The Plugged-In Manager: Interview With Terri Griffith
I had a chance to meet Terri Griffith at the Connected Enterprise Conference, and was immediately impressed with her insight into how the whole notion of leadership has changed. As a Professor of Management in Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, GigaOm blogger on the subject, and author of the forthcoming book, The Plugged-In Manager, Terri definitely has some wisdom to share. I wanted to capture some of Terri’s thoughts, so I sat down for a brief Q&A with her. This is what we talked about…
Maria Ogneva: What can you tell us about yourself that we may not be able to glean from your bio?
Terri Griffith: I’m one of those people who can’t leave a campfire alone – there is probably just the perfect piece of wood to add or the perfect push that will make it a little bit better. I think this goes along with my long standing interest in helping people work with technology; emphasis on the “work” and “with.” The work has to come first and then we should be thinking about the people, the technology, and the organization that will help get that work done. I’m always looking for those fine-grained adjustments that will make our work better in some way. I did my graduate work at Carnegie Mellon as they have always had a focus on interdisciplinary research. Starting in 1984 I had the chance to look at telecommuting — it was a very different work then! Great to see work design change so much.
MO: You teach Management and Organizational Design at Santa Clara University. How has the discipline changed over the past few years?
TG: For me the biggest issue is that we need to change is how we do our research. It used to be that we could study how a particular technology was used in an organization and learn more about effects like anonymity in brainstorming, the role of response time in email communications, how video changes a meeting. The problem is that now the technologies change too quickly for these studies to make sense. It can take us a year to collect the data and a two to three years (at least!) to get a paper through the formal publication process. By then the technology has changed so much that the results aren’t helpful. I love the peer-review process that keeps our research standards high — but we need to shift to studying how individuals and teams make design decisions with whatever technology they have at the moment. I have a chapter coming out where I make that claim to my colleagues. I hope they’re listening.
MO: What do you think is the future of the organizational design?
TG: I think the future will be much more flexible with a greater emphasis on personal accountability. Freelancing, elancing, and even just shorter time in any one position seems to be the new dynamic. This means our organizational designs need to be built so people can onboard quickly and adjust their roles and tools as things shift around them.
MO: You named your book “Plugged-in manager.” Why? Who is the plugged in manager?
TG: The title took a ton of work and I have to give credit to one of the Jossey-Bass Publishing salespeople. We went around and around for six months. The academic term my colleagues and I use for the ability to see options across human, technical, and organizational dimensions, is “systems savvy,” but that makes people think we’re just talking about information systems and being plugged-in is much more than that. A plugged-in manager, individual contributor, team member, or executive is someone who thinks about a situation and sees options across all three of the dimensions (people, tech, organization) and then figures out how to mix them together in a way that will be effective in the particular setting. The technology can be anything from a hammer to a Yammer….
MO: You talk about the 3 practices of plugged-in management. What are they?
TG: Stop-Look-Listen, Mixing, and Sharing are the three practices.
Stop-Look-Listen reminds us to not chase the ball into the street — or in this case, not to grab for every shiny technology or new organizational fad that comes around. Stop for a moment and consider your needs. Look and see the options you have or could get. After you take your first steps, listen for feedback.
Mixing is at the heart of a plugged-in manager’s skill set. Once you know your options, what will be the best mix across the people, technology, and organizational process? In the book, I talk about being a great chef versus a novice cook. The novice will follow someone else’s recipe step by step. The great chef will use a recipe as inspiration, but then change the recipe to match the ingredients at hand and the particular audience for the meal. I also use negotiation as a way of thinking about this process inside an organization. We negotiate the change using the different people, technology, and process issues on the table.
Sharing makes all this easier in the long run. If you share with others what you are doing and why, they can start to help you with the process. Try “thinking out loud” as you stop-look-listen and mix. You may get great ideas from your colleagues, they may learn the value of the approach, and/or the implementation process will be easier as people will understand why you’re doing the things you’re doing. This is a book that is meant to be shared.
MO: You talk about the need for transparency and the “need to share” replacing the “need to know”. However, transparency is not as easy as ordering it off the Internet — organizational culture can be a hindrance. How do you address that in your organization?
TG: My own organization is relatively traditional. Santa Clara University is the oldest university in California (founded in 1851 — UC Berkeley, where I got my BA, wasn’t founded until 1968). Universities as a whole are fairly traditional organizations. Private universities, especially, are coming to transparency slowly. We have both a new president and provost, and they are interested in these ideas, while still being concerned about keeping our high standards and reputation. That said, I created a blog post a couple of weeks ago asking my community “what does transparency mean to you?” I added “To me, and this is my personal view not that of the Task Force [I’m the chair of our communication & collaboration task force], it means working in the public to the degree possible. It also means proactively sharing as work moves along.” …I haven’t received a single comment on that post.
So, to answer your question, we are working on these ideas slowly. We teach the value of transparency and have been since the 70s. Until recently it was very hard for organizations to be transparent, even internally. Technology tools like blogging, dashboards, collaborative documents, wikis, and the like make it much easier — but technologies change much more quickly than do ingrained organizational practices.
My advice is to understand your setting (stop-look-listen: if you are a healthcare, financial services firm, or a company preparing to go public, there may be laws about how transparent you can be). Then think about how the process of being transparent can be mixed in with different technology tools and perhaps modelled by influential people in the organization. Finally, share as much as possible about why transparency can add value and share the stories of others. I often recommend Warren Bennis’ essay in the book Transparency: Creating a Culture of Candor — I discovered the book when someone shared it with me.
MO: How do you cultivate the ability (and desire) to plug in? Should you ever “unplug”?
It can be very plugged-in to “unplug.” Being plugged-in means being connected to the dimensions — but not that you have to use all of them all of the time. I love it when a teammate tells me that they’re going to be offline for a while. It lets me know how to better coordinate the work, and I appreciate that they are spending time away and may come back refreshed.
MO: If there was one insight that you want readers to take away from your book, what would it be?
This is the perfect time to be trying out plugged-in ideas. We are all working with reduced resources — get the most out of what you have by being thoughtful about how you mix together your human, technology, and organizational assets.
About Terri Griffith:
Terri Griffith is a Professor in Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business and author of the book, The Plugged-In Manager. She studies how we mix together the technology of work (everything from telepresence to the size and type of tools a crew would use to build a fence), the way we organize to do this work (virtual teams, collaborative leadership, hiring and pay plans), and the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the people we work with. For more, please see TerriGriffith.com or follow Terri on Twitter: @TerriGriffith.