Archive for the ‘People’ Category


Have you ever seen the Canadian TV programme “Saving Hope”?  The main character is Dr Charlie Harris, Chief Surgeon of Hope Zion Hospital in Toronto.  He is in a coma following a car crash.  Whilst unconscious his spirit walks the halls of the hospital and helps the spirits of others who are also in comas or have recently died.  You are probably wondering what on earth the connection is between disembodied spirits and intrapreneurship?  Read on and you will see!

I have met and worked with a number of intrapreneurs during my 30 plus years working as an Organisation Development practitioner.  My experience is that many of them are like the poor souls Dr Charlie tries to help!  The halls of the organisations seem to be full of the spirits of intrapreneurs, walking round trying to influence things, but finding it incredibly difficult to be heard and to do the job they were brought in to do.

I have recently co-authored a book titled The Workplace Community  “A guide to releasing human potential and engaging employees.” Central to the book is an exploration of how we choose to organise the way we work.  In the book my co-author and I examine 4 different ways of working; hierarchy, project or programme management, workplace communities and intrapreneurial ways of working.  We believe hierarchy is a ‘default position’ for most people and organisations.  By default position, we mean most people choose to work hierarchically without even considering other options, a bit like computers in the ‘olden days’ that defaulted to the ‘c’ drive as soon as you turned them on.

There is nothing wrong with hierarchy per se and certainly for some activities it is the best way of working.  However I believe that about 75% of the work we do could be organised more effectively using one of the other modes mentioned above. The problem with hierarchy is that it tends to drive out innovation and creativity and I believe is particularly incompatible with intrapreneurial activities.  Successful hierarchy rests upon predictable behaviour, people knowing their place, decisions moving up and down the line, risk aversion and change being planned and programmed. Intrapreneurialism is more chaotic, opportunistic and risk driven. It relies on what a hierarchy is likely to consider unusual and unnecessary connections, making links and forming networks across silos and lines.  All of this is an anathema in a hierarchical organisation.

Intrapreneurship offers organisations the opportunity to raise the level of innovation and bring fresh new thinking that has the possibility of leading to new ideas, opportunities and innovations.  However when initiated in organisations wedded to hierarchy, as their dominant way of working, it is far too easy for the corporate antibodies to emerge, hunt down, attack and kill intrapreneurship stone dead and lead to the syndrome of ghosts in the hall I mentioned above.  Hierarchy finds it difficult to tolerate difference.

It is very easy for organisations to jump on the intrapreneurship bandwagon without thinking through how they need to shift their culture and ways of working in order to maximise the benefit that it offers and not kill it stone dead before it has a chance to deliver.  To do this they need an OD plan that will help them make appropriate shifts and changes to their organisation that will allow intrapreneurship to flourish and deliver.

One way of achieving this is through experimenting with workplace communities and using these experiments as a way of preparing the organisation for intrapreneurship.  By a workplace community I don’t mean people sitting round waiting for their turn with the talking stick!  What I mean is a structured and planned way by which people have the opportunity to work outside of traditional hierarchies and silos. Engaging with each other in new and different ways and as a consequence creating extraordinary results.  In our increasingly knowledge based economy, what we all know, our thoughts, ideas, creativity, innovation and willingness to share and collaborate, are critical for creating value for organisations and the individuals who work for them.

Community ways of working provide organisations with a way to tap into collective intelligence, engage people in a common sense of direction and in doing so provide the opportunity for unleashing individual and collective innovation. As such they are a good way of preparing the organisation for intrapreneurship.  Readying the ground and acting as a form of organisational interferon, stopping the corporate antibodies from killing intrapreneurship and leading to less ghost walking the corporate halls!


We, the HR

Posted: May 20, 2014 by Matthew Hanwell in Human Resources, OD, People

Guest post by: Asif Zulfiqar


I attended the wedding of my sister-in-law a few months ago. Besides attending the festivities, I got to hang out with my wife’s extended family, a family of doctors and educators. This was memorable experience on two accounts. First, this was the first wedding I ever attended where no fights broke out. Second, and more importantly, this was the first time I found myself surrounded by this many medical professionals. I am able to hold decent conversations about variety of topics but that week most of the conversations around me were going way above my head. In the midst of all the technical discussions, I came across something that really struck me. Something that mapped well to my profession and something I’ve been doing without realizing it.

At one of the tea gatherings I asked the group if they ever had to play the “patient” and how they felt about doing it after playing the role of “doctor” for so long. They all had interesting stories to tell from variety of experiences. But the consensus was that doctors are the worst patients – not because they have low tolerance for pain or medical procedures but because they are close to these procedures. They can handle the needle but they can’t deal with someone stabbing them with it due to their incompetency or carelessness. I’m not sure what this condition is called when you closely scrutinize someone doing what you do for living but I realized I’m certainly suffering from it.

Many things make me cringe in my profession. We, the HR, are so proud to have come up with the notion of behavioral interviews because they are claimed to be better predictor of future performance by 60 or 70 percent (one organization even claimed up to 90%). Yet, there’s no research to back these claims up. In fact I came across a research demonstrating quite the contrary. We, the HR, love putting fancy value statements on our corporate office entrances but in reality reward popularity contest winner and the behaviors of corporate ass kissing. We, the HR, proudly pigeonhole our employees into 9 boxes because believe this is the best thing we created for managing performance of our great workforce. Yet, we fight tooth and nail to keep 13th percent out of box number 9 (regardless of their performance) because “the policy” says only 12% are allowed in this box.

I have a reliable car now but one of my old cars had a lot of problems and breakdowns. I’d generally have to go to a different mechanic for service every time. First thing the mechanic would tell me that how terrible of a job previous mechanic did on my car. My wife (who is dentist by education) thinks the dentist who performed RTC on her most likely slept through her tooth drilling class. Someone like me who doesn’t know anything about the art of dentistry or fixing cars wouldn’t have spotted any of that. But after going through some job interviews in my life I can certainly nominate a few interviewers for next episode of Jenny Jones’s “HR Boys and Girls Getting Interview Makeover” show.

So, what is your profession? Have you had to get the service you provide for living? What was your experience? Does this condition (I call it “We, the HR” syndrome, for lack of better term) exist across the board? And someone please tell me if this condition has a name. Curiosity is killing me!

Lost Paragraphs

Posted: March 23, 2014 by Ian Gee in Learning, OD, Organization, People, Writing

Lost paragraphs

You may have noticed that Matthew and I have been a bit tardy in blogging this year.  It’s not that we have lost interest in the Illusion of Work, in all its forms, it’s just that we have been busy writing a book!   Last year we were asked by Palgrave Macmillan to write about our experience and practice of working with and supporting communities in the workplace. The book goes to the publishers at the end of May and will be published, fingers crossed, in January 2015.

Our working title for the book is Communites@Work.  The publishers aren’t that keen on the title, feeling the @ is a bit hackneyed. We like it, but are open to suggestions!  Let us know what you think and if you have any ideas!

This is the first time either of us has written a book and it’s a very interesting process on many levels.  One of the strange things I have found is how attached I can get to paragraphs!  When the heavy lifting of mapping out the chapters was complete and the editing started, I found a number of paragraphs that just did not work.  In some cases they did not fit where they were placed and could be moved to another part of the chapter or book.  In other cases, though not badly written, they were just out of place and did not fit anywhere.   As I was editing I found it harder and harder to just delete them.  I ended up starting a new document called “Lost Paragraphs” to store them!  I now have an eleven-page document that reads like something a crazed post modernist has written!  Something Gertrude Stein would be very happy with I am sure!

The lost paragraphs document has been more useful than I thought. It is not just been an archive or a repository but incredibly useful.  At times when I have felt stuck, something I am sure anyone who has written an extended piece will no doubt have experienced, I have read it through and found new inspiration!  The lost paragraphs have given me new ideas and a way forward, unsticking me in the process.

Here are a couple of examples of lost paragraph.  Though I suppose once they are published on the blog they will no longer be lost, but become found!:

What may look dysfunctional in a hierarchy may be perfectly normal and helpful in a workplace community.  For example, in a hierarchy people are normally discouraged from challenging authority, in an explicit and direct way.  Within a community, as leadership is a shared function, people find it easer to challenge and take on the mantel of leadership themselves. 

And another

Is what is happening in your workplace community what you expect to see and experience?  Do you have any slight niggles that things may not be totally as they should be? Use the community health diagnostic to raise community member’s awareness of this. It is always better to deal with issues as they arise, rather than wait for them to become major problems and stumbling blocks….

I am coming to the conclusion that there is something about the processes of creativity and writing where we need to be attached and committed to what we are doing while we are doing it and at the same time, be ready to let go and say goodbye to it!  In my case the lost paragraphs document is about letting go but not forgetting. As who knows when they might come in useful!

The idea of lost paragraphs started me thinking about other ‘lost’ things I have written over the years.  Such as proposals for work that were never taken up, OD interventions I designed but never implemented and even emails written but never sent!  If I still had them, I wonder what new thoughts and ideas they would stimulate and what I could learn? I guess this is all good for the soul in terms of developing a Buddhist type of non-attachment.

Matthew and I will share a bit more about our book and the writing process as things develop.  So watch this space!  In the meantime I will be really interested to hear if any of you have had a similar experience of not wanting to let go of what you have written or are doing, even if you know it doesn’t fit or doesn’t work? What do you do? What has your experience been?

MOOC me up Scotty

Posted: March 1, 2014 by Matthew Hanwell in Human Resources, Learning, Organization, People


Evolution of distance learning (source:

Guest post by: Asif Zulfiqar

Growing up, I faced tremendous family and social pressure to do well in school. Doing well really meant passing exams with higher grades rather than actually acquiring any knowledge. Apart from failing intermediate English class terribly, I lived up to the expectations for the most part. As a kid, I never understood our society’s obsession with earning good grades in standardized tests. Earning good grades, by the way, meant endless hours of memorization – the ritual I was terrible at. I still can’t relate to this obsession but at least I am able to appreciate where it comes from – the evolution of learning, or the lack there of.

My understanding of human learning is heavily influenced by Ken Robinson, who believes human life flourishes on three principles – diversity, curiosity and creativity. Unfortunately today’s education and learning systems, for the most part, do quite the contrary. One-size-fits-all learning curricula support conformity, not diversity, limiting what can be achieved; use of structured assessment to measure success rather than learning diagnostics curbs curiosity and supports compliance; and the culture of success and fear of failure is simply killing creativity.

One doesn’t need to go back millions of years or explore Adam and Eve’s lives to study human evolution. There’s no doubt we have changed and we have changed tremendously. The way we gather information, relate to each other and process knowledge has evolved significantly even in few short decades. I am convinced the way we learn has evolved too. The question is though, have the systems that support our learning kept up with our evolution? I seriously doubt that.

The industrial revolution did something remarkable for human race. It brought structure, systems and standardization to pretty much every facet of life. It made perfect sense for the education system to compliment this by offering one-size-fits-all curricula to educate masses. State of the art education system came with a state of the art, standardized assessment. Eventually industrial revolution became thing of the past and we declared ourselves knowledge economy. Even the knowledge economy label have started to fade away now but we continue to hang on to the education and learning system we adopted during industrial revolution.

Anant Agarwal, a Computer Science Professor at MIT and President of edX, believes the real innovation in education was printing press, enabling mass production of textbooks and learning material. This allowed us to create the one-to-many learning structure to educate masses. In 1920’s NYU and other universities offered education through radio, which was then taken over by TV a couple of decades later (as a child I remember TV timeslots dedicated to Allama Iqbal Open University training courses). By 1980’s we had the ability to link training/class rooms to remote locations via close-circuit video to support distance learning. Of course the arrival of internet led to the concept of E-learning. One might think of all this as fantastic chain of innovative revolutions in learning. However, the fact is, all these activities supported broadcast style education with structured, one-size-fits-all content in a non-personalized way which contributed little to the diversity, curiosity and creativity of human beings.

