Collaborative Overload

https://hbr.org/2016/01/collaborative-overload

cross-functional, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork is seen as a key to organizational success. According to data we have collected over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.

Certainly, we find much to applaud in these developments. However, when consumption of a valuable resource spikes that dramatically, it should also give us pause. Consider a typical week in your own organization. How much time do people spend in meetings, on the phone, and responding to e-mails? At many companies the proportion hovers around 80%, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own. Performance suffers as they are buried under an avalanche of requests for input or advice, access to resources, or attendance at a meeting. They take assignments home, and soon, according to a large body of evidence on stress, burnout and turnover become real risks.

What’s more, research we’ve done across more than 300 organizations shows that the distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees. As people become known for being both capable and willing to help, they are drawn into projects and roles of growing importance. Their giving mindset and desire to help others quickly enhances their performance and reputation. As a recent study led by Ning Li, of the University of Iowa, shows, a single “extra miler”—an employee who frequently contributes beyond the scope of his or her role—can drive team performance more than all the other members combined.

But this “escalating citizenship,” as the University of Oklahoma professor Mark Bolino calls it, only further fuels the demands placed on top collaborators. We find that what starts as a virtuous cycle soon turns vicious. Soon helpful employees become institutional bottlenecks: Work doesn’t progress until they’ve weighed in. Worse, they are so overtaxed that they’re no longer personally effective. And more often than not, the volume and diversity of work they do to benefit others goes unnoticed, because the requests are coming from other units, varied offices, or even multiple companies. In fact, when we use network analysis to identify the strongest collaborators in organizations, leaders are typically surprised by at least half the names on their lists. In our quest to reap the rewards of collaboration, we have inadvertently created open markets for it without recognizing the costs. What can leaders do to manage these demands more effectively?

Precious Personal Resources

First, it’s important to distinguish among the three types of “collaborative resources” that individual employees invest in others to create value: informational, social, and personal. Informational resources are knowledge and skills—expertise that can be recorded and passed on. Social resources involve one’s awareness, access, and position in a network, which can be used to help colleagues better collaborate with one another. Personal resources include one’s own time and energy.

These three resource types are not equally efficient. Informational and social resources can be shared—often in a single exchange—without depleting the collaborator’s supply. That is, when I offer you knowledge or network awareness, I also retain it for my own use. But an individual employee’s time and energy are finite, so each request to participate in or approve decisions for a project leaves less available for that person’s own work.

Up to a third of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.

Unfortunately, personal resources are often the default demand when people want to collaborate. Instead of asking for specific informational or social resources—or better yet, searching in existing repositories such as reports or knowledge libraries—people ask for hands-on assistance they may not even need. An exchange that might have taken five minutes or less turns into a 30-minute calendar invite that strains personal resources on both sides of the request.

Consider a case study from a blue-chip professional services firm. When we helped the organization map the demands facing a group of its key employees, we found that the top collaborator—let’s call him Vernell—had 95 connections based on incoming requests. But only 18% of the requesters said they needed more personal access to him to achieve their business goals; the rest were content with the informational and social resources he was providing. The second most connected person was Sharon, with 89 people in her network, but her situation was markedly different, and more dangerous, because 40% of them wanted more time with her—a significantly greater draw on her personal resources.

We find that as the percentage of requesters seeking more access moves beyond about 25, it hinders the performance of both the individual and the group and becomes a strong predictor of voluntary turnover. As well-regarded collaborators are overloaded with demands, they may find that no good deed goes unpunished.

The exhibit “In Demand, Yet Disengaged,” reflecting data on business unit line leaders across a sample of 20 organizations, illustrates the problem. People at the top center and right of the chart—that is, those seen as the best sources of information and in highest demand as collaborators in their companies—have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores, as represented by the size of their bubbles. Our research shows that this ultimately results in their either leaving their organizations (taking valuable knowledge and network resources with them) or staying and spreading their growing apathy to their colleagues.

R1601E_CROSS_INDEMAND

Leaders can solve this problem in two ways: by streamlining and redistributing responsibilities for collaboration and by rewarding effective contributions.

Redistributing the Work

Any effort to increase your organization’s collaborative efficiency should start with an understanding of the existing supply and demand. Employee surveys, electronic communications tracking, and internal systems such as 360-degree feedback and CRM programs can provide valuable data on the volume, type, origin, and destination of requests, as can more in-depth network analyses and tools. For example, Do.com monitors calendars and provides daily and weekly reports to both individual employees and managers about time spent in meetings versus on solo work. The idea is to identify the people most at risk for collaborative overload. Once that’s been done, you can focus on three levers:

Encourage behavioral change.

