First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Clive Wilson on how to design a purposeful organization: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Wilson, CliveClive Wilson is a writer, speaker, facilitator and business coach. He is a director of Primeast, a learning and development company based in the beautiful town of Harrogate in the county of North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, some 220 miles north of London.

Clive’s latest book, Designing a Purposeful Organization:how to inspire business performance beyond boundaries, was published by KoganPage (February 2015).

Primeast works primarily in the oil and gas, power, pharmaceutical and technology industries as well as with the United Nations and other agencies in Southern Africa to facilitate the sustainable development of some of the world’s poorest nations.

He has spoken or facilitated workshops worldwide on strategic alignment and talent leadership, and his clients have included Exxon Mobil, Novartis, and Celgene, a biotechnology company located in New Jersey. In recent years, with his passion for purposeful change, he has facilitated workshops and spoken at conferences in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Australia.

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Clive.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write Designing the Purposeful Organization?

Wilson: There are a few ways I could answer this. First, at a personal level, we are all consumers of the services of organisations and many of us work there. So making organisations purposeful enriches our lives as employees and as consumers. As a practitioner, I have written quite a few short texts describing the work of Primeast. My colleagues encouraged me to take the time to do justice to my writing with the support of a high-calibre publisher. Kogan Page came highly recommended and I have to say that working with the team there has been an inspiration. I started writing in October 2013 and completed the first draft by July 2014. As you know the first books came off the press for February 2015. In terms of a deeper “Why?” I truly believe purpose is a topic we all need to know more about, not just in business but in every aspect of life. To understand purpose is to understand the creative power of the universe. What could be more exciting? In corporate terms alignment to purpose is probably the most effective source of high performance, something every organisation craves in one form or another.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Wilson: Yes, two chapters took an even more profound turn than I expected. The first chapter on “purpose” made me realise how little we understand it. Most people tend to think of corporate purpose in its singularity. It is anything but. Purpose, like most things, depends on who’s doing the observing and where they’re standing at the time. Also, the power of “getting to why” in its most inspirational form is so exciting. Just when we think we understand why we’re here, someone asks another “Why?” or gives a perspective we hadn’t thought of and our whole world changes.

Similarly with “success” in chapter seven. I always used to regard success as something deeply personal. Whilst that may be the case in many circumstances, it actually took a journey into stem cell biology for me to realise that each one of us is a community of some seventy trillion cells living in unity. This community has learned consciousness and hence a sense of success at the “me” level. So it is with teams and organisations. Through dialogue and appreciation, we can learn to be collectively conscious of success at that higher and more powerful level. So, for example, team success is both a set of outcomes and a shared felt sense of achievement. This rarely happens by accident.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Wilson: With the exceptions I spoke about in answer to your last question, the narrative is pretty well what has built up in my head in consultation with my colleagues over the last couple of decades. However, the finished article is way better than I expected. This is mainly due to my colleagues and clients at Primeast who diligently read each chapter and inspired me with their suggestions and contributions. Some of the most profound suggestions came from the long-serving members of the team who have practiced experiential learning for nearly thirty years. They helped me to realise that any text worthy of the Primeast name and brand would need to be brought alive with case studies, exercises, activities, reflective space and enticements to further reading. Each chapter is peppered with such relevant diversions, many offered by my colleagues. This is truly a Primeast team effort and gives the reader just a glimpse of how we serve the world of work.

Morris: When did you first become keenly interested in design thinking?

Wilson: I think I stumbled into design by accident. My interest was always in people-centred leadership and change. It was only when I realised that our “conditions for success” constituted the design of a “purposeful organisation” that I knew we had an OD book in the making. By the way, my first proposal to Kogan Page had the subtitle and title the other way round. Their wisdom encouraged me to make “Inspiring performance beyond boundaries” (which had previously been the title of a keynote Russell Evans and I delivered to ATD in Houston) the subtitle and not the main title. I hope that makes sense.

Morris: Here’s a two-part question. What are the most common misconceptions about design thinking? What in fact is true?

Wilson: I believe that people over-complicate organisational design. Organisations, especially global corporates, are by their nature complex. That is to say they are somewhat unpredictable and subject to many variables. However, it is us that makes them as complicated as they often are. We implement new systems without dismantling the old ones. We reinvent the wheel rather than consolidating best practice. The concept of the learning organisation isn’t new and yet few organisations can truly claim to be in that form.

