You’re Not the Boss of Me Now…or maybe you still are.

Technology is changing how many folks work, or are able to work, in today’s economy. I think that this can be characterized as changing the nature of work simply by its altering workloads significantly. This altering frees up time that is likely absorbed by new tasks – so the old job may even become unrecognizable. The new work has to be accommodated, as noted by Chamberlain when referring to automation: workers increasingly need to build skills that are complementary to technology – learning to run the machine, not doing the same work the machine automates (https://www.fastcompany.com/3066605/the-future-of-work/these-are-the-top-5-workplace-trends-well-see-in-2017). Technologies that allow workers to co-author documents (at the same time), and attend virtual meetings rather than physically traveling to a meeting are examples where web technologies can return many hours to a worker. How that time is recycled can easily change the nature of work.

I think it is difficult, and certainly premature to pass judgement on the good or bad of the web in this regard. I agree with Weinberger (2011) that we can use it as a tool to learn about the world, or not, or teach our children, or not. Though his discussion about the disruption of knowledge focuses primarily on the impact to those who traditionally provided knowledge to the masses. It may change their existence, and the power structures around traditional knowledge creation, but it is primarily an enabler for the majority of both the new producers, and any consumer of knowledge. I agree with Weinberger that the web is letting ideas relax into their real shape (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPXmEh24KXA&feature=youtu.be).

Husband refers to the information flow as eroding the pillars of rigid traditional hierarchies. He claims that this new set of conditions (i.e., wirearchies) is having real impact on organizational structures and the dynamics of these structures (http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/). But I don’t see a dichotomy between hierarchies and wirearchies. I think that most organizations will operate hierarchically, but be enabled (or disabled in some cases) by the connectedness and readiness of information provided by wirearchies. For example, Gartner notes that digital leaders must think about technology in a fundamentally different way; past just enabling existing visions and strategies, to creatively disrupting with new innovations and opportunities (http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2745517). They note that it requires requisite variety to ask new questions and to think differently about issues leveraging elements such as co-creation and crowdsourcing (http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2745517).

But all this progress circles back to people. The collaboration tools mentioned above have to be adopted by most folks in order to be leveraged. Not all technology that enables is propagated virally. It comes back to psychology and understanding how to truly leverage the new technology opportunities. People resist change naturally, and often for good reason. For example, Microsoft Delve provides analytics about a user’s behavior using certain tools (e.g., how many emails sent during an online meeting). This information is meant to provide insight to help a user be more productive, but it can easily be seen as “big brother” keeping track of my activities. Understanding these resistance points, and mitigating the resistance with communications and other tactics, rely on softer psychology skills that the technology itself does not accommodate – until an A.I. computer (likely named Freud) will address this as well.

References:

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too Big to Know. New York: Basic Books.

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12 thoughts on “You’re Not the Boss of Me Now…or maybe you still are.

  1. Nice post! I suspect that what the new administration in Washington called “leaks” was in someways wirearchy playing out on a grand scale!

    Clay Shirky discussed this freed up time that you mentioned above as “cognitive surplus.” One of the leadership challenges now will be to help those in her or his organization reinvest this surplus in ways that forward the vision and mission of the organization.

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    1. And hopefully that vision and mission includes a strong “strengthen our people” component so that the employees see the benefit of the freed up time. But for most businesses, this should make economic sense as well as people are still the strongest asset.

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  2. Loved your title! You mention time saving technology and how this gives us the opportunity to recycle our time. First I really like your use of the term recycle in this context. For a moment I felt refreshed – as if I had an opportunity to actually make some choices with this bonus time. And then I recalled how with every efficiency we bring into our workplace it seems that work continues to expand. We are likely all part of organizations who have seen an influx of great productivity hacks via new technology and processes and also a reduction in staff. But by my calculation the tech might be saving some time and enabling me to take on additional work but the team I am on is operating with 8 people instead of the 12 it had 2 years ago and the workload is at least 30-40 % greater. Organizations are benefitting from increased productivity but we 24/7 many workers are working more. This Pew research mentions that although 46% felt more productive as a result of technology, 35% were also working more hours http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/12/30/technologys-impact-on-workers/ Dr. Watwood mentioned cognitive surplus – again I am glad that some people are experiencing this – those I work with are experiencing more cognitive strain. What do you see?

    You also bring up the challenges in getting some people to adapt to collaborative programming and fully leverage networked capabilities. And yet there are times when I feel that the more I engage with all of these elements the more I feel sucked into a swirling vortex rather than being set free to innovate and collaborate. It seems a bit of the Pandora’s box – it’s surely open. Navigating its spilling contents is a grand challenge. Thanks ~Tricia

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    1. Excellent post and follow-ups here! I am sensitive to Tricia’s comment, that with every breakthrough in efficiency, our work expands. In light of this, I wonder if there is room in our leadership lexicon for what one leader referred to as “blue sky day” (see my comment on one of our peer’s threads from last week: https://livingthedream530.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/knowledge-isnt-dead-just-ask-google/#comments). My fear is that our default response to this “recycle” opportunity is often to do more (that is measurable) as quickly as possible, lest we waste that valuable time and opportunity. While spending that time and leveraging this new margin towards thinking and dreaming as a leader may not be as easily or immediately measurable, it holds the potential to pay dividends. Make no mistake, I love data and value measurement and accountability, but I think some organizations may benefit from this pendulum swinging back in the direction of leaving some room to think, to dream, and to innovate.

      -EA

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    2. Tricia,
      There is a term for work expanding to fill time, Parkinson’s Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law), but I think the dynamic you talk about it different – a demanding of higher productivity from leadership. As to what I see, it is hard to generalize, but I work at a very fast-paced company, so it is more cognitive strain. Colleagues are amazed that I am seeking a Doctorate while working there, but there are a number of folks I know who are doing the same – and more so getting Masters degrees. We just make it work if we are committed.
      Your other problem is the classic problem with working by committee. As we discussed last week, it takes a strong facilitator to move committee work forward, and often needs a strong leader to make hard decisions that many won’t agree on. But when you are “collaborating”, it can seem like a vortex of distractions to getting something done.
      Thanks for the thoughtful reply.
      Shawn

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      1. Thanks Shawn and yes you did correctly identify the dynamic I was referencing – demands for additional work to be taken on by a shrinking workforce not work expanding to fill the time. And agreed – those of us in this program are all incredible managers of time and priorities. Regards ~ Tricia

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  3. Good afternoon. I enjoyed reading your blog this week. I could not agree more regarding your comments on workloads and job responsibilities changing. There is no doubt that many technologies available today have made our jobs easier. Maybe it is just me, but technologies have also made me and others around me less productive. Email, for example, has taken over our lives. Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2012/02/stop-email-overload-1) offered some helpful suggestions how to tackle this beast, but it is an ongoing challenge. As Tricia mentioned, it has made us available 24/7, but at times I wonder if it is truly a good use of our time. I also find that I find myself having to problem solve when technologies fail, and the amount of time our organizations are trying to figure out why some types of technology is not working properly. I sometimes wonder if we are losing our focus on serving our customers. As leaders, how can we best use the many technologies available to us while also staying focused on those that we serve?

    Jason

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    1. I think that the answer has to come from culture – that is, leadership demanding that the customer is the first priority, so work around problems, including technology. I have felt that pain many times (e.g., not being able to get into a conference/video call that you set up, and customers are waiting).
      As to emails, I actually taught a class last week and unplugged from emails to teach, and prep. But it means that I have over 450 emails sitting there unread – and it seems pretty overwhelming, especially when my football team (Patriots) are playing today in the SuperBowl, and I have home stuff and school stuff to get done.

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  4. Shawn,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post this week. I liked your summary of the readings and video as well. I appreciated how you included psychology of people and how this plays a role in individual’s understanding of technology. I read an article by Straub (2009) that focuses on understanding the adoption of technology. While there were many theories highlighted in the article, one that stood out to me the most was looking at the likelihood of adoption of diffusion through the social cognitive theory which boils down to two components;
    • social learning-individuals learn from his or her experiences and from those around them
    • self-efficacy- individual’s belief within oneself to carry out tasks.
    Based upon my small segment of information from the article, I think this information complements your statements about implementing new technological practices and hesitations that may be experienced by individuals. My organization is a small nonprofit healthcare entity which, I believe, lends to us being classified as early adopters. Rogers (2003) identified five categories of adopters:
    • Innovators
    • Early adopters
    • Early majority
    • Late majority
    • Laggards
    The reason I classify my organization as an early adopter is because of our nimbleness to adapt to new changes and also due to our small size. Typically, other organizations will turn to my organization for feedback on innovations we have implemented because we are seen as a trusted, knowledgeable source. Out of curiosity, how would you classify your organization’s (or department’s) implementation of technology?
    Thank you,
    Keshia

    Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.

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    1. That self-efficacy point is a good one, as the fear of being able to do actually implement their part of a change is one of the main reasons that managers/supervisors resist change (Creasey & Stise, 2016).

      Since my company actually creates software and services, I think that we are not a good placement on that scale. We adopt our stuff quickly (we call it dogfooding), but wouldn’t venture past that, especially with any competitors. So we are innovators for our cloud offerings and services – and would love to be a reference for others to use them.

      Creasey, T., & Stise, R. (2016). Best Practices in Change Management 2016 — 9th Edition. Fort Collins, CO.

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