Changing Minds

Found a fascinating site tonight - - which humbly boasts "over 2,200 pages on all aspects of how we change what others think, believe, feel and do". I'm looking…

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Simply Irresistable

Watch out if you have curious employees and managers who become bored. "When bored, highly curious individuals are oriented to finding novelty and are sensitive to environmental nuances that can…

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Thinkers and Doers

I was telling a colleague on the weekend about my latest pet theory about "thinkers" and "doers" and the value of dialogue as a process. Deep dialogue, or the U…

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Execution Excellence – how much is Discretionary?

I was googling “execution excellence” recently and I was amazed at how much there is new on the topic, so I have lots of reading to do. But as I read the first few books / articles two themes started to emerge.

The themes are discretion and discipline. Some articles refer to how much discretion individual managers and employees have to impact execution for better or worse, despite all the efforts leadership teams put into designing strategies, systems and processes that generate consistent outcomes. The other theme is the need for discipline in order to execute excellently.

Bower & Gilbert (HBR Feb 2007) have studied the discretion that managers have to use their asset allocation discretion to support or ignore strategy and Jeffrey Immelt from General Electric (interviewed in HBR in June 2006) was even able to put a number on it. Despite all GE’s efforts to create disciplines on the cost side of their businesses, a recent study of pricing in the GE appliances businesses indicated that their salespeople have discretion over an estimated $5 billion in revenue. This is an astonishing figure, according to Immelt, that could translate into $50 billion across the whole of GE. The answer, according to Immelt, is to create more discipline in [the execution of] pricing decisions.

In many organisations I see the same issues occuring: managers and individuals have discretion over pricing, discounts, complaints, claims and resourcing decisions, which can affect the people and product strategies of their various business areas. One of most important roles of management is to support others to make disciplined decisions, rather than easy decisions, because although most people want to come to work to do a “good job”, their habits can get in the way.

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Leadership Development – what works

I’ve been thinking again about how to combine leadership development with charity work in third world countries. Last year I started developing the concept of sending mid-level managers to lead action learning projects in third world countries on behalf of charity organisations. I tested a version of this concept with Jules Routledge and AFADU and we learned a lot about what is needed to support leaders in such environments, especially leaders who see themselves as primarily technical experts.

My preliminary conclusion is that this sort of action learning project is useful for mid level managers, because it exposes them to totally new environments and stretches their influencing skills, but is a bit too much of a challenge for new/technical leaders, unless they already have a good base of people skills.

Over Easter, I was interested to read an article sourced from my favourite HR website, which seems to support my thinking.

They quoted a Hay Group study “Best companies for Leaders” which surveys organisations to find out “the best practices for identifying and fostering leadership talent”.

The Hay Group found that the top three practices were:
* Having leaders at all levels who focus on creating a work climate that motivates employees to perform at their best.
* Ensuring that the company and its senior management make leadership development a top priority.
* Providing training and coaching to help intact leadership teams, as well as the individual leaders, work together more effectively.

The remaining best practices highlight the need to start early on mid-level managers and high potentials (and indicates that perhaps my idea will grow legs):

* Rotational job assignments for high potentials.
* External leadership development programs for mid-level managers.
* Web-based self study leadership modules for mid-level managers.
* Executive MBA programs for mid-level managers.

They also found some activities that appeared not to achieve the stated goals of leadership development…


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Building Greatness – first who, then what

I was really looking forward to hearing Collins speak at last month’s NPODs conference and hopefully to have him answer the one question that bugs me about his book “Goood to Great”. The thing I didn’t understand was “How can you know the ‘right’ people before you know what you want to aim for?

Jim is an energetic speaker who opened with a ‘left hook’ – “good is the mortal enemy of great” and finished with a right jab – his current research is showing that the “signature of mediocrity is not resistance to change, as they had suspected, but a chronic inconsistency” Hmmm.

I liked knowing that his research is grounded in ‘contrast’ aka twin studies in psychology. Colleague Porras twigged to the idea that organisations have twins too – so their research approach is to look for the impacts of “nature” and “nurture”. The conclusion is that greatness is not a function of environment or circumstances but of choices and discipline – sounds like nurture to me.
Anyway to cut a long story short – you can read my summary notes below if you are interested in the long story – he did give us an answer to my question of “how do you choose ‘who’? and the answer is “choose based on values”. You first select “who” by choosing people who share your common values and then you collectively decide what. Of course – it all makes sense now. He also said that you cannot make people share your values, only find those who already believe in them. Interesting….

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