Profound ideas are always simple. Salman Khan of Khan Academy took profoundly simple idea to revolutionize the way humans learn. His style supports personalized learning, continual concept development and testing as diagnostics tool which compliments fundamentals of human learning, curiosity, diversity and creativity, like never before. Likes of Dave Cormier and other educators took this idea further and made 2013 the year of MOOCs. Although the underlying purpose of MOOCs is to capture broader audience and some later educators have used this term quite loosely, but in principle MOOCs can truly encourage learners through open and transparent learning, engage them in knowledge creation & assessment and build communities of knowledge.

What does it mean for the corporate world, one might ask, where learning has historically been prescribed for primarily adult learners? I’d say a lot. Learning is natural when you’re young but adult learners must see purpose and reason to educate themselves. Over $170 billion training industry does not have as much to show primarily because of this disconnect. We have seen global engagement through massive engagement jams, open source software development, and other crowdsourcing activities. Coming together to learn from each other shouldn’t be an uphill battle. Organizations can leverage existing expertise, diversity of workforce and plethora of content to craft MOOC style learning management systems. The only limitation is their mindset. The exact nuts and bolts of this type of learning system will most likely be different for different organizations. But for this change to take place the organizations would need to demonstrate characteristics of true learning organization – transform in the wake of changing environment.

When Harvard Business Review asked David Garvin and Amy Edmondson, Professors of Harvard Business School, to name organizations that truly meet the test of being learning organizations, they came up with one – General Electric. From my recent interaction with GE I am convinced this organization have the ability to work the idea throughout the organization on one hand and the courage to act on it on the other. GE has the processes, they have the climate and most importantly leadership behaviors to revolutionize corporate learning the way Khan Academy and MOOCs did to education in general. I am sure there are other organizations in this club and there must be plenty more close to joining. Luckily organizations are under no social pressure to earn “good grades” or memorize any content but their success will largely be driven by the extent to which they incorporate fundamental needs of human development, diversity, curiosity and creativity, in their learning systems. This will not only ensure bigger bang for their learning buck but will also make my friend Ken Robinson very happy!


The Leadership Wolf

Posted: February 4, 2014 by Matthew Hanwell in Human Resources, Leadership, People


Guest blog by Tine Huus

The Wolf of Wall Street Aside, Do Leaders Know What They Want with Their Leadership?

The first film I saw in the New Year was Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street though I had been warned it might clash with my feminist values. The film actually got me thinking about leadership – here we saw a leader who created an engaging and fun (though biased) work environment based on a completely unsustainable business model. From the outset, the Wolf knew what he wanted with his leadership, and then things got out of balance.

We have probably all at some point discussed with colleagues and friends if they have ever been managed by a leader who made you feel you are enough, can do your best work, while constantly raising the bar and with fun as an ingredient? Many of us are leaders ourselves. How is the rating when we turn the mirror to ourselves as leaders?

This made me reflect on the following questions. Do leaders know what they want with their leadership? Do employees know what they want from their leaders? Is the whole concept of leadership polluted by trillions of theories and varied application? Is the whole thing anyway changing rapidly with Gen-Y joining the workforce, work happening in matric structures, more online and virtually?

According to the current Edelman Trust Barometer, there is a leadership crisis and the largest ever gap between trust importance and trust performance in business and government since the study began in 2001. One of their 2014 recommendations is for the CEO to become the Chief Engagement Officer, taking responsibility for establishment of the context in which change will occur. We increasingly trust technical experts and “a person like yourself” more than top leadership. In general, employee engagement surveys show a substantial gap in perceptions between senior management and experts or workers on engaging leadership and culture of trust. Top of the house perceptions can be three times as favourable and simply out-of-touch with their own organisations and employees.

