Accurate Self Awareness

I spend a lot of time talking to people about getting good feedback.  Usually, they’ve picked up somehow that everything is not going along as well as they’d like.  It could be a friend saying, “you should go talk with so-and-so, I think you two are not on the same page.”  Or, maybe it’s a boss telling you to shape up in a particular area.  Or, maybe you’ve noticed nobody will sit next to you in the cafeteria.

Humans are social animals
The human desire to achieve is outdone only by the human desire to fit in, so these kind of scenarios are usually unsettling at the core of your emotional well-being.  The “reptilian brain stem” portion of your brain starts sending signals to your body that you are in danger and you feel stress and anxiety.

Downward spiral

Downward spiral

Avoid the downward spiral
Over time, this is really bad for your body if you don’t deal with it. In the short term, this is really bad for your job because a lot of your energy is tied up in worry, defensiveness, etc.   Lots of people begin to “ping” those around them to see if this perceived threat is real.  Unfortunately, if this is not done well it feeds the problem and the spiral takes you down and then out to the market for a new job.

Tips for getting an accurate self assessment:

1. Ask better questions. A generic “how am I doing?” question usually leads to a neutral, safe response like, “fine.”  This gives you a false impression and accelerates the negative spiral by reinforcing your positive self image in the face of some legitimate concerns.  Instead of the generic, open-ended approach, ask a specific question about a specific concern you have.   See my “that’s a good question” post for some tips on this.

2. Ask the right people. In a panic situation, we tend to go to our closest allies for guidance and support.  But you need to build perspective when you are unsure, so extend your reach and ask some people you know will be more critical (helpful) and less inclined to protect you.  Having your feedback biased to your closer colleagues means your awareness is biased too.

3. Reduce risk for truthful input. Recognize that most people are not going to tell you their full critical opinion

Scaredy Cats

Scaredy Cats

because it is “risky” to do so.  They may not want to hurt your feelings, may feel their opinion is not important, may believe it’s not their place to be critical of you, or be afraid that they’ll get a reputation for being harsh or unforgiving.  Try these two ways to get the full story from others:

  • Build trust and be persistent.  Think of this like coaxing a cat out from under the bed.  Here kitty, kitty…
  • Provide an anonymous channel to you.  You can ask a friend to gather some input for you, or you can use a tool like Rypple to do it yourself.

Free Advice for GM #2- A Chevy for Everyone

Continuing in a series of posts about GM and organization design, let’s take a closer look at creating the right organization for Chevrolet.  I know restructuring is not this simple; so take this as the first installment in a high level comparison of organization design options, not a comprehensive plan of action.

A return the the chevy brand essence?

A return to the Chevy brand essence?

Let’s start with Chevrolet, because that’s the easiest to imagine given their current situation.

To me, Chevy is Americana.  This is the car that represents the American Dream, value, performance, and accessibility.

Chevrolet should help people get their first car, the family car, and have a competitive truck option.  This market means head-to-head competition with Toyota and Honda, so it has to be efficient and cost competitive and produce top quality, reliable, desirable vehicles.  Check out this post on The Truth About Cars for a quick review of the Chevy brand.

Key Traits of the new Chevrolet organization:

1. Efficient hierarchical structure. Clean lines of authority to provide clear direction, efficient decision-making, speed to market, and drive focus on customer needs as the basis for every action.  This market is not about sexy cars, it’s about helping people feel good while they get places safely and manage household costs.

2. Make each model a business. Get past the silos of design, engineering, marketing, etc. and organize each model around a General Manager, with a P&L outcome and a target consumer to drive functional integration.   Fidelity Investments organizes this way (dozens of P&L units), and it works really well.  Develop a rabid consumer orientation as a rallying point, rather than being fractured by functional expertise.

3. Restructure the supply chain. As pointed out by Charles Mann in Beyond Detroit, source great parts from the best suppliers by developing a modular platform.  Don’t try to own everything, focus on total design, build, and sell.

4. Engage employees. Focus on great leadership and build pride (See Jon Katzenbach). The days of management v. labor must be left behind.  This organization needs every single person engaged in a mission to deliver cost competitive, high quality vehicles.  Organize production around manufacturing teams provide job rotations to help employees learn, grow, and develop as a natural component of work.  Use the portfolio of models to allow employees career movement.

5. Reward performance. Pay individuals, teams, and business units more when they meet performance goals in revenue, quality, and costs.  Create healthy internal competition between the businesses.

Next up, how to recover the SATURN brand through an open-source organization.

Infectious Action

Here in Palo Alto there’s a movement afoot.  The folks over at the Stanford d.school are hoping to get a portion of downtown Palo Alto to become a pedestrian mall.  Check out the post on Metacool by Diego Rodriguez for more details and to join in the action.

I love that they have a class called Creating Infectious Action (CIA) there.  Based on the recent scare caused by the swine flu, infectious transmission of very small things is a force to respect.  I loved Stephen King’s view of this topic (The Stand) as it plays on all of the big fears involved in such an outbreak.  The point is, if you want to make change happen, understanding how this dynamic works is like being a change magician.

Damon Centola at MIT has done some great research to point out how social networking theory needs a bit of a makeover.  In short, the original “small world” theory (Granovetter, 1973) proposed that people who don’t know each other very well can spread behaviors, information and diseases through a dynamic called long ties.  This appears to hold up just fine with simple contagions that can be passed between two people with no other effort (like the flu), but not to hold up if the contagion being passed requires 2 or more people to reinforce it.  Think of it like being a carrier of a flu virus which requires you also to kiss someone else in 10 minutes to activate the infection.  If you catch the bug, but don’t kiss someone within the time limit, the bug dies out and there’s no spread.

Complex Contagion Bridge

For something like the Palo Alto pedestrian mall to come to life, there’s quite a lot of reinforcement that needs to happen, long ties are too weak in this case.  It’s a complex contagion that requires conversation, discussion, influence, and discernment.  In order for it to take hold, a person has to first “catch” the idea via one of the hundreds of people posting it on Facebook or a blog (long ties/small world) and then they have to discuss it with people they know well (strong/high bandwidth ties).

According to Damon, complex contagions operate under four social mechanisms:

1. Strategic complementarity (huh?)… that is, several complimentary factors in play at the same time. Like how technology and cost go together to support innovation.  Until costs come down, some technologies are not enough to create action.

2. Credibility… this is the “everybody’s doing it” influence factor at work.   Research by Chip and Dan Heath shows how hearing the same thing from multiple sources helps get something to “stick”.

3. Legitimacy… if close friends do something together, “innocent bystanders” feel more able to join in.

4. Emotional Contagion… ever feel the vibe of a big crowd and just go for it?  That’s this one.

So don’t just let Facebook do your work with a simple post.  You have to mix it up with people mano a mano, get some demonstrations going, and experience live interaction to get a real change to take place.