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Archive for the ‘Emotion’ Category

On reflection it's a fine balance


Good judgement is more in demand than ever before. In our intricately connected technologically advanced society where information travels faster than we do, but expert knowledge about its implications may take years of experience to interpret, for most of us certainty is hard to come by. So most decisions involve some element of judgement.  Take today for instance.  I got up and opened my hall cupboard to get out my yoga mat. For the first time in 7 years living here I smelt gas.  I called my husband. He couldn’t smell a thing! Shrugged and walked away.  Now I have to make a judgement. Call the emergency helpline? Or is my nose just over sensitive? So I shut the door, do my yoga, go back and repeat the process, half an hour later. To me the smell is stronger:  my husband still can’t smell a thing.  Having just read the book Being Wrong by Kathryn Shulz, I know my brain could be am bias. Our brains leap quickly to assumptions when fear is involved, their designed to. We have a natural confirmation bias, to confirm our own beliefs.  But I know my husband is far better at practical things than I am, and he was an engineer before he retired, so he’s more likely to be right.  Then I remember the smoke filled room experiment!   If I call National Grid, will they think I am wasting their time? What constitutes a leak worth reporting? If I don’t do anything will I be able to sleep tonight? It’s coming up to Easter and weather is getting colder, so I want my heating working. How quickly can National Grid fix a leak?  Will I just end up with gas shut off and a miserable Easter?  No-idea of the answer to any of those questions! How can I assess risk when I’ve never faced this situation before?  Simple example, but poor judgement could have relatively small or relatively large consequences.  Inevitably I weigh the risk of being cold against going up in flames and decide to err on the side of caution.  The gas man cometh!

We expect sound judgement from leaders in business, politics, the legal system, public institutions; we hope parents, teachers, members of society will exercise sound judgement.

According to Tom Davenport (an early KM guru) and Brook Manville, (forward by Larry Prusak) in their new book on Judgement Calls ,

“…the belief that the traditional paradigm of decision making – where an all-seeing and wise CEO ‘makes the call’ alone- is being superseded by more participative and data-intensive approaches”.

About 18 months ago, we ran a KM Forum themed day on these data-intensive approaches, inspired by Tom Davenport’s books Competing on Analytics and Analytics at work. It certainly plays an important part in providing evidence to support sound judgement. But of course you have to have the data to look at before you can find the patterns, or identify the insights on which to base your judgement.   But the mathematics of probability, normal distribution and the like, only work when you have a large enough sample and the anomalies aren’t paradigm breaking.  If you listen to this Analysis, 10 Downing Street appears to be influenced by Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s counter arguments about the impact of the highly improbable.

Of course, it may not have been concerns over the impact of the highly improbable that encouraged the government to make suggestions about topping up your tank to create a petrol shortage before any strike ever got off the ground?  Maybe it was an insight from the Nudge Unit?  Who knows, but to my mind that experience certainly leads you to think twice about the Wisdom of Crowds where self interest is concerned.  I listened to the news in dismay as people said how it was madness that everyone was rushing to fill up, were irritated at the chaos, and then admitted that they wanted to be sure they could get around!

Collective judgement is a tricky issue as Tom Davenport’s final chapter suggests. It’s a knowledge issue at heart.

“The great advantage of a more collective information and knowledge intensive approach is that done well, it offsets the litany of pitfalls one person making a decision can fall into “Chapter 13

That is provided we can

  • Learn from success, but then recognise situations where the lessons no longer hold true
  • Reframe the rather concrete notion of decisions instead think about an ongoing collaborative process of evolving a solution to a problem, through small experiments and frequent feedback.
  • Invest in developing collective leadership judgement through experience with real problems and repeated practice, with some time for reflection on lesson learned, and some coaching on how to improve.

Members of the Henley KM Forum can access our guide to better organisational decision making produced in 2009, from the members’ website. There is also a complementary publication on coaching for better decision making. Those who are not members may want to download free our Knowledge in Action brochures Issue 21 and 22.

Just in case you are worried about my status over Easter, the gas man arrived, used his analytics (a neat little sniffer machine) found a leak – yes my nose was right, replaced the regulator, and all for free. Great service, lesson learned, rely on my judgement and ignore my husband’s sense of smell which is clearly not helpful in this small collective of marital bliss!

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It makes your hair stand on end

As a species we tend to be quite sensitive to subtle signals that surround us. At the June Forum Meeting many of us heard Bernd Vogel talk about organisational energy. He was tackling the issue of how collective emotions affect the energy of groups, communities and organisations. Obviously energy is going to affect the momentum of learning and change activities. If you missed Bernd’s session you can listen to Bernd talk about how organisations can assess the predominant energy type, and read about the strategies that you can adopt to help change them.

What struck me is how challenging it could be to both sense and influence energy levels in distributed organisational settings. How can you notice the signals of corrosive energy when the people you are working with, are on the move, have a home office or maybe even sit on a different continent, and perhaps have different cultural responses? We may have to wait for the next phase of Bernd’s research to dig up some new virtual energy fields.

But for now there are some pointers. Technology is helpful in maintaining the communication channels, but it doesn’t give us a real sense of what goes on behind the scenes in networks, on the move and when there is no focal point of belonging. Peter Thompson will be talking about the importance of changing the way we co-ordinate, inspire and organise in the new world of work on the 29th February at the KM Forum conference. In his recent book Future Work with Alison Maitland, they talk to Gary Kildare the global VP of HR at IBM. Gary is faced with this very problem. He talks about the fact that however technically capable someone is, the focus on people is important ‘ or it will hold you back as a leader.’

Relationships and a heightened sensitivity to the collective feelings make a difference to what anyone can achieve. But as Gary says,

‘It can take longer to build trusting relationships because you don’t always have face-face contact with people. Leaders and managers must take time to understand how individuals are performing if they don’t get to observe the directly every day in an office setting. It’s about setting very clear goals and objectives and expectations and measuring the outcome.’

