Maintaining employee engagement in growing and large organisations


By Elisabeth Goodman, 25th November, 2018

Small SMEs, large organisations, and a “microenterprise” model

One of the aspects I enjoy so much about working with smaller Life Science or Biotech organisations* is the level of energy, enthusiasm and connection that every employee seems to have with their company’s purpose.  The people we encounter seem to demonstrate a level of autonomy and independent thinking that is sadly so often lacking in larger organisations.

[*Typically referred to as SMEs – Small or Medium Enterprises.]

When I’ve worked in and with larger organisations it’s been more common to encounter “us and them” mentalities, cynicism, a lack of connection with the company’s purpose and objectives, and a lot more bureaucracy.

So I always enjoy Gary Hamel’s articles in the Harvard Business Review when he describes organisations that have found other approaches to management that mitigate the disadvantages inherent to larger organisations.

In this latest article, co-authored with Michele Zanini, Hamel writes about a Chinese white goods company, Haier, that has achieved significant employee engagement for its 75,000 global workforce, by developing a “microenterprise” (ME) management model.

“Haier’s empowering, energizing management model is the product of a relentless quest to free human beings at work from the shackles of bureaucracy”.  Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini. The End of Bureaucracy, Harvard Business Review, November-December 2018, pp. 50-59.

The microenterprise model: autonomy instead of bureaucracy

Haier’s model is an extreme version of an approach that GSK trialled, whilst I was working there, with its Centres of Excellence (CoEs).  In that model, there were about half-a-dozen CoEs, each with about 350 people.  They set their own goals, and managed their own budgets.

In Haier’s model, there are about 4,000 MEs, most of them with 10-15 people.  There is a strong emphasis on autonomy, with the ME teams setting their own, very ambitious, goals, and managing their own budgets. The MEs also set their own pay rates and distribute bonuses, dividends and profits based on their performance against goals (or “lead targets”). Ultimately, employees behave and are treated more as owners and members of start-up organisations than as employees of a corporate organisation.

The MEs demonstrate a more autonomous approach in other ways:

  • Groups such as HR, Finance, IT, legal affairs etc. are set up as “node” MEs instead of the centralised or shared service model common to larger organisations.  These node MEs have to bid as suppliers to market-facing MEs who can choose between competing support services within or even outside the organisation. Contracts or agreements are then put in place to ensure that expected standards of service are maintained.
  • MEs can change their leaders if they are under-performing, can recruit new leaders in an internal selection process, and can accept take-over bids from leaders elsewhere in the organisation.

Collaboration, open innovation and intrapreneurship in the microenterprise model

There are risks as well as benefits from Haier’s microenterprise model.  The MEs form a sort of network which the authors compare to the internet, or the web.  They have evolved this model to ensure that it works to their advantage as follows:

  1. Collaboration.  Haier’s MEs were initially very competitive, and risked losing the benefits that could be gained from pooling their efforts and expertise.  Haier formed “platform” MEs to address this.  These platform MEs are somewhat akin to the “Communities of Practice” known to Knowledge Management practitioners.  The platform MEs are of two types, one type addresses categories of product or technologies, the other addresses capability development or competencies that might cross several products.
  2. Open Innovation. Haier adopts all the practices available to tap into sources of innovation beyond the boundaries of its organisation. It invites potential users to provide input on needs, preferences and problems.  It accesses a world-wide network of experts for creative problem solving and to support R&D and eventual sales and support.
  3. Intrapreneurship.  As the HBR authors point out, one of the consequences of  bureaucracy in large organisations is that the organisations can become very conservative.  Haier encourages a start-up culture whereby employees effectively act as intrapreneurs to pitch for and launch new MEs. These new MEs are often initially externally funded, to prove their viability,  before Haier pitches in with internal funds.

The results…

As Haier’s CEO, Zhang Ruimin told one of the authors on an earlier occasion: “We want to encourage employees to become entrepreneurs because people are not a means to an end but an end in themselves.  Our goal is to let everyone become their own CEO – to help everyone realize their potential.”

Apparently, Haier’s resultant growth in gross profits, revenue, and increase in market value are unmatched by any of its domestic or global competitors.