Morris: Of all the design principles, which 2-3 have become of greatest interest and value to you? How so?

Wilson: There is a chapter on “structure” in the book where I draw attention to some key principles about how to structure an organisation – mainly about simplicity. However, you specifically ask what interests me. The first is naturally “purpose” – the focus for all design. I’ve already said quite a bit. Then there are some amazing lessons we can learn from the natural world. Fractal mathematics is all about the concept of self-similarity. So if we take any living organism from a single cell right up to an organisation, we can see repeating patterns of what works and what doesn’t. Biomimicry is a related topic that I discovered upon recommendation from one of my book reviewers. Nature has learned some amazing lessons based on millions of years of “R&D”. We do well to look around at our natural world and learn from it.

Morris: In my review of your brilliant book for several websites, including three of Amazon’s (US, UK, and Canada), I note that most of the companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry. What do you make of that?

Wilson: Well, to me, it’s a “no-brainer” if we enjoy our work we will be more likely to go the extra mile. And purpose is the key. Purposeful organisations are likely to be great places to work. Here people are valued and systematically aligned to make a difference – consciously.

Morris: Since the book was published, presumably you have received a great deal of feedback from those who have read it. Which of that feedback has been of greatest interest to you? Please explain.

Wilson: Well naturally Bob, I thoroughly enjoyed your book review. It was detailed, considered and inspiring. However, the review that inspired me the very most was the one by Kelly Goff, one of the world’s greatest practitioners in organisational effectiveness. It is the one we chose to be the foreword in the book. Kelly’s words touched me at a very deep level, moving me quite literally to tears. It was like stepping outside of myself and looking straight into my heart.

* * *

To read all of Part 2, please click here.

Clive cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Designing the Purposeful Organisation Amazon link

Kogan-Page link

Link to additional KoganPage resources

Primeast link


Sunday, May 10, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clive Wilson on how to design a purposeful organisation: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

Wilson, Clive

Clive Wilson is a writer, speaker, facilitator and business coach. He is a director of Primeast, a learning and development company based in the beautiful town of Harrogate in the county of North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, some 220 miles north of London.

Primeast works primarily in the oil and gas, power, pharmaceutical and technology industries as well as with the United Nations and other agencies in Southern Africa to facilitate the sustainable development of some of the world’s poorest nations.

He has spoken or facilitated workshops worldwide on strategic alignment and talent leadership, and his clients have included Exxon Mobil, Novartis, and Celgene, a biotechnology company located in New Jersey. In recent years, with his passion for purposeful change, he has facilitated workshops and spoken at conferences in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Australia.

Clive’s latest book, Designing the Purposeful Organization – how to inspire business performance beyond boundaries, was published by KoganPage (February 2015).

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of Clive.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Designing the Purposeful Organization, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth and professional development? How so?

Wilson: There are a number of people who have influenced me. From business writers such as Marcus Buckingham, Daniel Coyle and Jim Collins through to world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. However, the people who have influenced me the most have been the plethora of clients with whom I have worked to help make their organisations more purposeful and consequently more effective, often from a clean sheet of paper.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Wilson: In the 1990s the electricity industry in the UK was privatised. I was responsible for a number of change programmes and quickly realised that the most difficult aspect of change was evolving the culture. I went to the US and spent time with Human Synergistics learning how to measure and manage this phenomenon. After applying my new knowledge, I resolved to support organisations with such challenges and have been doing so for nearly twenty years now.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Wilson: My formal education extended late into my career. I was awarded my Master of Science degree by the University of Bradford as a 40 year old. I actually find structured education difficult, preferring to follow an intuitive learning journey. Whilst writing Designing the Purposeful Organization, I took several sojourns into unusual places such as stem cell biology, fractal mathematics, quantum physics and biomimicry, as well as more obvious places such as business leadership and psychology. Thanks to the Internet, I got to attend classes taught by some of the world’s greatest thinkers. I had people like Bruce Lipton and Greg Braden speaking to me right in my living room.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Wilson: To be honest, I have to say “nothing”. My greatest learning has been starting out on the journey with little knowledge or experience and learning from the people I have worked alongside over the years. Especially from those who provided me a relatively safe space to fail and grow as a consequence.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Wilson: Probably not the answer you’re looking for but I really enjoy adventure films such as Braveheart where the “hero’s journey” is enacted. The hero is born, is taught, discovers their quest and from that point has no option but to make the hero’s choice – to do the right thing. In a way, business is like that. Every organisation and person in it is looking for their purpose and those who discover it and follow it diligently have rewarding careers. When people know who they are and have a curiosity about their context, feelings arise which steer them on an amazing journey.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Wilson: The one that springs to mind is No Destination by Satish Kumar, the editor of Resurgence Magazine. It tells of his life story, his sense of purpose. It tells of how he came out of a monastic life to be involved in land reform in India and then to walk without provisions from there to Moscow and beyond to discuss nuclear disarmament with world leaders. And much more. An inspiring and sincere journey. A life of meaning and adventure.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Wilson: This takes me back to your earlier question about who I learned the most from. It is through meeting people where they’re at and sharing the journey with them that we learn the most. Not in the arrogance of knowledge but in the humility of common quest and mutual insight. In such circumstances the illusion of duality dissipates and the truth of oneness and growth manifests. In such circumstances, no one person can claim personal ownership of the gain.

Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Wilson: I’ve never worried about people stealing my ideas. My sole purpose is to play a small part in developing an increasingly purposeful world. If my ideas have any merit at all, I will be happy to see them turned into action.

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Wilson: I’ve never been an orthodox thinker. I dance creatively with the challenge of a better future. I awake in the night with new thoughts and explore new ways of doing things. I have met skepticism and been reassured to discover much of my thinking becoming the norm. Such was my response to the divisive talent management strategies prompted by the “War for Talent” in the 1990s. When I first started to suggest that talent management needed to be inclusive and cultural, I was one of a few voices out of kilter. Now this thinking is becoming the norm and my head is into “what next?” By the way I conclude that the “what’s next” is that the ownership of talent will be firmly with individuals with organisations creating the conditions in which it can flourish and managers being skilled facilitators. But that’s a topic for another text I suppose.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Wilson: Absolutely! “Eureka” is the end of a quest (or at least of a chapter). “That’s odd…” is a new beginning. Providing we take the baton.

Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Wilson: A few years ago I was sitting with a colleague outside a cafe in Malawi, where we do a lot of work with the UN and various agencies that are trying to change the world. I heard the word “Dzukani”. It is a Chichewa word (of the Malawian people) that means “wake up”. I stole the word and drew a process that describes how feelings arise when a person is placed in a context. The feelings provide a sense of direction from which a vision is formed. But the vision is meaningless without a commitment (and follow through) to action. In taking action we channel the energy of a context (positive or negative) into a better future. Thus is the act of creation.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Wilson: Exactly – which is the whole point of my book. Everything we do should be truly purposeful. Losing touch with purpose is negligent and wasteful. Purposeful leadership, in my view, is the only meaningful leadership.

* * *

To read all of Part 1, please click here.

Clive cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Designing the Purposeful Organisation Amazon link

Kogan-Page link

Link to additional KoganPage resources

Primeast link

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is the Value in Ehrman’s Books? They Inspire Questions, Not Answers

Over the years, I have read several of Bart Ehrman‘s books.  If you are not familiar with him, Ehrman is a New Testament scholar, and now holds the chair as the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies atBart Ehrman Picture the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He has written 25 books, three of which are collegiate texts, and five of which became New York Times best-sellers.  There are three topics he focuses upon in his writing:  the Historical Jesus, the development of early Christianity, and textual authenticity of the Bible.

Ehrman is agnostic.  He didn’t start that way.  He went through seminary, but could not reconcile the contradictions and inconsistencies in translations of the Bible.  However, that is not why he left the faith.  He is an agnostic because he could not handle suffering.  He could not answer how a loving God could allow evil and suffering.  That became the subject of God’s Problem:  How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer (New York:  Harper One, 2009).  It is quite a book!

How Jesus Became God CoverHis newest is entitled How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee  (New York:  Harper One, 2014).  From his own web site, Ehrman describes this book:

Ehrman sketches Jesus’s transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection. Only when some of Jesus’s followers had visions of him after his death—alive again—did anyone come to think that he, the prophet from Galilee, had become God. And what they meant by that was not at all what people mean today.

As a historian—not a believer—Ehrman answers the questions: How did this transformation of Jesus occur? How did he move from being a Jewish prophet to being God? The dramatic shifts throughout history reveal not only why Jesus’s followers began to claim he was God, but also how they came to understand this claim in so many different ways.

Ehrman’s career as a writer is distinguished.  You may be interested in this one if you believe that we got the Bible from divinely sent bolts of lightning carving words on rock or paper – Forged: Writing in the Name of Forged CoverGod–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York:  Harper One, 2011).

Others include Jesus, Interrupted:  Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), and Misquoting Jesus.  All of his books are still in print and readily available.

I am not an agnostic.  I am a believer.  So, why am I reading these books?  Because I believe that  you strengthen your faith by questioning it.  Why do I want to read books that just reinforce what I already think?  I grow, as you do, by reading books and exposing myself to presentations and information that differ from what I already believe or know.  That is true of a lot of things in life.  I read the conspiracy theories on the JFK assassination because they are different from what we know from the Warren Report, Case Closed, and other books.  I read Marcus Buckingham’s views on “leaders are born” because that is different from experts who tell us that “leaders are made.”  And, Ehrman’s books are different.  These are not what most Sunday School leaflets and lessons contain.  In fact, do you know that I have NEVER heard a sermon or sat through a lesson on how we got the Bible?  It is the greatest secret that churches keep from their congregations.  Even reflecting on his ministerial days, Randy Mayeux said he would never have touched it in a class or service. and he did not do so for his twenty-plus years of preaching.

I think our fuel is questions, not answers.  For everyone who has it all figured out, I am very happy for you.  But, by exposing yourself to contradictory information, you grow.  I like to leave events with more questions than when I entered.  That’s what inspired one of my keynote presentations:  “When the Best Answer is the Next Question.”

It doesn’t matter what you think about these topics.  And, you can enter them open-minded or closed-minded.  But, why not read them.  And these books will get you thinking.  Ask questions.  Leave with more questions.  Learn.  Grow.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Strong Is Your Workplace? Ask Yourself These Questions

How Strong

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Gretchen Rubin for LinkedIn. To read the complete article and check out others, please click here.

Photo: pmccarthy, Flickr

* * *

I recently read First, Break All the Rules (1999) by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. The authors did a study with the Gallup Organization to find a way to measure strong workplaces, ones that would attract and retain the most productive employees.

They came up with a list of twelve questions. Those employees who answered “yes” to them and were happier in their workplaces, tended to work in business units with higher levels of productivity, profit, retention, and customer satisfaction – which shows that there is a link between how employees feel and how they perform.

This is a good list to use if you’re a manager who wants to create a happier and more productive work environment, or if you’re a job seeker/holder who wants criteria by which to judge a workplace.

Also, if you’re not happy at work, and you’re trying to identify the problem, take a look at this list. It suggests strategies for improving your situation. Not everything is within your control, of course, but perhaps you could identify for your boss what you need to change #2 from “no” to “yes” or to shift responsibilities so you get #3. Or can you make an effort to gain #10?

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of Happier at Home and The Happiness Project as well as a bestselling biography of Winston Churchill, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, and one of John Kennedy, Forty Ways to Look at JFK. Her first book, Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide, is social criticism in the guise of a user’s manual. Before turning to writing, she had a career in law. A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Sunday, July 28, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fail Bigger Cheaper: A Three Word Manifesto

Umair Haque

Here is an excerpt from another thoughtful and thought-provoking  article written by Umair Haque for the Harvard Business Review blog. It is worth noting that Marcus Buckingham recently ranked Umair #1 among his favorite business bloggers. 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.

*     *     *

Try this thought experiment: Maybe America’s Great Stagnation isn’t happening because we’re failing — maybe it’s happening because we’re not.

To illustrate, consider the most straightforward example: Wall Street megabanks were propped up and lavishly resurrected, and your grandkids will likely still be paying the price — because they were too big to fail. But if you look closely, you might see those dynamics just about everywhere. Detroit, of course, received a de facto bailout, too, but that’s the tip of the iceberg: when you stop and think about it, the economy’s rife with subsidies, hidden and overt, to largely industrial-age stuff (the McMansions that were subsidized by Fannie and Freddie, the oil that’s subsidized by whomever’s going to clean up the sky should there be anyone left to do so, the McBurgers whose water, beef, and obesity are all loaded not just with calories, but with tons of agro-subsidies). And that’s just the economy. What about the polity — Congress? Rarely have more constituents been more disappointed with their so-called representatives — but the whole lumbering institution’s too entrenched and cronified to fail.

Hence, argue with me if you’d like, throw binders full of rosy forecasts from your favorite think tank straight at my forehead if you want, but I’d gently suggest: America just might be terminally deficient in terms of one of the fundamental drivers of 21st century competitiveness: what I call economies of failure. Just as economies of scale might be loosely said to competitively refer to, roughly speaking, the savings, investment, and ultimately returns that an organization realizes from greater output than its rivals, so
economies of failure are the savings, investment, and returns an organization realizes from intentionally, consciously making greater mistakes than its rivals.

The unforgiving truth is that failure — the ability to fail gracefully, relentlessly, consistently — has never mattered more. In a world where volatility is punching past the outer limits, where global hypercompetition is reaching breakneck speed, where the most talented people won’t settle for humdrum routine and stifling busywork, where the velocity with which the self-organizing people formerly known as “consumers” can deconstruct your latest, greatest yawner of a hit down to the tiniest omission has gone terminal, where investors have their zombified eyes locked on the bottom line but rarely the prize, and last but very definitely not least, in a world where yesterday’s tired, threadbare conceptions and definitions of success are ever less resonant — well, in this world, those who can’t fail are likely to end up a little bit like America: stagnant, stuck, and struggling to redraw the boundaries of prosperity. A system that fails to fail lacks the capacity to evolve — much less to gain resilience, or, above all, wisdom.

Beancounters and bureaucrats, welcome to the 21st century: its time to get lethally serious about failing bigger cheaper. That’s my three-word definition of economies of failure. And the art of failure is being mastered by a new generation of radical innovators. To illustrate, consider the first half of my tiny definition: failing cheaper. It’s something that today’s venturescape is struggling and sweating to master. Silicon Valley’s latest buzzword is the “pivot,” geek-ese for “this isn’t working: let’s change it up.” And to make it happen, they’re learning to shed the red tape, meetings, managers, and memos that made industrial-age business such a dreary, dismal drag. If an ideal organization is a mechanism to attain economies, the venturescape’s luminary thinkers and investors, like Eric Ries and Fred Wilson, are reimagining it not merely for scale, as in “the ability to churn out a trillion of the same mass-produced widgets, at the lowest cost, with zero defects” — but as a lean, streamlined, nimble machine that can fail radically cheaper than ever before.

That’s nice, but it’s not enough. Failing cheaper is just half of the equation: failing bigger is the other. The Valley is learning to minimize the costs of failure — but what about maximizing the benefits? A dog chases his own tail, and so it too often is with those seeking economies of failure. Stripped-down organizations also seem to lose a sense of bigger purpose, of larger destiny — and end up focusing on tiny, me-too features instead. So while failing cheap is crucial, so is failing big: in the process of striving to change the world radically for the better.

*     *     *

If I had to sum up the challenge, I’d put it like this. A decade into the 21st century, it has never been clearer that not letting yesterday’s institutions, products, services, “business models,” roles, tasks, assumptions, and beliefs fail — that our endemic, systemic failure to fail — is a titanic roadblock standing in the way of a more authentic, enduring prosperity.

The future’s not predicted — it’s created. So create it. Fail bigger cheaper.

*     *     *

Umair Haque is Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. He also founded Bubblegeneration, an agenda-setting advisory boutique that shaped strategies across media and consumer industries. To  check out more blog posts by Umair Haque, please click here.

Friday, July 29, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

StrengthsFinder 2.0: A book review by Bob Morris

StrengthsFinder 2.0
Tom Rath
Gallup Press (2007)

“Mirror, mirror on the wall….”

Note: One of my passions in life is to help promote and (yes) celebrate business books that are “classics,” deserving far more attention than they currently receive. That is certainly true of StrengthsFinder 2.0.

You will probably find no head-snapping revelations in this book if you have already read Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s First, Break All the Rules and/or Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton’s Now, Discover Your Strengths (especially the latter). Nor does Tom Rath claim to offer any. Rather, this is a new and upgraded edition of the Gallup organization’s previous online test (StrengthsFinder 1.0) that enables those who take it to identify and measure their talents relative to “more than 5,000 new personalized Strengths Insights that we have discovered in recent years.”

In Rath’s two previously published books, How Full Is Your Bucket? co-authored with Donald O. Clifton and Vital Friends, he shares his own reactions to an abundance of research data that reveal the importance of two separate but related forces that have profound impact on the workplace: getting strengths in alignment with work to be done and then developing them even more with strategic delegation and close supervision.

What we have in this book, Strengths Finder 2.0, is a wealth of new research material that Rath examines with exceptional precision and uncommon eloquence. I strongly encourage each reader to take full advantage of the self-diagnostic opportunities that both Rath and the Gallup organization generously offer. Of course, once various exercises are completed, a significant challenge remains: to take effective and productive action to apply what has been learned. It is helpful to be aware of what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton so aptly characterize as the “knowing-doing” and “doing-knowing” gaps. It is also helpful to recall Peter Drucker’s observation more than 40 years ago: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Presumably Rath agrees that, more often than not, the Yoda is right: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Drucker Difference: Making performance reviews worthwhile

Rick Wartzman

Yes, You Can Make Performance Reviews Worthwhile

….and less odious for all parties. The key is to concentrate first and foremost on employees’ strengths.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rick Wartzman for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine’s “The Drucker Difference” series (April 8, 2011). To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

*     *     *

A few weeks ago, the head of the federal Office of Personnel Management took on what for many people is the bane of organizational life: performance reviews.

When it comes to setting employee standards, giving appraisals, and rating and compensating people, the processes now in place across the government “have dehumanized management to a degree that we can no longer ignore,” the office’s director, John Berry, declared in a speech delivered at a major interagency conference.

Peter Drucker saw this problem long ago, and not just in the public sector. “For a superior to focus on weakness, as our appraisals require him to do, destroys the integrity of his relationship with his subordinates,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic The Effective Executive.

For Drucker, in fact, assessing an employee’s performance should always begin with someone’s strengths, not with his or her weaknesses—an emphasis picked up decades later by Marcus Buckingham, Gallup’s Tom Rath, and others. “The effective executive makes strength productive,” Drucker asserted. “He knows that one cannot build on weakness.”

And yet most traditional appraisal systems, Drucker explained, are based on the work of clinical psychologists. “The clinician is a therapist trained to heal the sick,” Drucker noted. “He is legitimately concerned with what is wrong, rather than what is right, with the patient.”

Behind the Murky Vail

This week’s threat of a government shutdown aside, the federal performance-management system is full of idiosyncrasies, including a civil service bureaucracy that largely rewards longevity in a job. Most companies don’t have to deal with such strictures or the messy politics often associated with them. But one frustration common to many enterprises—whether a business, government operation, or nonprofit—is the lack of transparency and consistency that people sense when they are evaluated.

“For many employees, performance standards are too unclear and subjective,” Berry said. “And then you don’t fully know what’s expected of you or how you’re doing.” Among the reforms Berry is calling for the government to implement are detailed yardsticks that are “objective, aligned to agency mission and goals,” and have true “employee buy-in.”

Drucker certainly would have agreed with this approach. “One can measure the performance of a man only against specific performance expectations,” he wrote, adding that the best kind of review begins with a statement of the key contributions expected from the employee, along with a record of how he or she has fulfilled these particular goals.

A Series of Questions

But Drucker didn’t stop there. After analyzing how the worker has (or hasn’t) met these objectives, the ideal appraisal in Drucker’s eyes would ask a handful of questions, the first three of which would zero in on an individual’s strengths: What has he or she done well? What, therefore, is he or she likely to do well in the future? What new knowledge or skills must he or she acquire in order to coax the full benefit from his or her strengths?

It is only the next set of questions that veers in a different direction: If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under or alongside this person? If yes, why? If no, why not?

That’s the entire form, top to bottom. “This appraisal actually takes a much more critical look … than the usual procedure does,” Drucker wrote. But it concentrates on what people naturally do well and should do even more of. At the same time, it positions weaknesses so they are “seen as limitations to the full use” of an employee’s talents, not as deficiencies that one needs to obsess over.

For all of his attention on the positive over the negative, Drucker was no softie regarding staff. He believed that employers should make every job as “demanding and big” as possible. That’s because it’s only when jobs challenge people that their full strengths emerge, he said. And only if there’s scope will “any strength that is relevant to the task … produce significant results.”

[To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.]

*     *     *

Rick Wartzman is executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. He spent the first 20 years of his career as a reporter, editor, and columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. His most recent book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, was published by PublicAffairs in September 2008.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commitment or Compliance…It’s Your Choice

Bob Woodcock

I am grateful to Marcus Buckingham for calling my attention to Bob Woodcock and the material he posts at his website.

Here is an excerpt from a recent and excellent article that suggests the quality of Woodcock’s reasoning and writing skills, posted on January 21, 2011.

To read the complete article, check out others, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

According to author Daniel Pink traditional management methods are great if what you want from your people is compliance. The problem is that most of us in leadership roles  require far more than that in the new normal that exists in these post recessionary times. Without a committed and engaged workforce our ability to create sustainable business outcomes is severely challenged.

Pink has done some ground breaking work in identifying the true drivers of better performance in the workplace. It turns out that for simple, straight forward tasks the carrot and the stick work well as motivators. For roles that require algorithmic performance, the concept of “if you do this, then you get that” works as a performance motivator. However, if the task gets more complicated – when it requires some conceptual, creative thinking – those kinds of motivators don’t work. We’ve known for years that money is not the primary motivator of successful business outcomes. Science has shown us that performance, and personal satisfaction, come down to three factors:


Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed, to run our own lives. This is where traditional management methods actually get in the way of performance. In their book First Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman identified the differences between what great managers do and what conventional wisdom dictates. Their findings indicated that without fail the managers that concentrated on following had significantly better results than their contemporaries:

• Selecting for talent.
• Set expectations by defining the right outcomes.
• Motivate by focusing on an individual’s strengths.
• Develop the people on their team by helping them find the right fit within the organization.

Defining the right outcomes and focusing on the individual strengths of the members of your team will have a dramatic effect on the sense of autonomy that you engender. Traditional management focuses on setting expectations by defining the right steps for your direct reports. Regardless of what your leadership role is within the organization (leader of others vs. leader of leaders) when you establish what the target or goal is with one of your direct reports and allow them to determine the right steps to success are you provide them with the autonomy that drives both personal satisfaction and improved performance.

The shift from being an individual contributor within the organization to being a leader of others is a difficult one to make. Most of us that have made that transition didn’t get much in the way of training for our new role. We know what has worked well for us in the past and when it comes to crunch time we reach back to those experiences and apply them with our direct reports. Unfortunately much of what we did as an individual contributor has a negative impact when it comes to managing for results with others.

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that you cultivate a true sense of autonomy with your direct reports. It is important to remember that autonomy and accountability go hand in hand. Allowing your direct reports to determine what the right steps are doesn’t mean that you will be abdicating your responsibility as a manager to ensure that targets are met and successful business outcomes are delivered. It is imperative to the success of your direct reports that you have frequent check-in conversations and that you both monitor the progress to the end result. That doesn’t mean that you should look for a status update every time you talk with the person. Establish a schedule of follow-up meetings and stick with the schedule.

It’s been said that good people don’t leave the organization they work for, they leave due to a misalignment with their manager. That’s often driven by the fact that their manager has been determined to motivate them by identifying and overcoming what s/he perceives to be their weaknesses. The fact is that people don’t change that much. As a manager you are wasting your time trying to put in what you feel was left out. Focus instead on the individual strengths and try to draw out more of what was left in.

Strength based coaching plays directly to mastery. Each of us would like to get better at what we do. I don’t believe that anyone I’ve ever managed got up in the morning and started the day thinking about how they wanted to go to work and do the worst possible job they could. It was only when I began to understand behaviour that I could see how my actions were impacting both the personal satisfaction and individual performance of my direct reports. Once I was able to apply the science of behaviour and truly understand what the motivational drives and needs were for the various people I began to see the shift from compliance to commitment.

It truly is your choice to make. I can speak from experience on both sides of the issue and I have to say that I much preferred commitment from my direct reports. Your role as a leader of a group of individual contributors puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to the level of engagement within your organization. In most cases this group of managers is directly responsible for the business outcomes of 70% to 80% of the workforce. Give them autonomy, mastery and purpose and watch them shine. Have great conversations and focus on developing their strengths. That’s the way to improve performance.

*     *     *

According to Bob Woodcock, “My role is to help companies manage their talent and improve profitability by better understanding, motivating and developing their people. It’s a combination of “gut” plus science creating better, more informed decisions. I do this by training leaders to align the capacities of their people with the organizations business objectives.”

For more information please visit

Thursday, March 31, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HBR’s 10 Must Reads: On Managing People: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads: On Managing People
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (2011)

Why and how to manage yourself so that you can then manage others effectively

This volume is one of several in a new series of anthologies of articles that initially appeared in the Harvard Business Review, in this instance from 1980 until 2005. Remarkably, none seems dated; on the contrary, if anything, all seem more relevant now than ever before as their authors discuss what are (literally) essential dimensions of managing one’s self as well as others.

More specifically, how to get results, motivate employees, avoid or overcome the “Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome,” save rookie managers from themselves, understand what great managers do, use fair process to manage in the knowledge economy, teach smart people how to learn, determine how ethical (or unethical) someone is, understand what “the discipline of a team” is and does, and finally, how to manage one’s boss (i.e. lead up).

Each article includes two invaluable reader-friendly devices, “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Practice” sections, that facilitate, indeed expedite review of key points. Some articles also include mini-essays on even more specific subjects such as “Growing Your Emotional Intelligence” (Daniel Goleman), “The Elusive One Thing” (Marcus Buckingham), “Making Sense of Irrational Behavior at VW and Siemans-Nixdorf” and “Fair Process Is Critical in Knowledge Work” (W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne), “Are You Biased?” (Mahzarin R. Banaji, Max H. Bazerman, and Dolly Chugh), and ”Building Team Performance” (Jon Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith).

These ten articles do not – because they obviously cannot – explain everything that one wishes to know and understand about managing one’s self as well as others effectively. However, I do not know of another single source at this price (currently $14.13 from Amazon) that provides more and better information, insights, and advice that will help leaders to achieve success in the business dimensions examined in this volume.

Saturday, March 5, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Morris on Real Change Leaders: A Book Review

Real Change Leaders: How You Can Create Growth and High Performance at Your Company
Jon R. Katzenbach
Crown Business (1997)

There are several reasons why I think this is one of the most important business books I have read in recent years. Here are three. First, it is the best single-source I have as yet encountered which prescribes and explains a cohesive program by which to create growth and high performance in an organization. Also, this program allows for all manner of adjustments and modifications to accommodate the specific, sometimes unique needs and interests of any organization. Finally, it is extraordinarily well-written. In fact, this edition combines two books in one volume because the original version has since been expanded to include “The RCL’s Handbook for Action.”

To gather the information they needed, Katzenbach and his associates at McKinsey & Company (the “RCL Team”) examined more than 30 different change situations and interviewed more than 150 change leaders. In the Introduction, they discuss seven common characteristics among the RCLs and then cite three shared beliefs:

1. “Tough standards of performance, but not just financial performance; customer value and workforce rewards are important as well.

2. “A set of democratic principles that tap the creative power inherent in every person; but they also enforce consequence management, believing they can truly empower people only by requiring results in return.

3. “The essence of self-governance is joint accountability (among leaders and constituents alike) for creating new opportunity; the basic approach is open dialogue and interaction to resolve conflicts by working to obtain the best contributions from multiple points of view.”

The material is organized within three Parts: People-Intensive Change, Engaging the Organization, and Leadership Capacity and Growth. Throughout the book, the reader is provided with immensely informative as well as convenient charts (e.g. “Differences Between `Good Managers’ and RCLs) that feature key points. I have already noted “The Real Change Leader’s Handbook for Action” (pages 341-391 in the softbound edition) which, in effect, gives each reader a template as well as a frame-of-reference to implement whichever combination of concepts, strategies, and tactics is most appropriate. The “Handbook” offers comments, suggestions, checklists and frameworks “for getting started in areas where change leadership help is needed.”

For me, one of the book’s greatest values is derived from its response to the question, “What distinguishes a real change leader from traditional managers?” The answer may in some ways surprise you, as it did me. For example, “Real change leaders do not care if the change effort is fast or slow, empowered or controlled, one-time or recurring, cultural or engineered — or all of the above. They only care that it is people-intensive, and performance oriented…. Simply put, real change leaders learn how to survive and win in the delta state, while traditional managers can only survive in the current state or the future state.” The real change leader is committed to delivering results beyond the bottom line and instilling a working vision in the hearts and minds of associates while doing whatever is the right thing to do. They help others to perform above expectations (especially their own), constantly nourishing relations with customers while developing and applying the skills needed to remain flexible. Over time, they achieve results with a no-excuses mindset.

If you share my high regard for this book, I urge you to check out James O’Toole’s Leading Change and Gary Hamel’s Leading the Revolution as well as Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s First, Break All the Rules.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 414 other followers

%d bloggers like this: