Transitioning from a Bossy Boss into a Digital Age Leader [Series Conclusion]

Now that we are to the end of our 8 POST SERIES, BRAD SZOLLOSE AND ROB HIRSCHFELD INVITE YOU TO SHARE IN OUR DISCUSSION ABOUT FAILURES, FIGHTS AND FRIGHTENING TRANSFORMATIONS GOING ON AROUND US AS DIGITAL WORK CHANGES WORKPLACE DELIVERABLES, PLANNING AND CULTURE.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion about digital management over the last seven posts. This series was born of our frustration with patterns of leadership in digital organizations: overly directing leaders stifle their team while hands-off leaders fail to provide critical direction. Neither culture is leading effectively!

Digital managers have to be two things at once

We felt that our “cultural intuition” is failing us.  That drove us to describe what’s broken and how to fix it.

Digital work and workers operate in a new model where top-down management is neither appropriate nor effective. To point, many digital workers actively resist being given too much direction, rules or structure. No, we are not throwing out management; on the contrary, we believe management is more important than ever, but changes to both work and workers has made it much harder than before.

That’s especially true when Boomers and Millennials try to work together because of differences in leadership experience and expectation. As Brad is always pointing out in his book Liquid Leadership, “what motivates a Millennial will not motivate a Boomer,” or even a Gen Xer.

Millennials may be so uncomfortable having to set limits and enforce decisions that they avoid exerting the very leadership that digital workers need! While GenX and Boomers may be creating and expecting unrealistic deadlines simply because they truly do not understand the depth of the work involved.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, it’s neither! Why? Because unlike Industrial Age Models, there is no one way to get something done in The Information Age.

We desperately need a management model that works for everyone. How does a digital manager know when it’s time to be directing? If you’ve communicated a shared purpose well then you are always at liberty to 1) ask your team if this is aligned and 2) quickly stop any activity that is not aligned.

The trap we see for digital managers who have not communicated the shared goals is that they lack the team authority to take the lead.

We believe that digital leadership requires finding a middle ground using these three guidelines:

  1. Clearly express your intent and trust, don’t force, your team will follow it
  2. Respect your teams’ ability to make good decisions around the intent.
  3. Don’t be shy to exercise your authority when your team needs direction

Digital management is hard: you don’t get the luxury of authority or the comfort of certainty.

If you are used to directing then you have to trust yourself to communicate clearly at an abstract level and then let go of the details. If you are used to being hands-off then you have to get over being specific and assertive when the situation demands it.

Our frustration was that neither Boomer nor Millennial culture is providing effective management. Instead, we realized that elements of both are required. It’s up to the digital manager to learn when each mode is required.

Thank you for following along. It has been an honor.

When Two Right Decisions Make Things Wrong [Digital Management Series, 7 of 8]

In this 7th Installation IN AN 8 POST SERIES, BRAD SZOLLOSE AND ROB HIRSCHFELD INVITE YOU TO SHARE IN OUR DISCUSSION ABOUT FAILURES, FIGHTS AND FRIGHTENING TRANSFORMATIONS GOING ON AROUND US AS DIGITAL WORK CHANGES WORKPLACE DELIVERABLES, PLANNING AND CULTURE.

The Duality Trap is one digital management danger that’s so destructive, we felt this series would be incomplete without a discussion. It’s especially problematic for The Digital Native managers and often mishandled by traditionally trained ones too.

Each apple is delicious. Which would you choose?

Each apple is delicious. Which would you choose?

The Duality Trap occurs when there are multiple right answers to a question. How often does this happen? Every single time. In fact, it’s a side effect of good digital management. Why?

In hierarchical management, the boss is always right so there’s no duality. Since we’ve thrown out hierarchical decision making, every team action is potentially subject to review by everyone on the team. The very loose structure that allows individual autonomy and rapid response has the natural consequence of also creating cognitive friction when individuals approach problems differently.

These different approaches are generally all valid ways to progress.

Digital natives fundamentally understand choice duality and may present alternatives just to ensure team diversity. Unfortunately, while where may be multiple valid solutions, the team can only pick one [1]. Nine times out of ten, the team will simply pick and move on. In that outlier case, they are counting on you, their digital manager, to resolve the selection.

Here’s the trap: resolving a duality does not mean “picking the winner” because having a winner implies the choices were unequal. If you’re team is stuck then there are at least two good choices.

If you are a traditional manager, the temptation to become Ronald “the decider” Reagan is nearly irresistible. Under the title=authority to decide model, you must justify your salary with making a “right” decision. You’ve been waiting for this moment to exert your authority for days. But, unbeknownst to “the decider,” this big moment will immediately undermine the team’s autonomy. On the other hand, If you are a digital native then this is the moment you’ve been dreading because you’ve got to be decisive. Despite 5 to 10 really good choices, you have to make ONE. So, a digital native can appear to be indecisive. However, not deciding is the worst possible choice. So what should you do?

First, remember that teams are strengthened when they are clearly aligned around an intent.

Resolving the duality trap is an opportunity to emphasize your intent. The best approach is to ask your team to review the options again in light of your shared objectives. In many cases, they will be able to resolve the issue from that perspective. If not, then you should:

  1. validate all options could work
  2. have the team state desired outcomes that can be measured
  3. pick the option that most aligns with your intent
  4. ask if the option your team does choose fit the overall agenda of; speed of delivery but quality drops, quality of deep diving into the project (upping the quality) but you may miss a crucial deadline (this may narrow down your choices.
  5. ask the team to monitor for the results

In this case, even as you are driving a decision, you are still sharing the responsibility for the outcome with the team. It’s important for the team that you focus on the desired results and not on which course was chosen. It is very likely that any of the choices would work out and achieve positive outcomes.

So it’s OK to get out of the trap of picking “best” options when there are multiple right choices.  

In an age of ambiguity, it is easy to fall into the duality trap. Just remember, there is no one way to get it all done these days. Which means a GREAT people manager realizes 2 things; a) your people need more of your support than ever. This comes in the form of training, finding solutions, and building a team that has the right chemistry. And b) getting out of their way.

Get ready as we wrap up this series in post 8: Transitioning from a Bossy Boss into a Digital Age Leader.

[1] If you are in a situation where you an allow divergence for minimal cost (like which phone brand people use) then do not force your team to choose!

Jazz vs. Symphony: Why micromanaging digital work FAILS. [post 3 of 8]

Third IN AN 8 POST SERIES, BRAD SZOLLOSE AND ROB HIRSCHFELD INVITE YOU TO SHARE IN OUR DISCUSSION ABOUT FAILURES, FIGHTS AND FRIGHTENING TRANSFORMATIONS GOING ON AROUND US AS DIGITAL WORK CHANGES WORKPLACE DELIVERABLES, PLANNING AND CULTURE.

Now that we’ve introduced music as a functional analogy for a stable 21st century leadership model and defined digital work, we’re ready to expose how work actually gets done in the information age.

First, has work really changed?  Yes.  Traditionally there was a distinct difference between organized production and service-based/creative work such as advertising, accounting or medicine.  Solve a problem by looking for clues and coming up with creative solutions to solve it.

Jazz Hands By RevolvingRevolver on DeviantArt http://revolvingrevolver.deviantart.com/

Digital work on the other hand, and more importantly – digital workers, live in a strange limbo of doing creative work but needing business structures and management models that were developed during the industrial age.

In today’s multi-generational workforce, what appears to be a generational divide has transformed into a non-age-specific cultural rift. As Brad and Rob compared notes, we came to believe that what is really happening is a learned difference in the approach to work and work culture.

There is learned difference in the approach to work and work culture that’s more obvious in, but not limited to, digital natives.

In most companies, the executives are traditionalists (Baby Boomers or hand-selected by Boomers).  While previous generations have been trained to follow hierarchy, the new culture values performance, flexibility and teamwork with a less top-down control oriented outlook.

It’s like a symphonic conductor who is used to picking the chair order and directing the tempo is handing out sheet music to a Jazz ensemble.  So how is the traditional manager going to deliver a stellar performance when his performers are Jazz trained?

In traditional concert orchestra, each musician has to go to college, train hard, earn a shot to get into the orchestra, and overtime, work very hard to earn the First Chair position (think earning the corner office).  Once in that position, they stay there until death or retirement.  Anyone who deviates, is fired. Improv is only allowed during certain songs, by a select few.  It’s the workplace equivalent to climbing the corporate ladder.

Most digital workers think they belong to a Jazz ensemble.  

It’s a mistake to believe less organized means less skilled.  Workers in the Jazz model are also talented and trained professionals.  If you look at the careers of Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, they all had formal training, many started as children.  The same is true for digital workers: many started build job skills as children and then honed their teamwork playing video games.

But can a loosely organized group consistently deliver results? Yes. In fact, they deliver better results!

When a Jazz Improv group plays, they have a rough composition to start with. Each member is given time for a solo.  To the uninitiated there appears to be no leaders in this milieu of talent, but the leader is there.  They just refuse to control the performance; instead, they trust that each member will bring their A Game and perform at 100% of their capacity.

