A Proposal for a New Organizational Model

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I developed a new organizational model after several years of reflection and study, starting with my MBA work in 2001. My Ph.D. work especially inspired me in developing a new model of public leadership and, later, on my study of the lean startup movement.

The new organization is designed to be agile in every aspect of the work products, leadership, and workforce. The organization is also transparent and designed for maximum information flow. Finally, the mission, vision, and strategy are baked into all that the organization does and drives the organization forward. Here is a diagram of the new organizational model.

Look at the upper box with the five chief officers. A common theme in organizational studies is the danger of silos and fiefdoms. There are also problems with forming a senior leadership team that works together for the good of the entire organization. Therefore, in the new organization, only five chief officers form the senior leadership team.

  • The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – chairs the senior leadership team and keeps the organization aligned with the mission and vision by keeping the strategy engine working effectively.
  • The Chief Alliance Officer (CAO) – combines the traditional functions of the chief human resources officer and chief information officer. Responsible for managing the organizational talent and the organizational APIs platform.
  • The Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) – responsible for managing the knowledge and learning the workflow of the organization. It also oversees the training and development of the organization’s talent.
  • The Chief Brand Officer (CBO) – responsible for overseeing the organization’s brand: internally and externally. It helps the CEO manage the public-facing side of the organization’s mission and vision.
  • The Chief P4 Officer (CPO) – Oversees the portfolios, programs, projects, and processes of the organization’s Business Engine.

In the middle of the model is the “Business Engine.” The Business Engine is where the organization does the work. Instead of a factory floor with fixed production lines, the Business Engine is a maker space with both a physical presence and a virtual presence. Work is performed by a network of project teams loosely organized into portfolios and programs. There are few fixed processes, and these processes will be heavily automated using artificial technology systems using blockchain technologies and deep-learning algorithms. The teams will use agile project management, human-centered design, and adaptive case management to manage the work.

Surrounding the Business Engine are four critical components. The most crucial component is the “Talent” box with the four types of employees. These types are based on the Alliance model of employer-employee agreements. At the bottom is the Organizational APIs Platform, in which the core APIs that run the business infrastructure is available for the talent and teams to build their personalized tools and apps. Surrounding the Business Engine on both sides are open data streams that provide the performance metrics of the organization and allows for easy knowledge-sharing and collaboration in the organization. Embedded in the Business Engine are strategy information radiators (Ambient Strategy). The strategy information radiators provide regularly updated information on how well the organization is fulfilling the mission, vision, and strategic goals.

Pulling the organization forward is the “Strategy Engine.” On top of the Strategy Engine is the “Mission and Vision” alignment compass, which helps align all the organization’s activities toward the mission, vision, and strategic goals. What powers the planning process for the Strategy Engine are the twin concepts of organizational agility and organizational health.

There is a lot of this model borrowed and a lot that is new. I don’t believe there is an organization that follows this model, but many organizations could benefit from adopting parts of the model. I look forward to expanding upon the parts of the new organizational model. I welcome your comments, criticisms, and suggestions.

The Zen of Cultural Change

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It is time to move from creating a more open government to sustaining open government. Yes, there is a lot more work to do in making agencies on all levels of government are releasing their data and becoming transparent. Governments have successfully picked the low-hanging fruit of opening up their datasets. It’s now time to change the culture of government, so openness, transparency, and collaboration are embodied in everything the government does. Ten years from now (if not sooner), government employees shouldn’t even have to wonder if they are open, transparent, and collaborative because the culture of the agency ensures that they are.

Culture is a natural byproduct of humans as social beings. We develop culture so we can get along, survive, and achieve goals. It is only natural we develop cultures at work because a large part of our waking hours is spent at work or thinking about work. A single person cannot have a culture; it takes interactions between each other to create a culture. But what exactly is culture?

There are many academic definitions for culture, but for our purposes, I prefer this simple definition: the way we do things around here. “We” come together in a defined group (e.g., IBM, HUD, Star Trek fans) and in a defined boundary such as a department, office, or online community (“around here”). We develop methods, practices, policies, etc. (“way”) that govern the actions (“do”) members of the culture take in response to “things” (issues, events, etc.) that we face as a culture. Essentially, organizational culture is how we collectively solve the problems we face every day in our work and life.

Thus, the resistance to changing the organizational culture. Problem-solving is hard and takes a lot of resources and effort. Humans are incredible at problem-solving, but they are also good at optimizing. We don’t like having to solve the same problems repeatedly, so we create things like writing, forms, email, databases, etc. These things embody the solutions we have created so that the next time the same problem shows up, we can solve it without having to think about it. We only give up our solutions when a demonstrably better solution comes along. And it better be a good solution if it has a chance of displacing the current solution.

Neon sign that says change.

Cultural change is not only possible, but it is necessary. Groups change, new events confront the group, and new problems face our culture. The reason why many intentional cultural efforts fail is that they don’t recognize the paradoxes of cultural change. This is what I can the Zen of culture because we blend many paradoxical ideas to develop culture. Here are three paradoxes that make cultural change difficult for those who do not first seek to understand the culture:

The culture is not the culture. There is no one culture but many cultures that people belong to. You may have an overall agency culture, but you also belong to the subculture of your department, the subculture of Redskins fans, the subculture of people who eat out for lunch, and so on. Some of these subcultures are easily changed, while others are ingrained in you. And how these subcultures interact to cause the resistance to change. For example, IT folks are often most open to new technologies while the law department would rather stay with the software, they have been using for the last 20 years because they have built many of their processes around how the software works.

We seek the novel and the safety of the familiar. Imagine a playground in an open field without fences. The children will often huddle together in the middle of the playground and are reluctant to wander out in the field. Now, put a fence around the playground. Then the children will often hang around the fence and are more willing to venture out in the open field. The setting of boundaries makes us adventurous. We have the safety of the fence we can run to between our adventures. Culture equals safety.

Culture remains the same by changing. Thanks to the Internet, many ancient religions are now being practiced today. Many Amish businesses use a personal computer in their business dealings with the outside world. Numerous monasteries sustain themselves by creating websites for clients. Cultural groups will often use new technologies or practices to maintain the current culture and its core beliefs. Championing change can be frustrating for a change agent when they see their innovation being used to defeat the intent of the change.

Learning from Success So That You Keep On Succeeding

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It was in my second year of being a Presidential Management Intern when I was feeling somewhat cocky after a string of successful projects. So, when I met with my boss for our weekly status meeting, I was casually leaning back in my chair, just radiating gloat. That is when he leaned forward and said, “you are only as good as your last project. What have you done for me lately?”

It was that advice that has guided me ever since. It is effortless in the euphoria surrounding the triumph of solving a difficult problem or pulling off the near-impossible project to not spend the time questioning just why you succeeded. To do so seems to diminish the success and even doubting that you did succeed. An objective review of how you succeeded will help you in continuing to achieve.

When we succeed, we can become victims of three biases, according to Gino and Pisano (April 2011). There is the attribution bias in which we overestimate how our knowledge and actions contributed to the success. We downplay any external factors that could have just made us more fortunate. The second bias is when we become overconfident in our abilities as we tackle the next challenge. The third bias (and which I believe is most important) is that we don’t ask why we succeeded because the success is proof enough.

Gino and Pisano (April 2011) recount a study in which students were given a set of math problems to complete. When the students submitted their answers, they were only told if they had the answer right or wrong. The students were given time to reflect before they were given a second set of math problems. The second set was designed so a critical concept in the first set of problems was needed to solve the second set. The students who successfully solved the first set of problems generally spent much less time reflecting before they started on the second set of problems. Thus, many of these students failed to find the answer to the second set of problems. Reflection, whether the student succeeded or not, is the key to continuing to succeed.

Sign that says people fail forward to success.

So, how do we best learn from success? We should celebrate success but also examine the causes of success. For every project, we should hold a systematic review. Gino and Pisano (April 2011) give the example of Pixar’s review process. Even though Pixar has had eleven hit animated films in a row, the company still goes through an exhaustive review process. The purpose of the review process is to determine what made the film successful and how to repeat that success.

Another point to remember is to investigate the feedback thoroughly. Was it immediate or at least can be connected to the actions taken? Is the feedback an accurate indicator of success or just a random event that looks like a successful outcome? Feedback is an important concept, and I explore it in greater detail in this discussion posting.

Two final points. First, “[r]ecognize that replication is not learning” (Gino and Pisano, April 2011). Blindly following the same formula again and again can suddenly turn against us as the nature of the problem changes, and what worked before doesn’t work now. And, second, we should always experiment. We can continually improve how we do something. Plus, we can create variations on our actions that may not apply to the current situation but can apply to a challenge.

Failure is a great teacher, but so is a success. Learning from our successes will keep us from becoming “one-hit wonders” and give us the string of successful “hits” to be “rock stars.”

Reference:

Pino, F., & Pisano, G.P. (April 2011). Why leaders don’t learn from success. Harvard Business Review. 68-74.

Business Process Management as If People Mattered: Adaptive Case Management

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Does this look like your typical day as a local, state, or federal worker?

  • 31% of your workday is made up of purely ad-hoc, never happens the same way twice tasks
  • 30% of your work revolves around consistent, defined goals but various ways to achieve those goals
  • 20% of your work involves documented and managed tasks that are not automated
  • 17% of your work is automated, but there are numerous exceptions to the automated processes
  • 9% of your work is fully automated, and there are no ways to change the process (Fischer, 2011, p. 84)

Except for a very few exceptions, every government worker is a knowledge worker because they deal with continuously varying situations that we package into cases. We may deal with specific subject areas and perform repeatable functions, but the actual execution of this work will differ significantly from case to case. For example, when I was a paralegal/investigator for a public defender’s office, I helped with numerous assault cases. We had a specific process for interviewing the client, preparing the pleadings, assembling the evidence, and presenting the case. But the facts were always different.

One case was about an assault by a drunken student on an equally drunk off-duty policeman. Another case was a domestic violence issue, while a third involved a store employee who tackled a complaining customer. For each case, the kind of pleadings filed, how I conducted the investigation, and so on would differ based on the specific events in that case. You didn’t know what would happen from day to day, so it was challenging to determine routines beforehand.

These experiences have convinced me that the best way to improve government work is not by imposing Six Sigma and Lean processes onto government employees. Six Sigma and Lean are great methods if you are talking about repeatable procedures that have clear paths and outcomes. But as the above statistics demonstrate, less than 10% of a knowledge worker’s day will benefit from traditional business process management techniques.

But traditional case management, as practiced by many government workers, has many problems. Most government offices have overwhelming caseloads. There are conflicting rules and procedures imposed by top management. And, the current support systems cannot easily handle the many exceptions that occur frequently (Swenson, 2010, pp. 10-24). What is needed is a way that allows for the considerable variation in knowledge work but makes that knowledge work more efficient and effective. The newly emerging management concept of Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is the answer along with its closely allied discipline of Social Business Process Management (SBPM) (Fischer, 2011).

Office worker filling out a paper form.

ACM is still evolving, but there are several core elements. First, instead of being based on the principles of scientific management/Taylorism, it revolves around modern knowledge work. ACM deals with change and ad-hoc processes. Second, processes are not formalized, and created upfront but are developed as the knowledge worker continues to see the same issue in several cases. Third, rules and regulations operate more like guardrails that constrain the actions taken in a case. The fourth element is that the knowledge workers rely heavily on a community-built template library and body of knowledge.

ACM relies so heavily on social networking in the form of SBPM. In traditional business process modeling, discovering what processes exist and modeling these processes were done first. Then the knowledge workers were expected to follow the newly established procedures until the weight of exceptions demonstrated that the new processes needed to be modified. Under SBPM, process discovery and modeling occur as knowledge workers work on cases and share their experiences. Thus, there is a great deal of variation at first in handling cases. As knowledge workers gain more experience, they collaboratively develop best practices that can easily be modified when exceptions occur.

I have just briefly summarized these two new management concepts, but I am much excited by the potential to reform government work for the better. There are numerous case studies in Taming the Unpredictable including how one local government agency used ACM for better customer service in its case management processes. Much of ACM and SBPM makes intuitive sense and should be especially attractive to those who argue we need more knowledge sharing and collaboration in our offices.

References:

Fischer, L. (editor) (2011). Taming the unpredictable: Real-world adaptive case management: Case studies and practical guidance. Lighthouse Point, FL: Future Strategies, Inc.

Fischer, L. (editor) (2011a). Social BPM: Work, planning, and collaboration under the impact of social technology. Lighthouse Point, FL: Future Strategies, Inc.

Swenson, K. D. (editor) (2010). Mastering the unpredictable: How adaptive case management will revolutionize the way that knowledge workers get things done. Tampa, FL: Meghan-Kiffer Press.

OK, Generational Stereotype! Why Successful Intelligence Matters in the Workplace

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It was during the last three hours of a three-day pre-retirement seminar when I felt like banging my head against my desk. Even though retirement planning can be a boring subject, I enjoyed the two-and-half days of information. Well-researched information I could put to immediate use in helping have a successful retirement.

Then, the last speaker talked about preparing psychologically for retirement. As retirement was still years off for me, I only half-listened. Fifteen minutes into the presentation, and the usual generational stereotypes popped up. I won’t repeat them here other to say that the Boomers were more than a little smug about their retirement prospects while they lamented the Generation X and Millennials’ retirement plans.

Since I started in the federal government as a Presidential Management Fellow in 1997, I have been to many pieces of training on the generations in the workplace. I remember when I, a Generation Xer, was the new kid on the block. Then, coming back to government in December 2008, the new generational star was the Millennials. Now, nearly eleven years later, it’s Generation Z.

Now, I do not entirely disregard generational differences. Differences between the generations are real. But, as research has shown (especially by Dr. Jennifer Deal), there is more in common between the generations than there are differences. I often point out that differences in gender, sexual identification, where you grew up, and other factors have more impact on your personality formation than just your generational cohort. Dr. Little’s personality research is a significant influence on my thinking.

I was at lunch with a colleague bemoaning a recent training on generational differences when she asked what I thought differentiated people. “Successful intelligence,” I immediately said.

I hadn’t thought about successful intelligence for years. It was in 1998 I discovered Dr. Sternberg’s book, The Triarchic Mind, and his concept of successful intelligence.

Chess set and chess board.

According to Dr. Sternberg, successful intelligence is:

“[D]efined as one’s ability to set and accomplish personally meaningful goals in one’s life, given one’s cultural context.  A successfully intelligent person accomplishes these goals by figuring out his or her strengths and weaknesses, and then by capitalizing on the strengths and correcting or compensating for the weaknesses.  Strengths and weaknesses are in terms of four kinds of skills:  creative, analytical, practical, and wisdom-based.  In particular, the individual needs to be creative in order to generate novel and useful ideas; analytical to ascertain that the ideas he/she has (and that others have) are good ones; practical in order to apply those ideas and convince others of their value; and wise in order to ensure that implementation of the ideas will help ensure a common good through the mediation of positive ethical principles.”

His concepts spurred me to work on increasing my creative and practical intelligence. My analytical intelligence was well-developed, but I was persuaded that I needed to balance my analytical intelligence by building up my creative and practical intelligence. In 1997, Sternberg released his follow-book, Successful Intelligence. I bought his book just as I started my Presidential Management Fellowship and decided that gaining my project management certification was a great way to increase my practical intelligence. In recent years, design thinking has helped me improve my creative intelligence.

I explained to my colleague I have noticed that the more successful people at work seem to have a good balance of analytical, creative, practical, and wisdom intelligence. In my admittedly informal observations, the workers with an optimal balance of the four intelligences are better colleagues, more productive, and accomplish much. It doesn’t matter the colleague’s race, gender, generational cohort, or other observable differences.

The best thing about successful intelligence is that it can be developed. As a training and development professional, I can help people to determine which intelligence they want to build. For example, I wanted to be more effective in implementing my ideas, and that is why I studied project management. Design thinking has helped me become better at generating creative ideas. With the proper coaching, mentoring, and training, any worker can reach a good balance between the four intelligences.

Therefore, I disregard generational stereotypes. Dismissing a person based on their generational cohort is as wrong as rejecting a person because of their gender, sexual identification, race, or similar difference. What I look for is how successfully intelligent the person is. But, before you judge other people’s successful intelligence, take the measure of your successful intelligence.

Project Management, Strategic Communication, and Training Author and Consultant

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