Wednesday 3 April 2019

Digital HR Summit: Squads, Tribes and Chapters

We've had a few sessions today on new digital organisation designs. Several of these have been based on Spotify's model of squads, tribes and chapters.

To an extent, this is a good thing. As Gerard Penning from Shell (above) challenged us this morning, traditional organisations designs don't support design thinking, lean or agile, ie today's digital world, that well.

Some things to note however.
  • Traditional designs (primarily functions) don't support digital approaches but they don't stop it - you just need to put something else in place to help this, eg adding a project dimension in a matrix, changing / splitting the role of line managers, etc. Often the traditional design will still be the best fit.
  • If it's not the right design you should try to develop your own, not copy someone else's. It doesn't work. Those organisations which copied Dave Ulrich's three legged stool for HR without thinking about it know this point well. You may just want to implement agile / scrum as you've seen elsewhere but don't scale it up that way. Don't think Tribes, think process areas.
  • Spotify's model included Guilds (communities) too. This is really important! Squads / teams without communities wear people out and reduce not increase the organisation's humanity (eg Amazon), which is another really important requirement today.

More information on this in The Social Organization.

Please note I may be being unfair. Philips in particular sound like they're doing some great work, including job sculpting. And they did speak about having a network structure and their groups not knowing what they will be doing upfront (which may have been the guilds).

I also liked Bayer's suggestions on integrating organisational and other digital changes.

I was slightly less positive about Vodafone which suggested that cross-tribe co-ordinators aren't needed any more. That's certainly lean, and I know Spotify have a similar model, relying on cadence rather than structure to co-ordinate their work, but this may not be very innovative.

My other posts from the summit: 

And my pre-summit podcast interview: 

  • Consulting   Research  Speaking  Training  Writing 
  • Strategy  - Talent - Engagement  - Change and OD   
  • Contact me to create more value for your business  
  • jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com

Digital HR Summit: AI / Bots

More from the Digital HR Summit, and a couple of good sessions yesterday focusing on digital technology, especially AI, both very smart eg Watson, and rather more simple, eg chatbots.

Geert-Jan de Konig from IBM took us through some of the opportunities for AI as well as the need for partnering with it (above).


We had a look at IBM’s News Discovery, Watson Explorer and Personality Insights (this is mine).

Geert also showed us IBM’s internal AI based pay tool which was called Cogni-Pay and is now the Cognitive Compensation Advisor and which they are thinking about bringing to market.


Of course, in any application like this, addressing ethical and other risks is going to be key.

Kiran Jadav and Steve Gill from EY then spoke and showed us some of their chatbots.

Their experience started by some of their partners getting excited about
IBM’s cognitive onboarding assistant CHIP and the development of their own bot, Buddy.

More recently they’ve built on IBM Checkpoint Bob bot for performance management 
and built a cognitive chatbot called Goldie (see picture).  

The benefits have included a better employee experience, business value (Goldie answered 0.5 million questions in its first month and provided a ROI in 7 days - also saving in calls to the service centre), brand and cultural change. On this, developing Goldie helped EY to move to a more agile, experimental and good enough approach, prototyping rather than piloting. In fact developing the global solution took just 31 days.

Note though, Kevin Mulcahy’s perspective is that this ‘one bot to rule them all’ approach may only be relevant to a large company like EY - smaller firms may need only need something much more simple.


  • Consulting   Research  Speaking  Training  Writing 
  • Strategy  - Talent - Engagement  - Change and OD   
  • Contact me to create more value for your business  
  • jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com

Book Review: Nine Lies about Work

In my last book review, I suggested I was already sold before starting reading the book. I should admit that this time I was feeling fairly negative at the same point. That’s partly because I’ve never been that completely sold by the author Martin Buckingham’s work on strengths (which I think are useful but don't mean we can completely ignore weaknesses) or Gallup’s Q12 measures of engagement (which I think often take organisations in the wrong direction, since they deliberately avoid defining engagement as a psychological state, which I think is fairly essential in taking action to improve it).

In addition, Buckingham is, himself, directly responsible for one of the most popular debatable perspectives on management - that “people leave managers”. I call it a myth, or even an adage, as it’s become something that many people simply trot out without thinking about it - because if you do think about it, it’s clearly not always the case. And an increasing amount of research challenges it as well. Managers are important, but so to are organisations. A good manager in a well run company will create more engagement than a bad manager in the same organisation. But they’ll probably create more engagement than a good manager in a poor company too (‘lie’ #1: people care which company they work for - yes, of course they do).
Note, however, that I don’t call Buckingham’s claim a lie. Buckingham states he chose this word for what he sees as erroneous beliefs because “they are pushed at us so hard, almost as if they’re being used to steer us away from the world as it truly is”. Well, for me, the prime example of this is “people leave managers” but I still don’t think the word lie is either appropriate, or useful, even for that.