In business, this is scary. Don’t we need someone to check each person’s work? People are just messing around right? I mean, is this actual work? Who is in charge?

In businesss environments that operate more like Jazz, studies have proven that there is a 32% increase in productivity from traditional command and control environments driven by hierarchy.

Age, experience and position are NOT the criteria for the Digital Worker. Output is.  And output is different for each product. Management’s role in this model is to get out of the way and let the musicians create. Instead of conforming to a single style and method, the people producing in the model each bring something unique and also experience a high degree of ownership.

This is a powerful type of workplace diversity: by allowing different ways of problem solving to co-exist, we also make the workplace more inclusive and collaborative.

Sound too good to be true?  In our next post we’ll discuss trust as the critical ingredient for Jazz performance.  (Teaser)

Can Digital Workers Deliver? No. [cloud culture vs. traditional management, post 1 of 8]

In this 8 post series, Brad Szollose and Rob hirschfeld invite you to share in our discussion about failures, fights and frightening transformations going on around us as digital work changes workplace deliverables, planning and culture.

On the shouldersDigital workers will not deliver. Not if you force them into the 20th century management model then they (and you) will fail miserably; however, we believe they can outperform previous generations if guided correctly. In the 21st Century, digital technologies have fundamentally transformed both the way we work and, more importantly, how we have learned to work.

So far, we’ve framed this transformation as a generational (Boomers vs Millennials) challenge; however, workers today transcend those boundaries. We believe that we need to redefine the debate from cultural viewpoints of Boomers (authority driven leadership) and Millennials (action driven leadership). In the global, digital workforce, these perspectives transcend age.

We looked to performing music as a functional analogy for leadership.

In music, we saw very different leadership cultures at work in symphonic and jazz performances. The symphony orchestra mirrors the Boomer culture expectation of clear leadership hierarchy and top-down directed effort. The jazz band typifies the Millennial cultural norms of fluid leadership based on technical competence where the direction is a general theme and the players evolve the details. Both require technical acumen and have very clear rules for interaction with the art form. More importantly, these two extremes both produce wonderful music, but they are miles apart in execution.

Today’s workforce generations often appear the same way – unable to execute together. We believe strongly that, like symphonies and jazz concerts, both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. The challenge is to understand adapt your leadership cultural language of your performers.

That is what Brad and Rob have been discussing together for years and, now, we’d like to include you in our conversation about how Cloud Culture is transforming our work force.

Read Post #2!

Three critical ingredients for digital age relationships. [Collaborate Series 8/8]

Translation: Are you ready to apply these lessons?

This post is the final post in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

End of LineDuring this blog series, we’ve explored how important culture is in the work place.  The high tech areas are especially sensitive because they disproportionately embrace the millennial culture which often causes conflicts.

Our world has changed, driven by technology, new thinking, and new methodologies yet we may be using 20th century management techniques on 21st century customers and workers. There is an old business axiom that states, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  Yet how much of our process, interaction, successes, and failures never wind up on a spreadsheet, yet impact it?

Customers don’t leave bad companies; they leave companies that miss the mark when it comes to customer engagement. To better serve our customers we need to understand and adapt to the psychology of a new customer … one who has been trained to work as a Digital Native.

What would that look like? Tech people who interact with patience, collaboration, deep knowledge, and an openness to input, adapting to a customer’s needs in real-time. Wouldn’t that create a relationship that is second to none and unbreakable? Wouldn’t that be a leg up on the competition?

By understanding that new business culture has been influenced by the gaming experience, we have a deeper understanding of what is important to our customer base. And like a video game, if you cling to hierarchy, you lose. If you get caught up in linear time management, you lose. If you cling to bottlenecks and tradition you lose.

Three key takeaways: speed, adaptation, and collaboration

Those three words sum up today’s business environment. By now, you should not be surprised that those drivers are skills honed in video games.

We’ve explored the radically different ways that Digital Natives approach business opportunities. As the emerging leaders of the technological world, we must shift our operations to be more open, collaborative, iterative, and experience based.

Rob challenges you to get involved in his and other collaborative open source projects. Brad challenges you to try new leadership styles that engage with the Cloud Generation. Together, we challenge our entire industry to embrace a new paradigm that redefines how we interact and innovate. We may as well embrace it because it is the paradigm that we’ve already trained the rising generation or workers to intuitively understand.

What’s next?

Brad and Rob collaborated on this series with the idea of extending the concepts beyond a discussion of the “digital divide” and really looking at how culture impacts business leadership.  Lately, we’ve witnessed that the digital divide is not about your birthday alone.  We’ve seen that age alone does not drive the all cultural differences we’ve described here.  Our next posts will reflect the foundations for different ways that we’ve seen people respond to each other with a focus on answering “can digital age workers deliver?”

