Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Employee Engagement

"If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time."

My reading lately has started to show strong correlations between several current business leadership themes.

1) Strengths-based leadership/hiring - The Gallup organization is one of the major sources of information on this topic. "Now Discover Your Strengths" was written by them and lots of people have started preaching this idea. I personally really like the idea of people being organized according to their strengths. I agree that it helps people enjoy their work. Example article.

2) Democratic workplaces - Coming from a different direction is the idea that your employees are willing and even interested in helping improve the company and business. Historically management has been based on distrust between the top and the bottom of the hierarchy. Democratic workplaces are based on the idea that if you let employees make their own decisions, that they'll act responsibly. This is one of my favorite concepts as I love to come up with new ideas and need people to be open to those ideas. Example article.

3) Collaboration - Enterprise 2.0 is challenging existing management styles because it is all about power and knowledge at the edges. This is the big topic right now, but it gains a lot when considered together with democratic workplace strategies. A lot of the resistance that E2.0 faces is due to organizational culture more that anything else. Wikinomics is a decent primer that introduces the concepts for those still learning what Web2.0 is all about. For the more advanced, Amazon recommends some really great books, dipping into psychology and organizational behavior.

4) Teamwork - Just because we have fancy Web2.0 tools doesn't mean we work well together. Management gurus have long touted the importance of teamwork, but that doesn't mean everyone gets it. Five Dysfunctions of a Team is definitely my next purchase after I finish the 4 books I'm currently reading. Have you ever wanted to start a business just so you could work with your friends and trusted associates. We can build those kinds of teams. We can build teams of trust and inter-dependency.

I'm still not sure if my recent studies have taken such an "organizational-behavior" bent lately because I enjoy it for it's own sake or because it is so important to my personal work style. Either way, these are ideas that I feel could revolutionize any company.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nothing is Easy

What happens when you spend years pushing your career in a particular direction and something tells you to go back where you came from?

I'm grateful for the things I've learned by pondering my entrepreneurial interests, but to drop my efforts for a freelance career path is hard. Having read "The Dip" helped me understand the decision that I face, but it was still up to me to take the action. I had to say no to some job opportunities and that was hard too.

I've realized that I really want to help improve cooperation inside organizations through both correct application of technology and good communication and social skills. Startups need this as much as big companies, but they tend not to have a problem with it. I want an environment where I can apply all the business management topics I'm studying and where there are enough people that I can help grease the gears of interaction.

I worked at Brigham Young University and Novell and, when I felt the organization resistance from the trenches, I thought I needed to move to smaller companies. Now I realize that what I really want to do is to reduce that resistance to employee contribution. Having been there and left is a blow to my pride, but I just need to stand up and move forward. It's unproductive to lament past choices once your lesson has been learned.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cisco's Democratic management

I recently caught the story about Cisco changing it's management structure from command-and-control to collaborative. McKinsey Quarterly, FastCompany, and several blogs have articles about it. It think it's interesting that John Chambers talks about command-and-control structures in much the same language as Ricardo Semler. I wonder if Chambers read the book?

The comments on the WSJ blog article are disheartening. Everybody that commented talked about how big a failure Cisco's new management style is. They all said that the entire concept is a bunch of "mumbo-jumbo". FastCompany's article title even calls the idea "Socialist", although it appears to give a balanced analysis of it. How is it that such a modern, liberal idea can remain so inaccessible to people?

Netflix and Cisco are the only two companies that I had read about that are embracing collaborative/democratic management, but I just found a site all about organizational democracy and the companies that embrace it.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Personal Initiative vs Business Hierarchy

As I've moved through jobs I've seen things I liked and things I didn't like. I decided pretty quickly that I don't like the hierarchical rigidness of big companies. I do however enjoy the large problems they have to solve.

So between wanting to tackle large and difficult problems, and wanting the flexibility to exercise initiative, I started to study entrepreneurship and startups. That lead me to study business management styles. I wanted to know what kind of company I would fit in with and what it was about big companies that made them so different from small companies. That was when I started to understand the rigid structure that forms inside most companies as they grow.

I took that rigid structure for granted until I read a book called Maverick. It's a book about allowing all levels of your organization to self-organize and self-manage. It completely changed my perspective about how businesses should be run. At the time, I didn't know of any companies that had incorporated any of these ideas.

Evidently not many do. Rob Patterson pointed me to a presentation about Netflix and said, "In a lifetime of studying organizational culture, I have seen nothing this clear or brilliant." For me it is really exciting to have more study material as I learn about cultivating personal initiative in businesses.

The presentation says that it is for reading more than presenting so dig in. It's a long one, 128 slides, but as I digest it I'm sure I'll have some new ideas to share.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Dead easy google maps integration

Several months ago I had to plot data on a map. It didn't need to be very fancy, it was a low budget project and they just needed to see between 100-5000 data points on a map. After looking around it seemed to me that the easiest way of plotting the data was to just generate a georss document and send the user to a google maps url that would load the rss document.

RSS is most commonly used for keeping track of blog updates, but that doesn't mean that's the only thing you can use it for. Nothing says that the data in the RSS feed has to be time oriented or even changing. My application generates the RSS document from the database, so it could change from time to time, but on the whole it shows the same items all the time. It actually doesn't even have a date in the document.

My application just created a url that the user could visit to view the RSS for the needed data and then redirected them to google maps with the RSS feed url as a query option:
Google maps downloads the RSS document and displays the items on the map. The xml is really easy to build. If you are just putting this data in RSS to get it to google maps (I did) then you'll have to build the RSS from scratch. It's still easy. Here is an example of some simple RSS markup that you can easily generate from what ever language you are using.

It took me 30min to roll out basic google maps integration with my data using this really easy method. You can read more about it at georss.org.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

I recently read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography and it had a lot of meaning and inspiration for me. He talks in detail about his efforts as a young man to improve himself and is training. He spends a large portion of the book on his mid-life and his efforts to establish himself in the community as a business man and the mis-steps he made and the keys to his success.

The route the Franklin took in building his business and then profiting from it as it grew beyond himself and in his later years seem to me an excellent pattern for encouraging entrepreneurship and instilling a sense of ownership in the front line of our productive efforts as a society.

One of the elements that had the greatest effect on me was that Franklin consistently pointed out the importance of his relationships to his business activities. He made friends with lots of people and as friends they each found was to help each other mutually. The repeated examples in his life really helped drive home the need for me to reach out and really connect with other people. Not in a sleazy marketing way, but make a really effort to extend my circle of friends. My nature is to have a small circle of very deep friendships, so have a looser circle of less frequent friendships is something that I have to work on.

My marketing professor said, "All things being equal friends buy from friends. All things not being equal, friends still buy from friends." That has stuck with me as I've read many sources and it has really helped me understand the direction I need to take to be a successful business person.