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The New Crucible of Leadership

Posted by Mark Bennett on May 5, 2012

A crucible is used to burn off the unwanted materials and leave behind the stuff you want. Today’s world has the potential to transform leadership into more what it should be by burning away the old trappings that undermine its real purpose.

In today’s fear-dominated world, some people ask, “Where are all the leaders?” One answer was provided by James S. Rosebush in his March HBR post: Why Great Leaders are in Short Supply. Rosebush makes some excellent points about leadership and what has been eroding the ability for there to be “Great Leaders”, but I took issue with his premise, or at least felt he was misdirecting us a bit with the term “Great.”

For there is no shortage of leaders in the world. We are certainly witnessing the utter failure of “Great” leaders, and it doesn’t look like there are many alternatives fit to replace the current crop. So, yes, you could say there is a shortage of “Great Leaders.” But how much do we need, let alone want that kind? History shows us that at the very least, it’s been a high stakes game for the general population. That’s why there is hope for the future, I think, which comes from us growing away from needing “Great” leaders as much as we did previously.

Be careful what you wish for

The reason Rosebush gives why great leaders are in short supply is that in the past, they had the advantages of:

  • Privileged access to information
  • The reflected glory of their institutions
  • Broadly shared foundational principles

All I can say is, thank goodness those “advantages” are (hopefully) in decline. We don’t need, nor want, leaders who rely on those artifices to get into or stay in power.

Yes, there is still privileged information out there, and it could actually be growing, since all information is growing at an incredible rate. But it does appear that more information that was once privileged is now becoming publicly accessible. Of course, the information is a complete mess, but that’s always been the case throughout history – anyone who thought they had a lock on what was really going on was usually proven wrong. We now need leaders who can help us figure out what the information means and what questions to ask next. Hint: it won’t be the leaders who tell us.

Rosebush asks if it’s the institutions themselves, or their leaders that have caused such a decline in respect and trust of institutions, and as a result, the leaders. The answer is yes – the institutions shape the leaders and vice versa. Once corruption sets in, it’s very hard to extract and no matter how much an institution claims they’ve weeded out the bad apples, it takes a long, long time to regain public trust. To me, that’s the time when you should consider literally putting the institution more in the public “trust.” That is, close the separation that grew over time between the institution (whether actually public or “private”) and the public it was supposed to serve. This is where more leaders throughout the public can step up to make that happen.

Nothing riles up a discussion more than identifying “shared foundational principles”, especially in a world where diverse cultures and norms have more and more interaction. However, if you look at it more as a process as opposed to an event, it helps us see where leaders are really needed. It’s not about appeasing those whose values differ from yours, but it’s also not about extremism, unilateral actions, and ultimatums. Those are the crutches of demagogues, who shroud themselves in the “will of the people.” Again, it’s the leaders we are *all* capable of being that are called for here. We are responsible for our own thinking about personal and shared values – not some “Great” leader who tells you what to believe because all your neighbors believe it. Everyone is the world is your neighbor now, so how can a “Great” leader make that claim anymore?

We don’t get fooled again?

No, all of these “advantages” of the past were frequently nothing more than mechanisms for those in power to stay in power. So, good riddance, as those advantages really weren’t doing the public very much good. They were the Emperor’s New Clothes that are now getting stripped away by increased access to information, rethinking the relationship between institutions and the public they are supposed to serve, and how it’s up to the people of this planet to get to broadly shared foundational principles.

It won’t be easy, but it’s the kind of leaders that help create positive change in these transitioning areas that we need. The good news is that there are many out there already doing it and plenty more who can. What can we do to help encourage them?

Posted in leadership, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

A Heartfelt “Thank You” to Fistful of Talent!

Posted by Mark Bennett on March 27, 2012

We here at TalentedApps are always trying to bring value to the Talent and HR community by sharing our thinking about how we can create positive change in the way employees and companies work together. We’re a very diverse team, with a lot of different perspectives and interests, shaped by our wide range of experiences, but we all write posts here because we share this common goal.

Part of the reward from doing this is to be recognized by our peers, of whom we have the utmost respect as they also work hard to make the world of talent in work a better place.

So it was wonderful and gratifying to see our blog make the FOT v.8.0 Talent Management Power Rankings – Top 25 Blogs list. This list is a terrific starting point for anyone interested in how to improve the way talent can help create value in organizations.

Thank you very much for this honor!

