Strategic Leadership

for Leaders in an Uncertain World

HBR Editors blog, March 24 – How to Crack Companies’ Class Structure

How to Crack Companies’ Class Structure – Harvard Business Online’s HBR Editors’ Blog

How to Crack Companies’ Class Structure</blockquote
Posted by Steve Prokesch on March 24, 2008 9:01 AM

An invisible class structure is preventing companies from making the most of their employees’ talents.

By class structure I mean there’s a function or profession that considers itself and is perceived by all others to be the one that the organization values most. Everybody else is a de facto second- class citizen or worse.

By invisible I mean that everybody just accepts the class structure as a fact of life. Leaders do not consider either the price it exacts or how they might get rid of it.

What a shame! In an age when solving increasingly complex problems requires not just the input but also the robust interactions of multiple disciplines, a class structure is a formidable competitive disadvantage.

I first became conscious of this problem about 10 years ago, when I had the misfortune of becoming a second-class citizen for the first time. I was hired by an extremely affluent company, where one group indisputably ruled the kingdom: the salesmen. Even though this firm insisted on hiring “the best” for every function and paid everyone obscenely well, the vast majority of the salesmen had the attitude that they were the experts on everything. Everyone else, including yours truly, was “support staff”—or, as some of us dubbed ourselves, “window washers.” I felt I came nowhere close to making the contribution I could have made and plenty of others felt the same.

Admittedly this firm is an extreme case, but I’ve observed that organizations with class structures are the overwhelming norm. (Were Darwin still around, he undoubtedly would respond, “Duh! What did you expect?”)

Given that organizations need the best ideas of everyone and cross-disciplinary teamwork, leaders must do whatever they can to create classless organizations. Here’s a first crack at what the basic steps should include:

Perform a diagnosis. Go ask people in different disciplines which functions they perceive to be first and second class. I know of CEOs who have been shocked at what they’ve discovered.

Define a classless society: Make sure everyone understands that it means a meritocracy, not a democracy. People should know that they can talk to anyone in the organization and that their ideas will be welcomed and seriously considered but not necessarily accepted. There needs to be a decision-making hierarchy and advancement through its ranks obviously must depend on the possession of specific skills and experience and proof of talent.

Practice what you preach. Continually demonstrate in every setting that you personally value all functions and cross-disciplinary teamwork, that you respect anyone who offers constructive ideas, and that it’s okay for people to stick their noses into others’ businesses.

Don’t tolerate bad behavior.
Punish repeat offenders—even senior executives. Nothing gets the message across better than a few public hangings.</blockquote

March 26, 2008 Posted by | Leadership, Systems | | 1 Comment

Management Issues, 14th March 2008 – Interview with Howard Gardner (re. introduction to Ethical Mind)

Common Voice: Howard Gardner

Common Voice: Howard Gardner
14 Mar 2008

Renowned worldwide for his theory of multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner was ranked #39 in the latest Thinkers 50 ranking of global business thinkers.

Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University.

Moving on from his multiple intelligence work, Gardner is now focusing on the future and “the cognitive abilities that will command a premium in the years ahead.” In the new technological and information age, he offers an insight into the qualities of thinking that will allow people to survive and prosper in the 21st century, both in work and life generally.

Des Dearlove talked to Gardner about his new book Five Minds for the Future.

There is a different approach to your subject material in the new book?
Yes, in the book Five Minds for the Future I’m writing less as a psychologist and more as a policy maker. All of these minds would have been important at other times, but I argue that these five are particularly important going forward.

You say these five ways of thinking will be even more important in the future. What’s changed?

There are three significant trends in the modern world which establish the background for these kinds of minds.

Number one: the importance of technology, particularly computers. Computers can do almost everything that human beings can, so the things we are going to value human beings for will be very different.

The second thing is globalisation. It is about understanding the interconnectivity of the world and the kinds of things that you need in order to be able to function in a world that was not nearly so interconnected 50 years ago.

And the third big change?
The third change has to do with diversity. We evolved as a species having contact with about 150 people, most of whom looked like us and were probably related to us.

Today, diversity stares you in the face in a way that was inconceivable when I was growing up. I hardly need to say this in a place like London, where you have millions of people, many from non-English backgrounds, and many with different religious and cultural backgrounds.

So there is a sense that we can be in contact with, and have influence on, everybody around the world and vice-versa.

And the five minds in the book are the ways of thinking that are best suited to this new world you are describing. What are the five minds?
Well the first three are the kinds of things that I have been talking about for a very long time: the disciplined mind, the synthesising mind and the creating mind.

The last two, though, have more to do with the human sphere: the respectful mind and the ethical mind. Over the last decade a lot of my research has focused on these two.

Could you explain a little more about each mind?
The disciplined mind is knowing something very well, being an expert in an art, or craft, or profession and keeping it up. That means being disciplined. If you don’t have a disciplined mind, you really don’t have a job at all, or you end up working for somebody who does.

The synthesising mind stems from the fact that we all are deluged with information. How do you decide what to pay attention to, what to ignore, how to put it together in a way that makes sense to you? How do you communicate your synthesis to other people? That’s probably the most distinctive mind, because I’ve given a label to something that people haven’t really talked about much before.

And the creative mind?
The third kind of mind, the creating mind, is basically coming up with something new that eventually affects how other people are and think. If it is “thinking outside the box” then the disciplined and synthesising minds provide the box and, for many people, that’s enough and you wouldn’t want everybody to be creative or the world would be too chaotic.

But for some cutting edge or eccentric few, it’s thinking and doing stuff that really ends up affecting a lot of other people.

And what of the remaining two minds, which your recent work has focused on more closely?
The respectful mind is very simple, and certainly goes back to pre-biblical, pre-literate times. Basically it means giving other people the benefit of the doubt, trying to know them, trying to understand them, not being too judgemental and being capable of forgiveness.

It begins at birth. Infants notice how other people treat one another and how they treat themselves. The reason it’s so acutely important nowadays is because of the diverse society we live in. My belief in the importance of the respectful mind has caused me to change my views about issues like whether women students in France should be allowed to wear the hijab.

Which leaves the ethical mind.
The last mind, the ethical mind, is one that I’ve been working on intensively for a decade plus, and it’s a little bit more technical to define.

The ethical mind is a mind that is capable of abstraction. And the ethical mind basically can think about oneself abstracting. So I’m not just Howard Gardner, but I’m Howard Gardner who is a journalist, an author, a lawyer, an engineer, whatever. I have a role occupationally and I’m also a citizen; I’m a citizen of my community, my city, my state, my region, my nation, the world.

The ethical mind asks, what are my responsibilities as a journalist, what are my responsibilities as a citizen of London, the UK, of the planet?

What relevance does the five minds concept have for organisations in the future – and does it apply more broadly than business?
My work has an ‘is’ aspect- what are the minds that will be at a premium in the future? It also has an ‘ought’ aspect – what sorts of minds should be cultivated?

Individuals involved in management need to think about their own minds, and the extent to which those minds embody discipline, synthesising capacity, creativity, respect and ethics. If they are lacking on these dimensions, what might they do to enhance them? How should they assemble teams, and can one person’s strength compensate for the weaknesses of others?

Could you give some examples with reference to some of the individual minds – and how they relate to a non-business organisation such as the UK’s National Health Service, for instance?
Respect and ethics are good examples. The NHS needs to understand and know how to deal with its diverse populations. Here, both respect and ethics become vital. Unless there is an atmosphere of respect, individuals will not trust one another and relations will deteriorate.

Ethics entails an understanding of responsibilities attendant to a specific role. It is vital for members of the NHS to behave in an ethical way, and to be able to assume that their peers will also behave ethically. And in those cases where ethical norms are clearly violated, the question of consequences looms large.

One cannot guarantee, of course, that patients will be respectful and/or ethical. But, to the extent that the NHS embodies these virtues in its own interactions with patients, the chances are enhanced that the patients will reciprocate.

You also talk about the concept of “good work.”
I define good work as work that is technically Excellent; personally Engaging; and carried out in an Ethical manner. When pressures are too great, any of the three “Es” can suffer.

So, for example, when physicians or nurses are asked to do too much, they become stressed, and risk burnout; the factor of engagement is undermined. Excellence can also be at risk.

Threats to ethics come from the overall ambience of a community. When a community comes to value money, power, or success, over all other priorities, then individuals have little incentive to be honest, responsible, or treat others with integrity.

And again, that also applies to non-business organisations?
Yes, a public sector or voluntary organisation should embrace a contrasting set of values, having to do with pride in services well rendered and in top results. But the spectre of monetary success is often very powerful, and unless it is counteracted by strong contrasting norms, it is likely to prevail.

What about the synthesising mind?
Nowadays, we are all inundated with information. The premium is to figure out what to pay attention to, what to ignore, how to organise it so that it makes sense to oneself, and then how to convey it so that it makes sense to others.

A fortunate few can figure out how to synthesise well, with little help from others. Most of us, however, need all the help we can get in synthesising. I think this is a particularly acute need in highly innovative fields such as IT and medical science – where information compounds at a feverish pace and lives may be at stake.

In a future world where the five minds are valued, nurtured and prevalent, how do you see work changing?
I would love to live in a world characterised by good work – work that is excellent, engaging, and carried out ethically. In such a world, one could count on service being delivered reliably, with care, and with expertise.

Obviously respect and ethics are essential for good work to be carried out. But only when practitioners have mastered their disciplines well, know how to synthesise, and can, when appropriate, come up with creative solutions to problems, will this become a reality for most organisations.

March 25, 2008 Posted by | Business thinkers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Havas New Media lab – strategic leadership at the edge

Havas Forms Digital Media R&D Unit | paidContent:UK

Havas Forms Digital Media R&D UnitBy David Kaplan – Wed 13 Feb 2008 09:13 PM PST

Spanish ad holding company Havas is creating a digital media R&D division intended to synthesize the insights and capabilities of venture capitalists, agency executives, marketers and others whose roles intersect with digital media, InfluxBranding reported (via AgencySpy). Dubbed the Havas Media Lab, the unit will be headed by Umair Haque, a London-based Harvard Business School blogger who runs a consultancy called Bubblegeneration.

Writing on his blog, Haque is fairly vague about his vision, promising to post more details later. He did provide some reason for its existence: “The Lab happened because I don’t think any of the standard models – venture funds, corporates, firms, etc – can really make it happen (or else it would be happening).” He added that the unit will be made up of individuals with whom he has previously worked.

— Adweek: Haque’s promises of something new notwithstanding, just about all the other holding companies have started this kind of “futures planning” practice. Most prominent examples include Interpublic Group’s Futures Marketing Group, which which oversees the IPG Emerging Media Lab; WPP Group has WPP Digital, which manages new media investments for interactive shops like companies like Spot Runner, Invidi and Jumptap; and Publicis Groupe has Denuo, which guides start-ups it has a stake in on the appropriate ad models that fit their abilities.

March 25, 2008 Posted by | Leadership, Strategy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FT Dec 31, 2007 – Some people have no tolerance of uncertainty

FT.com / Services & tools / Search

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Some people have no tolerance of uncertaintyFinancial Times
Published: Dec 31, 2007

From Mr Norman Strauss.

Sir, Paul Mortimer-Lee (Letters, December 24) has perhaps responded to Sir Samuel Brittan from his area of expertise and, no doubt, the practical need to service his clients with forecasts. But in doing so he seems to have missed what to me is Sir Samuel’s critical hinge in his argument; namely, the contrast between the forecasters’ predictions, and the policy decisions flowing from their analysis, with the sense of uneasy foreboding that occurs when those studying the conclusions of this analysis are worried because they feel changes in the air have not been identified, or weak signals signifying their emergence identified and taken into account.

There is no point having a forecast that induces false confidence and delays awareness and understanding of barely emergent elements whose disruptive effects will call for an urgent reversal of policy and lead to a different forecast, analytical paradigm and options set. In such circumstances, surely Alan Greenspan’s desire to find out what is really going on from other indicators closer to the real world and keep his options open – rather than closing them down with a rigidly scoped forecast, whether containing probabilities or not – makes more sense and is closer to the newly evolving position than is an older forecast from a different viewpoint.

Being further up the analysis chain, so as to identify leading edge indicators sooner, must make more sense at any time, but especially at turning points and times of turbulence. This enables imaginative thinkers to be nearer to where the measurements are made, that inform the statistics, that are then analysed, to form hypotheses, to make further forecasts. This is of course not possible with “unknown unknowns” and “black swans” (well discussed by your columnists in previous months), which are not forecast and completely disrupt the old analytical paradigm and require new domains of expertise to emerge in order to embrace their newly formed reality.

Underlying this debate are, I suspect, the psychological variables of human nature, temperament, character, will, commitment, motivation and personality. Some people have no tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty and try to draw their analysis to premature conclusions in the name of practicality. Others can handle the impractical holding of mutually contradictory viewpoints, strategies, scenarios, theories and intelligence for much longer, and do not need to close down their thinking prematurely in order to try to exert control today on what is going to prove to be uncontrollable tomorrow and will require a completely different competence, mental set, analysis and approach.

Norman Strauss,

Twickenham TW1 4QJ

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Letters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment