March 12, 2012

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Knowledge is not a “Thing”

February 23, 2015

Classic wall clockEarly in my career I worked for a large Midwestern textbook publishing firm. I have never forgotten a conversation with one editor, a brilliant, well-educated woman, who told me in tears that she had just been docked a full week’s vacation.

My friend was supposed to be at her desk and at work every morning at 9:00 AM; her supervisor had been tracking her arrivals and had secretly documented that over the past twelve months she had accumulated almost 40 hours of tardiness (10 minutes one day, 5 minutes another, and so on).

It apparently made no difference that she almost never joined the parade out the door at precisely 5 PM; in fact, she regularly worked an hour or two beyond 5 PM to meet her deadlines. And she often took work home at night.

That might have been an appropriate disciplinary action if my friend had been working on an assembly line somewhere and was being paid by the hour. But she was a former secondary school teacher with a Masters degree who was being paid a decent salary to collaborate with a college professor on a high school math book. [click to continue…]


In 1928 the Belgian artist René Magritte painted a picture of a pipe (the kind you fill with tobacco). The painting, called “The Treachery of Images,” now resides in the Los Angeles County Art Museum. Under the image of the pipe are the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” French for “This is not a pipe.” In other words, although the painting is very realistic, it is not the real thing; it’s just a representation.

In similar fashion, this is not an organization:

org chartActually it’s not even an image of an organization; it depicts only two components of organizational reality: the division of work into specialty areas, and a hierarchy or power structure.

Of course, actual organizations are far, far more complex than the charts we typically rely on to depict power and authority relationships. In fact, those images tell us almost nothing about how an organization actually operates; they provide no information whatsoever about the processes, procedures, operating principles, or values and culture that are part of every organization and guide the way its members create products or services. [click to continue…]


Upcoming Events

February 14, 2015

We are entering the spring conference season; I’ll be attending and presenting at several important conferences during March and April:

The Future of Work 2015 (at the Ballagio in Las Vegas) March 3-4

“Leading Change: Putting Good Ideas into Practice, in Theory and at Zappos” (March 4, 9:45 – 10:30 AM)

My presentation partner for this session is John Bunch, Technical Advisor to the CEO and Lead Link for Holacracy Implementation at

Special Deal: If you register for the Conference using this link, you can get a special $150 discount off the registration fee!

Facility Fusion (IFMA, Vancouver, Canada, at the Sheraton Wall Centre) March 9-11

I will be contributing the Workplace Evolutionaries Master Class on Monday, March 9, and I will be leading a World Café on Wednesday afternoon, March 11. The World Café will be a highly interactive working session called “A Conversation about Conversations at Work.”

Register for Facility Fusion Canada at this link.

Facility Fusion (IFMA, Orlando, Florida, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel) April 20-23

At this conference I will be partnering with Diane Coles Levine of Workplace Management Solutions and Sherry McNutt to present a working session on “The Place Just Right” – the role of the workplace in attracting and retaining talent. We are developing a new workplace/workforce survey that will be distributed to several thousand members of IFMA and IAMC this spring to help us understand and document how workplaces and workplace policies impact recruiting and talent retention in organizations around the world.

Register for Facility Fusion Orlando at this link


Living Room Conversations

February 9, 2015



Several years ago my good friend Joan Blades co-founded a national nonprofit group called Living Room Conversations, or LRC, with the explicit goal of improving the level and quality of social discourse around public policy issues.

Joan, like many Americans across the political spectrum, is deeply concerned about the apparent inability (and unwillingness) of people with differing political views to talk to each other – and more importantly, to listen to each other. We all know how “broken” the US Congress is; its national approval ratings have never been lower.

But Living Room Conversations isn’t trying to reform Congress (except through grass roots public pressure); it is a movement aimed at bringing “ordinary” people holding different basic views together in their own living rooms to explore issues such as voting rights, prison reform, immigration, tax policies, health care, the Middle East, and other major issues that seem to divide us from our neighbors – and yet are fundamentally important to our collective futures on this planet.

In contrast, my professional focus is on conversations at work, and how they affect organizational performance and the workplace experience for individuals and teams. [click to continue…]


LargeCrowdSome time ago I heard a story about a CEO who had opened up his organization’s strategic planning process to solicit ideas from all of the company’s 5,000 employees. When asked why he did that instead of relying on his executive committee, he said, simply, “I woke up one morning and realized that 5,000 people are a whole lot smarter than five.”

