Thursday, April 30, 2009

Teams and technology.

“Where are the Lakers? Where are the Lakers?” Imagine the uproar if the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t play basketball because the team lost its suitcases or missed a plane. It could happen if the people behind the superstars didn’t do their jobs properly. The Lakers’ hidden organization - accountants, clerical staff, janitors, video technicians - is many times larger than the player roster. Without these employees, the basketball team couldn’t exist.

A company's success often depends as much on the small, localized decisions regularly made by frontline employees as it does on the larger strategic decisions made at the executive level. For example, adjusters deciding whether and how to pay a claim create (or lose) a tremendous amount of value for insurance companies.

In team based organizations, the role of managers and supervisors goes from working in the system to working on the system – ensuring that the right things are being done the right way. They start by identifying crucial "micro decisions" for their company - those decisions that are made close to the customer interface and have strong economic leverage. They then ask how can these decisions be made consistently and correctly every time? Sometimes they can be automated to ensure the most valuable decision is repeatable. Or for those that require more thinking, they can create checklists to help the decision makers remember key steps or issues.

A collection of collaborative computer technologies called group support systems can also be used to allow large numbers of people to interact together so they can respond rapidly to changing conditions. The use of brainstorming software, electronic voting, collaborative writing and drawing software, mathematical decision modeling packages, idea organizers and stakeholder analysis tools, changes the way people interact, both in face-to-face meetings and at a distance. Electronic workgroup tools provide the data and structure that keeps the big picture in focus and allows teams to build consensus. Team members can contribute simultaneously in meetings because no one has to wait for their turn to talk.

Teamwork and collaboration are essential elements in achieving economic success today. As a client said to me recently, “I’ve never seen a parade yet that was very impressive where only the drum major had the sheet music.”

Poetry day tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ten steps for building a team.

1. Start with the right people. Let the excellent and good people know what they're doing right.

2. Do something about the mediocre performers in the next 90-days.

3. Hold a company-wide strategic planning session. Get people together and involve them in planning the firm's competitive strategy. Management should hold back and let other employees speak first in this session. The joint planning process is very important because it draws on a well-known principle of psychology that people tend to be involved in implementing what they're involved in creating.

4. Review the plan quarterly: This sounds straightforward, but most people don't do it. Get away for two to four hours on a quarterly basis and discuss the following:
· What goals have we completed?
· What goals are in progress?
· What goals are no longer relevant?
· What goals have not been completed and what needs to be done to complete them?
Keep this discussion positive and it'll create a sense of confidence in people that they can set goals and complete them. You want the planning and review process to be a living part of your company's culture, guiding how people operate. These meetings should be high energy, high involvement, problem-solving opportunities, not just places to disseminate information.

5. Teach your key executives what they need to do to be successful delegators and coaches.

6. Complete a team review of each team member's strengths and weaknesses. Have people do written assessments of themselves and everyone else on the team and then review it with the team as a whole.

7. Make sure there are no places for poor performers to hide in the company, especially on the executive team. If the teams allow everyone equal time to talk, the top performers will clearly stand out. Eventually, others may decide that they can't keep up the pace necessary to succeed and seek opportunities elsewhere.

8. Develop a performance-based measurement system by asking:
· What do people think they're being paid for?
· How close is that to the firm's "critical success factors?"
· Do people understand that it's the success of the company that provides their
paycheck rather than being on good terms with management, or their longevity, loyalty or effort?

9. Celebrate wins. Most companies don't celebrate enough. Frequent small and inexpensive celebrations that take more creativity than money send the message within the company that "we're winning."

10. Champion the team philosophy. Draw on your own enthusiasm and be ready to jump up at a moment's notice and tell people about your team vision, the kind of people needed for it to be successful and the benefits that'll come to everyone as the team reaches its goals. Use the same energy and conviction in your internal selling as if you were calling on your biggest customer. Other team members need your energy.

Teams can produce quality, productivity, innovation and creativity by lowering costs, taking out many levels of supervision and allowing greater flexibility. However, one of the most important things teams can do is attract and retain quality people. Once you have a real sense of teamwork in place, people will fight to work for your company because it builds on the fundamental human need to be a part of something larger than ourselves. This's why families, tribes and communities are so important to us. You can draw on that need in a company setting as well, with great benefit to the employees and the company.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Team "concessions" by the UAW at Chrysler.

