Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The general wisdom of Ulysses S. Grant

strategy+business, May 27, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by drnadig

Prior to the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant didn’t show much promise. He called his admission to the U.S. military academy at West Point “an accident,” and when he graduated in 1843, he was only in the middle of his class. Just over a decade later, in 1854, he resigned from the U.S. Army. In the next few years, he proved to be a failure in business — even during boom times, such as the California gold rush.

In 1861, as the slave states seceded from the U.S. and the Union rushed to build up its army, Grant struggled just to get a commission leading 630 men in the 21st Illinois Infantry Regiment. And yet, four years later, it was Grant who, as the chief strategist and leader of more than 1 million men serving in the Army of the United States, left Robert E. Lee with no choice but to surrender at Appomattox, effectively ending the Civil War.

What was it that made this least likely of leaders such a success? And what can we learn from Grant’s experience? I recently read 1,700 pages looking for answers — Grant’s best-selling memoirs, which he wrote as he was suffering from cancer and finished a few days before he died, in 1885, and Ron Chernow’s more wide-ranging and much-praised biography. Both contain valuable lessons for leaders.

The first striking attribute about Grant was his low-key management style, which is the polar opposite of the textbook definition of an alpha leader. He assumed leadership more than he asserted it. And he certainly didn’t dress for success: Instead, Grant wore a mostly unadorned blue coat and black hat throughout much of the war. He showed up for his first regimental assignment in civilian garb, reports Chernow, prompting one soldier to quip, “He don’t look as if he knew enough to find cows if you gave him hay.” Read the rest here.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Fixing the Overload Problem at Work

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, April 27, 2020

by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen

Image courtesy of Neil Webb/

The way that companies expect employees to work isn’t working. Despite growing awareness of widespread and chronic overload and its ill effects, companies often expect professionals and managers to be “on” well beyond traditional work hours — attending meetings at night, responding to requests on weekends and during vacations, and monitoring their phones, texts, and emails whenever they are awake. Many people become exhausted and burned out struggling to meet such expectations. The result is an overwhelming, demoralizing sense that the demands of work are unrealistic and cannot be met with the resources at hand.

Of course, overload is not restricted to salaried, white-collar workers. But we have found that they are acutely susceptible. In our survey of more than 1,000 of these workers in the IT division of TOMO, our pseudonym for a Fortune 500 company generally viewed as a good employer and a decent corporate citizen, 41% of the division’s professionals and 61% of its managers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that there is “not enough time to get your job done.”

Escalating work demands and the exhaustion they produce surfaced repeatedly in the 400 interviews we conducted with TOMO employees from 2010 to 2014. For example, Vanessa, a director at the company, told us that she expects her direct reports to “be accessible 24-7, 365 days a year.” If they aren’t going to be available outside working hours, she said, “they need to let me know.”

Jonathon, a manager who reports to Vanessa, shared multiple stories of work encroaching on his home life and volunteer activities. He said he often takes late-night work calls, some of which wake his wife. Despite the success he has attained at work, Jonathon said he is steering his children away from professions like his that are prone to overload. He believes it is an unhealthy and unsustainable way to earn a living.

Evidence collected at TOMO and in a variety of other workplaces, including consulting companies and medical facilities, suggests that Jonathon is right. We heard story after story of health concerns tied to overload from the IT professionals and managers at TOMO. They told us about heart attacks and strokes, disrupted sleep and related forgetfulness, unexplained hives, and other ills. They also described an inability to muster the energy to exercise and to prepare healthy meals, and work pressures that prompted them to smoke and drink more than they considered wise. In fact, employees in our study who put in long hours reported significantly higher levels of burnout, stress, and psychological distress (feeling sad, nervous, restless, hopeless, worthless, and that everything is an effort) than employees who worked fewer hours.

Unpredictable schedules and always-on availability also contribute to employee overload and deteriorate their well-being. Specifically, employees who have variable schedules that they do not control report significantly higher levels of burnout, stress, and psychological distress, as well as lower levels of job satisfaction, than employees who have fixed schedules or feel more in control of when they work. Studies of all kinds of occupations are now documenting the negative health impacts of very long hours and limited control over work time.

Companies that push employees as hard as TOMO are hurting themselves, too. Talented people quit when they become overwhelmed by work or resentful of unrealistic demands — voting with their feet after being expected to do too much for too long. When they exit, their employers lose expertise, knowledge, and sometimes valuable customer relationships...Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Pride and the pandemic

strategy+business, April 23, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by svetikd

My sister-in-law texted two photos to our extended family on March 31. One was of a sign installed on the lawn of the Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, a 183-bed not-for-profit hospital in Woodbridge, Va. It read “HEROES WORK HERE” in big, colorful letters. The other was of my nephew, wearing scrubs, gloves, and goggles, in the entrance to the hospital’s emergency room, where he’s been working 12-hour shifts. We’re all worried about him. We’re also damn proud of him.

The daily stream of reports detailing the brave work of medical professionals around the world these past few weeks has been a revelation. Facing a virus without a cure and often working despite critical shortages of personal protective equipment, many of these people have been risking their lives simply by walking into work.

They aren’t the only ones working far from the comparative safety of home in this pandemic. Delivery people, warehouse workers, postal employees, supermarket clerks, gas station attendants, and many others are choosing to go to work. Facing layoffs, union members at General Electric’s aviation plants pressured the company to put them to work making ventilators.

Are they doing it for the money? I hope so, at least in part. But there’s also something else at play here — pride.

“An intrinsic feeling of pride based on the relentless pursuit of worthwhile endeavors is a lasting and powerful motivating force,” wrote Jon Katzenbach in his 2003 book, Why Pride Matters More Than Money. Katzenbach, a managing director with PwC US and founder of the Katzenbach Center at Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting practice, explored the institution-building capacity of pride and concluded that it is the “most important motivational element in a company.” Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, April 22, 2020

by Amit S. Mukherjee

Image courtesy of Gordon Studer/

Effective leadership isn’t ageless or immutable. Periodically, new technologies overturn established modes and sweep aside executives who don’t adapt.

For most of the 20th century, after transformative technologies made it possible to measure the minutiae of human work, leaders concentrated on maximizing productivity and efficiency, many taking a command-and-control approach. But this autocratic style failed disastrously when upstart Japanese companies used newer technologies — focused on quality — to enter Western markets. In the mid-1980s, unwilling to make the organizational and leadership changes required by this shift in competition, American companies went bankrupt at rates not seen since the Great Depression. Those that survived augmented their long-standing functional silos with teams that enabled cross-functional collaboration, while their leaders learned to empower employees to make decisions.

Today, business is being transformed again — this time by digital technologies. They render some elite skills obsolete and widely distribute others; make work more thought-driven than muscle-powered; shed light on unpredictable customer needs that create disproportionate value; reveal information regardless of the merits of concealment; and affect — and are affected by — environmental conditions near and far. They also connect companies and employees by distributing work across geography and over time.

Current and aspiring leaders must respond to this new wave of change in five key ways. Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Too much work, too little time

strategy+business, April 15, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by John Lamb

Someday soon, when the economic engines of the world are running again, leaders will reflect on what the COVID-19 pandemic revealed about the ways and means of work in their companies. As they do, they should read Overload, by Erin L. Kelly, a professor of work and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Phyllis Moen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota.

Overload details the results of a rigorous five-year study conducted within the IT division of TOMO, an alias for an unidentified Fortune 500 company. The randomized field experiment included nearly 1,000 tech professionals and managers in 56 teams — half of whom redesigned their work and half of whom served as a control group, and didn’t.

The impetus behind TOMO’s unusual openness to participating in this experiment was management’s recognition of a pervasive feeling of, as the authors frame it, overload among the division’s employees. Kelly and Moen, whose team operated under the auspices of Work, Family & Health Network, an interdisciplinary research group focused on workplace interventions, define overload as “the sense that work demands are unrealistic, given limited resources.” Their initial survey of the division’s employees revealed that 41 percent of workers and 61 percent of managers agreed or strongly agreed that there was not enough time to get their jobs done.

These are people, who, in addition to long days on the job, were routinely taking calls and working at home, at night, and on weekends. In fact, at least one of the managers had been demanding advance notification anytime the people she supervised weren’t going to be available outside of working hours. This supervisor told the authors that she expected her direct reports to “be accessible 24/7, 365 days a year.” The pernicious consequences of this work intensity? Repeated surveys and more than 400 individual interviews at TOMO revealed high levels of chronic stress and ill health, feelings of powerlessness, work–family conflict, and burnout — all of which negatively affect employee performance, of course. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Joel Peterson: How Entrepreneurs Should Lead in Times of Crisis

Insights by Stanford Business, April 14, 2020

by Theodore Kinni


One Saturday afternoon in 2016, Diana Peterson left home for a 4-mile hike in Millcreek Canyon, just outside Salt Lake City, and disappeared. As darkness fell, her husband, Joel, began calling family members to see if anyone had heard from her. A short time later, Diana’s car was located at a trailhead and a search-and-rescue mission was launched.

As morning broke, cadaver dogs were called in and Joel Peterson drove home to find some of his wife’s clothing so the dogs could track her scent. Morbidly, he found himself composing her obituary. Happily, he didn’t need to finish it. As he arrived back at the canyon, Diana reappeared. She had a shattered wrist and was exhausted, but she was alive.

It’s an odd story to find in a book on leadership, but Peterson — a long-time Stanford Graduate School of Business adjunct professor and the chairman of JetBlue — eventually came to see the harrowing incident as a metaphor.

“Just as Diana knew all about flashlights, trail mix, water bottles, walkie-talkies, the importance of hydration, of staying on trails, and of not hiking on trails after dark or alone, in theory our students know about the perils of entrepreneurship and the requisite principles of effective leadership,” he writes in the introduction to his new book, Entrepreneurial Leadership: The Art of Launching New Ventures, Inspiring Others, and Running Stuff. “They are well-prepared in theory, but not in practice.”

The book is Peterson’s way of addressing this gap between leadership theory and practice. In it, he offers the same practical framework — the “set of principles, mind-sets, and self-talk” — that he has used to good effect in his life and career. Here, based on excerpts from a recent interview and the book itself, Peterson offers four key pieces of advice for leaders facing crises — such as the current COVID-19 pandemic and the economic chaos it has spawned. Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The algorithmic trade-off between accuracy and ethics

strategy+business, March 12, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Yuichiro Chino

Strava, a San Francisco–based fitness website whose users upload data from their Fitbits and other devices to track their exercise routines and routes, didn’t set out to endanger U.S. military personnel. But in November 2017, when the company released a data visualization of the aggregate activity of its users, that’s what it did.

Strava’s idea was to provide its users with a map of the most popular running routes, wherever they happened to be located. As it turns out, the resulting visualization, which was composed from three trillion GPS coordinates, also showed routes in areas, such as Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, where the few Strava users were located almost exclusively on military bases. Their running routes inadvertently revealed the regular movements of soldiers in a hot zone of insurgency.

The problem, explain University of Pennsylvania computer and information scientists Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth, authors of The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design, is “that blind, data-driven algorithmic optimization of a seemingly sensible objective can lead to unexpected and undesirable side effects.” The solution, which they explore for nontechnical leaders and other lay readers in this slim book, is embodied in the emerging science of ethical algorithm design.

“Instead of people regulating and monitoring algorithms from the outside,” the authors say, “the idea is to fix them from the inside.” To achieve this, companies need to consider the fairness, accuracy, transparency, and ethics — the so-called FATE — of algorithm design.

Kearns and Roth don’t deal with the FATE traits in a sequential manner. Instead, they describe the pitfalls associated with algorithms and discuss the ever-evolving set of solutions for avoiding them. Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Caveat emptor, CEO

strategy+business, March 6, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by triloks

Purpose-driven organizations. Disruptive innovation. Reengineering. Five Forces analysis. Shareholder primacy. For better or for worse, many of the ideas that leaders adopt — and sometimes bet the future of their companies on — come from the academic world, and virtually all of them are promulgated by academic research. That’s why the rigor and validity of management studies should be as great a concern inside C-suites as they are in colleges and universities.

It’s also why Dennis Tourish’s take on the current state of management research is disturbing. “It has…become evident that various forms of research malpractice are common in our field,” writes the professor of leadership and organization studies at the University of Sussex in the introduction to his book Management Studies in Crisis: Fraud, Deception and Meaningless Research (Cambridge University Press, 2019). “I’m talking about outright fraud such as inventing data, but also about plagiarism, self-plagiarism, poor-quality statistical analysis, and p-hacking.” Tourish goes on to support this contention with a tour of the current state of management research that is akin to Dante’s tour of hell.

Tourish has particular scorn for the research on two concepts currently in vogue — authentic leadership theory (ALT) and evidence-based management (EBM). ALT, an offshoot of James MacGregor Burns’s transformational leadership that was popularized by Harvard Business School professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George, holds that leadership success derives from the alignment of who you are on the inside with how you behave on the outside. After examining the research, Tourish concludes, “ALT is little more than a series of fables, designed to reassure us that leadership is simpler than it is and that introspection can lead us all to salvation.” Be still, my cynical heart. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Future of Platforms

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, February 11, 2020

by Michael A. Cusumano, David B. Yoffie, and Annabelle Gawer

The world’s most valuable public companies and its first trillion-dollar businesses are built on digital platforms that bring together two or more market actors and grow through network effects. The top-ranked companies by market capitalization are Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), and Amazon. Facebook, Alibaba, and Tencent are not far behind. As of January 2020, these seven companies represented more than $6.3 trillion in market value, and all of them are platform businesses. 

Platforms are also remarkably popular among entrepreneurs and investors in private ventures. When we examined a 2017 list of more than 200 unicorns (startups with valuations of $1 billion or more), we estimated that 60% to 70% were platform businesses. At the time, these included companies such as Ant Financial (an affiliate of Alibaba), Uber, Didi Chuxing, Xiaomi, and Airbnb.

But the path to success for a platform venture is by no means easy or guaranteed, nor is it completely different from that of companies with more-conventional business models. Why? Because, like all companies, platforms must ultimately perform better than their competitors. In addition, to survive long-term, platforms must also be politically and socially viable, or they risk being crushed by government regulation or social opposition, as well as potentially massive debt obligations. These observations are common sense, but amid all the hype over digital platforms — a phenomenon we sometimes call platformania — common sense hasn’t always been so common.

We have been studying and working with platform businesses for more than 30 years. In 2015, we undertook a new round of research aimed at analyzing the evolution of platforms and their long-term performance versus that of conventional businesses. Our research confirmed that successful platforms yield a powerful competitive advantage with financial results to match. It also revealed that the nature of platforms is changing, as are the ecosystems and technologies that drive them, and the challenges and rules associated with managing a platform business.

Platforms are here to stay, but to build a successful, sustainable company around them, executives, entrepreneurs, and investors need to know the different types of platforms and their business models. They need to understand why some platforms generate sales growth and profits relatively easily, while others lose extraordinary sums of money. They need to anticipate the trends that will determine platform success versus failure in the coming years and the technologies that will spawn tomorrow’s disruptive platform battlegrounds. We seek to address these needs in this article. Read the rest here. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Inside Mexico's Anemic Economy

LinkedIn, February 9, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

They say ignorance is bliss and it certainly used to feel that way whenever I ate a tortilla chip laden with guacamole. But now, because journalist Nathaniel Parish Flannery chose avocados, along with coffee and mezcal, as the principal entry points for his boots-on-the-ground exploration of the Mexican economy, Searching for Modern Mexico, I know a little too much about the main ingredient of guacamole to enjoy it’s creamy, green goodness as much as I once did.

Most of the avocados Americans consume come from Michoacán, a state located west of Mexico City that stretches to the Pacific Ocean. In 1995, the year after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, Michoacán exported 45,600 tons of avocados. In 2015, it exported nearly 775,000 tons valued at $1.5 billion. But if this sounds like a free-trade success story, it’s not so much.

The wealth generated by avocados not only enriched Michoacán’s farmers, explains Flannery, but it also attracted criminals, many of them former members of drug cartels. These gangs of gunmen demanded 30-40 percent of the earnings of avocado producers as “protection money.” The gangs tortured and killed anyone who refused to pay, dumping the mutilated bodies in public squares as a warning.

The police and armed forces of Mexico’s local, state, and federal governments were unable to stop the killing, so the avocado growers of Michoacán formed and funded their own gangs, vigilantes called the autodefensa. A running battle ensued that continues today. Caravans of gunmen armed with automatic weapons speed through avocado country fighting for control. Gangs have splintered and reformed until it is impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Cities and towns have been transformed into armed camps, with private armies manning turrets and barricades.

“The government doesn’t rule here, but it’s under control,” a grower in the city of Tancítaro tells Flannery. “You can relax.” Meanwhile, in the U.S., we are mashing avocados into guacamole as little as 30 hours after they were picked in Michoacán. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Leaders in waiting

Learned a lot lending an ediorial hand here:

strategy+business, January 28, 2020

by Peter Englisch

Illustration by Irene Rinaldi

Jakarta, Indonesia, is a sprawling city of more than 30 million people. Like many other burgeoning capitals, it has a housing problem. Rents downtown are high, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of properties are unoccupied. This forces people to travel many miles to get to work from the suburbs. Christina Suriadjaja saw this as an opportunity. In 2017, she pivoted her new company,, into the real estate management business, creating a platform offering short-term and long-term fully furnished rentals. Today Travelio represents more than 4,000 properties on an exclusive basis and earns 20 to 35 percent of the rental income they generate. It’s a success story with a twist: Christina is the 28-year-old daughter of Johannes Suriadjaja, owner of PT Surya Semesta Internusa, a US$300 million commercial property, construction, and hospitality company — and she was expected to enter the family firm, not start one of her own.

Many members of the rising generation of leaders in family businesses are trying to figure out their career paths. These “NextGen” leaders are committed to their family firm and want to contribute, but are not always sure how. Christina chose to prove that she had what it took not only to take over a successful concern but to build one herself. It required a strong will and persistence on her part to convince her family of this; it was four years before they invested in Travelio.

“The first time I went fundraising, my father didn’t help me at all. I got rejected by 23 [venture capital firms], and he just let me get rejected. So, he threw me under the bus, but it was the best lesson that I’ve learned, and we’ve raised three rounds of capital since then,” says Christina. Because of the record of success and business credibility Christina has built, her father recently invited her to become the CEO of the hospitality division of the family business — an offer she turned down. In November 2019, Travelio announced that it had raised an additional $18 million in Series B financing.

The future of family businesses is contingent on the quality and capabilities of tomorrow’s leaders. And that leadership bench is a critical issue indeed, because family businesses, both privately held and public, are a major component of the global economy. In 2019, the world’s 750 largest family businesses, as compiled by Family Capital with the support of PwC, had combined revenues of more than $9 trillion and directly employed around 30 million people.

Like Christina Suriadjaja, the rising generation of leaders in these businesses are committed and ambitious, and they are uniquely qualified to be agents of change, particularly with regard to the digital transformations that so many companies need to undertake. Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Pessimism dematerialized: Four reasons to be hopeful about the future

strategy+business, January 16, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Klaus Vedfelt

If you’re a glass-half-full person, you’re going to love Andrew McAfee’s latest book, More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources―and What Happens Next. Always optimistic, while still expressing minor notes of caution, McAfee, a research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management and cofounder and codirector of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy (with frequent collaborator Erik Brynjolfsson), believes that life on this planet is getting better all the time. He also thinks that though humans face some big challenges, we have at our command all the resources needed to meet them.

The principle support upon which McAfee constructs this thesis, which he admits will be hard for more skeptical readers to swallow, is an ongoing process of dematerialization that he finds occurring in mature economies. Building on research by environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel and writer Chris Goodall, McAfee charts resource consumption in the United States. For instance, he uses U.S. Geological Survey data to show that as of 2015, the consumption of the five “most important” manufacturing metals in the U.S. — aluminum, copper, steel, nickel, and gold — are all off their peaks since 2000. Steel consumption is down 15 percent; aluminum is down 32 percent; copper is down 40 percent. The same is true for energy consumption, as well as a variety of farming and construction inputs. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, U.S. consumption of resources has been falling, yet the nation’s economy has continued growing. Simply put, McAfee is arguing that it takes a lot less stuff to produce a dollar of GDP today than it did 50 years ago.

