Book: Great Boss Dead Boss (Buy It)
Author: Ray Immelman
Read in: Los Angeles, Ocean Shores, Half Moon Bay, San Jose, Seattle (Lots of travel this time....)
Over drinks one night David Anderson recommended that I read Great Boss Dead Boss. I think he recommended it about a dozen times before I actually bought it. Somehow David and Ray are kindred spirits, as Amazon shows me this:
Okay, you're going to have to click to enlarge the image, David's book title is just too damn long. Anyway, readers of Ray appear to be readers of David.
For the last few years I've been building my company to have a specific type of self-reinforcing corporate culture. There is still authority, there is still people with assigned roles, but I wanted my group to feel truly energized about working on our products and projects.
I have noticed over the years that management books recommend a lot of activities but the subtext was always this: communication is the heart of a good environment.
My psychological training (sorry tom cruise) has also given me great insights into what motivates and what demotivates people. But those mechanistic models of action and reaction were always searching for a unifying construct.
Ray's construct is tribal behavior and balancing our need to feel good about ourselves and the groups to which we belong.
In essence, people tend to gravitate toward groups that reinforce their self-worth. Traditional business structures tend to rigidly group people and, by doing so, people identify with smaller groups of their own design rather than their larger corporate or office group. The results are seldom good.
When I was working for a large consulting company, I was initially part of and later the lead of their Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Group. We had millions of dollars in contracts every year and, despite the work we put into educating the planners and engineers of what we did - they would routinely sub out ITS work.
At first we thought they were not getting what it was we were doing. But in reality what was happening was that they got much more value from subbing out our work. This value came from raising their stature in planning / engineering by being the "Prime" and maintaining their relationships with other companies thereby ensuring future work for their group.
Their tribal needs (engineering or planning tribes) were better served outsourcing the work, when our tribal needs (ITS tribe) would have been better served by keeping the work in house?
Who was right? Well, we both were. But in the end, the lack of communication between our groups created an adversarial atmosphere which impacted relationships and quality of work throughout the firm.
I find some holes in Ray's model - for example I find it a bit weak on the outside issue front. There are people out there who have issues outside the office that directly impact their response to things inside the office. Ray does cover this, but compared to his attention to detail on the rest of his model - this part seems a little weak.
Having said that, his model is sound and a great construct to help diffuse otherwise tense situations. You can be told that angry people have an unfulfilled need and that the proper response is to find out what that need is and discuss it all day ... but when someone is yelling in your face that's pretty hard to zero in on.
With Ray's model, there is a short cut to analyze the type of threat (as opposed to the specific threat) the person or group feels and then deal with that.
We're in the process of creating an employee manual and it's been bothering me for quite a while. It's rigid, dictatorial, and top-down. Great Boss Dead Boss has given me an inkling of how I'd like to re-create the concept of an employee manual. ... but it's just an inkling.
Lastly I'll note one other element of this model: when you think of your organization as an entity - as a tribe or whatever - it's important to give that entity substance. Substance that comes from a strong definition (not a mission statement) and a good sense of self.
Oddly, I had been working on that for the last few months. Gathering up the lore of Gray Hill Solutions, identifying why our processes work, and incorporating those two things into a single narrative to better explain why we do the things we do.
Suffice it to say, I'd highly recommend you read Ray's book.
Oh, and it's a narrative. But don't let that stop you.
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