How to grow great gardeners
The title of my review refers to what I believe is Jennifer Prosek’s key point in this book: To paraphrase, Think like a gardener and decide what you want to grow, when and where to plant it, prepare the soil, plant, and then nourish the soil and protect the garden. In the business world, the gardeners are supervisors and what they must grow is what Prosek describes as an “Army of Entrepreneurs” (AOE), high-potential leaders with an entrepreneurial temperament and worldview. Prosek offers what many of these supervisors need to develop that potential: “An easy-to-follow, replicable [key word] plan of action that can be instituted [two more key words] quickly and inexpensively.”
Organizations reflect those who lead them and that is especially true of the largest organizations, such as General Electric. Consider what Jack Welch said years ago at one of the company’s annual meetings. He responded to a question: Why do you admire entrepreneurial companies so much that you want GE to become more like one?
“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they can only do the important things. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”
In addition to the aforementioned “plan of action,” Prosek also offers anecdotes and case studies that illustrate the AOE model in real-world circumstances as well as statistics, research, and commentary from various experts in the business community. Years ago, Thomas Edison observed, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” That is why Prosek places such great emphasis on explaining or at least suggesting how to create, lead, deploy, and support an AOE. At the conclusion of each of 12 chapters, she inserts a “Six Steps Forward” section that lists what to do right after reading the material in the given chapter.
In Chapter 3, she shares her own thoughts about why big companies need entrepreneurs (i.e. to support innovation, keep in touch with customers, retain the most valued workers, move faster, and expand globally) and then recommends seven specific strategies for larger organizations (Pages 35-42). The case studies include those of Edward Jones, Emerson Electric, Ernst & Young, IBM, and Intuit. Again, the focus is on what works, what doesn’t, and why. Other material within her narrative that caught my eye include “boot camp” (Pages 59-60), conducting training “workshops” (Hunting for Business, Advanced Hunting, Intrapreneurship, Planning and Organizing, and Teaching the Business), creating a talent pipeline (six steps, Pages 83-85), measuring success (formal and informal, Pages 113-129), managing disaster (Pages 172 and 189-190), and “Ten Questions to Ponder” in Appendix A (Pages 191-192).
Throughout her lively and eloquent narrative, Jennifer Prosek skillfully invokes a variety of military metaphors as she explains how to create “an engaged and empowered workforce for exceptional business growth.” She rigorously covers each step of the process: recruiting, hiring, orientation, training, deployment, and performance measurement. There is no shortage of metaphors to call upon when describing this difficult but nonetheless essential process. I congratulate her on this brilliant achievement.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Brian Carney and Isaac Getz’s Freedom, Inc.: Free Your Employees and Let Them Lead Your Business to Higher Productivity, Profits and Growth, Erika Andersen’s Growing Great Employees, Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement, and Enterprise Architecture as Strategy co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.
The core argument is very simple: America has a problem and the world has a problem. America’s problem is that it has lost its way in recent years – partly because of 9/11 and partly because of the bad habits that we have let build up over the last three decades, bad habits that have weakened our society’s ability and willingness to take on big challenges.
The world also has a problem. It is getting hot, flat, and crowded. That is, global warming, the stunning rise of middle classes all over the world, and rapid population growth have converged in a way that could make our planet dangerously unstable. In particular, the convergence of hot, flat, and crowded is tightening energy supplies, intensifying the extinction of plants and animals, deepening energy poverty, strengthening petro-dictatorship, and accelerating climate change.
The convergence of hot, flat, and crowded has created a challenge so daunting that it is impossible to imagine a meaningful solution without America really stepping up. “We are either going to be losers or heroes — there’s no room anymore for anything in between,” says Rob Watson, CEO of EcoTech International and one of the best environmental minds in America. Yes, either we are going to rise to the level of leadership, innovation, and collaboration that is required, or everybody is going to lose – big.
Tom Friedman: Hot, Flat, and Crowded
There are signs of hope that the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant may not happen. But no guarantees.
The oil may not flow “normally” (what is normal?) in Libya anytime soon.