Like the conclusion?  Reading the rest of the series! 1: Intro > 2: ToC > 3: Video Reality > 4: Authority > 5: On The Game Training > 6: Win by Failing > 7: Go Digital Native > 8: Three Takeaways

 

Cloud Culture: Becoming L33T – Five ways to “go digital native” [Collaborative Series 7/8]

Subtitle: Five keys to earn Digital Natives’ trust

This post is #7 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

WARNING: These are not universal rules! These are two cultures. What gets high scores for Digital Natives is likely to get you sacked with Digital Immigrants.

How do Digital Natives do business?

You've gotta deal with itYou don’t sell! You collaborate with them to help solve their problems. They’ll discredit everything say if you “go all marketing on them” and try to “sell them.”

Here are five ways that you can build a two-way collaborative relationship instead of one-way selling. These tips aren’t speculation: Brad has proven these ideas work in real-world business situations.

Interested in Digital Native Culture?  We recommend reading (more books):

1) Share, don’t tell.

Remember the cultural response in Rob’s presentation discussed in the introduction to this paper? The shift took place because Rob wanted to share his expertise instead of selling the awesomeness of his employeer. This is what changed the dynamic.

In a selling situation, the sales pitch doesn’t address our client’s needs. It addresses what we want to tell them and what we think they need. It is a one-way conversation. And if someone has a choice between saying “yes” or “no” in a sales meeting, a client can always have the choice to say “no.”

Sharing draws our customers in so we can hear their problems and solve them. We can also get a barometer on what they know versus what they need. When Rob is presenting to a customer, he’s qualifying the customer too. Solutions are not one size fits all and Digital Natives respect you more for admitting this to them.

Digital Native business is about going for a long-term solution-driven approach instead of just positioning a product. If you’ve collaborated with customers and they agree you’ve got a solution for them then it’s much easier to close the sale. And over the long term, it’s a more lucrative way to do business.

2) Eliminate bottlenecks.

Ten years ago, IT departments were the bottleneck to getting products into the market. If customers resisted, it could take years to get them to like something new. Today, Apple introduces new products every six month with a massive adoption rate because Digital Natives don’t wait for permission from an authority.

The IT buyer has made that sales cycle much more dynamic because our new buyers are Digital Natives. Where Digital Immigrants stayed entrenched in a process or technology, Digital Natives are more willing to try something unproven. Amazon’s EC2 public cloud presented a huge challenge to the authority of IT departments because developers were simply bypassing internal controls. Digital Natives have been trained to look for out-of-the-box solutions to problems.

Time-to-market has become the critical measure for success.

We now have IT end-user buyers who adopt and move faster through the decision process than ever before! We interfere with their decision process if we still treating new buyers as if they can’t keep up and we have to educate them.

Today’s Digital Workers are smart, self-starters who more than understand technology; they live it. Their intuitive nature toward technology and the capacity to use it without much effort has become a cultural skill set. Also they can look up, absorb, and comprehend products without much effort. They did their homework before we walked in the door.

Digital Natives are impatient. They want to skip over what they know and get to real purpose and collaboration. You add bottlenecks when you force them back into a traditional decision process that avoids risk; instead, they are looking to business partners to help them iterate and accelerate.

 How did this apply to the Crowbar project?

Crowbar addresses a generation’s impatience to be up and running in record time. But there is more to it than that: we engage with customers differently too. Our open source collaboration and design flexibility mean that we can dialog with customers and partners to figure out the real wants and needs in record time.

3) Let go of linear.

Digital Natives do not want to be walked through detailed linear presentations. They do want the information but leave out the hand holding. The best strategy is to prepare to be a well-trained digital commando—plan a direction, be confident, be ready to respond, and be willing to admit knowledge gaps. It’s a strategy without a strategy.

Ask questions at the beginning of a meeting—this becomes a knowledge base “smell test.” Listening to what our clients know and don’t know gets us to the heart and purpose of why we are there. Take notes. Stay open to curve balls, tough questions, and—dare we say it—the client telling us we are off base. You should not be surprised at how much they know.

For open source projects at Dell (Rob’s Employeer), customers have often downloaded and installed the product before they have talked to the sales team. Rob has had to stop being surprised when they are better informed about our offerings than our well trained internal teams. Digital Natives love collecting information and getting started independently. This completely violates the normal linear sales process; instead, customers enter more engaged and ready if you can be flexible enough to meet them where they already are.

4) Be attentively interactive.

