Rethink: A Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation
Financial Times Press/The Pearson Group (2009)
Merrifield urges his reader to identify her or his company’s essential business activities (i.e. the most important “whats”) and record them on a map, “the third piece of the puzzle” after Web 2.0 and service-oriented architecture (SOA). The objective is to “cut through the proprietary languages that are so pervasive at many companies…and [thereby] fully unlock the potential of SOA and the Internet.” Merrifield asserts that a company’s “whats” comprise 80% of its outcomes, no matter the industry. “And when you see them laid out in their logical sequence, you can determine the organizational value of each `what’.” He claims to offer what he characterizes as a “revolutionary new operations design technique” that consists of five sequential steps that are best revealed and explained within his lively narrative, in context.
Of special interest and value to me are the sets of questions that Merrifield poses. Indeed, one of the great values of this book is the quality of the questions asked rather than of the answers provided. The “rethinking journey” is one of consistently rigorously challenging any and all assumptions, premises, and so-called “conventional wisdom” about how to reduce costs while increasing innovation, about how to get more done in less time with fewer resources, and meanwhile, in process, about how to establish and then sustain a culture of creative and productive confrontation in which dissent, candor, and intellectual integrity are not only encouraged and rewarded but, indeed, required.
Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results
Morten T. Hansen
Harvard Business School Press (2009)
Hansen provides a brilliant explanation of how “disciplined collaboration” can help to enable leaders to avoid or free themselves from various traps, create unity of commitment and effort, and “reap big results.” He asserts, “bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.” Why? Here are two of several reasons. First, bad collaboration never achieves the aforementioned “big results”; worse yet, bad collaboration makes good collaboration even more difficult to plan and then achieve. With regard to the “traps,” Hansen identifies six in the first chapter and then suggests that there are three steps to disciplined collaboration. That is, the “the leadership practice of properly assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and instilling in people both the willingness and the ability to collaborate when required.” These are the three steps: (1) evaluate opportunities, and when making a decision, asking “Will we gain a great upside by collaborating?”; (2) identify barriers to collaboration, next asking “What are the barriers blocking people from collaborating well?”; and (3) tailor solutions to tear down the barriers, keeping in mind that different barriers require different solutions.
Throughout the book’s first six chapters, Hansen explains how to formulate the underlying “management architecture” of collaboration, of disciplined collaboration, and then shifts his attention in the final chapter to explaining how his reader can “grow to be a collaborative leader” and to help others to do so also. As Henry Chesbrough once observed, it is imperative to have an “open” mindset, to make decisions that are guided and information by what Roger Martin characterizes (in The Opposable Mind) as “integrative” thinking. Those leaders who pursue disciplined collaboration “take their organizations to higher levels of performance…know where the opportunities for collaboration exist and when to say no to lesser projects…avoid the trap of overestimating benefits and overcollaborating…tear down the barriers that separate their employees…set powerful and unifying goals and forge a value of teamwork…cultivate T-shaped management…help employees build nimble, not bloated, networks…look within themselves and work to change their own leadership styles…And in cultivating collaboration in the right way, they set their people free to achieve great things not possible when they are divided.” Those who aspire to become such a leader are strongly encouraged to read this book so that Hansen can collaborate with them on achieving that objective.
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The Training Measurement Book: Best Practices, Proven Methodologies, and Practical Approaches
According to Bersin, the material in his book is based on the results of surveys that he and his associates conducted among more than 600 C-level executives in 2005-2007. One of the most important revelations is that more than 90% identified performance measurement as being either most important or next most important on their list of what to improve. In 2007, they conducted research among more than 700 HR and learning executives indicated that only 4% rated their learning programs were “fully aligned” with talent needs, and, only 15% rated them “well-aligned.” These additional revelations also caught my eye. While acknowledging the important work of others, Bersin asserts that the models offered by Donald Kirkpatrick and Jack Phillips, specifically, “limit an organization’s thinking and make the measurement process difficult to implement.” (Others are far better qualified than I am to comment on this assertion.) Bersin also asserts that organizations need more than what these models offer. In this volume, he introduces and then examines the Business Impact Model® and the Impact Measurement Framework®; then he recommends a seven-step training measurement process to implement both.
For decision-makers in any organization (whatever its size and nature may be), however, the first five steps of the training measurement process are essential. As Bersin explains in Chapter 5, the most valuable step most organizations need is the sign-off process (which is often missing) and the basic Level 1 surveys. As for the other two steps, follow-up evaluation for the learner (#6) and follow-up evaluation for the manager (#7), he believes they are optional. I strongly disagree. Managers who fund training as well as those who receive it should be included among those who are viewed as “customers.” Their evaluations can be of incalculable value if the information obtained from them is pragmatic, actionable, and specific.
