Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tech Savvy: Taking a Rigorous Approach to People Analytics

by Theodore Kinni
Imposing order on the morass of people analytics: HR execs are being bombarded with sales pitches for people analytics that promise to improve every aspect of workforce management from recruiting to what HubSpot’s execs so charmingly called “graduation.” But how do you weave this rather bewildering assortment of digital tools together in a way that is aligned with and supports your talent and corporate strategies?
Jean Paul Isson and Jesse S. Harriot, respectively VP of business intelligence and predictive analytics and former chief knowledge officer at Monster Worldwide, take a good shot at answering that big-picture question in their new book, People Analytics in the Era of Big Data. The authors encapsulate their approach in a framework that organizes people analytics into 7 “pillars” that are broadly based on the responsibilities of the HR function: workforce planning; sourcing; acquisition/hiring; onboarding, culture fit, and engagement; performance assessment and development; churn and retention; and wellness, health, and safety. “The ultimate goal of this framework,” they write, “is to focus your organization’s attention on those areas that are keys to talent analytics success and will lead to greatest return on investment.”
As you might expect, a comprehensive overview of people analytics leads to a pretty thick and sometimes dense book. But the authors ground the pillars in practice using case studies and interviews. One of them describes how Société de Transport de Montréal, the city’s public transport agency, which serves 2.5 million riders per day, is implementing and using people analytics. It is featured in the excerpt below the rest here

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Secrets to Corporate Longevity

How do some companies grow from producing fire hoses to building products for the aerospace industry? They have an ability to exploit their markets while exploring new ones. | Reuters/Christian Charisius
by Theodore Kinni
It’s been nearly 20 years since Clayton Christensen explained why so many industry-leading companies miss the potential of new technologies and are supplanted by competitors that seemingly emerge from nowhere. Since then, corporate strategists have realized that avoiding what Christensen called the innovator’s dilemma requires that companies simultaneously compete in their mature businesses and pursue the opportunities that arise from new technologies and business models. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
“The main obstacle is something we call the success syndrome,” explains Charles O’Reilly, the Frank E. Buck Professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business and author, with Michael Tushman of Harvard Business School, of a new book titled Lead and Disrupt. “There’s lots of high-quality research that shows once companies have the right strategy, the more they can align their organization with it; that is, the more they’ve got the right people, structure, metrics, and culture in place, the better they can exploit that strategy.” The problem is that the alignment supporting exploitation is very different from the alignment that supports the exploration of new technologies and business models. “Exploitation, which is where companies typically make money, tends to drive out exploration,” he says.
To find out how companies navigate this conundrum, O’Reilly and Tushman searched out corporations that, over many decades, had been able to transform themselves even as their markets and technologies were fundamentally disrupted. The authors list 27 of these companies in the book; their average age is 130 years.
They all had one thing in common. “What is true of all of these companies is that they’re in different businesses today, even when they are in the same industry,” O’Reilly says. “They’re all alive today only because they’ve been able to take their assets and capabilities and move into new businesses.”
