Although activities are the focus of Tiny Triumph Experiments, there are fundamental topics that are important to be aware of, interpreted for context, and put into practice.
These links to four articles are just to get started. Others will be added in time.
The rest of this page summarises some of the themes that are covered in more detail in the articles.
Big Value Picture
Performance systems set the conditions for how people work together. But people do not blindly accept what they are given. They shape their work environments.
The ‘bring your own device’ phenomenon from a few years back, where people were taking their own superior digital devices to work, changed the way IT was provided and supported in one large company.
For people who did not want to use their own devices, the company initiated a policy of ‘choose your own device’. The push for this came from the self-directed way people were behaving.
Core design principles
Reviewing 20 years of thinking, and practice, around new ways of working and learning, I think it is possible to see three patterns that are common in performance systems that support customer-focused ways of working.
Organisations where people are free to do things together as they see fit have clear rules and policies about what they are not allowed to do. This is crucial in regulated environments, finance for example, or where safety is vital – like patient care.
Once boundaries are clear, people are free to do things in their own way. Senior nurses in charge of managing hospital wards all have to comply with the same policies. How they do that is very different.
Customer-focused ways of working are organised to ensure effective collaboration across boundaries – functions, companies in a supply network, or areas of specialist knowledge.
This example is now decades old and remains relevant. A manufacturer of mobile handsets had two constraints:
- new and untested functionality for a customer
- late delivery would not be tolerated.
The normal design process was to distribute work to specialist teams, located in different countries. Problems arose at the joins.
This time the work was designed across the joins, with cross-specialist teams given joint responsibility for integration. A quality handset was delivered on time, with the added benefit that the usual politics were much reduced.
Here’s another example from Peter Day at the BBC World Service, talking about GSK and how drug discovery is “highly personal and highly serendipitous”. This example is about co-locating specialists to solve problems real-time, as they arise.
Informal social networks
Effective organisations recognise the power of informal social networks. These are where self-motivated and self-managed people find who knows who, who knows what, emotional support, and camaraderie.
Here’s an example from the Harvard Business Review, where data scientists at MIT found that “the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings”.
Current and future trends
Businesses are experiencing opportunity and threat from a range of interacting trends. One outcome is the need to adapt to digitally-connected customers, who increasingly expect personalised products and experiences.
While machine learning and artificial intelligence attract a lot of attention and anxiety about what might happen in the future, two other trends affecting performance systems are more immediate.
People now work under an array of contractual and operational arrangements:
- traditional full and part-time employment contracts
- temporary contracts
- consultancy contracts
- flexible, short-term freelancing ‘gigs’
- people from outsourced companies in the supply network
- people with specific expertise brought in from partner companies.
This ‘open workforce’ has to be facilitated and supported. Communications technologies need to be compatible across organisational boundaries.
People – especially those who have specialist knowledge or whose skills are in short-supply – increasingly expect a personalised experience of work, choosing how, when, and where they work.
Physical workplaces where open workforces meet are also becoming more distributed and open. People can work from the office, or remotely from home, on-the-go, in cafés and shared spaces, co-working centres, client offices – and so on.
It is increasingly common for contractors, freelancers, outsourced companies, and small suppliers who build relationships with larger companies to be invited, or required, to use their premises.
Social psychologists have for a long time been providing us with research evidence on what people need psychologically and socially from work.
How to achieve this with increasingly diverse, mobile and open workforces will challenge the skills and capabilities of everyone – people working in new ways, and those involved in creating conditions for them to be able to work and learn together.