Archives for the month of: July, 2007

In a recent post on Harvard Business Online, authors James R. Detert and Amy C. Edmondson summarize a recent study they conducted on the root causes of why employees are afraid to speak up. Immediately prior to coming upon this article, I was talking to my manager about the exact same thing. My experience in my new company to date has been that direct reports (employee, mid-management, etc.) behave and contribute differently when their management is present as opposed to when they are not. Sometimes, even providing conflicting comments in these separate scenarios.

In the article, Detert and Edmondson narrow down the reasoning behind “not speaking up” to “self-preservation.” Interestingly enough, the reasons given by the interviewees for holding back on constructive feedback or ideas for improvement were mostly founded in cultural myth.

A culture of collective myths proved chilling—for example, stories of
individuals who had said something in a public venue and then, as one
R&D director put it, were “suddenly gone from the company.

Despite having processes and tools to allow for employees to provide input and feedback, the main reason appears to be culture. I would add to this that the actual behaviour of management is also a significant contributor. Many managers I have observed will routinely ask for comment or feedback, but when it is given, the manager will summarily dismiss it or respond defensively instead of openly. So, although a culture steeped in myth can prevent a new employee for intially attempting to speak up, the behaviours and mannerisms of those receiving the feedback when given can be equally squelching to a safe, open and collaborative culture.

Those in management, or any leadership position will have to move beyond their own self-preservation and self-deception. Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers demand these more progressively open environments. Our work ethic is not about winning or being right, it is about working to a set of values, working collaboratively and fully enjoying our work and with whom we work. We are not opposed to having our ideas challenged. Quite the opposite. When working with intelligent and creative peers, we excel and deliver much more than we ever could individually. At the same time, we are willing to share in the glory of accomplishment.

Words of advice to those in authority positions – Don’t fear new ideas and new ways of solving your challenges. Openly embrace them. You don’t have to implement every one of them. But, trust me, there is value out there – you just have to have your eyes, ears, heart and mind open to it.

I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review titled “The Making of an Expert” by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. Aside from being impressed that a 7-page article had three contributing authors (my wife and I have trouble collaborating on Sunday breakfast), the article was both interesting and encouraging.

The premise is “new research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.”

Let’s break this thought down with excerpts from the article:

  • What is expertise? According the the authors, real expertise must pass three tests: 1) It must lead to superior performance over the expert’s peers; 2) produces concrete results; and 3) can be replicated and measured in a lab.
  • How many years? The authors suggest it will take at least a decade (that’s 10 years for those not yet expert in timelines.)
  • What is deliberate practice? Deliberate practice is practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. For example, if you are skilled and comfortable relaxing prone on a regular sofa, you might set a “stretch goal” to develop expertise reclining in a La-z-boy recliner.
  • Is that all? No, the article instructs that you will also need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through “deliberate practice” but also to help you learn to coach yourself.

The natural conclusion to this article is that each of us (barring any genetic or intentional\accidental disability) has the capacity to become “expert” in a chosen field. The idea of luck, practice and opportunity magically combining to deliver expertise is not proven out. Focus, intentional and deliberate practice, outside help and lastly, time are the ingredients that form the recipe for expertise.

Click above for an interesting blog entry by Bob Sutton on the Harvard Business Online website. The article provides a summary of recent studies that looked at how individuals\teams\organizations learn better from their successes and failures, as opposed to either one alone.

How many of you take time to look back on what went wrong and what went right on a project? We know it as “Lessons Learned.” I recently facilitated a lessons learned session for a small project that completed at my new company. I received positive feedback on the exercise. One thing I observed was that it was difficult for those participating to provide concrete success factors. The project met its objectives, but it wasn’t perceived as successful. For those success factors identified, it appeared equally challenging for the participants to provide reasoning as to why a particular factor had a positive impact.

As for evaluation of “improvement areas” (as I called them) there was plenty of discussion, but little responsibility. We’ll be working on that one in the future.