Business: The Short and Long of It

When people assert that they are pro-business we really don’t know what they mean.  It all depends upon what they believe the purpose of business is.  Is it to maximize profit for its owners?  Is it to provide its executives with as much material gain as possible? Is it to provide people with quality goods and services? Continue reading

Of Fades and Failures

Why is it that many great ideas for improving how we manage our organizations become fades and ultimately fade away?

Fades and failures were frequently seen during the 1980’s and early 1990’s when many top-level executives sought to colonize—but not adapt to—the principles of quality management. They wanted the benefits of quality but not its antecedents. Those in authority expected results, without first making the appropriate transformation in their assumptions, beliefs and values.  In effect, thinking and doing were contradictory and predictably, the result was failure.  For the organization’s employees quality became another (management) flavor of the month.  Why is this so common a phenomenon? Continue reading

Potential Actualized

What potential does any one organization have?  The answer lies in understanding the organization as a system, which is code for understanding the organization as a purposeful web of (interdependent) relationships. Continue reading

Objects or Subjects

Newton’s laws of motion afford the quantification of the motion of matter (i.e. objects) and correspondingly by way of calculation the determination of the movement of the objects.   It is because of these laws we can determine the effect of two objects interacting (colliding), such as when a golf club hits a golf ball or what happens when we try to move a large object without applying an adequate external force.

Given that the conception of our system of economics was informed by Newtonian mechanics, it is not surprising to see J.B. Watson’s and B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism—the use of the stimulus-response—informing the methods of management. Just as Newton was able to precisely determine the movement of objects, management theorist and practitioners sought a similar result for the behavior of people. Continue reading

Hidden Lessons in Leadership #15

Anne Berkowitch, the co-founder and CEO of SelectMinds, shares her view of keys to effective leadership in an interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times.  Anne states “it’s really about being able to bring together a group of people, get the best out of them and get them wanting to work as a unit toward some goal post.” For Anne this is not about providing the right incentives or using ones’ position of authority to get others to do as you wish.  Listening to people is Anne’s lever.

While Anne says listening to people helps her to “understand what motivates them” toward getting them “to push themselves beyond their comfort zones”, listening does much more than this.  Listening communicates.  It communicates to others that you actually care about them.  In so doing you also communicate that you have trust in them, which in turn contributes to the development of trust throughout the organization.  Building a culture of trust is not something that can be legislated, it must be demonstrated, and it begins with the trustworthiness of those in authority.

Why is trust so essential?  Because without out it you won’t have a workplace wherein people feel safe and secure enough to fully exercise their capabilities; to step out of their comfort zone in order to realize their potential.  If, as the leader, you want your organization to remain viable, then it has to be a place where people’s ideas continue to emerge.  People are less likely to engage in the work of the organization if you don’t engage with them.

Anne’s approach to her leader-follower relationships is one of partnership. When speaking of how she recruits and hires people Anne said “I need partners in this business.”  Listening to your partners, engaging with partners leads to a productive relationship.

Engaging with them doesn’t mean getting out in front of them—showing you are the one in-charge—but rather getting behind them. Anne explains, “if you think about how you steer a boat, it’s always from the back, and I’ve moved toward the back of the boat.”  While Anne remains the one in-charge, she uses her positional authority to support the efforts of those in the organization.  Anne enables people to paddle their own boat—providing them the opportunity to have a sense of ownership—explaining, “I wanted people to be mini-C.E.O.’s of their area.”  This sense of ownership is the engagement that we often call motivation.

Though Anne seeks people who are smart, honest with him/her self, curious, and who want to be a part of a group to build something.  What Anne does watch out for and avoids are people “looking for a title”, those who are climbers.

So many feel that they have to continue to establish their position as the one in-charge—leading by fear—and in so doing they actually lose their ability to be a positive and productive influence.  Anne tells of her experience of trying to lead by imposing herself on others, “it just took a lot of false starts to learn that being smart isn’t the same thing as being a leader. We were going down the runway but the plane wasn’t taking off.”  There is a huge difference between people being moved and people being motivated; fear moves people but it doesn’t motivate greatness, it actually inhibits it.

Anne’s approach to leadership reminds me of an orchestra conductor.  Enabling those with talent and potential to make music, the kind of music they could never make alone.

20th Century Management Lives On

A Wall Street Journal article titled, The End of Management, offers an argument for the need of management of (big) business organizations to change stating “everything we learned in the last century about managing large corporations is in need of a serious rethink. We have both a need and an opportunity to devise a new form of economic organization, and a new science of management that can deal with the breakneck realities of the 21st century change.”  It seems the assumption is that until the 21st century, the traditional management method was aligned.  It is only because of 21st century’s apparent rapid change environment that we need to change the way of managing. Continue reading