Peter Drucker liked to challenge his consulting clients: “Don’t tell me you had a wonderful meeting with me. “Tell me what you’re going to do on Monday that’s different.”
The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, which I run, hosted a CEO Forum last October with about 30 participants from the business world, social sector, and academic community. And from the beginning, we were determined to make sure that the event reflected Drucker’s steadfast desire to turn ideas into action….Did any of the participants actually make good on Lafley’s repeated reminders to follow Drucker’s do-something-on-Monday dictum?
The short answer: Absolutely. While we didn’t attempt to conduct a scientific survey, my colleagues and I were thrilled to discover that all four of those we contacted — Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, Teach for America CEO Wendy Kopp, and P&G’s CEO Jim Lafley had, in fact, gone out and done something different because of what they’d heard at the forum.
Lafley, for instance, was inspired by the discussion in Claremont to review P&G’s capital spending and product commercialization plans to ensure that the company was investing appropriately in its mid- and long-term growth. In addition, he committed to monthly talent reviews to make certain that P&G is developing the leaders it needs for the future.
Meanwhile, Sinegal drew on the forum’s exploration of corporate values to think through a pay raise for the bulk of his company’s frontline workers. “Because of the downturn, our employees are having a tough time,” he says. “They deserve a pay increase. Even though it would be painful as a retail business at this moment to approve one, the unfair thing would be not to give them an increase.”
As Sinegal explains it, most of the conversation he had on the matter with Costco’s executive committee revolved around the size of the boost. “At one point, a person in the meeting stopped and said, ‘That says something about our culture right there. All our attention is not on the question of whether to approve an increase, but on how big it should be.’”
Kopp, for her part, also zeroed in on culture. Inspired by a McKinsey & Co. program described at the forum by the firm’s former managing director, Rajat Gupta, Teach for America has now embarked on a formal effort to convert its core values into practice among a new generation of managers. Says Kopp: “We are engaging our whole organization in reflecting on what about our current values is most crucial to succeeding in our long-term plan; what the unintended consequences of our values might be; and what other core principles might be missing that might be important.”
As for Lundgren, he came out of the forum focused more than ever on Macy’s customers. “I need to shift my time and attention to really put a significant amount of my energy and words and visibility behind becoming the ‘chief customer officer’ of the company,” he says. “Whatever we’ve done in providing customer service has been adequate, but not differentiating. We need customer service to be our differentiator.” In recent weeks, Lundgren has visited Macy’s stores in more than two dozen cities to spread this new customer-is-king gospel.
So, how about you? What’s the best idea that you ever took away from a conference or symposium that you actually acted upon? What’s your Monday moment?
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Rick Wartzman (Rick.Wartzman@cgu.edu) is the executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. He writes “The Drucker Difference” column for BusinessWeek online.
This book is about the free agent. If the term is vague, it is because I can think of no other way to describe the people I am talking about. They are free from the bonds of a large institution, and agents of their own futures. They are the new archetypes of work in America. The Free Agent Org Chart resembles a traditional organizational chart less than it resembles the human brain…, continually forging and reforging connections, constantly laying fresh pathways to another.
Daniel H. Pink, Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself
Yesterday in the Sunday Dallas Morning News Points Section, you will find this article: A freelance work force by Drake Bennett. Here’s a key paragraph:
“Right now I can’t hire a bunch of programmer experts in lots of different domains because I can’t afford to keep them on hand all the time,” he says. “But if I could hire them just for the five minutes I need them, individual people would have the power to create projects that require lots of expertise, and the potential for people to innovate and create things would increase.”
And therein lies the crux of the problem. Business owners don’t need employees — they need short-term helpers for specific tasks. They need assistants or collaborators, paid by the minute, not employees paid by the year.
In the free agent nation, more and more people will have to find their own “work,” and their work will not be a “job,” but rather a serial experience of task after task for owner/boss after owner/boss. It is the curse of the technological age, the information age, that will leave ever expanding numbers of people jobless. And, thus, it will require a new set of work skills. Every person will have to be a:
• new skill-learning
• personally and perpetually marketing
• FREE AGENT!
