Leadership and Developing Cooperative Participants

Team building is about leadership and discernment. Different strengths are needed at different times in a given context. This is why fit, among other qualifications is so important. But within any type of organization, there is the need for leadership who does not simply lead or direct, but develops cooperative participants. It is well established (and pretty much common sense) that a leader is going to build a team by outlining and inspiring vision, direction, and a cumulative goal. But what tools are effective for constructing and leading such a team, and what are the positive outcomes?  Many a strong personality can cajole people into action, with dictatorial command from behind, or at the other extreme, running roughshod over people so far in front that team members are discouraged from participating. This of course is not team building at all. And the real loss is missing out on all the distinctive strengths and perspectives that each member of a creative and critical thinking team can produce together.

One author has suggested three skills to correct this error where the contributions of team members are not being taken advantage of: inviting genuine critical assessment and input without fear of retribution, receiving input while suspending judgment of it, and acting in a responsive manner to questions. Pretty simple, but requiring a great deal of confidence to implement. Leaders who do this though, will draw out ideas and creativity that people may not realize they had and find that motivation becomes less of an issue to try and generate and more of one to steer in the right direction.

Shared Credit for Hard Work

The way to get things done, is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them – Benjamin Jowett

Credit for hard work is not something we should seek to avoid. But at the same time, should we not be overly preoccupied with acknowledgement if our goal is truly to produce our very best work product [as possible] with what is required of us right now.  Self-aggrandizement, overbearing personalities, and the inability to actively and empathetically listen, short circuit the team building process and the natural outworking of progress.

This disproportionate concern with acknowledgment runs contra to the concept of a team, and its accomplishments.  Goals and objectives can still be accomplished by an organization with leadership who tends to be in it for themselves, but who wants to live “one man’s dream” when you could experience all the benefits of healthy team effort? It goes without saying that at best, it is generally not pleasant for those who have to constantly to one person’s ideas to the exclusion of all others. But at worst, over the long haul, an organization will have to deal with the wreckage of only one person being heard. When contributors are heard, included and acknowledged, I think it will encourage not only being truly on board with an organization and its mission, but these same people can become the greatest advocates for changes needed in response to challenges.

More Notes on Tesla’s Patent Sharing

Tesla surprised most readers with its blog post announcing in essence, and open source of its patented technology,

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

Immediately, our minds [rightly] go to the risk this represents, but in a post last month, the point was made that by tapping into the sharing power of the social era, Tesla may diffuse billions in costs it now shoulders alone:

Lured by the higher volumes, auto suppliers would also develop new parts, components and systems —software, brakes, charging devices—that would make Teslas run more effectively and lower production costs. Gas stations, start-ups, office buildings would build many more charging stations to accommodate the larger number of electric vehicles on the road. Utilities and real estate developers would start making home-charging stations standard rather than expensive extras. All of this would be a boon to Tesla. And the company might find it could start charging drivers of other electric vehicles for access to the super-charging network it has already built. And if electric vehicles were to rise in popularity, the government would likely offer increased support. Imagine if every rest stop on an interstate housed a rapid-charging station.

Navigant Research shows the following projections with a few continued, sluggish years that may be followed by a ramp up as collaboration pays off:

EV Sales Projections - Navigant Research

In a post on this topic, Navigant shares the possible benefit of collaboration among large manufacturers:

While the patent release by Tesla will surely increase collaboration with the major car manufacturers already producing EVs, it’s much less clear that open patents will move the dial on the major automakers who have largely steered clear of EVs in the past. Toyota, GM, and several other major players are hedging their bets on EVs, and Tesla’s patent release is unlikely to change their position…Increased collaboration between the major EV players could lead to this figure being achieved ahead of schedule.

Only time will tell of course, but this example of a fundamentally different way of doing business will be interesting to watch and hopefully, will turn out to some degree as expected.

Book Review – Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life

Take ChargeDon Maruska and Jay Perry have written a very timely message to managers at all levels, as well as those aspiring to leadership and everyone in between. The book contains a timeless principle that relates to personal accountability and responsibility: do we frame the “story” of our professional lives by what is happening to us, or do you, as the title suggests, Take Charge of Your Talent? Having read this book I am writing this as a rhetorical question. But many readers who intuitively sense the premise of the book simple are not sure where to start. That is where many years of pioneering work in the field of coaching lend itself to this study. And best of all, it is written in a concise manner that includes depth of insight and prompts the reader to action.
In Take Charge of Your Talent there is a course mapped out that will have any motivated reader engaged, excited and challenged to take a healthy stretch. Yet the reader may also be surprised to find authors who suspend judgment and point out how to discover that many of the answers to moving forward are already available. In the chapters that follow, they offer helpful guidance and tangible steps to work toward attaining personal and professional desires and aspirations. One final note, if you simply read the book you will certainly benefit, but its purpose goes beyond that to the emphatically practical. This book really gets traction when you participate in the Talent Catalyst Conversation outlined throughout, so plan on this activity as you discover insights to help you and those around you move forward with your hopes.

Innovation and Finance – Making the Connection

A number of white papers on the topics of service and operational innovation have caught my attention, and I wrote an overview of one recently here. While many of the ideas regarding innovation are similar, the number of perspectives and expanded applications to operational innovation is impressive. As a proposed subspecies of organizational innovation, operational innovation has particular application for accounting and finance. And as such, it seems natural that information technology functions (up to a certain sized organization) commonly fall within the scope of the chief financial officer within the organizational structure. Why does this matter? Because what begins with a mindset toward innovation often requires the necessary bandwidth made available through technology.

In other words, technology in and of itself is NOT the answer. I cannot count the number of times I have seen an expensive system that was purchased in the absence of an organizational mindset that embraces and encourages innovation, and the inevitable happens: it lies dormant or is abandoned altogether. This is a particular shame because not only are resources wasted in the process, but it reinforces the mindset of those who are looking for an example of failure in order to resist change, as if change were being implemented for the sake of itself, rather than a desperately needed implementation that will move an organization forward. So the process begins with a mindset that permeates an organization, encouraging a culture of continuous learning. Although this is a simple and straightforward concept, it is far more complicated to create within an organization (of any type) than to plan.

But once this mindset is in place, or even moving in that direction through leadership or a core group of people, the possibilities for process innovation as it relates to service delivery are tremendous. In an article in Strategic Finance titled, Innovation is for CFOs, Too, the authors Davila, Epstein and Shelton suggest an integral connection to financial operations, organizational innovation and technology,

The accounting and finance functions are an important place to start. Although accounting has changed incrementally over time, we’re grounded in a model that was developed 500 years ago, and we still use that same basic model. That’s okay. The development of information technologies has changed the way we process transactions—and the speed—but the basic model hasn’t changed. Yet approaches to financing organizations and managing cash have changed dramatically over the years. Maybe most important, the role of the CFO has been totally expanded in the last decade or two. Although regulations in accounting and finance constrain some innovation in the corporate finance function, there’s still so much that can be done.

Further discussion of the “much [more] that can be done” will be in a subsequent post discussing this article, which can be downloaded from IMA here.

Possibilities at the Local Level: Coding a Better Government (TED)

This TED Talk delivered by Jennifer Pahlka, the founder and Executive Director of Code for America, was inspiring for a number of reasons. It was far more about collective solutions than about technology and shiny mobile apps skinned with our local government branding. The concept of collective solutions was applied to public connections and discussions that provide a platform (not necessarily in the sense of technology) to engage and provide everyday solutions at little or often no cost, simply by the availability of this platform, framework and mindset.

A powerful theme within this discussion is the idea of change management in ways that may have been previously unheard of. Consider the comment that, “politics are not changing, government is changing.” Could this possibly be better illustrated by the current Federal gridlock, contrasted with the possibilities at the local levels of government, with real solutions being provided not simply by technology, but innovative thinking and ideas that leverage available technology in very simple, solution-oriented ways. An example of how this is accomplished is the public nature of requests for information. If a question or concern is available for a number of people to see and engage in, the possibility for a solution is multiplied many times over. Imagine this idea expanding from one local government to another, sharing informational or other resources at reduced, little or sometimes no cost at all.

I thought the “application” section was remarkable, where ideas were put forward for actually engaging in the hierarchy that is inherent in any governmental system. Rather than sitting back as a distant critic of all forms of bureaucracy, it is possible to be a part of real and essential change within that mechanism. Thus changing the term bureaucracy from an inherent negative to one that exists for specific purposes, and that can be improved thanks to the advent of the social era, technology and sociological shifts that have come about from an entire generation that has grown up on the Internet.

