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  • Mark 10:34 am on March 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , organisations   

    Organisational sociology and algorithms 

    I’m saving this here to come back to because I’m very interested in this theme.

    Call for Workshop Participation
    Algorithms on the Shop Floor: Data-driven Technologies in Organizational Context

    Deadline for applications: April 19, 2019
    Workshop date: June 14, 2019 in NYC at Data & Society <http://datasociety.net/>
    Application link: http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor <http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor>
    For questions, email events@datasociety.net <mailto:events@datasociety.net>

    On June 14, 2019, Data & Society will host a workshop in NYC on the intersection of technology and organizational theory and practice. The workshop arises from an increasing need to understand how automated, algorithmic, AI, or otherwise data-driven technologies are being integrated into organizational contexts and processes.

    The workshop will convene researchers who study how new technologies are introduced, incorporated, resisted or maintained within organized groups, and the changes this integration brings. Such changes might include processes (workflows, tasks, “re-skilling,” “changed” skills, augmentation) or in structures (roles, jurisdictions, authority), or other key sociological issues (such as power, culture, diversity, expertise, risk, rationality, legitimacy, and solidarity). In a world where new technologies are being integrated into organizations of all sizes and types, how can we make sense of what gets lost, what gets gained, and what gets changed? Many of these questions are long standing themes in organizational studies and ethnographies examining the social complexities of working on the machine shop floor, to which the title of our workshop alludes. Still, how do such integrations provoke new shifts in power relations and social values?

    The range of field sites and research questions appropriate for this event is wide. The only requirements for participation are that: 1) you must be a researcher (with or without an academic affiliation); 2) your research questions must address a dimension of socio-technical practice in the context of a formalized organization.

    Relevant topics for this workshop might include:
    How do formations of power, hierarchy, and discretionary decision-making change when automated and AI technologies are introduced?
    How are issues of diversity and equity brought into and reconstituted when new technologies are introduced?
    How does the integration of new technologies into organizations intersect with issues of access, inclusion, and disability?
    What are sites of unintended use, resistance, or deviance with respect to technology in organizations?
    How are new forms of expertise, skill, and training emerging to meet demands of using new technologies in the workplace?
    How are new or existing labor organizations confronting the perceived threat of AI?
    What are organizational formations or organizational processes that build on digital technologies to advance equity and social justice?
    What lessons does the history of organizational theory and practice hold for contemporary dynamics?
    How are bureaucratic forms of control (such as auditing or impact policy) integrated into the development of technology?

    These examples are by no means exhaustive, but intended to provide a flavor of the kind of relevant research questions. We are especially interested in strange outliers and unexpected studies.

    Key Dates

    • Application Deadline: April 19, 2019
    • Selection Decisions: May 1, 2019
    • Full Paper Deadline: May 28, 2019
    • Workshop: June 14, 2019

    Participation Requirements
    The structure of the Data & Society Workshop series is designed to maximize scholarly thinking about the evolving and societally important issues surrounding data-driven technologies. Participants will be asked to read three full papers in advance of the event and prepare comments for intensive discussion. Some participants will be asked to be discussants of papers, where they will lead the conversation and engage the room. Authors will not present their work, but rather participate in critical discussion with the assembled group about the paper, with explicit intent of making the work stronger and more interdisciplinary.

    All participants are required to read three papers in advance of the event and come ready to offer constructively critical feedback. We want researchers to constructively spar with and challenge one another to strengthen ourselves across the board. This is not an event for passive attendance, but an opportunity to engage each other substantively.

    This event is first and foremost an opportunity to collectively think and help construct a field. Although this event is designed to bring together 30-40 researchers, only 12 papers will be workshopped. Yet, everyone who attends is expected to be an active participant and contribute to rich conversations. We believe that it is through active engagement with other scholars around research that new insights can emerge. In other words, this event is designed to be the kind of intense intellectual engagement that made you fall in love with being a researcher in the first place.

    The day will be organized into three time slots, each 75 minutes long. One paper will be workshopped in each session. Multiple sessions will run in parallel so there will be a total of ~12 papers, but each participant will only be responsible for reading and engaging with 3. Within each group, a discussant will open with a critique of the paper before inviting participants to share their feedback. (If you participate in this event, you may be asked to be a discussant on one paper.) All are expected to share feedback, with author response towards the end of the session.