I think employees do know what they want from leaders, however, if they don’t get it, few are brave enough to challenge and ask for it. In other words, we follow half-hearted leadership and our engagement and performance become half-hearted. In Plato’s words, we waste our work life away as “an unexplored life is not worth living”. Leaders not considering what values they want to create waste our time.

How come when we – leaders and employees – can choose between “good” culture (focus on stakeholders, regular, transparent, two-way communications, agility, and sustainability) and “bad” culture (focus on profit, infrequent, branded, top-down communications, complacency, and short-term), we don’t wholeheartedly go for good? What’s stopping us? The Wolf of Wall Street was a truly engaging leader though building his business on an entirely bad culture.

Many of us will not be able to name even one leader who truly engaged us. I have personally had about 15 managers in my career and sat in several leadership teams. I can name two individuals, both male and of another nationality. Perhaps adding culture into the relationship means you mutually become more curious, explorative, and reflective, have deeper conversations, and come to fully trust each other through the process.

Leadership starts with what is the most important – dreams and values. I also came across the concept of “protreptic coaching” recently. Protreptic means turning a person towards what is most important and has dominated leadership academies until the 18th century since its inception in ancient Greece. Through dialogues on ideals, model organisations, values, norms, dreams, and visions, you find for yourself what is most important as a human being and reflect on who you really are and who you aspire to be. Today, we could return to these human dialogues in feedback and performance management processes to start re-articulating what leadership is about, what value it brings, and what dilemmas are involved. It would be natural to do business whole-heartedly and in a holistic way.

If this was part of the package, Gen-Y employees might want to take the leadership path like their parents. It would prepare employees to take leadership roles as well as people to step in and out of leadership roles. As in (online) communities, the one with the vision takes the lead. Even the Wolf of Wall Street might have found a sustainable business model and promoted an inclusive culture, had he continued his leadership journey with reflections and conversations on what is most important and got the balance in place.

I am curious to hear your reflections? As a leader, do you know what you want with your leadership?

Roots of Human Capital Management

Posted: December 12, 2013 by Matthew Hanwell in Human Resources, Leadership, People

I was quite shocked to read in the September HBR an interview with Caitlin Rosenthal, on Plantations of the 19th century and their use of scientific management techniques as a way of increasing effectiveness and efficiency. Her contention is that they were far more advanced at the time than factories as as unlikely as it might sound were probably the genesis for a lot of early management theory!

Most striking to me was the systematic way in which many Plantation owners employed advanced accounting and management tools to manage their ‘Human Capital’ – Slaves. Literally humans were their capital. They made use of Thomas Affleck’s “Plantation Record and Account Books” which contained advanced techniques such as instructions on how to calculate depreciation in your human capital.

Given this historical association, I am surprised at the popularity of the term Human Capital, as in “Human Capital Management” – it is so commonly used today.

I had only ever considered the term human capital management as a positive aspect of the modern workplace; however with this historical association I am now changing my mind. Many of the techniques employed by Plantation owners in the 19th century would be familiar in our modern working environments. Hopefully with the total absence of the brutality, exploitation and oppression, though not necessarily when one recalls FoxConn stories ( of suicides in China, abnormally high suicide rates at France Telecom ( and the many stories of exploitation in the garment trade in SE Asia.

Today in HR we typically have Headcount and Full Time Equivalents (FTE’s), a Plantation Owner would have units of “Prime Field Hand”, “Half Hand” and “Quarter Hand” and used these units for efficiency and productivity benchmarks across plantations.

Apparently Plantation owners also experimented with ‘incentive plans’ (modern day Management by Objectives) for their ‘Human Capital’ aimed at achieving new levels of performance, but also used physical punishments for any shortfall. Group incentives were also employed to drive other behaviours.

Since slave owners had total control over their ‘Human Capital’ they were able to systematically collect data on their workforce, and could freely experiment with different tactics to increase the productivity and efficiency of their Human Capital, ultimately maximizing their profits.

I hope that in our enthusiasm for both the term and the practice of modern human capital management we never forget the very people that make up our workforce. While todays labour can generally be considered voluntary, it is all too easy to reduce people to a statistic on a headcount or productivity report and as such forget their inherent humanity and treat them in ways that both dehumanize us as HR professionals and them as human beings.

