Yay for Microsoft and Boo for Yahoo!

Huffington Post posted an interesting item in their Tech blog on November 13. Read it here and then come back and talk. We’ll wait.

After years of grading employees on a Bell Curve and dumping those at the bottom, Microsoft figured out that they were destroying collaboration, trust and teamwork. High performers didn’t want to be on the same team as other high performers, because they would be graded against them.

I am amazed that a company as “smart” as Microsoft would ever fall for such a concept, but I’m delighted that they are dumping it now.

And now Yahoo! starts it up:

“CEO Marissa Mayer had recently begun implementing this exact strategy at Yahoo. AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher reported that Mayer asked managers to rank their workers on a curve, and more than 600 people have been fired in the past few weeks.”

Nothing says caring, justice and employee engagement like grading people on a curve.

Employees are not “assets”. They are people. Giving people opportunity for advancement is one of the top things they crave in work. Helping people improve and adjust is hard work, though, so some companies, whose CEOs are so far removed from real work that their people become numbers, opt for the easy grading system – and they let other people do the firing too, I’m sure.

Employee engagement is real, hard work, and it can be fun, too. It’s easily the best way to create an atmosphere where collaboration, trust and excellence bloom.

If you’re not sure how to get there, talk to me. I know how to get it started, and I know people who can help.

Patrick Short is currently re-learning the art of middle management as music director in the da Vinci Arts Middle School production of I Ain’t Got No Home, written and directed by his wife, Ruth Jenkins. This week, he taught a workshop for Siren Nation. Next week, he’ll work with an architecture firm on integrating their 18 new employees into the firm of 44 people.


Frames for Improvisation Training

You can live, you can get along, or you can thrive. You can create or destroy. You can learn in different ways. You can command or connect.

These are true about people, and they’re also true about companies.

As a member of the Applied Improvisation Network, I’ve attended conferences for the past few years to exchange ideas, gather new exercises, get inspired by people from 30 countries doing this work and to develop stronger and more meaningful frames for our work. I’ve always been good at fitting improvisation to a goal, or set of goals, on a departmental level for our clients. When asked what my long-range hopes for improvisation are, I’d usually say, “Two things: World Peace and an end to the phrase, “It’s Not My Job.”

In Berlin this year, I found a number of very powerful frames.

One of them comes from Montreal; Michelle Holiday and the always delightful Belina Raffy presented a workshop on Thrivability, and they are proposing a series of events beginning in 2014 to explore the concept around the globe.

The frame is simple. Life itself is improvisational. Michelle talked about it in a 2012 blog post:

“Improvisation is the way life works.  

Here’s what I mean.  Living systems (like plants and people and companies) appear to be static things, but in fact, it’s more accurate to think of them as pattern and process.  They create themselves continuously through ongoing interaction with their environment.  And their environment is constantly throwing new, unpredictable things at them.  So what do they do?  They respond creatively and collaboratively to unexpected circumstances.  This is how all the parts of your body manage to maintain homeostasis (and you!), for example, even as you spring sudden changes of temperature, strange new foods and weird chemicals on them.  They improvise.”

The way we’ve arranged and run organizations has moved us away from the skills we naturally possess, and like anything else, without practice, we lose our ability. Improvisation can bring those skills back. It truly is about world peace, or at least saving the world. Read Michelle’s full blog post here.

Brent Darnell compared improvisation to Medina’s Brain Rules. I will explore this more in future posts, but it’s a mind-blowing frame. Improvisation is connected to virtually every way we learn.

Gijs van Bilson, Joost Kadijk and Cyriel Kortleven talked about corporate culture and multiculturalism, putting a whole new frame on improvisation and “getting to know each other better” requests from our clients. Organizations can destroy other cultures, equalize everyone (nobody is different) or create using cultural differences.

Alike van der Wilke and Henk van der Steen framed the old ways of companies – the “Anglo Saxon Way” in comparison to what’s happening now – the “Rheinland Way”:

Command, Control and Communication is being replaced by Connection, Craftsmanship and Trust.

In three short days, I was gifted with frames for applied improvisation in the following ways:

Improvisation is about life itself and how we thrive.

Improvisation is about how we learn.

Improvisation can help us create with our cultures, instead of destroy with them.

Improvisation is about how we organize.

We need improvisation training for what lies ahead. AIN President Paul Z Jackson says we need improvisation “to engage more fully in the present, and to prepare for an unknowable future.”* Yes, that is yet another frame.

We can get rid of the phrase, “It’s not my job.” Can world peace be far behind?