First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Bob Morris on HR Transformation: A Book Review

HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside In
Dave Ulrich, Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nym
McGraw-Hill (2009)

In an uncommonly informative Introduction, the authors assert, “Our point is that HR professionals often focus entirely in the function of HR rather than externally on what customers and investors need HR to deliver. If HR professionals are to truly serve as business partners, then their goals must be the goals of the business. Transforming HR professionals into business partners isn’t an end in and of itself; it’s the means to a strategic, business-oriented end.” Those decision-makers who have that specific objective would be well-advised to absorb and digest the material in this book.

Written in collaboration with Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nyman, Ulrich and his RBL associates offer what they characterize as “a handbook for HR transformation” in which they synthesize and summarize everything they have learned about it. Specifically, what a transformation is and what it requires; what it isn’t; what works, what doesn’t, and why; how to plan it; how to mobilize the resources needed (especially people); how to launch it; how to measure progress throughout the transformation initiatives; and how to apply the lessons learned to sustain a constant refinement of what HR is and does to increase its impact and value.

Here is a brief excerpt from the Introduction: “Simply stated, we propose that the biggest challenge for HR professionals today is to help their respective organizations succeed.” Obviously, to accomplish this worthy objective, the authors correctly assert that there are certain factors that must be present. Here are three:

1. It is imperative that the HR professionals themselves recognize the authenticity of this challenge and not only accept but embrace it as a unique opportunity for their own development but also for what the transformation will enable their organization to accomplish.

2. It is even more important that senior managers recognize the need for the transformation and commit to its completion whatever resources that may require. They must also be patient. Change initiatives worthy of the name are messy, complicated, unpredictable, and sometimes stalled temporarily. The change agents need and deserve senior management’s full support.

3. There must be a game plan for the transformation process and I think the one that the authors provide in this book is eminently worthy of careful consideration because it is cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective. What I like about it is that it combines some of the best features of Six Sigma and Lean methodologies without limiting the options of those who select it. In fact, the authors provide invaluable advice with regard to how to modify the four-phase model to ensure that it fully accommodates the needs, interest, and objectives of the given organization.

Readers will especially appreciate the authors’ skillful use of various reader-friendly devices that include “Tools,” “Tables,” “Figures,” and dozens of checklists that facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points. In the Appendix (all by itself worth far more than the cost of the book), the authors provide (Pages 217-222) an inventory of all the tools that have been inserted throughout their narrative.

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Interview: Daniel H. Pink

Dan Pink

Pink is the author of several provocative, bestselling books about the changing world of work. His latest is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which uses 40 years of behavioral science to overturn the conventional wisdom about human motivation and offer a more effective path to high performance. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future charts the rise of right-brain thinking in modern economies and describes the six abilities individuals and organizations must master in an outsourced, automated age. A Whole New Mind is a long-running New York Times and BusinessWeek bestseller that has been translated into 21 languages. Pink’s first book, Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, was a Washington Post bestseller that Publishers Weekly says it “has become a cornerstone of employee-management relations.”

His articles on business and technology appear in many publications, including The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Wired, where he is a contributing editor. A free agent himself, Dan held his last real job in the White House, where he served from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore. He also worked as an aide to U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich and in other positions in politics and government. He received a BA, with honors, from Northwestern University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a JD from Yale Law School. To his lasting joy, he has never practiced law.

Morris: Before focusing on your books, a few general questions. First, to what extent (if any) did your association with national leaders such as Vice President Gore and Labor Secretary Robert Reich influence your thinking about the American workplace?

In those jobs, I got an incredible chance to learn a lot. For instance, I was able to visit workplaces with both of my bosses — and that gave me a great up-close view of what was going on in America. Since speechwriting is at the juncture of policy and communications, I was able to get a handle on issues like the minimum wage and workforce training and retraining and economic policy more broadly. And at the Labor Department especially, I was fortunate enough to spend my time thinking and writing about these sorts of issues, which I found fascinating.  That said, my former bosses definitely don’t agree with everything I’ve written since I went out on my own 13 years ago.

Morris: In 1924, William L. McKnight (then CEO of 3M) suggested that, “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” In my opinion, that observation seems more relevant to the workplace now than it did to the workplace 86 years ago. Do you agree?

Pink: Absolutely. McKnight was ahead of his time.

Morris: One evening long ago in Concord (MA), Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a public lecture on the principles of transcendentalism. Afterward, he responded to questions. An elderly farmer in bib overalls, hat in hand, stood up. “All that’s very interesting, sir, but how do you transcend an empty stomach?” It seems to me that at least some of the core concepts in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs remain relevant. Your own opinion?

