Monday, June 25, 2007

Herding Cats at Work

I was reviewing Ram Charan's book titled Know-How, The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don't, and came to the chapter titled Herding Cats - Getting People to Work Together by Managing the Social system of Your Business.

Pretty kitchy title, but it sure got my attention. As did the key concepts in it. If you get the chance to read it, you'll find it outlines a very practical approach to creating an environment that enables people to work together effectively in a business context.

He begins the chapter with the following:

"Perhaps the biggest untapped opportunity for your success as a leader is shaping the way people work together to deliver the numbers. Your own performance depends on your ability to get other people to commit to and deliver their common goals."

Charan defines a social system generally as the interaction between people, the information flows and how decisions are made, and advocates examining and engineering the business social system to maximize effectiveness and results.

As he mentions in the chapter, and I'm sure many of you have found, work environments are often filled with endless / pointless meetings with no real outcomes, conflicts are hidden below the surface and rarely resolved, information is disconnected from decision making, and decision making processes are often unclear and ineffective.

These conditions exist, according to Charam, because "... most companies' social systems are a mishmash of operational mechanisms (meetings etc.) that are poorly designed and disconnected from each other... and behaviour in them is left to chance.."

He advocates that leaders develop the capability and explicitly design the specific, critical points when people must come together to share information, resolve conflicts, solve problems and make decisions. He empahsizes acting along two perspectives; the process side and the people side.

On the process side, each get-together should be focused on the right issue, has clear purpose and focus, and the right information is avaible at the right time.

On the peope side, Charan talks about how people interactions are complex, that people influence each other, build relationships, develop perceptions and feelings (right or wrong) about each other, and share vital information for decision making in the context of those relationships, perceptions and feelings. He suggests that leaders repeatedly, and with courage and discipline, actively shape people's behavours to align with good social process, through effective dialog.

Charan breaks down the process of managing the social system into the following steps:

  1. determining when important decisions and trade-offs have to be made and by whom
  2. designing regularly scheduled meetings with the right people, the right information
  3. actively shape behaviours that are displayed in making those decisions (to minimize information hoarding, going off on tangents, not getting to root of issues, driving to individual agendas, not surfacing conflicts and not reaching clear resolutions etc.)
When I reflect on the fundamentals of what Charan proposes, I see a very strong case for facilitation as a core competency among managers and leaders, implementing facilitative leadership, and a case for the type of work that Farm Credit Canada did to define and cascade their cultural practices.


Nimmy said...

Hi Dale,

You've been tagged! :)

Nimmy :)

Chris Collison said...

Hi Dale,
You've probably seen this already, but just in case...


Anonymous said...

That's too funny Chris..

Very much like some of the meetings I find myself involved in. ;-)