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My Thoughts on Potluck Leadership

Sirpa PietikäinenThere are no bad employees. There are only bad leaders and, as a consequence, employees, who are not in the right job. It’s the leader’s responsibility to see, if someone is in the wrong place, and draw the necessary conclusions.

Most of all good leadership is about the ability and will to recognize the different skills and potential of people.

In the early days, leadership – as well as sports coaching – focused on just the opposite: recognizing the mistakes people made. Plenty of time was used to find out, which areas should be developed further. The intent was good but results were usually devastating.

You still can’t use the long division, Cooper test didn’t go that well and you yet again forgot your biology text book home – that’s why you’ll get extra homework, you’ll run the test again and get grounded for forgetting the text book. If a teacher always reminds a person of her weaknesses, in the worst case scenario the person will eventually lose her courage to try.

Good leader, teacher or coach recognizes person’s strengths and gives her opportunities to develop fast in the areas she’s good at. Of course you will have to develop also the skills you’re not naturally talented in, but the level of ambition can be lower.

Allowing mistakes is essential for good leadership. It takes a lot of courage to train also your weaker sides and step away from the famous comfort zone. It takes also courage from the leader to accept the fact that mistakes will be made during the journey. Work culture allowing mistakes also encourages people to be open about failures. If people at your workplace start to cover up their mistakes, the destructive side effects easily recur. Besides, you learn by making mistakes. You will never learn a new skill if you don’t first try it.

I dare to make a rough generalization: women are usually more capable of building these kinds of organizations. It’s not innate, yet it’s the consequence of how women in our society are brought up to fit a certain role, and an essential part of that role is listening to people. As our society tends to raise women as good listeners, they are often apt to apply a leadership tactic I like to call Potluck Leadership.

Potluck Leadership is about building self-guided units. When one of these units decides to, for instance, throw a party, there is no need for one tough manager, who’s in charge of organizing the event with checklists and strict instructions; the party gets done without the manager. Instead, people talk to and listen to each other.

Someone says she’ll bring the cake, other one will take care of the salad and the third one informs everyone about her excellent skills in making fruit punch. People organize themselves, which means that everyone’s strengths are honored. Even though the leader would think that instead of a shrimp salad, we’d definitely have to make a chicken salad, she has to be patient and accept that her own opinion is not the holy truth. The leader takes care of the big picture: the main thing is that the party will be organized and there will be something to eat and drink. When it comes to the details, those should be left for the employees to take care of and the leader should trust that there will be a party – maybe it’s not exactly the same as it would’ve been if you had organized everything yourself, but it will still be as good as ever.

It’s not easy. Leadership, at best, is organizing success; you provide people with opportunities to do things their own way and help them to find and develop their own strengths.

This will result in more agile organizations – and better parties.

The writer is a Member of the European Parliament.

Henry Ford Management Style Doesn’t Work in Information Work

I had a chance to talk about managing collaboration on Thursday 30th May at Information Worker Productivity day. I presented a seven step model of successful collaboration management from information systems point of view (check the SlideShare presentation below). I want to highlight one of the themes discussed with the audience after the presentation. How to maximize the business benefits of enterprise social features and why Henry Ford management style doesn’t work when we are working with information?

Enterprise software, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SharePoint for instance, include many social features but still the benefits of the features are not fully realized. Usually the root cause for inadequate business benefits is one of the following:

1) Platform capabilities are not connected to processes producing business value or
2) The management has not yet understood how to affect business results by managing interactions

Problem in point 1) is usually that the use of the technical capabilities software provides is not managed as a part of the business process. For example our CRM product, Virta (Flow), enables adding meeting notes as comments. If sales management decides that meeting notes must be added to the CRM after every business meeting and the new practice will be monitored in sales teams’ weekly meetings, customer knowledge will start to grow rapidly. This will increase exponentially the value the commenting feature generates.

Root cause in problem 2) is the change in the productive way of working. Many organizations still manage work according to the ideas of late Henry Ford. Management models which were effective in industrial work cannot be applied on “as is” basis on today’s information work. A car that moved on the production line connected workers’ efforts to each other and to the process generating value. It was easy to see by looking at the car if the previous guy had mounted the coachwork.

However, the information work era has multiplied the number of tasks, the “production lines” are scattered and the value chains of work differ from task to task. The sight of the information workers sitting in their cubes is not informative anymore because the manager cannot answer to the following questions just by looking at information workers at the office:

− what tasks are in the making?
− who is doing what?
− what is concretely being made?

When it comes to information work, the problem with Ford’s ideas is that neither the actions required nor the quality differences of the actions are understood. Thus it is impossible to understand how different actions generate results. KPIs are typically on tactical or strategic level and highlight only the results achieved last week, month or year. They do not help management to take corrective actions or encourage desired actions. The most advanced organizations measure the number of key actions but the quality aspects are not monitored on task level.

Henry Ford Management Style Doesn't Fit to Today's Information WorkQuantitative analysis of actions can be applied to both number of actions required and the quality of them. This will help management to organize work and give feedback. The trick is that the significance of the interactions between information workers and interactions across company borders must be understood. The results of this kind of analysis give us insight into what interactions should be managed and how. For example, we found out in one of our customer projects that the amount of times an offer was modified in CRM explained largely the number of sales closed. Based on this observation a sales model was deployed which ensured enough sales activities during the sales project. This allowed the management to monitor the quality of sales communication by adjusting the forecasting model and studying how the coefficient of determination develops.

The role of the information system in information work is to make it as easy as possible to input and utilize data. Results can only be achieved if it has been made sure that enough activities are being carried out and that these activities are of sufficient quality.