I notice in today's paper that among the UAW's concessions for the Chrysler restructuring, the union has agreed to consolidate non-skilled labor job classifications into a team concept at all remaining factories. It's a pity that the union has resisted giving this 'concession' for the past 40-years!

Introducing the team concept at Chrysler won't be as easy and simple as it sounds. Human beings are flawed and fallible; they're imperfect beings. Imperfections at the individual level are one thing. But put a team together with all the various dynamics, toss in people's inherent human flaws, and you get a host of bizarre behaviors and outcomes. Because individuals behave dysfunctionally, teams can't help but operate the same way. In addition, companies often fail to follow through with their teambuilding efforts. They start out with great enthusiasm and lofty goals, and then somewhere along the way the batteries start to run down. More than anything, successful teambuilding requires a sustained effort and follow-through on the important guidelines listed below.

A major reason why so many teambuilding efforts fizzle out has to do with the mindset of the CEO or the senior management team. Often, they're following some highly complex theory or "flavor-of-the-month" approach that they hope will magically transform the workforce into high-performing teams. However, I believe that to have any hope at success, you have to keep it simple.

Interestingly, the best teams look and sound messy. They have more unstructured conversation. They engage in more ideological conflict. They put difficult issues on the table and spend time passionately debating them. As a result, outsiders looking in on high performing teams often get the wrong impression. In contrast, most dysfunctional teams look very neat and tidy. They rarely mix it up. Their meetings have clear, organized agendas and they always end on time. Nobody gets upset, people don't raise their voices, and they avoid conflict like the plague. Dysfunctional teams are a lot like the old Ozzie and Harriet television family, where everything is "nice." Unfortunately, "nice" only works on TV, not in the real world.

Good conflict focuses on issues; bad conflict focuses on people. More important, good conflict gets addressed in the moment, so that people walk away from it finished and with no residual impact. Bad conflict lingers on and on. It continues behind closed doors after the meeting is over. Few things will kill a team quicker than unresolved conflict. Regardless of the nature of the conflict, great teams always deal with it when it occurs. They don't try to shove it back down, hide it under the table or pretend it doesn't exist.

High performing teams usually try to follow these guidelines:

1. Team members make decisions unselfishly for the greater good, not for their own self-interest.

2. Team members are aligned on mission, strategy, goals and priorities.

3, Team members assume best intentions in one another, even when they disagree.

4. Team members openly discuss vital issues in team meetings.

5. When decisions are made in team meetings, everyone owns the decisions and fully supports them outside the meeting room.

6. Team members walk the talk and live by the firm’s stated values.

7. Team members are acutely aware of the shadow they cast on the rest of the organization.

8. Team members fully participate in initiatives to generate constructive change.

Do your colleagues engage in these eight healthy behaviors? If not, perhaps they need to invest some quality time in their own development, thereby improving their effectiveness.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Trust and teamwork.

You don't need to like your teammates, but it's important that you trust and respect them, and they do the same to you.

In The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight to Create Superior Results, one of the subjects covered is trust. According to the author, Saj-nicole Joni, there are three fundamental distinctions of trust:

Personal Trust:
- trust that develops in the workplace from shared tasks and an understanding of what makes your teammates tick. It's knowing that your teammate won’t let you down when it counts, and vice versa. It's asking questions such as:

On a personal level, do I trust this person?

Do I believe this person is basically honest and ethical?

Do I believe s/he will make good when s/he gives his/her word?

Do I believe this person is basically well intentioned?

Do I believe this person will handle confidential information with care and

Expertise Trust:
- trust that comes from competence and knowledge in a particular subject matter or process. Expertise trust focuses on the knowledge, judgment and thinking abilities of someone else.

Do I trust that this person is an expert in his/her field?

Is their knowledge current and up-to-date?

Do I trust the information they gather to inform and support their opinions?

Do they have an ability to understand my situation and apply their knowledge to it?

Do I trust their judgment regarding risk, options and tradeoffs?

Do they have the ability to innovate and develop custom solutions to hard problems?

Structural Trust:
- trust that refers to how much someone’s position or role affects your confidence that s/he will be able to deal with you straightforwardly.

Do they have a personal agenda?

Are they in a role where their judgment and thinking is likely to be significantly influenced by their need to advance their goals, self-interests, or advocacy?

“Leadership is trusting enough to be trusted; having a curious mind; having a listening ear; having an open heart” - Robert Cooper

Friday, April 24, 2009

Waiting and Finding, a poem by Jack Gilbert.

Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1925. After school, he worked as a door-to-door salesman, an exterminator, and a steelworker, before graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. Soon after publishing his first book, Views of Jeopardy, in 1962, Gilbert received a Guggenheim Fellowship and subsequently moved abroad, living in England, Denmark, and Greece. During that time, he also toured fifteen countries as a lecturer on American Literature for the U.S. State Department. Gilbert won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1996. His poetry has been featured in The American Poetry Review, The Quarterly, Poetry, Ironwood, The Kenyon Review, The New Yorker, and other journals. He's been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He won the Stanley Kunitz Prize and the American Poetry Review Prize, and has had two books nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Gilbert was the 1999-2000 Grace Hazard Conkling writer-in-residence at Smith College and a visiting professor and writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee in 2004. He currently lives in western Massachusetts.

Waiting and Finding by Jack Gilbert

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tomtoms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tomtoms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tomtoms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tomtoms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Redefining roles at the operations value level.

"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime."-- Babe Ruth

Managing at the operations value level today involves three fundamental tasks: first, making the organization’s vision operational; second, consistently delivering timely, error-free products and services; and third, making decisions based on what’s right for the customer and for the organization as a whole.

Converting to teams means a shift in the balance of power. Tommye Joe Davis, who managed a Levi-Strauss sewing plant in Murphy, North Carolina, believed that clarity about the organization’s vision, not the control of higher level managers and developers, would best guide successful front-line operators. The Murphy plant cross-trained teams of workers to perform 36 tasks instead of one or two, and the teams participated fully in running the plant, from organizing supplies to setting production goals. They also set personnel policy, and as a result, the Levi policy manual at that location shrunk from 700 pages to 50.

“You can’t lead by just barking orders,” noted Davis. “I used to say, ‘You do this, you do that.’ I learned to say ‘How do you want to do this?’... But it only worked if we all had the same picture in our head of what we were trying to do.”

Overcontrol kills invention, learning and commitment and inhibits agility and flexibility. In traditional organizations, managers tell employees how to do their jobs and allow them to make decisions only when they feel certain the employees will make the same decisions the managers would make. But in many of today’s most successful organizations, managing occurs “after the fact,” allowing operators to risk making mistakes because, in the long run, they’ll learn and make more right rather than wrong decisions.

Few people understand a job better than the person doing it everyday. To be successful in their new roles, managers throughout the organization have to embrace alternative forms of control, trading in certainty for speed by giving others the guidelines and freedom to act as they see fit. Nimbleness is the only sure way to maintain control in a fast changing environment.

Cigna, the giant property and casualty insurer has transformed its procedure for developing group policies for corporate customers with the help of teams supported by artificial intelligence. The old method, still standard practice for many insurers, had been to send each proposal through ten or more departments sequentially - sales, underwriting, policy service, claims, and so on. Each department would revise the proposal in the light of its own responsibility, information, nomenclature, and schedules. The inevitable result: confusion, and delay. Now, teams made up of representatives from each department assemble new policies with the help of a system programmed with insurance knowledge. Flexible and disciplined, this system can call up, correlate and display descriptions of all existing insurance coverages and options. The teams construct policies from alternatives the system suggests and the system distributes the proposal electronically throughout the corporation for the necessary approvals. Proposals are finished faster, conform better to customers’ needs, yet cost less because they reuse work that's already been done.

Redefining roles at the development value level.

Managing at the development value level today involves three fundamental tasks:

- first, defining and prepositioning the capabilities the organization will need to grow and prosper in the future;

- second, coordinating tactics, programs, and activities linking the organization to its customers, partners and suppliers; and

- third, creating an environment where everyone at the operating level knows what to do and has the resources, coaching and competence to run the day-to-day business successfully.

To improve the organization’s agility and flexibility, managers as developers need to stretch their allegiances across functional boundaries, greasing the skids between departments so the organization can respond swiftly and decisively to resolve problems and pursue opportunities. Meeting these objectives in a global economy involves connecting managers across barriers of time, geography, language and specialization and taking advantage of their different skills, interests and perspectives.

The development manager’s new world is uncertain, scary, moves very quickly and is full of noisy bargaining and deal-making. Adjusting to their new roles is quite a challenge for middle managers who've traditionally been accustomed to getting orders from above and demanding compliance from below. To make the transition successfully, they need training, support and coaching from those to whom they report.

Many companies today are undergoing major restructuring where they’re outsourcing operations, laying off employees and repurchasing their stock in an attempt to appease shareholders by raising the price of the stock. While such actions may succeed in raising prices in the short term, they don’t create new wealth, take the company into new markets, or create fundamentally new value for customers and shareholders.

