Simon Sinek: Why good leaders make you feel safe

Speaker

Simon Sinek – Simon is author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”

Summary

Simon starts by discussing a medal of honour recipient – a military man who charged into fire to pull wounded soldiers into a helicopter. In the military we give medals to people willing to sacrifice themselves to help others. However, in business we give bonuses to people who sacrifice others to help ourselves. In talking to heroic soldiers about why they made a sacrifice for someone else, they all said that the other guy would have done the same thing – there is a deep trust in the military. It is hard to build this trust in the office environment.

In humanity’s ancient history, danger was everywhere and the tribe needed to trust each other to stay safe. In modern times, a business has dangers – competitors cutting their market share, new technology that will make the business model obsolete. However, if individual employees do not trust their leadership, they end up spending their own time fighting each other or fighting their leaders for safety and security. For example – enforcing arbitrary and confusing rules at an airline check in counter because if they don’t do this, they think they will lose their job. If people feel safe, they can focus on actually tackling external threats and delivering good customer service.

In business, we need to think of leaders as parents. To discipline, nurture, educate, and challenge their employees to build their confidence, take risks and allow them to achieve on their own. In return, they need to trust that a leader will not lay them off when times are tough – you would not lay off a child because the economy changes. This is what offends people about exorbitant CEO salaries in underperforming companies – the feeling that they have sacrificed people to protect their company’s numbers (and their own salary).

An example of alternative leadership – a manufacturing company suffered 30% loss of sales during 2008 and their labour pool was overspending by $10million. When the board asked for layoffs, the CEO refused and instead gave every employee (including himself) 4 weeks of compulsory unpaid leave to be taken any time they chose over the year. He told the employees it was better for everyone to suffer a little, rather than a few suffer a lot. They saved $20million, and morale was up. As they trusted each other, some employees started trading leave – taking 5 so another would take only 3.

Leaders should take the risks first, they should eat last, they should sacrifice so their people feel safe, and so that their people can gain. When they do this, the natural response of their people is that they trust, and are willing to sacrifice for the good of the leader’s vision. And then they can say that they did what they did because their leader would have done the same for them.

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Jason Fried: Why work doesn’t happen at work

Speaker

Jason Fried thinks deeply about collaboration, productivity and the nature of work. He’s the co-founder of 37signals, makers of Basecamp and other web-based collaboration tools, and co-author of “Rework.”

Summary

Businesses, governments and other organisations invest so much money in bringing their people together at the office, but when people really want to get something done at work, they want to do it elsewhere. They tend to either do it at home, or on their commute (plane, train, car), or at strange times – early morning, late night, weekends. This is because most people in creative professions need uninterrupted time to work, and being at work chops up your day with meetings and other requests.

 

Jason sees a connection between work and sleep. Sleep happens in phases – to get to the deepest phase you need to go through the others first. If interrupted in an early phase you need to go through them all again. The interruptions in an office are not the same as at home – at home you can choose to turn on the TV or surf the internet or go for a walk. In the office the main interruptions are managers and meetings. Managers job is to interrupt – to check what you’re doing. They also tend to call meetings to resolve issues – taking 10 people out from their train of thought to talk about work (rather than actually working). For a 1hr meeting, this is 10hrs of lost productivity from the organisation. Meetings also have a habit of causing more meetings – scaling up the damage done.

So how can enlightened managers get their employees working at the office again?

  1. ‘No talk Thursdays’ – tell people not to talk to each other for 1 afternoon per month. It is amazing how much work will get done if employees can have 4hrs uninterrupted.
  2. Move away from face-to-face communication, and towards emails / messaging. This can still be time-consuming, but at least the recipient can choose when to deal with it. They can schedule around their core work and take it at their own pace.
  3. Cancel a meeting – if you have to make a decision at a meeting, just cancel it. The decision will still get made somehow, and you’ll free up everyone’s schedule.

