How to hack a management system [brief talk]

[A 5 minute talk given at LA Hackers on April 23, 2011 at Coloft]

My name is Atma

I am an industrial psychologist

That’s kind of like a project manager on academic steroids

I specialize in the psychology of organizations and am currently working on my PhD in this topic

Part of the power of organizational psychology is that it leverages emotional energy.

Emotional energy comes from human desire, those things you want deeply or strongly, and it is a pervasive phenomenon.

Put another way I traffic in disruptive ideas that can make people better, higher functioning, and happier

I do this by focusing on changes in the work environment rather than singling out the individual

Better environments create better humans; better humans create a better society

I believe we can create a better world by changing the way we interact in daily life.

My goal is to teach whoever is ready to re-engineer their business, startup, or organization.

The suite of solutions I work with can be used to make any business or team more effective (consequently more profitable)

Some of the tools in this suite include:

  1. Screening partners, and hires with face reading and other cutting edge profiling techniques including clique psychology
  2. Wiring in innovation as a cultural behavior
  3. Game theory applications – tapping into mutualistic dynamics
  4. Training for charisma, confidence, and presentation skills
  5. Human centric design based on my model of generative grammar in organizations
  6. Hacking your management system
  7. The role of discipline in forging leaders
  8. Training to be comfortable and confident in any social situation
  9. Repurposing stress – training to thrive amidst chaos
  10. Super Group Networks
  11. XY cluster companies – a new  type of agglomeration
  12. Changing the communication model,

Here is a simple example of one way to hack a management system…

To make a meaningful change in the way an organization functions you need to figure out what is the generative grammar of that business or group. It’s like understanding the nature of code at the deepest structural level in a massive program written 30 or 40 years ago. You can similarly assume that your work environment is like an antiquated system riddled with legacy code. Only instead of the byzantine application of a formal language you are dealing with emotional needs, cultural expectations, societal mores, all operating in an invisible and impossibly complex array.

But if you can change the underlying grammar or code you change the way humans behave. This is partly because humans have enormous plasticity or capacity to adapt.

For example say we all worked together and somebody came in and said I will pay each of you a significant bonus for every month you show a demonstrable positive change in your health stats. Now I know from previous studies about how many of you would take advantage of that offer. Often it would be those of you who need it the least.

But let’s say I came in and said I will pay each of you the same bonus for the improvements shown by a randomly assigned coworker, as opposed to your own improvements (which would be tied to someone else’s bonus.)

What kind of shift do you imagine would occur in the way we all interact? Suddenly I have a vested interest in your well being. I will be paying attention to what you eat, encouraging you to be more active, maybe invite you to my gym 3 times a week. And you might be inclined to respond because you are equally concerned with getting your assignee on the right track.

So you see in making one simple adjustment I have altered the generative grammar of our environment and consequently we are all behaving differently.

I am currently involved in a private research project, where I come into small businesses and observe and collect data on the organizational dynamics. It’s free to the company and I always share my findings with them, which is always eye-opening and instructive. If you know any companies that would like to apply for participation please let me know.

My contact information is on the handout I have provided.

Thank you

3 stages of increasing creativity in the workplace

Stage one: The approach

Theater of Constraints: great creativity and design flow from an accurate understanding of your limitations. By limitations you should distinguish between personal and material. Personal limitations are meant to be challenged and tested (at least within reason.) Material limitations are about the resources you have available. Material resources include, time, capital, space, and ability. Understanding material limitations can require a surprisingly large amount of individual and institutional honesty. But this rigorous honesty is the first discipline of the Theater of Constraints.

The second discipline is designing and developing within those constraints. For example say you have an idea for an application/production that will cost $1000 and take two weeks. But you only have $500 and one week. Don’t ignore these limitations and say, “let’s do the best we can!” and push forward with your original plan. Most of the time if you do, you end up with either a crappy execution of the $1000 version (a $500 version), or an over budget project and someone should get fired.

This of course is an extreme simplification, but the idea is missing from many project management cycles. If you use the limitations of your resources as a design criterion you can often engender a whole new dimension of innovation. You can also avoid the type of scope creep that is usually generated by unseen psychological factors related to the aforementioned need for honesty.

Apply the discipline of learning to design backwards from an honest understanding of available resources to software development, product development, media creation, event planning and many other types of productions.

You can even apply this discipline to aspects of personal life, like goal setting. Let your motto be, “Dream forward, design backward.”

Stage two: Stimulating creative thinking

Regular once a week free association session: one person takes the lead by providing an idea or a scenario that is seemingly farfetched or unlikely in your industry. Others begin to riff or explore on the possibilities. It is like a big “what if?” conversation, the trick is that it has to hew to some level of reality and at the same time goes well past the boundaries of what has been thought to be possible in your particular industry.

