Cafe conversation

As Harold mentioned yesterday, half a dozen kindred spirits are engaged in dialog to improve our individual learning and to “eat the dog food” of network effects. Yesterday we experimented with adding our abbreviated, outside opinions to a workshop I was taking part in.


The workshop was an in-house, intensive session on innovation taking place at a Fortune 200 manufacturing company in the Midwest. When issues arose that workshop participants lacked the bandwidth to grapple with at the time, we recorded them on a “big issues parking lot” flip-chart page.

Here’s one of the three issues I emailed to members of our group in late afternoon.

New managers in the Asia operation are quitting to join other companies that promise them more responsibility, sooner. How can we accelerate their development? The newly-hired managers are impatient.

The outside group deliberated on our private discussion board and wiki. The next morning I provided a ten-minute summary of thoughts, for example:

Do the newly-hired managers have good reason to be impatient? What are other firms doing? Turnover may be to suboptimal acculturation. Are we being overly risk-averse because we have not been in this marketplace as long as our competition?

Reward them with opportunities to work on innovative projects. Partner new managers with old managers on new/innovative projects that give them a chance to learn from the old managers and opportunities to work on cool stuff. Wrap community around incoming training, so they’re getting used to dialog as well as getting up to speed. Coach them. Don’t separate performance from learning, wrap learning around performance: give them responsibility early, but provide structure, support, to turn each decision into a learning situation.

The people who had asked questions found the group’s responses thought-provoking; they gave insight into understanding the issues at work. There were no definitive answers, but questions like these don’t have pat answers.

The veteran manager in the room (the head of the corporate university reports to him) found the exercise useful. It could be more so if the group would bat around issues in a real-time fishbowl environment. People in the audience would swap opinions, Instant Messenger one another as a back channel, and pitch questions into the conversation. A virtual dialog.