And though Daniel Pink (who I really like) paints this bold new world as a world of freedom and possibility, there may be a fair number of people who are simply not up to this challenge.
This bold new world can be a nightmare for quite a number of folks. More from the Bennett article:
The United States Government Accountability Office has estimated that so-called contingent workers – everything from temps to day laborers to the self-employed to independent contractors – make up nearly a third of the workforce. And forecasters believe that proportion will rise. The growth is being driven partly by economic factors, with the uncertain economic climate making short-term contract workers more attractive to firms than full-time employees, but of course broader technological changes are at work as well; cellphones, PDAs and broadband make it easy to farm out work, even complex, interactive tasks that previously only made sense to do in-house.
This shift has begun to trigger a more fundamental examination of what a job is and what we expect to get from it. Despite the vast diversity of the work people do, the traditional notion of a job has tended to be a standard bundle of responsibilities, roles and benefits: We do our work for an employer to whom we owe our primary professional allegiance, and that employer pays us and provides us health insurance and a sense of professional identity. In the United States, many of the laws that shape health insurance, retirement and tax policy are structured around this model.
Tom Peters and others have been saying for quite some time that your only loyalty is to you – “Me, Inc.” Well, for a whole lot of “Me, Inc” types, the jobless recovery is painting us into a new world of ever-increasing circles of free agents.
The challenge is a big one – for each one of us, and for our country and society.
The frequent question asked of the design community is of its value to business. The query itself makes little sense. Quite simply, the role of designers has always been to translate and communicate the value of a business idea to consumers. The best designers can do far more—they can help companies connect and establish a dialogue with consumers, thus enabling firms to innovate more efficiently.
The challenge for most corporations today is about how to innovate while mitigating risk. For consumers, choices are made by balancing the need for evolution with the force of habit. Designers are trained to understand how people think and how to make things. For this reason, there are four basic areas in which design has an important role to play in value creation. For example:
Understanding the Consumer
Entrepreneurs and large companies alike invest heavily in understanding their consumers. Consumers themselves often give detailed suggestions about how to improve various offerings. Still, most products that perform as promised are rejected in the marketplace. So designers must not only synthesize functionality and aesthetics, they must understand a consumer’s thought process and emotions in order to motivate behavior change.
Note: The other three are Risk Mitigation, Boosting Marketing and Branding, and Sustainability. After discussing each of them also, Sawhney and Prshalad conclude with these observatios:
To say that design is an important part of business success does not mean that all corporate efforts to incorporate design represent money well spent. But that’s true of all business functions. The debate about the value of design is healthy and signals a need for more frequent and thoughtful dialogue. In our view, there is far more in common between design and business than may be readily apparent. Great designers, like visionary business leaders, create value by exploring without limitation through the psyche and psychology of consumers. They assemble teams of individuals who see the world through different eyes and explore what should be as opposed to what is. They show discipline in doing more with less. By combining forces, we can create new business opportunities and the pathways to manifest consumer needs, emotions, and aspirations. By so doing, we generate revenue and sustainable growth for business.
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Ravi Sawhney and Deepa Prahalad are founder and CEO and lead, global insights, of RKS Design, a design and innovation firm based in Southern California. They are co-authors of Predictable Magic (Wharton School Publishing).
Bryant: What lessons have you learned about managing people?
Docherty: One lesson was from my father. I was in my early 20s and working as a buyer in a women’s fashion company. I would talk to him about work, and he said to me: “Susan, I think you’re really bright, and I think you can do and be anything you want. But the one thing that will hold you back in your career is that you’re bossy.”
I was a little offended at the beginning, but he was dead right. Because I remember having conversations with people, after he had said that to me. I said to them, “Hey, do you think I’m bossy?” And they said to me, “Yeah, you are.”
From that moment, I knew that as a leader, the best way to counteract coming across as being bossy would be to ask others what they thought. I may have an opinion, and I may already know where I want the decision to go. But I ask my team members, “What do you think? What would you do?” I often get new insights from people who are looking at things with a fresh set of eyes.”
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To read a longer version of this interview and of several others of prominent CEOs, please visit nytimes.com/business.
For years, I have listened to interviews with Temple Grandin. (Here is a great program, with excerpts of a series of earlier interviews, conducted by Terry Gross of Fresh Air on NPR – broadcast on February 5, 2010). She has an amazing personal story. Autistic, did not speak until age four, she made it through high school, college, and two graduate degrees. She is renowned for her lectures on autism and the treatment of cattle, and for her breakthrough recommendations on the care of cattle. In fact, over 50% of slaughterhouses in the United States use designs that she created or inspired.
HBO produced a new movie about her life and career, called simply Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes. I sat transfixed as I watched it (great acting job by Claire Danes), and have not been able to get the movie out of my head.
Temple Grandin does not think, or “see,” like the “normal” among us. She thinks and sees in pictures. And this ability helped her develop her breakthrough recommendations regarding the treatment of cattle.
As I thought about the movie, I came up with ten lessons we can learn from Temple Grandin – for business success, and life success. (I know that 10 is a big number for such a list – but I could not leave any of these out). All of these I have covered in an array of business books over the last decade. But here they are, wrapped up in one remarkable human life.
1) Success requires absolute focus. When Temple Grandin takes on a task, she gives it her undivided attention with a focus that is remarkable and unwavering.
2) Success requires prolonged and intense observation. Temple Grandin truly looks at things – every-thing – with an observers eye unlike any other I have ever seen. The movie captured this with great visual images. Try to see it for this reason, if for no other.
3) Success requires a bias for action. In the movie, Temple Grandin sees something, decides to tackle it, and goes to work – right then. She acts, with speed and determination.
4) Success requires crystal clear and precise communication. The mini-speeches by Temple in this movie are captivating. Once, she was in a room of skeptical slaughterhouse executives, and she simply and throughly persuaded them that not only was her plan more humane for the cattle, but would save money. Yes, her design was more expensive – but it would actually save money. It was a great example of “to the point” communication.
5) Success requires “suck-up” skills. (phrase borrowed from Carville and Begala). Because of her autism, Temple Grandin did not understand the value of sucking up, and it did not come naturally to her. Apparently (this is assumed more than stated or demonstrated in the movie), her mother and aunt had drilled into her the value of simple, polite manners. (“My name is Temple Grandin. Pleased to meet you.” And then, right away, she would launch into her real question or message). And though she sounded impersonal in her use of such everyday politeness, she made herself do it. What a testament to the need to develop what we now call networking skills.
6) Success requires the courage to go it alone. Temple Grandin would do what she thought, what she knew, to be right – regardless of what others thought. She built her own “hugging machine,” and the movie captured the kind of courage she needed to stick to this project and then to actually use her hugging machine..
7) (But also), Success requires the help of others – you simply can not do it alone. In the movie, a teacher and an aunt, along with the amazing persistence and faith of her mother, made all the difference. And at one key moment in her college career, that high-school teacher saved the day with advice and counsel. If you have ever doubted the value of a good teacher, watch this movie!
8) Success requires genuine empathy. Temple Grandin put herself in the place of the cattle. Literally. She would crawl through cattle chutes, seeing what they saw and feeling what they felt. She saw what bothered the cattle. Apparently her first published articles were about the messages contained in the loudness of the different moos of cattle. Her empathy was astonishing.
9) Success requires a decision to (and the discipline to) keep learning. And with Temple Grandin, learning was very tangible. She needed to learn how to create drawings of cattle-care devices, so she watched a draftsman at work, bought the tools, and simply taught herself how to do such work. She is perpetually learning.
10) Success requires the ability to “keep going” in the face of ridicule and opposition. She never had it easy. “Normal” people, ridiculed her, were cruel to her, all the way though – from her school days to her days at the cattle pens. But she simply kept at it. She “self-medicated” with her “hugging machine,” and went right back out there.
I don’t believe I have ever seen a better movie about business and life success than Temple Grandin. I hope you find a way to see it.