Zhang believes they have achieved this through their practice of rendanheyi – a tight association of “the value created for customers with the value received by employees”.

As the HBR authors point out, most companies have focused on optimising their operations, and, more recently, on digitising their business models.  Haier’s microenterprise approach would appear to be a unique route for achieving employee engagement in a large organisation.

There could be some interesting ideas here for managers and leaders to explore in growing Life Science SMEs:

Could finding ways to continue to work and think like a start-up mitigate against the otherwise inevitable increase in bureaucracy, and decrease in employee engagement inherent to large organisations?

Notes

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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Leadership achievement …with balance


By Elisabeth Goodman, 17th November, 2018

What is “Achievement Orientation”?

The fourth primer in Daniel Goleman et al’s series on Emotional Intelligence is entitled “Achievement Orientation” – as summarised in this illustration.

Illustration of the meaning of “Achievement Orientation” – from primer 4. in Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman et al. Key Step Media, 2017

The authors highlight the difference between what individuals might have excelled at early on in their professional careers vs. what it might take to get them to the next level of management or leadership.

This booklet seems particularly apt to illustrate some of the key concepts that my colleague Liz Mercer and I explore in RiverRhee’s course on the Transition to Leadership.

Balanced leadership

According to Goleman and his co-authors, the best leaders balance their personal drive for excellence, continuous improvement, challenging goals, and calculated risks with an understanding of the needs and goals of the organisation and of the people around them.

Richard Boyatzis shares an insightful perspective on “toxic” leadership.

He suggests that indications of a “toxic’ leader are when they micromanage, and demonstrate unhappiness or stress.  According to Boyatzis, these signal an over-emphasis on personal goals, as opposed to a more balanced concern for the team and for their and the organisation’s goals.

Leaders can achieve a more balanced approach through:

  • greater use of emotional and social intelligence
  • 360 degree feedback
  • practising goal setting, measuring performance and visioning as part of daily routines
  • support from a coach

We can also harness our brains for a balanced approach to achievement

According to Richard J Davidson, we can also develop greater proficiency in “Achievement Orientation” through our understanding of the brain as illustrated below.

The pre-frontal cortex supports the thinking associated with setting goals.  The nucleus accumbens is rich in dopamine and helps us to feel ‘good’ about what we are doing.

Davidson suggests that the left and right sides of the brain can respectively support or act against a positive approach to goal setting and to feeling ‘good’ about it.

As with all things, practice will help to activate these parts of the brain and so help us to get better at achieving the right balance of personal drive and support for others’ goals.

High performance teams can also demonstrate achievement with balance

Each of the twelve primers in the Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence has a chapter by Vanessa Druskat where she describes the behavioural norms that teams might demonstrate.

Druskat and her colleagues studied the performance and behaviours of a number of high performing and average performing teams.

They found that the distinguishing factors were the extent to which the members of the teams developed strong interpersonal relationships as well as the more performance related norms.  The performance related norms that Druskat cites are:

  • Performance orientation
  • Team self-evaluation
  • Proactive problem solving

A full list of all the team norms can be found in: Defining team norms for high performance teams (this is based on the 11th primer: Teamwork)

Grit and calculated risk

According to Goleman, leaders who demonstrate “Achievement Orientation” will have the tenacity to overcome obstacles and set-backs.

They will also be both bold and realistic in their approach to risks.  They will pick the right peg in the ‘ring toss game’ or ‘hoops’ – far enough to stretch them and the organisation, but not so far as to risk disaster!

These concepts are also illustrated in my full-page summary of yet another fascinating booklet in Goleman et al’s series on Emotional Intelligence!

Full page illustration of the meaning of “Achievement Orientation” – from primer 4. in Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman et al. Key Step Media, 2017

Notes

My blogs on other booklets in the series:

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

What to do about project overload?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th November 2018

Illustration from “Too Many Projects” by Rose Hollister and Michael Watkins, Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct 2018 pp. 65-69

As many of the organisations that I work with are really struggling with this issue, Rose Hollister’s and Michael Watkins’ Harvard Business Review article on “Too many projects” (Sept-Oct 2018, pp 65-71) was very appropriate.

Why care about too many projects?

The authors assessment of the potential of too many projects mirrors the kinds of things we have been hearing from our RiverRhee clients in Life Science / Biotech SMEs:

  • increased (negative) stress
  • concerns about the negative impact on the quality of output
  • low morale
  • high turnover

Why organisations end up having too many projects?

It happens so easily…

1. Lack of awareness

As organisations get larger and more complex, they develop more silos so that it’s easy to lose sight of yet another addition to the portfolio and it’s impact on workload.

One department or function will add another project which will in turn impact on other departments or functions whose resources may not be equal to the additional workload.

Organisations will typically have no overall view of their portfolio, nor any mechanism to measure the number of projects within it.

2. Lack of judgement

One more project… according to the HBR authors this can happen through:

  • ‘Band aid’ initiatives: a supposedly quick fix which can end up being the wrong solution for a problem
  • ‘Cost myopia’: cut backs on resources without reassessing the project’s goal, scope, requirements.  (Or, in my clients’ experiences, expansion of scope without reassessing the resources.)
  • Political ‘logrolling’ (a term coined in 1835 by US congressman Davy Crocket) where a senior manager will take on another project just to help a colleague out – not wanting to break any promises
  • General under-funding or under-resourcing of projects

3. Lack of (or the wrong) action

Without a clear view of the portfolio or a way to measure it, and without any formal process for assessing or reviewing the status of projects it can be easy to…

Not have the means or will to stop existing projects..

Prioritise by function or department than by the organisation as a whole..

Add new projects without cutting others…

Make across the board cuts in resources that don’t take into account the impact on individual departments / functions and their projects..

Is project overload an issue for you?

The illustration from the HBR article at the top of this article is an extract of a diagnostic that organisations can use to assess whether project overload is an issue for them.  If the answer to any 4 of the question is ‘yes’ then you will need to find ways to better manage your portfolio..

Good practices for keeping your project portfolio in check

So… how to keep your project portfolio under control should by now be fairly self-evident:

  • Take a cross-organisation view of your portfolio.  Get a true count of the number of projects, and understand the impact of each project’s impact on other departments or functions.  Have leaders work together for this integrated view and approach.
  • Evaluate each initiative before you start.  The article includes examples of the questions to ask.
  • Have a review and sunset policy. Review projects and portfolios on a regular (monthly / quarterly / annual) basis.  You might even, as the authors suggest, expect project teams to reapply for resources in order to continue!  The sunset policy is a clause within the project’s brief describing when / how they will end the project.

And… create a mindset within the organisation that stopping a project does not equate to failure or a lack of merit.. but rather to strong decision making and objectivity.

NOTES

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

How to increase our emotional self-awareness


By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th September 2018

Emotional self-awareness is at the root of emotional intelligence, and it is a skill.  I am increasingly realising, as I work with managers and individual team members, that emotional self-awareness is a skill in which people have varying levels of proficiency.

I’ve gone back to the very first of Daniel Goleman et al’s “Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence” to learn more about what emotional self-awareness is, why it’s important, and how to go about developing it. [See the notes at the end for links to my blogs on some of the other booklets.]

Emotional self-awareness_Goleman et al

1. Emotional Self-Awareness in Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.  Daniel Goleman et al, Key Step Media, 2017

What is emotional self-awareness?

Daniel Goleman defines emotional self-awareness on pages 5 and 34 of the booklet as:

“the ability to understand your own emotions and their effects on your performance.  You know what you are feeling and why – and how it helps or hurts what you are trying to do.  You sense how others see you and so align your self-image with a larger reality.  You have an accurate sense of your strengths and limitations, which gives you a realistic self-confidence.  It also gives you clarity on your values and sense of purpose, so you can be more decisive when you set a course of action.  As a leader, you can be candid and authentic, speaking with conviction about your vision.”

Why is emotional self-awareness so important?

As Goleman explains, if our self-awareness is strong, it makes us better equipped for the three other core components of emotional intelligence: self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

As with so many aspects of emotional intelligence, being self-aware helps us to get better results out of the situations that we find ourselves in.  Because we experience emotions both physically and intellectually, being more in touch with our emotions will have beneficial effects on our mental health, our physical health, and our intellect. And we will interact more effectively with others.

For leaders in a business environment, the positive effects will spread to our colleagues, teams, and to the organisation as a whole.  Goleman quotes results from the Korn Ferry Hay Group that quantify the benefits:

  • Where leaders had multiple strengths in emotional self-awareness, 92% had teams with high energy and high performance
  • Where leaders were low in emotional self-awareness, they created negative climates 78% of the time

How can we improve our emotional self-awareness?

Daniel Goleman and his co-authors have three or four suggestions for us.

  1. Interoception. The first way to improve our emotional self-awareness (according to Richard Davidson) is to tune in to what is happening in our bodies: our internal signals.  The technical term for this is “interoception”.  Basically, our heart rate, our muscle tension and our breathing are all affected by our emotions – and our awareness of this is controlled by the part of the brain called the insula.  Apparently, MRI scans can pick up increased activity in the insula when we are actively interrogating how our body feels.  So, we can learn to pay more attention to what is going on in our bodies.
  2. Reflection.  We can also increase our emotional self-awareness by taking the time to think about how we are feeling.  How this is connected to whatever might be going on.  How we’ve reacted to a particular situation.  And how we could behave differently.  Keeping a daily journal is one way to do do this.
  3. 360 degree feedback.  This is a popular tool for management and leadership development.  We can use it to get feedback on how others perceive us: our strengths and our opportunities for development.  And we can compare that feedback to our self-perception, and discover gaps or mis-matches between the two.
  4. On-going feedback.  We can also ask supportive colleagues to alert us to situations where it might be helpful for us to be more aware of how we and others are feeling, and where our behaviour may be more or less helpful to others.  George Kohlrieser suggests that we have colleagues help us, or that we have a mentor or a coach to support us in this way.

A couple of additional tips

  1. Team self-assessment.  Vanessa Druskat writes a chapter in each of the series’ booklets about the topic’s relevance to teams.  Here she reminds us that teams can also demonstrate emotional self-awareness by taking the time to actively monitor how they are doing, from an emotional and relationship perspective.  Vanessa Druskat also suggests that it takes a courageous team leader to do this: to not worry about what the findings might indicate about their effect on the team, or about bringing any conflicts into the open.
  2. Checking-in as a regular practice.  Daniel Goleman tells an effective anecdote in the booklet’s conclusion about a nurse who takes a moment, before visiting each of her patients, to tune into her feelings, and to remind herself to give her full attention to the next patient.  We could do the same before we initiate any conversation at work with direct reports, colleagues, managers, customers or suppliers!

Notes

My blogs on other booklets in the series:

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Organisational awareness – combining intellectual and emotional intelligence


By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th September 2018

Booklet number 7 in Daniel Goleman et al’s “Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence” is entitled ‘Organizational Awareness”.

As with the previous booklets that I have documented:

I have found it helpful to summarise the key points from the various contributors in the book.

Here is my summary in the form of the ‘why’, the ‘what’, the ‘how’

Why is organisational awareness so important?

Key points from 7: Organizational Awareness in Daniel Goleman et al’s Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence

What is organisational awareness?

A system that involves the awareness, development and use of both intellectual and emotional intelligence in the context of:

Informal and social networks (within and outside the organisation).  Knowing who are the opinion leaders, decision makers, influencers.  Who are the people that people defer to?  Who are the people who make things happen (or block them from happening)?  What is the nature of the interactions with external partners, suppliers, customers?

The engagement of every employee: the demonstrated connectedness between the organisation’s mission, values, goals and day-to-day behavioural norms.  How people are focusing their attention and their energy.

External forces affecting the organisation e.g. through PESTLE analyses (Politics, Economics, Social, Technical, Legal, Environmental) to understand the external landscape and how this might affect the organisation; how it should be adapted.

Extension of personal emotional intelligence to the wider organisation: applying all the skills we have for understanding and controlling our own emotions to the wider context in which we operate.  Using these skills to understand the emotional undercurrents in the organisation and, in a leadership situation, to influence and channel them towards a positive outcome.

How to practise organisational awareness

  1. Listen to and observe conversations within and outside meetings (applying your emotional intelligence skills)
  2. Ask yourself and others about what is going on when decisions are being made and change is taking place.
  3. Find out who are the ‘go to’ people: the ‘movers and shakers”.
  4. Carry out analytical research, or commission external consultants to help you with this.
  5. Make use of established tools such as stakeholder analysis when planning to implement change; and team temperature / health checks or diagnostics

Now… how will you approach organisational awareness?

For my part, these are again extremely useful insights to weave into RiverRhee’s courses for managers and teams.

NOTEs

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Aligning expectations will help to reduce misunderstandings and conflict


By Elisabeth Goodman, 16th July 2018

If we don’t know what is expected of us, it can be hard to deliver it!

No matter how informal the management practices may be in your organisation, there will come a point when someone will query what it is that you are there to do and whether you have delivered it.  That someone might be you, in a conversation with your line or project manager, or your line or project manager in a conversation with you!

We work with fast-growing Biotechs, and also with more Library and Information groups in more established organisations.  The formality of their management practices varies enormously in both, but discussions invariably arise which reflect some lack of clarity about expected roles.

Such lack of clarity might result in:

  1. Expected tasks not being completed, or not being completed on time
  2. Unnecessary work being done on tasks that are not required
  3. Lack of recognition of work that exceeds what would otherwise be expected of someone
  4. Stress for and conflict amongst any of the parties involved

There are a number of tools available to help manage expectations

Tools for managing expectations

Aligning expectations will help to reduce misunderstandings and conflict. Slides from RiverRhee’s courses for those who are new to management.

Job descriptions define baseline expectations for roles and responsibilities

Job descriptions used to be a standard tool in organisations to define the expectations of someone’s role at work.  They are still generally used as the basis for recruitment, but are not always maintained as a reference point for ongoing roles.  So it’s not unusual for delegates on our courses not to have a job description, or for it to be out-of-date or not specific to their role.

Those with an HR role in small Biotechs often struggle with having the time or expertise to document all the roles in an organisation – so we often suggest that individuals and/or their managers have a go at drafting their job descriptions.   Those without job descriptions in larger organisations could also consider doing this.

Even a draft job description can act as a starting point for agreeing expectations.

Objectives document and facilitate discussions about more transient responsibilities

Again, the organisations that we work with have variable practices around objective setting.  Done well, they can be used for managing shifting expectations during the course of a year.

Whereas job descriptions define broad areas of responsibility for an individual, objectives reflect new areas of activity, opportunities for improvement, and more transient responsibilities that may come and go.

So, for example, a scientist with responsibilities in a particular therapeutic area, or for particular types of assays, may have an objective to investigate the feasibility of moving into a new therapeutic area, to develop new or improved assays or to develop relationships with a new client

Similarly, an information scientist with responsibility for supporting a particular customer group may have an objective to identify good practices for extension to another customer group, or to develop a new type or product or service.

How objectives are defined will vary from one organisation to another, but some form of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) acronym is commonly adopted.

Whilst setting objectives can be challenging, as they generally evolve over the year, not documenting them will create even more challenges in terms of meaningful discussions about expectations and what has been achieved.

Project charters ensure that individuals, their line managers and project managers are all aligned on expectations

This RiverRhee newsletter (A second look at Project Management), also referenced the use of project charters.  Such charters can take a variety of forms, but the key is to include unambiguous details of who is expected to do what, and by when.

Again, these details are likely to change over the course of the project, but they act as an agreed starting point to facilitate conversations amongst all those involved.

Notes

This is the second blog in a series that will be covering all the different modules of RiverRhee’s management courses, in the run down to our next courses in September 2018. (You can read the first blog – Management is about more than just getting the job done! here…)

Keep an eye on RiverRhee’s website for details of our upcoming courses for managers and teams.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Managing your productivity in a collaborative climate


By Elisabeth Goodman, 14th July 2018

Collaboration_HBR JulyAug2018

Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018, pp134-137

Collaborative working is on the rise – at the cost of individual productivity

Speaking from experience

This will not be news to people who are continuously wrestling against the demands of their e-mails, meetings, phone calls and interruptions from colleagues.

Matrix working, multi-tasking on projects and interacting with colleagues, customers and suppliers across time-zones is very much the model for many of the people that we work with at RiverRhee.

The consequence is that people struggle to find time for their ‘own work’: to focus single-mindedly on tasks that need to get done, to read and reflect, to make good decisions, to do their strategic thinking, to be at their most creative if they do this best on their own.

The statistics

Rob Cross et al in “Collaboration without burnout”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018 (pp.134-137) have some statistics for us.  According to the Connected Commons, the demand for collaborative interactions such as those described above has increased by 50% in the last 10 years; and most managers spend at least 85% of their time doing them.

It doesn’t have to be like this

“Collaborative overload” (as defined in a 2016 HBR article by one of the co-authors) is not inevitable.  We can readjust our individual mindsets, habits and the expectations that our colleagues have of us, so as to enable us to achieve a healthy approach towards collaborative working and individual productivity.

How mindsets affect “collaborative overload” vs collaborative efficiency

Not being able to, or not wanting to say “no”

We already know that some people find it harder to say “no” than others.  It can feel unhelpful or even selfish to refuse requests from others.

Another mindset that can make it difficult for us to say “no” is where doing more gives us a sense of achievement, of credibility, of being a top performer, or of being at the centre of things.

The consequences of not saying “no”

The consequences of all of this behaviour on ones workload, priorities, stress levels and ultimate productivity can be very damaging.

In fact, taking everything on that we are asked (or that we offer ) to do may not only be damaging ourselves, but could also damage others in terms of lost opportunities for their learning and development.

It could also be damaging the organisation in that the right people (ourselves included) may not in fact be doing the right jobs.

What’s different about efficient collaborators

According to Rob Cross et al, efficient collaborators make an informed choice about what they do and don’t do.  This is aligned to their areas of expertise, and to where they can add the most value in the organisation.

Efficient collaborators’ self-worth comes from their ability to focus on what matters, and from helping others to learn, develop and gain visibility and recognition for what they do.

Tips for achieving a healthy approach towards collaboration and individual productivity

Find your “north star” objectives

In our RiverRhee course and module on managing your time, we’ve taken Stephen R. Covey’s  second “habit” of “beginning with the end in mind”, and Brian Tracy’s recommendation (in Eat that Frog) to focus on the unique contribution that you can make.

If you can define the unique contribution that you can make to your organisation’s goals then, according to Rob Cross et al, this “north star” can guide you in your collaboration with others.

It will help you to have meaningful discussions with your managers and colleagues about where your areas of focus should be, and what would be best delegated or left to others.

Protect your productive time

Finding your “north star” will also help you to decide, and clarify to others which meetings, discussions and decisions you should be involved in, and which ones you are not the best use of your time and expertise.

You can also block out time in your calendar for your ‘own work’ and protect it in the same way that others would protect a meeting.

Influence collaborative working practices

Rob Cross et al remind us that we can encourage good working practices amongst our colleagues for the use of email such as:

  • clear and concise formats for communication
  • avoiding the use of “cc” and “reply to all”
  • using collaborative working tools (such as Google docs) for complex discussions or work
  • switching to face-to-face or phone conversations when the email thread is starting to get too complicated

And we can influence efficient use of time in the meetings that we do attend by such practices as ensuring that:

  • there is an agenda and that it is circulated in advance
  • the right people are in the meeting
  • decisions and actions are documented and circulated after the meeting

Use your network effectively

According to Rob Cross et al, focusing on the quality of interactions rather than on the quantity of relationships, will have a beneficial impact on collaborative working.

They suggest that in high quality interactions, there is a sense of purpose and energy in the discussion.  Both parties are aware of each other’s goals, there is trust, and a mutual desire to support each other, and a respect for each other’s time.

This approach can be applied to all discussions that take place with members of a manager’s network: peers, direct reports (in one-on-ones) and higher managers!

Conclusion

Discussions about time and productivity management traditionally focus on what the individual can do to better manage their time.

Rob Cross et al’s article provides a useful perspective on how the context for that is so inter-twined with the current culture of collaborative working.

Their suggestions are valuable additions and reinforcements of concepts that other authors such as Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Brian Tracy  (Eat that Frog) and Graham Allcott (Productivity Ninja) have to offer us.

NOTES

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.