Communication is an obvious priority, but not all one way. There’s going to have to be a lot of listening too, even though the richness of conversational cues is depleted in conference calls, and the disaffected can hide easily in virtual meetings. According to Julia Kotlarsky, what companies like SAP and Le Croy do is try to make people can overcome their perceptions of distance and the constraints imposed by time and being virtual. Leaders pay extra attention to helping team members sharpen their knowledge of the channels, the topic relevance, their co-participants, and what the problem means to the organisation.

What particularly interested me about Gary at IBM was his concern for setting a schedule of conference calls well in advance and really sticking to it. The commitment to the routine communicates something without words. People respond to the rhythm of activities: the pattern makes them feel more included. Can we learn from that sense of rhythm and pattern in finding ways to embed KM activities? Where else can we develop subtle ways of communicating to maintain energy and momentum for change? Visual imagery and metaphorical language can be one way of encouraging emotional connections. I remember interviewing someone for KM forum research project about better knowledge sharing across organisational boundaries (Download Knowledge in Action series 8 to learn more). He recommended creating a project brand, a logo that people feel captures what an inter-organisational project team is all about. It creates a sense of belonging to something. Internally too I’ve heard leaders talk about creating a logo for their teams. Associating with an icon that represents something with positive associations can re-enforce an emotional connection as all advertisers know. We love the nature and animal pictures on the front of the Knowledge in Action series for that very reason.

Share with us your ideas for creating positive emotional energy in distributed organisations by commenting on this blog. The outcome may help us co-create a learning culture, which is another of the leadership practices that we will be talking about at the conference, when we share the findings of our research project on developing leadership agility to sustain the knowledgeable organisation.

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Trying to live up to yesterday’s commitment to get back to blogging and explore the conference themes, today I am going to focus on emotions and how they affect responses to change. It’s not my intention to give away what the speakers are going to say, but more to start some thinking about why these themes are relevant to our KM practice.

Organisational learning helps change and makes it stick. In KM we can’t make it happen directly, we have to work through influence. It’s the leadership in all the different areas of expertise that have to implement it and keep people motivated to deliver and learn at the same time.

But learning and change create all sorts of emotional responses for those involved. Some people thrive on it, some people fear it. To some extent, it depends on whether people feel confident that they can turn change into an opportunity, or whether they are happier with working in well know territory with familiar routines and expertise. A leader’s mood is highly contagious. It can have an enormous influence on that balance, as well as how well the KM techniques and technologies we know and love get adopted in practice. So for me the quote below[1] captures what we need from leadership across the board, in projects, teams divisions and departments.

Be positive

“Effective leaders prime good feelings in those they lead. They create emotional resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people” 

That would really improve knowledge flow. The best in people from a KM and a business perspective means people using their skills and expertise and capabilities to their full potential to deliver results.

From personal experience, I know that when I’ve worked with someone   who has innate emotional intelligence, it makes a difference to how valued I feel, affects whether I get a strong sense of belonging to something worthwhile, and changes my levels of engagement. In a high pressure business environment, acknowledging and dealing with the feelings that affect how well we exercise our capabilities is as important as dealing with the task, but it’s easy for the former to get overlooked, with detrimental effect on knowledge work. Perhaps because it’s easier to manage tasks than emotions, perhaps because we feel we achieve more by concentrating on the task, or perhaps because we are not sensitised to the emotional climate.

I’m not suggesting leadership is about being soft and cuddly all the time. In the March/April 2000 edition of Harvard Business Review[2] Goleman reviewed some research conducted by Hay McBer. They found that leaders who get results move seamlessly between six familiar leadership styles, some much harder than others. The interesting thing was that they use all six flexibly rather than relying on just a few of them. You’ll recognise the six styles in people you know, but think about how many leaders you know who feel comfortable using the full range.

“Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance. Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision. Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony. Democratic leaders build consensus through participation. Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction. And coaching leaders develop people for the future. “

Leading for results means knowing how to match style to context so that followers feel supported and are not floundering in situations where they feel they don’t belong. To do this leaders need to be able to connect with their own, and others fears, hopes anxieties, dreams and potential, whilst also setting clear boundaries and expectations that support a level of emotional resilience to change, personal commitment to the organization and continuous self management and well-being. That sort of emotional intelligence comes from four quite distinct personal sensitivities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill.

With these, leaders gain the capacity to vary their style, and so get the best from those who follow them. Increasing emotional intelligence should amplify the impact of knowledge and learning activities. This is one reason why we have included it as one of the leadership practices in our 46th Henley KM Forum research project. We were exploring what it takes to develop knowledge driven leadership agility. Conference delegates will learn more about the full set of practices and the development challenge we have created to raise awareness of the sort of leadership capability that really supports knowledge work. If you aren’t coming, I will be referring to them in my blogs up until the conference. So watch this space.

In the next blog, I’m going to talk more about what happens when the collective emotional undercurrent becomes negative overall. That puts me in mind of Daan Andriessen’s presentation at the 2010 KM Forum conference. Those of you who belong to the Henley KM Forum can download his slides from the members’ website. Those of you who don’t belong, can learn what you are missing, by visiting Daan’s website. You’ll find the presentation in the Knowledge Management part of his presentations area Look for “The Unconscious at Work; How hidden patterns in organisations may hamper KM” Presentation given at the Henley KM Forum 2010.

[1] Goleman, D Boyatzis, RE and McKee, A (2009) Primal Leadership. Leadership Excellence  vol 26 (iss) 10: 9-10.

[2] Goleman, D (2000) Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review  vol 78 (iss) 2: 78-90.

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