Feb 022017

Book Short – A Smattering of Good Ideas that further my Reboot path

Book Short – A Smattering of Good Ideas that further my Reboot path

Ram Charan’s The Attacker’s Advantage was not his best work, but it was worth the read.  It had a cohesive thesis and a smattering of good ideas in it, but it felt much more like the work of a management consultant than some of his better books like Know How (review, buy), Confronting Reality (review, buy), Execution (review, buy), What the CEO Wants You to Know ( buy), and my favorite of his that I refer people to all the time, The Leadership Pipeline (review, buy).

Charan’s framework for success in a crazy world full of digital and other disruption is this:

Perceptual acuity (I am still not 100% sure what this means)

  1. A mindset to see opportunity in uncertainty
  2. The ability to see a new path forward and commit to it
  3. Adeptness in managing the transition to the new path
  4. Skill in making the organization steerable and agile

The framework is basically about institutionalizing the ability to spot pending changes in the future landscape based on blips and early trends going on today and then about how to seize opportunity once you’ve spotted the future.  I like that theme.  It matches what I wrote about when I read Mark Penn’s Microtrends (review, buy) years ago.

Charan’s four points are important, but some of the suggestions for structuring an organization around them are very company-specific, and others are too generic (yes, you have to set clear priorities).  His conception of something he calls a Joint Practice Session is a lot like the practices involved in Agile that contemporary startups are more likely to just do in their sleep but which are probably helpful for larger companies.

I read the book over a year ago, and am finally getting around to blogging about it.  That time and distance were helpful in distilling my thinking about Charan’s words.  Probably my biggest series of takeaways from the book – and they fit into my Reboot theme this quarter/year, is to spend a little more time “flying at higher altitude,” as Charan puts it:  talking to people outside the company and asking them what they see and observe from the world around them; reading more and synthesizing takeaways and applicability to work more; expanding my information networks beyond industry and country; creating more routine mechanisms for my team to pool observations about the external landscape and potential impacts on the company; and developing a methodology for reviewing and improving predictions over time.

Bottom line:  like many business books, great to skim and pause for a deep dive at interesting sections, but not the author’s best work.

 

Nov 222011

B+ for Effort?

B+ for Effort?

Effort is important in life.  If Woody Allen is right, and 80% of success in life is just showing up, then perhaps 89% is in showing up AND putting in good effort.  But there is no A for Effort in a fast-paced work environment.  The best you can get without demonstrating results is a B+.

The converse is also true, that the best you can get with good results AND without good effort is a B+.

Now, a B+ isn’t a bad grade either way.  But it’s not the best grade.  In continuing with this series of our 13 core values at Return Path, the next one I’ll cover is:

We believe that results and effort are both critical components of execution

We’ve always espoused the general philosophy that HOW you get something done is quite important.  For example, if the effort is poor and you get to the right place, maybe you got lucky.  Or even worse, maybe you wasted a lot of time to get there.  Or if you burned your colleagues or clients in the process of getting to the right place, a positive short-term result can have negative long-term consequences.

But when all is said and done, even with the most supportive culture that values effort and learning a lot (more on that in the next post in this series), results speak very loudly. Customers don’t give you a lot of credit for trying hard if you’re not effectively delivering product or solving their problems.  And investors ultimately demand results.

Our “talent development” framework at Return Path – the thing that we use to measure employee performance, reflects this dual view of execution:

The X axis is clearly labeled “Performance,” meaning results, and the Y axis is labeled “Potential – RP Expectations,” which basically means effort and fit with the culture at Return Path.  We plot out employees on the basis of their quantitative scores coming out of their performance reviews on this grid every year.  Which box any given employee falls in has a lot to do with how that employee is managed and coached in the coming months.  We’re always trying to move people up and to the right!

The definitions of the different boxes in this framework are telling and speak to the subject of this post.  To be an A player here, you have to excel in both effort and results – that’s our definition of successful execution.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We’re getting to the end of this series…only two more to go.

Mar 262007

Book Short: Crazy Eights

Book Short:  Crazy Eights

In honor of Return Path being in the midst of its eighth year, I recently read a pair of books with 8 in the title (ok, I would have read them anyway, but that made for a convenient criterion when selecting out of my very large “to read” pile).

Ram Charan’s latest, Know-How:  The 8 Skills That Separate People People Who Perform From Those Who Don’t, was pretty good and classic Charan.  Quick, easy to skim and still get the main points.  The book lost a little credibility with me when Charan lionized Verizon (perhaps he uses a different carrier himself) and Bob Nardelli (the book was published before Nardelli’s high profile dismissal), but makes good points nonetheless.  Some of the 8 Skills he talks about are what you’d expect on the soft side of leadership — building the team, understanding the social system, judging people — but his best examples were particularly actionable around positioning, goal setting, and setting priorities.  The book reminded me much more of Execution and much less of Confronting Reality (which is a good thing).

For years I’ve felt like the last person around to still not have read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, so I thought I’d skip straight to the punchline and read Stephen Covey’s newer book, The 8th Habit:  From Effectiveness to Greatness.  Fortunately, as I’d hoped, the new book summarizes the prior book several times over, so if you haven’t read the first, you could certainly just start with this one.  The book also comes with a DVD of 16 short films, some of which are great — both inspirational and poignant.  Unlike most business books, the 8th Habit is NOT skimmable.  It almost has too much material in it and could probably be read multiple times or at least in smaller pieces.  The actual 8th habit Covey talks about is what he calls Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Their Voices and is a great encapsulation of what leading a knowledge worker business is all about.  But the book is much deeper and richer than that in its many models and frameworks and examples/tie-ins to business and goes beyond the “touchy feely” into hard-nosed topics around execution and strategy.

Now I’m looking for the DVD of the first season of Eight is Enough!

Oct 312005

Book Short: Reality Doesn’t have to Bite

Book Short:  Reality Doesn’t have to Bite

I just read Confronting Reality (book; audio), the sequel to Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan.  Except I didn’t read it, I listened to it on Mariquita’s iPod Shuffle over the course of two or three long runs in the past week.  The book was good enough, but I also learned two valuable lessons.  Lesson 1:  Listening to audio books when running is difficult – it’s hard to focus enough, easy to lose one’s place, can’t refer back to anything or take notes.  Lesson 2:  If you sweat enough on your spouse’s Shuffle, you can end up owning a Shuffle of your own.

Anyway, I was able to focus on the book enough to know that it’s a good one.  It’s chock full of case studies from the last few years, including some “new economy” ones instead of just the industrial types covered in books like Built to Last and Good to Great.  Cisco, Sun, EMC, and Thomson are all among those covered.  The basic message is that you really have to dig into external market realities when crafting a strategic plan or business model and make sure they’re in alignment with your financial targets as well as people and processes.  But the devil’s in the details, and the case studies here are great.