In Selling to the C-Suite, Nicholas Read and Steven Bistritz explain that “people build influence by first acclimating to the prevailing belief system of how things should work (the company’s philosophy) and working within the rules (the company’s policies“) and I agree.
For example, a former executive of Telecom New Zealand who was given the task of driving business transformation in a company that was resistant to change recalls:
“You can’t afford to scare the horses, or they’ll bolt and you’ll never catch them. Even though you’re the only white horse in the herd, you must throw a blanket on that makes you look like a brown horse, and get close to all the other brown horses so that they get to know you. Over time, you can let the blanket drop a little until they see that you’re a white horse. But by then you’ve eaten the same hay and galloped in the same fields long enough that the horses have learned to trust you as one of their own. And of course, when the right horses neigh in your favor, the rest of the herd follows.”
He first operated within the philosophy and policies of his company, created value, built a track record, and developed his network with various stakeholders so that he could drive change that would be supported.
(let’s call this a lesson in business focus).
No, I don’t know the future of the book business, (or the restaurant business, or the car business — or any business, for that matter.). I don’t know if physical books will survive in the e-books era. I don’t know if people will be able to read anything much longer than a Tweet or a text message in years to come.
But in reading about the fall of Border’s (it may be nearing the end…), I was reminded of a story told by David Halberstam years ago.
First, Borders. In What Went Wrong at Borders by Peter Osnos at the Atlantic site (read it here), Mr. Osnos closes with this:
Len Riggio, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and the successful independent proprietors, whatever their other business virtues and flaws, really have a deep attachment to books and the people who read them. But when Borders expanded, they brought in executives from supermarkets and department stores (all of whom insisted they were readers), and the result was a shuffle of titles and more downsizing against a backdrop of financial engineering, which only seemed to make matters worse. Ultimately, a successful bookstore, on any scale, depends on a specific understanding of how to make the most of the outpouring of books and the digital transformation that will attract readers. Whatever else Borders does in the months ahead, it needs to recover its belief that real book-selling is an art (with all the peculiarities that entails), as well as a viable business.
It’s such a subtle point, yet so clear – it simply seems like really obvious common sense. If you want to succeed in the book business, it might help if you love books. A supermarket and department store expert may know a lot about a lot of other stuff, including management and sales – but he/she may not love books.
I confess — I think I would love working in a book store. I would walk the aisles during my breaks, and always spend every available dollar buying as many books as I could afford (and probably quite a few I could not afford). Walking up and down the aisles of supermarkets or department stores just does not have the same allure to this book lover (although, I might like to sample a whole lot of Häagen-Dazs – better keep me away from there!)
Now to the Halberstam story (Told from memory – I heard it in an interview from somewhere long forgotten). Years ago, he told of a time when Walter Mondale, while Ambassador to Japan, toured the largest steel plant in Japan. After a while, he asked his host’s opinion of (now dissolved) Bethlehem Steel. After 30 minutes of very careful Japanese politeness (“father of the industry; great company; great legacy…”), his host finally asked “why is Bethlehem Steel buying banks?’ It was then that Mondale realized that the steel makers in Japan loved steel. Whereas in America, the steel makers loved money. And in the steel business, the steel lover has a definite advantage over the money lover.
I don’t know who the last physical book seller will be. But I think I know this – whoever it is will love such books to the end, and he or she will hate to see the books go every bit as much as he/she hates to see the job end.
I hope you love what you do.
Here is an article written by Kimberly Weisul for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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With two women named to the Supreme Court this year, it is tempting to predict that the glass ceiling–that invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the top–is finally gone. But new research suggests it has been replaced by a “glass cliff” – for men, too.
That’s what Victoria Brescoll, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, calls the precarious territory occupied by individuals whose occupation runs counter to gender stereotypes–female police chiefs, say, or male nurses. One misstep, her study found, could be enough to get you sacked. “You don’t really know, when you’re a woman in a high-status leadership job [or a man in a non-traditional leadership job], how long you’re going to hang onto” that position, Brescoll says.
Working with Erica Dawson, also of Yale, and Eric Luis Uhlmann, of HEC Paris-School of Management, Brescoll studied how both men and women in jobs traditionally associated with the other gender were judged when they made mistakes. About 200 volunteers read two scenarios in which the high-status leader made a mistake. The scenarios were exactly the same–the person failed to send in enough police during a protest–except that in the first scenario, it involved a male police chief and female president of a women’s college. And in the other, it was a female police chief and male president of a women’s college. The volunteers were then asked their opinions of the police chief and college president.