Cross disciplinary training and stimulus: Whatever field you are in, once-a-month take your team on an educational/cultural outing to something that has nothing to do with your work. E.g. take a team of developers to tour an abattoir, take the human resource team to museum exhibit on ancient Egypt, or take legal on an outing to a flower show. It is important to make it a regular outing, and to really explore intriguing albeit unrelated subjects as a group.

Show and tell: one morning a week have team members or co-workers bring in an example of counter-culture that they have unearthed. Examples could come from art, comics, film, music, architecture, economics (weird black markets), music, media, etc…

The drift (le Derive): Take a work group or team on a once-a-quarter exploration of the city using no agenda whatsoever. Begin the day by walking or catching a bus in a direction based on the flip of a coin. If you are on a bus or a subway get off on a stop chosen by the roll of a pair of dice. Or use a single die to determine the number of block s you will walk. Follow somebody walking out of a coffee shop for 60 seconds see where it leads you. Visit buildings based on the salience of their architecture i.e. that means which building sticks out the most? Doing the derive right takes practice and a real sense of adventure. The goal is to learn to let the environment direct your next move rather any personal agenda.

Stage three: Improving brainstorming

Throw away good work: if you are brainstorming or creating various version of products or services to offer the public you have to go far enough in the brainstorming to so many ideas that you must discard some good ones if you are not throwing away good work you are not assured that what remains will be excellent.

Distance thinking: review current and future projects from a distance. For example imagine that the work you are doing is going to be placed in a time machine and sent 10 years what would you do different? Or imagine your work is going to be transported to an aboriginal culture on some faraway island how do you make sure it works? If your clients are geographically close to you imagine that they are in offices halfway around the world? How do you improve communication and help keep a sense of connection? Whatever the reality of your client relationships imagine something either opposite or radical and imaginatively different. Clients from another galaxy anyone?

Purposely do bad work: gather your team together and create the 10 worst ideas for moving your company forward. Have a vote for the winner or worst idea possible. Know go backwards through the list and talk about what it would take to make each idea actually work.

No brainstorming without solo prep work: Brainstorming in a group from an empty slate can be counterproductive, and cause people to fixate on the earliest ideas. Before every brainstorming session send out a memo explain the agenda or purpose of the session and tell al participant to come up with 12 distinct ideas to begin the session. This gives everyone a chance to work alone in their own heads before coming to the group environment and will increase dramatically the number of ideas being discussed.

[Bonus thought] Evaluating best efforts: an easy way to determine the value of an idea (that isn’t yours) is to look at it and see if you can honestly say, “I wish I’d thought of that.”

And finally remember that these practices won’t be deeply effective if they are applied piecemeal to a poor overall work environment (new patches on an old garment and all…). Be sure to evaluate your entire environment with ruthless honesty. See this article on simple ways to assess your organization.


Where are you on the management scale of newbie to expert hacker?

Three Levels of Management

Companies and institutions exist at different levels of functionality. It is important for the person(s) responsible for the organization to honestly and accurately assess their state of managerial needs. In other words, are you a “Newbie”, an “Experienced User”, or an “Expert Hacker”?

As a starting place we can look at three general levels or grades of management.

Beginner’s Management [Newbie or Management 1.0]

Fundamentals of managing an organization:

  1. (Forecast & Plan) – Examining the future and drawing up a plan of action. (The elements of strategy.)
  2. To organize – Build up the structure, both material and human, of the undertaking.
  3. To command – Maintain the activity among the personnel.
  4. To coordinate – Binding together, unifying and harmonizing all activity and effort.
  5. To control – Seeing that everything occurs in conformity with established rule and expressed command.

Fundamentals of being a manager:

  1. They ask “what needs to be done?”
  2. They ask “What’s right for the enterprise?”
  3. They develop action plans.
  4. They took responsibility for decisions.
  5. They took responsibility for communicating.
  6. They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  7. They ran productive meetings.
  8. They thought and said “we” rather than “I”.

And the Fundaments of managing by objectives:

  1. Cascading of organizational goals and objectives, (For example, a top level goal of increasing sales by 20% over a defined period may require a bottom level goal of increasing marketing effectiveness or marketing coverage in order to reach the sales set.)
  2. Specific objectives for each member,
  3. Participative decision making,
  4. Explicit time period, and
  5. Performance evaluation and provide feedback.

(Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives also introduced the SMART acronym for checking the validity of the objectives, which should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic! and
  • Time-related. )

If the person(s) responsible for managing are able to look at the eighteen points above and determine they are more or less in place, they are operating at the most fundamental or beginner’s level of management. If the company management feels it is operating below this standard most of these practices can be self taught by studying them on the internet or visiting a bookstore.

Informed Management [Experienced User or Management 2.0]

While there are many aspects to informed management some of the basics that must be present are:

In depth financial planning and controls: this usually requires someone with a graduate degree in business, such as an MBA or equivalent and is proficient in:

  • Business modeling
  • Business planning (analysis, forecasting, budgeting…)
  • Capital raising strategies
  • Risk assessment
  • Valuation
  • Corporate Taxation

Use of a more dynamic management systems: such as Value Based Management, which tries to streamline and integrate the following into its corporate purpose and values:

  • the corporate mission (business philosophy),
  • the corporate strategy to achieve the corporate mission and purpose,
  • corporate governance (who determines the corporate mission and regulates the activities of the corporation),
  • the corporate culture,
  • corporate communication,
  • organization of the corporation,
  • decision processes and systems,
  • performance management processes and systems, and
  • reward processes and systems,

A Value Based Management System has three principal objectives:

  1. Creating Value – How the company can increase or generate maximum future value; more or less equal to strategy
  2. Managing for Value – Governance, change management, organizational culture, communication, leadership
  3. Measuring Value- Valuation

Value Based Management is dependent on the corporate purpose and the corporate values. The corporate purpose can either be economic (Shareholder value) or can also aim at other constituents directly (Stakeholder value).

The application of Quality Management – the basics of which involve quality planning, control, and improvement. The benefit of this is:

  1. costs decrease because of less rework, fewer mistakes, fewer delays, and better use of time and materials;
  2. productivity improves;
  3. market share increases with better quality and prices
  4. the company increases profitability and stays in business; and
  5. the number of jobs increases

One of the best summaries of Quality Management was written my Edward Deming:

  1. Create consistency of purpose toward the improvement of product and service, and communicate this goal to all employees.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy of quality throughout all levels with the organization.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality; understand that quality comes from improving processes.
  4. No longer select suppliers based solely on price. Move towards developing a long-term relationship with a single supplier.
  5. Processes, products, and services should be improved constantly; reducing waste.
  6. Institute extensive on-the-job training.
  7. Improve supervision.
  8. Drive out fear of expressing ideas and concerns.
  9. Break down barriers between departments. People should be encouraged to work together as a team.
  10. Eliminate slogans and targets for the workforce.
  11. Eliminate work quotas on the factory floor.
  12. Remove barriers that rob workers of their right to pride of workmanship.
  13. Institute a program of education and self-improvement.
  14. Make sure to put everyone in the company to work to accomplish the transformation.

Customer relationship management (CRM) – a widely-implemented strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers, clients and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support.

CRM has three principal objectives:

  1. Acquire new customers
  2. Enhance customer service
  3. Retain and continually engage client base

The benefits of CRM must be defined, risks assessed, and cost quantified in three general areas:

  1. Processes: Though these systems have many technological components, business processes lie at its core. It can be seen as a more client-centric way of doing business, enabled by technology that consolidates and intelligently distributes pertinent information about clients, sales, marketing effectiveness, responsiveness, and market trends. Therefore, a company must analyze its business workflows and processes before choosing a technology platform; some will likely need re-engineering to better serve the overall goal of winning and satisfying clients. Moreover, planners need to determine the types of client information that are most relevant, and how best to employ them.
  2. People: For an initiative to be effective, an organization must convince its staff that the new technology and workflows will benefit employees as well as clients. Senior executives need to be strong and visible advocates who can clearly state and support the case for change. Collaboration, teamwork, and two-way communication should be encouraged across hierarchical boundaries, especially with respect to process improvement.
  3. Technology: In evaluating technology, key factors include alignment with the company’s business process strategy and goals, including the ability to deliver the right data to the right employees and sufficient ease of adoption and use. Choosing appropriate technological solutions is best undertaken by a carefully chosen group of executives who understand the business processes to be automated as well as the software issues

Human Resource Management:  this is the management of the people you have hired

  • Workforce planning
  • Recruitment (sometimes separated into attraction and selection)
  • Induction, orientation and organizational socialization
  • Skills management
  • Training and development
  • Personnel administration
  • Compensation in wage or salary
  • Time management
  • Travel management (sometimes assigned to accounting rather than HRM)
  • Payroll (sometimes assigned to accounting rather than HRM)
  • Employee benefits administration
  • Personnel cost planning
  • Performance appraisal
  • Labor relations

Experts in this study the science of Industrial Relations, which is quite extensive.  Wikipedia had 195 pages listed under the related subject of ‘organizational studies and human resource management’.