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Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently
Harvard Business School Press (2008)
I recently checked the Online Etymological Dictionary and learned that an iconoclast is a “breaker or destroyer of images” from the Late Greek word eikonoklastes. Centuries later, an iconoclast was viewed as “one who attacks orthodox beliefs or institutions.” This brief background helps to introduce Berns’s book in which he examines a number of people who in recent years accomplished what others claimed could not be done. When doing so, these modern iconoclasts attacked orthodox beliefs and, in some cases, institutions. “The overarching theme of this book is that iconoclasts are able to do things that others say can’t be done, because iconoclasts perceive things differently than other people.” Berns goes on to explain that the difference in perception “plays out in the initial stages of an idea. It plays out in how their manage their fears, and it manifests in how they pitch their ideas to the masses of noniconoclasts. It is an exceedingly rare individual who possesses all three of these traits.”
Berns’s exemplars include Solomon Asch, Warren Buffett, Nolan Bushnell, Dale Chihuly, Ray Croc, Walt Disney, David Dreman, Richard Feynman, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Lauterbur, Jim Lavoi, Stanley Milgram, Florence Nightingale, Branch Rickey, Burt Rutan, and Jonas Salk. According to Berns, these iconoclasts possess a brain that differs from those of other people in three functions (i.e. perception, fear response, and social intelligence) and the circuits that implement them. Keep in mind, however, “It is an exceedingly rare individual who possesses all three of these traits.” Berns makes an important distinction. “The iconoclast doesn’t literally see things differently than other people. More precisely, he perceives things differently. There are several different routes to forcing the brain out of its lazy mode of perception, but the theme linking these methods depends on the element of surprise. The brain must be provided with something that it has never processed before to force it out of predictable perceptions.”
Berns offers is a brilliant explanation of the neurological foundation for common characteristics of a great leader. “For the iconoclast to become an icon,” Kerns observes, “not only must he possess an especially plastic brain that can see things differently, but he must rewire the brains of a vast number of other people who are not iconoclasts.”
Rothschild has led his own consulting firm, Rothschild Strategies Unlimited LLC, since leaving General Electric in 1984. His consulting practice focuses on working with CEOs and their management teams to create viable, profitable and sustainable strategies. His firm provides StrategyLeader Software and guides for those interested in developing their strategies on their own and its clients range from new venture start-ups to major global corporations in a wide variety of industries. At GE he was the Corporate Strategist for three years and created the company’s first market driven Corporate Strategy. Over his career he held management and professional assignment in strategic planning, finance, marketing and human resources. His five published books include, most recently, The Secret To GE’s Success: A Former Insider Reveals the Management Strategies. Other books include the first strategic thinking and decision-making book, Putting It All Together, Strategic Alternatives: Gaining and Maintaining a Competitive Advantage, and Risktaker Caretaker, Surgeon and Undertaker — the four faces of strategic leadership.
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of Rothschild.
Morris: Since there have been so many GE books, why did you write The Secret to GE’s Success?
Rothschild: When I led the strategic planning workshops and seminars, I taught a four-hour module that described GE’s strategic history and focused on its successes and failures, to assure that the GE management learned from the company’s remarkable past. After I left GE I continued to be a GE student. I believe that Jack Welch was the right leader for the right time, but he is only one of many highly competent GE leaders, so I decided to put GE’s entire 126-year history in perspective, including assessing Jeff Immelt and his strategies. My book is an objective assessment of both GE’s successes and failures and what we can learn from them. In short, it shows that GE has always had unique, innovative leaders and was able to adapt to change as required and was not invented by Jack Welch.
Morris: What is the secret to GE’s Success?
Rothschild: As I was writing the book, I decided that the secret could be condensed to one word: L.A.T.I.N.
L stands for Leadership. GE has had the right leaders for the right time and all of them were committed and dedicated to GE. Remarkably there have only been ten GE CEO’s during this 127-year period.
A stands for adaptability. GE leaders have been ready, willing and able to change when it was necessary. During the Great Depression, Swope and Young were confronted with a three quarter reduction of revenues in one year and innovated ways of keeping the employees and growing the company. The company was a major provider of military systems during WWII, regaining management control during the hay day of unionization, recouping the devastating impact of the “great electrical conspiracy/ price fixing” and continues to adapt to the unprecedented decline of the economy today.
T stands for talent. – A major GE strength of being able to attract and maintain talent at all levels and avoiding the “ just in time hiring practices of today.”
I stands for influencing government and social policy. GE leaders were the innovators of Social Security and the development of Ronald Reagan. Some leaders were socialists, while others where hyper conservatives, but all took stands on major issues that could inhibit the company from controlling its own destiny.
N stands for networks. This cover all the major innovative programs that GE has led in management and business practices, including Total Quality Control, Performance Appraisals and Succession Planning, Strategic Planning and Six Sigma.
Here’s a link to a wealth of resources: http://www.strategyleader.com/
If you wish to read the complete interview, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.