Top Posts of 2023: 1-5
Starting a new habit: the top ten posts of the past year, according to readers.
I have opened the paywalled sections (when present), so this may be the first opportunity for free subscribers to see these posts in their entirety or at all.
1 of 10
Social psychology is fairly unequivocal about what drives people in their work lives. Yes, people need a livelihood, but the desire for autonomy, purpose, and mastery form the central ties we have with our work. And immediately adjacent to that is our aspiration to gain the respect of those we respect, because we are social beings.
My sense is that the new work compact between employer and employee will have to find common ground between the company’s need for speed and the employee’s willingness to speed for need, the natural tendency of people to work hard if they find meaning and purpose at work.
What is clear is that if business leaders hope to make the business go faster, they need to start by going slow: figuring out how to get people reconnected with their own motivations. And giving people more autonomy means loosening the connections in the business while perhaps making more of them. Social psychology has shown that creating more connections in a network is the best way to increase the speed of new ideas and behaviors spreading, and that is a precondition for innovation.
The section that was behind the paywall was commentary on a post, The Wages of Overwork, by Anne Helen Peterson, and an article about graduation advice by Sapna Cheryan and Therese, in Elsewhere.
2 of 10
The lead story is about Bad Bosses, based on data from Monster and Gallup:
A poll conducted by Monster reveals that more than one-third of workers consider their boss to be “horrible” (38 percent) and 54 percent of respondents gave their boss a negative rating [1 or 2]. Only 17 percent of respondents gave their boss an “excellent” grade. To conduct the poll, Monster asked visitors to their site, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your current or former boss?”
U.S. findings were:
38 percent of respondents answered “1 (horrible)”
16 percent of respondents answered “2”
16 percent of respondents answered “3”
13 percent of respondents answered “4”
17 percent of respondents answered “5 (excellent)”
“Your relationship with your boss can do more than upset your day — it can make or break your entire career,” said Mary Ellen Slayter, Career Advice Expert for Monster. “Having an adversarial relationship with your direct superior can negatively impact your life in countless ways with daily stress and stunted career growth generally being the most common.”
The part behind the now-lifted firewall was commentary on an essay by LJ Parker on the Anti-Social Enterprise:
LJ takes a hard look at social tools in the enterprise, today:
Whilst social technology inside the organisation doesn’t suffer all of these issues - after all, there's nothing like being visible to people who pay you to keep your behaviour civil - there is some overlap. Cal Newport has long been pointing out the issues with social tech in the organisation being used as "a dystopian micro-twitterverse" inside orgs. There is too much noise - too many notifications that become meaningless, too many meetings that should have been.. (more noise..?), and almost no common agreement of which tool to use for what purpose. With a lack of shared norms on this, a little bit of everything ends up across an array of tools.
Most of our daily interactions on the digital workplace have turned into hours of firefighting surface level channel chats, DMs, video-call or email interactions across disparate social tools, replacing real work. And as an added layer of distraction, return to the office mandates dictate that we need to spend time worrying about co-ordinating everyone's Taekwondo days, lest we miss out on important face-to-face collaboration (aka lunch). Against this backdrop is it any wonder many are quick to write off hybrid work models? When did social tech get so ..anti-social?
3 of 10
The main story was Business Frameworks Can’t Replace Thinking:
It’s the time of year when we start reflecting on all the work we did and all the work we’ll need to do in the year ahead. For many of us, that means relying on a popular framework like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to guide us through the new year.
It got me thinking about Roger Martin’s critical post on OKRs titled the “OKR Hype Train” and the danger of ceding our thinking to a playbook. In a nutshell, Martin posits that businesses put so much faith in the OKR playbook that they neglect to develop a thoughtful strategy unique to their circumstances. And without a principled strategy, there’s no good way to decide what work should be done to take us from an “Objective” to a “Key Result”. Martin details how we can shoehorn deep thinking about the company’s strategy between the Os and KRs and solve the “and then a miracle occurs” step made famous in the S. Harris cartoon:
Companies must focus obsessively on making it as easy as possible for the customer to accomplish what they contacted the company to do. Remove obstacles to that. Here are some of the most common:
Most customers encounter loyalty-eroding problems when they engage with customer service.
56% report having to re-explain an issue
57% report having to switch from the web to the phone
59% report expending moderate-to-high effort to resolve an issue
59% report being transferred
62% report having to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue
Work on making the mainstream customer interactions as low friction as possible, and forget about delighting them. Delight won’t have anything like the impact of one terrible experience.
4 of 10
I think the biggest story in this issue was The Lies of Meritocracy:
Debra Myerson, in her book Rocking the Boat, debunks the premise of meritocracy:
The story of meritocracy in U.S. culture is a dominant narrative that provides ready explanations for who gets ahead in organizations, who doesn’t, and why. The accepted story is “people who try hard and have the capability will get ahead.” The converse is, of course, implicit: “Those who don’t get ahead must not be as able or hard working as those who do.” The story of meritocracy justifies a wide range of existing organizational arrangements, including organizational hiring, evaluation, and promotion systems, but it is so institutionalized within U.S. culture that its truthfulness is rarely acknowledged or challenged.
The section include data and insights from Michael Sandel, Rob Graham, and Daniel Markovitz. Markovitz states, bluntly:
Hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity.
5 of 10
The lead section was No Scared Cows:
To navigate change companies need fear-free cultures of diverse people and mindsets led by leaders who continuously learn, incentivize and train for change and worship no sacred cows. | Rishad Tobaccowala
Sooner or later, each of us will encounter — or already has encountered — a situation where we are hitting our heads against Tobaccowala’s ‘sacred cows’ at work. We may wonder why some established policy seems to slow the capacity of the company to adapt to changes in the external market or chafe at some internal process designed — it seems — to hinder opportunities to learn how to better satisfy customer’s needs, meet goals, or unsnarl roadblocks to progress.
This corporate inertia can be an enormous drain of psychological energy and ultimately, a hit on the potential bottom line.
Expect a second email with Top Posts of 2023: 6-10.