Show the most active and overburdened helpers how to filter and prioritize requests; give them permission to say no (or to allocate only half the time requested); and encourage them to make an introduction to someone else when the request doesn’t draw on their own unique contributions. The latest version of the team-collaboration software Basecamp now offers a notification “snooze button” that encourages employees to set stronger boundaries around their incoming information flow. It’s also worth suggesting that when they do invest personal resources, it be in value-added activities that they find energizing rather than exhausting. In studying employees at one Fortune 500 technology company, we found that although 60% wanted to spend less time responding to ad hoc collaboration requests, 40% wanted to spend more time training, coaching, and mentoring. After their contributions were shifted to those activities, employees were less prone to stress and disengagement.

To stem the tide of incoming requests, help seekers, too, must change their behavior. Resetting norms regarding when and how to initiate e-mail requests or meeting invitations can free up a great deal of wasted time. As a step in this direction, managers at Dropbox eliminated all recurring meetings for a two-week period. That forced employees to reassess the necessity of those gatherings and, after the hiatus, helped them become more vigilant about their calendars and making sure each meeting had an owner and an agenda. Rebecca Hinds and Bob Sutton, of Stanford, found that although the company tripled the number of employees at its headquarters over the next two years, its meetings were shorter and more productive.

In addition, requests for time-sapping reviews and approvals can be reduced in many risk-averse cultures by encouraging people to take courageous action on decisions they should be making themselves, rather than constantly checking with leaders or stakeholders.

Leverage technology and physical space to make informational and social resources more accessible and transparent.

Relevant technical tools include Slack and Salesforce.com’s Chatter, with their open discussion threads on various work topics; and Syndio and VoloMetrix (recently acquired by Microsoft), which help individuals assess networks and make informed decisions about collaborative activities. Also rethink desk or office placement. A study led by the Boston University assistant professor Stine Grodal documented the detrimental effects of team meetings and e-mails on the development and maintenance of productive helping relationships. When possible, managers should colocate highly interdependent employees to facilitate brief and impromptu face-to-face collaborations, resulting in a more efficient exchange of resources.

Consider structural changes.

Can you shift decision rights to more-appropriate people in the network? It may seem obvious that support staff or lower-level managers should be authorized to approve small capital expenditures, travel, and some HR activities, but in many organizations they aren’t. Also consider whether you can create a buffer against demands for collaboration. Many hospitals now assign each unit or floor a nurse preceptor, who has no patient care responsibilities and is therefore available to respond to requests as they emerge. The result, according to research that one of us (Adam Grant) conducted with David Hofmann and Zhike Lei, is fewer bottlenecks and quicker connections between nurses and the right experts. Other types of organizations might also benefit from designating “utility players”—which could lessen demand for the busiest employees—and possibly rotating the role among team members while freeing up personal resources by reducing people’s workloads.

Rewarding Effective Collaboration

We typically see an overlap of only about 50% between the top collaborative contributors in an organization and those employees deemed to be the top performers. As we’ve explained, many helpers underperform because they’re overwhelmed; that’s why managers should aim to redistribute work. But we also find that roughly 20% of organizational “stars” don’t help; they hit their numbers (and earn kudos for it) but don’t amplify the success of their colleagues. In these cases, as the former Goldman Sachs and GE chief learning officer Steve Kerr once wrote, leaders are hoping for A (collaboration) while rewarding B (individual achievement). They must instead learn how to spot and reward people who do both.

Why Women Bear More of the Burden

The lion’s share of collaborative work tends to fall on women. They’re stereotyped as communal and caring, so they’re expected to help others with heavy workloads, provide mentoring and training to more-junior colleagues, recruit new hires, and attend optional meetings. As a result, the evidence shows, women experience greater emotional exhaustion than men.

One important solution to this problem is to encourage women to invest different types of resources in collaboration. In a 2013 Huffington Post poll of Americans, men and women estimated how often they contribute to others in a variety of ways. Men were 36% more likely to share knowledge and expertise—an informational resource. Meanwhile, women were 66% more likely to assist others in need—an action that typically costs more time and energy. By making contributions that rely less on personal resources, women can protect themselves against collaboration overload.

Managers must also ensure that men and women get equal credit for collaboration. In an experiment led by the NYU psychologist Madeline Heilman, a man who stayed late to help colleagues earned 14% higher ratings than a woman who did the same. When neither helped, the woman was rated 12% lower than the man. By improving systems for measuring, recognizing, and rewarding collaborative contributions, leaders can shift the focus away from the gender of the employee and toward the value added.

