Telstra CEO and exec team hit the call center for strategic leadership perspective

Telstra -- the Australian telecom giant -- brought the executive team into the sales and customer service office to hit the phones. The video below is a company-produced PR piece, so we have to take it with a grain of salt, to be sure. No matter what the intention of the media team, we simply can't underscore the raw power of this sort of upside-down perspective change. As you watch the short video below, note the reactions of the "buddy" team coaching the executives; as much awe as the CEO has for the consultants, as much pride as the marketing chief felt when she sold her first phone package, giving the sales team a chance to "coach up" is one of the most powerful team-building exercises you can offer a close-knit staff.

It's just a few minutes -- I hope it puts as big a smile on your face as it did mine!

WSJ offers decision tree for executive involvement in technology investment

How CEOs Can Manage Information Technology -

Jeanne Ross and Peter Weill for the WSJ:

In a digital economy, IT is the foundation for doing business. This is easy to see at born-digital companies like and Google. But companies of all types are discovering that how they manage IT is crucial to their competitiveness. It determines whether the company's dealings with customers and suppliers are efficient, scalable and timely; whether employees have the information they need to do their jobs; and whether employees throughout the company see technology as a tool to move forward, or an anchor that keeps them running in place.

To provide focus, Ross and Weill offer four excellent questions executives and strategic planners should be asking of their IT pros and investments.

  1. Are we using technology to transform our business, or are we just adding bells and whistles to existing processes?
  2. Are you ignoring important business differences as you standardize processes across the company?
  3. Who is making sure the company's digital strategy is being implemented?
  4. Is electronic data empowering your people or controlling them?

The summary and case in the discussion of each question is spot on and worth digesting this morning as you evaluate the technology at work in your change initiatives.

Seth Godin on The New Normal

Seth's Blog: The opportunity is here

Seth Godin, from part 2 in a two-part series on the new normal at work (read part 1):

Right before your eyes, a fundamentally different economy, with different players and different ways to add value is being built. What used to be an essential asset (for a person or for a company) is worth far less, while new attributes are both scarce and valuable.

Are there dislocations? There's no doubt about it. Pain and uncertainty and risk, for sure.

The opportunity, though, is the biggest of our generation (or the last one, for that matter). The opportunity is there for anyone (with or without a job) smart enough to take it--to develop a best in class skill, to tell a story, to spread the word, to be in demand, to satisfy real needs, to run from the mediocre middle and to change everything.

I talk to finance and administration professionals all the time about this concept of the new normal. The act of working to restore where we were, to rebuild the systems and processes that were in place before the tectonic economic shift of our generation, is a distraction. Seth's posts this week make for a well-crafted and ultimately optimistic discussion on the nature of the change in work and work systems, and the opportunity we can all take not to rebuild the old, but to build something new, something different, something even better than before.


Tony Schwartz on David Allen, simplicity, and productivity

The Power of Deceptive Simplicity - Tony Schwartz - Harvard Business Review

Tony Schwartz on David Allen this morning in HBR:

It's not my goal to teach you David's system, but rather to bring your attention to the breathtaking insight at its core, which is this: If you're not acting on something that's on your mind, it's consuming time, energy and precious space in your brain that you could be using to do richer and more productive thinking. Or as David puts it, "You'll need to get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind."

This comes from a piece by Schwartz covering Allen for a series in HBR on being more productive. While much of Allen's work revolves around individual productivity, I've found the concepts are absolutely apt for teams and committees to keep focus and attention on what matters. Schwartz has distilled the intent of the simplicity in the Getting Things Done approach.

In general, teams that are most successful in delivering results on big change projects have created and adopted processes that reduce complexity, encourage participation, and are easy to access. Schwartz's post this morning is a terrific reminder that very often, it's the simple approach that underlies focus, attention, and productivity.

Karen Mishra shares five key learnings from Starbucks

Howard Schultz talks a lot about trust… | Total Trust

Karen Mishra sat in on Howard Schultz's webcast today and pulled five great points from the Starbucks experience that can serve as a guide for each of us. This one struck me:

5) Customers want to buy from companies whose values are like their own, so customers will buy from Starbucks because they appreciate that Starbucks gives their employees health benefits and that they buy coffee beans at a fair price.  This also builds trust with customers.

The same holds true for all our team transactions, doesn't it? We want to work with -- and perform for -- those for whom we have respect and trust. That relationship is key, and something hard-won. The lessons that come from recent Starbucks leadership experience illustrate a terrific way to set goals and drive toward adoption of new processes and procedures with buy-in. Case in point: baristas have a daily goal: enhance someone's day. If there was ever a focused and appropriate objective for frontline customer service personnel, that's it!

A great (and quick!) read from Mishra to start your day today!

Kathryn Schulz is a "wrongologist" talking about the power of being wrong

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

Kathryn Schulz used to write a column on Slate called "The Wrong Stuff" and her interviews with luminaries about being wrong were terrific. She's recently released a book, "Being Wrong" Adventures in the Margin of Error." Follow her on Twitter @wrongologist.

Her talk at TED 2011 on the power of being wrong and what failure can do to our ability to engage in the work at hand is a wonderful exploration of ego dynamic and how that plays into the teams on which we work.

"Trusting too much in the feeling of correctness can be dangerous. This internal sense of rightness that we all experience so often is not a reliable guide to what is going on in the external world."

Her talk from TED below is worth watching and reflecting upon in how we engage with those around us every day.


Kim Girard on coming paper: "It's Not Nagging" and redundant communication at work

It's Not Nagging: Why Persistent, Redundant Communication Works — HBS Working Knowledge

Kim Girard discussing a paper coming from professor Tsedal Neeley on why managers send the same message via multiple media to team members:

Power, it turns out, plays a big role in how managers communicate with employees when they are under pressure.

The research showed that 21 percent of project managers with no direct power over team members used redundant communication, compared to 12 percent of managers with direct authority. And 54 percent of managers without direct power combined an instant communication (via IM or a phone call) with a delayed communication (e-mail), compared to 21 percent of managers with power.

A lack of direct power is common in companies today, Neeley says, because so many people work on teams that form and disband on a project-by-project basis. Yet team leaders are still on the hook to achieve their business imperatives despite this absence of authority.

Such is certainly the case with team members working on change projects, strategic planning projects, complex transformations, and so on. Where the discussion falls short -- and where we'll be interested in following up -- is in effectiveness.

We'll take it as table stakes that those in a position of power feel less inclined to send repeated messages to those over which they have some direct authority, than those project managers who have no direct authority over their own teams. What we don't know is whether there is another better strategy than frequency in messaging to team members, to illustrate importance.

Surprisingly, in Girard's closing, she shares the following:

The results also provide a concrete strategy for managers in Neeley's Executive Education classes who are struggling with how best to communicate with workers. "This is an actual strategy—a communication persuasion strategy that they will go and try," she says.

This piece has sparked an enthusiastic discussion in the comments, including the following, which sums up many more:

A competent manager should be able to communicate urgency without coercion. A few "how's it going" visits will reinforce urgency, but more importantly, encourage open communication about impediments and alternatives.

Tasks then tend to solved collaboratively. Works wonders.

If a manager requires the methods outlined in the article to achieve goals through subordinates, he/she is an ineffective leader, to say nothing about communicator, and probably not suited for the position. Alternatively, the subordinates need to be replaced.

David Maxfield on personal change management

Change anything: Getting personal with performance improvement

David Maxfield:

There are six sources of influence that explain why we make the choices we do. Employees relying solely on willpower fail to consider the five other sources of influence that shape their actions. As a manager, it’s your job to help employees see the full gamut of their behavior.

A big part of any significant change management initiative is something we can't directly control: the individual's ability to muster the energy and motivation to change from within. It's important to keep that in mind, if you're digging in to a change project; as much as we might want to believe we have everything under control, without buy-in at the individual level, we have no support to get the most important work done. But, while we can't directly control it, we can certainly influence it.

Maxfield's six "sources of influence" go a long way to packaging one set of skills managers can employ to set the environment for motivation and inspiration. In particular, three of them rely on ensuring a space exists in which struggling team members are witness to hard-working behavior and mentorship. Absolutely key insight there, and outstanding to see Maxfield's research further supports modeling initiatives.

A terrific read this Monday morning as you begin work on this week's change!

Simon Sinek on the power of outside expertise

YouTube - Why to Consider Outsider Opinions When Planning Strategy - Simon Sinek

Two weeks ago, we posted a link to Noreena Hertz from TED London revealing a perspective on how to use outside expertise in organizations. Her theme celebrated our own expertise, that we should trust our team's collective intelligence and beware of outsourcing our insecurity to consultants.

This week, part of a counter point from Simon Sinek, change agent and celebrated expert discussing his role as an outsider in large and complex organizations, and why an openness to outside expertise and insight can support and enhance even the smartest of teams. It's a quick video this week, part of a larger series with Sinek that is worth watching.


Rita McGrath walks history lane with Google's project failures

Failing Toward Success at Google - Rita McGrath - Harvard Business Review

Rita McGrath:

I'm often asked by companies how many experiments are needed to find a good "hit rate" of successes. If Google is any indication, the ratio is pretty high. That being said, what company would not be pleased to have maintained dominance in search, toppled the Blackberry in market share for smart phones at neck-breaking speed, hosted millions of e-mail users with gmail, and helped millions of us find our way with Google maps?

If you only use Google for search, you may have missed the products that McGrath reviews in her post this morning. But don't let that stop you from reading it. What she's done, using Google as a clear exemplar and backdrop, is give us all a stark reminder of the work it takes to actually find a path in our strategic plans and operations.

What Google has been exceptional at over the years is knowing both when to launch, and when to call it quits on a project by project basis. And each, if you look closely, ends up being cumbersome in delivering on their core strategic objective: drive advertising online.

Even the ad-oriented products like Google Print and Google Catalogs didn't make it. Apparently, someone at Google discovered that the bloom might have fallen from the rose of the print ad business. That's how it happens, more often than not: it's not necessarily Google's fault that Google Print didn't fly; the market evolved, transformed around them, and suddenly the product had no place.

So, today's message, if we can let Google's experience serve as a model for all of us, is to ensure we're maintaining a vigilant watch over our portfolio of projects and, like Google, make the choice for change when projects fall out of alignment with the strategic plan.

Andrew McAfee poses: biggest tech deals in business--what is technology doing for teams?

Which Technologies Will Be the Biggest Deals?

Andrew McAfee is working through a series of questions aloud on his blog covering the span of digitization in business. His first questions from this morning:

So here’s question #1: Which recent digital innovations will have the biggest impact on the business world over the next decade? By ‘biggest impact’ I don’t mean anything like ‘largest IPO;’ instead, I’m trying to get a sense of which new/new-ish technologies will bring the biggest changes to the most companies and industries? Which ones will most increase productivity, change how work gets done, change the balance of competition, affect the most jobs, and so on?

McAfee offers a few suggestions to get the discussion started, including Google's autonomous car and IBM's Watson Q&A Computer (of Jeopardy fame). But the comments bring even more grist to the mill. This from Jochen Adler:

I'd bet on "awareness" technologies in the workplace to facilitate virtual teamwork. These can be activity streams like the ones generated from microblogs that improve the understanding of who does what by when and for whom, but also location-based services that render questions like "where are you, should we start the meeting" obsolete.

As often as we look to technology to solve our workplace woes, when it comes to delivering big results, the fuel is still the team. It's people that bring the beauty of technology to fruition in new and wonderful ways -- in ways we rarely expect. It's people that bring technology and process to life.

To riff off McAfee's question then, what are the biggest digital innovations you're seeing in your workplace that affect how your teams are able to function? How has technology served communication and organization? Where is the innovation in systems that allow you to work better, more fluidly, in teams?

Kimberly Weisul reports on why smart people can make for dumb teams

Why Smart People Make Lousy Teams | BNET

Kimberly Weisul summarizes new research from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College on how raw smarts affects teams. A sample of nearly 700 were tasked with puzzles, games, negotiations, and analysis, all to be navigated in teams.

Weisul, on the results:

  • Individual smarts doesn’t affect performance. The average intelligence of team members wasn’t related to team performance. So if you’ve got a team that’s struggling, putting a couple of really smart people on it isn’t going to help.
  • EQ–emotional intelligence– is more important than IQ. Good communication and good coordination make teams function well. To get that, you need people who are good at reading and responding to other peoples’ emotions. Teams that included even one person with superior skills in this regard had better performance.
  • A ’strong’ personality hurts performance. Groups where one person dominated the conversation or the decision-making, or where people didn’t do as well taking turns, had worse performance. This correlates well with other research that shows ’stronger’ leaders are often less effective than those who perceive themselves to be less powerful.

As it turns out, smarts are good on teams, but balance is better. This research holds consistent with our real-world experience, that this notion of EQ is often under-rated in team dynamics, and having a focus on balance when constructing a team can pay early dividends in team cohesion and early team wins on large projects.

And yes, as it turns out, the research suggests a strategy for finding this balance. It's the punchline to the story, which we're not going to tell. For that, you'll have to read on!

Brad Power offers a parable in avoiding catastrophic failures in process improvement

Avoiding Catastrophic Failures in Process Improvement - Brad Power

Brad Power:

When the company declared its "reengineering success" and the publicity machine ramped up, it had a new business model on paper — a process blueprint, a series of cultural changes under way, and a pilot of the new business model just starting. These were all good things and to be expected after investing many millions of dollars on people, systems, and consultants. But questions soon emerged: How do we know the model will work? What's it worth? Where's the economic model, and when do we make money at this?

In process improvement programs, when things get tough it ALWAYS comes back to money: How do we make money from these process changes? What kind of return can shareholders expect, and when? In this case, the answers were not there, the effort was stopped, and a new management team took over.

Fascinating post from Power this morning -- it's a case in the form of a parable that offers us a chance to think critically about the mistakes we make in change initiatives. He's bullish on finance, which is always music to our ears. Bringing the finance organization in on major change projects tends to have what we see as a sobering effect on planning (rather than a chilling effect, as some team members have, at times, asserted). Finance is about practicality, feasibility, reality -- just what big change needs to succeed,

So it's a matter of nuance that we'd update Brad's argument to this: In process improvement programs, when things get tough it always comes back to results: how do we measure the results of these process changes?

Results may in fact be money. But it may not. One of the best lessons we can take away from today's post is to consider very carefully how we define the projected results of our efforts, how we measure and track results, and how we communicate our results to stakeholders.

Another terrific post from Power that is worth your consideration this morning.

Janelle Evans offers 8 great tips on being an effective virtual team

8 Tips for Effective Virtual Teams | Psychology Today

From Jannell Evans in Psychology Today this morning, the first of her eight tips on creating an effective virtual team:

Educate yourself about normal group development stages.  A virtual team goes through the same stages as co-located teams.  We have been using The Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model to help teams determine what stage a team is in, what challenges might arise in each stage, and how to lead the team forward toward high performance. One you understand group development stages, you can leverage that knowledge and be a more effective team leader or team member.

There will come a time, and it won't be long from now, when we simply drop the word virtual from virtual team for good. That day is coming -- be ready!

What strikes me about Janell's passage above is the same point so many team leaders we work with forget every day: a virtual team is a team just like any other. Just because you've supplanted face to face meetings with technology (chat, video, document collaboration, etc), does not mean that your team won't go through the same normalizing and socialization process that your local teams do. To build a team culture that delivers consistent results, you have to put in the up-front work to move the group through that socialization process.

Jannell offers a great suggestion for further reading in "Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance" by Darleen DeRosa and Richard Lepsinger. I'd like to add to that our friend Debra Dinnocenzo's latest works on leading and working in virtual teams. She has been writing and consulting on the subject for more than a decade and offers a wealth of great thinking to help you deliver results on your virtual teams.

Jannell's tips are great this morning -- enjoy!

Tony Bates on strategic planning in e-learning

Tony Bates - How useful is strategic planning for e-learning?

Tony Bates is working on a book on integrating technology in post-secondary educational institutions with Albert Sangra. Late last week Tony posted a few key learnings from the first chapter, this stuck out to us:

Fourth, for successful technology integration, an institutional strategy must be fully supported by all members of the executive team, and that support needs to be continued over a considerable period, including changes in executive teams.  Some of the most successful institutions in integrating technology had consistent strategies and key people in senior administration in place for many years. Other less successful institutions in the case studies often suffered from a lack of shared vision at the executive level, or continual changes in directions or key personnel.


Unfortunately, we found little evidence of this level of thinking in most of the case studies, the emphasis instead being on improving ‘business as usual.'

There's a piece implicit in this argument which we've talked about before: a big part of the buy-in that comes from today's senior leadership comes in having a better-than-baseline understanding of how technology will help align daily knowledge work with strategic goals. As one commenter put it in Tony's post, "I find it interesting how few institutions include educational technology in their strategic thinking or, indeed, how changing patterns of knowledge distribution will effect their role as knowledge custodians."


To be clear, we're talking about two different things here. The first is technology that supports the people and process structure across the organization. The second is the technology that integrates the learning environment and brings educators and students together. In reading Tony's points -- and based on our experience -- there is an obvious and strategic parallel between the two; learning and administrative systems serve the same purpose: to bring learners together, in class or in the conference room. We do well when we consider how our systems are serving strategic goals in that light and align executive expectations accordingly.

Tony's post is worth checking out in full this fine morning.

Noreena Hertz at TED London 2010 - How to use experts

Noreena Hertz is an economist of global import. From her bio:

Her work is considered to provide a much needed blueprint for rethinking economics and corporate strategy. She is the Duisenberg Professor of Globalization, Sustainability and Finance based at Duisenberg School of Finance, RSM, Erasmus University and University of Cambridge. She is also a Fellow of University College London.

Her talk at TED 2010 on the role of expertise is fascinating and illuminating. According to Hertz, "we've surrendered our power, trading off our discomfort with uncertainty for the illusion of certainty that they [experts] provide."

What does this have to do with teams, change, and strategy? While hers is a call to be cautious when listening to experts, it is just as much a call to democratize institutional knowledge. She offers three strategies for switching on our ability to make our own decisions, from challenging experts to inviting and managing dissent, and redefining who experts really are. Likely, the greatest expertise in our organizations does not reside in the highest ranks of managerial leadership.

Skip ahead to 15:00 or so for a discussion on Best Buy discovering their valuable lessons in expertise.


Real stories - Managing Through Change

Managing Through Change This morning, a story from Aileen, an IT support manager:

In November 2010, the city council hired a new city manager. With this came layoffs, resignations, restructuring, and a lot of insecurity at work. It has been a difficult time for everyone. We are now on our fourth interim IT director, and this time our entire department has been moved out of the corporate services division and moved under the blanket of risk and compliance. The search goes on for a full-time IT director. They have also changed the name of our department, and voided the mission, vision, and value statements the staff had recently created, writing them off as fluff.

To say all this change and insecurity has affected morale (mine and my staff’s) would be a colossal understatement. Both regular staff and management at all levels are unsure of their job security. I have to admit, it is hard being motivated and going to work every day when you are worried for your job, you don’t know where you sit with management, and there are hints at outsourcing your area. I’ve had many sleepless nights, bad dreams, and more than a few concerns over the constant changes.

No, there aren't any tools here, just reflection this morning. We've been doing a lot of work this year on this concept of managing through change. It's a simple concept: how does an organization keep motivated, skilled team members performing at their very best in times of great turmoil on the job?

It hits me every time we're working on a client location and we're faced with a story like Aileen's. It's not that organizational leaders are unaware that turmoil, flagging morale, and uncertainty will come with major overhaul. It's that they cannot accurately and consistently predict which decisions they will make that will cause that uncertainty.

And so, this morning, our reflection. Take the two minutes to read Aileen's post. I offer, by no means to give away the punchline, her close, as a reminder to all of us. As you're working with your strategic planning committees and preparing your major initiatives for next quarter and after, are you prepared to address uncertainty that comes from the Aileen's on your management staffs? We should be so lucky to have such passionate and aware managers on our change teams:

As manager, my personal challenge is going to be ensuring that we do not lose service and become too controlling, that we strike a nice balance in between. At the same time, I have to reassure, motivate, and challenge my staff during this time of insecurity, no matter how the chips may fall.

Prep-Do-Review - Hill and Lineback offer tips on management that apply directly to effective teams

How to Get Involved Without Micromanaging People - Linda Hill & Kent Lineback - Harvard Business Review

Hill and Lineback on post-action review:

Great managers make post-action review a regular practice for themselves and their people. You can make it the focus of a one-on-one after an activity has been completed. Or it can be part of periodic meetings with each of your people or a standard procedure you go through in the updates your people provide at staff meetings. Be sure to model what you expect when you describe something you did — Here's what we learned. Next time we'll do it this way.

Their post is not explicitly focused on making your teams better, but the lessons are perfectly applicable. The Prep-Do-Review process is what allows managers to be both present and engaged, while keeping enough distance to avoid micromanagement. But the process works at both ends of the daily managerial spectrum.

In times of high stress -- such as high-velocity change projects -- managers are often faced with the daunting task of actually managing, or providing feedback to team members, direct reports, or functional managers. And when we get busy, putting our all into these management tasks is one of things that tends to fall off the rails.

By operationalizing the Prep-Do-Review process, particularly the act of reviewing key milestones and accomplishments with staff, you're building the right habits, the right modeling behavior for the rest of the team, and you're keeping your promises to those that count on you for performance feedback of your team.

So take a read of Hill and Lineback's latest opus -- it's a quick read and worth consideration!

Reframing Risk - Using the "Premortem" with your strategic planning committee

Consider A Strategic Planning Premortem — Patrick McKenna

Patrick McKenna with his take on the strategic planning premortem:

As everyone knows it is common practice to conduct a “postmortem” or lessons learned session upon completion of any major undertaking. If your endeavor achieved its goal, the questions typically focus on what went right, what we did well, and how we might sustain our success. If your initiative fell short or failed to meet expectations, your postmortem efforts tend to focus on what went wrong and how we got off track.

That said, this may be a time to think about conducting a ‘premortem.’ A Premortem is a process to aid in identifying the potential roadblocks, before they have a chance of derailing your implementation efforts.

The piece is interesting -- the concept is essentially a repacked version of risk mitigation, but McKenna walks through the process of engaging a strategic planning committee (even the more experienced senior teams!) to think more deeply about the issues that crop up in risk sessions. It's a refreshing take on a concept too often poorly scoped in major change initiatives.


Avoid the Improvement Hype Cycle - Brad Power - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Avoid the Improvement Hype Cycle - Brad Power

Brad Power on habitual business process re-engineering:

Companies that practice process improvement have been victims of this hype cycle for decades. Fed by consultants, gurus, technology vendors, and academics, their enthusiasm for a particular process improvement method takes on a religious tone. Thus, today we have a number of process "religions": Statistical Process Control was followed by Total Quality Management, Business Reengineering, Six Sigma, Lean, and Business Process Management (BPM, which emphasizes process management software).

So true. What's important to recognize, though, is that no one of these process religions, as Brad calls them, are bad in and of themselves. It's the stacking of processes that gets in the way of productivity and -- ultimately -- of delivering results.

To combat this trend in process stacking requires a better awareness of organizational change management -- understanding and modeling how the whole organization deals with change to enable a more agile and responsive team when change is truly required, and an ability to understand when a new process is overkill.

Brad's three-point recommendation is sound, too, but pay particular attention to number three, "eradicate process lingo." You'll know you have a problem if you get Brad's point!