A Sense of Urgency

Book Review »
Title: A Sense of Urgency
Author: John P. Kotter
Publisher: Harvard Business Press
ISBN: 978-1-4221-7971-0

The preface of this fascinating and helpful book starts simply enough: “This is a book about a seemingly narrow issue – creating a high enough sense of urgency among a large enough group of people.”

A narrow issue, but a very real one. Especially when, as the author’s research has found, that a full 70% of all change efforts fail in some way. Why? A lack of urgency. See if you don’t recognize some of the red flags:

  • Instead of saying, ‘We have to deal with this as fast as possible,’ consultants are  brought in to analyze and recommend before any actions are even contemplated.
  • After studying the consultant’s report, a task force is created for implementation, but its participants have insufficient authority to resolve the issues likely to arise along the way.
  • Scheduling task force meetings is a cumbersome and drawn-out process, often taking weeks to coordinate everyone’s calendars (and having to be rescheduled at least once or twice).
  • When the first task force meeting finally does occur, the first order of business is to challenge the appropriateness of the chosen strategy; the second is to establish subgroups.
  • Very little progress is reported at Meeting Two.
  •  Meeting Three is attended by surrogates.
  • There is no Meeting Four.

In contrast to such complacency, Kotter also discusses what he calls False Urgency:

“While complacency embraces the status quo, false urgency can be filled with new activities. While complacency often has a sort of sleepy quality, false urgency is filled with energy… but the energy from anger and anxiety can easily create activity, not productivity, and sometimes very destructive activity.”

 Here’s further comparison between the two:

The real question, of course, is how to build a REAL sense of urgency and Kotter has many suggestions that make the book worth reading. One additional chart I’ll include here, though, lists how you, the boss, can behave (and encourage others to behave) to demonstrate TRUE urgency:


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Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up?

Book Review »
Title: Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up?
Author: Steve Kerr
Publisher: Harvard Business Press

I’ve long been a fan of Steve Kerr, the former chief learning officer at General Electric and Goldman Sachs. His 1995 article, On the Folly of Rewarding A, while Hoping for B, (Academy of Management Executive, 1995 Vol.  9 No. 1), is a classic and one of my favorite readings from back during my MBA days. (It ranks right up there with Arthur Elliott Carlisle article, MacGregor (Organizational Dynamics v. 24, Autumn 1995) — which is another MUST read.)

The main premise of Folly was that reward systems are all too often all to fouled up. So I was particularly eager to see what Kerr had to say so many years later in his latest book …

Part of what made Folly so fascinating to me, was how clearly Kerr magnified the absurdity of so many existing rewards systems. Take these common management rewards, as example:.

The Folly of Hoping for A while Rewarding B

Yes, good stuff calling things as they are, like that.

Reward Systems takes this same premise — that many (most?) reward systems are fouled up — and builds upon it. Using a plentiful array of stories, examples, antidotes, and case studies, Kerr focuses, this time, on the HOW TO fix it part.

As for that HOW TO part, here’s his message:

If you want to realign your reward systems, you need to do three things:

  1. Define performance in actionable terms.
  2. Measure the right things and use the right measures.
  3. Reward the right things and use the right rewards.

“By following Kerr’s advice,” says the book’s jacket sleeve, “you can dramatically improve your organization’s performance – without adding headcount, upgrading IT capabilities, hiring consultants, or changing the basic nature of your employees.”

And while this seem like typical marketing hype, Kerr, unlike most, not only knows HOW to recognize misaligned reward systems, he knows precisely how to FIX them, too.

Original Source: http://ggci.com/blog3/2011/03/book-review-reward-systems/

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“Trade Deadlines” Aren’t Just for Baseball Teams

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Baseball fans know that an important trade deadline is coming. And with those extra wildcard spots being added to this year’s post-season, MLB general manager’s everywhere are busy-busy-busy — even if only as ‘sellers’ as the Cubs are [sigh].

The trade deadline is important because in order for a player to be eligible to play for a team in the post-season, he must be on their roster by July 31. We’e already seen a number of teams complete deals to swap stars, journeymen, players-to-be-named-later, HiPo’s (high potential prospects) and cash, as they vie to position their rosters for their playoff runs.

Naturally, all this led me to think about YOUR team at YOUR company. 

Look around. How many of people in your department are no longer as good a fit as you once thought them to be? Is that because they’ve changed? Is it because the requirements of their job have changed? Because you’ve changed?

The point is that times change and sometimes those who were excellently matched for a particular job, no longer are. Not that they’re problems that have to be dealt with, mind you; maybe they’ve just plateaued in one way or another.

Now if you’ve got people like this in your department, it stands to reason that others have similar situations in their departments. So wouldn’t it be something if it became standard operating procedure for companies to have Trade Deadlines, too? Here’s what that might look like:

  • “I’ll give you John and Mary for Fred and a couple of upgraded printers.”
  • “You give me someone who can write a crisp one-page memo and I’ll give you someone who can answer the phone within two rings.”
  • “I’ll give you someone who has great rapport with the IT group in exchange for someone who works well with Accounting.”
  • “You give me all of your direct reports, except Joe,  and I’ll give you all of mine, except Nancy!”

The possibilites are seemingly endless. But the bigger point is to remind you of two essential things:

  1. THING ONE – Don’t define people by the work they do. Define them by who they really are, and treat them with the utmost respect at all times.
  2. THING TWO – Consider how you might do a better job of matching each employee’s particular talents and intersts with the work that needs to be done.

Of course if you can’t facilitate that kind of match within your department, you might want to check into what other departments are looking for. Who knows, you might actually be able to do some sort of trade! And the mere process of getting out there and seeing what’s going on in other areas of the company will serve both you and your department in ways far greater than you imagine.

Original Source: http://www.ggci.com/blog/2004/07/trade-deadlines-arent-just-for.htm

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Bad Habits and Broken Sidewalks

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Bad habits can be powerful obstacles. Anyone who’s tried to eat less, exercise more, go to bed earlier, get up earlier, stretch a comfort zone, or just try something new can relate to the gravitational pull them.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that bad habits seems to have an Achilles Heel – getting conscious, and purposeful, about the choices we make.

Portia Nelson gets at this in her book called, There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk. Under the section titled “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,” she writes, in part:

  • Chapter One – I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
  • Chapter Two – I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
  • Chapter Three – I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
  • Chapter Four – I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
  • Chapter Five – I walk down another street.

Which chapter most closely resembles where YOU are with each of YOUR bad habits?

Original Source: http://www.ggci.com/blog/archive/2004_03_01_archive.htm

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