Consider professional basketball, hockey, and soccer teams. They don’t just measure goals; they also track assists. Organizations should do the same, using tools such as network analysis, peer recognition programs, and value-added performance metrics. We helped one life sciences company use these tools to assess its workforce during a multibillion-dollar acquisition. Because the deal involved consolidating facilities around the world and relocating many employees, management was worried about losing talent. A well-known consultancy had recommended retention bonuses for leaders. But this approach failed to consider those very influential employees deep in the acquired company who had broad impact but no formal authority. Network analytics allowed the company to pinpoint those people and distribute bonuses more fairly.

Efficient sharing of informational, social, and personal resources should also be a prerequisite for positive reviews, promotions, and pay raises. At one investment bank, employees’ annual performance reviews include feedback from a diverse group of colleagues, and only those people who are rated as strong collaborators (that is, able to cross-sell and provide unique customer value to transactions) are considered for the best promotions, bonuses, and retention plans. Corning, the glass and ceramics manufacturer, uses similar metrics to decide which of its scientists and engineers will be named fellows—a high honor that guarantees a job and a lab for life. One criterion is to be the first author on a patent that generates at least $100 million in revenue. But another is whether the candidate has worked as a supporting author on colleagues’ patents. Corning grants status and power to those who strike a healthy balance between individual accomplishment and collaborative contribution. (Disclosure: Adam Grant has done consulting work for Corning.)

Collaboration is indeed the answer to many of today’s most pressing business challenges. But more isn’t always better. Leaders must learn to recognize, promote, and efficiently distribute the right kinds of collaborative work, or their teams and top talent will bear the costs of too much demand for too little supply. In fact, we believe that the time may have come for organizations to hire chief collaboration officers. By creating a senior executive position dedicated to collaboration, leaders can send a clear signal about the importance of managing teamwork thoughtfully and provide the resources necessary to do it effectively. That might reduce the odds that the whole becomes far less than the sum of its parts.

A version of this article appeared in the January–February 2016 issue (pp.74–79) of Harvard Business Review.

 

Advertisements

Nielson Report Gauges Companies’ Approach to Advertising on Social Media

NYT Media

Nielson Report Gauges Companies’ Approach to Advertising on Social Media

By TANZINA VEGA

Since the arrival of social media platforms, companies have tried to figure out how to best use them to get their messages to consumers, often with mixed results. Some brands have embraced the notion that social platforms like Twitter allow constant interaction, for better or worse, with their customers.

Others have turned away from some strains of social media, as General Motors did last spring when it stopped advertising on Facebook while raising questions about the return on its investment. The move had a ripple effect in the advertising world, with many brands questioning whether the costs of being on social media were worth it.

A new report issued Tuesday by Nielsen and Vizu, a research company owned by Nielsen, shows that brands think they might be turning a corner, specifically when it comes to paying for their use of social media.The report examined the opinions about social media marketing among more than 500 digital media professionals — including brand marketers, media agencies and advertisers — from September to October 2012.

The study found that that 89 percent of advertisers continued to use free social media products. Nielsen did not release the names of specific social media platforms mentioned by the respondents, but they are likely to include Facebook and Pinterest, as well as Twitter.

Three quarters of the companies surveyed said they were also spending more for social media content, which could include paying bloggers to write posts about a product or using third-party technology to push videos on to the Web in the hope that they become viral.

Seventy percent of the advertisers surveyed said they dedicated up to 10 percent of their budget to paid social media advertising, while 13 percent dedicated more than 21 percent of their budget. Those numbers are expected to increase in 2013.

The results come as companies like Twitter and Facebook are making more diverse advertising options available to brands. Last year, Twitter announced a number of advertising and media initiatives, including a survey product that enables marketers to ask Twitter users a handful of multiple-choice questions. Facebook began testing a new advertising mechanism using a technology called real-time bidding, which allows advertisers to place bids on ad space at specific times.

“Advertisers are starting to look at social media as an integrated part of their advertising strategy,” said Jeff Smith, the senior vice president of product leadership for advertising effectiveness at Nielsen.

Still, companies retained some skepticism about social media strategy, the survey showed. While companies may expect to spend more to market their brands, they also want to be able to quantify the results of their campaigns. A third of the advertisers surveyed said they were unsure about the effectiveness of social media. The same percentage said they were unsure how to measure the return on their investment.

The majority of advertisers surveyed, 42 percent, said they wanted to measure their online campaigns using the same tools they use for offline campaigns, like sales generated and gross ratings points, while adding more measurement tools specific to digital campaigns, including “likes” and click-throughs.

Advertisers are able to tailor ads to specific groups of online users using cookies and other technologies, but they have often relied on whether consumers click on those ads as the main form of measuring how effective those ads have been.