Growing the business is middle management’s most important responsibility and significant changes in their roles, rewards, relationships and skills are needed before they’ll be able fulfill this responsibility effectively. It’s also important that the methods used to foster group learning and role development are consistent with the type of knowledge and skills that the group needs to use on an ongoing basis. Thus the redesign process should be a collaborative one, consistent with the desired outcome that the management group will function effectively together.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Redefining roles at the strategic value level.

When thinking through new responsibilities for senior executives, it’s helpful to classify employees as strategists, developers and operators, rather than using the more traditional labels of executives, managers and workers. The strategists are responsible for creating new business opportunities, the developers are responsible for growing the business and the operators are responsible for running the business. The traditional distinctions between managers and non-managers become increasingly blurred when everyone is responsible for managing some aspect of the enterprise. In this kind of world, it’s more useful to think of managers at all levels in terms of the value they contribute to the organization rather than viewing them as a special, separate class of people.

Managing at the strategic value level today involves four fundamental tasks:

- first, monitoring and influencing the environment to develop new business opportunities;

- second, articulating, modeling and creating ownership for a vision of what the organization aims to accomplish in the future;

- third, attracting and retaining business leaders, matching them with the right assignments and holding them accountable for results; and

- fourth, investing, distributing and balancing resources across the organization’s portfolio of businesses.

When Lew Platt was chairman of Hewlett-Packard, he believed his most important role in strategy formulation was building bridges among the company’s various operations. He said, “My role was to encourage discussion of the overlaps and gaps among business strategies, the important areas that weren’t being addressed by the strategies of the individual businesses.”

Platt’s strategy sessions were aimed at creating new market opportunities by looking at the entire business ecosystem. Most managers were so involved minding their own business they didn't make time to step out of their day-to-day boxes to identify and plan responses to external threats and opportunities. Successful management teams today work together to search their environments for patterns that connect with one another and to develop strategies that take advantage of these linkages. They also seek to gain significant competitive advantage by inventing bridges that create new patterns that didn’t previously exist.

In the past, only those at the pinnacle of the company’s hierarchy engaged in strategic thinking but in today’s flatter, more flexible architecture, that's become the responsibility of the many rather than the few. In the old structure, strategists or planners were seldom responsible for implementing their plans. Today, just thinking strategically no longer suffices; people are held accountable for acting strategically as well.

It often takes a crisis to change a traditional organization because the authority to set strategy and direction is highly concentrated at the top. As a consequence, a relatively small group of people at the top can hold the organization’s capacity to change hostage to their own personal willingness to adapt and to change. However, in practice the actual work of redesigning our musty old management practices is more evolutionary than revolutionary. You can’t take a large, complicated organization and tear up all the track at once. To do so would expose a company to an intolerable level of operational risk. Yet eventually companies must become as purposefully and creatively experimental in thinking about their management systems and processes as they already are in thinking about R&D or new-product development.

It takes time to discover the operating detail of how to make new ideas work in practice. You can see the broad directions, but you can’t see how it’s going to really work. You can’t even understand the secondary and third-level consequences of the design decisions you make. Those have to be discovered through trial and error.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Operating guidelines for senior management teams.

A good way to get started building senior management teams is to involve executives in examining the reality and the consequences of how they interact together and to then reach agreement on guidelines for more effective interactions in the future.

Senior managers sometimes feel a little foolish creating operating guidelines spelling out how they should work together as a team. Surely, they think, we’re all adults and have years of experience working in groups. And that, of course, is the problem. Everyone has practiced dysfunctional behavior for years and this is one of the first things that needs to be changed. If other employees don't see and experience change at the senior management level, they're not likely to adopt more cooperative behaviors as they won't believe this is necessary and they won't have any examples to follow. In addition, their executives won't understand the dilemmas that other employees are grappling with and won't be able to coach them since they haven't experienced these issues themselves.

United Parcel Service discovered that many of its managers fell short as coaches and teachers. When surveyed, only 48% of UPS employees gave their managers favorable marks for helping them develop new skills. John Wooden, the legendary former head coach of UCLA basketball, once observed that, “A coach must prevent, correct or help, and not punish. He must make those under his supervision feel that they’re working with him rather than for him. He must be more interested in finding the best way rather than having his own way, and he must be genuinely concerned about his players.”