    The event will take place on June 14, 2019, and will run from 8:45am to 6pm. Paper sessions will run until 4:15pm; afterwards, there will be a reception for all participants.
    All meals will be covered during the event. Unfortunately, we have limited funding to support travel for this workshop; however, we’re happy to provide a formal invitation for participation/“speaking” to anyone who may need it to secure their own funding.
    Application Process (Deadline: April 19)

    For this event, we are looking to bring together researchers from diverse disciplines studying technology in organizations. This can include management, organization studies, communications, information studies, computer-supported cooperative work, computer-human interaction, science and technology studies, ethics, labor, law, policy, anthropology, and design research. As a result, attendees should expect to engage with scholars who are outside of their field of study. We ask that attendees think of the Data & Society Workshop series as an opportunity to engage with a broader cross-disciplinary field, and to strengthen both relationships and research through participation in the workshop.

    Because the paper submission date is only a few weeks after the application deadline, you should only apply as an author if you have a paper that you’re actively writing right now and will be ready to share a draft with others by May 28, 2019. If you aren’t already working on this paper, you probably aren’t in a good position to workshop it at this event. Appropriate papers may be a work-in-progress book chapter or a journal article. (Full-length books are a bit too much for this event, so if you’re writing a book, think about the chapter that you most want to get feedback on.)

    To apply as an author, please submit the following:

    • Name, affiliation, title, email address, discipline.
    • Big research question you’re seeking to answer with your research.
    • Paper title + 100-250 word abstract.
    • The current half-baked, thick-outline, total mess of the paper.**

    ** We are asking for the disaster of a paper to understand where you are with the piece now, and the arguments you intend to make, so that we can appropriately match you to a discussant. We won’t share this version with anyone (we promise).
    Please note: All co-authors for papers must apply separately. If your co-author doesn’t apply, we will assume that s/he is not interested in attending the workshop. It will be hard to add additional participants later, so make sure your co-authors apply if they want to attend.

    To apply as a participant/discussant, please submit the following:

    • Name, affiliation, title, email address, discipline.
    • Big research question you’re seeking to answer with your research.
    • 100-250 word description of your research.

    Application link: http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor <http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor>
    For questions, email events@datasociety.net <mailto:events@datasociety.net>

  • Mark 8:43 am on January 23, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , information flow, internal communication, organisations,   

    the traditional model of information flow within organisations 

    From How Google Works loc 2454-2466:

    Here’s a way to think about corporate communications: Picture a twenty-story building. You are on a middle floor, say the tenth, standing on a balcony. The number of people on each floor decreases as you go up. The top floor is occupied by just one person, while the bottom floor, aka the “entry level,” has hordes of people. Now imagine you are standing out on a balcony when the person above you—let’s call her your “boss”—yells something and drops a few documents. You catch them, being careful not to let them flutter away in the wind, and take them back inside to read. There’s some good stuff in there, and you carefully parse out a few bits that you think the people on the ninth floor should see, given the carefully pre-scripted boundaries of their jobs. So you go back out to the balcony and drop a sheet here and a paragraph there to your team below, who consume them as if they were the proverbial cold waters to a thirsty soul. 136 When they’re done, they turn around and perform their own parsing ritual for the benefit of the thirsty people on eight. Meanwhile, up on eleven, your boss is starting the process all over again. And up on twenty … well, who knows what that guy’s doing.

    This is the traditional model of information flow in most companies. The upper echelons of management gather information and carefully decide which bits to distribute to those that toil beneath them. In this world, information is hoarded as a means of control and power.

  • Mark 8:36 am on January 23, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: coaching, , , organisations, , ,   

    the sociology of executive coaching 

    As you may know, executive coaching is an increasingly common phenomenon, particularly in some sectors like tech. This is how Eric Schmidt and his co-author describe the necessity of it in How Google Works loc 2440:

    Whenever you watch a world-class athlete perform, you can be sure that there is a great coach behind her success. It’s not that the coach is better at playing the sport than the player, in fact that is almost never the case. But the coaches have a different skill: They can observe players in action and tell them how to be better. So why is it that in the business world coaches are so unusual? Are we all like Eric when he started at Google, so confident of ourselves that we can’t imagine someone helping us to be better? If so, this is a fallacy. 

