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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Do Managers Eat Their Young?

Saturn Devouring His Son
I’ve become a skeptic regarding the power of knowledge. 

The remarkable trait of humans that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is our capacity to accumulate knowledge.  For example, I can tell children to not touch a hot stove.  This is a piece of knowledge that I’ve never experienced but I believe it to be true so I pass that knowledge along.

This is not so for other animals.  Watch a lioness teach her cubs to hunt.  All she can do is transfer her direct knowledge to those cubs.  She can’t sit around and say, “hey, I was talking with your aunt yesterday and she thinks it’s a good idea to stay away from the horns of the water buffalo.”

So we’re blessed with a special gift that has driven the history of humanity, right?  Well maybe “not so much.”  The human race has lots of knowledge that it constantly ignores: kids do touch hot stoves; 20% of American’s smoke; and our eating habits are so atrocious that the average American is 25 pounds heavier than in 1960.

The Myth of Listening
I bring this up because of a barrage of books, articles, and blogs I see that discuss the known virtues of “listening” – almost as a panacea for all that ails organizations.  We know that the simple improvisation technique of “… yes – and” performs miracles at work.  This simple technique invites diversity into the conversation and allows ideas to emerge, bump into other ideas, and become innovations that save the world. 

You don’t have to believe me, just read authors such as Stephen Johnson and his seminal book: Where Good Ideas Come From.

Yet managers consistently behave counter to this known wisdom.  In fact, my experience tells me that most “successful” executives are bad listeners.  They know how to control and they know how to direct.  Much of their success emanates from their capability to get things done by only listening to those who are on the same narrow path.

Why is this?  Why is asking a manager to listen akin to asking a diabetic to forego dessert?

I’m not sure that I have the definitive answer; however, I recently had an insight that let me form an opinion. Here it is.

The Myth of Saturn
I was in the Museo National del Prado in Madrid.  Spain is the home of Francisco Goya so I decided to learn what I could about this famous artist.  In so doing I stumbled into his period of Black Paintings.  I was specifically struck by his rendering of Saturn Eating One of His Sons.

The mythology says that Saturn, who was the Roman god of time, would be deposed from power by one of his sons, just as Saturn deposed his father.  Saturn’s survival answer was simple; he would devour his sons as they were born.  However, through trickery one son, Jupiter, was hidden and did in fact bring Saturn his fate.

There are plenty of art experts who have interpreted this work; however, when I saw it I immediately saw organizational dynamics.  It gave me a possibility for why many managers do not listen.  Why managers don’t let go.  Why managers revel in being the smartest person in the room.  Why managers feel the compulsion to have the final word with the final answer.

I know I’m speculating but am I really that far off the mark?  Managers like to be in control.  They fear randomness and chaos.  When ideas other than their own come to the table the idea and the advocate are threats – not just to the issue at hand but to the security of the manager’s job.  The young are seen as challengers to the manager’s ESP – Ego, Status, and Power.  Survivalism trumps listening.


That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Monday, October 20, 2014

5 Images to Guide Organization Renewal

I've spent decades helping executive teams renew their organizations to keep them healthy and relevant.  I've learned  a lot while working for marquee clients around the world.  In fact I often feel swamped by my learnings - they sometimes seem to be contradictory.

So recently I sat down to answer the question: "what are the basic principles for organizational renewal?"  What is the core to my work?  Where are the safe harbors to which I return when the seas of change are in turmoil.  I came up with five principles and added an image to each.  They should be self-explanatory.  

Here you go.  Enjoy!





Well, that's my career in organizational renewal.  

I'm looking to share what I have learned through: keynote addresses, workshops, and intense consulting assignments.  I'd like to hear from you, so click here to send me a direct email so we can find time to talk.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Do You Have A Twitter Account?

Social is not Business Media
You’ve got to be on social media – it’s an ante in today’s consulting profession.  Get your brand out-there.  Get “posted” and “shared”. 

I’ve heard all of these admonishments and I’ve invested in a reasonable digital footprint: website, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and others.  However, Twitter has been a sideliner for me.  I’ve had an account since January 2010 but I’ve barely used it.

Framing the Twitter Experiment
Several months ago I was leading a workshop where the majority of participants were “millennial digital marketers.”  I’m always fascinated with how smartphones have become a human appendage; however, this group took it to a new level.  It was constantly being fed by Twitter. 

“Ok” I said, “I’ve got to figure this thing out.”  So, being a disciplined consultant I designed a test.  My assumption was that exposure on Twitter would attract “followers” that would generate new business opportunities.  To this end I framed a very specific challenge for myself with the following features:
  • I would Tweet a “management insight” everyday for three months.  Criteria for the insight were:
    • It had to be personal; based on my experience only; a true “Bud-ism”
    • No parroting.  I would not quote others nor would I re-tweet
    • The insight had to be original and of high quality
  • I would measure success through Twitter metrics.  I wanted to:
    • Double my number of followers, and
    • Exponentially increase my “views” and “re-tweets.”

What I Learned From Twitter
Well I’ve reached the end of my three-month test and the results have been mixed, at best.  I’ve learned a lot like:
  1. There’s no sense posting business tweets on weekends or holidays
  2. I could increase my views by personalizing them, like starting them with “in my experience” or by attaching a photo – personals were best
  3. Although I increased my followers by 50% I wonder about the quality:
    • I got many media, aggregator types of followers who had thousands following them, but their re-tweets never resulted in a bounce-back to me.  The re-tweets just seemed to be filling the Twitter-sphere
    • The valuable followers usually had less than 100 followers of their own.  They seemed to be quality practitioners who were interested in the insights and were my best source of “re-tweets”
    • Some of the best exposure came through my links with other channels such as my followers on Facebook.  In fact, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the business power of Facebook
    • The weekly metric reports from Twitter create a drive to play the game.  The reports provide an incentive to do everything I didn’t want to do.  Specifically, if you want to get re-tweeted you need to name, quote and re-tweet others.  My value to others was the opportunity to promote themselves
  4. My biggest disappointment came from my established contact list.  Although I’ve promoted my Twitter experiment to them – not one of them added me as a follower.  I discovered that most of them don’t have a Twitter account and those that do are passive users

Main Message
My overall take-away from the experiment is that Twitter is not useful as a branding tool for me.  I found that Twitter is truly social media, not business media.  Twitter is full of unintelligible hash-tags, links and re-tweets.  When you're on Twitter if you don’t know what you're looking for, you’ll never find it.

Here’s an anecdote that captures my Twitter experiment.  Several weeks into my experiment I called a friend for some advice.  He worked for a digital marketing company and I used him several years ago to help me link YouTube to my website.  He was one of the first that I “followed” on Twitter.  He puts out 2-3 tweets each day.

When I called him, the initial conversation was confusing.  The fog cleared when he said: “Bud I haven’t worked for that company in 2.5 years and I haven’t opened my twitter account since.”  His daily tweets are parroted feeds from aggregators.

I have learned a lot from my experiment.  I’ll continue to post on Twitter because it’s fun and it challenges me to keep developing my list of precise and concise beliefs about management.  Also, I’m now much more savvy about where to focus my business branding on social media – and it’s not on Twitter.




Monday, August 4, 2014

Change Management – I’m Tired of Culture

Say What????
What is culture?  I read a lot about it these days, particularly as a barrier to implementing change.  Culture has become a curmudgeon.  A general consensus has developed that solving “the way we do things around here” will bring implementation bliss to change management.

My only problem is that the more I read about culture the less I know what to do about it.  It seems that we’re happy defining the problem without giving the specifics of a solution.  Why wake a sleeping dog?

Come on – we’ve got to do better than that.  It’s time that we parsed culture into its essential elements and then offered up ways to change it?  We all know the elements – they’re common to any change readiness assessment. 

Management factors, such as:
  • Organization design – with roles & responsibilities
  • Planning processes – from strategic through business plans to projects
  • Reporting & Measurement systems – for operations & programs
  • Reward schemes – for compensation & recognition
  • Procedures, processes, & controls

Leadership factors, such as: 
  • Setting a vision
  • Inspiring the passion in all employees
  • Communicating authentically & transparently

You can make up your own list but at the end of the day isn’t that the definition of “culture.”  Doesn’t that describe, “how we do things around here?”  Aren’t these the things we’re trying to change so that an organization can alter or accelerate the path that it’s on?

Here’s an example.  Several years ago I was working at Whirlpool, a great company with many great brands; however, at the time resource power & control rested in the vertical operations – those who designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold the durable appliances.  Brand managers worked horizontally to influence changes across these verticals.

For many months my team worked with the Kitchen-Aid brand to develop ideas for product innovations and enhanced customer experiences.  We were neck deep in great ideas & little results.  Efforts at implementation veered off course and generally withered.  At the heart of the problem was Whirlpool’s refined and efficient planning process.  There was a drumbeat that was known and obeyed by all.  Culture was eating change.

Once we figured out that planning was a barrier to innovation the executive team agreed that we could work with the finance & planning people to redesign the planning system.  It took close to a year and involved things such as:
  • New mandates for planning sub-teams to make them more diverse & distribute decision make power
  • Criteria to get change initiatives out of the regular flow of decision making and monitoring
  • Detailed revision of forms that drove the process

In essence we needed to change the rules of the game if we were going to change resource allocation decision.  Culture wasn’t the problem, the disciplined legacy planning process was.

I believe it’s time to expunge the “culture” word for change management.  If change isn’t happening we need to disaggregate “how things are done,” roll-up our sleeves and change the rules of the game.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Organization Renewal – The Key To Being Healthy & Relevant

Renewal for Health & Relevance
As organizations mature they face the prospect of death through atrophy and disruption.  All companies start the same way: someone has a unique idea for a service or good for a specific customer; sales grow exponentially, then competitors enter the field.  Soon the organization enters the "desert of despair" where the market is saturated with look-a-likes that are "faster, better, cheaper." 

To maintain profitability, the next step for the company is to go to the premium end of customers and pricing.  Then they wake up to find that their mass market has disappeared and they have become a niche player in a disappearing market.  Death by a thousand cuts and irrelevance.  Blockbuster, Kodak, Blackberry, Nokia.

This doesn't have to be part of the natural business cycle; and some companies know this: Samsung, Pixar, Starbucks, P&G.  What do they know that others don't?  This question has fascinated me for my entire career.  What I have come to realize is that some companies understand that organizations aren’t build to change: we build them for efficiency, consistency, and low risk. 

Some leaders recognize that improving their organizations sets up a dilemma where constantly making the right decision is eventually the wrong decision.  They know, as Nokia learned, that excellence as the world's leading manufacturer of cell phone handsets comes at a cost of not developing smartphone technology - now Nokia is the handset manufacturer for Microsoft.  No amount of urgency or burning platforms could transform Nokia and prevent its demise through its success.

Some companies like the once dying Pixar, clue into the notion of what I call "organization renewal."  They know that protection against irrelevance comes from inside - death is not dictated by the market.  They avoid the need for "change management" and "organization transformation."  They know they must build a culture of renewal.  They know that everyone in the organization must be sensitized to the signals of decay, and they must have the knowledge of what to do and access to the organization to make changes.

This is not chaos or leadership through consensus on everything all the time.  It's about knowing what the organization is and protecting that core while testing, learning, and moving into unchartered territories.  Sometimes it's a simple operational improvement like putting healthy food choices at the grocery checkout; other times it's a simple work improvement like cutting most of the authorities needed for a regular purchase; and other times it moving into new domains like mobile apps for the growing Millennial market.  These changes cannot be controlled from the center - they are too unpredictable.  They must come from a culture of trust and openness where everyone knows how to influence the organization.

In my experience with marquee clients around the world - like Whirlpool, Microsoft Europe, Canadian Pacific, Toyota South Africa, and Korea Telecom – I stress the following essential principles:

1. Know who you are
What can you become - not what do you want to become?  Change
the right things.

2. Engage Employees through Trust, Openness, and Tolerance for failure
·   Know leadership behaviors that shut down the organization.  Learn to listen.  Be inclusive and even vulnerable.

3. Ideate based on Insight
·   Build a discipline and capability for Ideation.  Get ideas from everyone, everywhere.  Show people how to spot trends in their area of interest; understand customers and their unarticulated needs; challenge the organizational beliefs that once were required but now hold you back.

4. Identify & Test renewal opportunities
·    Show people how to convert an idea into a business opportunity.  Be sure employees really know: the customer, the product or service, and how it will make money - or at least a difference.  After defining the opportunity, identify its fatal assumptions then develop a hypothesis to test, learn, and commercialize at low risk.


Organization renewal is the ability to take what you have and keep it fresh so that your organization will always be healthy and relevant.  It's a mindset supported by disciplined tools that can be applied to specific problems.