Operating guidelines should be explicit, simple, clear and concise. Here are some typical examples:

- Speak honestly. Make clear and direct requests. Be willing to surface issues or take positions that may result in conflict.

- Anyone can disagree about anything with anyone, but no one can disagree without stating the reasons why.

- Listen for peoples’ contributions, rather than editing with assessments, opinions or judgments.

- Support each other. Operate from the point of view that, “we’re all in this together.”

- It’s not OK to win at someone else’s expense or at the expense of the company.

- Support people in fulfilling their commitments and hold them accountable for results.

- Show appreciation by giving, receiving and requesting acknowledgment from others.

The material on senior management teams comes from a presentation I gave at the EEC Conference on “Innovative Work Organizations Operating in a Global Context,” in Dublin, Ireland, which was subsequently published as “New roles for everyone” in The Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol 21, #1.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Firemen, a poem by Deborah Garrison.

Deborah Garrison is poetry editor at Alfred A. Knopf and a senior editor at Pantheon Books. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1965, Garrison earned her bachelor's degree in creative writing from Brown University in 1986. She subsequently earned her master's degree in literature from New York University. Her first book of poetry, A Working Girl Can't Win, did remarkably well, selling 30,000 copies when even some Pulitzer Prize-winning poets are lucky to sell one-tenth that. The poems were about young women in love, out of love, making love and working in Manhattan. Most were written when Ms. Garrison was in her 20s and childless, living in the East Village and climbing the career ladder at The New Yorker.

Any discussion of Garrison's work tends to lead to a debate over whether poetry that isn't complex and obscure can be considered good. As a poet and an editor, Garrison expresses an interest in having more readers experience the enrichment that poetry can bring because, as she says, "most readers don't even know they need poetry." She also notes that, "Poetry can be pretentious sometimes, and if people feel poetry is this high citadel that you can't get into, it's bad for poetry."

The Firemen by Deborah Garrison.

God forgive me –

It’s the firemen,
leaning in the firehouse garage
with their sleeves rolled up
on the hottest day of the year.

As usual, the darkest one is handsomest.
The oldest is handsomest.
The one with the thin wiry arms is handsomest.
The young one already going bald is handsomest.

And so on.
Every day I pass them at their station:
The word sexy wouldn’t do them justice.
Such idle men are divine –

especially in summer, when my hair
sticks to the back of my neck,
a dirty wind from the subway grate
blows my skirt up, and I feel vulgar,

lifting my hair, gathering it together,
tying it back while they watch
as a kind of relief.
Once, one of them walked beside me

to the corner. Looked into my eyes.
He said, “Will I never see you again?”
Gutsy, I thought.
I’m afraid not, I thought.

What I said was I’m Sorry.
But how could he look into my eyes
if I didn’t look equally into his?
I’m sorry: as though he’d come close, as though

this really was a near miss.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Designing work for senior management teams.

Managing at senior executive levels today involves four fundamental tasks:

- first, monitoring and influencing the environment to develop new business opportunities:

- second, articulating, modeling and creating ownership for a vision of what the company aims to accomplish in the future:

- third, attracting business leaders, matching them with the right assignments and holding them accountable for results: and

- fourth, investing, distributing and balancing resources across the company’s portfolio of businesses.

These are all collective rather than individual tasks. If they’re to be managed effectively, learnings acquired from enterprise-level work teams need to be transferred into the executive suite. In today's rapidly changing world, you can’t run the business from memory any more.Designing work for senior management teams starts by identifying the tasks that are unique to the top level of the organization.

People accustomed to managing a particular function often think that their own outputs are the same as the outputs of the group that they manage. The challenge is to help them discover what the senior management team as a whole produces. Start this voyage of discovery by analyzing the current business context and the contributions of the management team as a whole to the success of the business in that context. During this examination, expectations evolve about what work is needed and who's best suited to accomplish it. Individual roles can then be developed by negotiating these expectations.

Experience suggests the steps to use in developing senior management teams are as follows:

- Share individual understandings of the current business context and then collectively agree about important trends, potential problems and emerging opportunities.

- Review what the senior managing team currently produces and evaluate its relevance in relation to emerging business developments.

- Identify any new outputs required from the senior management team to assure that the company will continue to be successful in the future.

- Examine the processes required to create these outputs and agree about how the management team should work together to support these processes.

- Redesign and reassign the current roles and responsibilities of senior managers as needed.

- Define new accountabilities and negotiate new performance and recognition agreements.

- Continue to provide the management team with the skills, information and guidelines they need to operate successfully.