No one likes to sit in one meeting after another. Why are meetings boring? Meetings should be engaging and collaborative; unfortunately, most meetings are simply one-way presentations or status updates. When Digital Natives interrupt a presentation, it may mean they are not getting what they want but it also means they are paying attention.

Aren’t instant messaging, texting, and tweeting attention-stealing distractions?

Don’t confuse IMing, texting, emailing, and tweeting as lack of attention or engagement.

Digital Natives use these “back channels” to speed up knowledge sharing while eliminating the face-to-face meeting inertia of centralized communication.

Of course, sometimes we do check out and stop paying attention.

Time and attention are valuable commodities!

With all the distractions and multi-tasking for speed and connectivity, giving someone undivided attention is about respect, and paying attention is not passive! When we ask questions, it shows that we’re engaged and paying attention. When we compile all the answers from those questions, our intention leads us to solutions. Solving our client’s problems is about getting to the heart of the matter and becomes the driving force behind every action and solution.

Don’t be afraid to stray from the agenda—our attention is the agenda.

5) Stay open to happy accidents.

In Brad’s book, Liquid Leadership, the chapter titled “Have Laptop. Will Travel” points out how Digital Natives have been trained in virtualized work habits because they are more effective.

Our customers are looking for innovative solutions to their problems and may find them in places that we do not expect. It is our job to stay awake and open to solution serendipity. Let’s take this statement out of our vocabulary: “That’s not how we do it.” Let’s try a new approach: “That isn’t traditionally how we would do it, but let us see if it could improve things.”

McDonald’s uses numbers for their combo meals to make sure ordering is predictable and takes no more than 30 seconds. It sounds simple, but changes come from listening to customers’ habits. We need to stop judging and start adapting. Imagine a company that adapts to the needs of its customers?

Sales guru Jeffery Gitomer pays $100 in cash to any one of his employees who makes a mistake. This mistake is analyzed to figure out if it is worthy of application or to be discarded. He doesn’t pay $100 if they make the same mistake twice. Mistakes are where we can discover breakthrough ideas, products, and methods.

Making these kinds of leaps requires that we first let go of rigid rules and opinions and make it OK to make a few mistakes … as long as we look at them through a lens of possibility. Digital Natives have spent 10,000 hours playing learning to make mistakes, take risks, and reach mastery.

Keep Reading! Next post is Three Takeaways (previous Win by Failing)

 

 

Cloud Culture: Level up – You win the game by failing successfully [Collaborative Series 6/8]

Translation: Learn by playing, fail fast, and embrace risk.

This post is #6 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

It's good to failDigital Natives have been trained to learn the rules of the game by just leaping in and trying. They seek out mentors, learn the politics at each level, and fail as many times as possible in order to learn how NOT to do something. Think about it this way: You gain more experience when you try and fail quickly then carefully planning every step of your journey. As long as you are willing to make adjustments to your plans, experience always trumps prediction.

Just like in life and business, games no longer come with an instruction manual.

In Wii Sports, users learn the basic in-game and figure out the subtlety of the game as they level up. Tom Bissel, in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, explains that the in-game learning model is core to the evolution of video games. Game design involves interactive learning through the game experience; consequently, we’ve trained Digital Natives that success comes from overcoming failure.

Early failure is the expected process for mastery.

You don’t believe that games lead to better decision making in real life? In a January 2010 article, WIRED magazine reported that observations of the new generation of football players showed they had adapted tactics learned in Madden NFL to the field. It is not just the number of virtual downs played; these players have gained a strategic field-level perspective on the game that was before limited only to coaches. Their experience playing video games has shattered the on-field hierarchy.

For your amusement…Here is a video about L33T versus N00B culture From College Humor “L33Ts don’t date N00Bs.”  Youtu.be/JVfVqfIN8_c

Digital Natives embrace iterations and risk as a normal part of the life.

Risk is also a trait we see in entrepreneurial startups. Changing the way we did things before requires you to push the boundaries, try something new, and consistently discard what doesn’t work. In Lean Startup Lessons Learned, Eric Ries built his entire business model around the try-learn-adjust process. He’s shown that iterations don’t just work, they consistently out innovate the competition.

The entire reason Dell grew from a dorm to a multinational company is due to this type of fast-paced, customer-driven interactive learning. You are either creating something revolutionary or you will be quickly phased out of the Information Age. No one stays at the top just because he or she is cash rich anymore. Today’s Information Age company needs to be willing to reinvent itself consistently … and systematically.

Why do you think larger corporations that embrace entrepreneurship within their walls seem to survive through the worst of times and prosper like crazy during the good times?

Gamer have learned that Risk that has purpose will earn you rewards.