Once again I’m packing for my return to the Copenhagen Business Summer School (ISUP). I am so looking forward to teaching Business Anthropology and Organizational Ethnography – big mouthful but basically … its people-watching with some theory thrown into the mix. Key textbook is written by a fellow Canuck, Sam Ladner who is an Anthropologist at Amazon. She has written a yummy book, Practical Ethnography – a what the heck is it and how to do it book. Great for students. Great for those who wish to explore the new worlds of understanding meaning. Ever taken a survey and found you didn’t fit into the neat little boxes? That is because traditional market research uses an ‘etic’ position – defined by the researcher. Somewhat useful but sometimes misses the mark.
Ethnography is the study of culture. As Ladner explains “Ethnographers connect details to wider patterns of social life.” It connects direct insights about people and what they care about and why. It takes what is called an ’emic’ position – being from the person’s point of view. Redefining the box or in many cases, removing the box altogether to obtain actionable insight that leads to a game changer. Ethnography puts the needs of the consumer first. And its about time.
If you care about having a competitive advantage, its time to care about ethnography. I can hardly wait to introduce it to the excellent students at CBS. People watching! in the summer! in Copenhagen! Let the educational games begin ….
Have you ever wondered why organizations keep spending thousands of dollars on leadership programs and the evidence actually indicates that our workplaces are filled with distrustful, disengaged and dissatisfied employees? Have you noticed that the qualities we select most leaders for in an organization are unlikely to produce leaders that are good for employees or long-term performance? Maybe its time to tell the truth about leadership – and the shadow side of organizational life. Jeffrey Pfeffer knows of what he writes. He teaches at the Stanford School of Business and has authored or coauthored fourteen books on topics such as power, management people, organizational design and evidenced-based management.
It may sound like a depressing topic but I find it somewhat comforting.To build a science of leadership you need reliable data. I am tired of the ‘feel-good’ stories of incredible companies that never seem to reside in my backyard. I teach a course in how to survive organizational politics for change agents. Every individual so far comes to me battered and bruised from the realities of organization life. At conferences, I am frequently asked to speak on building corporate cultures that support innovation. The topic discussions quickly come to shadow side of leadership and how to survive until trust can be rebuilt. Many people, maybe most people, have soul-crushing jobs. That is the reality in which we live. Pfeffer is blunt, yes. He states that if we don’t have baseline measurements of leader and workplace conditions it is simply impossible to know what to do to make any improvements. So … do you want to be the one to ask for 360 reviews on your leadership team? Me neither.
Research tells us that people who deliver bad news sometimes suffer adverse consequences. If we want to change the world of work, Pfeffer claims that we need to act on what we know rather than what we wish and hope for. Great leaders are rare. So what to do? What is the implication for the average person in an average organization? Pfeffer recommends becoming a skilled and unbiased observer and pay attention to what your leaders do, NOT what they say. The most fundamental principle of learning theory is behaviour is a function of its consequences. What behaviour is rewarded in your organization? Leadership for the people or leadership for profit?
This is not a feel good book about leadership. But, if you are looking for confirmation of workplace reality and some solid suggestions on evidence-based management, this book is for you. It balances the heroic tales of exceptional leadership and organizations on my shelves and gives practical advice on how to survive until you can find one (or build it yourself). Consider this book a practical survival manual if you are not in the enviable position of working with a great leader and/or a great organization. I truly believe we can get there. But, not just yet.
Fall is always an exciting time for me. Maybe because it is the start of a new school year – so therefore full of possibilities and potential. Maybe because Fall is my favourite season – transformation is literally in the air. I had an excellent summer in Copenhagen at the Business School. It is such a pleasure working with students who are dedicated to their learning and celebrate their own potential. Is that every student? No, but enough to rejuvenate my spirits and feed my soul.
One of the highlights this summer was visiting NOMA – an experience best described as living ‘food art’. Definitely a bucket-lit item for any foodie. The meal was superb as could be expected, but the experience was made transformational for me in hearing a sous-chef state: “I don’t work for a restaurant. I serve NOMA. I serve my country. I serve a movement.” The statement left me in tears, for I have never heard such a powerful statement about corporate culture. I only wish I could hear that level of commitment more. But first, it has to be earned. And that is the role of the leader.
Simon Sinek has written a great book about leading an innovation culture. How you get it and how you keep it. What if you got up every day and could not wait to get to work? How many of us can actually say “I love my job” let alone “I serve” as above? The title comes from a marine general who states that leaders go to the back of the chow line and the most junior soldiers eat first. Why? Because it symbolizes in no uncertain terms that the role of a leader is to sacrifice individual comfort in service to the good of those in their care. Walk the talk. What a novel concept and what a shame it is so rare. Have you had an experience of that type of leader? I have. And would follow them anywhere.
Sinek also covers his topic from a biological/sociological perspective which provides additional insight into how cultures thrive. If you are contemplating any initiatives this Fall, as part of your own organizational transformation, this book is a must. It is one of the best business books I have read in a while. And for this book addict, that is high praise indeed. A Fall Feast for you.
Google is one of those companies that everyone admires but secretly feels that such a structure/approach/strategy/corporate culture (take your pick) would never work in your field. The book “How Google Works” is a fascinating read for many reasons. “If you hire the right people and have big enough dreams, you will finally get there” is the mantra offered by Larry Page, CEO and Co-founder. When Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google in 1998, they had no formal business training or experience. That was considered an advantage, not a liability. We are challenged to explore our own relationship to aiming high if not higher, as well as our own views about failure and experimentation. Ours view about how we learn. Our views about how and why we work. Our views on the role of technology. Our views on most things that drive our behaviour. Google strategy? Hire as many talented people as possible and get out of their way. I love their fascination with ‘smart creatives’ – those who have a combination of technical knowhow and multidimensional management flair. Hands on experience combined with rich data narrative. Difficult to manage? Yes. And if you don’t possess the skill to do so, get out of the game. So a wake-up call for any organization still run by micro-managers using antiquated methods of command control. Think of dinosaurs mating … soon to be extinct.
A great talk featuring Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg about their work at Google and the book. Interviewed by Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, this is a real eye-opener – honest, sometimes bluntly so, transparent in management style, very inspirational and I also found it hugely entertaining.
A great book for a snowed-in weekend. Or a leisurely read on a beach. Just a great book period.
I’ve been busy preparing for a new summer course at the Copenhagen Business School this summer called “Corporate Anthropology and Organizational Ethnography” – a juicy title for academics! For normal people, the course is designed to examine corporate culture – how to create and maintain cultures that drive competitive advantage. One company who will be coming to visit the class is ReD Associates, a group of corporate anthropologists who have offices in Copenhagen and New York. I found this interesting group last year while wandering Copenhagen. Two of the partners, Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen have written a new book – The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve your Toughest Business Problems. I am also using this book as a text for the business course – so you know how much I like it! Why? To quote the authors “The business culture is using the wrong model of human behaviour. It is getting people wrong.” The authors are introducing a different lens to look at customers, consumers and employees – one that takes into account human emotion. They also show why smart organizations are looking for business anthropologists to join their ranks. The authors deliver a practical framework rooted in both theory and experience and a problem-solving method to help you start to get people ‘right’.
Do you want to attract top talent to your organization? This book helps pave the way. Its available in hardcover and kindle (I have finally succumbed to carrying my favourites on my computer – it helps to eliminate overweight luggage). Happy reading!
If 75% of mergers fail, what makes the other 25% succeed?
An experienced merger manager says it all. “An organization can burn down and be rebuilt. If you run out of money, you might be able to borrow more. But if you lose people, you’re dead.” In “Joining Forces” authors Mitchell Lee Marks and Phil Mirvis outline the importance of corporate culture in M&A transactions. An area long overlooked, cultural aspects of mergers determine success or failure of the outcome. In the past twenty years, the statistics on failures of mergers and acquisitions remain a dismal 75% – a giant F on the scorecard. Why so many organizations refuse to consider the importance of culture is reason for the many failures on record. It’s time to wake up! If cultural due diligence is not on the agenda, your venture is at risk. The economy in North America is still shaky and mistakes need to be avoided. This book will provide an excellent toolkit to ensure your venture keeps in the 25% of success stories.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written an fascinating book on values and purpose, the meaning behind management. Change is indeed everywhere, and we need a new story to communicate our transition. Consider this: a corporate global village where a common culture of management, based in values, unifies the practice of business. A pipedream? Maybe not. Kanter presents what works and what hasn’t – and highlights the current challenges of leadership and innovation. Kanter’s most valuable message? The importance of treating people as assets, not costs.