themselves (as earlier researchers like Amitai Etzioni had theorised).
Their work led them to categorise these sources of social power into first five, then later seven power bases. These are derived from the resources that the holder has at their disposal.
1. Legitimate Power – based on seniority of position
2. RewardPower – based on ability to offer inducements
3. CoercivePower – based on ability to impose sanctions
4. ExpertPower – based on skills and expertise
5. Referent Power – based on personal characteristics; charisma
6. InformationPower – based on the knowledge you can access
7. ConnectionPower – based on the people you can access
After French and Raven
This has proved a useful and enduring model, and so has attracted further research and speculation. Later researchers and theorists have tinkered with names and definitions of the power bases and added more. I think the strongest of these (which I included in my Pocketbook) is:
8. Resource Power – based on privileged access to valued resources
All of the above description is by way of a context to a new speculation. It concerns one of the zeitgeist concepts of today: empowerment. By reading dictionaries, looking on the web and drinking tea, I have come to a definition I think satisfactory for this word in the modern organisational context:
‘a socially endorsed management process that
grants people genuine control and authority
within the work place’
I do know that this is a bit of a mouthful. First the granting of power must be led by more senior managers than the people granted the power. Second, there is no power unless those people’s peers endorse it. And third, the meaning of power must be about control and authority.
Empowerment as a Power Base
So here is my speculation. If empowerment grants me power, then I have a power base. I cannot make that power base fit neatly into my understanding of any of the eight established bases of power, that have been around since the 1950s. So I am going to propose a new Social Power Base that, to my knowledge, has never been published before:
9. Empowered Power – based on socially endorsed organisational authority, granted by legitimate power
It’s 14 February and we’re all feeling pretty romantic here at Management Pocketbooks. So let’s take a look at the way managers and employers can really love their staff
. . . without stepping over that line.
10 C’s of Employee Engagement
In their short 2006 paper in the Ivey Business Journal, University of Western Ontario researchers Dan Crim and Gerard Seijts go all alliterative on us with their ‘Ten C’s of Employee Engagement’. (Their apostrophe – not mine).
The original article bears a copyright notice forbidding posting it – but allowing individual downloads, so you will have to go searching for it yourself: it isn’t hard to find.
To summarise their ten ways:
Connect Talk to your staff, get to know them, find out what they like, what’s important to them and what they are good at.
Give your staff opportunities to develop a meaningful career.
People need a purpose and a plan. Give them a clear sense of what they are working for and what you expect of them.
Create two-way processes that allow you to convey ideas, inspiration and information to your staff and them to convey their feedback to you.
Celebrate successes by recognising them and congratulating the perpetrators at team and individual level.
A sense that we can contribute and that our work matters to society is important to people. Let them know how this happens.
When we don’t feel in control, we get stressed. Give as much control as you can to your people – and often more than you dare. In return, they’ll give you their insight and commitment.
People like to work together, in teams, with shared aims. Create an environment that allows and encourages it.
You and your organisation must maintain the highest standards of integrity, so that people can be proud to be associated with you.
High ethics instil confidence, which drives up performance standards.