At the Advertising Week gathering last year, Facebook announced that it was moving away from counting clicks as a metric and moving toward a measurement similar to the gross rating point used in television. The company said it was able to tell whether an ad was effective by combining data on when the ad was shown to a user with data about whether products had been sold. The move is meant to help what is known as “brand advertisers,” whose goals may be less tangible than those of direct response advertisers.

A Facebook representative declined to discuss the company’s paid advertising business. Facebook will announce its fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

via Report Gauges Companies’ Approach to Advertising on Social Media – NYTimes.com.

HBR Time to embrace “foxy thinking!”

Image

All Hail the Generalist

by Vikram Mansharamani  |  10:53 AM June 4, 2012

We have become a society of specialists. Business thinkers point to “domain expertise” as an enduring source of advantage in today’s competitive environment. The logic is straightforward: learn more about your function, acquire “expert” status, and you’ll go further in your career.

But what if this approach is no longer valid? Corporations around the world have come to value expertise, and in so doing, have created a collection of individuals studying bark. There are many who have deeply studied its nooks, grooves, coloration, and texture. Few have developed the understanding that the bark is merely the outermost layer of a tree. Fewer still understand the tree is embedded in a forest.

Approximately 2,700 years ago, the Greek poet Archilochus wrote that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 essay “The Fox and the Hedgehog” contrasts hedgehogs that “relate everything to a single, central vision” with foxes who “pursue many ends connected…if at all, only in some de facto way.” It’s really a story of specialists vs. generalists.

In the six decades since Berlin’s essay was published, hedgehogs have come to dominate academia, medicine, finance, law, and many other professional domains. Specialists with deep expertise have ruled the roost, climbing to higher and higher positions. To advance in one’s career, it was most efficient to specialize.

For various reasons, though, the specialist era is waning. The future may belong to the generalist. Why’s that? To begin, our highly interconnected and global economy means that seemingly unrelated developments can affect each other. Consider the Miami condo market, which has rebounded quite nicely since 2008 on the back of strong demand from Latin American buyers. But perhaps a slowdown in China, which can take away the “bid” for certain industrial commodities, might adversely affect many of the Latin American extraction-based companies, countries, and economies. How many real estate professionals in Miami are closely watching Chinese economic developments?

Secondly, specialists toil within a singular tradition and apply formulaic solutions to situations that are rarely well-defined. This often results in intellectual acrobatics to justify one’s perspective in the face of conflicting data. Think about Alan Greenspan’s public admission of “finding a flaw” in his worldview. Academics and serious economists were dogmatically dedicated to the efficient market hypothesis — contributing to the inflation of an unprecedented credit bubble between 2001 and 2007.

Finally, there appears to be reasonable and robust data suggesting that generalists are better at navigating uncertainty. Professor Phillip Tetlock conducted a 20+ year study of 284 professional forecasters. He asked them to predict the probability of various occurrences both within and outside of their areas of expertise. Analysis of the 80,000+ forecasts found that experts are less accurate predictors than non-experts in their area of expertise. Tetlock’s conclusion: when seeking accuracy of predictions, it is better to turn to those like “Berlin’s prototypical fox, those who know many little things, draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradictions.” Ideological reliance on a single perspective appears detrimental to one’s ability to successfully navigate vague or poorly-defined situations (which are more prevalent today than ever before).

The future has always been uncertain, but our ability to navigate it has been impaired by an increasing focus on studying bark. The closer you are to the material, the more likely you are to believe it. In psychology jargon, you anchor on your own beliefs and insufficiently adjust from them. In more straightforward language, a man with a hammer is more likely to see nails than one without a hammer. Expertise means being closer to the bark, and less likely to see ways in which your perspective may warrant adjustment. In today’s uncertain environment, breadth of perspective trumps depth of knowledge.

The declining returns to expertise have implications at the national, company, and even individual level. A collection of specialists creates a less flexible labor force, one that requires “retraining” with technological developments creating constantly shifting human resource needs. In this regard, the recent emphasis in American education on “job-specific” skills is disturbing. Within a company, employees skilled in numerous functions are more valuable as management can dynamically adjust their roles. Many forward-looking companies are specifically mandating multi-functional experience as a requirement for career progress. Finally, individuals should manage their careers around obtaining a diversity of geographic and functional experiences. Professionals armed with the analytical capabilities (e.g. basic statistical skills, critical reasoning, etc.) developed via these experiences will fare particularly well when competing against others more focused on domain-specific skill development.

The time has come to acknowledge expertise as overvalued. There is no question that expertise and hedgehog logic are appropriate in certain domains (i.e. hard sciences), but they certainly appear less fitting for domains plagued with uncertainty, ambiguity, and poorly-defined dynamics (i.e. social sciences, business, etc.). The time has come for leaders to embrace the power of foxy thinking.