    As a business leader, you need a coach. The first ingredient of a successful coaching relationship is a student who is willing to listen and learn. Just like there are hard-to-coach athletes, there are hard-to-coach executives. But once they get past that initial reticence, they find there are always things to learn. Business coaches, like all coaches, are at heart teachers, and Bill Campbell, the best coach around, tells us he believes that management is a skill that is completely learnable.

    This is something which suggests an obvious comparison to sports, not just in terms of the language used to describe this relationship. James Surowiecki, author of Wisdom of Crowds, draws out the connection in an interesting essay about the increasing competitive advantage accrued when performance is already at a top level:

    The key part of the “performance revolution” in sports, then, is the story of how organizations, in a systematic way, set about making employees more effective and productive. This, as it happens, is something that other organizations started doing around the same timeline.


    But can managerial performance really be measured in these terms? I don’t think it can and the belief to the contrary strikes me as a really interesting conceit, reflecting interestingly on the culture of managerialism: a kind of moral athleticism amongst prominent CEOs in which they aspire to be all that they can be

    If we look at the same phenomenon further down the organisational ladder, we get to enforced performance reviews and sanctions ensuing from a failure to meet imposed expectations. We get to sleepless night and diffuse anxiety saturating into everyday life, all generated by concerns over ‘performance’. Coaching still exists but it becomes a very different phenomenon, as this interview I did about the sociology of work-life coaching suggests:

    Coaching usually consists of individual or group meetings that continue for a few months. In the beginning of these meetings, a goal is set for the whole coaching process, and then the process continues with for example personality tests or exercises that the clients do in order to achieve the set goal. The coaches that I interviewed were often a bit vague in their answers when I asked about the specific practices of coaching. They would rather talk about ‘realising the inner potential of the individual’, though what this means specifically is rather unclear.

    In general, it seems that coaching is for most part about discussing one’s hopes and realities with the coach and getting feedback for both the exercises and tests and for the plans that one has and the actions that one takes. The focus on ‘potential’ is telling of how coaching is quite oriented towards the future but at the same time relies on something that is thought to already exist within the self. As it happens, coaching concentrates on the individual. This means that all the work that is done in coaching centers on changing oneself in order to achieve the goals that one wants to achieve. 

    This is reflected in the practices of coaching in the sense that they demand self-reflexivity and focus on getting to know oneself and reflecting for instance on one’s personality with the help of tests and exercises. In terms of employment, this means that questions that concern wider social structures or even organisational structures are left outside the scope of the things one needs to change. It thus begins to seem that change always starts within the individual self – and also that if there is a need for change it is the self that is at fault. In the case of unemployment then, for example, the structural reasons for unemployment are not accounted for but rather it is thought that if the individual just works hard enough to change themselves then they will also find employment – and if one is unemployed it just means that one has not yet found the ‘true self’ and the right goals that would solve the problem. In other words, if one does not find work, it is implied that this just means that one has not worked hard enough on improving oneself.


    As a relational technology of the self, work coaching has to be read against the background of metricisation. It naturalises metrics and their attendant apparatus of control, scrutiny and intervention. The issue becomes a narrow one of ‘performance’ rather than one’s place over time within an organisation.

    I’ve nonetheless become a bit obsessed with Bill Campbell. He turns up time and time again in business books about Silicon Valley. It also turns out he was actually a football coach originally:

     Son of a local school official, Campbell was born and raised in Homestead, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. He attended Columbia University where he played football under coach Buff Donelli from 1959 to 1961. In his senior year, he was named to the All-Ivy Team. He graduated in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. In 1964, he obtained a master’s degree in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.[2] He was head coach of Columbia’s football team, the Columbia Lions from 1974 to 1979. Prior to this he was an assistant at Boston College for six years. He met his first wife, the former Roberta Spagnola, while she was the assistant dean in charge of Columbia’s undergraduate dormitories.