Goodrich, for example, started out making rubber conveyor belts and fire hoses in 1870. When the automobile and airplane appeared, it used its expertise to make tires. Then, during World War II, when the supply of natural rubber dried up, it developed synthetic rubber, which allowed it to make products for the defense and aerospace industries.
How did Goodrich, which was acquired by United Technologies Corp. in 2012, do it? “Part of what we were arguing in the book is that it is a leadership issue, not a technology issue. There have to be senior leaders who are willing to fund exploratory projects, to scale them if they’re successful and to kill them if they’re not,” says O’Reilly. “If you look at companies that have failed, most of the time you find that they didn’t miss the technology. They had it. Smith Corona was the world’s biggest typewriter company for 50 years. They had one of the first word processors. But its leaders made decisions not to fund it.”
By way of contrast, O’Reilly points to Fujifilm. “In 2000, just as global film sales hit their peak, CEO Shigetaka Komori says, ‘What assets and capabilities do we have that would allow us to move into new areas?’ And over the next five to 10 years, as film sales fall off a cliff, he helps leverage those assets and capabilities into things like regenerative medicine, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and liquid crystal display films,” he says. Juxtapose that with Kodak, which had the same technologies but continued to focus on film. “Today, Fujifilm is a $23 billion company with an annual growth rate of more than 10% over the past 15 years. Kodak goes bankrupt in 2012.”
O’Reilly describes Komori as ambidextrous. Ambidextrous leaders are great at running big, mature, exploitative businesses, while simultaneously leveraging corporate assets and capabilities to explore new areas.
There have to be senior leaders who are willing to fund exploratory projects, to scale them if they’re successful and to kill them if they’re not.
Charles O’Reilly
It’s not easy to be an ambidextrous leader. “First of all, these leaders have to be able to sanction ‘explore’ and ‘exploit’ operations. That typically requires that there is some compelling strategic intent,” says O’Reilly. Beyond that, he notes, the leaders need to run very different businesses in a way that makes them feel united, with a common identity, yet still recognize that these different organizations require different metrics, incentives, and cultures. They also have to make sure their senior team is aligned. Resistance from the senior team slows things down and leads to failure, O’Reilly says.
As if this isn’t challenging enough, there is also the question of how to handle the process of exploration and exploitation when the ambidextrous leader moves on. “We spent a number of years working with IBM,” O’Reilly says. “For reasons I don’t fully understand, the company was ambidextrous under Lou Gerstner and Sam Palmisano. But it’s much less ambidextrous today. I think it really does have to do with a leader — that’s who makes the ultimate decision about allocation of resources and people.”
Should every company leader seek to exploit and explore? “That depends largely on the extent to which a firm is likely to be disrupted,” says O’Reilly. “If I’m leading Exxon, yeah, I probably should be investing in alternative technologies. But fundamentally, at least up until now, that industry has not moved very rapidly. How worried should I be? How much effort should I be putting into exploratory ventures? Probably not a lot.
“If I’m running General Motors, well, cars have been cars for a long time. But 10 years from today? Car buying habits are clearly shifting with the millennials, and there’s likely to be some form of self-driving cars.” Adds O’Reilly, “In fact, GM seems to have bought into this idea of ambidexterity. And they’ve got [President] Dan Ammann and [Vice President of Strategy] Mike Abelson, who are running all their experiments.”
The lesson for leaders: Be aware of the potential disruptive threats to your company. The more immediate they are, the more likely it is that you should be leading with both hands.