Posted in talent | 2 Comments »

Sustainable Means More Than Recycling

Posted by Mark Bennett on March 13, 2012

In a world where almost everyone is considering the question of whether the notion of capitalism is obsolete, if you do think it’s still the right notion, then what is it that needs to change?

Part of the answer has been touched upon in whether profit should be the object of single-minded focus. Profit is of course a big factor in investor decisions, but every investor doesn’t think the same way. Some investors value the vision or purpose of a venture in combination with return on their investment, and to varying degrees. The bigger picture of profit is that it enables the continued existence of the venture to pursue its broader goals and the various investors have different perspectives on profit and those goals.

But there are also more than just capital investors.

More than one kind of investor

Society is also an investor in just about every capitalist endeavor, either directly or indirectly, either actively or passively. This might be through government activities such as taxes and tax breaks, subsidized loans, and contracts.

Consumers are investors as well, through the decisions they make on whether to buy a product or service that entails an ongoing relationship with a firm in order to get the most value out of the purchase.

Employees are also investors, through their commitment to see projects through tough times, to forego another job offer (even taking into account innate risk aversion), and investing their time into gaining experience and development in areas related to their organization’s vision or purpose.

Each of these investors has a stake in the organization just as much as the capital investor. So what happens when management loses sight of the bigger picture of the whole range of investors that exist and thinks only in terms of “increase shareholder value”?

Capital investors who were initially attracted to the vision and purpose of the venture start to see it fade and become muddled in a “race to the bottom” for profit or lost in generic, “be the best” platitudes.

Customers start to see no reason to keep buying the product or service. There’s no value in the brand and if switching costs are high for now, it just builds resentment, further reducing the value the customer sees.

Employees not only start to see all the previous things happening, and how it affects their future prospects in staying with that organization, but they are very likely on the receiving end of a poor work environment. In addition to long hours and low pay, the lack of vision and purpose take away even the semblance that their sacrifices might have some meaning to them.

Looking at all the investors, together

So, what to do? What’s key is to see that when all the different kinds of investors are considered together, the organization’s ability to deliver value to each is improved.

Think in terms that go beyond simply making your organization “a great place to work”, or “an environmentally friendly company”, or “good for society”, or “making the best product or service” – those can be just as narrow as “best risk/return record in the industry” if viewed as siloed, separate things.

Think instead about how all the pieces do fit together – how customers value your products/services is affected by your impact on the earth’s resources and environment, what your employees think about what their work means affects delivering a superior return to your investors across all that they value. These factors all interact in the outside world, as more people are beginning to understand, so your organization must also determine how it fits into that web of interaction.

An excellent book that focuses on the “how” with well-researched examples, is “Management Reset” by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. It describes what the authors refer to as “Sustainably Managed Organizations”, in contrast to the long-standing “Command and Control Organizations” and the more recent “High Involvement Organization.”

Sustainably Managed Organizations (SMOs) weave together all the aspects of the organizations relationships with economic, social, and environmental stakeholders (not just “shareholders.”) They break out their approach to how SMOs operate into the major components that every organization must attend to if it really wants to achieve any meaningful change: Strategy, Structure, Talent, and Culture.

Leadership impact

Leadership is needed in all four of these components if the change effort is to have a chance of success. Most of all, leadership can have the largest positive impact through talent – the way people are treated, and culture – how behavior is guided…if it would only put the needed focus there.

Think about it – the places where organizations have gone off the rails and landed in the headlines on topics such as corruption, environmental disaster, and financial collapse of outrageous origin have been due in large part to culture and how certain behaviors were encouraged, tolerated, or rationalized.

Now think about how those negative outcomes affected the broader set of investors and their future decisions regarding those organizations.

We’re way past getting by with “Our people are our most important asset.” Organizations must now be able to explain how they manage their talent to generate value and create superior business performance – most of all to their people. Executives must be the primary talent managers, understanding how the workforce capabilities enable/constrain strategic options and impact execution.

Think what can happen when leadership is focused on how they manage talent and shape behaviors to the same extent it is focused on strategy and structure.

Photo by nickwheeleroz

Posted in culture, leadership, strategy, talent | 5 Comments »

Leadership and Thinking – What’s the Catch?

Posted by Mark Bennett on March 3, 2012

It would be nice to know that the two go together, right? And they usually do, but…

The catch is that thinking tends to occur in two forms: “Fast,” or System 1, and “Slow,” or System 2. “Fast” thinking is what we are talking about when we have a “gut feeling” about something or someone or when we are going with our “intuition.” “Slow” thinking is what we are talking about when we “work things out” or “think things through.”

