The unmanageable

Posted by jlubans on September 28, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

The Unruly Calf (1875?) oil painting by Homer Winslow (1836 – 1910).

Beatrice Coron, after reading my “Teaching self management
asked me What about those who can’t or won’t be managed – the unmanageable?
Since Beatrice is an artist, I expect questions like that from her; she takes ideas and turns them inside out, literally and figuratively, and in the process reveals that which is largely invisible to the rest of us.
Well, her question induced an imaginary passing parade of some of the people I have supervised – not always all that successfully. As I thought about it, I broke the “unmanageables” parade into two lines: Assets and Liabilities. First, I’ll review two assets named “B” & “S”. And then “O” from the liabilities marching past.
“B” could be maddening and yet his ideas saved us countless dollars and oodles of time. I once led a team building retreat for his department. I gave them an exercise – draw the ideal team and put yourself in the drawing. Each did and talked about what they drew. B drew a circle – often the most common representation of a team. Most who draw a circle team put themselves along the perimeter with other team members. Not B. He was in the middle, the sun around which the other team members revolved.
When I asked him to redraw his team, it became a triangle and he was at the top of the triangle. I gave up after the third attempt, a bubble drawing, with each member of the group floating around in a bubble. Guess who had the biggest bubble?
Still, B had an unerring knack for taking procedures, untangling and streamlining or eliminating. He created macros (now called apps, I think) and used them for shortcuts. He asked unsettling questions like “Why do we do this?” “What would happen if we did this?” Most disquieting to the “Manageables” was his asking “What would happen if we stopped doing this?”
I encouraged him to find answers and then to go ahead. We made some large gains. I was happy to support B, and I was able to do so because of my boss and because of the innovative and questioning environment in that organization. Unfortunately (for us), with a leadership change B knew he had to leave or else suffer being corralled and led by the nose. He found a private sector employer, a highly innovative enterprise that appreciated his unconventional ways.

“S” was a different unmanageable asset. To be fair, he was highly manageable as an individual worker – I supervised him when he ran a branch and then when he became part of another unit, I stayed in touch as a friend. When I was his direct supervisor, he was open to my ideas and he did a very good job; there was no resentment or question about the boss/worker relationship. But, S shied from any group work, especially when he was transferred to a larger unit in which he was one of several workers. We were trying to make this group into more of team and S would have none of it. He simply wanted to be left alone to do his work. The work he did put him among the most productive in the organization.
S gave more to the organization than most. I realized it was best to let S do his job and not force him into teamwork. I realized from S that when a highly productive person does not want to be part of a team, then don’t force it.

Now for the Unmanageables as Liabilities.
“O” was a self-declared polymath. Unlike B & S, he appeared to be confused as to his contributing role in the organization that was paying him. Was he there to help the organization or was the organization a mechanism to help him? The latter; O did not appear to think he owed anything much to his employer. It was as if O’s personal reasons and interests were superior to organizational needs. (Keep in mind that the example is drawn from a campus, not a corporation.) O was most successful in creating arcane research projects that took him away – at full pay – and often for months at a time. Because he had tenure and sources of private funding he was masterful at manipulating things to his personal advantage. He was resented by many staff, rightly so, but a few of those that resented him, were not really upset about his maneuvering of resources – they’d do the same if they had the opportunity – but O had so bruised their feelings theirs was a festering resentment.

For a spell, I supervised O. Could I have done it better? No doubt. I could have had a heart to heart with O and maybe we would have gotten some concessions, but I do not want to kid myself. O was egotistical to an extreme. I recall trying to place him in another unit – one for which he was eminently suited, as they say. I had my fingers crossed that the first meeting between O and the supervisor would go well. That meeting lasted less than 30 minutes before bursting into a shouting match. The two personalities were like a burning match next to a gas soaked rag. So, when the boss said how it was going to be, O’s response resulted in what became a mutually embarrassing failed “conversation”. Did O get what he was after? Well, he was pretty much left alone and spent his last years doing project work – largely by himself. A very disappointing waste of resources.

My point is there is the unmanageable, like O, who need to be closely supervised – even hounded – until they come around or leave or by organizational consent are “left” alone. But, then there are those unmanageable “creators” – artists, if you will - whom you need to encourage in their anarchous ways. You will have to defend them, and, if lacking support from the top, you’ll be tagged a bad supervisor, someone reluctant to rein in a cowboy riding roughshod over the corporate rules. Regardless of the excellent work the unmanageable does, you will be at risk. If the boss does not trust you or lends his ear to gossip or is tradition-bound, you have few options.

