First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Blogging on Business Update from Bob Morris (Week of 2/4/13)

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I hope that at least a few of these recent posts will be of interest to you:


Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration
Leigh Thompson

This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking
John Brockman, Editor

Unrelenting Innovation: How to Build a Culture for Market Dominance
Gerard J. Tellis

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation
Chris Brown

Lincoln: A President for the Ages
Karl Weber, Editor and Contributor

The Architecture of Innovation: The Economics of Creative Organizations

Josh Lerner


Robert LoCascio (LivePerson) in “The Corner Office”
Adam Bryant
The New York Times

TALES FROM THE WORLD BEFORE YESTERDAY: A Conversation with Jared Diamond
John Brockman

Terry Leahy (Tesco) in “The Corner Office”
Adam Bryant
The New York Times


Why “Management Is (Still) Not Leadership”
John Kotter

“How to Successfully Manage Opposing Strategies”
Roger Martin

“New Research on The Innovation Bottom Line”
David Kiron, Nina Kruschwitz, Knut Haanaes, Martin Reeves and Eugene Goh
MIT Sloan Management Review

“Here’s an easy IQ test for really intelligent people”

“Silicon Valley’s most important document ever”
Janko Roettgers

“How to battle-test your innovation strategy”
Marla M. Capozzi, John Horn, and Ari Kellen
The McKinsey Quarterly

“How Do Innovators Think?”
Bronwyn Fryer

“5 Biggest Leadership Lessons From 2012″
Les McKeown

“The Skills Most Leaders Don’t Have”
Brian Evje

“How to Proactively Manage Your Digital Reputation”
Management Tip of the Day

“Lincoln’s School of Management”
Nancy F. Koehn
The New York Times

“How To Make Your Employees Happier”
Anne Kreamer
Fast Company

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Sunday, February 10, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Be•Know•Do: A book review by Bob Morris

Be•Know•Do: Leadership the Army Way: Adapted from the Official Army Leadership Manual
United States Army (Author); Frances Hesselbein  and Eric K. Shinseki (Introduction), and Richard E. Cavanagh (Foreword)
Jossey-Bass/Leader to Leader Institute; 1st edition (2004)

How to develop leaders who have character, competence, knowledge, and results-driven initiative

I recently re-read this book, curious to know to what extent its content remains relevant. My conclusion? It is even more relevant today than it was when first published in 2004. In Richard E. Cavanagh’s Foreword, he recalls a discussion during dinner with Peter Drucker and Jack Welch who shared the same opinion that the United States military services do the best job developing leaders. What we have in this volume is an adaptation by Frances Hesselbein and General Eric K. Shinseki (USA Ret.) of Field Manual 22-100, Army Leadership, with assistance from Alan Shrader. Hesselbein and Shinseki also wrote the Introduction. The material is carefully organized within seven chapters, followed by a Conclusion that reviews the most important points, correctly noting the unique and compelling role that the U.S. Army has played since June 14, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.

With regard to the book’s title, “Army leadership begins with what the leader must Be, the values and attributes that shape a leader’s character…People want leaders who are honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspiring…People willingly follow only those who know what they are doing. One of the quickest ways for a leader to lose trust and commitment of followers is to demonstrate incompetence…Character and competence, the Be and the Know, underlie everything a leader does. But character and knowledge – while absolutely necessary – are not enough. Leaders act; they Do…They solve problems, overcome obstacles, strengthen teamwork, and achieve objectives. They use leadership to produce results.”

I realize that these concepts seem simple. In one sense they are. However, in this context, I am reminded of what Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” The challenge to any organization when developing leaders is to guide those involved to the other side of complexity.” The composite of excerpts from Be•Know•Do identifies core concepts, to be sure, but it also describes the character, competence, knowledge, and results-driven initiative that the U.S. Army seeks to develop within every one of its soldiers, regardless of rank. “No one is only a leader; each person in an organization is also a follower and part of a team. In fact, the old distinction between leaders and followers has blurred; complex twenty-first-century organizations require individuals to move seamlessly from one role to another in an organization, from leadership to `followership,’ and back again.”

Hesselbein and Shinseki are to be commended for their skillful adaptation of Field Manual 22-100, Army Leadership, but also for the inclusion within the narrative of relevant material from sources outside the U.S. Army organization. For example, they quote prominent business thinkers throughout the narrative: James Kouzes and Barry Posner on leadership by example (page 24), John Gardner on the importance of a shared vision (page 30), Patrick Lencioni on teamwork (page 86), and John Kotter on a leader’s “quest for learning” (page 132). Readers will also appreciate the provision of various “Exhibits” such as 5.1 that provides a brilliant illustration of Team-Building Stages.

Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Frances Hesselbein’s other works and the wealth of resources available at the Leader to Leader Institute, a non-profit and tax exempt organization. Also, Warfighting: The U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy (Tactics for Managing Confrontation) published in 2004.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 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.

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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

The Manager as Change Agent: A book review by Bob Morris

The Manager as Change Agent: A Practical Guide to Developing High-Performance People and Organizations
Jerry Gilley, Scott Quatro, Erik Hoekstra, Doug Whittle, Ann Maycunich, Scott A. Quatro, Jerry W. Gilley, and Doug D. Whittle
Basic Books (2001)

Your Own Yellow Brick Road Awaits

Don’t be deterred by the publication date. This book really does offer a thoughtful and cohesive guide to “developing high-performance people and organizations.” After an introductory chapter (“Becoming a Change Agent”), the authors organize their excellent material within three Parts: Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors; then Philosophy, Practice, and Responsibilities of a Change Agent; and finally, Integrating Resources, Roles, and Competencies.  A majority of those I have worked closely with are the only or at least primary change agent in their respective organizations. This book will help them to develop change agency competence among many (if not most) of those whom they supervise. In fact, the insights and counsel in the book can help to accomplish that worthy objective at all levels and in all areas, whatever the size and nature of an organization may be. Of course, the book will also be of great value to senior-level executives in large organizations, including non-profits.

For me, one of the most entertaining as well as informative chapters in the book is Chapter 4 (“Beware of Flying Monkeys and Poison Poppies”) in which the authors suggest correlations between the adventures encountered by Dorothy and her companions en route to the Emerald City and what all managers encounter in today’s business world. “Flying monkeys are those unexpected characters, events, and situations that jump up and attack you at the most untimely moments…..Flying monkeys come in all shapes, sorts, and sizes. They can be people, events, activities, and attitudes….Perhaps the most important potential monkey for you to be aware of is the cultural flying monkey. [As the authors have explained earlier in the book], culture is defined as the underlying beliefs, values, and assumptions held by members of an organization and the practices and behaviors that exemplify and reinforce them. In other words, ‘the way we do things around here.’” In Figure 4.1, detailed information about “Miscellaneous Flying Monkeys” is provided within an ingenious grid.

With regard to “poison poppies”, the authors suggest that so many change initiatives fail because managers are “seduced by the promise of a quick fix”, a short-cut, etc. Time and again when retained by a corporate client to help solve problems, I find that the client’s managers are preoccupied with the symptoms of problems rather than focused on determining the causes of those problems. Stated another way, many managers seem to think that wet highways cause rain.

The authors begin Chapter 11 with a quote from John Kotter (“A good rule of thumb in a major change effort is: Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo”) and then use Figure 11.01 to illustrate what they call a “Holistic Model for Change Agent Excellence” featuring the brain, the heart, courage, and vision. All are necessary to overcome the aforementioned “forces.” More specifically:

1. Provide strong, highly visible, and personal leadership
2. Institute employee involvement early and often, at all levels
3. Build a clearly articulated, shared vision
4. Provide frequent, consistent, and open communication
5. Leverage talented, and trusted employees as co-change agents
6. Set measurable operational and behavioral goals
7. Celebrate successes and re-address shortcomings

The authors carefully explain each of these “Seven Keys to Successful Organizational Change” in detail and then shift their attention to what they characterize as a “list of absolutes in the quest to develop gained wisdom”: Tap into the wisdom of the “elders” in the organization, build a wisdom war chest”, patiently and progressively wield your wisdom-based influence on an organizational level, and finally, share wisdom with others on an organizational level. The authors no only explain how; they also explain why.

Appropriately, the authors conclude their brilliant book as follows: “As in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s vision was to somehow return to her beloved Kansas. By casting her eyes on that goal, she was able to energize and solicit support for friends and foes alike along her journey. In the end, she achieved her goal, as you will in your effort to [italics] becoming a change agent.” Through their book, the authors can accompany you on your own journey. The Yellow Brick Road to high-performance for people and organizations awaits. Let the journey begin!

Monday, July 11, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turn the Tables on Fear-Mongering

Here is another valuable Management Tip of the Day from Harvard Business Review. To sign up for a free subscription to any/all HBR newsletters, please click here.

One of the most effective tactics for killing a good idea is to instill fear in the minds of those who need to approve it.

In business, a common fear-mongering argument is that a proposal is somehow “against our core values” and will erode the spirit and foundation of the company.

If this kind of accusation is aimed at your idea, resist becoming defensive. A simple retort is unlikely to soothe the fears that this kind of attack raises.

Instead, acknowledge that values are important and explain specifically how your idea is indeed in line with what the company stands for.

Today’s Management Tip was adapted from “Turning the Tables on a Fear-Mongering Attack” by John Kotter.

To read that article and join the discussion, please click here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , | Leave a comment

Terry R. Bacon: An interview by Bob Morris

Terry R. Bacon

Terry R. Bacon is a Scholar in Residence in the Korn/Ferry Institute.  Previously, he was founder and CEO of Lore International Institute.  He has a B.S. in engineering from West Point and a PhD in literary studies from The American University.  He has also studied business and leadership at Goddard College, Roosevelt University, University of Chicago, Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard.  He is a prolific author and speaker, having written more than one hundred articles, white papers, and books, including Selling to Major Accounts, Winning Behavior, The Behavioral Advantage, Adaptive Coaching, Powerful Proposals, What People Want, and most recently,  The Elements of Power:  Lessons on Leadership and Influence (AMACOM, January 2011). Bacon’s next book Elements of Influence, will be published in July 2011.

He is chairman of the Fort Lewis College Foundation board and president of Music in the Mountains, a summer classical music festival in Durango, Colorado. During the last four years, Leadership Excellence has named him one of the top 100 thinkers on leadership in the world. You can learn more about him and his ideas and works at,, or

Morris: Before discussing your brilliant book, The Elements of Power, a few general questions. First, other than a family member, who has had the most influence on your personal development?

Bacon: A variety of teachers and mentors through the years.  I couldn’t site one particular person.  It’s more like a loose community of caring people.  However, I found reading about the lives of Sir Thomas More and physicist Richard Feynman to be particularly inspirational for me.

Morris: On your professional development?

Bacon: Probably every author of every good book on leadership and business I’ve ever read, including Michael Useem, Dan Goleman, David Maister, Peter Drucker, John Kotter, Warren Bennis, Garry Wills, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, Michael Porter, James MacGregor Burns, and a host of others.  I’m a voracious reader, and the key thoughts of those books stick with me.

Morris: To what extent did your education, training, and experience at the United States Military Academy prepare you for what awaited you, following active duty?

Bacon: The military academy had a profound effect on me.  It taught me leadership, decision making, strategic thinking, responsibility, adaptability, integrity, and an engineer’s mindset, all of which helped me develop as a man and prepared me for the leadership roles I’ve played since active duty.

Morris: In your opinion, are business opportunities today better, worse, or about the same as they were (let’s say) ten years ago? Please explain.

Bacon: I think the opportunities today are the same as they were ten years, a hundred years ago, and a thousand years ago.  Opportunity is what you create when you have the gumption to make something out of nothing, when you see possibilities others don’t, and when you are brazen enough to break with tradition and courageous enough to see it through.  That existed long ago and it exists in abundance today.

Morris: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you began your business career years ago?

Bacon: I wish I’d known earlier in my career how to assess talent and select the best people for every job.  And I wish I knew how to make the tough people decisions sooner.  Businesses thrive when you have the right people in place and decay when you retain the wrong people.  But making the tough calls is difficult for most younger managers/leaders, especially if you are a “people person.”

Morris: What is the primary mission of the Korn/Ferry Institute? How specifically does it fulfill that mission?

Bacon: The Institute’s mission is to develop and implement world-class intellectual property to improve our clients’ acquisition, development, and retention of top talent.

Morris: Most people I know claim that the most valuable lessons they learned were from personal experience; more specifically, from failure rather than from success. Is that also true of you? Please explain.

Bacon: Yes, I think you learn more from failures—if you actively seek to understand why they happened, avoid focusing on blame, and apply the lessons immediately.  I’ve always told people that it’s okay to make mistakes.  If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t pushing yourself.  But it’s not okay to make the same mistake twice.  Mistakes and failures are acceptable as long as you learn from them and apply the lessons immediately to improve the business.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Terry Bacon cordially invites you to check out these websites:

To learn more about Music in the Mountains, please click here.

For more information about Fort Lewis College, please click here.

For more about the foundation, please lick here.

You can learn more about the Durango Arts Center by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Change the Culture, Change the Game: A book review by Bob Morris

Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results
Roger Connors and Tom Smith
Portfolio/The Penguin Group (2011)

A comprehensive, cohesive, and cost-effective methodology to achieve breakthrough results

In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that much (most?) of the resistance to change initiatives is the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Roger Connors and Tom Smith fully agree. In a previous collaboration, The Oz Principle, they explain how to get desired results through individual and organizational accountability. They introduce Steps to Accountability, a sequence of actions: See It (i.e. recognize what must be done), Own It (i.e. make an investment in as well as a commitment to getting it done), Solve It (i.e. recognize and eliminate barriers with whatever resources may be needed), and Do It (i.e. producing the right results in the right way, as promised). Connors and Smith also suggest that people tend to live and work (most of the time) either above or below “The Line” that divides accountable behavior from behavior that is not.

As they note, “We use the term ‘result,’ rather than ‘goal’ because result implies that either you will achieve something or that you have already achieved it. In contrast, ‘goal’ suggests that you would like to have something happen, but might not accomplish it. A goal tends to be hopeful and directional, but not absolute.” In this context, I reminded of what Thomas Edison observed long ago: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Apparently the Yoda agrees: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Connors and Smith devote Part One (Chapters 1-5) to explaining how to create a Culture of Accountability, define the results to be achieved, take effective action to produce them, identify core believes that guide and direct behavior, provide experiences that support efforts, and reinforce results to sustain their beneficial impact. In Part Two (Chapters 6-10), they explain how to align cultural values with change initiatives, apply effective three Culture Management Tools they recommend (i.e. focused feedback, focused storytelling, celebration of incremental progress), and three skills needed to move the culture from where it has been to where it should be (i.e. Lead the Change, Respond to the Feedback, and Be Facilitative). Obviously, it would be a fool’s errand to adopt and then attempt to apply all of Connors and Smith’s recommendations. It remains for each reader to select what is most relevant and responsive to her or his needs and those of her or his organization.

With regard to buy-in of the plan, once formulated, Connors and Smith suggest and then discuss Five Principles of Full Enrollment (Pages 196-213):

1. Start with accountability
2. Get people ready for the change.
3. Begin with the top and intact teams.
4. Establish a process control and keep it honest.
5. Design for maximum involvement.

Those who need additional assistance with achieving full (or at least maximum) enrollment, I highly recommend John Kotter’s A Sense of Urgency and his more recent book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, co-authored with Lorne A. Whitehead. For supplementary readings, I also highly recommend Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success and Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.

Friday, March 11, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The most common mistakes made when initiating change

Most change initiatives fail or at least fall far short of original expectations and reasons vary from one debacle to the next. John Kotter has identified what he believes are the eight most common mistakes that are made and what he doesn’t know about the subject really isn’t worth knowing.

As is frequently the case with prominent business thinkers, Kotter wrote an article published by Harvard Business Review (“Leading Change,” March 1995) that was later developed into a book, Leading Change, published by Harvard Business Press in 1996.

“The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result. A second very general lesson is that critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won games. Perhaps because we have relatively little experience in renewing organizations, even very capable people make at least one big error.”

That “one big error” is almost certainly one of these:

1. Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency
Comment: Rather, anchor rational arguments within an emotional context by appealing to self-interests.

2. Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition
Comment: Weak leaders attract weak followers and strong opponents.

3. Lacking a vision
Comment: Without a compelling vision, why bother?

4. Undercommunicating the vision by a factor of ten
Comment: Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

5. Not removing obstacles to the new vision
Comment: And remove them well in advance of the project launch.

6. Not systematically planning for, and creating, short-term wins
Comment: Pick “low-hanging fruit” to generate momentum, increase morale, and attract support.

7. Declaring victory too soon.
Comment: As a recent U.S. President once declared, “Mission Accomplished!”

8. Not anchoring changes in the corporate culture
Comment: Changes must become the new status quo.

Kotter concludes, “There are still more mistakes that people make, but these eight are the big ones. I realize that in a short article everything is made to sound a bit too simplistic. In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises. But just as a relatively simple vision is needed to guide people through a major change, so a vision of the change process can reduce the error rate. And fewer errors can spell the difference between success and failure.”

Saturday, March 5, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Before You Can Get Buy-In, People Need to Feel the Problem

John Kotter

Here is an excerpt from an article written by John Kotter 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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Picture this: you’re in the middle of presenting your proposal and a person at the far end of the table raises her hand. “I’m not even sure the ‘problem’ you’re describing exists, or is a big deal at all!” How do you deal with that?

From reading your responses to my previous posts, I find that many people aren’t able to even reach the point where they can debate the merits of their proposal. Many get bogged down in the quagmire of trying to effectively communicate the nature and extent of the problem. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t much matter what your proposal is. People aren’t going to consider anything until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed.

In scenarios like this, I’ve found that it’s effective to highlight the problem and the people affected by it in a way that makes the problem feel real.

What’s less effective — and far more common — is to make a dry business case that, even if correct, is usually less persuasive and less memorable than it needs to be.

On this topic, one story I’ve always liked (from my book The Heart of Change) I affectionately call “Gloves on the Boardroom Table.” A large organization had an inefficient purchasing process, and one mid-level executive believed that money was constantly being wasted with each of the organization’s factories handling their own purchases. He thought there could be tremendous savings from consolidating the procurement effort. He put together a “business case” for change but it went nowhere. His boss said that senior executives didn’t feel it was truly a big problem, especially with so many other daily challenges taking up their time. So the manager had an idea: he collected the 424 different kinds of work gloves the factories collectively purchased and tagged each one with its different price and supplier. He carted the gloves in and dumped them on the boardroom table before a senior executive team meeting. He first showed the pile to his boss, who was taken aback by this powerful visual display of the waste inherent in having dozens of different factories negotiate different deals for the items they needed! The boss showed the CEO, who scrapped the meeting agenda to talk about procurement because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, and so real. It galvanized the executives to action. Ultimately, they overhauled their procurement process and saved a great deal of money.

I’ve called the process used here See, Feel, and Change, as opposed to Analyze, Think, and Change.

The latter is all head, no heart, and often fails to motivate people to recognize the importance of a given problem. It’s too easily forgotten or ignored if it doesn’t feel real.

So what is my everyday advice if you can’t always collect, catalogue, and cart around 424 pairs of gloves? One way is to highlight the real, personal consequences of the problem you want people to see, and to highlight the real people who suffer because of it. My newer book, Buy-In, features a story of someone presenting a plan to provide new computers for a local library. When dissenters don’t listen because they don’t think there is a problem with the current computers, the presenter has two options. He could use PowerPoint slides to compare the library’s computers to current computer models sold in stores, showing the difference in processing power, memory capacity, and modem speed. Or he could relate the true story of a local fourth-grader from a poor family who relies on the library’s computers for homework — computers that are too slow and outdated to allow her to finish her assignments, leaving her underprepared for school. 

Which case would you find more compelling? Which case makes the problem feel real?

*     *     *

John Kotter is an emeritus professor at Harvard Business School and bestselling author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency,  and founder of Kotter International.

His latest book, with coauthor Lorne Whitehead, is called Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coming Next, February 4, for the First Friday Book Synopsis – The Orange Revolution, and All the Devils are Here

Nearly 120 gathered this morning for the January, 2011 First Friday Book Synopsis.  Karl Krayer and I have been presenting these synopses/briefings on best-selling business books every month since April, 1998.  This morning, Karl presented Buy-in by John Kotter, and I presented Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer.  They were both practical, useful, important books.  (Note:  Karl’s handout had a terrific, valuable breakdown of the major objections, and solutions to meet these objections, for those seeking to get their ideas across).

You will be able to purchase our synopses, with audio + handout, in a couple of weeks on our companion web site,  (Many other book presentations are available on the site).

For next month, Friday, February 4, Karl will present a synopsis of The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.  (Free Press.  2010).  You can read Bob Morris’ review of this book on our blog by clicking here.

I will present a synopsis of All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera.  (Portfolio Hardcover.  2010).  This book is currently #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Business Best-Sellers list, and is considered by many to be the top book regarding the financial crisis of 2008.   (Note:  one of the other top best sellers regarding this crisis is The Big Short by Michael Lewis.  You can also purchase my synopsis of this book at our companion web site,

The First Friday Book Synopsis provides a great breakfast, in a spectacular setting (the Park City Club), with great networking, and substantive, useful content – all in a fast-paced gathering.  If you will be in the DFW area on February 4, come join us.  Registration will be open soon – in a day, or two, just click the Register Now! sunburst on our home page.

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Friday, January 7, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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