Technology and Organizations

Work Design For All of Us: Knowledge to do the Work


If more work is being done with fewer jobs (I’ll review one source for this claim, The Second Machine Age, soon), the remaining jobs, and work in general, must be being done differently. What are the levers we can pull as we do this redesign? Who should be doing this redesign? These are the questions that everyone, from CEO to the newest freelancer, are -- or need to be -- grappling with.

Hackman and Oldham are the two best known names in the world of job design. Their most recent commentary:

It is true that many specific, well-defined jobs continue to exist in contemporary organizations. But we presently are in the midst of what we believe are fundamental changes in the relationships among people, the work they do, and the organizations for which they do it (p. 466).

Work Design for All of Us

Oldham and Hackman describe telecommuting, fluid job responsibilities, and independent contractors with simultaneous jobs of varying duration. But, as they note, while the phenomenon of work has changed, the human issues have not. Alienation, coordination, motivation, and performance are still critical themes to be addressed through the design of work. These themes grow in importance as responsibility for engagement, motivation, and direction shifts to include all workers (especially as freelancing grows), not just professional managers. As work becomes more virtual, distributed, and flexible, we have an opportunity to rethink work design as something carried out every day by everyone.

Emma Nordbäck, John Sawyer, Ron Rice, and I seek a simple model of work design and leadership that can be applied by the people doing the work rather than just management and human resource leads. In our recent presentations, we assess some of the basics of work design and leadership for employees as part of a larger study on flexible work and work-life balance in metropolitan areas. Traditional work at the office, working from home, and a variety of hybrid approaches, including working at other organizations or public sites, are part of these employees’ experience.

Developing a Work Design Tool Kit

Emma, John, Ron, and I are starting with the knowledge used to do work. Knowledge is foundational to the quality and quantity of the work we do. We all bring education and skills to the task, but additional knowledge comes from how the work is designed. Work design can bring to bear knowledge from:

  • The feedback you get from the work itself: You gain both motivation and direction from well designed work. The ability to complete a piece of work and see its result is both rewarding and helpful as you think about how to improve. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, in The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, had people keep diaries and evaluate their work. What was true for the last 60 years remains the case, feedback as you do your work is a good thing. Feedback that is a direct response of the work is great: A chef can taste the flavor of the dish, a cabinet maker can feel the smoothness of the join, an app developer can see the the code run, and a salesperson can shake on a deal.
  • Technology support related to the work: When Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee talk about technology augmenting work, much of what they are describing is technology giving us access to knowledge we can use to do our work better. Hybrid chess teams made up of relative amateurs using a variety of computer programs can beat the best computer or human grand master, when they know to augment their skills with those of the computer. Truck drivers and airline pilots can be more efficient if they have access to electronic energy tracking systems. Lobster fisherman can track past catches to make predictions about the future. Technology can support our work by enhancing the direction, method, and motivation of our work.
  • Where you work: Location can provide signals about our work. If you are working next to a team member, you may be better able to know when they are going to need the report you are working on. You may have overheard them talking with others, you may have heard them cursing under their breath, or you may see that they are about to pack up and head out to that important presentation. You may also be able to see how the team member is working and learn from his or her example. (While I've focused on physical location, with some thoughtful design, virtual work can be designed to provide the same benefits.)

These are our first three levers: Feedback from the work itself, technology support, and location. More will follow, as will the craft of how to work with these levers. Are these issues you are already managing as you build you own work? If not, use one of these levers to push a change in your work -- and let us know what happens.

Much to Our Surprise

In my next post I’ll share our surprising results from the first of the organizations involved in this research. The teaser question: Who communicates more with their supervisor, people who work in the office with them, or people who away from the office? Big implications for the location lever.

Thank you to Tekes and our universities for funding this research.


What Does a Silicon Valley Immersion Trip Look Like?

Each year Santa Clara University hosts a variety of immersion weeks (or longer) for other university’s Executive MBA programs. I like to say, SCU Brings Silicon Valley to the World, though our marketing team hasn’t yet joined me in that. We use these weeks as opportunities to share our basic innovation principles and ground truth about living and working in the Valley. The common ground we develop expands all of our ability to work effectively together and is a chance to build networks that reach far beyond the range of a Google or Yahoo bus.

Thank You ESADE 2014!

Our most recent group was the ESADE Executive Masters in Digital Business. As the faculty dean of this program, I partner with Prof. Xavier Busquets to design a Silicon Valley immersion for 50 students from ESADE’s Barcelona and Madrid campuses. The Leavey School of Business’ Executive Development Center hosts the five-day program on campus and across the Silicon Valley.

What Does It Look Like?

Somewhere along the line, baseball became Santa Clara’s cure for jetlag, as well as a great introduction to some colorful business language. This year we opened the week with a tour of our 160 year-old campus (including our historic California mission), baseball, plugged-in management, equity compensation, and IBM’s Watson. Tuesday we learned by doing design thinking (your driving experience will never be the same), Silicon Valley investments, and had a conversation with the Spain California Chamber of Commerce. Wednesday it was about teamwork and big data, followed by a trip to Google. Thursday we opened with a living case at Oracle before diving into the founding of Tiempo, intellectual property, and open innovation. Friday was our final trip, hosted by Plug and Play Tech Center for a glimpse of the Dark Horse Competition, and a surprise conversation with Plug and Play founder and CEO, Saeed Amidi.

Some of Our Guest Speakers

How Can You Be Involved?

Would you be interested in hosting a future group? What advice do you have for us as we pick our topics and trips? Consider these programs "informational interviews" with the goal of opening the door to new relationships built to last. What do you need your non-Silicon Valley partners to understand?
Our groups range from 22 to 55 MBA, Executive MBA, or other masters students -- most employed and all looking to expand their opportunities. We look for a presentation by an executive/senior manager and a tour (if relevant). Hot topics include: how the company approaches innovation, global strategy, and how the company is unique/distinctive and altering the landscape of its industry. The key is for the group to get a better sense of what makes Silicon Valley special and to share the company’s perspectives with these unique students.

Lead by Letting Go: Women of the Channel Keynote

Last week I had the honor of opening Women of the Channel West. This conference focuses on women in the information technology channel community -- some of our top technology sales strategy leaders. The San Francisco event was the first time this conference had come to the west coast and I think we did a great job hosting. Here is a gracious summary of my keynote by Kari Hamanaka,  including quotes from the audience. It thrills me that they found the ideas actionable and that they plan to put them into use.

My slides are here and I’m happy to talk with anyone about the meat behind the images. I had the chance to push the limits of how we might "lead by letting go" across work, leadership, education, and mentoring.

The full speaker list is here (click for abstracts), including the amazing closing keynote by Holly Green on being “elite.” The workshops were also standouts and I especially enjoyed connecting with Luanne Tierney as she is part of the growing Santa Clara University women in business network. Her 12 strategies for for success in the future world of work are dead on.

The Big Picture

Kari Hamanaka also did a great job summarizing the sessions by Riverbed’s Michele Hayes and Avnet’s Therese Bassett. Keys: Be willing to be afraid, promote your wins, and understand your employees’ needs and goals. Some of my favorite moments:

  • Hayes’ story of her escape from Alcatraz swim and the perspective that puts on work.
  • Bassett speaking the truth of, "There is no greater buzzkill than to say we want you to be engaged so that you can pound out more work.”

Don’t stop with my snippets, take a look at Hamanaka’s summary and the full list of the talks and workshops. Let me know if you'd like to know more about how you can lead by letting go. 


2014 SuperNova Awards

Constellation SuperNova Award Applications Are Open!

Applications are taken here and I can guarantee great feedback and an excellent network.

The winners will be celebrated at the 2014 Connected Enterprise Gala in Half Moon Bay. I’m honored to be a judge for the Future of Work category. We’ll look at the “confluence of technological, demographical and cultural trends challenging the traditional paradigm of work,” and I expect much more as the SuperNova awards are about disruption, not incremental change.

Alan Lepofsky is one of the Constellation guru’s covering the future of work. Here is a link to his work if you’d like to get the flavor of the topic: largely the where, when, why, and how we do our work.

Snippet from the SuperNova press release

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, May 27, 2014—Constellation Research, Inc. (@ConstellationRG), the research and advisory firm helping clients dominate digital disruption through business models and disruptive technologies announced today the call for applications for the 2014 SuperNova Awards, the first awards recognizing early adopters of technology that have overcome adversity to successfully implement disruptive technologies in their organizations. The 2014 SuperNova Awards will recognize seven technology leaders in the following categories:

  • Consumerization of IT & The New C-Suite
  • Data to Decisions
  • Digital Marketing Transformation
  • Future of Work
  • Matrix Commerce
  • Next Generation Customer Experience
  • Technology Optimization & Innovation

Lead Like a Pro

Book Title: Lead Like a Pro: How Great Executives, Team Leads, Equestrians, Golfers, Dancers, and You Do More With a 
Lighter Touch

It has been said that the United States is experiencing a jobless recovery. The redesign of work is partially the cause. Are you ready to lead your organization in this environment?
I'm kicking off my next book project and will take on the future of work from its design to its leadership. You will learn how some of the best known companies, and many you may not have heard of, work with their people, technology, and organizational practices to lead with a lighter touch. What they've found is that, like pro equestrians, golfers, and dancers, you can't keep a death grip and do great things.  

Light Touch for A Long Drive

Lead Like A Pro will show how to build individual, team, and organizational strength such that excellence is supported throughout the organization, rather than reliant on rigid rules or directive management. Sam Snead, the famous golfer, is said to have described the best grip for a long golf shot as the same as holding a baby bird in your hand. You’ll find the same advice from professional equestrians, dancers, baseball players, CEOs, and team leads.
Use a light touch for greater success. Develop clear and meaningful tasks, goals, and technology tools to support the organization’s direction, complementing or substituting for formal rules that may reduce engagement or become obsolete with quickly changing environments. Work with the best individuals and teams, as employees or contractors, and help them refine their skill sets. Flexibility, transparency, and increasing worker accountability result in greater performance, the ability to quickly adapt to changing customer needs, and opportunities to leverage a global workforce. We are symphony conductors rather than engineers designing cogs in a machine.


If you can figure out how to lead in a light handed way, you win. You lead by letting go of the more rigid structures that were valuable when employee turnover was low and environments didn’t move at the pace of the Internet. Our likely future needs leadership via flexible systems of people, technology, and organizational practice as well as interpersonal relationships. 


Lead Like a Pro leverages research from around the world to show how to decide when to loosen your grip and when to hold tight. Detailed examples from over ten organizations, ranging across start-ups and mid-sized organizations to the Fortune 100, are supported by forty years of research. The results are a toolkit of design strategies to strengthen three foundations of work: direct feedback from the work itself, support from modern technology, and the on-going development of expertise. These foundations apply whether the work is done by long-term employees, contractors, or crowds sourced from around the world. The three foundations are placed in context with modern considerations of where the work is done (e.g., in the office, at home, in a co-working space) and leader communication (e.g., face to face or on-line). 
See how leaders in these organizations:
  • Amplify leadership in global settings
  • Mix technology tools and services to support management and innovation at all levels
  • Leverage employees’ contributions through work done by crowdsourcing and contractors
We’ll also cover how you transition from a more tightly held model to one with a looser grip.


You're in on the ground floor. What do you need want to know first?


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