But that kind of openness is highly unusual among senior executives. Most of the executive leaders I have known and worked with see themselves as the “deciders” and the visionaries whose instincts about what is needed are superior to everyone else’s. Most of them are convinced that’s why they are in a leadership position.

But in large complex organizations it’s not that simple.

As I pointed out last week (“Getting Everyone in on the Action”), there is valuable knowledge distributed throughout every large organization – but it’s usually buried deep within the rank and file, and most executive leaders do not seem interested in seeking it out. [click to continue…]


Men Playing The Game Of Rugby UnionHow can you get everyone in on the action and still get action?

Several years ago I was consulting with a major international bank on the deployment of a global IT system. Coincidentally, the bank was also actively engaged in a company-wide cultural change program. Although I wasn’t involved directly in that effort I heard about it almost daily from my clients, who were senior directors in the bank’s IT group.

Unfortunately, what I heard wasn’t particularly positive; in fact, most of the comments were negative and highly emotional. My clients believed the new “vision and values” didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and more importantly saw them as being imposed unilaterally on the whole organization by the chairman’s office.

In fact, almost everyone I knew inside the bank referred to the change program as “Bob’s Vision” or “Bob’s values.” In short, no one other than Bob, the chairman and CEO of the bank, felt any ownership of the new vision or its accompanying values. The real tragedy was that Bob’s vision made logical sense from a rational business perspective, and the bank was in dire need of a major shakeup and redirection. Bob could see that but had been unable to persuade even his direct reports to support his initiative. [click to continue…]


What’s the Question?

January 19, 2015

Business meeting.My recent focus on conversations at work was inspired by this statement from Alan Webber, the founder of Fast Company magazine, in a Harvard Business Review article he wrote way back in 1993:


… the manager’s job is to create an environment that allows knowledge workers to learn – from their own experience, from each other, and from customers, suppliers, and business partners. The chief management tool that makes that learning happen is conversation.

Organizational leaders at all levels have an incredible opportunity – and an equally incredible responsibility – to generate meaningful conversations. What they do and say on a daily basis affects the lives and the careers of everyone they come in contact with, to say nothing of the impact those conversations have on an organization’s performance and its ultimate success or failure in the marketplace.

I’ve also become convinced that great conversations start with thoughtful questions. A question signals your interest in learning – your openness to new information and new ideas.

In fact, I believe that asking the right kinds of questions is one of the most important leadership skills I can think of. [click to continue…]


Conversations that Create

January 12, 2015

Last week I wrote about “Conversations that Connect” – the importance of designing conversations that enable individuals to experience deep personal connections with others. That, after all, is what makes relationships meaningful and lasting.

Brainstorming Now let’s build on that foundation to explore about how to lead conversations that create. Most work in organizations is focused on solving problems or producing new ideas – product designs, marketing campaigns, new ways of understanding why sales are growing or shrinking, cheaper ways of operating the business.

I sometimes think the biggest barrier to effective brainstorming and problem-solving is the tendency most groups have to close in on a solution too quickly. Unfortunately most people have a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; being aware of a gap between where you are and where you want or need to be can be highly stressful.

Understandably, we want to develop a solution as quickly as possible so we can relieve the stress of uncertainty or the prospect of failure. However, the more widely we search for an answer the more likely we are to discover (or invent) a better solution

In fact, many groups are guilty of what has been called the “streetlight effect.” [click to continue…]

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Conversations That Connect

January 5, 2015

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Early in my business career I was fortunate to work for a wise, experienced senior executive who was masterful at leading conversations that mattered. As a newly-minted MBA graduate I was at the bottom of the totem pole in a family-managed business.

My boss had been hired to upgrade the company’s management practices, employee benefit programs, and overall productivity. He tasked me with building ties to the leaders of several business units and engaging with them in conversations about the company’s future.

I was significantly younger than almost all of those business unit leaders. That was actually a good thing, because I clearly posed no threats to them, and as a newcomer to the industry it was easy to present myself as someone who wanted to learn the business (which was certainly true). [click to continue…]