Key Learnings From This Episode
- What have the trends been over the last five years with regard to leadership transformation? As far back as the last 25 years, things have not changed much in the areas of innovation and leadership. The thinking needs to change, but just any change is not good enough. Marcia’s book looks at the ways leaders are driving their organizations into the ground. There is a fork in the road - leaders can adopt management fads and best practices – and struggle, not survive, decline, and fail, or they can take a different fork in the road and look at their organization as a system to optimize ‘the whole’ to have their employees engaged and be committed to quality. There has been a loss of focus on customer, quality, continual improvement, and innovation. There are three fundamental strategies that leaders should adopt – quality, improvement, and innovation as business strategies. Leaders can grab onto the management fads, or they can challenge everything and be bold, have courage and create the systems, processes, and culture that will focus on serving their constituents – their customers, their shareholders, and their employees.
- What led Marcia to focus on these three business strategies? Marcia was riding the fad train like everyone else. Her first career was in Corporate Communications and Marketing, and prior she had taught 7th-grade students. Marcia worked for Dr. Perry Gluckman at a small consulting firm and he was friends with Dr. W. Edwards Deming who helped Japanese executives become global competitors. Both became Marcia’s mentors, teaching her how to consult and teach the philosophy of management and leadership that could transform, not only a nation but also industries and organizations. Marcia has worked with Dow Chemical, PBS and Pepsi before creating her own organization, which she has been leading for 25 years.
- Marcia’s experience truly demonstrated the power and value of mentorship. She was not looking for mentors. Gluckman and Deming watched over her and she now feels the responsibility to share what they taught. Most of Marcia’s work comes by referral because she only wants to work with organizations and leaders who are committed to focusing on quality, to doing great work to serve customers, and to be generous with their time and teaching.
- The steps a new leader can take in an environment of the ‘status quo’. Leaders should be clear about their compelling purpose. In Marcia’s book, she provides a tool called The Strategic Compass. Executives can use this to create their strategic plan. It directs them to think about five questions:
- Improvement and innovation strategies are not the same. Improvement is about making it better. Innovation is about making it different and bold and creating new markets for new customers, such as Lyft or Apple Watch.
- What are some of the best practices around innovation? It is important for leaders to look forward and get more in contact with their customers. It is not good enough to do surveys. Leaders need to have conversations with their customers to understand what they want and need and where they are going in their future. They also need to observe how their customers use their products and services. This will provide the ideas to help anticipate what the customer’s needs will be in the future. Leaders need to anticipate where they will find new markets and understand what is happening in the world that can impact – and even potentially wipe out - the business in a year or two. How are they going to see that train coming and create new markets, products, and services to survive?
- The great companies who are innovators and survive have leadership teams who are very much in contact with their customers. She cites a Silicon Valley CEO who has spent 80-90% of his time with customers. The COO and Operations in-house focus on the organization. The CEO looks outward and to the future to see what kind of organization they will be – to be radical, to ask the tough questions, to have courage. Companies do not survive by repeatedly doing the same things. They survive by changing what they do.
As an example, Intel looks to the future to see how Apple will survive in the future. Fortune 500 companies do disappear. More than 60% of the companies that were on the first Fortune 500 list 60 years ago no longer exist. In the Bay Area, there are more than 6000 start-up companies. Approximately 90% will not survive because they are not clear on their purpose. The Strategic Compass would help them to be clear about why they started the company and why they created the product or service. If founders start their business to make money, they are already on their way out. They have to have a purpose that is so compelling that others want to join and take it forward.
- Innovation is needed in leadership thinking. It is needed in HR thinking and practices to create cultures that are not dysfunctional or toxic or siloed. Instead, the cultures should be very interactive and supportive of each other. The key questions should be: How can I help you? What can I do to help you? Whether you are asking internally or externally.
- What are some small steps that a leader can take? Challenge all the beliefs and assumptions and ‘best practices’, and question, ‘what are we doing, why are we doing it, and what is the impact that it is having?’ Many companies have ‘cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork’ as their values. Does the organization have performance appraisals that they use to rate and rank employees? How do you get people to work together when you put systems in place that rate and rank and creates internal competition, dysfunctional behavior, and siloed thinking? When you bring this to the attention of an organization, they are stunned. They don’t realize the impact of the systems and processes they have created. Leaders are on auto-pilot, and they don’t think about what they have put in place. Organizations self-destruct, and it is not due to external competition causing them to struggle and decline. It is due to waste and complexity and bad ‘best practices’ and fads that they have adopted and brought into their organizations. If organizations stop doing these things, they will discover imagination, creativity, time and energy that people will have to work on great things. The author Peter Scholtes said, ‘if you want people to do great work, give them great work to do’.
Reflections from Dana Wright Wasson Post Podcast
- Stop giving ‘feedback’. Just go grab a cup of coffee and talk.
- ‘Feedback’ puts people in the mindset of judging, criticizing and blaming.
- People are craving authenticity – open and honest dialogue.
- Connect the dots – processes are interacting. There is a flow of everything – a flow of information, communication, and work. When those things are flowing, you should get the results you are craving. Like a river – when it’s flowing, it’s great. When there are boulders, the only people who can move them are leadership.