 

Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation

Speaker

Dan Pink is the author of five books about business, work, and management that have sold two million copies worldwide

Summary

Dan Pink introduces ‘The Candle Problem’ – attaching a candle to a wall with a box of thumbtacks and matches to that it doesn’t drip. 2 groups try to solve the problem – one is told they are timing to discover norms, while the other is given money if they are in the top 25%. This test consistently shows that the group being given money is 3minutes slower than the other. Other research over 40 years backs up the idea that for most tasks you can’t incentivize people to perform better with money. This is one of the most robust findings from social science, but also the most ignored. There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

Extrinsic motivators do however work well for ’20th century tasks’ – with manual work and simple solutions. The reward narrows their focus towards the answer, and pushes them to solve it quicker. But most modern professionals don’t do this kind of work, they do much more complicated tasks with no easy answer. An MIT study found a similar result – for simple mechanistic tasks a reward improved their performance, but if they required ANY kind of cognitive function the higher reward decreased performance.

Modern psychology is leaning more towards intrinsic motivators – the desire to do more for personal reasons. In the business setting it revolves around

  • autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
  • mastery – the urge to get better, or develop skills
  • and purpose – the need to do what we do for reasons bigger than ourselves.

Dan’s talk focuses on autonomy. Management is an example that improves compliance, but decreases autonomy for most workers. Modern approaches can increase autonomy – giving people a personal project. Atlassian for example is a software company that makes engineers take a day off their normal work to develop whatever they want – as long as it is unrelated to their normal work and they deliver something by the end of the day. This approach was so successful that they adopted Google’s famous approach, which lets people allocate 20% of their time to personal projects. Around half of Google’s new products come from engineer’s personal projects.

A more extreme approach is ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. People can work whatever hours they want as long as they do the work. This increases autonomy and productivity, and decreases staff turnover.

Dan’s ultimate example was Microsoft Encarta vs Wikipedia. Encarta was build by well paid professionals and managers, incentivized with standard extrinsic motivators. Wikipedia was built by unpaid (autonomous) volunteers for fun, and because they believed in the project. In 1999 no economist would have tipped that Encarta’s model would be overtaken by Wikipedia’s, but it has.

If we get past the simplistic ‘carrots vs sticks’ ideology, and allow people to be more motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose, we can make our businesses stronger and maybe change the world.

Yves Morieux: As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify

Speaker

Yves Morieux is a consultant at BCG, and researches how corporations can adapt to a modern and complex business landscape.

Summary

Yves starts with a paradox: why are companies struggling so much with low productivity despite the vast improvements in technology, and increased leadership development programs? Management is based on 2 pillars:

  • hard pillars: based on structure, processes, metrics
  • soft pillars: feelings, interpersonal relationships, traits, personality

Yves believes these pillars are now obsolete. Businesses are now extremely complex, and to manage an improvement (to reliability, technology, cost) they typically add more hard rules to make things more complicated. For example: if an automotive engineering firm has a separate team for each aspect of a car (20 teams), and there is a new focus on ease of maintenance, the hard solution is to make a new functional team with responsibility for maintenance. Each of these will have a KPI to improve their function, which dilutes focus and makes cooperation between the teams more difficult. This extra burden of competition and cooperation is borne by the individual employees, who have to work harder to make up for the flaws of the structure.

Yves proposes 6 simplification rules for business

  1. Understand what others do – beyond a superficial title, understand what their role involves.
  2. Reinforce integrators – give managers the power to make cooperation happen without forcing KPIs and complicated structures on people.
  3. Increase total quantity of power – empower everyone to use their judgement and intelligence to take good risks
  4. Extend the shadow of the future – make sure feedback loops expose employees to the consequences of their actions
  5. Increase reciprocity – remove buffers that force people to be self-sufficient
  6. Reward those who cooperate –  “blame is not for failure, it is for failing to cooperate or ask for help”

When you do this, it stops being about boxes and organisational structures. You have simplified complicated businesses.

The real battle is not against your competitors, it is against yourself, and against bureaucracy.