In this 5th installation of an 8 part series, Brad Szollose and Rob Hirschfeld invite you to share in our discussion about failures, fights and frightening transformations going on around us as digital work changes workplace deliverables, planning and culture.
Are you a Leader, or Just Bossy?
Digital Management has a challenging deep paradox: Digital Workers resist direct management, but require their efforts fit into a larger picture.
If you believe the next generation companies we discussed in post #4, then the only way to unlock worker potential is enable self-motivated employees and remove all management. In Zappos case, they encouraged 14% of their workers to simply leave the company because they don't believe in extreme self-management.
Companies like W. L. Gore & Associates, the makers of GORE-TEX, operate and thrive very well in a team-driven environment... This apparently loosey-goosey management style has brought about hundreds of major multibillion-dollar ideas and made W. L. Gore a leading incubator of consistently great ideas and products for more than fifty years. To an outside observer it looks as though the focus is on having fun. But to the initiated, it is about hiring intense self-starters who contribute wholeheartedly to what they are doing and to the team, and most important, who can self-manage their time and skill sets.
— Liquid Leadership by Brad Szollose, page 154
Frankly, both of us—Brad and Rob—are skeptical. We believe that these tactics do enhance productivity, but gloss over the essential ingredient in their success: a shared set of goals.
Like our Jazz analogy, the performance is the sum of the parts and the players need to understand how their work fits into the bigger picture. A traditional management structure, with controlling leadership and über clear, micromanaged direction, backfires because it restricts the workers' ability to interpret and adapt; however, that does not mean we are advocates of no management whatsoever zones.
The trendy word is Holacracy. That loosely translates into removal of management hierarchy and power while redistributing it throughout the organization. Are you scared of that free-fall model? If workers reject traditional management then what are the alternatives?
We need a way to manage today's independent thinking workforce.
According to Forbes, digital workers have an even higher need to understand the purpose of their work than previous generations. If you are a Baby Boomer (Conductor of a Sympony), then this last statement may cause you to roll your eyes in disagreement.
Directing a Jazz ensemble requires a different type of leadership. One that hierarchy junkies —orchestra members who need a conductor—would call ambiguous...IF they didn't truly know what was happening.
Great musicians don't join mediocre bands; they purposely seek out other teams that are challenging them, a shared set of goals and standards that produce results and success. This may require a shift in mindset for some of you.
"Freedom in jazz improvisation comes from understanding structure. When people listen to jazz, they often believe that the soloist is “doing whatever they want.” In fact, as experienced improvisers will tell you, the soloist is rarely “doing whatever they want.” An improvisational soloist is always following a complicated set of rules and being creative within the context of those rules."
In the past generation, there was no need to communicate a shared vision: you either did what you were told, OR just told people what to do. And people obeyed. Mostly out of fear of losing your job. But, in the digital workforce, shared goals are what makes the work fit together. Players participate of their own will. Not fear.
Putting this into generational terms: if you were born after 1977 (aka Gen X to the Millennials) then you were encouraged to see ALL adults as peers. In the public school system, this trend continued as the generation was encouraged to speak up, speak out and make as many mistakes as possible...after all, THAT is how you learn. And the fear of screwing up and making mistakes was actually encouraged, as teachers also became friends and mentors. Video games simply reinforced the same iterative learning lessons at home.
Thousands of years of social programming were flipped over in favor of iterative learning and flattened hierarchy. Those skills showed up just in time to enable us to survive the chaos of the digital work/social media revolution.
But survival is not enough, we are looking for a way to lead and win.
Since hierarchy is flat, it's become critical to replace directing action with building a common mission. In individual-centric digital work, there are often multiple right ways to accomplish the team objective (our topic for post 7). While having a clear shared goals will not help pick the right option, it will help the team accept that 1) the team has to choose and 2) the team is still on track even if some some individuals have to change direction.
Just listen to the most complex work out there that has been influenced by Jazz; the late Jeff Porcaro, pop rock drummer and cofounder of Toto admits to being influenced by Bo Diddley for his drum riffs on the song Rosanna. Or if you are a RUSH fan you know that songs like La Villa Strangiato owe the syncopated rhythms, chord changes and drum riffs to Jazz.
