Harvard Business Review March/April summary by Frank Olsson

Harvard Business Review March/April summary by Frank Olsson

10 April 2019

Harvard Business Review March/April summary by Frank Olsson

Harvard Business Review March/ April 2019

This is the second HBR issue of the year. There are a couple of very interesting articles in there about leadership training, performance management, leading a professional firm, and mid-life crisis. I found the article “The Feedback Fallacy” especially insightful as what it says is so obvious and not well understood or practiced by most organizations. Please find below a few notes from this HBR issue.

The US Monopoly on Venture Capital Investment is Over. The share of global VC investments globally has moved from 90%+ in the US in 1992 to only half in the US in 2018. The relative advantage of the US is gradually eroding, and probably inevitably.

Followers make good leaders. Successful leaders need to be perceived as “one of us” and not as “one of them,” and setting oneself apart may squelch others’ willing to follow.   

Intermittent Collaboration Helps Performance. Groups produce higher quality solutions, on average, because members learn from one another, but individuals produce more novel and imaginative solutions, because they aren’t constrained by the group’s influence.

The Downside of Attentive Service. Service employees need to be more tactful and sensitive to consumer needs and refrain from being overly warm or effusive.

Educating the Next Generation of Leaders- The future of Leadership Development by Mihnea Moldoveanu and Das Narayandas. The Personal Learning Cloud (PLC) offers new solutions. The PLC enables the fast, low-cost creation of corporate universities and in-house learning programs in the same way that platforms such as Facebook and Instagram facilitate the formation of discussion groups. Learning happens best when learners collaborate and help one another.  Knowledge, both know-how and know-what is social in nature. It is distributed within and among groups of people who are using it to solve problems together.

Learn from People, Not Classes, whom do you know, and what can they teach you? In the Network Age, every day is exam day – full of new, unpredictable challenges. Often the best way to learn how to meet them is to talk to people who have faced similar situations. All you need to do is ask.

Giving Ownership of Development to Individuals with Sakaranarayanan Padmanabhan, Samantha Hammock and Nick van Dam. Development has gone far beyond the classroom: Today it’s more of a conversation, with a lot of emphasis on building knowledge network. The typical person spends something like 40 hours a year in formal learning programs out of 1,800 hours on the job. So, there’s a tremendous opportunity in many organizations to advance on-the-job development by turning the workplace into a learning place.

Strategy Needs Creativity, an analytical framework alone won’t reinvent your business by Adam Brabndenburger. Four approaches to building a breakthrough strategy: 1 Contrast. The strategist should identify – and challenge- the assumptions undergirding the company’s or the industry’s status quo. This is the most direct and often the most powerful way to reinvent a business. 2 Combination. Steve Jobs famously said that creativity is “just connecting things”; many smart business moves come from linking products or services that seem independent from or even in tension with one another. 3 Constraint. A good strategist looks at an organization’s limitations and considers how they might actually become strengths. 4 Context. If you reflect on how a problem similar to yours was solved in an entirely different context, surprising insights may emerge.

A commitment to high environmental standards, fair labour practices, and ethical supply-chain management can be powerful for organizations looking to lead change in their industries and sectors.    Business school students – and executives - need to be taught how to be creative and rigorous at the same time. 

The Collaboration Blind Spot by Lisa B Kwan. Too many managers ignore the greatest threat in launching cross-group initiatives: provoking defensive behaviours. Leaders who want to get collaboration off the ground need to start by doing a threat assessment. How might the collaboration be unsettling to the groups involved? What is the best way to dissipate that sense of threat? Collaboration can be facilitated by identifying the threats, real or perceived, to staff, and by discouraging defensive behaviour.

The Right Way to Learn Design Thinking by Christian Bason and Robert D Austin. “What if the patient’s time was viewed as more important than the doctor’s?” This shift in perspective led to the achievable goal of optimizing the patient’s journey, which guided the eventual process redesign. Improving patient experience saved money as it led to a 50% reduction in overnight stays. It is up to leaders to help their people resist the urge to converge quickly on a solution without feeling they lack direction. To be creative you need to un-anchor, from your initial thoughts, and open up your mind. The aim of divergent thinking is to get beyond easy answers and find options that might be truly innovative. Teams need to make their own discoveries and realize that they are engaging in a creative process, not just executing management’s instructions.

The Feedback Fallacy, for years managers have been encouraged to praise and constructively criticise just about everything their employees do. But there are better ways to help employees thrive and excel by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodhall.               

When we are asking How can we help each person to thrive and excel? we find that the answers take us in a new direction.  Telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel, and telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders learning. More than half of your rating of someone else reflects your characteristics, not those of whom you are rating. Research shows that feed-back is more a distortion than truth. The only realm in which humans are an unimpeachable source of truth is that of their own feelings and experiences. We can tell someone whether his voice grates on us; whether he is persuasive to us; or whether his presentation is boring to us. We can tell him where he stands with us. Those are our truths, not his. This is a humbler claim, but at least it is accurate.

Learning looks like building, little by little, on the unique patterns already there within you. Which in turn means learning has to start by finding and understanding those patterns – your patterns, not someone else’s. Focusing people on their shortcomings or gaps doesn’t enable learning. It impairs it. Learning rests on our grasp of what we are doing well, not on what we’re doing poorly. And we learn most when someone is focusing on what’s working within us and asks us to cultivate it intelligently. If we are taken very far out of our comfort zone our brains stop paying attention to anything other than surviving the experience. It is clear that we learn most in our comfort zones, because that is where our neural pathways are most concentrated. It is where we are most open to possibility, most creative, insightful, and productive. That’s where feedback must meet us – in our moments of flow. Each person’s version of excellence is uniquely shaped and is an expression of that person’s individuality. Excellence is an expression of our best extremes.

Study disease and you will learn a lot about disease and precious little about health. Eradicating depression will get you no closer to joy. Describe what you saw from your staff member when her moment of excellence caught your attention. There is nothing more believable and more authoritative than sharing what you saw from her and how it made you feel. Use expressions as: “This is how that came across to me” expressing your reaction rather than your judgement. Precisely because it is not a judgement or a rating it is at once humbler and more powerful. Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked for you, that rocked your world just a little, stop for a minute and highlight it. 

We excel only when people who know us and care about us tell us what they experience and what they feel, and in particular when they see something within us that works.

Operational Transparency – make your processes visible to customers and your customers visible to employees by Ryan W Buell. When customers are cordoned off from the operations of a company, they are less likely to fully understand and appreciate the value being created. When people could see images of work being requested and performed, they became more trusting and supportive of government than when they were merely provided with a tally of issues being reported and resolved. /when you get a sense that you cooked the soup together, it will usually taste better – my comment/

How to Lead Your Fellow Rainmakers – collectively, dynamically and very carefully by Laura Epsom. This article is about how to lead a professional services firm. /It reminds me of the concept: “treat all staff as volunteers, recognising their individuality and their ability to leave, should they not feel respected and well treated.” This is perhaps especially true where staff are motivated and high calibre as in firms of professionals/. While senior professionals elect or appoint their peers to leadership positions, they cede authority to them only on a conditional basis, reserving the right to challenge, ignore, and even depose them. When you are a managing or senior partner, you need to keep reflecting the leadership challenge back to them – to keep reminding them and yourself that leadership is a collective activity. If it feels lonely at the top, that’s probably because you are not doing it right. 

The Dual-Purpose Playbook – what it takes to do well and good at the same time. By Julie Battilana, Anne-Claire Pache, Metin Sengul and Maria Kimsey. In some ways I feel this article is for late starters and for those who haven’t really followed the debate for the last 20 years. The article is useful in an endeavour to convert laggards to modern day management. It caused me to write this letter to HBR:

This article suggests corporations need both financial and societal goals to be pursued as two separate tracks. My view is that there is no trade off here, and any corporation that doesn’t look at the wellbeing of their customers and other stakeholders, including the community in which they operate, are not serving shareholders well. A strong sense of purpose, beyond direct enrichment of shareholders and executives is a success formula for any and all. The Greek Philosophy refers to enlightened self-interest rather than egotism. Enlightened self-interest means acting ethically and with integrity and focusing on providing value to your surroundings, thus building and protecting brand- and reputational value.

/I believe this is a matter of values and culture and part of attracting, retaining and motivating staff, rather than something one approaches scientifically like production processes or their like. Scientists and accountants may not be the best people to explain what love looks like/.

Facing Your Mid-Career Crisis – should you cope or quit? By Kieran Setiya. Every choice we make results in the exclusion of alternatives. It is often mid-career that we acknowledge the lives we’ll never live and the pain of missing out. Academic employment is unusually linear and difficult to quit. Who readily gives up tenure? Remind yourself that feeling you’ve missed out is the inevitable consequence of something good: the capacity to find worth in many walks of life. The author says: For me the deepest source of malaise at mid-career was not regret about the past but a sense of futility in the present. The prospect of doing one thing after another until I finally retire felt somehow self-defeating. If the best we can do is fix mistakes, meet targets, or prevent things from going wrong, we have no vision of what is positively good. Why bother to work so hard? Recognize that missing out is unavoidable and don’t try to wish it away. Understand that attachment is a counter weight to regret. Make room for activities with existential worth. And value the process, not just the project or the product / List the five things you really enjoy and make sure that each week get a good portion of all of those – this will enhance both your professional and private life - my comment/

Notes by frank@olsson.co.nz 2nd March, 2019


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