Quick example: When I ask you to answer 2 times 2, your answer comes from System 1. If I ask you to answer 17 times 24, you have to think it through – that’s System 2 doing its thing.

You’re thinking, you’re thinking again

How does this fit with leadership? Leaders can fall into the trap of relying on one type of thinking exclusively. This might come from wanting to have a “leadership style” and a desire for consistency in shaping that style makes a leader feel they need to always be seen as either quick or deliberate in their thinking. It might also be as simple as they’ve had more favorable outcomes with one or the other (or at least that’s how they remember it.)

CBS This Morning had a 5 minute interview with Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow (which I recommended here). The interview happened to bring up the subject of how George W. Bush and Barack Obama are pretty good examples of the two different Systems. Bush was known for, and prides himself on, being a quick decision maker who often “went with his gut” (System 1.) Obama is known for being more deliberate, for looking at both sides of the argument, etc. (System 2.)

What was interesting and important to note was Kahneman’s comments that one type of thinking is not always superior to the other – they both have their respective advantages and disadvantages. When asked when is it better to use one vs. the other, he nicely summed it up this way:

  1. If it’s a routine situation and the stakes aren’t too high, it’s usually fine to go with System 1 (i.e. save your energy/time for when you really need it.)
  2. If the stakes are high or the situation is unusual, you are usually better off taking the time to think things through (i.e. turn to System 2.)

Now, you look at that and you could say, “I could have told you that – I must be as smart as a Nobel Prize winner!”

Under pressure

But that’s where the pressures of leadership come in. Kahneman also made the observation that the pubic is often looking for “decisive leaders” and that often equates to being “quick on your feet”, ready to handle the next crisis at a moment’s notice in this world that seems to be moving and changing faster and faster, with danger lurking around every corner.

So the stakes are high, right? Both for the people of a country, and the whole planet for that matter. And with the way presidents, prime ministers, and CEOs are unceremoniously tossed out if things don’t go well, their personal stakes are quite high as well, correct?

Now, how often are circumstances (in our ever-changing world, that keeps moving faster and faster, with new threats around every corner) routine?

Let’s see. Stakes are high and the situation is very rarely routine. That points to System 2. But everybody wants a leader that acts like System 1. Got it.

For you leaders out there, the takeaway is this: sometimes the pressure you feel to “go fast” is a sign to “slow down,” while other times you simply do not have that luxury. Your mission is to get good at knowing when it’s the right time to make that call and when it’s not. Just remember that each type of thinking is valuable and make use of both when you can. Don’t get stuck in a pattern of using just one or the other.

Photo by toddeemel

Posted in leadership, thinking | 6 Comments »

Leadership Development Carnival – Super Bowl Pre-game Edition

Posted by Mark Bennett on February 5, 2012

For many in the US (and for some around the world as well), today will be occupied by watching the culminating clash of titans for this NFL season. If not that, it will be for the commercials (if they haven’t already been seen on the internet – so it goes with our “always on” society.)

It’s easy to be cynical about these contests what with all the spectacle, commercials, and money that is being poured out onto televisions in households and sports bars across the country. In a culture replete with excess, this event is often held up as a classic example.

However, what’s great is when the focus is on how each team plays and the leadership that is demonstrated. While the outcome of the game itself does make things more tangible by setting stakes to the contest, it’s watching the individual efforts, the coordinated efforts of the teams, and in particular, the leadership moments that can really make the game a richer experience. It doesn’t happen all the time and some games have felt quite “hollow” – something was missing. But when you see a coach, quarterback, receiver, or even a lineman make a leadership call, it adds value because we can ask ourselves would we do the same? Am I doing the same? It could be by setting an example through extraordinary effort, motivating the team when they are behind, monitoring over-optimism when they are ahead, etc. How well the team plays in the game as a unit is also testimony to countless acts of leadership throughout the season and the training that went before it.

What follows are over 20 ways you can find how to improve leadership in yourself, your team, and your organization. It’s a diverse collection, so not only are you likely to find something that hits on exactly an issue you are dealing with, but you might also find a new way of looking at things that changes things for the better. You also might discover a blog that you’ll want to subscribe to going forward.

We’d like to thank Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership for allowing us to host this month’s Leadership Development Carnival as well as for the great work he does to support this community. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the superb entries this month’s carnival holds:

Wally Bock presents Fundamental Advice for a Young Leader posted at Three Star Leadership, saying “Noah Lomax asked me for ‘fundamental advice’ for a young leader. Here’s my best shot.”

Anne Perschel presents Manager or Leader – Which One is More Important? posted at Germane Insights, providing a case study and a story of two men, one is seen as a leader, the other as a manager. Which one is more important?

Tanmay Vora presents Fostering Autonomy in a Team: 7 Lessons posted at QAspire. People do their best work when they are “intrinsically motivated” and one of the most important intrinsic motivator for people is autonomy in work. This post outlines 7 lessons learned in building a self organized team.

Jesse Lyn Stoner presents No More Boring Meetings, Please! posted at Jesse Lyn Stoner Blog. The purpose of a team meeting is to create and tap into the collective wisdom. Holding a meeting to share information is not a good reason to meet. This post lists 7 good reasons a team should meet and 3 tips to determine whether a meeting is necessary.

Mary C Schaefer presents 3 Things Great Leaders Know About Managing Change posted at Lead Change Group Blog. Mary reminds us to appreciate resistance to change and to give people adequate time, tools and resources to prepare for change in order to give our organization the best chances for success.

Sharlyn Lauby presents The Inevitable Shift from Jobs to Skills posted at HR Bartender. Superb post about what is perhaps the most important issue of our time across the globe.

David Zinger presents 8 Powerful Approaches to Create Meaningful Employee Engagement  posted at David Zinger Employee Engagement, providing an outline of how to weave meaning into work.

Lynn Dessert presents Have Performance Reviews run their course? posted at Elephants at Work, asking do Performance Reviews deliver their intent or has process gobbled them up?

Miki Saxon presents Ducks in a Row: Titles—Silly or Serious? posted at MAPping Company Success. It’s the report structure that moves new CXO titles from silly to serious.

Chris Edmonds presents Plot Your Path to Ethical Behavior posted at Driving Results Through Culture. His post was prompted by the World Economic Forum session in Davos, Switzerland last week. The founder, Klaus Schwab, was quoted as saying that the global economic crisis was prompted by excesses – and that the Davos session would focus on ethics and moral behaviors by economic and political leaders to serve society more fairly. His focus in the post is that ethical behavior starts with each of us, and by following a simple ethics check we can “hold our heads high” at the end of each interaction, each day.

Robyn McLeod presents 7 questions you must answer to strengthen your great idea posted at Thoughtful Leaders Blog. A client shares a set of powerful questions from the R&D world that will resonate with anyone who wants to get their great idea the attention it deserves.

Steve Roesler presents Where You Decide To Perform Matters posted at All Things Workplace. Everyone is talented in some way. Whether or not you are a star depends on where you choose to perform.

David Burkus presents The Least Important Question in Leadership posted at The Leader Lab. Won’t spoil it here – but the post is really about the question behind that question. Curious now?

Dan McCarthy presents A Performance Management Model posted at Great Leadership. Dan has developed A Performance Management Model as a follow-up to his recent “Are You Managing or Just Nagging?” post. Check it out and see which quadrant you’re spending time in: Managing, Avoiding, Nagging, or taking a well deserved Vacation.

Jane Perdue presents 5 reasons it’s OK to say “no” posted at LeadBIG. Telling people “no” doesn’t make you unlikable. Failing to say “no” when it’s appropriate to do so makes you a doormat. And the really ugly kicker here is that saying “yes” doesn’t necessarily make you likeable.

Nick McCormick presents Hiring People that Fit Your Culture posted at Joe and Wanda on Management. The key to hiring good people is to hire those that embody the unique attitudinal characteristics of your organization.

Anna Farmery presents Why Predictions Are Not Just For Christmas! posted at The Engaging Brand. Leadership is not about predicting what will happen; it’s about being prepared for what might happen, which means being open to diverse opinions on that very topic.

Jennifer V. Miller presents 7 Questions That Help Conversations Move Forward posted at The People Equation. If you are having the same conversations over and over with your employees, you’re probably having the wrong conversation. Here are seven ways to get unstuck from the “conversational mud”.

Guy Farmer presents If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say… posted at Unconventional Training. Many leaders miss a golden opportunity to lead more effectively when they don’t communicate in a nice way.

Chase Dumont presents What is Leadership? The Definitive Answer posted at Chase Dumont, Rainmaker. Rulers, philosophers, and corporate middle managers have been defining and redefining leadership for millennia. In this post, Chase outlines 8 keys to leadership, with concrete examples to arm you with an unbeatable – and practical – understanding of how to lead.