The findings had both good and bad news.
1. Men and women are viewed the same, whether in traditional or non-traditional roles, as long as they don’t make any mistakes. The researchers found no difference in how volunteers viewed the college president and police chief, before the hypothetical protest. That’s the good news.
2. But, if you’re in a non-traditional role, making just one mistake can derail your career. “Any mistakes that they make, even minor ones, can be magnified,” says Brescoll. In the study, the volunteers viewed the female police chief and male president of a women’s college as less competent and less deserving of high status after the “protest.”
Brescoll says that even though minorities and women have made significant, high-visibility progress lately, her research shows that those gains are more fragile, and more likely to be undermined by bias. Brescoll and Uhlmann also jointly authored a well-known study on gender and anger in the workplace, showing that women who get visibly angry in the workplace are viewed as incompetent and unworthy of status or power, but men who get angry in the workplace are rewarded.
In their latest study, Brescoll notes, it took only one mistake for the perceived status and competence of the female police chief or the male president of a women’s college to plummet–what she calls falling off the “glass cliff.”
Do you think individuals in roles that go against gender expectations are as vulnerable as Brescoll found? What has been your personal experience?
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Kimberly Weisul is editor of BusinessWeek, SmallBiz, the quarterly publication launched in June, 2004. In addition, she is the Small Business editor for BusinessWeek. Prior to this position, Weisul was department editor for the UpFront section of BusinessWeek. Under Weisul’s leadership, SmallBiz won the 2005 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Startup Publication and received a Silver Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors in the same category. In 2006, SmallBiz won a Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Single Issue. Before BusinessWeek, Weisul was business editor at Interactive Week. She graduated from Brown University with honors.
which of my activities steal my energy without return?, and other terrific questions from the shibumi strategy
Shibumi: Elegant simplicity, effortless effectiveness, understated beauty…
Elton Trueblood believed that life is best understood when looked at in chapters. This is but one of many frameworks that I have come across over the years. In the book the shibumi strategy: a powerful way to create MEANINGFUL CHANGE by matthew may (I tried to “recreate” the design of the cover: all but the end of the book title, and the author’s name, are printed in lower case on the cover) proposed this: life can be looked at as the life-long pursuit of answers to questions. And since this is true, getting and knowing the right/best questions is really important.
In the back of his wonderful book, he asks a few pages worth of such questions. They are all worth pondering. Here are a few that jumped out at me:
• What is the reality of my situation – dangers and opportunities?
• What are my plans and strategies for meeting my objectives.
• Which of my activities steal my energy without return?
• What can I eliminate, reduce, or subtract to make more room for what matters most?
• What can I leave unfinished without loss of impact?
• What can I do to take a physical or mental break from what I’m struggling with?
• Who am I helping to succeed? What do they need most from me?
These questions are worth a little (or a lot) of our thought time. I suspect that there are many others. And a good place to start is with the list at the end of the shibumi strategy.
You can read the review of this book by Bob Morris on our blog here.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Greg Lavery and Chris Manning for strategy+business magazine (December 13, 2010). To read the complete article and check out other online resources, please click here.
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To create growth in uncertain times, use this disciplined and market-focused methodology. It can help you discover and distill attractive new ideas and build a business case for implementing the best of them.
After several years of survival mode for many companies, growth is back on the agenda. But the requirements for success have changed. In today’s conditions — uncertain recovery, limited capital, and many new competitors — companies must find new ways to grow.
There’s no going back to the growth ideas that were bouncing around the organization before the global financial crisis. Executives need a robust framework to help them rapidly develop a long list of opportunities and then choose the very best ideas from it. The process must be comprehensive, efficient, rigorous, collaborative, and focused on “market-back” opportunities designed to meet customers’ needs. And it must be bold — the company must resist the temptation to do what has been done in the past.
Booz & Company has created a methodology for this, based on five lenses used for evaluating growth strategies. The five lenses — share of wallet, new regulations, technology and applications, distinctive capabilities, and business models — represent discrete and complementary ways to find and judge unconventional and unseen ideas. This approach has already been used successfully by companies in many industries and geographies.
A Process for Thinking Big and Bold
Too often, companies fail to imagine and fully explore all the potential options available to them, because they have been so intently focused on existing businesses and customers. They rely on conventional growth strategies such as mergers and acquisitions, geographic expansion, competitive pricing, and product or service line extensions. Although all these growth paths are well trodden, they also have limitations. For example, none of them are attractive when capital markets are tight and consumer demand is weak. But there are many new avenues for transformational growth that could be far more lucrative than the current strategies and that could be achieved with reasonable effort.
In seeking these avenues for growth, it pays to think big and bold. Consider how many of the largest, most iconic companies in the world — old and new — achieved their greatest growth when they entered and conquered totally new markets. For example, the Nokia Corporation, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones, started out in the 1880s as a manufacturer of cables, paper, and rubber tires. It was only when Nokia began separating from its roots as an industrial conglomerate to focus on electronics, and eventually telecom, that growth took off.
The Toyota Motor Corporation started out in the textile business making threads and looms. In the 1930s, Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder’s son, then head of Toyoda Loom Works, decided to branch into automobiles, which was considered a risky business at the time. American Express Company was an express mail company before it moved into financial services. Before Nintendo Company grew into a global powerhouse in digital games, it made playing cards and ran a chain of hotels for Japanese and other Asian markets.
These examples are not meant to suggest that wild leaps into new businesses and markets are right all the time and for all companies. For every Nokia, American Express, Toyota, or Nintendo, there are scores of companies that failed to achieve their new growth aspirations. Failure can often be traced back to the ad hoc processes with which many companies determine their growth strategy. When the search for new growth ideas is too unfocused, the best opportunities do not surface, and valuable time and resources are wasted. An unfocused process can also fail to take into account a company’s existing capabilities and assets. The result is a lack of coherence: ideas that require investment in capabilities that fit well with only one part of the company’s portfolio. This can hobble a company, especially if its competitors are more coherent. An ad hoc process can lead companies to implement new ideas based on flawed or overly aggressive assumptions. It can enable executives to revive old ideas that, for good reason, never had support in the first place.
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Greg Lavery is a Booz & Company principal based in London. He is a member of the strategy practice and has helped a wide variety of companies develop and implement growth and profit improvement strategies. He is also a member of Booz & Company’s low carbon and sustainability team.
Chris Manning is a Booz & Company partner in Sydney. He leads the firm’s strategy practice in the region and specializes in developing innovative growth strategies designed to deliver sustainable competitive advantage for clients.
Here is an article written by Mike Prokopeak for Talent Management magazine (January 2011). To check out other resources and/or sign up for a free subscription to one or both magazines published by MediaTec, (Talent Management and Chief Learning Officer), please click here.
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In a time of high labor supply, with U.S. unemployment hovering at more than 9 percent, it stands to reason that it would be relatively easy and cheap for organizations to find needed labor. As many hiring managers will tell you, that’s not the case.
Supply is plentiful, but organizations still struggle to find skilled workers. According to senior talent executives surveyed by Talent Management magazine and HCM Advisory Group, a majority (79 percent) report difficulty finding qualified employees for high-skill and technical positions.
It’s not just recruiters and talent managers who have noticed the problem. Only 17 percent of COOs at high-tech companies said they were well-positioned to attract and retain talent, according to a December 2010 study conducted by Accenture. Despite the flood of supply in mature markets such as the United States and in emerging ones like China, critical talent remains a valuable commodity. In fact, the high number of candidates makes talent acquisition more difficult as recruitment departments sift through mountains of resumes and data to find the right candidates for job openings.
“Having the right talent is going to be pivotal and fundamental to design and develop customer solutions [and] to have distinctive offerings that will set them apart competitively in the markets,” said Hans Von Lewinski, managing director with Accenture’s Asia Pacific electronics and high-tech industry group and leader of the study.
The problem is particularly acute in China, where labor is plentiful but experienced workers with English language skills remain in short supply. “As soon as you start getting into slightly more experienced managerial ranks — by that I mean five years plus — you suddenly run into a real crunch because everybody is after the same people,” Von Lewinski said.
This apparent conundrum — high supply paired with high demand — lies at the heart of the challenge facing recruiters this year. It’s only the first of them. With hiring widely expected to pick up in 2011, recruiters will face heightened demand for their services. At the same time, skittish bosses remain hesitant to turn on the tap and give talent managers the go-ahead to find those workers.
On top of that, talent acquisition itself has become a more complex process. Social networking technology has changed the landscape for sourcing talent, opening up new avenues but also creating new challenges. Given continued business volatility and uncertainty, bosses are also asking for more sophisticated measurement and meaningful analytics, challenging many recruiters to rethink their approaches.
The only real certainty: Recruiters, be prepared. It’s going to be an interesting year.
Job Market Growth and Churn: With workforce productivity peaking, many organizations will be forced to hire to sustain growth in the coming quarters. The good news is that stock markets are broadly up, corporate profits are surging and many organizations have built a substantial war chest to fund that growth.
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