This article has certainly caused me to reflect on the term Human Capital Management and I’m not sure I’ll be enthusiastically using it in the future.

What do you think?

The Tyranny of Transitions

Posted: October 17, 2013 by Ian Gee in Change, Human Resources, OD, Organization, People


Like many of my fellow OD practitioners, I have made good use of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s work “On Death and Dying” in my practice. In particular, her work on transitions and taking this from the realm of death and dying and relating it to the stages people go through as they deal with organisational change and transformation. I have designed exercises and interventions to help people understand what stage in the change process they are at, how to move between stages and if they are stuck, how to unstick themselves and get back into ‘flow’. I am sure you all know her model and like me have worked to develop it and apply it in your practice.

Change curve

Imagine my interest then when reading psychoanalysts Stephen Grosz book ‘The Examined Life” and his exploration of transitions, change and closure. It’s a beautifully written book, with each short chapter telling the story of a client Grosz has worked with over a number of years. To my mind he captures the essence of the analytic experience and portrays it with empathy and skill. It was his chapter “On Closure” that particularly caught my eye. In this account he writes about two clients; one a mother still grieving many years after her child’s untimely death and the other, a man who feels he has been stuck on anti depressants for ten years, as a result of his fathers suicide.

He describes how their suffering is increased because they believe that by now, years after the initial event, they should be done with grieving, have closure and have moved on. His believes that Kubler Ross’s work encourages us to think in this way. If we don’t get to closure then there is something wrong with us.

What he points out is that her work was initially focused on people who were terminally ill and would eventually die and the use of her 5-stage model to describe the experience of those left grieving is wrong. His belief is that the psychological experience of death and that of grief is completely different. For the person who dies there is an end, but not so for the person who grieves. “For the person whose goes on living and for as long as he or she lives, there is always the possibility of grief” He believes closure is a delusion and a that it’s “a false hope that we can deaden our living grief”.

I wonder if one of the reasons why changes and OD initiatives so often fail is because we practitioners are wedded to notions of moving through stages and have over applied Kubler Ross’s work to our own? In doing so do we fail to take account of the fact that the bright shiny new initiative we have been asked to work on does not reflect the fact that people are not over the last wave of organisational and or personal change? We never truly have a clean slate to work on. The organisational canvas is always muddied by past changes and experiences of OD and transformation. I wonder if we are too ready to assume that everyone has closure on previous changes? That they have managed either alone, or with help, to move through the change cycle and are ready for the next wave of change? If they are stuck, do we make the assumption that this is an expression of resistance, personal weakness or failing? In doing so are we unleashing what I am now thinking of as ‘the tyranny of transitions’ on them? Rather than accepting that like the grief associated with the death of a loved one the grief, sadness, fear and anxiety occasioned by organisational change is never truly closed but only subsumed. As we experience more and more organisational change an undercurrent of fear and anxiety builds and builds and impacts directly on out capacity to reach out to the new change with any true sense of optimism and engagement.

One of the first things I did in a recent change project and prior to any design work etc., was to conduct interviews and focus groups with about a 10th of the organisation (over 500 people) to understand:
• Their relationship to change
• Their experience of past changes; the good, the bad and the ugly
• Their understanding of the current case for change
• How they wanted and expected to be involved.
This data was invaluable in shaping the overall OD strategy for the project and designing interventions.

I wonder now if I should have spent even more time on this stage and surfaced more about people’s experience of past transitions and found a way of understanding if they were still working through a sense of loss and grief occasioned by the last change and somehow incorporated this understanding into the new change we were all working on. In doing so might I have avoided what I am now thinking of as “grief overload”?

I would be really interested to hear your views on the implications of this for the practice of OD? Are we tyrannising our clients and ourselves with transitions? What ideas do you have for helping people, who for are not yet ready to move on from a past change, yet alone ready for a new one? It will be great to hear your thoughts and ideas.