Mary Jo Asmus presents 20 Things To Stop Waiting For posted at Mary Jo Asmus. A checklist of actions leaders do to create positive change.

Scott Eblin presents Is Being the Go-To Person Holding You Back? posted at Next Level Blog. Being the go to person is a great thing for leaders to be until it’s not. In this post, Scott Eblin offers tips and a video coaching segment for leaders who want to shift from being the go to person to someone who build teams of go to people.

Erin Schreyer presents A Loss for the Broncos, A Win for Tebow’s Leadership posted at Leadership. Life. Legacy. Whatever your opinion on his beliefs and the way he shows them, Tebow demonstrates 4 solid characteristics of leadership that are worth reflecting on.

Photo by fPat

Posted in carnival, development, leadership | 11 Comments »

Some Great Books from 2011

Posted by Mark Bennett on January 13, 2012

Here are some great books from last year that helped me think about Social Business, Business Strategy, Leadership, and how the way we think affects our ability to succeed with them. If you haven’t read them yet, you might want to check them out.

Strategy

The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy by Paul Leinwand and Cesare R. Mainardi

I read this early in the year after reading the authors’ Strategy+Business article, “Do You Have the Right to Win?” (registration required.) This main point of the book is that unless your business strategy, portfolio of products and services, and your workforce capabilities are coherent, your business will suffer. This problem is very pervasive in business due to factors stemming from growth for growth’s sake without enough consideration given to whether it amplifies and leverages existing strengths or not. The book is not an epiphany on this topic by any means, but it does present a well-thought out framework for helping a business achieve this coherence in a shorter period of time. There are several interesting, real-world examples given to make the process more real and believable.

The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World by Walter Kiechel

I owe a big thanks to my colleague Craig Martell, who recommended this book, which was referenced in The Essential Advantage. Craig had read TEA on my recommendation, read Lords of Strategy and said it was a very interesting read. I agree – TloS brings a historical context to the evolution of Strategy, following the rise of Boston Consulting Group, Bain, and McKinsey as well as the major waves (Position, Process and People) of focus in thinking about gaining advantage. The history covers not only the consulting firms themselves and the way they approached making money from their models and services, but also how academia puzzled over, studied, adopted, and contributed to the thinking around business strategy.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt

I had read a McKinsey article, “Strategy’s strategist: An interview with Richard Rumelt” (free registration required) a while back and was impressed by Rumelt’s matter-of-fact, no-nonsense approach to Strategy. Good Strategy Bad Strategy is written in that same style; that Strategy is key and that the problem is that many people mistake the wrong things for Strategy and/or think that since the world is changing so fast that something static like a Strategy that took two years to formulate and is now obsolete is a pointless task. Rumelt shows the error of that thinking and describes what constitutes a real and good Strategy (rather than a Mission, or Values Statement or a Financial Goal that is often mistaken for or substituted for Strategy.) He emphasizes how what really matters is the rigorous thinking that goes into developing your Strategy (at whatever level in the organization), how that thinking is tested and corrected, and then adapting your Strategy as a result. Rumelt provides a simple framework that helps guide that process.

Thinking

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

I owe a big thanks to my colleague and co-blogger Steve Hughes, who recommended this fascinating book about how we remember things and how that affects who we are and how we think. It’s written to follow the author’s year-long efforts to train his memory and learn techniques to compete in a memory championship. Along the way (which includes some very memorable characters who mentor him), he shares interesting scientific cases and studies. This includes the journalist with the real photographic memory (and the very mixed blessing that it presented) as well as the man with literally no ability to develop further memories past a particular date (and the touching story of his wife’s care of him for many years.) The book provides understanding and insights about memory (and expertise!) such as how our experiences and our malleable and sometimes faulty memory of those experiences shape how we think and vice versa (see next review.)

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Kahneman is most known for his work in behavioral economics (winning a Nobel for that work) and the notion that maybe economic models make too simplifying of an assumption when saying that participants in markets act rationally in their own self-interest. While this book has a fair amount in it that’s been published before in one form or another, nothing beats it for bringing the most important findings and their implications together in one tome. It’s a pretty big book, but you don’t have to read it from front to back. Yes, there are many other books out there that also cover this material, but having one of the foundational thinkers in this field (who also keeps working in it) reflect on how far it has come over the last few decades actually makes it fresh, since he both brings perspective as well as constantly questions what’s next to learn about the way we think. A good companion to “How We Decide” and “Nudge” (and Moonwalking, of course.)

