I hold a lot of respect for Seth Godin and read his excellent blog often. In the March 17 entry  Not for me  Seth talks about separating personal preferences, tastes and beliefs, and reasoning.

It’s a good point and a nice brief entry used to convey it. There is one thing I will have to mildly disagree with Seth on.

Seth says:

“You can say you don’t like a book or a movie or a political candidate, but without more data, it’s impossible to say that it won’t succeed, get great reviews or even get elected.”

In fact, it is plain impossible to reliably predict the outcome of a new venture based on ANY amount of data. If the opposite were true, there would never be flopped projects, unexpected failures and unexpected successes. There would be no such thing as 30% project success rate, no Betacam, and many and early iPhones.

Talk to any C-level person long enough and the word “innovation” will pop out. The “culture of innovation is a highly coveted, rare substance. It is so for a good reason because businesses, its shareholders and the Street demand predictable, reliable results. Innovation, the quest into uncharted territories, is bound to produce both stars and duds. Not very predictable, understandably.

Successfully balancing the rigour of analytics and the exciting uncertainty of innovation is an enviable trait of a high-class CEO. Organizations that can do both effectively have the clear competitive advantage and, by definition, are positioned to weather economic storms better.

We have now shipped the Excellence in Leadership Series on CD with five hourly sessions on Strategy, Finance, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Business Cases and Change Management to companies in Australia, Canada, Ireland and USA.

Do these points apply to you?

  • you get 150-200 emails a day plus 30 phone calls and you are not a call centre agent but a manager or an executive
  • you routinely find yourself engaged in remediation, fixing, making sure things happen – also known as firefighting
  • you are in the narrow part of the funnel of every decision. In fact, you are the funnel – no decision seem to be possible without you
  • people come to you with problems and leave them on your desk
  • you are referred to as someone who would “make it happen” 
  • you find yourself taking on things that your admin assistant could easily do and probably should
  • you compulsively check your Blackberry, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and whatnot many times a day

What’s happening? There seem to be a couple of trends at play here.

Firstly, in the age of omni-connectedness, being available at all times seems to be de riguer even for senior executives. I get emails from people asking me if they could call me. In fact, I feel somewhat shortchanged by not receiving a text message asking for a permission to send such an email to me. The amount of traffic, the unnecessary information, the interruptions is often so great that many feel compelled to “stay after hours to actually get the work done.”

Secondly, it is exceedingly common to see people charge with strategic work descend into the mire of tactical stuff, which sometimes borders on such sheer triteness that it is beyond any criticism. Wordsmithing, filling out forms, writing vapid “status reports,” checking that staff members submitted their timesheets, meetings ad nauseum with no substance to them … you name it!

Tactical stuff is comfortable. We know how to go about it, especially if this is something we did in our previous job.

Tactical stuff is rewarding: results can be observed rather quickly: a report sent out, a problem rectified, a simple decision made.

Tactical stuff feels like “real work” of which you are not afraid.

I think it’s time to practice a closed door policy. Stop being interrupted all the time. Explain to your people and others likely to seek our time that you won’t be available for a few hours a day. Demand that people bring you solutions and not problems. Stop meddling.

Close the office door and spend a couple of hours thinking or writing. Strategize. Communicate. Raise the brand awareness and the profile of your company or department. Design.

These will be the most productive hours of your day.

You may or may not have the title of CKO, but if you are in charge of Knowledge Management in your organization, I would like to talk to you for about 20 minutes. Please contact me at ibogorad@bizvortex.com.

The Winter Olympic Games of 2010 are over. The last few days were dramatic for the host nation, Canada. The flurry of gold medals, the unfortunate silver in women’s curling (Cheryl Bernard was a breath away from the gold), and, of course, the amazing win in the hockey final against the USA… what a performance!

In four years, the best athletes of the world will reconvene in Sochi, Russia, to compete, to win, to rejoice, to, alas, lose, and to persevere.

Speaking of Russia, it finished 11th in the medal tally, an unusually low placement. The heads of sport apparatchiks are starting to roll: President Medvedev has publically called for those in charge of the national team to “make the courageous decision and hand in their notice,” lest “we will help them.”  World class performance and leadership is seen as a high strategic priority there, and far be it from me to judge whether this is right or wrong.

There is a point in my talking about the Games and the Russians, so read on.

Let’s look at this holistically. Here is what we have going for Russia:

–         World class performance in sports is a strategic priority.

–         Performance in Vancouver was subpar.

–         Host of the next Winter Games; it would be embarrassing to do poorly

–         The poor performance has been attributed by many experts to the gradual disappearance of the “Soviet school.” As older coaches retire with no one hand over to, training methods become lost.

–         The funding is not an issue as inordinate amounts of money is invested in amateur sports. Consider, for instance, the size of the bonus the Russian Olympic Committee had established, compared to other countries.

Canada   $20,000 $15,000 $10,000
USA   $20,000 $15,000 $10,000
Russian Federation $135,000 $82,000 $54,000

The assessment of experts is that while there is a significant amount of investment, there is no systematic approach to it.

What does it remind you of? Isn’t it something we see so often in the corporate world: former glory, riding the wave of the past accomplishments for as long as it can carry you, then recognizing that there is a problem and throwing money at without any system, in a piecemeal fashion?

This won’t do, not for a corporation, nor for a country aspiring to be a world leader in sports. The right place to start is to establish the objective clearly. I will continue with the Russian example to illustrate that.

Ostensibly, there are two possible distinct goals here for Russia:

  1. To do well in Sochi in 2014; and
  2. To become a world leader in winter sports.

Why are these goals separate? The first one is specific and has a well-defined timeline. It is a short term goal akin to making an annual projection or delivering a new product on time. Once it is achieved, there isn’t necessarily a lot of residual value left.

It can be achieved by assembling a star “project team” of subject matter experts to find the talent, put it through the state-of-the-art prep program and selection, whittle the team down to the desired size and do incredibly well in Sochi. Once done, you will have a bunch of great athletes, a bucketful of medals and perhaps a few lessons learned, but I no lasting effect. There won’t be a methodology, a succession of coaches, a sustainable selection “funnel”.

The second goal is long-term. To become a leader in something (sports, innovation, design, service, growth, efficiency, productivity, etc)  you need to build a “school”  to replace the vanishing legacy. You need to create a system, which, in this case, should consist of:

–         Judicial, systematic investment within well established guidelines.

–         Sponsorship at the top level, to maintain focus and momentum.

–         Right people – exceptional coaches, scientists, athletes, technical support, and administration

–         The system of incentives to reward the desired behavior,

–         The culture of amateur sport participation – just look at Australia – to allow the talent to realize and to grow the pool of potential star athletes

–         Facilities to enable this participation with low cost of entry

–         Heuristics and methods (which should with time become self-correcting algorithms) of identifying and selecting talent, preparation and training,  nutrition, and so on.

–         Knowledge retention and amelioration.

This will take time, perhaps 8-10 years to see the results, but these will be long-lasting, repeatable, sustainable results. Perhaps, Russia should pursue both objectives at the same time, with the full understanding of the expectations attendant to each goal.

This example is a terrific illustration to a common issue in the corporate world. Too often, organizations are so anxious to see a change that they embark on it in earnest without first establishing their goals clearly and determining the best way to address them. These issues pop up all over the organizational map: investments that generate now ROI, failure to define a clear strategic direction, misguided projects, fixing things that don’t need fixing, lost time, lost productivity, “feel good” initiatives that have no value… If only the decision makers took the time to think it through.

Are the Russians coming? I don’t know, but they better get their act together if they want to be a force to be reckoned with.

If you are looking to outsource or change processes in a multisite organization, you will face a typical organizational design challenge: how do I structure and locate teams to maximize their collective performance. In this article, I will share some of the most salient points which must be considered. This is a result of our work with our most successful clients.

Let’s talk about this concept –  repeated ad nauseum by managers and HR staff all over the world like a sacred mantra — the concept of a team.

Everyone talks about teams and the team building. Inordinate amounts of money are spent on retreats, exercises and training which provide no lasting value. Rare is a job posting that does not include a requirement for a candidate to be a “team player”, which is just gratuitous in this context. Who would say that they are not one?

(Read more)

If we have learned anything in the last few years, it is that once admired companies can fall out of grace so precipitously that a bout of vertigo is virtually assured for anyone trying to track their trajectory. From iconic financial giants to revered automakers, the reason for failure has been consistent and unsurprising – the quest for profit through growth. As Toyota CEO Ashiro Toyoda summed it up recently: “We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization, and we should sincerely be mindful of that.”

In fact, growth, however rapid, is not necessarily dangerous. The danger lies in the propensity of people to get complacent and dismiss the little things – safety, risk, quality, the letter of the law, ethics, repute – all the usual suspects that get in the way when the going is good.

(Read the rest of the story on The Mark News)


This article was originally published by The Mark News on Mar 1, 2010

In the wake of Toyota’s massive recalls, questions remain as to the reasons for this kind of spectacular failure. And since there are questions, there is no shortage of analysis, often bordering on speculation.

Is it the traditional Japanese work culture or the emergence of the new, rebellious generation? Is it the choice of suppliers or the choice of materials? The management or the practices? The Bush administration or an unfortunate alignment of the stars?

I am not at all sure that looking for a single cause is a worthwhile undertaking. In business and in life, most unexpected and, hence, impressive failures precipitate from not one but a confluence of several factors. These are potentially harmless on their own, but together form a perfect storm of sorts. But this is not my point.

I am most intrigued by the recent assertions that the famed Toyota Production System (TPS), a philosophy focused on continuous improvement and the elimination of inconsistencies and waste, may have been behind the disaster. This is critical because the success of TPS has led to the development and wide-spread adoption of its generic derivative, lean production. Numerous organizations around the world have become fond of “lean” and have adopted it internally. How can it possibly be a suspect?

Any methodology is only a means to an end, never an end in itself. It is always secondary to the goal. Confusing the two is dangerous because it clouds the thinking. Building great cars that are reliable and safe is a fantastic goal. Doing so efficiently is the means of staying profitable so that that goal can be pursued. Not vice versa.

We routinely observe this in IT departments. The traditional self-positioning of IT as a support function provides for a particular way of thinking where the expedients and tasks trump strategic goals and results.

Methodologies du jour are routinely implemented as a matter of “best practice” without much reflection on their alignment with goals. Projects are often pursued because of the infatuation with the “coolness” of the underlying technology. People are hired based on their ability to perform tasks vis-à-vis delivering results – just read a few job postings on any job board.

Such IT departments are doomed. A recent McKinsey study showed a reduction of CIO positions reporting to CEOs. The cost cutting pressures of the après-crisis environment have accelerated outsourcing efforts and a support function is a natural candidate for outsourcing. The wheels of North American IT departments are coming off.

One doesn’t have to despair though, because things are quite different for those CIOs who have positioned their IT departments not as a commoditized support function, but as a valuable strategic asset of the organization. They do not confuse means with ends. They are as integral to their organization as marketing or finance is. They think in terms of business results, speak the language their organization actually understands, and constantly innovate.

Such IT departments are crown jewels. They will live and prosper, along with their respective organizations, for a long time to come.

Here is the case of Home Depot. According to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Amazon sells more drills online than Home Depot.

On Friday, the Olympic Games have finally kicked off with a great ceremony. Being Canadian, I readily admit to being biased but I thought it was a colourful, original, energizing, contemporary production.

However, have you noticed that the most vociferous sports critics and self-proclaimed “experts” are also the ultimate coach potatoes who are way more qualified to be experts in soft drinks, beer and packaged snacks than in competitive sports?

Likewise, all of a sudden, you can read pretty awful “analyses” of the event by numerous bloggers and bloggettes who, in most cases, wouldn’t be able to organize a two-person picnic, leave alone an opening ceremony of these proportions.

There is nothing new about this. I have written scores of articles and spoke in front of professional audiences. People who understand the subject offer their own poignant examples and point out critical issues. The unrecognized geniuses of the cubicle jungle tell me that I got it completely wrong, or that there is a typo or that I’ve “obviously an academic” (which I have never been, an easy thing to verify).

We cannot stop doing what we do, working to improve ourselves and others every day just because someone of no consequence wants to hear his or her voice. We cannot go through life paying too much attention to unsolicited, self-serving criticism. It is just not worth it.

I will listen to Jamie Sale’s commentary on ice skating, not to that of my 45 year old neighbour who lives in his parents’ basement.

website www.bizvortex.com email ibogorad@bizvortex.com phone (905) 278 4753


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