First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Why the U.S. Must Invest in Its Most Effective Teachers

Michelle H. Rhee

McKinsey & Company and The Atlantic magazine are co-sponsors of an especially important series of responses to this question: “What’s the single best idea to jumpstart job creation?”

Here is Michelle H. Rhee‘s response. She is Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools

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Americans are currently engaging in a spirited debate over how to improve our schools. I believe this national conversation will lead to solutions to the problems plaguing US education. We can accept nothing less. If we don’t teach our children critical skills, how can we expect them to create and land jobs in the twenty-first century and beyond?

There is no single policy that, on its own, will fix all the problems in our public schools. But if I had to pick one step to improve student learning, it would be to invest in our teachers. Research shows the most important factor affecting student achievement is teacher quality. Parents know this. Moms and dads I know will do whatever it takes to get their kids into the best teacher’s class.

Having a highly effective teacher several years in a row can literally change a child’s life trajectory. Similarly, being stuck in ineffective classrooms for consecutive years can have devastating consequences. Knowing that, we have to rethink how we evaluate, train, reward, and retain our teachers.

First, we need to put in place fair and rigorous teacher evaluation systems. In most districts, teachers are evaluated maybe once a year, and they rarely get the feedback they need. Typically, there is no link between a teacher’s evaluation and their success in helping children make strides. That doesn’t make any sense. Teachers should be observed throughout the year, and great teachers should be asked to serve as role models and mentors. Similarly, educators who need help should get it.

When success is demonstrated, we should reward excellence. Currently, our teachers are paid in lockstep, receiving small salary increases for time served or other measures that are not necessarily linked to student success. Instead, great teachers should be better compensated and should be afforded new career and leadership opportunities. When ineffective teachers fail to improve, administrators must have the power to move them out of schools.

We also have to make sure we retain our most effective teachers. We can’t allow them to continue to fall victim to policies that emphasize length of service over the quality of work. For example, we have to stop using seniority as the determining factor in teacher layoff decisions during tight economic times. Instead, we should make these difficult decisions based on job performance.

Ensuring students have effective teachers in front of them every day will go a long way toward putting our kids on a path to success in college and in their careers. Anything less shortchanges our kids and shortchanges our country.

To read the other responses and follow the debate, please click here.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A fine-grained view of the sources of growth

In this especially lively as well as informative video, the authors of The Granularity of Growth explain why the best strategies begin with a precise understanding of market and product opportunities.

Companies need to look beyond averages when making decisions about when and where to compete. McKinsey’s Sven Smit and S. Patrick Viguerie, along with Alchemy Growth Partners’ Mehrdad Baghai, discuss “the granularity of growth.”

To watch this turbocharged conversation, please click here.

You may also wish to check out their book, The Granularity of Growth: How to Identify the Sources of Growth and Drive Enduring Company Performance, published by John S. Wiley (2008)

Mehrdad Baghai is the co-author with James Quigley of a more recent book, As One, published by Portfolio/Penguin Group (2011).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time

Nilofer Merchant

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Nilofer Merchant for the Harvard Business Review blog series, “The Conversation.” To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

Trust, fights, and child care. When I’m advising start-up teams nowadays, I ask a lot of questions around those three areas. Which makes it sounds more like a marriage counselor’s office, rather than a boardroom, right?

Quite often, the teams I’m talking with think culture is some woo-woo stuff that doesn’t make any difference in the end, or even if they think it does matter, they have an excruciatingly hard time describing what theirs is.

Which begs the question: does culture matter?

Culture’s all that invisible stuff that glues organizations together, as David Caldwell, my management professor at Santa Clara University, taught me many years ago. It includes things like norms of purpose, values, approach — the stuff that’s hard to codify, hard to evaluate, and certainly hard to measure and therefore manage. Many other experts, such as Senge and Kotter have certainly added to that understanding with complex and nuanced constructs, but Caldwell’s invisible glue comment holds a truth.

This “invisibility” causes many managers to treat culture as a soft topic, but it’s the stuff that determines how we get things done. For example:

Do We Trust Each Other? A team I was recently working with reminded me of 6-year-olds playing soccer, where every team member simply surrounds the issue much like a team of kids surrounds the ball.