The Jobless Recovery

Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

This is a short eBook that you can read in one (somewhat long) sitting. To oversimplify a bit, it addresses the real concern many express over whether there are ever going to be enough “middle class” jobs going forward. The book is timely in the context of another jobless recovery after the Great Recession (and its subsequent dips). The authors discuss the various arguments put forth to explain the frustratingly slow decrease in unemployment as well as the concurrent increasing disparity in the standard of living among the population. They introduce their argument that a lot of the slow recovery also has to do with the longer-term, increasing replacement of jobs that were previously thought to be safe from automation, by computers and robots. There are no pat answers, but the book does take a hopeful outlook on our ability to work through the issues; it’s whether policy makers will make it a shorter or longer period of suffering for those hit hard by these changes in the job market. It’s an important contribution to the thinking around the most crucial humanitarian crisis of our time.

Leadership

The Leader’s Checklist: 15 Mission-Critical Principles by Michael Useem

Here’s another short eBook that captures well the essentials to effective leadership. Useem presents both the checklist of 15 core principles as well as three real world examples of “leadership moments” that demonstrate the application of some of these principles (“The Leadership Moment” is a well-regarded book by Useem from a while back that uses the same technique to great effect. These “moments” capture both the context within which leadership is demonstrated or not, along with the essence of either the demonstration of effective leadership or the utter lack of it.) The list contains nothing you haven’t seen in one or another book on leadership: articulating vision, thinking and acting strategically, expressing confidence in those you lead, bias for action, decisive action, simple and clear communication, appreciate the diverse and distinct motivations of those you lead, delegate authority as appropriate, build leadership in others, manage relationships, help folks understand the impact your vision and strategy will have on their work, act with integrity, be alert for and discourage unwarranted hubris and risk, build a diverse top team, and place common interest first, personal self-interest last. What Useem does in a very succinct manner is help you get your head around that list and address how some items might have higher priority depending on the situation (i.e. your role, the company, culture, or country, the current crisis, etc.) This is where examples like the Chilean mine cave-in and the bail-out of AIG help you see how that works (or didn’t, as the case may be.) There are thousands and thousands of leadership books out there, so it’s good to find ones like this that give solid, practical guidance with examples.

Social Business

The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees by Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald

This book has been getting excellent reviews for bringing together and addressing just about every question people have about how to view social media risks and benefits. It’s a great source and reference for anyone who is wrestling with issues like policy, effective use, where to apply it and how, factors to consider when doing so, etc. It’s very thorough and is again one of those books you don’t have to read from cover to cover. It’s pretty well organized to help you find the areas you want to address. Most importantly for me, while it addresses many details that matter regarding successful implementation, it emphasizes that the most important factor is to identify the purpose of your efforts. What is your objective? How will you measure the achievement of that objective?

The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media by Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran

I met co-author Ed Moran through Deloitte and picked up his book to get a better understanding of his thinking on how social tools can enable organizations to truly compete in ways they haven’t been able to before. Most importantly, this book puts the people first and recognizes that the technologies are simply what enable people to do what has been more difficult previously. It takes a forward-looking, imaginative look at how people using these tools can revolutionize your organization and your approach to doing business. A good portion of the book focuses on engaging with customers in what they characterize as “Tribes” – reflecting a sociological approach. Combined with a view of employees in the same way, it amplifies the social aspects and focuses your thinking on that perspective vs. thinking solely about how to apply the new technologies, but from a viewpoint that is closed to these new ways of thinking. Includes many useful cases.

The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner

I ran into co-author Marcia Conner when we were both attending a Social Learning panel at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara. Marcia informed me she “wrote the book” on Social Learning and I have to say that she and Tony did a terrific job. This book starts off with some very intelligent observations on what really makes the “New” Social Learning so uniquely valuable to organizations. Why is it “New”? The authors emphasize that much if not all learning that truly changes you is “social”, so “new” social learning is about applying the new social tools to learning. The result is knowledge transfer and creation through natural, work-related connections (e.g. the enterprise social network), more and better-informed decision-making, and a better understanding of the context of work. I found a lot in here that reminded me of the “Flow of Knowledge” discussion in “The Power of Pull.” The best kind of knowledge transfer results in both the provider and recipient of knowledge increasing their knowledge. The “New” Social Learning helps a lot in making that happen.

Photo by betta design

Posted in book reviews, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

This is our fourth birthday!

Posted by Mark Bennett on November 12, 2011

Yes, it’s been four years since Mark, Meg, and Amy started this blog. The last year has seen the biggest changes in contributors – several of our longtime members started on new adventures and their writings will be missed dearly. That loss has been ameliorated by having several new and brilliant members added. All-in-all this change is a good thing. It keeps new ideas coming through here while sticking with our mission, which is to inform and discuss issues around Talent Management in a hopefully entertaining and engaging way.

I think we’ve succeeded. Having new members contribute is one of the best ways to bring in new perspectives that come with a whole different set of experiences and educational backgrounds. We are so lucky to have people on the team ready to jump in and bring their valuable thinking into this blog!

We’ve had a very busy and exciting year with Fusion and we’ve continued to nurture and build relationships with the HR, Talent, and Social communities. It’s been very gratifying to be able to talk about our products and get feedback and insight in return. As always, our thanks go out to our readership, friends, colleagues, and family for their support. We look forward to the upcoming years working together on our mission.

Photo by: cygnus921

Posted in anniversary | 4 Comments »

What are we all really worth?

Posted by Mark Bennett on September 25, 2011

By now, at least in the States, you’ve seen ads and reviews for “Moneyball”, starring Brad Pitt. It’s based on the 2003 book by Michael Lewis and I’ve referred to it several times in previous posts. My colleague Ravi even posted a cricket version!

My fellow Moneyball fan, Kris Dunn, when he gave us all a heads up about the movie back in July, correctly described the book as being really about thinking differently in valuing talent.

We tend to stick with conventional wisdom and/or what’s worked in the past and this limits our ability to spot new and perhaps better (at least for you) ways to win. You can discover previously unrecognized value in your workforce by changing your perspective on what strengths and weaknesses really apply to the challenge you are currently facing.

It works like this. Right now, you are shaping your workforce around what you think you need it to do in order to best execute on your strategy. Makes sense, right? Here’s the thing, your view of your workforce is shaped by this thinking as well. You tend not to see your workforce capabilities any way other than what you need it to do right now.

If it ain’t broke…

Don’t fix, right? But what happens if:

1) You are no longer able to get or retain the kind of workforce you need to win? For instance, one or more competitors with more resources (e.g. cash) hollow out your workforce?

2) Your company’s circumstances suddenly change and the strengths of your workforce are no longer key to sustainable competitive advantage? For instance, a new technology appears and the marketplace in a very short time does a 180 on you?

And on a slightly more positive note:

3) You come across a new opportunity that is either not recognized or not captured well by other companies. You think it could be a huge money maker for your company, but you don’t really know if your workforce has the capability you need to pull it off.

It’s true you might (and probably really should) take defensive steps to keep key talent. You could also build an employer brand that draws new talent to you. But beyond that, you need to expand your view of what other strategies your current workforce is capable of supporting.

A plan for thinking different

Where to start?

1)  Start by not limiting your view of your workforce to just what you think you need. Each person in your workforce very likely has experiences, skills, knowledge, etc. that are not known or being used right now. Help your workforce see a benefit to them in sharing this information with the company.

2) Next, think about other strategies that could be applied to your company’s business. One way is to put yourself in the shoes of a new entrant and think about possible ways you could disrupt the current incumbent. Or ask what new management would do if current management was fired (i.e. the Andy Grove question.)

3) Also, bring fresh perspectives into your thinking by working with people with a diverse set of experiences. If they have the right kind of thinking skills, can analyze a situation and quickly identify the key leverage points in a challenging situation, then their different perspective should at least be able to give you some ideas for new ways to look at the problem.

Above all, keep in mind this is not about some clever recipe that suddenly solves all your issues (e.g. On Base Percentage vs. Batting Average) – that’s an artifact of the relative constraints around baseball which business doesn’t have. It’s about the difficult thinking required when figuring out how your strategic options interact with your workforce capabilities.

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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Uncertainty, Fear, and Our Response

Posted by Mark Bennett on August 24, 2011

Since the Great Recession we’ve seen mass layoffs followed by weak rehiring. We’re now seeing possible renewed layoffs in response to the latest indications of a slowdown in the recovery. Government programs are being cut as well.

Two recent news items, although unrelated to each other, highlighted to me different ways organizations can respond to the extreme uncertainty of the world economy today. One, with a bias to thoughtful action. The other, not so much.

The first is Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s open letter saying that rather than feed the cycle of fear by announcing layoffs, Starbucks would instead pledge to hire – “to accelerate growth, employment, and investment in jobs.” This is what most agree is needed to return to and sustain an economic recovery.

The second is about the plan to shut down the “Statistical Abstract of the United States.” This is produced by the Census Board and is an incredibly valuable source of data, used by a wide variety of organizations. The savings? $2.9 million, but the cost to consumers of this data (i.e. our economy) could quite easily be a very large multiple of that purported savings as they have to either find all that data themselves or contract with someone who will.

So, two responses to current conditions.

In one, the harsh reality is acknowledged, but the plan of action is to create positive change (i.e. Leadership.) In the other, a cut is made under the guise of “we must find every way possible to become more efficient.”

Whatever you think of Starbucks and what it may symbolize to you, the hiring pledge is saying, “We do not have to resort to layoffs in response to economic uncertainty – in fact, it’s harmful to the economy as a whole.” It’s saying there are other ways to keep the business viable in tough times. Time will tell if the pledge will be upheld and how well those other measures work.

Whatever your politics and whatever you think of government programs and whether any can provide value comparable to a private venture, the prioritization of efficiency over effectiveness represents a ham-handed approach to cost-cutting. Just as you should always examine the return gained by the next incremental dollar(s) spent when comparing investments, so you should examine the return loss (if any) that results from the next incremental dollar(s) cut.

In the end, we can choose our response to uncertainty. We can take positive steps to make the situation better the best we know how, or we can say our hands are tied and watch value burn down.

You can have your voice heard in saving the Abstract  here or by writing to ACSD.US.Data at census dot gov.

Posted in fear, risk, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Be careful of Social Cargo Cults!

Posted by Mark Bennett on August 16, 2011

“When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer.”

Superstition, by Stevie Wonder

We’re seeing rapidly increasing adoption of social business technologies by more and more companies. Not just Social CRM, which has been out for a while, but now the internal adoption of these technologies as well, to help with collaboration, information sharing, innovation, and so on.

The temptation is to rush in so that you don’t fall behind your competition that is already using these technologies. But before you do that, take some time to think about what you’re really trying to achieve.

Field of Dreams?

A too-common approach for internal social business roll-out is “Build it and they will come.” That is, no real specific purpose is outlined, other than, “These tools will help you collaborate, so go forth and collaborate!” The company then hopes that employees will join in, productivity will increase, innovations will grow, etc. The trouble with this is that it will very likely result in disappointment, both for the company as well as the employees.

Why? It’s because this is the “Social Cargo Cult” approach.* Companies hear about their competition using social technologies internally, they see their competition doing well or better than they are, they hear success stories around social business, and they conclude, “We must use social as well!” But they don’t understand why.

So what to do to avoid this problem? First, come up with a specific purpose or objective you think can be achieved through the usage of social technologies within your company. This purpose becomes your testable hypothesis upon which you will build a better understanding going forward of what social technologies can do to help your business and how to best use them. You need to determine if you are getting a positive result from using social technologies (i.e. “moving the needle.”)

For example, you could target faster project completion times as the benefit. You may only be able to estimate what the improvement in completion times were, but it can be done and it will give you at least some understanding of whether there was a benefit and how much. You might target an improvement in product quality, problem turnaround time, design revisions, etc. The point is identify something where a result can be measured and compared with some degree of confidence.

Now that you have a targeted measure you’ve identified, you’ll want to communicate that to everyone involved as well. Why? Because you want the people you are trying to get to participate to understand the expected benefit. If they don’t respond or they drop out, then you can take that fact as a hint that either the benefit doesn’t motivate them to participate or that the technologies are not delivering on the anticipated benefit. Either way, you are getting information that you can operate on, so rethink what the benefit is, your use of the technology, or both.

Is this Heaven?

To sum up, defining the purpose that drives your use of social technologies both provides you with a measure of whether it’s working as well as a reason for people to participate. And if either of these things aren’t happening, you can try something different and test it out. Without it, you are left with just hoping that good things will happen, as if by magic.

* “Cargo Cult” refers to a social science phenomenon where isolated cultures have been exposed suddenly to advanced technologies that provide some kind of benefit to them (usually as a side-effect.) The culture cannot grasp all the complexities involved and they end up doing what most humans do – they conclude that the attributes they observe are the key factors that drive resulting benefits. They then attempt to recreate those observable attributes themselves to obtain the same benefits, but to no avail; they did not fulfill all the right requirements sufficiently to get the desired results.

Posted in collaboration, performance, social network, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »