Synergy sans Baloney

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“There’s a crisis in American business that many people don’t like to talk about. It’s the baloney crisis.”

So starts Harold S. Geneen, former CEO of ITT, in his 1997 book, The Synergy Myth. Geneen, if you’re not familiar with him, virtually invented the corporation-as-international-conglomerate phenomenon in the 1960’s and 70’s and became one of, if not, THE most significant, influential, and controversial businessman of that era.

The “bologna” that Geneen was referring to is the overuse – and misuse – of the term, “synergy.”

(Sidebar/personal disclosure: Back in college, I very much wanted to become an industrial psychologist for ITT. That never happened, but the way I do my executive coaching, mentoring, and leadership development work – cutting through the baloney, if you will – is due, in part, to Harold S. Geneen.)

“True synergy is the rarest thing in the world,” he wrote. “It occurs when one entity that behaves in one way and another entity that behaves in another way merge into a third entity that starts behaving an entirely new way.”

He punctuated his point by offering two examples of true synergy: George Washington and his cherry tree; and Santa Claus and his sled!

“And the first of those is a myth and the second is a fairy tale!” he’d chortle.

Geneen’s primary gripe was this: “When people say, “synergy,” they usually mean the simple, productive, use of existing assets or the efficient allocation of manpower and resources.” As such, he felt that labeling productivity and efficiency – even if it was EXTREME productivity and efficiency – as anything more than just “productivity and efficiency” was counterproductive and foolhardy.

Why? Because it sets the bar too low:

  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be the NORM, not something special.
  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be the STARTING POINT, not the end-state.
  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be REQUIRED, not just hoped for.
  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be EASY and FUN, not difficult and boring.

To that end, I had the opportunity (took the opportunity, actually) to do some brainstorming with a colleague this week (Vicki Raymont) and BOTH extreme productivity and efficiency AND synergy ensued:

  • We naturally challenged each other to think bigger and smarter and ended up thinking bigger and smarter, ourselves, as a result
  • We didn’t just share insights and observations, but felt our insights and observations rapidly expand just from listening to, and seriously considering, what each other way saying
  • Disjointed thoughts easily morphed into a clarity and elegance that surprised and delighted us both
  • Our mutual commitment to outcome and process resulted in a framework that will likely change how we EACH do what we do, moving forward

It’s so nice when a plan works as planned, isn’t it?! And here are some of the things that helped make that happen:

  1. Unfailing mutual respect and regard, before, during, and after
  2. A willingness to seek, explore, and address, whatever fears, uncertainties, and doubts, arose
  3. Permission and freedom (to each other and to ourselves) to not have to get it perfectly right the first (or even second) time
  4. Discussing how our “light bulb” moments enabled the mental shifts that enabled additional “light bulb” moments to occur
  5. Recognizing how to leverage the efforts invested, and conclusions reached, into other, increasingly meaningful, contexts

Oh, and we laughed harder, and worked smarter, than we had in a long time, too, I suspect.

No baloney!

So what are YOU doing to move your staff – and yourself – up through extreme productivity and efficiency and into synergy?! What have you found that works particularly well? Big or small, please share.


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Chicago’s Top 100 Companies

On 11/13/2012, The Chicago Tribune released its exclusive list of the top 100 workplaces in Chicagoland.

Methodology: How the Results were Obtained

(Source: Chicago Tribune. Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune)

To answer the question of what makes a good workplace, the Chicago Tribune went to a crucial source: the employees.

On behalf of the Tribune, WorkplaceDynamics LLP of Exton, Pa., a workplace survey specialist, conducted an engagement survey of Chicago-area employers with at least 100 employees. The Tribune did not pay WorkplaceDynamics; the firm undertook the scientific survey for its research and business purposes.

Employee survey
To find organizations most likely to participate in a top workplaces survey, the Tribune used print and online advertising to accept nominations from workers, bosses and others. WorkplaceDynamics followed up, making calls directly to organizations. In total, 1,629 companies were invited to participate. Of those, 254 companies completed the survey, allowing WorkplaceDynamics to identify the top 100, divided into three categories: small (fewer than 250 employees), midsize (250-999) and large (1,000 and more). The surveyed companies employ 171,463 people in the Chicago area, of which 121,128 received surveys and 80,519 responded.

The firm surveyed employees using paper and online surveys. Employees responded to a set of statements about their feelings toward their workplace, using a seven-point scale. The statements focused on issues such as the direction of the company (“I have confidence in the leadership of this organization”), execution (“At this organization, we do things efficiently and well”) and connection (“My job makes me feel like I am part of something meaningful”).

A numerical value was attached to each statement, allowing WorkplaceDynamics to create an overall score for each company. Afterward, WorkplaceDynamics ran a series of statistical tests to look for any questionable results. The firm said it generally disqualifies a small number of employers based on these tests.

Selection of Top Workplaces
WorkplaceDynamics conducted and compiled the top workplaces list and delivered the top 100 results to the Tribune. In addition, there were 27 companies that achieved a Top Workplaces designation based on achieving the minimum national standard thresholds based on survey responses from more than 4,200 companies and 990,000 employees during the last 12 months.

The top 100 list is categorized into size bands because smaller employers tend to score higher than midsize employers, and midsize employers tend to score higher than large employers.

The list of companies not designated a Top Workplace was kept confidential by WorkplaceDynamics.

Analysis: How the Top 100 Companies Compared

(Source: Chicago Tribune. Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune)

Click on Image to Enlarge

Special Honors: Workplaces Receiving the Highest Rankings in Specific Categories

(Source: Chicago Tribune. Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune)

  • APPRECIATION » Mercy Home for Boys & Girls
  • CLUED-IN SENIOR MANAGEMENT » Transportation Solutions Group
  • DIRECTION » iD Commerce + Logestics
  • DOERS » Edward Jones
  • ETHICS » LeasePlan USA
    • Large: Stephen Baird, Baird & Warner
    • Midsize: Jeff Silver, Coyote Logistics
    •  Small: Logan LaHive, Belly
  • MANAGERS » Hyatt Hotels Corp.
  • MEANINGFULNESS » Red Frog Events
  • TRAINING » Assurance Agency
  • WORK/LIFE FLEXIBILITY » Morningstar Inc.

Congratulations to ALL the Winners!

The Trib’s searchable, sortable, list of winners, which includes dozens of companies that did not make the Top 100, but met high national standards:

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Who Pushes YOUR Hot Buttons?!

Nothing, nothing, nothing, then – BAM! – there it is. You’re having a pleasant (or “not awful”) conversation with someone and then all of a sudden – seemingly out of nowhere – you’re triggered. You’re “white hot,” your “fight/flight” instinct has kicked in at warp speed, you know not what you’re doing or saying – BAM! What just happened?! Someone pushed one (or more) of your Hot Buttons, that’s what happened. And you lost control of your rational mind – BAM!

Hot Buttons?

Hot Buttons are the things that “trigger” you into sudden conflict. Interestingly, the conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be real – but it surely FEELS real. And it can have real CONSEQUENCES. So knowing what triggers you is an important part of becoming a more Conflict Competent leader. The following on-line Hot Button Assessment Sampler (HBAS) is “a subset-of-a-subset” of the two  Conflict Dynamics Profile® Assessments offered by LeadershipTraction – the CDP-I Individual self-assessment and the CDP-360° multi-rater assessment. (More one each of these assessments at As such, the HBAS is not meant to be a comprehensive examination of your Hot Buttons or your competency with conflict. Rather, it is an introduction to, and illustration of, the concept of Hot Buttons and how they are analyzed in the CDP-I and CDP-360° assessments. The HBAS quickly and easily identifies what’s likely to be your  ’hottest’ Hot Button. (Most people have more than one Hot Button conflict trigger; the others are identified in the full  CDP assessments. Additionally, only five (out of a possible nine) Hot Buttons are included in the HBAS. As a result, an actual CDP result report might indicate a different Hot Button profile than what is indicated here.) That said…ready?

Take the Hot Button Assessment Sampler (HBAS)

And if you find this free information interesting and insightful I also have two related  products – the CDP-I Individual self-assessment and the CDP-360°/multi-rater assessment – that you can purchase that go MUCH deeper at the LeadershipTraction estore. Either way, the Hot Button Assessment Sampler (HBAS) or full CDP-I or CDP-360°, here’s to your increasing leadership competency.

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