Hewlett-Packard Employee’s Magazine Measure 1963
“SINCE THIS is the first issue of our new employee magazine, it seems appropriate to point out how the magazine originated and what we expect it to do.
All of us, I’m sure, are aware of the importance of communication in our everyday lives. Whether we’re on the job, at home with our families, or engaged in some outside activity, our effectiveness as individuals is helped immeasurably by the free and frequent exchange of information and ideas among ourselves and those around us.
The best communication, of course, is personal and informal. This is why Bill Hewlett and I, throughout the history of the company, have avoided setting up rigid channels of communication and instead have attempted to foster group meetings, coffee breaks, and other informal gatherings where people can get things done through face-to-face, personal contact.” (Packard, 1963)
Dave Packard wrote about his and his friend, Bill Hewlett’s preferences for informal, face-to-face communications. This acknowledged that we live and work well together when we are free to engage in networks of conversations that, like those at home, conserve wellbeing. My approach to understanding wellbeing begins with listening to people explain how they do what they do when they live and work well together.
Desire paths and social networks
Landscape architects study desire paths. These informal walkways reveal the preferences pedestrians have for walking on short cuts, level vs steep inclines, and paths close to nature. Using these desire paths in planning, the architects place sidewalks on the well-worn walking paths pedestrians prefer.
My social action research is similar. It approaches our daily living together with no preconceived conclusion or structured list of questions. I learned in my productivity research that positive conversations are the most likely to improve productivity. So, I map social networks by asking, “With whom did you collaborate to “accomplish what you accomplished ”. One person completes this survey and then I send the same survey to everyone they have listed. If Maria lists Yan, then I draw an arrow from Maria->Yan. If Yan then lists Maria, I draw the arrow in the opposite direction Maria<->Yan.
When we observe nature, including our social nature, we see regularities, consistencies, or coherences. The robins arriving in the Spring, changing of the seasons and ocean waves regularly occur, but never in quite the same way. There are three coherences in high-performance organizations I see over and over again.
The first coherence is collaboration whereby each person in the network lists everyone else in the network as a legitimate contributor to wellbeing and what’s been accomplished. I call these networks social systems.
Another coherence is integration, (shaded in blue), like those in the network collaborate horizontally and vertically across the organization chart. Some theorists call this structure social capital.
The next coherence is revealed when a social system is mapped over a time series – social systems are dynamic.
Three Asymmetries of Industrial Age Management
At the center of our natural sciences is living and living occurs in the constantly changing present. The Taoist principle of nature comes to mind – “the way that can be named is not the eternal way”. Shamelessly applied in this essay – the social network that can be described is not the eternal social network. My research has uncovered three asymmetries of management as it struggles to transform from industrial management to knowledge management:
- Value is created in collaborative social networks, NOT hierarchies.
- Value is created when there is functional integration, NOT separation, and
- Value-creating networks are dynamic, NOT static.
Social systems are networks of conversations conserving our social wellbeing, in a process I call collaborating.
Social collaboration is recursive and constantly changing within the culture of work. In our preferred relational cycle, listening generates understanding and trust, bringing forth collaboration. In a contrary negative and destructive relational cycle listening wanes, generating misunderstanding and mistrusting, bringing forth social separation, redundant cost, internal competition, and fear (Jewell-Larsen & Sandow, 1999; Sandow & Allen, 2005). This is how an imbalance, or asymmetry, feels whenever a group experiences a decline in their performance from a culture of collaboration to one of social separation. On the other hand balance, or symmetry is a feeling of wellbeing that accompanies collaboration.
Symmetry in social systems
Asymmetry and its consequences
How performance, productivity, and wellbeing are created in social networks
Before I map a social network I listen to folks explain how performance, productivity, and wellbeing are created, so I ask, “How do you do what you do when you create wellbeing?”  And, when I study social networks in organizations, I discover a natural social system that cannot be planned nor designed. Like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, I often call these natural social systems “informal” because they happen at informal times – coffee breaks, lunch dates, or informal conversations during work-related conversations and spaces away from work.
We live in language – the recursive coordination of collective actions. In these networks of conversations, our emotional desires guide our preferences in our daily living. Our preference for living together is to live well together – this is our social wellbeing. And, our social wellbeing is to collaborate, to be seen by others, and to live in a manner where we feel supported, recognized and free to spontaneously organize working together.
When we feel supported, recognized, and free to organize our work, we feel well and we conserve our social wellbeing in networks of conversations I call social systems. Now there are many social systems happening coincidently in organizations and even more in our daily living. Networks of conversations of scientists inventing breakthroughs are concurrent with networks of conversations about sports, gardening, or family all happening in the conservation of social wellbeing. Further, when we conserve our social wellbeing in networks of networks of conversations, we live together in a social matrix that nurtures and brings forth one or more social systems.
When I study social networks at work I realize that the social matrix embeds the organization of the work network. The organization of the work network is a network of conversations amongst managers who share a common purpose to conserve and expand the value creation in the organization. When the organization of work and our social matrix are in balance- innovation, productivity, and wellbeing expand. Significantly.
Bill and Dave co-created one of the greatest economies of our time in a garage while they were inventing electronic equipment for scientists and engineers. While their success in building electronic products continues on today, it was their invention of the HP Way that established the Silicon Valley as a culture from which other technology companies could grow and thrive. I first began working with HP when I opened a business, employing people with developmental disabilities whose lives were at risk inside inhumane institutions. My little business proved that they could become productive workers and our data helped change policies leading to their liberation.
In the Industrial Age that preceded HP, coffee breaks and informal meetings were unproductive and often unpaid. Bill and Dave saw the same spaces as the space where some of our best work is done and where lasting friendships grow. In other words, Bill and Dave’s cultural preferences were in balance with our natural social preferences, and the Hewlett-Packard organization became embedded in a social matrix that brought forth a multitude of symmetrical social systems forming a new economy.
“Although we are growing rapidly,” Dave says, “we never want to reach the point where someone must refer to a chart to determine how he should operate in his job. Nevertheless, the charts are most helpful in defining relationships within the corporation and formulating long-range organizational plans.”
Bill and Dave’s informal approach to growth allowed the social matrix to become a legitimate business space in coexistence with the purpose of the Hewlett-Packard Company by giving freedom to employees to conserve their social wellbeing while generating the financial wellbeing the organization required. The Hewlett-Packard Company became an organizational matrix from which natural social systems were conserved by managers practicing the HP Way. Hence, the HP Way is much more than the beloved garage the company started in – it is a way of living well and productively together.
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Sandow, D., & Allen, A. M. (2005). The Nature of Social Collaboration: How work really gets done. Reflections, 6(2/3), 13-31.
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Of course, this question is made concrete by everyone talking about a valued accomplishment such as a new invention, or improving quality, or bringing about wellbeing.
Again, wellbeing is defined in context as an accomplishment people feel proud of.