The rest of the Middle East seems more of a powder keg than any time in recent memory – and it’s always been just half a step away from being a powder keg.
Here’s a history lesson for us. On December, 1941, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. In July, 1941, Japan was buying 80% of its oil – look at that number again: 80%! – from the United States. Japan has no oil of its own. In August of 1941, the United States cut off the supply. And in December, Japan attacked.
(Yes, I know there were very good reasons to cut off Japan from our oil. They were a country with imperialistic ambitions, and did not play “fair” in a very volatile world. But that is the way of the world – some countries, some leaders, do not play fair).
So, Japan determined that they would find some sources of energy that could not be cut off. They wanted to aim at as much self-sufficiency as they could muster. Nuclear was the way to go. So they built nuclear energy plants – lots of them. But, as Michael Lewis warned in 1989, the “big one’ hits at an average of every 70 years in Japan – it has done so for over four centuries. This current “big one’ is the first to hit in the nuclear power age. And it is a fright… And no one believes that it will be the last “big one” to ever hit Japan.
And there may be a “big one” on our shores one of these days. To a certainty, it will come to us…
So, what do we do?
We will run out of oil. No, I don’t know when, but the experts are convinced that it will happen. Nuclear is dangerous. Coal is dirty, and too much of it is bad for the planet. And in the meantime, every teenage boy in China and India is now dreaming of his own “’57 Chevy.” (If you don’t understand this reference, then you’re too young).
So – if there has ever been a time for grown ups to go to the table, and say something like this: “we’ve got to put all of our efforts into finding a sure, clean, safe alternative” — this is the time! Nuclear; oil in Libya; coal – these are all increasingly scary sources of energy. And all of the whitewash we put on the subject will not hide the dirty, dangerous, scary reality. (“Clean coal” is only whitewash, buying us a little time, but not any real long-term solutions. “Clean coal” feels a little like “filtered cigarettes.” We know how well that worked out).
We need leaders – lots of leaders – to step up to the plate. Now.
Jimmy Carter called for it in 1979. Even George W. Bush called us to rid ourselves of addiction to oil. It really is time to act. Almost past time.
Leaders, the world awaits. Leaders, all over our seemingly ever-more-fragile planet. we wait. We need you.
• You can substitute “planet” for “Land” – “This planet is our planet…”
This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie
This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.
As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.
I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
Here is an excerpt from an article from the “Productivity@Work” series featured by Inc. magazine’s website. To read the complete article and check out other resources, please click here.
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Change is an ever-present component of business ownership.
The ability for business owners to effectively manage change lays the groundwork for growth and helps build the foundation for the development of a positive corporate culture. Unfortunately, the vast majority of business change initiatives fail—an estimated 80 percent to 85 percent, according to the authors of The New York Times best-selling book Influencer and the forthcoming Change Anything. The good news is, you can reverse those odds by focusing on a few key points in your own approach to change management.
The authors are the four cofounders of VitalSmarts, a corporate training and organizational performance consulting firm that developed a model honored by Sloan Management Review as the Change Management Approach of the Year in 2009. They claim, and their research backs it up, that companies that focus on four of six specific “influence sources” in combination increase their chances of corporate change success tenfold. The six sources of their Influencer model include:
1. Love what you hate (i.e., learn to disarm your impulses and make the right choices pleasurable).
2. Do what you can’t. Recognize the important role skills play in creating and managing change, then acquire the skills you lack.
3. Eliminate the bad habits and choices that undermine your change efforts and the people (accomplices) who abet your bad decisions.
4. Cultivate those who support your efforts to start and sustain good change habits (friends). “Eliminate a few accomplices, and add as few as two new friends to your influence strategy, and your odds of success increase as much as 40 percent,” says Joseph Grenny, cofounder and cochairman of VitalSmarts.
5. Invert the economy. “Reverse incentives by bribing yourself to change. It works,” Grenny says. “You can also reverse costs by raising the price of bad behavior.”