Informed Management in summary: If your organization has in place at the very least, some version of these five attributes of management, namely:

  1. Advanced financial planning and controls
  2. Some dynamic management system
  3. A system for Quality Control
  4. A Customer Relationship Management strategy, and
  5. Human Resource Management

then you can be considered an organization at the informed level of management.

If you feel you are not functioning at the informed level of management then you would be well served by hiring a management consultant. There are many capable consultants ranging from one person independent contractors to large multi-national firms like McKinsey & Company.

The standard of informed management is really just the status quo. It is where a company that hopes to remain viable must be. But to go beyond the status quo, to operate at the more elusive, and much desired level of being a remarkable enterprise requires advanced management.

Advanced Management [Expert Hacker or Management 3.0]

To have your management and employees working at a level of exceptional performance, and constant innovation under extreme market pressures requires the input of experts in organizational psychology which is several levels above normal business management consulting.

As described in the previous sections regular business management consultants focus on work flow, productivity outcomes, information systems and other external factors.

Industrial or organizational psychology focuses on the underlying and implicit dynamics that shape and influence the individuals in the organization. These difficult to detect psychological factors set the limits for how well your work force will be able to achieve your business goals. Failure to address the deep seeded dynamics will also suppress individual potential and cause personnel to work well below capacity.

The goal of advanced management solutions is to create a remarkable organization that will outperform competitors. This is done by introducing advanced dynamics that can instigate a companywide chain reaction of individual improvements and new group/ team capacities.

An astute organizational psychologist does this by dismantling dysfunctional dynamic and problematic behaviors and incorporating new roles and perspectives and seeding better expectations and behaviors.  These new dynamics act on the resilience and adaptability inherent in most people and can uncover performance capacities that the individuals themselves might not realize they had.

Industrial or organizational psychology is a management process that knows that both humans and institutions have and underlying psychology. Like humans, institutions are mostly unaware of the dramatic influence of psychological processes. Neither is fully aware of how these psychological forces are controlling them and shaping their outcomes.

The organizational psychologist understands, however, that of the two, the institutional psychology is the dominant force. Change the psychology of the institute and you will change the psychology of the individuals.  Ignoring this and just trying to change the psychology of the individuals who make up the institute may not change the institute, and they will, over time, most likely revert or succumb to the influence of the institution.

For this reason advanced management requires support from specialists in the psycho-dynamic-transformation of six key aspects of your organization. They are:

  1. productivity,
  2. innovation,
  3. stress management,
  4. health & wellness,
  5. team/group development, and
  6. employee management

Industrial /organizational psychology addresses traits that are often intrinsic or internal such as

  • creativity
  • self-motivation
  • patience
  • honesty
  • courage
  • kindness and
  • confidence

to name  just a few. A large body of scientific work has made it clear that these factors can be measurably improved by applying psychological methodology to the business environment. (Wikipedia lists 15 distinct scientific journals with the specific focus of industrial and organizational psychology.)

Influencing these types of human characteristic is done using a range of research-driven tools which includes doing both basic and applied research, as well as primary and secondary research. Different approaches include:

  • Strategically focused research – this is constructive research with the greatest likelihood of creating practical and commercial applications
  • Clinical research – empirical research to test the efficacy of various hypotheses on individuals in controlled trials
  • Directed research – this is research conducted in a response to an outside request to explore a specific area of scientific expertise
  • Systematic review – a summary of research that uses explicit methods to perform a thorough literature search and critical appraisal of individual studies to identify the valid and applicable evidence
  • Meta-analysis – a statistical study of the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses

Industrial psychologists also rely on diverse data sources including:

  • psychometrics and personality assessments
  • quasi-experiments
  • human judgment
  • historical databases
  • objective measures of work performance and
  • questionnaires or surveys

Altogether the industrial/organizational psychologist can change a company’s culture, improving member performance and resulting in greater outcomes. Some of the areas affected by advanced management solutions include:

  • organizational development
  • time management
  • decision making
  • motivation
  • communication
  • creative thinking
  • divergent vs. convergent thinking
  • problem solving
  • critical thinking
  • employee interaction and co-operation
  • stress and health
  • reducing health care costs
  • reducing absenteeism (and presenteeism)
  • work/life balance
  • the impact of health on productivity
  • nutrition and productivity
  • leadership skills
  • team collaboration
  • employee selection
  • employee retention
  • remuneration and compensation
  • executive training
  • presentation skills

The future success of business will depend on new levels of collaboration between business leaders and experts in social sciences like industrial psychology. By allowing an expert to help with organizational development the management can focus on what they are in business to do.