Piet Mondrian who invented neoplasticism, was inspired by listening incessantly to a particular type of jazz called "Boogie-Woogie."
Participants in this type of performance do not tune out and wait for direction. They must be present, bring 100% of themselves to each performance, and let go of what they did in the last concert because each new performance is customized.
You have until our next post to cry in your beer while whining that digital managers have it too hard. In the next post, we'll lay out some very concrete actions that you should be taking as a leader in the digital workforce.
PS: Brad has some important insights about how their childhood experience shapes digital natives' behavior. We felt that topic was important but external to the primary narrative so Rob included them here:
Anyone born after 1977 was encouraged to see ALL adults as peers. This was caused by Baby Boomer parents who were encouraged to treat their children as equals in the household, taking into consideration feelings and self esteem. No one argued this because that is what all the experts said to do. And thousands of years of parenting was flipped over in favor of a flattened hierarchy.
But that wasn't the only thing... In the public school system this next generation was encouraged to speak up, speak out and make as many mistakes as possible...after all, THAT is how you learn. And the fear of screwing up and making mistakes was actually encouraged, as teachers also became friends and mentors.
Video Games also supported this. A new form of entertainment entered the household in 1977 as Atari and Magnavox introduced the first home gaming units. Simplistic yes, but by 1984, Nintendo and Sony created gaming consoles that encouraged multiple hours of first person play time. Some games took years to master, and encouraged independent thinking in problem solving, rotational leadership roles and collaboration with other players on your team. No one reads a manual on HOW to play the game. Instead players are encouraged to learn as they play by making mistakes.
Now do you see the difference? Boomers were taught that the only way to get ahead was to horde knowledge, obey the rules, do everything possible to not make a mistake and if you do hide it. Know your place in the organization and respect your elders. And one must ask for permission in order to do something. Fear was the driving motivator, and there was only one way to get ahead; work harder than everyone else.
BUT, the next generation—Generation Y, Millennials and even Generation X to some extent—were encouraged to make mistakes, work when you feel like it, don't read a manual, figure it out on your own. If you can't get it done, ask your peer network to get involved, and solve the most complex of problems with you "friends." And you may not realize this, there is no "one way" to solve a problem anymore.
Boomers removed the Protestant Work Ethic of get up early, work hard, save, and listen to your elders, with collaboration, follow your passion and encouraged to think big, and now we expect them to work under the same management model? BTW: Boomers raised Millennials to be exactly the way they are.
Want to understand The Gaming Generations of Gen Y, Millennials and even gen Z? Accept the fact that their behavior is innate and built in like an Operating Software.
They cannot change anymore than a Mac can become a PC.
So now that you know WHY the winds of change are here to stay, let's get back on track with managing the Digital Native.
See you on our next post...
Our point of view: About the authorsRob Hirschfeld and Brad Szollose are both proud technology geeks, but they’re geeks from different generations who enjoy each others perspective on this brave new world.
Rob is a first-generation Digital Native. He grew up in Baltimore reprogramming anything with a keyboard—from a Casio VL-Tone and beyond. In 2000, he learned about server virtualization and never looked back.
As founder and community lead of the OpenCrowbar project, Rob is the CEO of RackN, which provides support, consulting and commercial extensions to the community project.
Rob is also a board member for the OpenStack Foundation. A position he was elected to fill in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and the chair of DefCore committee.
Since that would take a while, Brad became a technology-driven creative director who cofounded one of the very first Internet agencies during the dot-com boom. As a Web pioneer, Brad was forced to invent a new management model that engaged the first wave of Digital Workers.
Today, Brad helps organizations like Dell and MasterCard close the digital divide by understanding it as a cultural divide created by new tech-savvy workers ... and customers.
Beyond the fun of understanding each other better, we are collaborating on this 8 part blog series for different reasons.
- Brad is fostering liquid leaders who have the vision to span cultures and to close the gap between cultures.
- Rob is building communities with the vision to use cloud products that fit the Digital Native culture.