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More is Better
Up to a point when it ceases to be better.
Quote of the Moment
To paraphrase William Gibson, the four-day week is already here for most companies. It’s buried under a whole bunch of rubble of outmoded practices and bad meetings.
| Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, cited by Kevin Delaney in Is the Four-Day Workweek Finally Within Our Grasp?
(The more accurate paraphrase would be ‘The four-day workweek is here already, it’s just unevenly distributed’, but Pang’s is dead-on.)
In Which Hybrid Work Model Is Best For Your Business?, Esther Tippmann, Pamela Sharkey Scott, and Mark Gantly develop a two-by-two matrix of ‘generic organizational models’ to help international organizations consider alternatives for hybrid work. The two dimensions are the degree of internationalization, ranging from low (employees in some countries) to high (employees in many countries), and work task content ranging from relational (office-centric hybrid work) to transactional (virtual-centric hybrid work).
The internationalization dimension is fairly self-explanatory, while the ‘task content’ one is a bit arcane. As the authors state:
Tasks with transactional exchanges are routinized and proceduralized, and therefore suitable for digital interactions. These tasks can be performed efficiently by employees working independently and coordinating with others virtually.
They nonetheless offer the example of software development, which is a creative and collective activity, as much relational as it is transactional.
Tasks with relational exchanges include, the authors argue, ‘innovation, knowledge creation, and activities where the organization has nascent processes. These activities rely on moment-to-moment creative sparks as individuals engage in vivid and spontaneous interactions.’
Uh-oh. This is the workwashing argument about all that spontaneous serendipity near the water cooler. But I do think that we are in early days of seeing a replacement or augmentation of the sort of knowledge transfer that comes from being able to observe and participate with others doing their jobs — perhaps not serendipitous innovation so much, but learning through ambient interactions and observation.
The four quadrants of the model then make more sense, but suggests a greater degree of cut-and-dried analysis than perhaps warranted. Many people’s work is a blend of relational and transactional, for example. Consider their discussion of Large Hubs:
This model is office-centric, as employees must work closely together to deliver on specialized, knowledge-intensive, or creative activities. The organization is structured tightly in a few countries with large hubs where employees are collocated to trigger ideas and innovation, perhaps benefitting from knowledge clusters or centers of excellence. Some remote working is permitted, but only in close proximity to the hubs. There is an expectation of frequent collaboration through the physical presence in the office.
I dispute the idea that specialized, knowledge-intensive, or creative activities require people working in offices with only near-the-office ‘some remote working permitted’.
Hubs and Satellites:
This model is also office-centric, relying largely on key hubs around the world, but with satellite operations to take advantage of smaller clusters of knowledge workers or regional specialities. For example, leaders we interviewed from professional service firms use satellite offices to respond to local needs by combining local expertise with global perspectives.
Sounds sensible, since service firms — at least until the pandemic — often worked on-site with client companies. And the comment ‘leaders we interviewed’ exposes a bias built into this research: this work is a collation of the anecdotal gas from senior executives, who are innately conservative, and likely to desire (or demand) performative productivity. Large, long meetings. Junior staff coming in earlier and leaving later that their seniors. Et cetera.
The Distributed quadrant:
In this model, most tasks are high volume and routine, and hence easily digitalized. Therefore, the organization lends itself to distribution. Work is located based on the availability and cost of talent. Typically, this will extend to a small number of countries, but not beyond that. If necessary, wider markets for the company’s products can be accessed without requiring a presence there.
And its twin, Global Virtual:
This virtual organization model allows talent to be accessed worldwide. Rather than being driven by a search for specific talent or favorable labor costs, this model works well for companies whose business requires them to have a global presence, but can still be successful with a small number of employees per country. The billion dollar startup, Automattic, for example, has more than 1,300 employees in 79 countries speaking 99 different languages. In this model, employees in many countries work together as a global but virtual organization, engaging across geographical boundaries and generally choosing their own work locations. To create deeper bonds, they meet up once a year. Given all of this, physical offices would have little value.
Seems very dismissive of what could become the default operating model for resilience in the future: minimum viable office.
In the final analysis, while this model might help us in thinking through hybrid work models, I think the distinction between relational and transactional contexts fails. We might be better served by making distinctions based on other attributes, such as the way that companies are organized along functional versus divisional organizations, as Leonardo Federico outlined in The Single Most Important Internal Email in the History of Amazon. We’ll look at that in an upcoming post.
When Efficiency Goes Too Far | Curt Nickisch interviews Roger Martin, professor emeritus of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto., and author of When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsessions with Economic Efficiency.
For almost everything in life, more is better up to a point when it ceases to be better. Love is a good thing. Right? But obsessive love is a bad thing, and it causes people to hurt one another, if not kill one another.
And so, this is a case of, we have ridden, if you will, the horse of efficiency, to having a more productive economy. But past a certain point, chasing after more efficiency without regard to anything else is having some consequences that are unexpected entirely. That includes having an economy where the median family in America, is stagnating and has been stagnating for many years, while the top 1% are having a better economic time than ever. That’s an inadvertent consequence of the obsessive push for efficiency.
Outcomes, not output.
Following the Roger Martin thread, a few months ago he wrote It’s Time to Accept that Pay for Performance Doesn’t Work, where he debunks a lond-standing bit of conventional wisdom:
We have long taken it as an article of faith that if you want performance against your strategy, you have to pay for it by way of incentive compensation. Hundreds of millions of person-hours get spent every year designing Pay for Performance (PfP) systems, then arguing about the design, then measuring performance against PfP systems, then arguing about the measurement, then paying out against the PfP system, and then arguing about the payouts. And then more hours the next year on redesigning PfP because it never seems to work out the way we thought it would.
The logical assumption is that PfP just has to work. Employees will give greater effort if the results of that effort are tied directly to greater levels of compensation, right? That is the way humans work, isn’t it? And it would be so embarrassing if all those person-hours spent designing and operating PfP systems were in vain, we don’t even want to contemplate that. No: if you want to make sure that the things in your strategy actually get done, you have to provide strong incentives through PfP!
After teeing that up, he chronicles a step-by-step slow enlightenment, where it dawned on him that PfP just doesn’t work for knowledge work:
A dozen years ago, an article in the 2009 Review of Economic Studies, Large Stakes and Big Mistakes, provided the coup de grace to my crumbling faith. Dan Ariely, Uri Gneezy, George Loewenstein, and Nina Mazar demonstrated that for tasks involving the brain (e.g., problem-solving), performance declined as incentive compensation increased. It turns out that incentive compensation only produces better performance in tasks that are primarily physical in nature (e.g., repetitive button-pushing) — not the staple of the modern manager’s work agenda.
He enumerates the five reasons it fails: PfP skews behavior enormously around performance boundaries, incentives counter brain work (see Large Stakes and Big Mistakes), it’s hard to manage across entire organizations, it incents gaming of the system, and it works against customer orientation.
His final words:
If you are in a position to put in place a PfP system, just say no! I am not going to give you advice on how to. Just don’t. I know that it is counter cultural. […] Instead, work on building a culture in which your people care about the customer and care about each other.
Paige Cohen has a good list of books on bad bosses: Bad Bosses: Our Favorite Reads?
Sergio Caredda share a list of 10 Essential Future of Work Blogs. Yes, Work Futures is on the list, but he points to the older Medium version.
Alice Gresckow does not go far enough in Why “Nine Lies About Work” is a Must-Read For Every Leader. It’s a must-read for every worker, which I’ve written about before.