There is a book: Managing the Unmanageable. (See book cover below.)
The book seems more about problem employees than what I describe in this post. Still I am sure it offers many good ideas on dealing with the UE = “Unmanageable Employee”
The authors state: , “there’s a world of difference between someone who’s acting unmanageable, and someone who can’t [won’t] act any other way. There’s a world of difference between someone who’s become unmanageable in response to a particular set of circumstances (that can, at least theoretically, be changed) and someone who’s just like that.”
The authors do offer a formula to follow when confronted with the UE: “The 5-C Model: Commit or Quit – (make the decision to change the employee or to get rid of the employee or leave him or her alone), Communicate, Clarify Goals and Roles, Coach, and Create Accountability.”
No doubt, each of us could find something of value in this book when we are faced with our next “Unmanageable!”

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Posted by jlubans on September 22, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

I’ve written about “real work.” “Un-work”, like the un-Cola, continues my thinking about what makes for real work. Is not all work equal? If not, what is real work?

Levi’s, the jeans maker, proclaims “Real People + Real Work = Real Change.” Well, while Levi’s® Work Wear Collection (“the finest denim fabrics, brass laurel shanks, genuine leather patches and functional waist back cinches”) may make the man, it is the man (or woman) who does the work, real or not.
Levi’s is partnering with the blighted town of Braddock, Pennsylvania to show off its new denim line.
If Levi’s advertising can help Braddock and its social justice mayor, John Fetterman, get some real work done, good for them.

In the meantime, “Let’s get back to work!”
My book, Leading from the Middle, is about the democratic workplace; an underlying theme flows through most pages: when people have freedom to take responsibility for their work, their work becomes meaningful and the product improves.
Yet, I can think of lots of un-work. For example, in the book, I highlight our counter-productive tendency to want to revise other people’s work. Here are a couple more recent examples:
I had to get permission from a government agency. There was, of course, paper work. The young, university-educated bureaucrat reviewed my twenty-page application boldly stamping and emphatically initialing every page! His agency says it is understaffed. It is, of course. I wonder who makes sure my young bureaucrat follows the drill?

Another example: I was one of a dozen people in a professional association who volunteered twice a year from 6-9 hours of sitzfleisch – butt to chair - for what began to feel a lot like rubber stamping proposed programs for the association’s next meeting. While appointed for two years, I must admit I only lasted a year, once I realized we were a “quality control” group that made sure forms were filled out as required. We did not develop or suggest programs; we reviewed the program paper work – essentially we were passport control. If you did not have the papework, the visa, no entry, regardless of merit. We were avuncular and encouraging but a good staffer could have reviewed the paperwork in three hours rather than our 72 – 108 hours!
You get some idea (see the picture) what I think un-work (UW) is.
Here is my brainstorm list of Real Work (RW) qualities I have experienced (Suggestion: Ask your colleagues what’s on their RW list.)
- I have a fundamental liking for the job (RW is my reward after doing the mandatory UW;
- The clock recedes; time becomes less important;
- RW is not easy; it is difficult but doable;
- It is “rewarding” in itself, I feel creative;
- RW offers the likelihood of recognition for a job well done;
- RW may result in failure –there’s a risk, an edge to RW that excites;
- I make a sincere effort in RW – half-ass does not cut it, “good enough” is not good enough.
- RW becomes selfless,
- Someone else benefits from RW more than I do, the job has meaning!
- RW abhors forms and paper work,
- RW is doing;
- RW is the opposite of idleness;
- RW is not about the money.

My list reminds me of Csíkszentmihályi’s “flow” theory.
Here are some flow features not on my list.
We experience a:
- high degree of concentration (focus);
- loss of self-awareness, we become “lost” in what we are doing. (We may get tired and hungry and not be greatly aware of it.);
- direct and immediate feedback & we adjust to the feedback;
- joyfulness in what we are doing, work becomes play.

Teaching Self-management.

Posted by jlubans on September 14, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

Can the concept of self-management in the workplace be taught successfully?
That was my question, during my Fulbright semester, when building the class agenda for a graduate level introduction to management at the University of Latvia. My conceptual model was the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s musicians coaching a student orchestra to perform a musical concert without a conductor.
Another question, once underway, could I leave the teams alone or would I need to intervene in conductorly ways, like I saw some Orpheus musician/coaches doing?
Besides a strong curricular emphasis on teamwork, I designed three projects over the semester for three different student teams. In other words, each student was part of three different teams. The third project was to be these students’ concert performance in which they put together all they had learned about teamwork and collaboration.

1. “Books2Eat” team
2. “Women as leaders” interview team
3. “Self-managing team” working on a team-selected topic.

In team project number 3, the self-managing teams (5 or 6 students each) presented their findings and recommendations on the last day of class in Riga on June 3. 20110914-picpresent1.jpegHere are their topics:

Team A. ”One library – equal possibilities for everybody.” They developed a submission ready grant proposal to create a “socially accessible environment for every inhabitant of our city.”
Team A’s product was a “funding ready” proposal for improving access for disabled library users.