Friday, June 10, 2016

My Company Is My Therapist

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, June 8, 2016
 You’re probably intuitively familiar with the Peter Principle, even if you can’t quote it verbatim: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Unfortunately, Laurence J. Peter, the University of Southern California education professor who coined the term in 1969, didn’t offer a better alternative. And in the past 47 years, no one else has, either. (A trio of Italian professors did, however, win a 2010 Ig Nobel Prize for using game theory to prove it’s better to simply promote employees at random [pdf].)
But now there may be hope. What if your company were to embrace the Peter Principle? What if it could accept that eventually all employees will reach their level of incompetence, recognize when each employee has reached it, and then help people move beyond their own fallibilities? Would such a company succeed? This, in essence, is the beguiling thesis of An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016).
An Everyone Culture hails from what might be described as the Left Bank of the Charles River — its lead authors are Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, professors at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, which is separated from the Harvard Business School by the river and a sharp divergence in worldview. Rather than seeking competitive advantage in a company’s products or strategy, as HBS professors would, Kegan, Lahey, and their colleagues believe an edge can be found in the ability of corporations to develop adults as humans.
Indeed, the authors argue that a highly evolved company, which they call a “deliberately developmental organization (DDO),” can incorporate the psychological advancement of employees into the work itself. Kegan and Lahey want us to imagine that “hardwiring development into your bottom line” could, in addition to boosting profitability and quality, impact the firm’s culture so that “in the regular daily operations of the company, [it will] be a continuous force on behalf of people overcoming their limitations and blind spots and improving their mastery of increasingly challenging work.”
This might sound like corporate utopianism — or, for those of a more cynical bent, dystopianism. But the authors develop the argument by parachuting us into three existing DDOs, all of which serve as highly effective, day-in-the-life case studies. Bridgewater Associates, perhaps the largest and most successful hedge fund in the world (with US$150 billion in assets and 1,500 employees), pursues “radical transparency” by recording every meeting and providing the audio files to everyone in the company. Decurion Corporation, a Los Angeles-based real estate development, acquisition, and property management company with 1,100 employees, holds “fishbowl” conversations: Attendees sit in a circle, arrayed around a smaller inner circle of people most involved in the issue at hand, and discuss subjects such as the stalled development of a customer loyalty program or an executive’s habit of “withdrawing her goodwill.” At Next Jump, Inc., an e-commerce company that runs reward programs for other corporations and has 200 employees, all new hires attend a three-week personal leadership boot camp in which they learn how to identify and address their “character weaknesses.”
Beyond detailing the ways in which the three companies operate, the book explains the theory of adult development that underpins a DDO, and describes its key attributes: “the depth of its developmental community (which we callhome); the breadth of its developmental practices (which we call its groove); and the height of its developmental aspirations (which we call its edge).”
So, should your company become a DDO? And would you want to work for one?
The book includes a full chapter devoted to each of these questions. In regard to the first one, the authors believe the results of the companies they focused on point to a clear yes. In seeking to maximize employee potential, they write, Bridgewater, Decurion, and Next Jump have achieved a range of remarkable goals. They’ve figured out “how to increase retention, profitability, coaching support, readiness to learn, speed to promotability, [and] frankness in communication” while cutting back on political maneuvering, impression management, behind-the-back disparagement, and disengagement. They have learned “how to anticipate crises no one in the company has experienced and manage successfully through them; how to invent future possibilities no one has experienced and realize them.”
While they are willing to generalize from the particular experience of companies, the authors are less cavalier about arguing that every person will embrace the possibility of DDOs. From the outset, they repeatedly warn readers they are likely to have a visceral reaction to the idea of working in a DDO. “If you are, like most people, more wary of feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and unworthy — especially at work — you might find yourself feeling alarmed soon after you enter.” But for the few, the introspective and the bold, DDOs may make perfect sense. Such companies tend to be good destinations for the “rarer kind of person,” whom the authors describe as “valuing the experience of your own vulnerability and running right toward it.”
I’m definitely in the wary camp. It’s not so much that I’m worried about feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and unworthy — I’m used to that. But I would be wary of working in a DDO because I have a hard time believing that: (1) a corporation can always be trusted to look out for my best interests; (2) my psychological development is an employer’s business; or (3) bosses and coworkers are qualified to act as therapists.
But I could be wrong. It’s possible that the novelty and relative scarcity of DDOs makes them seem strange and alien. Perhaps if I were to convene a fishbowl session in which my colleagues could tell me, with radical transparency, their opinions of me and my work, I might become a more productive, more evolved human being.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tech Savvy: Exploring the Ethical Limits of App Design

by Theodore Kinni
Are your employee apps ethical? Companies are providing employees with more and more digital services for purposes that range from enhancing teamwork to getting a better night’s sleep. But do they promote agency — or addiction? Perhaps it’s time for managers to take a closer look at the design of those services — and question the techniques they employ to create a compelling user experience.
Toward this end, Tristan Harris has some choice words in a new article on Medium. “I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities,” he begins. “That’s why I spent the last three years as Google’s Design Ethicist caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked. When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want you to show you where it might do the opposite.”
Harris goes on to call out common hijacks that are intentionally and unintentionally built into the design of websites and apps. They include: menus that give the impression of choice, while limiting it; the embedding of intermittent, variable rewards that induce addictive behaviors; reliance on powerful motivators such as social approval and reciprocity; and seven more.
“I’ve listed a few techniques but there are literally thousands,” adds Harris. “Imagine whole bookshelves, seminars, workshops and trainings that teach aspiring tech entrepreneurs techniques like these. Imagine hundreds of engineers whose job every day is to invent new ways to keep you hooked.”
Harris, who studied under Professor BJ Fogg in Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, is talking about big social media services offered to the general public by companies, such as Facebook, Instagram, TripAdvisor, and But his conclusion applies to digital services aimed at employees, too:
“The ultimate freedom is a free mind, and we need technology that’s on our team to help us live, feel, think and act freely. We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights.”