As usual, tomorrow is poetry day. Then, more on teams next week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New management skills contd.

Continuing to identify some new skills needed by senior managers:

*Be an expert in multiple areas of the business.

Toshiba starts its engineers and scientists off in the sales department so they can learn first-hand about the customer’s needs. In earlier days, Chrysler encouraged the development of broad-bandwidth expertise by giving senior executives multiple responsibilities. For example, when Tom Stallkamp was head of purchasing, he also ran Chrysler’s minivan operations. Executive vice president Francois Castaing ran international operations and was also in charge of engine and transmission development. Lester Thurow, a former dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, noted that when financial managers were running American steel companies, they didn’t understand important new technical processes such as continuous casting. As a result, they decided to wait and see how the process worked in other countries before committing to it themselves. By the time they gained that knowledge, their companies had fallen too far behind to catch up. “You don’t have to be a scientist,” observed Thurow, “but you must be able to read the material and know how to proceed.”

*Have excellent interpersonal skills.

Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, commenting on a Group of Seven Nation's summit conference, observed that although the leaders who attended represented an extraordinary concentration of power and intelligence, their meetings didn’t result in much progress. He added, “Perhaps, it’s because each of the leaders was thinking individually, not collectively.” Getting senior managers to work together takes a lot of effort, particularly when they grew up and became successful largely as a result of their own individual initiatives in a highly competitive, conflict-averse culture.

Early in their careers, managers spend most of their time dealing with situations where the rules are relatively clear. When they’re promoted to senior positions, they find more gray areas, especially when dealing with other people. In their new roles, success springs not so much from what they know as technical specialists but from their connections, relationships and ability to work with and influence others. While disagreement and conflict fuel the creative process, experience shows that most companies smooth over contentious issues and avoided confronting them at least half the time. Another 30% of the time they lead to non-productive fighting with no clear resolution. Only in 20% of cases is contention truly confronted and resolved.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New management skills.

Skills in the following areas will be critical in enabling senior managers to work together successfully in the future.

* See the big picture at all times.
Research indicates that top managers typically spend almost 80% of their time in fragmented conversations with peers in other units who work nearby. A high percentage of these contacts are spontaneous, half last less than nine minutes and most deal with current issues.

To help acquire a longer-term, big-picture perspective, Lou Gerstner, when he was IBM’s chairman and CEO, spent 40% of his time with customers, often chatting CEO to CEO to learn what was going on. He not only listened, he acted on what he heard. When he heard customers complain about IBM’s high prices for mainframe software, he quickly ordered pricing cuts of 30%. In addition to finding out what they wanted, Gerstner saw his job as a translator, building trust and building bridges with his customers, CEO to CEO. And he insisted that his direct reports spent much of their time visiting customers, partners and suppliers as well.

In today’s business world, you can’t get into the fray and succeed unless you can stay above it. No one person knows enough to figure it out all by themselves.

* Learn how to learn together.

When Raymond Gilmartin was appointed the CEO of Merck & Co., he put together a 12-member management committee and took them away for the first in a series of three-day shirtsleeve retreats. These meetings were designed to break down barriers and build mutual confidence in a traditionally rigid hierarchical company. In these retreats, what went on during the breaks, dinners, lunches and over cocktails was as important as what went on in the meetings.

As one of its first tasks, the management committee composed a mission statement affirming that Merck would remain a research-driven pharmaceutical company and was not interested in diversification. As a result, Merck quickly shut down a generic drug operation and in the next two-years sold off more than $1 billion in assets, including Calgon Vestal Laboratories and a managed-health-care mental health unit.

A non-scientist, Gilmartin subsequently gave his top executives considerable autonomy in leading their business units. He created worldwide business strategy teams, each one focused on a key disease. These teams brought together senior executives from areas as diverse as finance, research, manufacturing and marketing to mount a coordinated global strategy to attack the disease. They had unfettered access to the management committee, which helped this committee make better research, manufacturing and marketing decisions.

Gilmartin continually encouraged his managers to air problems and debate issues without regard for hierarchy and without getting personal. He said, “Where you wanted the contest was not among people but among ideas. So, it was important for people to be able to be very open. We wanted them to be ‘knowledge navigators’ to each other.”

Experience has shown that executives learn best through interaction with their peers, testing new ideas, reflecting on the outcomes together, and digesting the feedback. Experiential learning in uncertain environments places less emphasis on knowing the right answers and is more concerned with exploring the right questions. Here, a broad base of knowledge is more useful than advanced expertise in a single specialty.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The need for new roles for senior managers.