Pink: I agree. In fact, I say several times in Drive that if people aren’t being paid enough, if they’re not being compensated adequately, if they can’t support their families, you’re not going to get any real motivation.  People do have to move past the struggle for survival before they can start fully reckoning with things like intrinsic motivation and transcend the day-to-day.  The amazing thing is that a stunning number of people — well more than at any point in human civilization — have reached this level.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read Free Agent Nation, you conclude each chapter with what you call “The Box” that consists of four components: four “The Crux,” “The Factoid,” “The Quote,” and “The Word.” What is the primary function of “The Box” and of each of the four components?

Pink: I wanted to make the book more accessible.  As much as it pains writers, some people don’t read every single word of every single page of a book. And some people don’t read books in order. For these folks, I tried to design a way for them to get the main ideas of each chapter. Likewise, sometimes when I read books, I’ll read a few chapters, set it aside for what turns out to be a few weeks, and then pick it up again. I always want a refresher course — like on television programs that begin, “On our previous episode . . . ” — to get me back into the book.

Continue reading

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Michael Schrage on how to “plagiarize your way to productivity and profit”

Michael Schrage

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Michael Schrage for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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Was it Picasso or T.S. Eliot who declared, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”? [click here]

Who cares? It’s a great quote and even better innovation heuristic [click here].

Productive plagiarism in the Internet era isn’t for the faint of heart. Technology’s accelerating power to textually, and contextually, track “who wrote what when” has digitally updated the aphorism to “Good artists borrow, great artists steal…and get caught.”

The New York Times recently posted a hilarious piece exploring the cat-and-mouse countermeasure competition between college students and faculty in calling out cheaters. The Facebook generation’s ability to sneakily transform any mobile device into a grade-enhancing weapon of class deception is truly remarkable. American undergraduates may not be able to parse sentences or calculate percents but let no one discount their proven talent at making iPods their partners in academic crime.

Watching embattled educational empires strike back, however, is enlightening. Frustrated faculty and tech-savvy teaching assistants can be as ruthlessly innovative as their incorrigible charges. Good for them. My favorite precision-guided weapon in their arsenal is iParadigm’s Turnitin plagiarism detection service. With over 13.5 billion web pages indexed, Turnitin has become the term- paper gold-standard for faculties fed up with students who believe cut-and-paste/drag-and-drop manipulation of Wikipedia and JSTOR articles constitutes real writing and research. Turnitin’s effectiveness has successfully made plagiarism so onerous, so challenging and so risky that — surprise! — “smart” cheaters now calculate they might as well do their own work. Talk about an educational revolution…

So much for Tom Lehrer’s paean to the powers of plagiarism [click here]. Indeed, Turnitin’s corporate parent takes Lehrer’s lyrical interpretation of “research” quite seriously. The Oakland, CA firm has expanded beyond the ivory towered groves of academe into businesses where the line between “boilerplate” and “borrowing” has grown vanishingly small. The firm’s offering, iThenticate, sniffs out content copying malfeasance in publishing, government, law firms, finance and other text-intensive industries. Apparently, it’s catching on. Call it IP for IP — Innovative Protection for Intellectual Property.

There’s another spin that can be put on the software and systems for plagiarism detection and intellectual property protection. Right now, the dominant effort is to deter, or catch, a thief. I think smart organizations — organizations that care about information sharing, knowledge management, and creative collaboration — should see all this as infrastructure for creating new cultures of attribution. These technologies should be more than high-tech tools to track cheaters; they should be mechanisms for showing how organizations share ideas.

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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 Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the forthcoming Getting Beyond Ideas.

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Bob Morris on MarketBusters: A Book Review

MarketBusters: 40 Strategic Moves That Drive Exceptional Business Growth
Rita McGrath and Ian McMillan
Harvard Business Press (2005)

Ignore the glitzy title and concentrate on the solid material which is provided. As the subtitle of this volume correctly indicates, McGrath and MacMillan identify and then explain “40 strategic moves that drive exceptional business growth.” Decision-makers in many organizations still do not understand that strategies resemble hammers in that they “drive” tactics which are comparable with nails. Of course, both strategies and tactics must be selected with meticulous care, then implemented effectively. The core of this book involves five strategies to create “marketbusters”: Transform the customers’ experience, transform your offerings, redefine profit drivers, exploit industry shifts, and consider entering (for you) new markets. No news there. The value of this book is derived from McGrath and MacMillan’s explanations of (a) HOW to select the strategies which are most appropriate to your organization’s current and imminent needs and (b) WHAT to do when coordinating those strategies with tactics (or “moves”) during the implementation process.

