Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you too busy doing to bother with where you are going?

by Steven M. Worth

Some of us are more guilty of this than others.  It is not that those who concentrate on the day-to-day are shallow or shortsighted necessarily--the case can certainly be made that if you “stick to your knitting” doing what you do well, that things tend to work out in the end.  But it is also true that those who know where they are going tend to get there more often than not; and in the course of getting there, they tend to have a shaping influence on the world around them.

In the extreme, this natural dichotomy is also true of association managers who tend to fall into one of two camps.  One is made up of those who focus solely on operational perfection; while the other consists of those who focus solely on a strategic vision.  Both extremes can be frustrating to deal with—with the “doers” rarely questioning the relevance or effectiveness of what they are doing; while the “visionaries” more often than not are surrounded by a great deal of waste and drama.  Ugh…what a choice!

Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs is a study of a manager who exemplified the second management style.  Politically, Jobs was very much attuned to President Obama; but how did Jobs evaluate the President as a manager?  “Here’s the problem with Obama’s leadership:  He doesn’t like to really piss people off,” Jobs said. “I guess that wasn’t a problem I ever had.”

One cannot read Isaacson’s biography of Jobs without feeling a certain ambivalence about the man.  It is hard to come away from it feeling like Jobs would be a friend or good person to work for.  But it is also hard to deny his shaping influence on how we have incorporated technology into our daily lives.

As in most extremes, the best place for most managers to be is somewhere in the middle.  We need to be constantly questioning the relevance of what we are doing, and to do that we do need to know what it is we are trying to achieve long term.  Member/customer satisfaction is not enough, because members/customers can and do change their minds in a flash if they see something more relevant to their needs somewhere else.  But for the “visionaries” among us, we need also to recognize that efficiencies do matter—no one wants to be part of an organization that does not value its stakeholders’ time, talent or financial resources. 

Efficiency and effectiveness are what senior management is all about, and periodically it is useful to look at the two extremes to make sure we are where we should be.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leadership: Training or Development?

by Virgil R. Carter

As a CEO, do you have a group of senior leaders in your organization that you’d like to help grow into your organization’s next generation of executive?  What about supporting your senior staff to become mature executive?  If so, what do you do?  Well, of course, you put them through some training, right?  Wrong!

In a recent article, “Training vs. Development, by Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth, you don’t train leaders you develop them.  According to Myatt, “Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago…”

Myatt says that the problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques.  Moreover, training assumes that these systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things.  The dilemma, describes Myatt, is that training is “often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process”, imposing static, outdated information on people”.

The solution to the leadership problem, he says, is to scrap it in favor of development.  “Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them…and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them”.  Development strives to focus on the unique and differentiate by shattering the status quo.  Myatt has a list pointing out some of the differences between training and development, including:

·          Training focuses on the present—Development focuses on the future
·          Training focuses on technique—Development focuses on talent
·          Training focuses on maintenance—Development focuses on growth
·          Training focuses on the role—Development focuses on the person
·          Training focuses on efficiency—Development focuses on effectiveness

Myatt concludes saying, “If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker—train them.  If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers—develop them”. 

For a copy of the full article, go here:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can Volunteering Help Us Weather Tough Economic Times

by Virgil R. Carter

Is there a connection between volunteering and economic resilience?  A report recently released by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) concludes that “states with higher levels of civic engagement are more resilient in an economic downturn.”  The report identifies five measures of civic engagement which appear to protect against unemployment and contribute to overall economic resilience: 

·            Attending meetings
·            Helping neighbors
·            Registering to vote
·            Volunteering
·            Voting

The report calls on community and business leaders to use these findings to inform a public discussion of how civic health can help improve the economy.  Would these measures help improve the health and well-being of your non-profit organization?

“Of these five civic health indicators, working with neighbors was the most important factor in predicting economic resilience, as an increase of one percent in neighbors working together to solve community problems was associated with a decrease of .256 percent in the unemployment rate. Public meeting attendance emerged as the second most important factor, followed by volunteering and registering to vote as top important predictors of unemployment change.”

“As the national debate turns to jobs and restoring civility, our leaders need to understand that one answer for our political and economic woes begins with restoring America’s tradition of service and civic engagement,” said John Bridgeland, Former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Current National Advisory Chair, NCoC. “It not only gives communities a boost, it may also lessen the effects of the economic downturn.”

For a full copy of the article, go here:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Some Lessons from the 1930s

by Virgil Carter

Is there anyone who hasn’t become aware of the turmoil and uncertainty in global financial markets, and the impact on the economy and consumer confidence?  These conditions have generated a great deal of interest in the U.S. Great Depression in the 1930s.

Can we learn useful lessons from the 1930s?  In an article in the McKinsey Quarterly, author Tom Nicholas writes that, if history is our guide, even the “deepest downturns can create huge opportunities for organizations with money and ideas”.  Nicholas goes on to say, “For investments to promote innovation, the answer may be yes”.

Is the typical behavior of executives—act cautiously and delay investment projects until confidence returns—the wise course?  According to Nichols, many companies hesitated to innovate during the 1930s.  On the whole, corporate executives considering plans for research investments preferred to wait and see.  “From 1929 to 1937, for example, there were five years of GDP growth and four years of GDP contraction. Patent applications generally followed the same pattern, lagging behind by one year: the number of patent applications increased during years following GDP growth and decreased during years following GDP contraction, with two exceptions: 1934 and 1935”, Nichols describes.

 “Yet several successful companies did not delay such investments. One was DuPont. In April 1930, a noted DuPont research scientist, Wallace Carothers, recorded the initial discovery of neoprene (synthetic rubber). Although the company’s price levels and sales fell by roughly 10 and 15 percent, respectively, that year, DuPont boosted R&D spending to develop the new technology commercially. Neoprene, which DuPont publicly announced in November 1931 and introduced commercially in 1937, became one of the 20th century’s major innovations.”

Nichols goes on to say, “DuPont isn’t the only such example. Many new technology companies—for instance, Hewlett-Packard and Polaroid—that became leading innovators later in the century were established as entrepreneurial start-ups during the 1930s”.

“Of course, these examples don’t mean that aggressive investments for innovation would have been wise for every company during the 1930s or are universally wise today. But taken together, the patent research and the experience of successful innovators in those years suggest that although delay is the natural response to uncertainty, some companies should continue innovating even in an extraordinarily deep economic downturn—especially with technologies that take a long time to commercialize after discovery”, Nichols concludes.  “Companies that delay these investments may forego significant growth opportunities when uncertainty subsides and the economy recovers.  For companies with cash and ideas, history shows that downturns can provide enormous strategic opportunities.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sinking the Boat vs. Missing the Boat

by Virgil Carter

William C. Taylor’s latest book, Practically Radical:  Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry and Challenge Yourself (William Morrow, 2011), suggests, among other things, that downturns in the economy are the very times to be innovating.  Instead of worrying about sinking the boat, Taylor says leaders should be worried about not missing it!  In a review by David K. Hurst, in Strategy + Business, Hurst points out that Taylor “advocates rocking the boat—that is, exploring “radical shifts that represent a direct challenge to convention and a break with the status quo”, while remaining realistic about your ability to make change happen. 

Taylor, you may remember, is a former editor of the Harvard Business Review and cofounder of Fast Company magazine, and has been a leading writer and observer of the management revolution of creating agile organizations that engage their people so that they will innovate and create new ventures in the knowledge economy.

The book is organized in three segments:  1) improving your company; 2) creating successful new ventures, and 3) rethinking ones leadership style.  Each segment of the book consists of themed chapters featuring “radically practical” truths, rules and habits.  The appendix includes “ten questions that every game changer must answer”, such as “if your company went out of business tomorrow, who would miss you and why?”

Taylor suggests economic downturns are ideal times to be innovating in all of these categories.  His point is that “instead of worrying about sinking the boat, one should be concerned with not missing it”.   He suggests that this is as good a time as any for challenging the status quo.

For non-profit organizations that “always do it this way”, this may be the time and the book to that helps elevate the organizational vision.  Two of the book’s chapters, titled “What your see shapes how you change” and “Where you look shapes what you see” could just be the eye-openers needed for a new status-quo.