Barry Schwartz on practical wisdom
Professor Schwartz discusses practical wisdom: what it is, and how to acquire it. It requires experience, and paying attention. It's somehow reassuring to me that things of real worth take time to develop.
As Prof. Schwartz says in the last sentence of the talk, it takes paying attention to "the structure of the organizations within which we work, so as to make sure it enables us and other people to develop wisdom, rather than having it suppressed."
I mentioned in the comments of the last entry that it can be hard to measure someone's proficiency at a job. Professor Schwartz's talk demonstrates exactly what I mean. At a hospital, every employee should be measured by their contribution to patient care. That is at the core of the hospital's culture and value proposition. Yet, there wasn't even a framework for recognizing the most valuable contributions that the janitorial staff make toward the hospital's mission.
It's hard to measure that kind of performance. But it's even harder to build a culture that selects for people who embody certain values, the way Zappos or Bridgewater have. People aren't motivated by money to embody values. And it's very hard to find a metric that can reliably measure whether someone possesses specific character traits or frameworks for thinking.
I think what actually matters is to have role models throughout the company who embody and champion a clear set of values, and for there to be a rigorous system in place to discover good and bad behavior.
Nothing is more powerful than seeing someone in the company take a course of action that is motivated by what they believe is the right thing to do, even if it is at some cost to themselves. It could be something minor, or something that no one will notice except that person's direct reports. These small things matter immensely. As Professor Schwartz says, "We are always teaching. Someone is always watching. The camera is always on."
Having role models who are champions and enforcers for the culture will, to a certain extent, lead to the discovery of good and bad behavior. But there needs to be something more systemic than that. The easiest way for people to get recognition for the things that made a big difference without making a big splash is to give the people who are watching a way to talk about what they see. There are many possible channels; perhaps the most straightforward and widely-used system is the 360-degree review. A 360 solicits feedback from a person's managers, direct reports, and peers, and compiles it into a holistic look at that person's performance.
Culture is not a top-down, one-way function; it has to be alive and organic in every part of the organization. Where metrics fail, the intelligence and judgment of people in the organization do not. Values can't be easily measured, but they can still be evaluated. And it's not just managers and managers' managers who have insight. The more channels a company has for transparency and accountability, the better the company will be at enforcing the specific set of values that are at the core of its culture.
People need to understand what matters, then be given the freedom to improvise and use their own judgment. Companies need to recognize them for excelling, and help them be aware of when they are failing. And in the evaluation of people, there's a key lesson to be learned from Professor Schwartz's talk: the most valuable contributions an employee makes toward their company may not have anything to do with the conventional definition of their responsibilities.