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Stop Stealing Dreams

A great read and a TEDx video, by Seth Godin, about how the industrial revolution is over and some thoughts on how the education system should change accordingly.

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Memory and media

Not too many millenia ago, just about everything we remembered happened to us. In real life.

Books and then radio and TV changed that. Orson Welles demonstrated that a radio drama could create feelings (and then memories of those feelings) that were as powerful to some as the real thing.

Eleven years ago, we all experienced an event of such enormity that it still haunts us. Some escaped, some saw it out their office window while others watched on TV.

Just a decade later, we’re far more likely to both celebrate and generate our memories in 140 character bursts, or in short updates or in a ‘breaking news’ email. The short version amplifies our other memories. Neil Armstrong’s death shook us not because we knew him, but because we remember watching him on TV… The blip of information alone was sufficient to give us pause.

A few generations ago, the only music most people heard was music we heard in person. Today, the most famous (and in some ways, important) people in our lives are people we will never meet.

As we continually replace real life with ever shorter digital updates, what happens to the memories we build for ourselves and the people we serve? More and more, we don’t remember what actually happened to us, but what we’ve encountered digitally. It scales, but does it matter in the same way?

Memory and Media

Background    

Chattanooga Ice Cream was a division of Chattanooga Food Products and had a reputation for producing mid-priced, basic ice cream sold mainly in grocery stores. In the four years prior to the Case Study, the Ice Cream Division had experienced some rather drastic changes. Charles Moore, who was the grandson of the founder, took over as new President and General Manager. As well, three of the seven members of the top management team had recently departed and, in a drastic change for production personnel, the oldest plant was closed and production was consolidated into two newer plants.

Roots of the Problem    

Each of these changes seems to have placed some stress on the system and climate of the company and, at the time of the Case Study, the company’s previous level of profitability and market performance had not yet returned. Exhibit 3 showed, graphically, that the bottom line (operating profit) was dropping more steeply than the top line (sales revenue). They appeared to be becoming less efficient as well as less effective. These recent changes the company had been experiencing, especially the recent management team and leadership turnover, were root causes of many of the company’s problems that were outlined in the case study. The team appeared to have not quite reached a point of comfort, trust and effective teamwork with each other and, although the recent loss of a large grocery store account was presented as the main problem in the Case Study, the loss of the account was a symptom and not the cause of the problem, the management team’s response, lack of teamwork and shortsightedness was. The immediate crisis may have been precipitated by the loss of the account, but it was exacerbated by the management team’s reaction, and was merely a symptom of a larger problem. Ups and downs always occur and accounts are gained and lost, that is normal in the life of a business; the management team’s inter-departmental bickering and finger-pointing was not normal and was indicative of an unhealthy environment. Each of the management team members seemed to be committing the fundamental attribution error in thinking that the blame for the loss of the account lay in departments other than their own, and needed to be corrected there, rather than taking a good, close look at their own department and seeing what could be improved there. As well, in the management meeting, negative emotions were involved to the detriment of professionalism and, consequently, there was a profound lack of looking at the big picture and not much chance for real teamwork.

The new leader, Moore, had a very different leadership style from his predecessor. This may have disrupted long-standing relationships and affected command and control structures as well as communication channels in the company. Moore came from a process of group decision-making at his previous job with National Geographic, whereas his predecessor made self-contained decisions, without consulting others much. As it turned out, Moore’s new, consensus style of leadership did not work well, in part, because the departmental managers seemed to be down in their own functional silos and reluctant to offer much input beyond the borders of their own departments. Contrastingly, however, in private, they often spoke ill of their colleagues and laid blame for the company’s problems on others without much introspection of their own departments. Further exacerbating things, the high turnover of the managers and the closing of the older plant seemed to have contributed to morale problems from the top managers down to the general production workforce.

Recommendations

All of the players in the Case Study seemed to be acting as managers, and attempting to do things right (within their own silos) rather than zooming out to the big picture, being leaders and doing the right thing. Moore seemed to be acting more as a manager and attempting to do things right (being egalitarian and leading through consensus) but, more than anyone, really needed to take charge, look at the big picture, make some leadership decisions and do the right thing in moving the company forward. I believe that, in general, action is better than non-action and this company needed some action. Moore should have abandoned the consensus process of leadership he was used to once he saw that it would not work in the context he now found himself in. He needed to make some decisions to keep the company moving forward and needed to figure out a way to get the management team to gel into a real team, whether that meant replacing people or finding ways to foster trust among the present team.

Contracting, after the loss of the large account, would probably not be the right decision. They may just need to spend some money to make more money and brace themselves for a period of investment activity and change of direction. They may be wise to retool with some investments in new markets, perhaps need to look at giving in to what seems to be a trend of paying for shelf space, and may be wise to make the investment necessary for production of mix-in flavors. Contraction, specifically cutting out chocolate chip, as suggested by the Vice President of Production, could have negative consequences for the company’s image and the perception of the clients. They need to revamp their image and perception in the marketplace and that means spending. They should brace for some unprofitable years of investment activity for the good of the long-term picture.

Bob Sutton has a good post this morning on the Harvard Business Review about this topic.

12 Things Good Bosses Believe

Commentary on an article, “Changing Others Through Changing Ourselves: The Transformation of Human Systems” in the Journal of Management Inquiry by Quinn, Spreitzer and Brown

A ubiquitous and critical component of adaptive change is alteration of human systems. There is also a scarcity of research, expertise and effective, proven tools to accomplish this grand task: this article attempts to address this. To accomplish meaningful change the people within the system necessarily have to step out of their comfort zones and their routine behaviors.

When asking others to change, lead the way with our own change. Change and empower the self to be aligned with a vision for the common good. Then, after that essential first step, attract others to change by example. This article discusses an approach of targeting the change agent, rather than the traditional method of targeting the change target, and lays out an argument that transforming the self is the more effective method of transforming the system. It challenges traditional transactional models.

The article contains an interesting recap of traditional change strategies:

  • Empirical-Rational Strategy: Explain why the change target should change—make persuasive argument.
  • Power-Coercive Strategy: Identify and apply levers of power and force others to comply.
  • Normative-Reeducative Strategy: Involve others in an honest dialog while mutually searching for win-win solutions.

     

The article makes argument that ACT is more comprehensive than these traditional strategies and puts greater emphasis on the need for leaders to change themselves to change the system. It emphasizes:

  • Engaging Self-Deception: Recognize hypocrisy and self-deception lest risk impairment of individual and collective growth. Seek to eschew self-interest in order to allow alignment with that of a higher purpose.
  • Acting on Faith: Maintaining ongoing action and a sense of unconditional confidence in the midst of self-doubt and chaos. Recognizing that there are no guarantees while placing oneself in possible jeopardy.
  • Dealing in Paradox: A willingness to walk on the edge of chaos facilitates counterintuitive thinking. One must be able to go against the status quo and pursue an internal vision that may be at odds with external pressures
  • Surrendering Oneself to an Unproven Vision: Selflessness is critical to the process.

 

I quite enjoyed this article and, in spite of my analytical mind, do often enjoy non-traditional thinking and “out-of-the-box” counterintuitive approaches to age-old problems. The article was abundant with quotes from Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Jesus and these three certainly were noble examples of changing others and the external world by first changing oneself. Although the article was speculative and not scientific or definitive, it massively appealed to my humanistic side and I do think we need more humanism and selflessness in modern business environments. In these changing times, some of the old, counter-intuitive adages such as “giving is receiving” really are more true than ever.

Comments on an interesting article, “Sounds of Silence”, in Stern Business by Morrison and Milliken.

The article is about the ubiquitous situation in which employees know about certain issues and problems that their organization faces but do not dare to speak the truth to their superiors. The article likens this to a CEO who has no clothes and the employees, instead of mentioning it to the CEO, instead compliment his fine dress. The CEO takes pleasure in receiving the complimentary comments about how he dresses well and only the foolish or naïve dare speak truthfully (in public anyway) about the situation. And those who do are viewed as troublemakers by the CEO and often dismissed.

From the mindset of the employee, they often think that they will suffer negative consequences (which is often true) if they speak truth to power and that speaking up would not make a difference anyway (which is often also true). From management’s perspective, we need to figure out how to encourage employees to speak up and express opinions lest we lose out on one of our best opportunities for making our organizations better. Employees are often on the front lines of a business and experience first-hand how things work and see the problems that exist and can often make very good suggestions about how to improve things. Even just pointing out that problems exist is a good thing. The danger with not having “speaker-uppers” in an organization (and let’s face it: the environment created by management certainly goes a long way to encourage or discourage this behavior) is that organizational learning and change is hampered. Organization errors tend to persist and possibly magnify.

The fundamental attribution error can be a contributing source of organizational silence conditions and should be guarded against. For example, when employees do speak up about problems, take a hard look at what they say and don’t automatically dismiss it as self-serving for the employee or that they have a personality or something. We do tend to make the fundamental attribution error when explaining the behavior of others and being aware of it can help organizational behavior in many ways including helping to guard against creating a culture of organizational silence.

To do list:

  • Work hard to counteract the natural human tendency to avoid negative feedback
  • Work hard to build an open and trusting organizational climate
  • Send messages with actions not just words

Comments on an article subtitled Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover at the Lima Tire Plant, from Harvard Business Publishing, June 12, 2008, by Skinner and Beckham.

This case study was of a tire manufacturing plant in Lima, Ohio and the study focused on the negative working conditions that existed for the line foremen and the consequent high turnover problem.

Some of the Problems and Symptoms:

  • Foremen were pulled in conflicting directions by hourly staff, management and union. They did not get respect from any of the three constituencies.
  • Foremen had too many responsibilities yet not enough authority to effectively deal with them. They needed to do lots of juggling with daily personnel, resource and administrative issues. They felt unsupported by upper management and felt that felt their locus of control was external (which in large part it was). They had little disciplinary power and had to go through the union and often had no explanation of the union’s actions with regard to deciding to discipline or not.
  • Lack of training. Foremen were thrust into a sink or swim situation with little guidance and little preparation. Most did not have college degrees and without training or educational background many probably lacked the skills necessary to navigate the job. The system all but set them up for failure.
  • Emotions and attitudes are contagious. The symptom, dissatisfaction, of the foremen spread to other employees exacerbating and exponentially growing problems that manifested.
  • Long shifts (12 hours) contributed to absenteeism. This move saved immediate money for the company but cost more in the long term and contributed to making the foreman’s job harder in having to constantly scramble for substitute workers.

Suggestions:

  • Mentoring Program. The foremen definitely need more support, guidance and tools to work with. Also, the company indicated they were having budget problems that precluded incorporating a formal training program. First, off the company seemed to have a problem and a pattern of looking only at upfront costs and not being able to see the big picture. A formal training program, while an upfront expense, would probably more than pay for itself once up and running and gained a little maturity. As a second-best-option, a mentoring program could achieve some of the same results while being lower up-front cost.
  • Employee Feedback Program. Communication seems to be a big problem for this company. More formal employee feedback programs that gives the employees a voice and encourages them to speak up and be involved may help them to take ownership of their jobs and also uncover problems that may have remained hidden with no opportunity to fix them.

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