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An Interview With Author Terri Griffith

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My friend, Santa Clara professor Terri Griffith, has published her first book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive. I sat down with her to talk about the book and the motivations behind writing it.

The Plugged-In Manager sounds like a book about social media, but it's not. Why the title?

My publisher and I loved the double entendre. Yes, the book has a technology angle and people find the ideas valuable for making social media decisions, but it's more about awareness: being "plugged in" or "in the loop" with your opportunities across the dimensions of people, technology, and organizational process and being able to understand the outcome of different combinations.

What do you mean by plugging in?

People who are plugged in never make a move that doesn't at least consider the human, technical, and organizational trade-offs. They may not do it consciously, but they are masters of orchestrating actions that are a solid blend of the three dimensions. Steve Kerr, a former professor who ended up leading GE's Crotonville learning center and then served CLO at Goldman Sachs, talked in the late '70s about "substitutes for leadership." He spoke about how organizational design could substitute for some aspects of leadership. I take it a touch further and add technology as one of those design aspects, and go broader than just for leadership. Our personal and organizational outcomes result from a combination of human, technical, and organizational dimensions. There is never one right way so we need to be aware of our choices across situations.

Why is plugging in hard? Why don't people just do it?

People naturally are drawn to problem solving using their personal expertise and available tools -- if I have a hammer, then all problems look like nails. Our world is too complex (and really always has been) to believe that any one of the three dimensions can provide an effective solution. No one person, technology tool, or organizational practice is likely to be as powerful as some thoughtful combination. You don't have to be an expert across all the dimensions, but you have to respect them and know how to discover the possibilities.

Okay, I get how to be more plugged in. Why don't I want to keep it to myself?

We know from research in teams that performance is higher when members have similar understandings of who knows what, who needs what information, and how coordination should proceed. If people have a shared understanding around the value and methods of plugging in, then they can support the process rather than work at cross purposes.

In the age of the platform, how does plugging in work?

There are two issues that have come up since the book was published. The first is that plugged-in people also seem to be more comfortable with letting methods, strategies, and processes emerge. I don't have that in the book, but the importance of emergence is an additional aspect we are seeing as we continue to collect new data. I expect it's because plugged-in people are confident that they will notice if something is going astray and be able to intervene if need be.

This support for emergence may also be an indication that plugged-in managers will be more successful in the Age of the Platform. They may have the vision to see that people, technology, and organization shouldn't be restricted to the people, technology, and organizational process inside their own organization's walls -- and are also confident enough to rely on partners in building success, knowing that how all the efforts mix together will be at least in part an emergent process.