Sea Change Challenges

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The oldest buildings on the Stanford University campus are clad in gorgeous sandstone. The sandstone is no longer available. There are few, if any, craftspeople that can create a new version of the lovely old facades. So, when renovation is needed, the inside gets completely re-done, but the outside remains that same.

In the natural world, we call that kind of change a “sea change.” The term comes from a song in Shakespeare’s Tempest.

You’ve been pretty busy in this 24/7 whitewater world. You may not have noticed that the world of work is undergoing a “sea change.” While the outside looks the same, the inner workings are changing slowly and steadily.

The changes are easy to miss because they happen gradually, but they’re powerful and transforming. Here are some sea change challenges.

The Challenge of Promotion’

Today most people promoted to management are chosen based on performance in some other kind of work. They may be great salespeople or first-rate engineers and top-notch analysts. Most people who promoted to management today are selected for promotion by someone above them on the org chart.

That may have served us well in times when the manager was expected to know how to do the work of everyone on the team. It’s dangerous in a knowledge economy where team members know more than their boss about many things. It ignores essential interpersonal skills.

Challenge: What can we do differently to do a better job of selecting good bosses?

The Challenge of Performance Appraisal

Just about everyone thinks we should scrap the current system of infrequent, formal performance appraisal.  Managers and team members hate the ritual. Research tells us that such appraisals rarely affect performance or behavior. And the process sucks up time and energy we could use better doing something else.

We know that the best bosses do “performance appraisal” every day in the workflow. Sometimes we call that “coaching.” Most of the time it’s informal.

Challenge: How can we change the system so bosses do performance evaluation routinely, frequently, and effectively?

The Challenge of Technology

Technology continues to transform the world of work. Email is losing some pride of place to text messaging. Social networks, public and private, are part of almost everyone’s day. We’re learning how the same technology that makes things easer can be a threat to sanity and privacy.

Challenge: What can we do to make sure we use the new technologies fairly, effectively, and profitably?

Bottom Line

A sea change consists of many different changes. When it is over, the world is different. The challenge we face now is to make changes that make things both different and better.

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