They then travel en masse, afraid to move away from the proverbial “ball.” In this culture, no one owns a position on the field. This “we’re all in it together” cultural norm is certainly egalitarian, but it doesn’t support specialization, scale, or accountability. I worry that as this team grows, and when they’re not all in the same room, they will fail. When they are huddling, what they are signaling is that they don’t know how to trust one another to do their unique part. They — like many teams — simply don’t know how to “let go” to and with others, thus risking their ability to scale results.

Disagreements Mean What? We all know that we want the best ideas to triumph for the best innovations to take place, but sometimes we act as if that only applies when the idea is our idea. Two members of a team were recently disagreeing vehemently on something. Both had facts that backed up their point of view. Both were fighting for the benefit of the company. Each believed they were “in the right” and wanted the CEO to simply pick the winner, making the losing party wrong and mostly likely, gone. How we handle disagreements and dissent are also part of culture. When teams don’t know how to handle disagreement, molehill issues can become do-or-die mountains, or, conversely, passive-aggressiveness insinuates itself as a mechanism to avoid overt disagreements at all costs.

Who Cares About the Baby? A team that is part of a 50,000+ organization recently described an issue where one team does their best right up to a handoff milestone, then relinquishes any part of the project’s ultimate success. They described their discomfort with this using a baby analogy. “Will you take care of my [baby] the same way I would, knowing our shared goal is to [get this kid to a good college]?” When the “baby” or in this case, business performance isn’t co-owned by everyone, things can easily fall through the cracks.

And truth be told, that’s where most business problems happen in our high velocity world; between the cracks of divisions or silos or the “white space” no one owns.

How we get things done drives performance. These issues of trust, conflict resolution, and co-ownership are foundational for how a team gets work done. Culture is the set of habits that allows a group of people to cooperate by assumption rather than by negotiation. Based on that definition, culture is not what we say, but what we do without asking. A healthy culture allows us to produce something with each other, not in spite of each other. That is how a group of people generates something much bigger than the sum of the individuals involved. If we only get 2+5+10 = 17, we haven’t gotten any benefit of leverage. What we are looking for is 2*5*10 = 100, delivering an explosive return on effort. Culture is the domain that enables or obstructs a velocity of function. By addressing where an organization is limiting its velocity, you can accelerate the engine that fuels innovation and growth, and, ultimately, financial numbers.

Stephen Sadove, chairman and chief executive of Saks, agrees that culture drives numbers: “Culture drives innovation and whatever else you are trying to accomplish within a company — innovation, execution, whatever it’s going to be. And that then drives results,” he said in a New York Times interview.

“When I talk to Wall Street, people really want to know your results, what are your strategies, what are the issues, what it is that you’re doing to drive your business. Never do you get people asking about the culture, about leadership, about the people in the organization. Yet it’s the reverse, because it’s the people, the leadership, and the ideas that are ultimately driving the numbers and the results.”

Because we can see the outward manifestations of work performance like products shipped, revenues booked, and earnings-per-share, we can discuss them in analysts calls and at management meetings. We can barely see and surely can’t measure the cultural aspect of what makes great products, revenues or earnings per share. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be decoded.

After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time. The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail. Conversely, a culturally robust team can turn a so-so strategy into a winner. The “how” matters in how we get performance. Yes, it does.

*     *     *

Nilofer Merchant is a corporate advisor and speaker on innovation methods. Her book, The New How, discussing collaborative ways to have your whole company strategize, was published in 2010. Follow her on Twitter @nilofer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harvard Business Review on Collaborating Effectively: A book review by Bob Morris

Harvard Business Review on Collaborating Effectively
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (2011)

How and why to establish and then nourish mutually high-impact partnerships within and beyond your organization

This is one of the volumes in a series of anthologies of articles that first appeared in HBR. In this instance, its nine articles focus on one or more components of a process by which to join forces to answer the most important questions and to solve the toughest problems.

Having read all of the articles when they were published individually, I can personally attest to the brilliance of their authors’ (or co-authors’) insights and the eloquence with which they are expressed. Two substantial value-added benefits should also be noted: If all of the articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be at least $60-75; they are now conveniently bound in a single volume for a fraction of that cost.

Here in Dallas, there is a Farmers Market near the down area at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now provide a brief excerpt that is indicative of the high quality of all nine articles:

In “Which Kind of Collaboration Us Right for You?” Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti acknowledge that, as potential innovation partners and ways to collaborate with them proliferate, it’s tough deciding how best to leverage outsiders’ power.” Pisano and Verganti recommend understanding the four basic collaboration modes:

• In the open, hierarchical mode, anyone can offer ideas but your company defines the problem and chooses the solution.

• In the open, flat mode, anyone can solicit and offer ideas, and no single participant has the authority to decide what is or isn’t a valid innovation.

• In the closed, hierarchical mode, your company selects certain participants and decides which ideas get developed.

• In the closed, flat mode, a select group is invited to offer ideas. But participants share information and intellectual property and make critical decisions together.

Other articles I especially enjoyed include Morten T. Hansen’s “When Collaboration is Bad for Your Company,” Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson’s “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams,” Roger Martin’s “The Execution Trap,” and Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis’ “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership.”

If asked to select only one book that provides the most valuable material to supplement what is offered in this volume, it would be Hansen’s Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, published by Harvard Business School Press (2009). In it, Hansen explains why “bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.” Here are two of several reasons. First, bad collaboration never achieves “big results”; worse yet, bad collaboration makes good collaboration even more difficult to plan and then achieve. Hansen explains how to create a culture of collaboration while accelerating the development of high-impact teams.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Even Highly Engaged Workers Are a Flight-Risk

Here is an article written by Mike Prokopeak for Talent Management magazine. To check out all the resources and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.

*     *     *

Just because employees are highly engaged doesn’t mean they’re going to stick around. And managing to your engagement survey results isn’t likely to fix the problem.

The reality is a company can have successful employee engagement programs in place and still lose half its employees the next year, said Elizabeth Craig, research fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance.

According to Accenture research detailed in a June 2011 report, “What Executives Really Need to Know About Employee Engagement,”43 percent of highly engaged workers have weak or lukewarm intentions to stay with their employers.

Despite that, many executives still tend to equate high engagement with increased retention and implement policies and initiatives in response to survey results that fail to deliver the promised retention boost.

“The problem with that view is that it takes a very short-term focus on delivering the engagement numbers,” Craig said. “They’re managing to that without fully examining or understanding the fundamental conditions in an organization that allow or encourage employees to engage.”

The Problem With Engagement Surveys

The typical engagement survey gauges employees’ experience at work — their relationship with their boss and co-workers and whether or not they find the job interesting. That type of measurement accurately describes what an employee’s work situation is like, but fails to assess his or her behavior and attitude toward work, Craig said.

“This is how much effort you put in, how excited or enthusiastic you are about what you’re doing and how focused you are on the work,” she said. “When people invest their personal energy in their company and their success, we call them engaged.”

The June report, based on a survey of 1,300 employees in U.S. companies, analyzed that engagement and intention to stay separately to identify the characteristics of high-engagement, high-retention workplaces.

“It’s really not about bumping up compensation,” Craig said. “You need to attend to the culture in the organization — is it a place where they feel like they are supported? Do they feel like they can take risks and they won’t be punished for that? Do they feel like they can count on their colleagues? It’s that deep culture that matters more than executives appreciate.”

Linking Engagement to Retention

The report details three employee beliefs that are important for sustained engagement:

1. I’m making a difference: Employees believe the work they are doing is important.
2. We’re in this together: Everyone is doing their part.
3. My company has my back: There is a culture of trust and respect.

To help employees see that they are making a difference, Craig said companies should focus on creating real meaning, not just mission statements. Motivating jobs that offer variety and opportunity to exert influence, good relationships with colleagues and a compelling future at the company are catalysts to create that meaning, she said.

Companies should also set reasonable expectations and actively balance effort and recovery to help employees see that everyone is doing their part.

“In order for people to invest their energy in their work and the company’s success, they need to be able to … restore their energy stock and to recover from major investments,” Craig said.

A culture of trust and respect is the factor that really matters for holding on to highly engaged employees, Craig said. Employees need a safe work environment where they feel like they have manager support and can take risks; they also need dependable co-workers. According to the survey, 74 percent of highly engaged employees say they can trust and count on their colleagues; 73 percent who did said they have a high intention to stay.

It’s important for talent managers to understand the basics of sustained engagement and help executives understand them, too.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to build trust and increase transparency that create the kind of environment that highly engaged people want to be a part of,” she said.

*     *     *

Mike Prokopeak is editorial director for Talent Management magazine.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gabler Asks Where Did the Ideas Go?

The August 13 edition of the New York Times included an informative article by Neal Gabler entitled “The Elusive Big Idea.”  Gabler is the author of a book about Walt Disney and a senior fellow at the Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California.

His thesis in the article is that we are drowning in information, with neither the time, nor the desire to process it.

Think about this for a moment.  Just 15 years ago, you would not be doing what you are doing right now – reading a blog.  There were no blogs.  Your phone would not beep when a new development in the news occurred.  Everyone has knowledge to share, and everyone has the capability to access it.  But, in what ways are you processing, implementing, or transforming what you know?

As a result of all this access to knowledge, your big idea is easily lost.  As Gabler says, “If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forbears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did.  In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world – a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t be instantly monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are diseeminating them, the Internet notwithstanding.  Bold ideas are almost passe.”

He goes on to say that in the past, “we collected information not simply to know things.  That was only the beginning.  We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful…[now] we prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value.  It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort.  Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward.  Few talk ideas.  Everyone talks information.”

And much of that information is personal – where you are going, what you are doing, who are you meeting with, and so forth.  The early days of Twitter popularized this  method of sharing personal knowledge. 

The problem is that we now have fewer thinkers, and fewer people who transform the way we think and live.   We have no shortage of information.  We know more than we ever have before.  The question is what are we doing with it?

Gabler’s article suggests that we won’t be thinking about what we know.  “What the future portends is more and more information – everests of it.  There won’t be anything we won’t know.  But there will be no one thinking about it.”

So, he ends by saying, “think about that.” 

I don’t believe many people will think about it.  They will just turn to the next blog entry, the next page, the next news channel, and so forth, filling themselves with short-term knowledge.

What do you think?  Let’s talk about this really soon!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just One Thing at a Time” – More on the Myth of Multitasking (reflecting on Cathy Davidson, Now You See It)

Cathy Davidson loves, loves, loves everything digital.  “She likes anything that departs from the customary way of doing things, especially the customary way of educating children.”  Her new book is Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.  She leads an interdisciplinary program at Duke.

But Annie Murphy Paul pretty much rejects everything about her view and approach in her article:  Who’s Afraid of Digital Natives? – Let’s not get intimidated by kids and their Internet savvy.  She especially rejects Davidson’s fascination with the idea that the digital age is teaching us how to multitask.  Here are brief excerpts from the article:

Her position ignores the inflexible and near-universal limits on our working memory, which allow us to hold only a few items of information in our consciousness at a time, or the work of researchers like Clifford Nass of Stanford University. “Human cognition is ill-suited both for attending to multiple input streams and for simultaneously performing multiple tasks,” Nass has written. In other words, people are inherently lousy at multitasking. Contrary to the notion that those who’ve grown up multitasking a lot have learned to do it well, Nass’s research has found that heavy multitaskers are actually less effective at filtering out irrelevant information and at shifting their attention among tasks than others.
…focusing one’s attention, gathering and synthesizing evidence, and constructing a coherent argument are skills as necessary as they were before—in fact, more necessary than ever, given the swamp of baseless assertion and outright falsehood that is much of the Web. Some day not too far in the future, the digital natives may find themselves turning down the music, shutting off the flickering screen, silencing the buzzing phone and sitting down to do just one thing at a time.

“Just one thing at a time.”  In Rework, Fried and Hannson write about the value of the  “alone zone.”

You should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

Here’s what I know.  When I close my e-mail program, close Safari, put on just the right kind of soft/truly quiet background music, open a book, and dig in, with no interruptions, I seem to “get” the book better.

Here’s what I have come to think – at least about myself.  I really can’t do two things at once.  I just can’t.

But, I could be wrong.  For a more positive/objective take on Davidson and her new book, check out The Science of Attention Spans by Casey Schwartz at The Daily Beast/Book Beast.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Auto-correct Features May Not Always Correct Correctly

Anyone who writes any book, paper, or even everday correspondence is well aware of the features of auto-correct in word processing programs.  These do not alert you to a misspelling – instead, they fix it for you.

I found a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News by Sue McAllister entitled “Auto-correct can be a Fix – or Put You in One” to be especially useful (August 22, 2011).

This function is designed to correct mistakes we make when we are in a hurry, compose sloppy messages, or simply do not know how to spell a word.  In fact, some systems claim to actually learn the words that a writer uses most often.

Here are some funny examples that auto-correct ended up with:

“I like fried children.”

“Is your sister busty?”

“Juan Urine” – instead of Juan Uribe of the Los Angeles Dodgers

The article reports that the iPhone’s auto-correct system contains a dictionary of between 40-60,000 words.   Some software allows you to keep your original spelling, and others allow you to disable the feature.

What have you seen across your screen that you don’t think the writer intended?   Send them to me through the comment function so that others can see!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Silent Language of Great Leaders

The results of countless research studies leave no doubt that 80-85% of the impact during face-to-face contact is determined by body language and tone-of-voice. Only 10-15% of the impact is determined by what is actually said.

Non-verbal cues can derail otherwise effective leaders. In this video program, Carol Kinsey Goman, the author of The Silent Language of Leaders, will explain the essential body language signals for effective managers and shares which well-known executives possess them. Goman reveals the new gesture Steve Jobs made more than a dozen times in his most recent public Apple presentation and what it may mean.

Please click here to see it and several other excellent video programs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , | Leave a comment

As We Speak: A book report by Bob Morris

As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Have It Stick
Peter Meyers and Shann Nix
Atrria Books (2011)

Here in a single volume, just about all you need to know about high-impact communication

In Chapter 3, Peter Meyers and Shann Nix acknowledge their appreciation of Chip and Dan Heath and especially of what the Heaths share in their masterwork, Made to Stick. I share their high regard for this book and its co-authors. The Heaths’ book and As We Speak complement each other almost seamlessly. For example, the Heaths provide a brilliant explanation of the “what” and “why” of stickiness whereas Meyers and Vann provide an equally brilliant explanation of the “how” as well as of why their recommendations can be so effective.

Here in a single volume is just about all you need to know about high-impact communication, especially after checking out the Heaths’ book and reviewing the Six Principles that all sticky ideas demonstrate. (Please see Pages 16-18.) They are Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Telling Stories. Meyers and Nix have decades of experience helping people whose ability to think exceeds their ability to express themselves. “We develop the language and content, put them on their feet, rehearse them, and give them the tools they need to rise to the occasion.” However, and it is impossible for me to exaggerate the importance of this one point: their book offers more – FAR MORE – than “how to do it” advice for public speaking.

They carefully organize their material within five Parts: Content, Delivery, State (i.e. presence), High-Stakes Situations, and Finding Your [own] Voice and Making It Heard. They are determined to help each reader’s thinking gets the expression it deserves, “that the quality of the ideas is matched by the vitality of the [reader’s] presence. The potential applications of what Meyers and Nix hare are almost unlimited because there are so many opportunities to achieve high-impact communication. The audience could be a single person or members of a governing board or several thousand people. The same principles apply: outstanding content + compelling delivery = high impact. As Warren Beatty suggests, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

After explaining in the first chapter how to ensure that a speech is outcome-focused, relevant, and on point, Meyers and Nix note that when taking the next step, “you can’t just start slapping bricks together. First, you need to know where they go. You need a design. So now it’s time to put together the architecture of ideas.”

The architecture consists of three parts: Ramp (the beginning), Discovery (the middle), and Dessert (the end).

Meyers and Nix suggest three “Master Tips”:

• Get the I/You ratio right: Use ten “You’s” for every “I.”
• You have only seven seconds at the beginning in which the audience decides whether or not they’re going to pay attention.
• Don’t bury the lead. If you don’t hook them right up front, you’ve lost them forever. There are no second chances.

Here are the opening strategies they recommend:

1. Open with the word “You”
2. Use a powerful statistic (i.e. a “sexy number”)
3. Ask an intriguing question.
4. Shock them.
5. Make a confession.
6. Use the word “imagine” to serve as an invitation.
7. Tell an historical anecdote that is relevant to your key point.
8. Tell a story: setting, characters, conflicts, tension, key developments, resolution, etc.

This book is a “must read” for those who want to develop the mindset and the skills to communicate with high impact, whatever the circumstances may be. That assumes, of course, that the content is of a very high quality and appropriate for the given audience. Hence the importance of rigorous preparation. I agree with Peter Meyers and Shann Nix: Ultimately,   “It’s not about you. It’s all about them.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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