    He joined J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, then Kodak where he rose to run Kodak’s European film business. Hired by John Sculley he became Apple’s VP of Marketing, then ran Apple’s Claris software division. When Sculley refused to spin Claris off into an independent company, Campbell and much of the Claris leadership left. Since 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, Campbell has served as a corporate director on Apple’s board of directors.

    Campbell became CEO of GO Corporation, a startup pioneering a tablet computer operating system. After successfully selling GO Eo to AT&T Corporation in 1993, Campbell was CEO of Intuit from 1994 to 1998. Campbell announced that he would be retiring as the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Intuit starting January 2016.[3]

    Campbell is an adviser to a number of technology companies, and was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Columbia in 2005.

    According to CNN Money, he is worth $200 million.[4]

    To what extent is it a marker of prestige to be coached by Campbell? Is it still a status symbol for lesser executives to be coached by lesser coaches? Do these celebrity coaches and celebrity clients underwrite the demand elsewhere? Do all these coaches have top level business experience?

  • Mark 9:29 am on January 12, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , conflict, , , , , , , organisations, ,   

    The Ontology of Corporate Grievance 

    There’s an interesting section of In The Plex which details quite how much Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer hated Google. From pg 282-283:

    Just how intensely Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, despised his competitor to the south became clear in depositions that would be filed in the Lee lawsuit. The year before, in November 2004, a top Microsoft executive named Mark Lucovsky had gone to Steve Ballmer with the unwelcome news that he was leaving Microsoft. “ Just tell me it’s not Google ,” said Ballmer, according to Lucovsky’s sworn testimony. Lucovsky confirmed that it was indeed Google. Lucovsky testified that Ballmer went ballistic: “Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy! I’m going to fucking bury that guy! I have done it before and I will do it again. I’m going to fucking kill Google.” (The reference to having “done it before” seemed to refer to Microsoft’s anticompetitive actions during the browser war, when Schmidt was aligned with the Netscape forces.) For good measure, Ballmer threw a chair across the room, according to Lucovsky. (Ballmer would later say that Lucovsky’s account was exaggerated, but the CEO’s denials were not made under oath.)

    The competition between Microsoft and Google is easily explicable in terms of the dynamics of a number of intersecting markets, with their respective positions within them changing as a result of their rivalry, in the process contributing to the transformation of the markets themselves.

    But what makes this a matter of grievance? It’s an interesting question to ask what influence personal antagonism exerts over inter-organisational conflict. Is it a product of this organisational competition? Is it a driver of this competition? Or is it both: does the organisational conflict (continently) lead to personal antagonism, by creating situations in which it thrives, which in turn amplifies the organisational conflict, by introducing personal animus into corporate decision making?

  • Mark 9:09 am on December 28, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , organisations, ,   

    institutionalised goal setting in tech firms  

    How companies institutionalise certain forms of (quantifiable) reflexivity. From Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! pg 10:

    Starting in 1999, Google management used a system called Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, to measure the effectiveness of its employees, divisions, and the company overall. The idea for OKRs came from Google investor John Doerr, the famous venture capitalist. Doerr got it from Andy Grove, who developed a similar system called Management by Objective during his successful run at Intel. In the OKR system, every Google employee would come up with a list of quantifiable goals every quarter. The employee would present this list to a manager for sign-off, then the approved goals would be entered into Google’s internal network, where everyone in the entire company could see them. The next quarter, the employee would meet with the manager again, review their performance, and get a score on their OKRs. That score would determine the employee’s bonus payment and ability to get a raise, a transfer, or promotion within the company. Starting in September 2012, Mayer introduced a clone of OKRs to Yahoo. She called them Quarterly Performance Reviews, or QPRs. Employees from Mayer’s direct reports on down would get a score every quarter, from one to five. A one meant the employee consistently “misses” goals, a two meant the employee “occasionally misses,” a three, “achieves,” a four, “exceeds,” and a five, “greatly exceeds.”

