Last Words on 2016 and #Management

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.

Silver Bullets, Workshops and Workbenches


My dad has a workshop at the back of his garage.   He builds, he hacks, he plays.   It’s magical.

Dad’s great with craft projects!  Sometimes, he does all the work, like cutting scrap wood into paintable shapes for our little people.  Other times, I’ve seen how to use a new tool — like a drill press (for a bookbinding project.)

At work, we often want to “workshop” a people management skill.  Or a team-building challenge.

We want the workshop — or retreat — to be a solution.   Sometimes we want too much.

At best, workshops give people:

  • Exposure to new skills.   Maybe a bit of practice, in vitro.
  • Novel ways to meet colleagues, outside of the daily flow of work.
  • Ways to search, together, for a common understanding.
  • (Fulfillment of compliance requirements.)

Before jumping into a workshop — especially if we want to solve a problem — ask a few key questions:

  • How will workshop content/design move us towards our desired end state?
  • Do our people see workshops as great development opportunities?   Or a barrier to getting their “real work” done?
  • In the weeks and months that follow, how will our leaders support and reinforce people’s learning?

Also ask, “What might go wrong?”

Layering a team building exercise on top of existing relationship issues?  It might not end well.   (I still remember the relationship fallout of a 1990s exercise in game theory.)

I suspect that the term “workshop” comes from the entertainment industry.  “Workshopping” is a low-cost, high impact way to test and get feedback on a play.

Workshops and retreats are expensive in time.   And potentially in relationship, too.  (Ask the boomers in your life about Trust Falls.)

After working with my dad at his workbench, maybe I’m qualified to drill holes through paper, fabric, and cardboard.   I wouldn’t use the drill press unsupervised, or on wood or metal.

“Begin with the end in mind,” is a Stephen Covey principle.   It’s a good one to consider when investing your resources in a learning program.

Leaving a workshop, I expect to have a change in state.  A transformation.

And yet, no workshop or retreat is a silver bullet.

It’s also not a workbench.  When I walk away from Dad’s workbench, we have created a tangible artifact.  Something that will exist in the world.   I’m thinking about this lately, out talking with people about useful workplace learning experiences.

Photo:  Workbench, by Lenore Erdman, via Flickr under CC 2.0 license.