Last Words on 2016 and #Management


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4362797246_59cedc1d6aI had been thinking of this last week of 2016 as a “reading week.”   A week to avoid work and other productive activity, as well as social media and other actions with unclear value.  Luxury.

Actually, it has has been reading, family, and —  since working for myself involves a need to respond to the unexpected — a couple of work phone calls.  Reality.

For the past few years, Twitter has been my front page to journalism and news.   So, in reality, I’ve been skimming.

And of course, I saw another one of those #management articles.  A startup tech CEO issuing people management edicts, based on how he (yes, “he,”) runs his company.

It’s gonna get tweeted and retweeted, people will bring it to their team meetings, with the non-question, “Here’s how This Guy Does It,” and the inference, “He Must Know What He’s Doing.”

Look, it may work for the CEO of HappyCo.  Pro-tip:  it may not work for you.

Just like bullet journaling, bullet coffee, green juice, GTD, paleo, powerlifting, morning pages and mindfulness (so-called.)

When you read a blog post — or a book — We’ve Found the Answer, and It’s How We Run Things at HappyCo, ask yourself if HappyCo looks like this:

  1. Privately held, often founder-led.
  2. Monopoly power of some kind, or proprietary IP.
  3. Number of employees is a single digit multiple of the Dunbar number.
  4. Often spending Other People’s Money

Other red-flags:  HappyCo is less than 10 years old; the CEO is “charismatic.”  Something Radical, Transparent, Happy, and/or Truthful/Honest is on offer.

And check recent events at HappyCo.  Do you see any organizational changes, or layoffs?  Do you know people who work there and can attest to whether these management practices actually create a solid working environment?  (What’s the turnover like at HappyCo?)

The HappyCo blog post should be read as a CEO speaking to his own team.

These blog posts can also serve as a weird sort of management.  When a CEO racks up enough social media capital about how he’s crushing it, his blog posts may serve to legitimize his practices.  Externally, and internally.

(Here’s how that might work.  A HappyCo employee grouses about workplace “stuff” to a friend who works elsehwere.  Gets shut down by friend, because it must be Awesome to work for HappyCo — based on friend’s reading of the CEO’s blog posts and tweets.)

So, practices you’re reading about may not even be working for the HappyCo CEO.

The best way to use blog posts from the HappyCo CEOs out there?  Approach them as information, as theory, as hypotheses.  (And also as a CEO’s diary.)

And then, use critical questions to decide whether the advice you’re reading is actually legitimate, for your organization.

tl;dr:  don’t get your management advice from the internet.

P.S.  For last words on my own 2016, beyond my regular gig, in 2017 I’ll bring more focus to creating/testing/developing management development projects:

  • A small group coaching cohort, around setting goals and being accountable to them.  (Email me if this sounds interesting.)
  • My newsletter:   Themes for next year include goals, mentoring, integrating new people to the team…
  • Monetizing my more public work, e.g. Painless Reviews.

I plan to engage more directly with news and ideas — without the mediating effects of social media.  I’ll subscribe to more news outlets, and newsletters.  (And do at least one more Reading Week, not during a holiday week.)

When I blog, maybe every other month or so, it will be more single-draft, tweetstorm like posts (like this one) and fewer super-polished pieces.

Onwards, 2017.

Photo:  Last Word Books, by Jason Taellious under CC 2.0.

Lies, Lies, Misinformation, and Robots


“Robots are coming for your jobs.   You can’t get ready for it.”

I don’t believe this for a millisecond.  But this narrative has a power to shape decisions, in small movements that are almost imperceptible.   Decisions about how we design our businesses — around all of our very human lives.

Over the past years I’ve chewed on this unfolding, uncomfortably.  Mostly in private conversations with other business leaders, and with emerging managers in my orbit.

Yesterday, I read Maria Bustillo‘s “When Truth Falls Apart.”   She speaks to the moment we’re at in US politics, and the path that brought us to the eve of this unfortunate election.  From the attacks on the World Trade Center, to campaign tactics in the 2004 election:

Ah.   What a great framework.

Maria also points out that this happens in business, frequently.  But that’s not her point; her point is bigger than business.

Allow me to bring her framework into my wheelhouse:

  • Information:  A job provides an even stream of cash-flows that matches off with the expenses you incur to survive.  (If you’re fortunate, to thrive.)
  • Misinformation:  Anyone can work as a contractor.  It’s easy to Be An Entrepreneur of Your Own Career; this will bring you Freedom and Flexibility!
  • Disinformation:   Contractors are Entrepreneurs, not employees.  Jobs aren’t necessary; everyone can be an Entrepreneur.
  • Dismediation:  Today’s employment laws aren’t equal to our challenges, so we may disregard themUniversal Basic Income is the key to our jobless future.

Uh, okay.  Now my queasy feeling has some shape.   Thank you, Maria.   (And thanks to Audrey Watters, whose excellent newsletter brought Maria’s article into my inbox.)

This Sunday morning, with my extra hour of sleep — and full day off of Twitter — I’m getting this down as a bit more than a fragment.  I may come back and fill it in a bit more.

Underlying this Misinformation and Disinformation about our jobless future, Francine McKenna writes about an underlying “truth,” the fallacy of shareholder value.  In my words, that corporations are required by law to disregard human truth, and basic values, in order to maximize returns to shareholders.

This leads to the operating agreement we’ve reached today:  we can pay people less than a living wage, for a full time job.  Business leaders, is this really okay?

And then there are other supporting memes.  Untruths like, “All you have to do is perfect your craft.”  “Create your Personal Brand!”  “Find the right platform, and it will bring business to YOU…”  Oh, and, “You’ll always get paid — and paid on time — because Blockchain.”

Who is telling these truths?  Why do I believe them?   Will they lead to a life that I want for myself — or the kids in my family?

How am I responsible for the future?  Not just my own future, but our shared future?

Photo:  [121/365] Maximilian Reloaded, by Pascal, via Flickr under CC2.0 license

(Editorial note:  Usually before I hit “publish,” I write, and then edit/rewrite over a couple of days.  After publishing, I rarely go back and edit again.  This post emerged more like a Tweetstorm:  rough, needs polish — what you’re seeing now has been edited since I originally posted, and likely will be edited again.)