    In this case, it was used to support a ‘rank and yank’ system. Making it slightly more palatable by ranking employees in terms of goals they’ve formulated themselves. From pg 10-11:

    In effect, a target distribution meant Mayer wanted managers to put a certain percentage of the employees they managed in each of the five buckets. Ten percent would go into “greatly exceeds,” 25 percent into “exceeds,” 50 percent into “achieves,” 10 percent into “occasionally misses,” and 5 percent into “misses.” Then Mayer rolled out new policies wherein employee eligibility for bonuses, promotions, and transfers within the company would be based on their average score for the past three quarters. Employees with low enough scores would be asked to leave the company.

    As apparently happened at Microsoft as well (an interesting case study) this brought employees into direct competition with each other. What interests me here is the disjuncture between the supposedly transparent standards employees are subject to and the utterly opaque consequences of the grading curve. Someone has to fail. So how do you know if you’ve done enough? Meeting your goals isn’t enough to be safe. You have to try and ensure you surpass your peers in everything you do. This doesn’t necessarily lead to the acceleration of work but it does lead to its intensification

  • Mark 8:45 am on December 12, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , organisations, , , ,   

    bureaucratic bloat as a defining feature of digital capitalism 

    In The New Ruthless Economy, by Simon Head, there’s a great discussion of the expansion of bureaucracy in American healthcare. From loc 1728-1737:

    Between 1968 and 1993, the number of managers and administrators tors in U.S. health care rose fourfold from 719,000 to 2,792,000, outstripping the growth in the number of physicians, which less than doubled from 430,000 to 761,000.4 The very high growth in of administrators ministrators changed the structure of employment in the health care industry dustry significantly. Between 1969 and 1993, the percentage of the total health care workforce employed in administration rose from 18 percent to 27 percent, while the percentage of physicians in the total health care workforce declined from 10.8 percent to 7.4 percent, and the total percentage of nurses fell from 40.6 percent to 36.3 percent. In U.S. hospitals, employment of administrators rose sharply, even as the number of patients declined.’ On an average day in 1968, U.S. hospitals employed 435,100 managers, administrators, and clerks to support the care of 1,378,000 inpatients. By 1990, the average daily number of patients had fallen by 39 percent to 853,000, but the number ber of administrators serving them had risen by 280 percent to 1,221,600. In 1968, there was one administrator for every three patients, tients, in 1990, 4.3 administrators for every three patients.

    There’s a similar story that can be told about the expansion of bureaucracy in higher education. What drives this? In part I think it’s socio-technical innovation in auditing coupled with growth of an administrative class within organisations charged with utilising and intervening on the basis of this expanded capacity for audit. The constant drive to rationalise and reengineer organisations generates an ever expanding class of those driving the process who are insulated from the discipline they’re enforcing elsewhere.

    This is compounded by counter-bureaucratic tendencies in other institutions. The particular kind of bureaucratic bloat digital capitalism gives rise to goes hand-in-hand with institutional isomorphism. The precise dynamics are specific to institutional spheres but the trend itself cuts across them. This is the example Simon Head cites:

    The existence of this MCO bureaucracy has given rise to two counter-bureaucracies: one within doctors’ offices as physicians hire administrators to deal with MCO case managers, and another in hospitals pitals as managements hire administrators for the same purpose.

    This is not the centralised bureaucracy of popular imagination but rather a bureaucratic build up within and across all organisations. I’d agree with the argument David Graeber made earlier this year that bureaucracy has been rendered peripheral in the popular and social scientific imaginations at precisely the time when it is becoming more prominent than ever.

    Under such circumstances, I think the best hope for a leftist politics might be to reframe statism in terms of modernisation, overcoming the gross inefficiencies of the digital capitalist market place. Consider this example cited by Simon Head on loc 1711:

    In February 1994 the New England Journal of Medicine published a research paper that sheds light on this last claim. The paper looks at variations in insurance coverage for a trial of an experimental treatment of breast cancer, autologous bone marrow transplant. Tucked away in the study was a remarkable statistic: The physicians running the trial had to deal with 187 insurance companies providing coverage for the 533 participating patients. Each company had its own database, expert panel, treatment guidelines, and bureaucracies of medical monitoring and control.

  • Mark 10:35 am on August 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , organisations,   

    Customer experience metrics 

    Having just finished The Circle by Dave Eggers, this exchange by text seems oddly sinister:


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