This is firstly because the world of work is complex, and different things work for different organisations and different people. Particularly as “there are some things that are real simply because we all agree they’re real”. Just because one set of data says one thing doesn’t necessarily mean something else is wrong. Eg Buckingham has his data from Gallup, his own company and more recently, ADP. And his co-author Ashley Goodall has his data from Cisco - and I think both he and his company are doing some brilliant work. But going back to my last book review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic reviews other research which directly opposes Buckingham and Goodall’s data on the importance of feedback, potential vs talent, cultural variability (vs ‘people leave managers’ / culture not being important), and the role of strengths. I could provide plenty more support for the nine supposed lies as well.

But secondly, having different data saying different things certainly doesn’t indicate a  malevolent intent. So, particularly in today’s world with all the accusations of lies between Trump and CNN, between leavers and remainers in the Brexit conflict, etc, I think we (educated and progressive practitioners in the future of work) need to be really careful about calling other people liars and ideas we don’t agree with lies.
Actually, there really are often 'alternative facts'.
Putting all that aside, there are still a lot of things which irritate me about the book. But there are some real highlights too.

Firstly, I really like the suggestions on the importance of both Me and We, which align with my own focus on both human and social capital. This is particularly important today as there is more focus on teams, and in fact the authors suggest that “in companies with over 150 employees, 82% of people work in teams and 72% work in more than one team”. However, it’s not clear whether these are real teams or simply functional groups. Eg they suggest the big thing about teams is that it allows people to express their individuality but I’d suggest you really need communities for this.

I also particularly enjoyed the book's suggestions on love (lie #8: work-life balance matters most). I still didn’t agree with a lot of the points but I found them interesting provocations. But for me, and as I suggest in The Social Organization, the opportunity for love is to love our colleagues, not to love our work. Work can be positive, but so is life!, and balance or integration are important. Loving work can be positive, for the individual as well as organisation but too much love of it can be just as negative as positive. I also find it odd that the authors criticise 20% time as, along with communities, this is a really important opportunity to create environments where people may find more opportunities to love what they do. But I did like this: “Leading and following are not abstractions. They are human interactions: human relationships. And their currency is the currency of all human relationships - the currency of all emotional bonds, or trust, and of love.”

A problem particularly associated with We is the impact of bias (lie #6: people can reliably rate other people). So I agree that we need to be careful about the idiosyncratic rater effect in performance management (in the same way that Buckingham’s book probably says more about him than the nine areas, and I guess this review says more about me.) However, I can’t understand the logic of asking managers what they would do rather than what they think about the person, since these actions will still be based on biased interpretations about the person. See my comments on the authors’ HBR article describing their performance management work at Deloitte and do let me know if I’m missing something here - I don’t think I am but I’m amazed this got into HBR if not.

Another problem is that there’s often less good data available about We then Me. So I disagree with Buckingham about this too. Bad data isn’t as useful as good data but can still reduce the level of uncertainty about the decisions we need to make. Multiple feedback sources may still be biased but are still more useful than feedback from one individual. And validity is more important than reliability. We often have lots of reliable operational data but often this doesn’t provide valid measures of what we’re focusing on. Asking people what action they will take about their people is an example. So is assessing a leader based upon the followership within their team (eg this is likely to favour men vs women). And so is assuming that people being on at least 5 teams is a positive (they may be engaged by it, but as was pointed out in an HBR session recently they will not necessarily be good at it, and this is also a major cause of organisational over commitment). Actually, Buckingham himself makes this argument in connection with IQ and performance - it’s a reliable measure but isn’t a valid indication of career success.

Moving on, I’m not against strengths or spikiness (lie #4: the best people are well-rounded) and agree excellence is often idiosyncratic. But a lot of organisational activities are very different to playing football for the Dallas Cowboys. Work is complex, more integrated and also often intangible so it’s not always possible to put someone in a role where their weaknesses don’t apply. It’s also interesting that whilst Buckingham promotes individual spikiness, he doesn’t seem to understand organisational spikiness, ie that spiky companies will appeal strongly to some people, hopefully the ones they’re targeting, and that a natural consequence of this is that they will turn some people off. So the fact that Bridgewater with its long list of principles sees a high turnover rate isn’t necessarily a problem (though they may need to improve the effectiveness of their selection activities). I think Cisco acted in a similar way in its spiky boards and councils era.

The above comments on complexity apply particularly strongly to leadership (lie #9: leadership is a thing). Exceptional leaders act in unique ways but most  good leaders do a lot of similar things well, including paying attention to their people and helping them use their strengths. So leaders do need fairly broad ranging skills - weaknesses can become a serious liability otherwise. I think Elon Musk, referred to in the book as a good example of spiky leadership, is really a great example of why breadth is important being someone with huge strengths, but also some fairly catastrophic weaknesses. But I do agree a lot of leadership development is rather rubbish.