Team B. (The “Garden of Eden” team!) Women in the profession – A look at economic and prestige aspects of librarianship. The team hypothesized that the “field’s feminization (female predominance in the sector), the traditional treatment of librarian as a secondary profession” result in low salaries for librarians and inordinate salary reductions during economic downturns.

Team C developed ways to make the library more relevant to students and to draw them into the library building. Team C has these goals in mind:
- Draw more young people into public libraries
- Make students more excited about using the public library
- Become more appealing overall to the students and to get them to use the library as a resource more often
- Entertain students while familiarizing them with the library for their future use
To return to my question about teaching self-management. Each team’s plus/delta (what went well, what could have gone better) gives us insights into the stresses each team endured and survived and the pluses show each team’s success.

As you can see in the attached plus/deltas, each team has many things they would change and shortcomings they would like to improve upon. Their candid listings suggest to me an elevated understanding by each team of what is desirable behavior and what is required for a successful group project, for a team to be highly effective. The deltas show an understanding of not only what to improve but how to improve - literally, what they would do differently if they were again in a team situation.

These students learned a great deal about teamwork dynamics and what it means to be self-managing. When I contrast my students’ work with the conductor-less student orchestras I find similarities. The student musicians, like the Riga students, delivered a high quality product and yet have a long list of what could have gone better!
Just like the student musicians, some would prefer a boss, a conductor to direct and to demand. Most, if I look at the pluses, see the value of working in teams and derive satisfaction from that process. No team asked me to intervene, either in the plus/deltas or during the semester. Perhaps I could have done more as a coach, but as a first effort, I am very pleased with and proud of the students

My own delta: give each team one hour to present and respond to comments and questions. Twenty minutes was sufficient for the report, but left little time for questions and discussion. There were numerous questions we could have discussed not the least of which would have been about the plus/deltas and their meaning.

Appendix: Team Plus/Deltas

Team A Plus/Delta
• Good teamwork.
• New knowledge acquired.
• Clear distribution of assignments and roles.
• Equal contribution to the work.
• Possibility to cooperate and to get acquainted with new people.
• Topical theme (there are very few libraries, which disabled people can visit freely and get in easily).

Concern in the beginning, how successful will be our cooperation with the previously unknown people.
• Small lack of motivation to begin the work out of the project earlier.
• The lack of the leader who will motivate us to aim higher and to perform even better.
• Difficulties to get together.
• Need more teamwork.
• Need to change strategy to get better teamwork.

Team B Plus/Delta
• Team is made of various profiles of people belonging to different levels of knowledge and experience;
• Everyone were informed about the progress of the task activity;
• Actively conducted questionnaire distribution;
• Since the project’s theme was made up, all team members were clear about what to do, about responsibilities;
• The team’s ability to agree on a goal, theme and actions to reach the goal;
• Good ideas;
• Team members’ responsibility taking;
• Responsive members of the team;
• Respondents were also very responsive. We received back a great quantity of questionnaires;
• Duty sharing (distributing among members of the team);
• Collaboration / also had Yes people on the team;
• Good organization using e-mail – communication;
• Constant progress discuss;
• Mistake correcting (each member had an opportunity to correct mistakes);
• Everyone had an opportunity to express ideas, participate in questionnaire analyzing;
• Taking the self-managing team project problem (assignment) very seriously;
• Great planning and time distribution;
• Two bright leaders on the team, who took initiative;
• Each member of the team chose a task (part of the project) for himself, without pressure, independently;
• Everyone has completed his task successfully (according to their capabilities);
• The team had an informal leader, who took initiative in bringing the team together, organization of work and activities;
• Presentation will be very good!

• Before starting working, precise and objective tasks and roles of each member of the team should have been determined;
• Endeavor to listen to each other;
• Limited opportunity to work as a team on a project for every member of the team. The communication was within the groups of two or three people. At the beginning of the project, there were only two or three people involved in a discussion by e-mail;
• A leader was needed for decision making;
• Bad circumstances;
• The form (questionnaire) could have been developed better;
• The team’s spirit appeared in the end of the project’s making;
• Communication could be better;
• Hard to work with people from different institutions;
• Hard to find time to meet;
• Could have met more often with the team;
• Too much focus on details sometimes;
• No clarity about the problem formulating at the beginning;
• Very limited direct-acting communication possibilities;
• Different teamwork building activities weren’t … used („intellectual parties”, collective discussions at the cafes or at someone’s home etc.);
• The more quiet, more restrained team members weren’t fully engaged in teamwork in the beginning (their potential wasn’t fully unlocked and used).

Team C Plus Delta