McAfee declares that the data shows “a great reversal of our Industrial Age habits is taking place. The American economy is now experiencing broad and often deep absolute dematerialization.” And the rest of world? Well, the data is incomplete. McAfee finds some evidence that Europe’s industrialized nations are “past peak” resource consumption, but developing countries, such as China and India, that are still in the process of industrializing, “probably are not yet dematerializing.”

Four forces drive the engine of dematerialization, according to McAfee. Read the rest here.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Disney CEO Robert Iger’s Testimonial to Empathy

Real Leaders, January 6, 2020

by Theodore Kinni

Disney CEO Robert Iger’s Testimonial to Empathy

In June 2016, Bob Iger (above left, with Georoge Lucas) was in China overseeing preparations for the opening of Shanghai Disneyland. It was the culmination of an 18-year effort and a $6 billion investment that the CEO calls “the biggest accomplishment of my career.” The day before the opening, as Iger was leading a VIP tour of the new park, he was informed that a two-year-old boy had been killed in an alligator attack at Walt Disney World in Florida.

A highly capable Disney crisis team was already on the scene and Iger dictated a public statement. Everything that could be done was being done, but the CEO felt compelled to try to speak to boy’s parents. Once he got on the phone with the boy’s father, Iger told him that he was a father, too, and a grandfather, but even so, he “couldn’t fathom what they must be going through.”

Sobbing, the boy’s father asked Iger to promise this would never happen to another child. He promised. “I sat there shaking on the edge of my bed,” Iger writes in his book, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. “I’d been crying so hard that both my contact lenses had come out.”

When you visit Disney World, you can see one result of that promise: There are ropes, fences, and warning signs around the lagoons and canals on the property. They were installed within twenty-four hours of the phone call, across an area twice the size of Manhattan.

It’s a gut-wrenching story—an odd one to find anywhere in a CEO’s memoir, let alone in its prologue. Being the skeptical type, I wondered about Iger’s motives for telling it. He is as polished and professional an executive as I have ever seen, and a welcome contrast to two flavors of leaders that we see too often these days: posturing, blurting assholes who seem to have no self-control whatsoever; and cold, amoral automatons whose sole concern seems to be the value of their stock options.

Iger definitely isn’t the former. He could be a particularly well-disguised example of the latter—I don’t know him personally and can’t say for sure. But I suspect from reading The Ride of a Lifetime and following Disney’s fortunes over the past 20 years that he is not.

It’s also odd that the empathy that Iger demonstrated during that call isn’t one of the ten principles “necessary to true leadership” that he lists a few pages later. The closest he gets to it is the principle of fairness, which he says, requires empathy and accessibility. Yet, Iger’s tenure at Disney is such a compelling testament to the power of empathy that both veteran and aspiring leaders should study it. Read the rest here.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Galvanizing Effect Of The Social Enterprise In Action

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

Forbes, December 27, 2019

by Michael Gretczko

photo: GETTY

I love seeing how the blue water of the Caribbean meets the white sands of Puerto Rico from the air. In October, after landing, I didn’t go to the beach. Instead, I headed into downtown San Juan, where I joined 22 of my colleagues — all just a few years out of school and eager to make a difference not only in our organization, but also in people’s lives in the world at large.

They were in San Juan to participate in our Human Capital People to People (P2P) program; I was there to support them as an advisor and mentor. P2P is a skills-based volunteering initiative where our junior professionals undertake an intensive week-long pro bono engagement to support local nonprofit organizations. As with all of our volunteering programs, we were there to bring our greatest asset — the skills and experience of our people — to help nonprofits address their most critical issues and help drive transformational outcomes.

For me, the week in San Juan was a firsthand example of the benefits that a social enterprise can generate. At Deloitte, we define the social enterprise as a company whose mission combines revenue growth and profit-making with the need to respect and support its environment and stakeholder network. It is a business that embraces its responsibility to the community and serves as a role model to other organizations and its people.

The most obvious beneficiaries of P2P engagements are the nonprofits themselves. Many nonprofits find it challenging to muster the skills, data and resources they need to carry out their missions. They usually have very clear missions and well-articulated programs for achieving them, but they tend to struggle with how to deliver against overwhelming and competing demands with limited resources as well as operational execution challenges. Our teams quickly zeroed in on opportunities to improve back-office operations to create front-office or, more appropriately, mission-driven impacts. Read the rest here.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A disappointing progress report on diversity and inclusion

strategy+business, December 12, 2019

by Theodore Kinni

Illustration by Boris SV

Racial and ethnic minorities make up 38.8 percent of the population of the U.S. and a nearly equivalent share of its workforce. But minorities represent only 17 percent of full-time university professors and 16.6 percent of newsroom journalists. They are only 4.5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 16 percent of Fortune 500 boardroom directors. They are 9 percent of law firm partners; 16 percent of museum curators, conservators, educators, and leaders; 13 percent of film directors; and 6 percent of the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

These discrepancies haven’t gone unnoticed, but they also haven’t been effectively addressed. “During more than three decades of my professional life, diversity has been a national preoccupation,” writes journalist and New York University professor Pamela Newkirk in the second paragraph of the preface to her book Diversity, Inc. “Yet despite decades of handwringing, costly initiatives, and uncomfortable conversations, progress in most elite American institutions has been negligible.”

Newkirk devotes most of Diversity, Inc., which is heavily focused on racial inequality, and particularly, discrimination against African-Americans, to demonstrating this dismaying reality through a sometimes tangled mix of factoids and anecdotes drawn from the arenas of academia, media, and business. The bigger stories that emerge are all variations on the same theme: The lack of progress by minorities in America’s elite institutions is a function of a political and societal arc that has stretched across a half a century. Read the rest here.

A Noble Purpose Alone Won’t Transform Your Company

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, December 10, 2019

by Rob Cross, Amy Edmondson, and Wendy Murphy

Consider these two companies: The first is a retail chain with hundreds of locations globally — innovative, but basically a sales platform. The second is a hospital that treats the world’s most devastating cancers. Which do you think has a more engaged workforce?

If you chose the latter, in light of its quest to save lives, you wouldn’t be alone. Yet, when we spent time with both organizations, we discovered that the working environment in the hospital was rife with fear, workforce morale was low, and employee turnover was high. At the retail chain, on the other hand, there was a palpable spirit of camaraderie, employees were energetic and enthusiastic, and customers were very pleased with the service. The retailer had the more engaged workforce by a long shot.

It’s a common misconception, both in businesses and in management articles and books, that a sense of purpose is what matters most when it comes to engaging employees. Many leaders concerned with attracting and retaining top talent believe that nothing motivates people as much as the larger good they might be doing or the chance to change the world. Accordingly, they extol the higher virtues of their companies’ missions and the meaning of the work they offer.

But our work with more than 300 companies over the past 20 years, particularly our research using organizational network analysis (ONA) and our interviews with executives, reveals that purpose is only one contributing factor; the level and quality of interpersonal collaboration actually has the greatest impact on employee engagement. In this article, we’ll explore why collaboration has that effect and which behaviors you can adopt and practice to nurture it. Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Becoming your most charismatic self

strategy+business, November 27, 2019

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Klaus Vedfelt

Peter Drucker, my favorite managerial touchstone, didn’t think much of leadership charisma. You can almost hear him grinding his teeth as he describes, in his 1992 book, Managing for the Future, being asked to run a seminar on “how one acquires charisma” by a vice president of HR at a big bank.

It’s the prelude to a bit of a rant. “History knows no more charismatic leaders than [the 20th] century’s triad of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao — the misleaders who inflicted as much evil and suffering on humanity as have ever been recorded,” Drucker fumes. “But effective leadership doesn’t depend on charisma. Dwight Eisenhower, [former Secretary of State] George Marshall, and Harry Truman were singularly effective leaders, yet none possessed any more charisma than a dead mackerel.”

Drucker’s antipathy toward charisma is understandable. An Austrian working in Germany, he witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler, and he was forced to flee to London a few months after Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933. But Drucker may have gotten this one wrong: He seems to be conflating the effects of charisma with the ends to which it is applied.

It appears, upon further reflection, that charisma does contribute to leadership effectiveness. “A meta-analysis of data spanning close to a quarter of a century has shown that charismatic leaders not only possess an ability to inspire their troops to ever higher levels of performance, but also simultaneously embed deeper levels of commitment in their psyche,” report academics Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks in their book, Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why.

Sounds promising. But what if a leader indeed possesses no more charisma than a dead mackerel? Can it be cultivated? Read the rest here

Friday, November 15, 2019

How to build a great experience

strategy+business, November 15, 2019

by Theodore Kinni

Illustration by Paula Daniëlse

In 2017, the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University announced that henceforth the Department of Recreational Management would be known as the Department of Experience Design and Management. The idea that immersive and engaging experiences produce value and deliver competitive advantage has come a long way in the 20 years since Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore welcomed us to something they called the “experience economy.”

Designing Experiences is the latest in a long line of books that have appeared on the subject. In it, J. Robert Rossman, a professor at Illinois State University, and Mathew Duerden, an associate professor in the aforementioned department at the Marriott School, touch on many of its predecessors (including one in which I had a hand, Be Our Guest) in a concise textbook that serves as both a theoretical foundation and a how-to guide for experience design.

The theoretical foundation, which appears mostly in the first two chapters, bogs down a bit in explaining what constitutes an experience. This murk stems from Pine and Gilmore’s positioning of experiences as an economic activity unique from products and services. Rossman and Duerden carry this forward by arguing that experiences differ from products and services because the person on the receiving end of an experience must be actively co-creating it. “Experience demands conscious attention, engagement, and action — in a word, participation,” they write.

This distinction isn’t clear to me. Is there any product or service we can buy and consume that doesn’t require our participation in some form or other? And even if it were possible not to participate in the acquisition and use of certain products or services (say, buying groceries or cutting the lawn), mightn’t that count as a very good experience for some of us? Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Best Business Books 2019: Management

strategy+business, November 5, 2019

by Theodore Kinni

Illustration by Harry Campbell

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World (Harvard Business Review Press, 2019)

Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks
Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why (PublicAffairs, 2019)

Roger Dooley
Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage (McGraw-Hill, 2019)

In 1954, the discipline of management was neatly encapsulated by Peter Drucker in the pages of a single book, The Practice of Management. This year’s best business books on management reflect how much the discipline has changed in the past 65 years, and how fuzzy the boundaries separating fields have become.

Nine Lies About Work, by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, the year’s best management book, challenges the assumptions that underlie contemporary managerial practices, many of which date back to Drucker’s day. In doing so, the book offers a glimpse of a new management paradigm that may prove to be better suited to the times. Messengers, by Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks, prompts us to see managers as a living, breathing communication medium — and it describes the traits that can ensure the messages they deliver will be heard. And Friction, by Roger Dooley, suggests that if managers turn their attention to simplifying anything customers and employees need to do, they’ll happily do more of it. Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Lucky You!

strategy+business, November 1, 2019

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Elizabeth Fernandez

Recently, on a social media site for professionals, I suggested that luck plays a significant role in leadership and business success. This didn’t sit well with several commentors, who argued that successful people become that way largely by dint of merit — they work hard and use their brains and hone their ability to identify and exploit opportunities. People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett make their own luck, I was told.

Hogwash. This is not to detract from the monumental business achievements of two of America’s wealthiest (and most philanthropic) men. But we should acknowledge that Gates and Buffett both drew winning tickets in the birth lottery.

Gates’s dad co-founded a law firm and served as president of the Washington State Bar Association; his mom, who came from a family of bankers, held prominent board positions. They sent their son to one of the best prep schools in the nation and then to Harvard, where, with their assent and support, he dropped out to start a computer software company. Mary Gates helped her son’s fledgling company get the IBM contract that led to MS-DOS. Warren Buffett was the son of a U.S. congressman — Howard Buffett represented Nebraska in the House of Representatives for four terms, and founded a brokerage firm. Warren’s parents sent him to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Nebraska, and Columbia Business School, where he studied with and was mentored by Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing. Buffett’s first job was in his father’s firm and then he went to work for Graham. Nobody gave Gates or Buffett their billions, or even their first tens of millions. But when they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, the climb wasn’t as far as it would be for most of us.

Once leaders attain positions of power, luck continues to play a powerful role in their success. Take Jack Welch, who was named “manager of the century” by Fortune in 1999. Read the rest here.