I also agree potential is a difficult aspect of people management, but it is also an important one so just because it is difficult does not mean we should ignore it. I do however suggest that potential should always be assessed formally, eg through an assessment centre, not left to managers’ subjective opinions. High potential programs should also include clear entrance and exit criteria and mechanisms. And they should be broad and flexible enough to avoid separation of hi-pos and low-pos, especially given the importance of We, eg see my suggestions on talent slicing. Buckingham notes that no one ever talks about potential and suggests ‘momentum’ instead. Trust me Marcus, nobody ever does or ever will talk about people momentum! (at least I really hope not).

I’ve got more limited concerns about lie #2: best plans win and #3: the best companies cascade goals too but I’ve already gone on long enough. And I’ve already provided my comments on lie #5: people need feedback on one of the authors' recent HBR articles:

"There are some great ideas in this, eg I agree with the suggestion that excellence is spiky. But I agree with Christopher that there are some fairly dumb ones too. In particular the source of truth theory doesn't apply - if people think your presentation is boring they don't need to be right for it to be useful for you to know it. The theory of learning doesn't stop it being useful to know how you're doing. And the theory of excellence just means you need to decide for yourself what you're going to work on. Plus none of it counts if you decide to ask for feedback rather than just being given it. Most feedback does more damage than it does good, but that means we need to learn how to do it properly, not to stop doing it. And it doesn't stop giving people the attention they need either."

To conclude, and you may not be expecting me to write this, but you should read this book. It’s full of complete nonsense but the fundamental idea behind it, which is that we need to check our beliefs, and what data we have to support or challenge them, is absolutely sound, and is also really important to do. Agree or not, Buckingham’s nine points will help you do this. Just don’t call the things you disagree with lies.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Digital HR Summit: New Leadership Competencies

My second session at the Digital HR Summit is with Jennifer Jordan from IMD on leadership competencies in the new digital world.

Virtual teams can work better than face to face, but don’t have the same opportunities for knowledge sharing, so leading these teams is a challenge

Power is more distributed so leaders need to be better at working in the open

We need to get out of our comfort zones eg moving from being a functional expert

Leaders don’t need to know digital technology procedurally but be savvy enough to know what is possible, and be able to build a network around it.

Leadership was all about the individual but now is all about the network they create around them, so they pull in other people’s technical expertise, and be mentored by others from across the organisation.

This means the new competencies include connecting with other, facilitation skills, etc. In my discussion group we talked about the more digital the environment, the more important our human and relational skills become (why in The Social Organization I write about knowledge workers becoming relationship workers).

Also balancing data with gut insight (my ‘wisdom artist’ point again).

Specific competencies in IMD's model include:

Humility and self awareness (learning from experience, and especially failure)
Adaptability and comfort with uncertainty (being both opinionated and adaptable)
Visionary (having and being able to sell and emotionally influence or persuade people around this; simplifying; learning, building and measuring in a scrum type way, outside of software design)
Engaged (being in an ongoing listening mode).

  • Consulting   Research  Speaking  Training  Writing 
  • Strategy  - Talent - Engagement  - Change and OD   
  • Contact me to create more value for your business  
  • jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com

Digital HR Summit: the Tech Fallacy

First session at Stamford Global’s Digital HR Summit is with Filip Moriau on the Tech Fallacy. Technology has transformed but productivity isn’t going up commensurately. Why? Because we’re not doing enough thinking about how we can use tech to develop, support global work, reach potential of teams, create future success, and motivate workforces everywhere.

We talked about some of the current challenges people are facing which are often still around old ERP systems, getting people to enter data correctly etc, but which we need to shift into higher value cognitive tasks, once technology is able to make all these things easier for us.

Our challenges in making this shift include the availability of these digital tools, and perhaps the right people to use them, but mainly the time / priority to make best use of them.

So whilst we might think initially that our key recruitment challenges involve data nerds, increasingly an even more important need is people who can process all the data and insight which can be made available to make appropriate decisions - which is why I always talk about the need for ‘wisdom artists’ rather than data scientists!

And people who understand people and can influence them to take account of their decisions. Attitudes rather than just skills. Storytellers, anthropologists. And people who can collaborate with each other - we often have the right people we need, so again, the new need is for the right teams.

This idea led into some of Filip's ideas about developing teams / circles and linking these into the rest of the organisation (also see The Social Organization, and Michael Arena's book Adaptive Space).

  • Consulting   Research  Speaking  Training  Writing 
  • Strategy  - Talent - Engagement  - Change and OD   
  • Contact me to create more value for your business  
  • jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com