Institutional Innovation: White Paper Overview

For more than two decades now we have been trying to adjust, sometimes unsuccessfully to a changed market place that in many respects does not reflect its predecessor, The Industrial Era. Some have labeled our present time the Social Era, which is a sociological outworking of a surge forward in the information age, a service based economy and global business. The dilemma for many organizations is that what worked in the past era is failing to get traction mainly due to an inability to adapt and respond in a timely manner and this results in negative effects on earnings, cost containment and an inability to innovate. This holds true in the sectors of non-profit, for profit, governments and virtually any other organizational type. Authors John Hagel and John Brown with Deloitte Center for the Edge have written a white paper, Institutional Innovation, Creating Smarter Organizations to Scale Learning that addresses a contrast between these two epochs of economic history with a focus on the historic benefits of “scalable efficiency” (benefits of economies of scale) and a new and requisite organizational characteristic, “scalable learning.”

A compelling hook at the very beginning of the paper describes the organizational structure that seeks to govern scalable efficiency: command and control. To the average person who has read any degree of managerial trends in the last decade (or two), the very term, command and control bristles against almost anything considered effective in our present time. When I say effective, I don’t mean can it exist or can you get away with it. What I mean is, does such a structure really translate into organizational value and draw out the best in people, or does it cause people to become professionals at observing the boss, and avoiding them accordingly? The upside of this structure is that it puts systems in place (assuming managerial competence) that create predictability, which worked out well when social, political and economic trends changed more slowly. The problem is, this is no longer the case. The compelling resolution that the authors suggest is “a new rationale of ‘scalable learning’.” The result, they argue (with examples), is that smarter organizations actually benefit from radical and essential change, rather than be harmed by it. The key to this is “increased learning and adaptability” that will result in coveted product and process innovations through the advent of “creation spaces,” which is not a new concept, but may be better suited than ever for addressing the future challenges of organizations of all types. Get your copy of this excellent paper here, or if you would like a quick reference copy with highlights and a note or two, drop me an email.

Reference:

Hagel, J. III & Brown, J. Institutional innovation: Creating smarter organizations to scale learning. http://dupress.com/articles/institutional-innovation/

The Shelf Life of Innovation

For a visionary, a perfectionist, an idealist or someone who is driven by simply tying to get things right organizationally, there is a great deal of satisfaction in driving innovation whether it be product, process or service. But just about everything we work with was once an innovation. Everything was new once. It is not enough to fix something, and then create a monument to it in the form of a process that soon becomes dated and ineffective. Or worse, protect that monument rather than allow the present order to be disrupted with ideas that we may not quite understand. What needs to happen is outlined in The Case for Institutional Innovation,

In today’s environment of exponential technology change and market uncertainty, institutions that can drive accelerated learning will be more likely to create significant economic value on a sustainable basis… As institutions are rearchitected to take advantage of rapidly evolving technology infrastructures to scale learning, they can become more adept at generating richer innovations at other levels, including products, services, business models, and management systems.

This goes for every type of organization, including governments. This is perhaps especially true for smaller governmental entities even though such organizations are being challenged due to overall economic trends and possibly, long-term shifts in revenue. However, due to their manageable size, the above stated innovational trends are entirely possible if such an organization adopts and aggressively implements a philosophy of learning from top to bottom. This can be largely implemented through scaled learning, rather than simply turning to economy of scale. It does not necessarily have to be a choice between the two, scaled learning can take place in any context, and it does not require of formal system in place. This is the nature of a learning organization and the characteristic that emerges within an organizational culture that leverages learning opportunities. And it begins with leadership and willpower.

Reference:

Hagel, J. III & Brown, J. Institutional innovation: Creating smarter organizations to scale learning. http://dupress.com/articles/institutional-innovation/

Strategy: The Outworking of an Extraordinary Vision

Successful business strategy is the outworking of vision, extraordinary vision. Ken Blanchard has summed up the issue well in his classic anthological work, Leading at a Higher Level: The biggest impediment blocking most managers from being great leaders is the … Continue reading