Thursday, 18 December 2008

Lies, Trust and Chocolate


    Human Resources magazine / Hirescores report that more than eight out of 10 (82%) of office workers lie for their manager on a daily basis, saying that their managers are on the phone or away from their desk, to avoid unwanted conversations.

Lisette Howlett, managing director of notes:

"Companies spend so much time, money and rhetoric on treating customers fairly and yet there is a high level of institutionalised dishonesty. It appears to be part of the normal fabric of doing business."


It's not going to do much for trust within an organisation either.

This is one of the lessons in David Thompson's new book, Trust Unwrapped.  Amongst many other facts and illustrations, this includes a story from 'Thank God it's Monday' in which a PA refuses to tell a caller his boss is out:

" 'I cant do that, you are here' came the response from the new secretary.  After a pause she continued, 'If I lie for you now, you won't know when I'm lying to you'."


The main story is set in a chocolate manufacturer and other businesses, and uses these to show the benefits of allowing people to set their own hours, holidays and workload (eg ROWE) and even prices to develop trust.

My favourite paragraph is this one:

"Business isn't about products and services and stuff a lot of the time.  It's all about feelings, emotions and relationships."


I think if more organisations understood this, there would be a lot less corporate lying than Hirescores' survey suggests there is.


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Monday, 15 December 2008

Carnival of Trust


   My post 'Social Connections and Social Intelligence' was selected as one of ten articles on trust included in the December 2008 Carnival of Trust (originally launched by Charles Green's Trust Matters) which this month was held at Idealawg.

There are some other great posts there too.  I was particularly pleased to see this comment on BrainBlogger:

"As individuals, we strive to improve our human capital, or our economic value. We earn college degrees, take continuing education courses, attempt to expand our knowledge and master our respective fields. The more we know, the more we’re worth and it makes perfect sense (and boosts our pay!).

Yet, perhaps more attention should be paid to the value of social capital."


Which is of course exactly what this blog is about!


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Sociability and Solidarity


   I've been reading some of Rob Goffee's and Gareth Jones' Harvard Business review articles and their book, 'Why should anyone be led by you?', following a presentation by Jones recently.

in 'What holds the modern company together?', they make the point that culture is community:

"It is an outcome of how people relate to one another... Businesses rest on patterns of social interaction that sustain them over time or are their undoing.  They are built on shared interests and mutual obligations and thrive on cooperation and friendships."


I like this definition - and I'm increasingly finding that social (plus human and organisational) capital provides a more useful, granular way of looking at organisations than 'culture'.

I also agree with the author's perspective that culture can therefore be examined through the 'lens of sociology, which divides community into two types of distinct human relations: sociability and solidarity".


Solidarity (mind)

Solidarity measures a community's ability to pursue shared objectives quickly and effectively, regardless of personal ties.  It is about relationships which are build on common tasks, mutual interests, or shared goals that will benefit all involved parties.


Sociability (heart)

Sociability measures sincere friendliness and non-instrumental relations (in which people don't see others simply as means of satisfying their own ends) among members of a community, associating with each other on equal terms.  It is based on shared ideas, attitudes, interests and values and is sustained through continuing face-to-face relations.

Sociability leads to enjoyable work environments, morale, teamwork, sharing of information, openness to new ideas, creativity and engagement.  However, reinforcing the recent Demos report, and like solidarity, sociability also comes with certain drawbacks:

"The prevalence of friendships may allow poor performance to be tolerated.  No one wants to rebuke or fire a friend.  It's more comfortable to accept - and excuse - subpar performance in light of an employee's personal problems.

In addition, high sociability environments are often characterised by an exaggerated concern for consensus.  That is to say, friends are often reluctant to disagree with or criticise one another...  The result: the best compromise gets applied to problems, not the best solution.

In addition, high sociability communities often develop cliques and informal, behind-the-scenes networks that can circumvent or, worse, undermine due process in an organisation...  Friendships and unofficial networks of friendships allow people to pull an end run around the hierarchy...  In other words, networks can function well if you are insider - you know the right people, hear the right gossip.  Those on the outside often feel lost in the organisation, mistreated by it, or simply unable to affect processes or products in any real way."


To me, these aren't so much problems with sociability, as with poor execution or sociable approaches.  I think increasingly, organisations do need to be sociable, and organisations need to find ways to avoid the drawbacks outlined by Goffee & Jones / Demos.


Two dimensions, four cultures

Goffee and Jones plot solidarity and sociability against each other to provide the two by two shown in the graphic.  The authors emphasise that "none of the cultures is the best" but when discussing a fragmented culture (low solidarity, low sociability), they note "Few managers would volunteer to work for or, perhaps harder still, run a fragmented organisation."

They also have a few concerns about a communal culture (high solidarity, high sociability) too:

"The communal culture may be an inappropriate and unobtainable ideal in many business contexts...

First, high levels of sociability and high solidarity are often around particular founders or leaders whose departure may weaken either or both forms of social relationship.

Second, the high-sociability half of the communal culture is often antithetical to what goes on inside and organisation during periods of growth, diversification , or internationalisation.  These massive and complex change efforts require focus, urgency and performance - the stuff of solidarity in its undiluted form.

More profoundly though, there may be a built-in tension between relationships of sociability and solidarity that makes the communal business enterprise an inherently unstable form.  The sincere geniality of sociability doesn't usually exist - it can't - with solidarity's dispassionate, sometimes ruthless focus on achievement of goals."


So I think what Goffee and Jones are really saying is that organisations need high solidarity and high sociability, but not both (ie that the ideal culture is either networked or mercenary).

And I'd add to this, that solidarity is becoming more difficult to achieve, and therefore sociability is becoming increasingly important.  So if you have to choose between the two, choose this (ie networked vs mercenary).

However, I still struggle to see how both solidarity or sociability, executed well, can be a bad thing.  I'd respond to Goffee's and Jones' challenges by saying that organisations need to find ways of building sustainable cultures, which can support efficient achievement of goals, and that maybe if we did this, success rates in growth, diversification and internationalisation may be a lot higher than they generally are now!


Building sociability

Goffee and Jones also note that to build sociability, managers can:

  • Promote the sharing of ideas, interests, and emotions by recruiting compatible people - people who naturally seem likely to become friends
  • Increase social interaction among employees by arranging causal gatherings inside and outside the office, such as parties, excursions - even book clubs
  • Reduce formality between employees
  • Limit hierarchical differences
  • Act like a friend yourself, and set the example for geniality and kindness by caring for those in trouble.


I think there are some great suggestions here.


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Friday, 12 December 2008

The dark side of networking


   The Demos report, Network Citizens that I referred to in my last post on Cisco notes that as well as considerable benefits (including creativity, innovation and freedom, meritocracy, openness and democracy), organisational networks can lead to certain downsides ('the dark side'), in that they can:
  • Exclude and discriminate
  • Enable people to hoard power for themselves
  • Promote the interests of the few.


The problem is that networks reflect the people who constitute them. So if the interests of these people and therefore the network and the firm diverge, this can increase problems rather than opportunities:

“Virtual, online network, power is generally less visible than in the formal organisation – where organograms clearly show who has authority and accountability… In a network, the rivers of power often flow underground… Without enough attention, these challenges jeopardize the very gains we presume networks can deliver.”


So network managers need to ask themselves:

  • "Am I excluding some people from my network for no good reason?
  • Does the network extend across gender and ethnic boundaries? Should it?
  • What are the unwritten rules of network exchange – and are they fair?"


Demos' findings relate very closely to Rob Goffee's and Gareth Jones' research on sociability, that I've been reading after hearing Gareth Jones speak recently, and which I will review in my next post.


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