I’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing that my client at Big Insurance Group can do to help their IT department go from training to learning, except for Peter Block’s idea of “giving them back their freedom”. When a group is requisitely organized, with “real managers” who have true responsibilities and authorities, it almost doesn’t matter what you do: people will be excited about continuously learning about doing their job even better. Until they need to be promoted.
If the group is organized like BIG’s IT (multi-matrixed, no technical advancement, managers of engineers reporting to the same manager as managers of clerks), there really isn’t anything that you can do that won’t fail miserably except for forcing people through boring training classes. Try shop talks and sooner or later they will be ruined because people who aren’t at that level can’t be denied. Try peer reviews and sooner or later managers will start coming so that they can know “what’s really going on” and the coders will justifiably start CYAing rather than dealing with technical issues openly. Every Best Practice becomes a Worst Practice when you have the wrong people in the wrong places.
I do think that you can do what Peter Block called “take back your freedom”. Block argues that we need to stop taking care of people at work. “What will happen to me if I don’t fall in line on this?” they ask. We should just be honest with him, Block argues: “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.” It’s empowerment in a way. “Do you wake up at 4:30am in a cold sweat? Good for you! You’ve taken back your freedom!” Freedom costs.
I’m not sure that this is entirely a good thing. But I think that being disturbed is a good idea.
Of course, I know of several of us who remembered that we were free and promptly left our jobs. Letting people know that they are responsible for themselves can end up with loyalty down the toliet. However, if everyone who is too competent for their jobs would leave the company, things would be a whole lot more enjoyable for everyone else. Systems wouldn’t stay up, but that’s not my problem.
It would hopefully spur them to change their multi-matrix way to get out of managing their people. They had a big, multiple-month tiger team of their best technical people trying to get at the bottom of their current outages and performance degradation. Of course, no one mentioned that the management practices needed to be changed. Or that bad managers had caused the decisions that led to the technical farce that led to the outages.
You don’t get out of having good management practices when you organize requisitely. You just get the opportunity for them to work.