Thursday, March 26, 2009

The case for top-down

I'm sometimes accused of being an advocate for "bottom-up" organization solutions. I think I'm only accused of it because I advocate for it so often.

I don't think there's enough acknowledgement of the capabilities of your staff. They are severly under-utilized. If you've got staff then yes, I'm talking to you.

Good decisions get made when there's lots of diverse thought and consideration, not when an expert determines they know best. Diversity trumps specialists every time.

But there I go again, arguing for bottom up.

In this post I wanted to say something nice about top-down.

Our organizations need structure. They need purpose - a pre-defined understanding of what we're going to do together. Organizations can be aided tremendously by having someone clarify how things are going to get done. Employees desperately would like to know what success looks like. That's top down and it's valuable.

The big mistake is using top-down authority on the wrong topic. Top-down isn't to manage behaviour and the way people work. It's to define broad boundaries and to TRUST staff.

Friday, March 20, 2009

ChangeThis proposal update

I'm pretty excited today. My submission to get my manifesto published on ChangeThis was successful. Thanks to friend and family support, my proposal garnered enough votes to hold on to fifth place... enough to get published.

I'm now going to put some finishing touches on the manifesto. I've had a fantastic infusion of energy and inspiration ever since I got my head around how I could express my ideas and engage others, particularly online. I'd be remiss if I didn't credit Seth Godin and Tribes. It's one of the most practical and insightful books I've ever read.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My memory is awful. My memory is awesome.

So, here's something interesting. I have an extremely selective memory. I can't remember most of what I did before lunch. To be honest, I can't remember what I was working on 20 minutes ago. At the same time, I can remember, quite clearly, the systemic challenges and events that led to a significant failing within our workplace a few years ago.

Most of the events that happen in a day I actively dismiss or ignore. I am trying to discern relevance and give items an appropriate allotment of my time and conscious effort. Most of the time, that appropriate amount is pretty close to zero.

This activity feels risky. What if that email addressed to 20 people actually had some important information or assignment for me? What if that ringing phone I didn't pick up was my boss or the Premier? What if that verbal briefing I didn't take notes for held the key to our future?

Here's the thing though. There's always more information. I think a better question would be "What's the opportunity cost if I pay attention to this?"

Just a few of our information sources are colleagues, bosses, mainstream media, bloggers, twitter, cable television, youtube, magazines and email, both anticipated and spam. Who's to say where the next nugget is going to come from? Who's to say it's going to be delivered at all? Maybe you alone are going to generate the knowledge necessary for the next step. Uh oh. That requires quiet reflection and new ideas. Can you make that space?

I'm making a focused effort to remember the macro story. The pattern that results in the win (or the loss) that defines the big chunks. I'd like that memory burned into my mind. That's the piece of information that would save me countless hours of heartache.

Without that memory, we engage in patterns and efforts that didn't work before. Sadly, I think most participants on this earth remember the small things, not the big.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Being Willing to Leave

I've experienced an inverse relationship between my desire to stay at a job and how much value I add.

It seems counter-intuitive, but the more comfortable I become with the idea of leaving, the more comfortable I also become with behaving in a way I know to be right. I don't let the expectations of those around me dictate the way I work.

Even at the worst of times, I don't think I actually participate in the frenzy at the same level as those around me, but there are degrees. That's why exit interviews can be so valuable. Individuals might just give you a glimpse of reality.

When you're not participating in the status quo, you're innovating. That's valuable.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Year of the Nevin

2010 marks the 10 year anniversary of my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. By most accounts, I’m smarter, happier and healthier than I was back on May 16th, 2000.

I think we should celebrate. I’ve always been open about my diagnosis, and I’ve always sought to help those who also suffer. I think my 10 year anniversary is a good time to take it up a notch.
I’m calling it The Year of the Nevin.

Starting January 1, 2010, the party begins. We’re celebrating Success with MS.

MS has drastically changed my life. It’s made some things harder. It’s made others a lot easier. The following list is as scientific as I get:

Getting enough rest
Catching flying objects
Walking without bumping something
Maintaining my ego
Letting go of “jock Nevin”

Acknowledging my mortality
Sharing feelings
Connecting with my family
Walking away from work
Committing to exercising
Subjugating my ego
Embracing “well-rounded Nevin”

Here’s some things I’d like to do as commemorative acts in 2010:

Publish a booklet of things I’ve learned about MS
Distribute the booklet in Saskatchewan MS Society offices
Host a party and fundraiser on Saturday, May 15th
Write a blog that celebrates The Year of the Nevin
Commemorate my 11th consecutive MS Bike Tour with my biggest team ever
Complete an Olympic-distance triathlon
Distribute commemorative The Year of the Nevin souvenirs

It will also be 10 years of marriage for Kerri and I in 2010. Another reason to celebrate... another big party, I think.

Please help me out here. Is it too bold? What else should I do?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Discerning Relevance

I had a great conversation today about Black Swans.

I haven't read the book, though it is now on my reading list.

There are events that are a rare occurence in your life. These are game-changers, and they're as rare as the fabled black swan. Events in this category would be Sept. 11, a world war, a collapse of financial markets, and with any luck, the election of Obama. I think that's the point of the book and its title.

But I also think there's a deeper hierarchy of important things. Unfortunately most of the time, we are ignoring this hierarchy in favour of the easy path of just being "busy". We simply try and deal with all of it instead of filtering and sorting.

There's the stuff that isn't quite so rare, but is still pretty big. Let's say these things happen a few times in a decade. A university degree, a significant shift in what you do, a severance package, a big promotion.

We go down the scale, and there's the significant events that happen a few times a year. The hiring of an employee, a re-organization announcement, an unexpected reaquaintance with a lost friend.

We can keep going. There's events that are of the significance that we see occuring monthly, weekly, daily or hourly. This spectrum of different-sized events goes from the Black Swan moment all the way down to the 40-a-day "reply all" emails.

The thing is, there may not be a lot of cues to tell you which event is big and which one is small. Regardless of size, they can all come to us on the same old information-overload train.

How appropriate is our response to the big events? The medium ones? The small ones? When we're under constant attack from new information, our filter gets skewed. We start over-reacting to the small stuff and under-reacting to the big stuff. Personally, I'd appreciate a "recommended appropriate response level" attached to each message. Alas, I think that's what our brains and free will are for.

Peter Drucker wrote "The Effective Executive" in 1967. He defined everyone that is having to make choices based on information as an "executive." "Effective," you could say, are the ones among us who can summon an appropriate response to events, be it appropriately large OR appropriately small. Effective people put their time and energy where it matters.

That effort is rarely devoted to the most recent email. In the hierarchy of priorities, what's the likelihood that the latest is also the most important?