Work Futures Weekly | A Pig On The Tracks

| Ursula Le Guin | Organizational Amnesia | Zappos Drops Holacracy | Why People Quit | Work OS |

Photo by Forest Simon on Unsplash

Beacon NY 2020–02–24 | Been two weeks, since I took some time off last week.

Quote of the Week

I am not proposing a return to the Stone Age. My intent is not reactionary, nor even conservative, but simply subversive. It seems that the utopian imagination is trapped, like capitalism and industrialism and the human population, in a one-way future consisting only of growth. All I’m trying to do is figure out how to put a pig on the tracks.

| Ursula Le Guin


Organisational Amnesia | Andy Polaine on why companies forget so quickly the hard-won learnings that came from workshops and transformations projects. He’s had previous customers ask him to return to lead new activities that are repeats:

For some people in the organisations that were coming back to us, the training and mentoring was a career-changing experience. So career-changing that a few of them left to work in more design-led organisations, frustrated they couldn’t work in these new ways in their current one. Or they moved within the company afterwards, either voluntarily or through one of the endless rounds of departmental reshuffles that don’t really tackle underlying structural problems of organisations.

The result is a kind of organisational amnesia. Some of the ways of working and process did remain, but it was living on in the remaining people more than the organisation. When they leave, the organisation will forget.

If you think of people and practices as the neural pathways in the organisational brain, when they’re damaged — through redundancies, attrition or “restructuring trauma”, those pathways are destroyed, blocked or fade. Process is often used as a scaffold to rebuild the pathways. It does help to have an explicit process or methodology that everyone understands and shares the meaning of, but process alone does not preserve understanding and shared meaning.

Actually process can have the opposite effect, because blindly following procedure can be pretty mindless. People aren’t thinking about why they’re doing something, they’re just on autopilot, like when you drive a familiar route and suddenly realise you’re nearly home and can’t remember the last ten minutes of the journey.

Practice — a combination of craft and habit — does reinforce those pathways. Especially reflective practice, which is more than just making. It’s is also intentional consideration of what you are doing before, during and after the act of making.

Practices, rituals and craft skills — what might loosely be termed cultures of doing — deteriorate if there is nobody practicing them or if they’re not valued. Think of languages that die out. Unless a practice becomes a habit and is valued in an organisation, it will fade away.

Read the whole thing.


Zappos has quietly backed away from holacracy | Aimee Groth breaks the news:

In the last few years, Zappos has been quietly moving away from holacracy. It has done away with its at-times rigidly (and ironically) bureaucratic meetings and brought back managers, while retaining its circular hierarchy, a key artifact of holacracy.

Zappos executive John Bunch, who co-led the rollout of holacracy, has explained that the company, famous for its exceptional customer service, encountered some “big challenges” in its business metrics and sought to redirect employees’ focus back to the customer (an oft-cited criticism of holacracy is that it is too internally focused). By March 2017, the e-retailer had shifted its strategy to remedy this.

The solution? A marketplace system where teams operate like small businesses and manage their own profit-and-loss statements, rather than focusing on the scope of their holacratic authority to manage the company’s full P&L.

According to company sources, the internal small businesses are incentivized to develop new product lines and services for Zappos’s customers. They transact with one another at market rates, similar to the way they’d transact with the outside world. The bet is that market incentives, the resulting allocation of resources, and value-creation signals (e.g., profit) will more effectively help Zappos innovate — and that the costs added by internal negotiations, competition, and self-direction will be outweighed by the benefits of speed, innovation, scalability, and adaptability.

Sounds like Zappos has adopted a micro-enterprise model, like Haier RenDanHeyi and Kyocera Amoeba Management.


Why People Really Quit Their Jobs | Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Brynn Harrington, and Adam Grant assert that Facebook has worked hard to make great managers, so the usual ‘people quit their bosses’ doesn’t hold. Instead, this:

Of course, people are more likely to jump ship when they have a horrible boss. But we’ve spent years working to select and develop great managers at Facebook, and most of our respondents said they were happy with theirs. The decision to exit was because of the work. They left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers.

At Facebook, people don’t quit a boss — they quit a job. And who’s responsible for what that job is like? Managers.

If you want to keep your people — especially your stars — it’s time to pay more attention to how you design their work. Most companies design jobs and then slot people into them. Our best managers sometimes do the opposite: When they find talented people, they’re open to creating jobs around them.

Working with our People Analytics team, we crunched our survey data to predict who would stay or leave in the next six months, and in the process we learned something interesting about those who eventually stayed. They found their work enjoyable 31% more often, used their strengths 33% more often, and expressed 37% more confidence that they were gaining the skills and experiences they need to develop their careers. This highlights three key ways that managers can customize experiences for their people: enable them to do work they enjoy, help them play to their strengths, and carve a path for career development that accommodates personal priorities.

In a company that allows greater personal flexibility and a whole-person approach to work, the truism about quitting bosses is undone. In such a context, people may feel they have to leave to find greater fulfillment, but they aren’t necessarily fleeing a toxic relationship. A kind of Mazlovian hierarchy of motivations.


A Prospectus | People Analytics | People analytics is one of the newest and most important domains of people operations.

Beyond People Analytics: Relational Analytics | People operate in complex networks, not in org charts or excel spreadsheets

Work Operating Systems? No, We Need Work Ecosystems. | Machines are an inadequate metaphor for the future of work.