Management Rewired – Review

Management Rewired: Why feedback doesn’t work and other surprising lessons from the latest brain science by Charles Jacobs covers many of the areas discussed here, such as learning, management models and democracy in the workplace. Jacobs covers a variety of studies in science and management but this book is not a dry academic treatise but a good read sprinkled with many of the author’s personal stories. Much as Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management showed the need for new business models, Jacobs shows leaders what actually works when dealing with other people. A consistent theme is to let people manage themselves, because that works:

Rather than limit decentralization to the top of the hierarchy, why not drive it down into the organization as far as possible? Modern information technology makes such “radical decentralization” much easier now than it was in [Alfred] Sloan’s day.

Such an approach enables people to control their own destinies. From a Darwinian perspective, it’s aligned with the urgings of our selfish genes. From a market perspective, it’s more efficient and effective. From a cultural perspective, virtually every organizational innovation since the Western Electric Hawthorne studies has been aimed at fostering democracy and initiative in the workplace because it’s good for both people and the business. Moving to an entrepreneurial organization is just the next step.

Jacobs shows the overwhelming evidence that “reward, punishment and feedback don’t produce the results we intend or produce the opposite” (now there’s a message for the HR department).  Methods that work are creating cognitive dissonance in order to get a shift in thinking that changes behaviour. Changing behaviour is not enough. Transforming an organization means shifting our paradigm and this is best done through stories. The most effective stories are about plans and expectations gone awry. Forget pay and bonuses, or better yet, let workers decide amongst themselves; communication is the only effective tool that leaders have.

Becoming more participative may be easier said than done, as the author shows how most 360-degree reviews have managers consistently ranking themselves as more participative than their employees do. We’re not as open as we think we are.

Management Rewired is a welcome addition to the field and should be read by anyone working in or with organizations. It’s nice to get corroboration, and a good set of reference notes, to reinforce my own work on the new nature of the firm.

7 Responses to “Management Rewired – Review”

  1. Jon Husband

    This part …

    the overwhelming evidence that “reward, punishment and feedback don’t produce the results we intend or produce the opposite” (now there’s a message for the HR department). Methods that work are creating cognitive dissonance in order to get a shift in thinking that changes behaviour. Changing behaviour is not enough. Transforming an organization means shifting our paradigm and this is best done through stories. The most effective stories are about plans and expectations gone awry. Forget pay and bonuses, or better yet, let workers decide amongst themselves; communication is the only effective tool that leaders have.

    … could be the generic introductory paragraph to about X hundred books on organizational transformation or organizational effectiveness written during the past 25 – 30 years.

    The tools are here now (including most leadership and management development-oriented competency models), and the dynamics have been operating in clear view.

    All that’s left is the hardest part .. intransigent world views and mental models.

    Reply
  2. Harold Jarche

    “intransigent world views and mental models” need reversals of logic, or as Jacobs says:

    “The only way for us to challenge our thinking, and the behavior it gives rise to, is to realize … that the rules no longer hold and the game has ended. For that to happen, we must experience “reversals of logic” that demonstrate the rules are no longer valid. The resulting cognitive dissonance can’t be reduced by any other means than a new paradigm, which comes with a different set of rules.”

    “Thankfully, neuroscience also teaches us how to create that kind of dissonance. It’s through the skillful use of the counterintuitive. Our attempts to change behavior of either individuals or organizations within the objective paradigm will fail because they will fall victim to relationship effects. But if we first use reversals of logic to invalidate the paradigm and change the way people think, we’ll be able to get the kind of behavior we need to transform our businesses. Stories are the best way to create and manage this kind of dissonance.”

    One of our roles, as change agents, would be to point out examples of the old type of thinking not making sense in the organization any more. It took the little boy to be the first to say that the Emperor had no clothes.

    Reply
  3. Jon Husband

    Yeah, I get that, but … it seems to me that

    we must experience “reversals of logic” that demonstrate the rules are no longer valid. The resulting cognitive dissonance can’t be reduced by any other means than a new paradigm, which comes with a different set of rules.”

    … the “reversals of logic” are and have been apparent, and are happening all around us. Nevertheless …

    I think that the old-and-tired mental models take a long time to die out, unless something dramatic happens. Too much monkey see, monkey do with respect to not wanting to try something different and strange.

    But when something dramatic happens … Charles Handy once said that what’s in fashion, what’s “hot”, drives a lot more real change than most any other method (of creating / facilitating change).

    I’m surprised Cisco’s story about using social computing in an ubiquitous way, across the company, isn’t referred to more widely than it already is / has been.

    Reply
  4. Harold Jarche

    Changes aren’t really happening until they happen to us, it seems. So of course, change is slow in coming to mainstream organizations. You’re right, it will take some high profile event to really get things going.

    Reply
  5. Dan Pontefract

    I think Jon is onto something when he references Chambers and Cisco. Why isn’t this story the ‘high profile event’ already? It’s mind boggling. (although I think it’s the combo of pervasive social computing along with a shift from command and control to flat-based community team org)

    If Chambers were to quit Cisco, and go on the circuit as a organizational design/management consultant, I argue he might be the yin of Malone and Hamel’s yang. (ie. someone with a track record, who actually succeeded in changing a culture – albeit over a 3-4 year period)

    I commented on the storytelling piece as well (http://www.danpontefract.com/?p=25) and truly believe what Peter Bregmann had to say recently is oh so true. (http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/bregman/2009/06/the-best-way-to-change-a-corpo.html)

    Storytelling is so natural, and so positive … whereas formal feedback and reward mechanisms are so, well, archaic. (don’t get me started on the bell curve of employee performance)

    Reply
  6. Jon Husband

    Storytelling is so natural, and so positive … whereas formal feedback and reward mechanisms are so, well, archaic.

    This can be true … and the examples are also legion where “storytelling” is used for soft coercion and disguised manipulation.

    See Dave Snowden’s “Storytelling Has Two Faces”, for example.

    Reply
  7. strategy

    Instead of implementing new applications, just change whatever has to be changed at your enterprise to make the data inside of the existing systems better and more useful to businesspeople. If you follow this simple advice, your IT costs will go down because you won’t be doing costly software development projects. And the business’s satisfaction with IT will go up, because the businesspeople will be getting the information they need to do their jobs.

    Reply

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