To assist that process, they provide “Preparing Yourself: Audit Your Strategy and Clarify Your Process,” a self-dianostic which poses most (if not all) of the key questions to be answered and most (if not all) of the key issues to be addressed. Of special interest to me is the provision, also, of a set of “Action Steps” at the conclusion of each chapter. With regard to the “40 Moves,” they are organized as follows, accompanied by specific examples: Numbers 1-5 which involve changing the consumption chain (pages 25-39), Numbers 6-12 which various companies have used to shift the attribute maps for their offerings and create marketbusters (pages 54-76, Numbers 13-20 which suggest potential alternatives to a current unit of business (pages 92-113), Numbers 21-32 which can help to structure (or restructure) consideration of possible industrywide shifts (pages 119-148), and Numbers 33-40 which can assist the formulation of a typology of potential opportunity types and an understanding of what achieving success with each may require (pages 156-179).

McGrath and MacMillan then provide a “MarketBuster Case Study” of Royal Insurance Italy in which they demonstrate at least some of the potentialities of the cohesive and comprehensive process previously discussed, followed by an Appendix in which all 40 “Moves” are briefly but thoughtfully reiterated. I strongly recommend to those who read this book that they re-read the Appendix at least monthly so as to be prepared to recognize whichever new growth options and opportunities may emerge since first reading this book.

When concluding this brief commentary, I presume to offer a few caveats. First, beware of what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton characterize as “The Knowing-Doing Gap” in the book which bears that title. More often than not, decision-makers fail to convert knowledge into action to achieve the desired results. In this context, I am reminded of Coach Darrell Royal’s assertion that “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” Also, expect to encounter substantial resistance to change initiatives. For example, what Jim O’Toole characterizes in his book, Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Moreover, once you have selected the most appropriate strategies, you must obtain buy-in and then maintain a steadfast commitment to them but be prepared to change tactics. Hence the importance of having an early-warning system as you rigorously measure organizational and individual performance. Finally, have a contingency plan in place so that you can respond immediately and effectively whenever new or revised tactics are required

Friday, July 16, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Andrew Winston’s “new tool for understanding sustainability drivers”

Andrew Winston

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Andrew Winston for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

I normally write about companies navigating their way toward sustainability, covering topics such as how to save money or drive green innovation. But I like to step back periodically and look at why companies need to go green. Besides the inherent business logic of creating value by getting leaner or innovating to solve customer problems, what are the forces propelling this movement? Understanding this explicitly can help companies think about solutions systematically.

I’ve developed a new tool to help myself, and I hope others, think about these forces in a way that helps drive strategy — and I’d like to get your feedback. The Sustainability Forces Wheel (see chart below) is an attempt to capture what I see as three big buckets of interrelated forces.

Along the outside run the big sustainability challenges we face as a species — these are the issues that society increasingly expects business to deal with and help find solutions for. They include climate, water, biodiversity, waste, and chemicals on the environmental side. On the social side, which could include a limitless list, I’ve boiled it down to the challenges of social equity, labor (both developing skills around the world and avoiding forced or child labor), and freedom (to associate, for example).

These issues affect companies directly of course, but importantly they also pass through a prism of magnifiers. These are the tectonic shifts in how the world works (think Thomas Friedman’s ideas in The World is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded.) I’m including here three biggies:

•    Technology and the transparency it enables

•    Resource constraints, driven in large part by the rise of the consumer around the world

•    Globalization, which creates new forms of competition and forces companies to incorporate different cultures and mores into operations and strategy.

In the third wheel I’ve placed key stakeholders that pose questions about a company’s social and environmental performance. These people put a face on the larger forces and concerns. Of the long list of possible stakeholders, I highlight four here:

1. Governments at all levels and the regulations and pressure they apply

2. Business customers that are greening their supply chains

3. Employees who want more than a paycheck and expect to match their values to their employer’s

4. Consumers who want it all — sustainable products at the same price and quality

The way I picture using this framework is to “spin” the wheels and match up the forces. In this way, executives can think through what the combinations mean for an industry or company.

Follow Andrew on Twitter at @GreenAdvantage.

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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 Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

Andrew Winston is the co-author of the best-seller Green to Gold and the author of Green Recovery. He advises some of the world’s biggest companies on environmental strategy.

Friday, July 16, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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