Bizbook review haiku: Appetite for Innovation by M. Pilar Opazo

Yummy elBulli's an innovation test lab not just for foodies

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tom Peters Wants You to Read

By Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, May 26, 2016
Tom Peters. You know the guy. He branded himself with an “!” after his name. He and Bob Waterman wrote one of the best-selling business books of all time,In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies(Harper & Row, 1982). 
Peters is one of the handful of people who helped transform the business book genre from a staid backwater into a mass market — with 1.8 million titles in print, it’s the fifth-largest book category on Amazon. He has written 29 of those titles and sold more than 10 million copies of them. In the process, Peters helped define the term business guru and inspired more wannabes than Madonna. At age 73, he enjoys an engaged, multigenerational audience, including 135,000 Twitter followers. 
Because Peters is a voracious reader, I thought he would make an ideal subject for my monthly “Required Reading” column for strategy+business, in which business notables call out a very short list of books they think leaders should read. But a brief call to New Zealand, where Peters goes to beat the New England winters, to discuss his four favorite books somehow turned into a one-and-a-half-hour marathon.
“I have to tell you a story about a neighbor of mine in Massachusetts who would be on anybody’s top 10 list of [Warren] Buffett–like people,” Peters opened. “I was at a dinner with him 18 months ago and, out of nowhere, he said, ‘You know what the number one problem is with big company CEOs?’ I said, ‘I can think of at least 70 things, but damned if I can narrow it down.’ And out of his mouth pops, ‘They don’t read enough.’” the rest here

Tech Savvy: Two Questions for Managers of Learning Machines

by Theodore Kinni
Two questions that managers of intelligent machines should ask: It’s been a couple of years since Stephen Hawking warned that artificial intelligence could “spell the end of the human race.” The terminators aren’t here yet and unless they come very soon, the managers of AI-based technology have a couple of more immediate issues to address, according to Vasant Dhar of NYU’s Stern School of Business and Center for Data Science.
The first, which Dhar takes up in a new article on TechCrunch, is how to “design intelligent learning machines that minimize undesirable behavior.” Pointing to two high-profile juvenile delinquents, Microsoft’s Tay and Google’s Lexus, he reminds us that it’s very hard to control AI machines in complex settings. “There is no clear answer to this vexing issue,” says Dhar. But he does offer some guidance: Analyze the machine’s training errors; use an “adversary” — through means such as crowdsourcing — to try to trip up the machine; and estimate the cost of error scenarios to better manage risks.
The second question, which Dhar explores in an article for, is when and when not to allow AI machines to make decisions. “We don’t have any framework for evaluating which decisions we should be comfortable delegating to algorithms and which ones humans should retain,” he writes. “That’s surprising, given the high stakes involved.” Dhar suggests addressing this issue with a risk-oriented framework that he calls a Decision Automation Map. The map plots decisions in two independent dimensions — predictability and cost per error — and suggest whether it would be better made by human or machine the rest here

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

George Barbee’s Required Reading

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, May 25, 2016
George Barbee brings a perspective to the subject of innovation that is both expert and unusually diverse. His 45-year career includes stints with large companies, entrepreneurial ventures, consulting firms, and educational institutions.
Barbee’s innovation career began in the product realm while he was serving as an executive with Wilkinson Sword and, later, with Noxell and Gillette, now divisions of Procter & Gamble. In the 1980s, he launched into service innovation and founded three companies. One of them, the Consumer Financial Institute, became the largest independent provider of financial planning in the U.S. and was acquired by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 1986. He joined PwC as a partner, creating and leading a new strategy named the Global Client Service Partner, which generated several hundred million dollars in new revenue for the firm.
In 2000, Barbee (along with authors Jim Collins and Malcolm Gladwell and former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore) was named a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Since then, he has served as senior lecturer at the school, teaching service innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketing.
Most recently, Barbee wrote and published 63 Innovation Nuggets (for Aspiring Innovators) (Innovation Etc., 2015), which contends that innovation is both a learnable and teachable skill. In the book, he offers concise, practical strategies and tactics, as well as reading recommendations, for those who want to bolster their personal and organizational creativity.
When I asked Barbee to share a short list of books that most influenced the development of his capacity for innovation, he called out the following three books.
What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, by Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press, 2015). “Bolles self-published the first 100 copies of Parachute in 1970, and he has revised and updated it annually ever since. Surely the most popular handbook for job hunters ever written, it has sold more than 10 million copies. But I love it not because it helped me find a new job, but because it helped me better understand myself.
Parachute showed me how to chart and assess the various phases of my career. I’ve done the exercises in the book’s appendix more than 20 times over the years, and I kept my notes and used them to evaluate where I was, where I was going, and where I wanted to go in my life.
“Bolles’s manual taught me to appreciate my own strengths and weaknesses. It also helped me understand the importance of embracing diversity and identify the types of people I needed around me to maximize my ability to innovate in both personal and organizational settings. I think you should grab a copy of Parachute every time a new edition appears. Read it, do the exercises, make notes, and chart your growth. Use it to evolve and enhance your ability to innovate.”
How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Alan Lakein (P.H. Wyden, 1973). “Lakein is one of the pioneers of modern personal time management. He opened my eyes to the importance of setting priorities, keeping to-do lists, and regularly assessing my progress, as well as reassessing my goals.
“Alan Lakein’s ABC method of prioritization has wormed its way into my life in conscious and unconscious ways. His book also helped me balance my business and personal lives — and it enabled me to reach that very special nirvana that can result if you can integrate the two. By showing you how to manage your time in a disciplined way, this undeservedly out-of-print book helps you generate insights and focus on what is truly important, which really pays off when you are trying to launch and manage innovation efforts.”
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). “I worked in 40 countries in my career, but I’ve never been able to verbalize the trends and phenomena that I witnessed as insightfully as Friedman does in this book. That’s why I’ve been assigning it in the MBA class I teach at Darden since it was first published.
“There are some who feel that Friedman exaggerated the progress of globalization, but his thesis that the cultural and geographical barriers between nations are becoming lower and lower is certainly true with regard to business. And it jives with my experiences working with global companies. You should become familiar with the 10 ‘flatteners,’ seven ‘company rules,’ and three ‘convergences’ described in the book — some of the names have changed over the past decade, but they remain as relevant as ever.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Not-So-Elementary Exploration of Brand Insight

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, May 11, 2016
Martin Lindstrom is the Sherlock Holmes of brand consultants. Even as he walks you through the cases in his new book, Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends(St. Martin’s Press, 2016), you can’t help but marvel at his powers of observation and deduction.
Befitting a Holmesian adventure, the first case in Small Data begins with a mysterious call. The interpreter for a Moscow-based entrepreneur is on the line. “The businessman wanted to launch a new business in Russia with the goal of generating at least a billion dollars a year,” Lindstrom writes. “When I asked the obvious question — what was the business? — I was told it was up to me.” Most people receiving such calls would think they were about to be scammed. But for Lindstrom, a self-described  “forensic investigator of emotional DNA” with a global reputation, this was an exciting lead.
Soon after, the investigator, accompanied by two Watsons, is on his way to Russia aboard a private jet chartered by the entrepreneur. They spend a few days in Moscow and then fly 4,000 miles to Krasnoyarsk, a city in Siberia with a population of one million. And here, in the frozen steppes, Lindstrom takes the pulse of the Russian people and tries to identify the billion-dollar business opportunity harbored in their collective psyche.
He does this by mimicking anthropologists. Lindstrom notices that the locals upholster the inside of their apartment doors, that they lack mirrors, that the men stow their toothbrushes bristles-down and the women bristles up, and, most tellingly, that “every refrigerator seemed to have an extravagantly large collection of magnets.” To Lindstrom, this last clue was evidence that Russian parents doted on their young children. And he ultimately recommended that the entrepreneur launch, an online community and e-commerce site aimed at Russian mothers and their children. was a success, Lindstrom reports, until sanctions on imports forced it to close and retrench in 2015.
“The Case of the Refrigerator Magnets” is one of the seven tales in the book showcasing Lindstrom’s methods. Each is fascinating, but each also drives home a lesson that may or may not be intentional: It’s hard, perhaps impossible, for the average marketer to do what Lindstrom does.
Lindstrom strikes those of us who blunder through life as supernaturally sensitive and observant. When he comes across seemingly minute and irrelevant details (like whose clothes are hung where in a bedroom closet), his antennae begin to quiver. He also has decades of assignments under his belt, and each has contributed to a portfolio of insights that he can apply elsewhere. For instance, the sense of community Lindstrom discovered in Siberia informed his recommendations for redesigning a chain of grocery stores in the Southeastern U.S.
Happily, Lindstrom is willing to offer us a guide for building a brand. “Until recently, I never considered what I did for a living as a repeatable methodology,” he admits. “But over the past few years, nearly half a dozen companies have asked if I could distill my methods into a training program.”
Lindstrom outlines the result — the 7C Manifesto — in the final pages of the book. The Cs are collecting, clues, connecting, correlation, causation, compensation, and concept — and each represents a step in the process that Lindstrom follows. He also offers some useful advice for completing each step: In collecting, for instance, remove the internal filters that block your ability to observe clearly. When Pepsi asked Lindstrom to improve the public perception of his favorite soda, he eagerly accepted the assignment. But he also stopped drinking it. “Pepsi — its taste, its bubbles, its cans, its bottles, its advertising — was just too familiar,” he explains. “I had no distance from the brand, no frame of reference about desire, or craving, my own or other people’s. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t get inspired. I couldn’t do my job.”
Even with the helpful advice, I doubt that many of us could ever be able to do what Lindstrom does. There is some magic to his work, and some genius, and a lifetime of devotion to understanding how people’s emotions become intertwined with brands. But then, not being able to do what Sherlock Holmes can do has never stopped admiring readers from following his adventures with delight and astonishment. Why should it not be the same with Martin Lindstrom?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Judith Rodin’s Required Reading

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, April 27, 2016
 In August 2005, a few months after Judith Rodin was named the first female president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the days, months, and years that followed, the critical importance of resilience — the ability to prepare for systemic disruptions, survive them, and transform them into opportunities for growth — became evident.
Since then, Rodin, an academic by training and a nonprofit leader by profession, has adopted the concept of resilience as a core focus of the Rockefeller Foundation. She is deploying the philanthropic organization’s US$4.2 billion in assets to promote and develop the resilience of cities, organizations, and communities. A prolific writer with 15 books to her credit, Rodin also wrote a book on the topic to help spread the word, The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong (PublicAffairs, 2014).
Prior to joining the Rockefeller Foundation, Rodin was president of the University of Pennsylvania. The first woman to head an Ivy League school, she led the university for a decade — a period in which research funding doubled and the endowment tripled. Before that, Rodin served as provost and a named professor at Yale, where she conducted pioneering research in behavioral medicine and health psychology.
Since disruption is an issue that applies to business as much as society at large, I asked Rodin to share the books that have most influenced her thinking on the subject, ones that she thinks business leaders should read to understand and nurture the resilience of their organizations. She responded with the following three titles.
The Resilient Enterprise: Overcoming Vulnerability for Competitive Advantage, by Yossi Sheffi (MIT Press, 2005). Professor Sheffi highlights the fact that the businesses that do best after an unforeseeable disaster are the ones that make the right decisions before a crisis ever strikes. He explores how companies can build, and bolster, their resilience by making their supply chains more flexible, baking critical redundancies into their organizational design and collaborating more closely with partners who can help reinforce their safety, come what may. The book includes instructive stories from organizations as diverse as Southwest Airlines, Zara, Johnson & Johnson, and the U.S. Navy.”
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink (Crown, 2013). “I’m a huge fan of Fink’s stark and comprehensive story of how things came apart at one hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The Rockefeller Foundation was invited into New Orleans after the storm to help the city rebuild in a unified way, and while I saw the aftermath firsthand, this prize-winning journalistic account of the real-time decision making needed under such dire circumstances within a single institution is both harrowing and humbling. The book is incredibly well-researched, revealing the tangle of issues — race, class, geography, and an inescapable history — that contributed to the horror in New Orleans. Fink artfully illustrates just how ill-prepared New Orleans’s Memorial Medical Center — and, by extension, the city’s entire civic machinery — was for a crisis of this magnitude. The most important lesson for leaders in a world where crisis is the new normal: Despite the crisis plans Memorial had in place, management’s lack of situational awareness crippled its response.”
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, 2009). “This book provides a vivid and inspiring portrait of several communities brought together by the crucible of disaster: San Francisco after the earthquake and fires of 1906; the 1917 maritime disaster in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Mexico City after its 1985 earthquake; and the more recent crises of 9/11 and Katrina. Solnit’s wonderful, paradigm-shifting observation is that, somehow, crisis brought out the best in these communities, individually and collectively. She describes the emotion brought on by tragedy as ‘graver than happiness but deeply positive,’ lending confirmation to the oft-referenced idea that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. This wide-ranging investigation of human nature and how we manage to rise to the most unthinkable occasions offers incredible insight into the ways in which people and communities — and, one imagines, corporations, too — can build back stronger than ever.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Become a Talent Magnet

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, April 13, 2016
A decade or so ago, Sydney Finkelstein discovered an interesting fact about Alice Waters, the legendary chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., who played a pivotal role in launching the farm-to-table movement. “Industry insiders will tell you that Waters is also known for something else: spawning the country’s best culinary talent,” explains Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University. A host of James Beard Award winners — including the late Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café, California cuisine originator Jeremiah Tower, and chef and consultant Joyce Goldstein — worked for Waters early in their careers.
Intrigued at the outsized effect Waters has had on the top talent in her industry, Finkelstein wondered if there were leaders who had played a similar role in other sectors. He found them in fashion (Ralph Lauren), finance (hedge fund magnate Julian Robertson), professional football (San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh), media (Philadelphia Inquirer editor Gene Roberts), politics (Hillary Clinton), and technology (Oracle founder Larry Ellison), to name a handful. And he’s written an intriguing and insightful book about them, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent (Portfolio Penguin, 2016). 
Even though superbosses can have wildly varying leadership styles, they conform to a recognizable pattern in their approach to people management, writes Finkelstein: They “identify, motivate, coach, and leverage others [in ways that] are remarkably consistent, highly unconventional, and unmistakably powerful.”
The first thing they do is hire the right people. Finkelstein writes that superbosses go above and beyond the best hiring practices to find people who “get it.” They look for exceptionally smart, creative, and flexible people. They find them by taking an active hand in hiring — grabbing good people when the opportunity presents itself, spending time with candidates, conducting unusual interviews, and taking chances on promising people with unorthodox backgrounds. The first chef Alice Waters hired for Chez Panisse was a graduate student in philosophy with no culinary experience; Bill Walsh hired a high school coach for his NFL staff. Sure, superbosses take some hiring risks, but when such a risk doesn’t pay off, Finkelstein tells us, they are quick to fire.
Next, those people who get it are put to work. Superbosses expect perfection — and when they get it from someone, they pile on more challenges. Anneke Seley started working for Larry Ellison as receptionist and went on to manage customer relations and launch Oracle’s inside sales department. Though superbosses give employees lots of responsibility, they also make sure their people have a clear, compelling vision to guide them, and they provide plenty of frank feedback. Superbosses are unusually accessible, often working side by side with employees as a master would with an apprentice — Ellison himself taught Seley the SQL programming language. And they build teams of talented people — cult-like cohorts of high performers who support each other and drive results.
The superboss approach is powerful because it creates a virtuous spiral. If you’re a superboss, you hire the best people and empower them to do their best work. Some percentage of these people flourish under your tutelage and become successes in their own right. You gain a reputation for launching great careers, and the best and the brightest want to work for you. You become a talent magnet. Given the careers that superboss Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live has had a hand in launching — from Eddie Murphy to Tina Fey — is it any surprise that he has his pick of comedic talent?
Another result of the superboss approach, to which Finkelstein devotes a chapter, is the network effect that is created by following the superboss playbook over the long term. If you are a superboss, many of the talented people you develop and nurture are going to move on. They are going to start their own businesses; they are going to be offered great jobs in other companies. If you maintain close, supportive relationships with these people after they leave, they become valued members of your professional network. They become suppliers and customers. They refer new talent to you. They also provide you with investment opportunities. Witness how, after closing Tiger Management, Julian Robertson provided the seed money that enabled some of his most talented managers to start their own hedge funds; in 2015, reports Finkelstein, Robertson’s so-called Tiger seeds were managing US$32 billion in assets. Being a superboss pays dividends long after your protégés outgrow you.
Now, any endorsement of Superbosses — and I certainly endorse it for its enthusiastic advocacy of a hands-on approach to talent by top leaders — should include a couple of provisos. First, we need to recognize that Finkelstein’s contention that superbosses outperform other bosses is supported by anecdotal evidence only. Second, there’s no telling how much of the success that the leaders featured in the book have enjoyed is attributable to their distinct approach to talent. Third, we need to acknowledge that being a superboss is not all there is to being a boss. Almost a half-century ago, Peter Drucker wrote that leaders had three principal tasks: to achieve the purpose and mission of the organization; to make work and workers productive; and to manage the organization’s social impacts and responsibilities. A winning way with talent is not all it takes to successfully undertake these tasks.
These reservations aside, there is no question that this is an era when talent is increasingly essential to the success of organizations. That alone makesSuperbosses a useful and profitable addition to your leadership library.