6. Control your space. Learn to use distance, cues, and tools in your favor to take control of your environment.
Matthew McCreight, managing partner at Schaffer Consulting, which specializes in the development and practice of organizational and cultural change, says the key to successful change management is building capacity and capability into the company’s culture and human resources. In 50 years of studying change in organizations, the firm has identified “immense hidden potential for better performance right now” in most of them, he says. “The challenge is how to tap into that resource, and how to get people growing and keep them growing.”
It is important to structure change management plans so they have short-term consequences, no matter how long-term the ultimate goal might be. “You almost have to reverse engineer it,” he says. “If your goal is to increase sales by a certain amount or cut production times by x percent 18 months from now, what do you have to accomplish by the three-month mark, by the six-month mark, etc., to get there?
The toughest thing is getting started. It’s your job as a leader of the organization to build a vision of the future, figure out how to tap the tremendous potential within your business, and then drive toward that vision.”
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To learn more about change management best practices, visit the Prosci Change Management Learning Center. Once you register—it’s free of charge—you’ll find links to a wide range of change management articles, white papers, and tutorials, all available at no cost.
Here is an article written by Jeff Haden for BNET (March 21, 2011) 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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The intersection of talent and effort is a funny place. Think about a skill you’ve tried to acquire, whether business, sports, or personal.
At first you improve at a rapid rate. Then your improvements slow down. Eventually, no matter how much effort you put in, you just don’t seem to get better.
Then you do one of two things: (1) You decide channeling your inner Mozart is impossible so you quit, or (2) You decide maybe you haven’t really worked hard enough, so you keep digging.
Most of the time we stop trying to improve because we assume our talent has taken us as far as we can go. We decide we’ll never be the Mozart of our field.
If we keep digging, we still don’t tend to improve, mainly because doing more of what got us to the level we have reached rarely results in further improvement. Think of that as my Modified Einsteinian Definition of Insanity: Doing (more and more) of the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
At some point the problem isn’t effort; the problem is how we apply that effort.
Why? Say you’re trying to improve a physical skill. Over time your skills become automatic. Automatic is a good thing, because it means you’ve internalized a skill, but automatic is also a bad thing because anything automatic is hard to adjust. The key to improvement is to find ways to adapt or modify what you already do well so you can do that even better.
We learn best from making mistakes. To improve, find ways to make mistakes:
1. Slow down. Forcing yourself to go slower breaks habits as well, and is a perfect way to uncover adaptations that weren’t apparent at normal speed.
2. Speed up. Go much faster than normal. Sure, you’ll screw up, but in the process you’ll break up old habits, adapt to new conditions, and find improvements.
3. Break a complex task into component parts. Almost every task includes discreet steps. Pick one, deconstruct it, master it… then put the whole task back together. Then choose another component part.
4. Measure differently. Pick a different measurement than you normally use to analyze performance. Measure speed instead of accuracy, for example, or use video or audio. (A friend taped four initial meetings with prospective customers and identified several bad habits he was unaware of. Watching yourself isn’t particularly fun, but it’s darned objective.)
The cliche “perfect practice makes perfect” is accurate because each time we practice perfectly we perform a task as well as we possibly can. When we try to do our best, every mistake is obvious — and then we can learn from those mistakes, adapting and modifying our techniques so we constantly, even if only incrementally, improve.
That’s where talent and effort intersect. Skill, like talent, isn’t an end result. Skill is a process.
Take Mozart. Everyone knows the musical prodigy Mozart, composing and performing by the age of six. Less well known is the Mozart who put in thousands and thousands of hours of focused practice starting at age three. His genius lay not just in talent but also in effort. Talent took him far; hard work and focused practice took him a lot farther.
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Want to know more about how to develop your own skills? Check out Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, or Matthew Syed’s Bounce.
Read a little, then practice a lot.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about management as he worked his way up the printing business from forklift driver to manager of a 250-employee book plant. Everything else he knows, he has picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs he knows in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list. He’d tell you which ones, but then he’d have to kill you.
Visit his website at: www.blackbirdinc.com.