Cheryl offers: Last week SMU Executive Education hosted the introductory session for their new women’s program, Women in Motion. The session was attended by high level women in consulting, telecommunications, IT sales, accounting, law and others. The title of the session was a reference to the book, Through the Labyrinth, by Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli. The activities were clearly linked to the book; I know, I’ve read it. The reference to the labyrinth certainly seems a lot more plausible today than the old glass ceiling. The idea of a labyrinth has been around since ancient mythology and conveys the idea of a complex journey with a goal worth achieving. As Eagly and Carli point out “Passage through a labyrinth is not simple or direct, but requires persistence, awareness of one’s progress, and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead.” This seems to be much more the case for women contemplating successful careers today in any field, private or public, corporate or entrepreneurial. The really attractive part of referring to a woman’s career success as a labyrinth to me is the fact that a labyrinth offers the true possibility of success, whereas the old glass ceiling seemed to indicate being trapped forever hungering for a world that can only be seen, never acquired. We’ve come a long way baby!
As I read the Introduction to this book, I was reminded of two observations by Peter Drucker and one by Michael Porter. First Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all” and “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” Now Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. ” Especially given the current and imminent global economy, it is imperative for business leaders to keep these observations in mind when deciding what to do…and what not to do. This is what Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer seem to have in mind when asserting that “if you want to succeed in an age of ever-increasing complexity, you have to establish clear vision, set strategy, and build alignment. Then you need to systematically orchestrate right fights – and fight them right.”
They recommend six “Right Fight Principles” to guide and inform decisions made and devote a separate chapter to each – explaining HOW to apply the principles by citing real-world examples — in Parts Two and Three, once they have established (in Part One) a context, a frame-of-reference, for them by explaining how and why leaders “must introduce and manage right fights to achieve their strategic objectives. More specifically, to create breakthrough performance, meaningful innovation, and lasting values” and to “use tension for maximum benefits” while recognizing (“decoding”) and then avoiding “all kinds of wrong fights.” Then in Part Four, they provide tests for identifying and leading right fights as well as an “eye-opening” assessment tool for teams, “The Reverse Fishbowl.”
It may seem simplistic to affirm the importance of “fighting” what should be fought and “fighting” it right but, in fact, there are several important issues to consider once a decision has been made to engage in “battle.” For example, terms of engagement such as when and where, allocation of resources, and contingency planning (with or without use of scenaria). Even when in full compliance with the “Right Fight Principles” that Joni and Beyer advocate, preparations for any significant engagement must be flexible, taking into full account whatever adjustments may need to be made. While serving as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), General Dwight Eisenhower is reported to have observed, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
Credit Joni and Beyer with providing a wealth of evidence-driven insights and sound counsel that can be of substantial value to decision-makers in organizations that now struggle to increase and improve performance, innovation, and value. It would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply all of their suggestions and recommendations. Rather, each reader must read and then re-read this book with great care, then select whatever material is most appropriate to her needs and interests, and, to achieving the strategic objectives of her or his organization. That said, I do presume to suggest that the six “Right Fight Principles” are eminently suitable for guiding and informing efforts to overcome the inevitable challenges, and resolve the inevitable complications during the process of planning and then implementing the initiatives to achieve those objectives.
Although I have not as yet found anything specific in Joseph Schumpeter’s books and articles that says so, I assume he realized that creative tension is a prerequisite to creative destruction. The right fights that must be fought internally cannot be fought right without clarity, courage, and candor within a culture of transparency. Only then can the right external fights be fought right…and won.
Ron Ashkenas responds to that question in an article written for the Harvard Business blog. Here is an excerpt.
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Have you ever noticed that organizations are great at creating controls and policies to prevent incidents that have already happened? Once the proverbial cow escapes the barn, they adeptly make sure it won’t happen again by, say, authorizing only certain people to man the exit and constructing barn-door status reports.
While this kind of organizational response does indeed prevent the recurrence of the exact same negative instance (they won’t lose the same cow in the same way again), the accumulation of these “reactive” controls often creates complexity, confusion, and unnecessary cost. Even worse, the new controls usually don’t prevent future incidents of a different kind from occurring.
To be better prepared, organizations should periodically step back and check their operations for these common problems arising from after-the-fact solutions:
[Note: Here is the first of three that Ashkenas discusses.]
1. Static controls for dynamic issues. Anyone who has flown lately — particularly on flights to the United States — has seen the continued accretion of security controls at the airports and on the planes. For example, upon returning to the U.S. from Canada recently, I went through three newly created screenings in three different staging areas. The TSA created these procedures — along with previous ones such as fortifying cockpit doors and not allowing carry-on liquids — to prevent repeats of past attacks, and so far they have worked. However, the continued accumulation of more and more security procedures is not sustainable — and does nothing to prevent new and different attacks. At some point the various security services, along with technology experts and the airlines, will need to come together to develop more preventative, proactive, and streamlined security controls. The only other alternative will be to have nobody fly.
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Every organization has control procedures and policies, many of them created after the fact with the perfectly logical intention of preventing problems from happening again. But unless you periodically step back and assess the cost and benefit of these procedures, you run the danger of creating more complexity than competitive advantage.
So take a look at your organization’s controls. Could they benefit from an update?
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ron Ashkenas is a managing partner of Robert H. Schaffer & Associates and a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective.
By the way, two of the most popular quotations displayed on tee shirts and sweatshirts are “I know something that you don’t know,” one that always starts a conversation, and, “Laughter: The shortest distance between two people.” In the business category, the “big one” is “Failure is impossible.”
Bryant: What do you like about being CEO?
Eggers: Well, let me tell you what I hate about it first, because it’s more surprising. It is a very lonely job. You’re constantly in between a board and an entire company. I think that’s the thing that brings most C.E.O.s to their knees. You feel very alone. There are times when I’m sitting in the office in Leipzig at 10 P.M., and I’m saying to myself, “I don’t even know who I could call about this issue.” I feel alone and frustrated and tired. And I get that, and I’m O.K. with it. I know it’s coming, and I expect it. It’d all a series of ups and downs.
But what I love about it, why I do it, is that I really enjoy getting teams to do things they didn’t think they could do. I like the team thing. That’s what I get excited about. And when I see them proud of themselves, that’s really cool, because that means that we got them there faster than they thought they could get there, or we got them there better than they thought they could get there. That’s exciting!
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To read the complete interview and other interviews of executives, please visit nytimes.com/corneroffice.