Ten years ago, over 50% of American business wasn’t subject to competition. Today, that number is closer to 25%. Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel, says that learning to adjust to changes in today’s business environment is like driving behind another car in a fog. It’s easy going as long as you have the other car’s tail lights to guide you. But when the leading car turns off the road, you’re suddenly stuck without the confidence that comes from finding your own way. The moral? Followers have little future.

Creating competitive futures demands that senior managers spend more time deciphering the increasingly complex forces that influence and shape their business. To find the time to develop sustainable success strategies, they have to hand over some of their traditional responsibilities to the middle-level managers who report to them. And to accept these new responsibilities, these middle managers have to hand off some of their traditional assignments to the employees who report to them.

And so it goes, all the way down the hierarchy. The traditional distinction between managers and non-managers becomes increasingly blurred as employees at all levels take more responsibility for managing the business. To be successful, senior managers have to embrace alternative forms of control, trading in certainty for speed by giving others the guidelines and freedom to act as they see fit. Nimbleness is the only sure way to maintain control in a fast changing environment.

Walter Wriston, the former chairman of Citicorp, says, “It takes entirely different skills to be a manager today than it took 15 years ago.” The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks. Yet, experience suggests that the tools many senior managers use to explore their world have grown dangerously out of date.

in the next few weeks, I'll identify some of the new skills needed and discuss how to design work for senior management teams. Then, I'll cover the pros and cons of teamwork in general, within and across organizational boundaries.

If there are related topics that are of special interest to you, please let me know so I can cover them in this blog. I always welcome your comments and feedback so don't be shy. Let's make this more of a conversation. I can be reached at

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Invitation.

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love,
for your dream,
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life's betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain,
mine or your own,
without moving to hide it,
or fade it,
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy,
mine or your own;
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful,
to be realistic,
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure,
yours and mine,
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn't interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the center of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

- Oriah Mountain Dreamer

I'm taking the rest of the week off to celebrate the Easter holidays.
Whether you’re about to feast on unleavened bread or dyed eggs, have a wonderful time.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Some thoughts about work.

“Work is a process, it’s not an end in itself. Work is a part of the process that is life. If you don’t find that process enjoyable, I don’t see that there’s anything else” - Jess Lair in I Ain’t Well, But I Sure Am Better.

I believe there’s nothing inherently negative about work except that many people settle for security even though they really don’t like what they’re doing. As a result, they never fulfill their potential and they end up hating the rewards of their work because they gave up too much to get them. Making a good living doesn’t have to mean giving up a good life. Today, we have too many people who live without working and altogether too many who work without living. It doesn’t have to be like that – here’s the first of many encouraging examples:

The Yankee Candle Company’s factory in South Deerfield, Massachusetts is a like a huge university craft studio where T-shirted employees work in bright wide-open rooms with piped-in rock music. Michael Kittredge, Yankee Candle‘s founder, made his first candle when he was16 by melting crayons in a milk carton. Now, 30-years later, Kittredge and his 5,000 employees made and sold more than $730 million worth of candles in 2007. Yankee Candle has 450 retail stores plus a growing catalog and online business, and an expanding North American wholesale customer network.

Much of Yankee’s success can be traced to the way that Michael Kittredge treated his workers. He seemed to know that keeping his employees comfortable and mentally engaged made them safer and more productive. For starters he made his factory a physically inviting place to spend eight hours a day. The inside was neat and well ventilated: the grounds were spotless and pleasantly landscaped. Production meetings often took place outside on new-mowed grass. Kittredge provided comprehensive medical and dental insurance for all his employees, and a 15,000 square-foot employee fitness center with an indoor tennis court and a staff of full-time fitness professionals. The smaller perks included a weekly pizza party, quarterly breakfast banquets, performance awards, and free cruises for star employees. Everyone got their birthday off with pay. and every employee - even the new person scraping wax off the floors - got their own Yankee Candle business cards. These policies paid off in happy workers.

Last time I checked, more than half of Yankee Candle’s original employees were still with the company. For example, Nancy Spanbauer stacked candles on a cart her first day at work. Now she’s the company’s head of production. Yankee Candle proves that what’s good for the employee is good for the company. If workers feel less important than the stuff they make, they'll squander their creativity on finding new ways to goof off and laugh at the people in charge.

Your comments are welcome. Please let me know what you're thinking....

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Journey, a poem by Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver was born in September, 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio. As a teenager, she lived briefly in the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where she helped Millay's family sort through the papers the poet left behind. In the mid-1950s, she attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she didn’t receive a degree from either. Oliver held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College until 2001. She currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

For Oliver, walking is part of the poetic process. She says, “I have a notebook with me all the time, and I begin scribbling a few words. When things are going well, the walk doesn’t get anywhere; I finally just stop and write.”

Oliver has received the Lannan Literary Award for poetry (1998), the National Book Award for Poetry (1992), the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1984) for her collection American Primitive, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1980), and the Shelley Memorial Award (1969/70) of the Poetry Society of America.

She remembers, “As a child, what captivated me was reading the poems myself and realizing that there was a world without material substance which was nevertheless as alive as any other.”

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,

though the whole house began to tremble

and you felt the old tug at your ankles.

"Mend my life!" each voice cried. But you didn't stop.

You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,

though their melancholy was terrible.

It was already late enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen branches and stones.

But little by little, as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly recognized as your own,

that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,

determined to do the only thing you could do,

determined to save the only life you could save.

The Academy of American Poets launched the fourteenth annual National Poetry Month on Wednesday last. This is a thirty-day celebration of poetry in American culture. Throughout April, the organization will initiate and sponsor poetry-sharing programs nationwide.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Find someone to hold you accountable.

Next, I suggest you build an Implementation Relationship plan.
Identify the ten most strategic and valuable relationships you need to develop in 2009. Who can accelerate your ability to overcome obstacles, get things done, and get you in front of the right people, in less time and with fewer resources? Which relationships will you need to invest time, effort and resources to identify, nurture, and develop? Who will you start with, and when?

It helps to work with someone who will keep you accountable for pursuing your goals. If you don't have access to a professional coach, ask a friend or coworker to help you keep your promises to yourself. They may not bring professional coaching expertise, but they can help you harness your own motivation and keep you disciplined. Share your goals and your plans for reaching them. Ask your "coach" to regularly check in on your progress and make sure you're meeting milestones. Want to thank your volunteer coach? Offer to play the same role for her.

Share the following findings with your coach:
When Roger Evered and James Selman studied the qualities of successful coaches, like John Wooden, George Allen and Red Auerbach, they found that great coaches shared the following characteristics:

• They focused on the development of each player and held a personal stake in their success and well-being.

• They believed in constant improvement.

• They didn’t view success as an individual accomplishment and continuously communicated with everyone who could contribute to a player’s performance.

• They stressed honest, straightforward feedback, and modeled the qualities they demanded from others.

• They remained uncompromising in their approach to discipline, preparation and practice, paying attention to the smallest detail.

• They obeyed the rules of the game, but didn’t let the rules limit their thinking.

• They felt personally responsible for the game’s outcome, but not in a way that robbed their players of their own responsibilities.

• They loved the game and considered coaching a privilege.

John Wooden, the legendary former head coach of UCLA basketball, said, “A coach must prevent, correct or help, and not punish ... He must be more interested in finding the best way rather than having his own way, and be genuinely concerned about his players.”

I'll close with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Follow your possibilities.

“A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Don't try to "boil the ocean." Decide what you want, then focus and go after it as though your life depended on it. Why? Because it does.

What would you do if you had no limitations?
What would you do if you had unlimited resources?
What would you do if I knew you couldn’t fail?

What are your gifts?
List five things you like about yourself.
What special triumphs have you achieved?

“One’s task consists first of all in mastering a life that is one’s own, not imposed or prescribed from without, no matter how noble its appearance may be. For each of us is issued but one life, and we know full well how it all ends. It would be regrettable to squander this one chance on someone else’s appearance, someone else’s experience.” – Joseph Brodsky

Remember also “the Law of Least Effort,” from Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Chopra recommends finding your true purpose, building on your strengths, and doing what's natural for you. You'll be really successful if the work you do is simple and easy for you.

John C. Maxwell suggests answering the following ten questions to help create a clear and compelling pathway to your dream:

- Is your dream really your own dream?

- Do you clearly see your dream?

- Are you depending on factors within your control to achieve your dream?

- Does your dream compel you to follow it?

- Do you have a plan to reach your dream?

- Have you included the people you need to realize your dream?

- Are you willing to pay the price for your dream?

- Are you moving closer to your dream?

- Does working toward your dream bring you satisfaction?

- Does your dream benefit others?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn‘t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain