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    The League of Uniform Nomenclature

    All organizations, companies, associations, teams, and even groups of friends have a shared language, terminology, and ways of describing, defining, classifying, and organizing their worlds.

    American football teams and coaches are notorious for their own unique and often complex sets of terminology used to describe standard formations and plays.  A recent article in Sports Illustrated about the progress of Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow's adjustment to professional football emphasizes the complex terminology in the team's offensive schemes. The article notes that even an experienced player coming from a different team has to undergo a process of 're-learning' the new terms and language of the new team.

    This is certainly important, the shared language has to be understood by all eleven members of the team, as the success of a given play is largely incumbent upon each player understanding not only their responsibilities on the play, but also awareness of the other ten player's assignments. In an environment like football, where a premium is placed on consistent and reliable execution of actions and reaction, the shared language is essential.  New players to the team, be they rookies like Tebow, or experienced veterans simply must adopt the language, the 'uniform nomenclature' if you will.

    All workplaces have their shared languages as well.  Anyone who joins a new organization has to spend the first days/weeks/months learning the lingo - terms, definitions, acronyms, etc. Larger organizations may even have an entire manual dedicated to housing all the 'official' definitions and acronyms.  Most onboarding programs spend at least some time making sure that new employees start coming up to speed with the language, as certainly an important influencer of time to productivity is the ability to communicate inside the organization in ways that the organization understands.

    But I wonder if in the rush to explain, to inform, even to indoctrinate people into the organization's shared language that it is easy to go a bit too far, too focus almost entirely on our system, our rules, our process, our methods, and our language.  Sure, it is important that the essential information about the organization structure and essential bits of terminology are shared and understood, but 

    New employees come into the organization with an entire history of their own, and if you lived up to your stated (you know you have stated this somewhere) goals of hiring the best and brightest, then there stands a pretty good chance that there are element of process, organization, and yes even basic nomenclature that are better/faster/smarter than what you have been using all along.

    So perhaps instead of taking the new rookie on the team and handing them the 527 page playbook to memorize before they get a chance to take the field, give them the essentials, and then give them some room, time, and encouragement to contribute to and improve upon the 'uniform nomenclature'. Because if all that was really needed to sustain organizational success was the need to 'learn the language', then you really wouldn't need to hire the best, just the best at memorizing. 






    Total Football and why it is so hard to play

    The World Cup is in full swing and many of the top HR bloggers like Kris Dunn and Paul Hebert have shared some insights on how aspects of the World Cup experience relate back to HR and workplace issues.  Heck, even the HR Happy Hour show this week is doing a special 'World Cup' themed episode.

    When the World Cup comes around I usually look for a few teams to support, aside from the USA (who usually crash out relatively early), and one of the sides that has always been a favorite is Holland (or the Netherlands).  Getting past the relatively minor annoyance of never actually knowing what to call them - is there a difference between 'Holland' and 'The Netherlands' - they are almost always a competitive side, that plays interesting and attacking soccer/football.Johan Cruyff

    The Netherlands have a rich legacy of football success, mainly stemming from the concept of 'Total Football', a style or rather a philosophy of football popularized by the legendary Ajax Amsterdam teams of the early 1970's that was then revolutionary.

    From Wikipedia:

    In Total Football, a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team's intended organizational structure. In this fluid system, no player is fixed in his nominal role; anyone can be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. The only player fixed in his nominal position is the goalkeeper.

    Total Football's tactical success depends largely on the adaptability of each footballer within the team, in particular his ability to quickly switch positions depending on the on-field situation. The theory requires players to be comfortable in multiple positions; hence, it places high technical and physical demands on them.

    Total Football produced some remarkable results for the Ajax club, as well as spurring a the national side to the World Cup final in 1974 where they were ultimately defeated by West Germany, 2-1.

    The requirements and the philosophical attributes necessary for success at 'Total Football' have resonance today, reflected in the demands that the modern business environment that places on organizations and individuals. 


    Developing such an innovative style of play required a level of creativity from the manager as well as the players.  Devising such a system meant forgetting the traditional methods and the 'that is the way we have always played' mentality that is common, particularly in leaders and organizations that have had success in the past.  To succeed the system required looking forward not backward.  Organizations and leaders often fail to adequately break free from these restraints, and more openly embrace entirely new ways of working and leading.  


    Total Football required not only skilled and capable players, but ones that had adaptable skills. Since at any time in the match a player could move forward into an offensive role, control play in the midfield, or retreat to a defensive position, the system hinged on a set of players with adequate skills in what are traditionally discrete and differentiated roles.  From relatively early in a player's career they are labeled a 'defender' or 'striker'.  The label does focus them for sure, but it also limits them on the field, and for a certain kind of innovative and creative player may also limit their potential.  I think organizations often do the same with employees, (and too many employees allow it), getting labeled into one particular role, and not being afforded the opportunity to adapt, to extend or stretch themselves into new areas or disciplines.  


    In Total Football the manager has to let go of the ideas of traditional control and strict direction to the players of how to play and where on the field to position themselves.  The system developed organically and collaboratively,  it was not down to manager to make every decision.  The manager has to trust that the players have the right set of skills, capability, and understanding of the mission, but after that he must trust that they will perform on the fields.  And the players must trust each other as well.  In the scheme if one player vacates a defensive position to move forward in attack, another player will need to adjust and make sure the overall team defensive responsibilities are met.  Each player is not just responsible for their small set of tasks or ground to cover, they each individually and collectively are accountable for the overall success of the team, winning becomes the shared and only important objective.


    Total Football enjoyed a successful spell in the 1970s in the Netherlands and in the Ajax club, but has largely faded from modern football in the ensuing years.  Why?  It is a hard system to master, requires looking at problems in new ways, demands the most talented players, with leaders that are not afraid to change the status quo, and a level of trust and commitment between management and players, and among players that is very hard to develop.

    The same reasons that hardly anyone plays Total Football anymore are seen in organizations as well.  It is hard to forget the 'way we have always done it' mindset.  It is easy to slot talent in roles, coach them to high performance in those roles, and leave them there for ages.  It is hard for leaders to set a general philosophy and broad parameters of strategy, and them step back to allow employees to exercise their own creativity and judgment.

    I wish someone still played Total Football on a high level.  Trust me, it would drown out the sounds of the Vuvuzelas.





    More than a picture

    While the number of technologies designed for connecting an organization's people to each other, to better facilitate the sharing of knowledge, and to foster an environment of creativity and collaboration seems to increase every week - many organizations and certainly many if not most Human Resources professionals are still struggling to navigate this new, and often unfamiliar territory.

    With larger technology players like IBM and Cisco joining the literally hundreds of simiar sounding solutions on the market for microblogging, blogging, wikis, activity streaming, idea generation, and on and on, I can see an HR professional getting at best frustrated and confused, and at worst completely overwhelmed and defeated.

    You know as an HR pro and a leader that there is inherent value and benefit in the increased connectedness of the workpforce and of the augmented ability to share and create information. But you are at a loss at how to deploy technology to better enable those outcomes.

    Perhaps instead of just trying one new technology after another and running the risk of succumbing to 'shiny object syndrome' or subjecting your team to a lengthy series of too similar exercises, or remaining frozen in place, effectively stuck by the presence of simply too many choices, there are strategies that can be leveraged to try to drive the kinds of behaviors that you know have benefits, while using tools already at your disposal.

    How about the doing something with the ubiquitous and almost certainly boring company profile/corporate identification card picture?  You know the one that you make sure is as close to DMV or Passport Office level uninspiring and instantly forgettable.

    Quick - take a look at the badge of our friend 'Simon' there on the right - I bet that the badge layout, design, and generally 'I have just been booked for wire fraud' look on his face resembles the corporate IDs that many of you are wearing on a chain around your necks right now (or more jauntily on your hip strapped over your belts).

    But what if instead of insisting on the mug shot style photo that has always served the organization so well, you mixed it up a bit. perhaps by letting, or rather encouraging everyone to get a bit more creative in the 'official' portraits for the company directory and ID badges. 

    I recently came across a piece on the Junkculture blog that highlighted photographer Jason Travis' ongoing Persona series or photographs that 'documents hipster Atlantans along with the contents of their Flickr- J.Travismessenger bags, backpacks and clutches to determine "what they deem important in their lives."

    When you take a look at the images, you get some insight into the person beyond just their physical appearance. The inclusion of the ordinary yet important objects they are carrying offers a bit of a glimpse into their interests, hobbies, even their skills and capabilities. The things that people carry with them can shed lght on not only where they are going (or want to go), but also where they have been.  In an organizational context this certainly could translate to projects they worked on in the past, as well as future career goals and aspirations.

    It seems to me this is exactly the kind of information that the modern collaboration technologies or 'internal social networking' platforms are also trying to collect and capture.  Employee interests, skills, past history, friends, and goals and desires for future assignments and learning opportunities. But you as an HR leader have to spend the time, effort, and resources to sort though these many hundred of technologies. 

    In the meantime, perhaps getting more creative with the company directory photo and the official ID badge might just be a good place to start. Instead of the mugshot - think different, whether it lets employees share their favorite sports teams, hobbies, pets, whatever.  Any thing would be an improvement from old Simon, and maybe more employees would actually wear the badges more proudly and not 'forget' them at home so often.




    Wrap-Up - June 7 - 13, 2010

    Another week another collection of posts!  And as I look back on this past week of posts I thought, 'A Brady Bunch pic, really?' Good thing there is no editor on the site. palette of delacroix

    I thought I would start posting each Sunday the summary of the week's posts in Tabbloid format. As you might recall from an earlier post, Tabbloid is a free service that lets you create a custom PDF format 'newspaper' from your selected blogs and other sites RSS feeds, and have that newspaper delivered via email on whatever schedule you choose.

    Here is this week's collection of posts, in handy PDF format - Steve's Blog : June 7-13, 2010.

    I hope making content accessible in this way is a help to someone out there, I will continue to post these collections on Sundays for the time being.  I hope that if you find them useful, or actually download the PDF and give/send it to someone that otherwise would have never seen these posts, you would take a second and let me know in the comments. 

    This is one way to try to break out of the echo chamber, but it is certainly not the only way, and if you have other and better thoughts on how to do this, I would love to hear them.

    Some other highlights from all the great posts and articles I read this week that I recommend:

    HR Exposed: Put Some Pants On - Kathy Rapp writing at the Fistful of Talent reminds us all that getting in the game is still an issue for some in HR

    Searching for Soul - from the always solid Brains on Fire blog, a call to think less about technology, tactics, and products, and more about people

    Rising Together - from Lisa Rosendahl writing at the new Women of HR site.  Breaking glass ceilings one at a time - awesome.

    When You Use Bad Stock Photography You Make Baby Jesus Cry - from Frank Roche at KnowHR.  HR Technology vendors are often guilty of his on their websites. Use some real people!

    Charles Barkley says what we're all thinking about MJ's mustache - from Ball Don't Lie - some really funny comments from Sir Charles on MJ's shaky decisions with facial hair.

    Thanks for stopping by this week and have a fantastic upcoming week as well!



    The Why of Work - Show Recap

    Last night Dave Ulrich joined us on the HR Happy Hour show to talk about his latest book, 'The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win'.  It was an excellent show, and you can listen to the replay - here, or using the player below:

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio


    Some of the key points from the show:


    • Leaders need to make a difference in organizations, and leaders that best develop their 'meaning making' capacity will make the most important differences for organizations and for communities
    • People find meaning and purpose in different ways, some are driven by a quest for greater insight, some for achievement, some for connection, and others are motivated by empowerment. Understanding your personal sense of purpose making will help you better connect your work and your organization with a greater sense of meaning.
    • Many external factors contribute to and influence the organization and the individual in their drive to understand the create more meaningful workplaces, these can be grouped and assessed in categories of Social, Technological, Economic, Political, Environmental, and Demographic.
    • Workplaces that are meaning filled and abundant organizations can retain and attract more committed and engaged employees that in turn directly create value for customers, shareholders, and the community.

    It was a fast-paced and informative show, that quite honestly did not have enough time to cover all of the topics we wanted to touch upon, and we are going to try and have Dave and possibly Wendy Ulrich join us again in the future.

    Last item - last night we formally announced that Aquire Software is the first official HR Happy Hour show sponsor, and we look forward to more exciting and interesting news on that front.

    Give the show a listen and let us know what you think.