Stuck for something to read in a subject area close to the internal communicator’s heart? Here are some of the books I’d like to recommend for your vacation. From employee engagement, to social media in the workplace, great leadership and innovation – enjoy your holiday while reading!
The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?, by Seth Godin
Society, the ‘industrial economy’ in particular, altered the myth and created a culture where we constantly remind ourselves about the dangers of standing up, standing out and making a ruckus. But, as we are now living the ‘connection economy’ it is far more dangerous to fly too low for both ourselves and those who depend on us and might benefit from our work. Creating innovation and ideas that spread and connect the disconnected are the pillars of our new society, a society which celebrates art.
What does it mean to create art in the connection economy? “Forget Salvador Dalì…art isn’t painting,” Godin says.
We all are artists when seizing new ground and are able to make connections between people and ideas. As artists we can give value to the network, connect people to one another, people to organisations and people to ideas. “It is the bridges between people that generate value, and those bridges are built by art,” Godin writes.
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, by Adam Grant
When we relate to others at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to demand as much value as we can, or contribute value without being concerned about what we receive in return?
Takers, as described by Adam Grant in his new book, ‘Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success’, are the ones who think their interests are more important than others’ needs, and they want to get more than they give. They think that the workplace is a competition, and that in order to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they promote themselves and make sure they receive abounding credits for their efforts. When takers help, they do that strategically, when the benefits to them surpass the personal costs.
Givers instead orient themselves in the other direction, looking at giving more than they get. They are focused on others, guided by what other people need and help without expecting anything in return. Givers strive to share their time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections with other people who can benefit from them. Their focus is on making a real difference in their field and having a positive impact on others.
What makes givers successful in the longer term is their unique approach to interactions in four key domains:
1. Networking: by seeing their networks as a mean of creating value for everyone, not just claiming it for themselves, givers instill light and spread energy all around themselves and are capable of earning people’s trust.
2. Collaborating: givers embrace tasks that are in the group’s best interest and expand the pie in ways that benefit themselves as well as their groups. They put the group’s goals and mission first and show the same amount of concern for others as they do for themselves. As a result, they gain their collaborators’ respect.
3. Evaluating: in their roles as leaders, managers or mentors, givers are inclined to see the potential in everyone. They focus and invest their time on gritty people – by virtue of their interest, focus and drive – on whom they have the greatest return on their investment and the most meaningful and lasting impact.
4. Influencing: givers earn prestige and admiration through the use of powerless communication. Because they value the perspectives of others and are interested in helping them, givers are more inclined towards asking questions, admitting their weaknesses and seeking advice. While takers are attracted to gaining dominance, givers are much more comfortable expressing their vulnerability. However, this way of influencing is only effective when their competence is also received by people.
Age of Context, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel
“They’re everywhere.” The five forces of context – mobile, social media, data, sensors and location – are changing businesses of all sizes. Forward-thinking leaders have understood this and are using these forces to prosper.
According to Scoble and Israel, for the next five to ten years the smartphone will be the wireless device of choice for the majority of users in the world.
In 2012, the number of mobile phones on the planet surpassed the number of people; by the end of 2013 we had 120 million tablets, and this number is expected to grow to 665 million by 2016.
However, mobile is taking new forms, named wearables. The authors are very enthusiastic about such new devices, especially Scoble with his inseparable Google Glass. “Despite how new and different these products may seem, people are adopting them faster than many prognosticators anticipated.”
“Social media is essential to the new Age of Context. It is in our online conversations that we make it clear what we like, where we are and what we are looking for.”
Social media is not a disruptive force anymore. “Instead it is a vital business component.” Rather than being resisted, it is now embedded into the very heart of business, at least of the successful ones. There is not a modern company that is developing go-forward strategies without including social media, where employees and users often collaborate to improve products and services. The authors do not forget to remind us that using social media wisely, implies understanding it is a two-way channel. “If you just send messages out, it’s like using a phone only to talk, not listen.”
“It is the oxygen of the Age of Context. It is everywhere and it is essential.”
Today we often hear, read and talk about “big data.” However, the authors suggest not being trapped by that term since it is not the huge amount of data that really matters. Instead attention should be given to the little data, those little pieces of information that “make us smarter and enable us to keep up with, and make sense of, an accelerating world.” Companies like Google are showing the benefit of this approach. They have built gigantic networks capable of storing all the data being produced; yet, they have figured out how to extract from these big data mountains “the little spoonfuls” that everyday individuals really want and need.
Sensors are “simple little things” attached to all sorts of living and inert objects. They are everywhere on the planet, “as well as above and below it.” They can measure and report on changes – even and especially the ones that we as humans are unable to track – as well as share what they observe. They seem to watch us, listen to us as well as understand what we are doing. It was in 2001, when conversations around what could happen if sensors were used to communicate on the web started to happen. MIT’s Kevin Ashton coined the term “The Internet of Things” developing the concept of inanimate objects talking with humans and with each other over the Internet in global networks. “That vision is now a reality.”
There cannot be context without location. And there cannot be location without maps. The authors hold Google in particular high regards while at the same time acknowledging that there are new location-based services “from creative and brilliant startups” that have appeared on the scene recently, and “we anticipate many more to come.”
Bringing it into the work context
“The time will soon come when not having your own PCA (Personal Contextual Assistants) will be like not having email.”
What are the implications of our readers working in internal communications? Well, they are many and huge. The Age of Context is going to change employee communications and workplace practices dramatically.
For example, wearable technology is already leading to what the authors call the “connected human”, for which we – humans – are beginning to integrate with our technologies. Computers will become part of us; some of them will be our assistants, coaches and advisors, constantly communicating with us and for us. According to Scoble and Israel this bonding between people and machines will results in individuals being better informed, more aware of changes in their environments as well as more secure, efficient and productive.
The Social Business Cookbook, by Peter Furtado and Lawrence Clarke
Thinking of social business like cooking up a meal may not be the very first thing that comes to mind. However, in The Social Business Cookbook, Peter Furtado and Lawrence Clarke use just this analogy to describe the key aspects of making social business work: you need an appropriate kitchen, the right ingredients, recipes, methods, and tools. They are not the only authors to come up with this analogy.
“A social business has an integrated presence in different layers, to give its audience a unified experience of your business” – Furtado and Clarke
Like an onion, a key ingredient of many recipes, a social media space is made of multiple layers. The authors describe each of them:
The surface is the whole external social media where people might be discussing about your company. Although you have no control, you can monitor and participate in the discussions.
The next layer is the external social media of your company, such us your Facebook page or Twitter account. You are more in control of the conversation and can send messages out. “But it’s hard to get closer to your audience here, and you don’ control the data,” emphasise Furtado and Clarke.
Underneath, is your customer community where you engage in conversations and offer content that is valuable to your customers. This precedes the supplier/ partner community “probably a private space for developing your offering.”
Finally, at the heart of the onion, is your internal community where your employees communicate inside the enterprise.
“Because an organisation’s internal communications lies at the heart of the onion, they affect everything else the business is trying to achieve.”
“Your business culture – the attitude the management takes towards its staff – can be measured on a gauge on a pressure cooker”
The way you run the kitchen has a direct effect on the quality of your dishes. The same can be said for business. If you have the tools but not the right culture your social initiative will fail. An honest assessment on where you are on the ‘gauge’ – Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate, or Empower – will help you to work on the cultural change needed to become a social business.
The Science of Serendipity, by Matt Kingdon
“Serendipitous invention and the creative exploitation of ideas is a muscle that you can choose to work out or allow to wither” – Matt Kingdon
What made me think that I was going to read an interesting and useful book, was the author’s immediate suggestion to think of innovation not just as the results of ‘happy accidents’. Instead, it is more a deep and fascinating discovery journey, that involves intuition, the correct translation of ideas into realness, right behaviours and connections as well as hard-work.
“Creating innovation within a large organisation takes a mix of determination, provocation, experimentation and political savvy”, writes McKingdon.
If we follow the author advice, then to be ‘real heroes of innovation’ we should follow a series of steps that Kingdon brilliantly elucidates and extrapolates from a series of real practical examples.
1. Captain one minute, pirate the next
“It is human energy that drives innovation”
The profile of an ideal innovator is a ‘Captain one minute, pirate the next’; someone who respects the organisation they work for but does not revere it. This is due to the fact that innovators want their business to do always better and are dissatisfied with the status quo. To survive in the business world and constantly innovate, innovators have some special qualities:
a) Unreasonably ambitious: always pushing the boundaries
They know that their organisation needs to work towards a picture of something truly exciting. Aiming beyond their own limits to create better performance, they work hard to manage their network but allow others to take the plaudits.
b) Humble: knowing when to shut up and listen
“Innovators need big ambition but small ego”, writes Kingdon. They need to be opinionated enough to form a hypothesis but humble enough to know that their idea might not be the best one. They cannot get to attached to their own ideas, but constantly challenge themselves, which means, they need to be good listeners and consider alternative opinions.
c) Confident: believing enough to back yourself
“Confidence is not the same as having a big ego”, stresses the author. Instead, confidence comes from a belief that what you are doing is right. Innovators are confident in their own judgement and are not afraid to back themselves. They believe that the world could be a better place, even in a small way, and that they have the means to make this happen.
d) Collaborative: embracing diverse and external factors
Innovators are collaborators who value diversity, not only internally but also outside the company. They are curious, and work hard to foster links and a wide circles of contacts.
e) Flexible: navigate between expansive and reductive thinking
Innovators switch between what the author calls the ‘Planet Expand’ – where they are seeking out stimulus, looking for alternatives, having ideas – and ‘Planet Reduce’ – where they use their experience and knowledge to reduce the amount of choice they have generated.
f) Finisher: a relentless drive to ‘get it over the line’
“Innovators are good finishers, they get things done”, emphasises Kingdon. They are very good at keeping themselves and people around them focused on what has to be achieved. They are realists, crack problems, get their heads down and figure ways to unblock the system.
#BrandVandals, by Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington
Today, thanks to the Internet, communication between an organisation and its audiences can no longer be one-way: everyone has a powerful voice through which they can share their opinions. This means that anyone can also publicly criticise and be a ‘brand vandal’.
The book examines the impact that social media-empowered individuals can have on organisations, and proposes some answers for the future of organisational communications. Brand Vandals are not just members of a company’s external community, but they include workers too. “Now employees communicate freely online and everyone is a spokesperson irrespective of whether they mark up their social media profiles with a note about personal disclosure,” writes Waddington.
The author notes that social media does not subscribe to the rules of traditional hierarchies within an organisation. Connections have always been created across boundaries and departments through information networks (e.g. the smoking corner, the football team, the squash club). However, “now internal organisation has been flattened thanks to technologies that allow instant communication and social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yammer.”
Despite the huge shift made by organisations to communicate more openly with their staff, “we are a long way from a nirvana of organisational transparency.” Whistle-blowing is an indication. “Whistle-blowing has always happened in organisations and will continue to do so; it can’t be stopped just as an organisation cannot control what people think or say about it, either privately or publicly.” It is not going to disappear as a result of social media; in fact is more likely to increase. “Social media makes it easier than ever before for employees to leak information about an organisation’s errant behaviour.” This is why communicators need to be aware of and deal with this phenomenon as they do with other forms of communications.
When employees turn to social media for sharing their grievances a company has some major issues to deal with. This can be perceived as a threat by those organisations that are not prepared and willing to listen to their people. On the other hand it can be a big opportunity for proactive companies that care about their employees’ voice, want to engage with them more and encourage an honest working environment.
“One of the best outcomes when whistle-blowing happens is the review of internal processes when a company admits it got things wrong and takes steps to rebuild and openly communicate with employees. It is a healthy means of rebuilding trust.”
The Execution Shortcut, by Jeroen De Flander
Why do some great strategies get executed and others don’t? What can we do to deliberately speed up and control successful strategy journeys?
Jeroen De Flander, author of ‘The Execution Shortcut. Why some strategies take the hidden path to success and others never reach the finish line’, claims that at the core of any successful strategy journey lies the ‘H3 -connection’, the triple interdependence of Head, Heart, Hands.
“To improve execution speed and accuracy, we should shift our energy from asking people to make action plans to helping them make better decisions” – Jeroen De Flander
Successful strategies can be recognised by their decision patterns: small choices – the day-to-day decisions – which are in line with the big choice – the company strategy.
While the whole journey starts from having a defined company strategy, the author emphasises that day-to-day decisions play a key role. In fact, small decisions made by every individual in the daily job have a big impact on the successful execution of the company strategy, because of their sheer number and exponential force. Therefore, enabling people to make autonomous execution decisions in line with the overall big choice is crucial inside any organisations.
“It’s the emotional connection that kick-starts travelers. Successful strategists aim for the heart first” – Jeroen De Flander
To increase strategy success, the author suggests reconsidering the relationship we have with all our team members. “We need to cultivate a ‘can do’ environment, a place where we expect success from every team member, not only a few high performers,” writes De Flander.
People have enormous strengths; when they believe, they can do amazing things, more than they have ever imagined. They also have their own limitations, such us fearing to say no, apathy when they are not engaged, and indecision when presented with too many options.
According to De Flander, successful strategists know that it is possible to tap into people’s strengths and circumvent their flaws.
“Complexity is the CO₂ of the modern business world. CO₂mplexity kills” – Jeroen De Flander
Even if people care (‘heart’) and understand (‘head’), their efforts to get the strategy executed may stop after a brief period. That is not because they do not want to, but because willpower is depleted and the human ability to make rational decisions is limited.
Luckily, there are ways that De Flanders suggests helping to increase people’s autonomy on the strategy execution journey.
1) Smart simplicity
Simplicity is necessary in order to tackle complexity. “We have to make things simple,” writes the author. At the same time however, “we can’t make things too simple” they still need to serve the original purpose. That is the reason why successful strategists carefully balance the over simple and the overly complex.
2) The power of habits
“Habits are nature’s way of combating willpower depletion.” Every decision we make demands people’s mental strength, and when there are too many decisions to take, reserves run out. Habits can help people to protect their own body’s limited resources. By automating small, repetitive decisions individuals can safeguard their mental energy.
Never mind the bosses, by Robin Ryde
While reading ‘Never mind the bosses’ by Robin Ryde, I was caught by the author’s suggestion of using the ‘octopus’ as a metaphor for a new type of organisation we should aim for. Aligned with this metaphor is the recognition that modern companies should possess a series of features to be able to cope with the new operating environment.
Why should organisations aspire to be ‘octopuses-like’? Well, Ryde gives us different reasons.
An octopus has no skeleton but four pairs of arms, three hearts, a highly developed sense of sight, excellent memory, sense of reflection and ability to match his skin to his surroundings.
This unusual animal possesses a number of qualities. These include being highly agile, smart, creative and innovative, quick and responsive, supremely resourceful, has excellent sensing and situational awareness, can easily change and adapt to the environment and has an outstanding supply of energy.
Those organisations that are able to possess and exploit these ‘octopus’s capabilities’ are the ones who will survive and succeed in current times. Ryde argues that qualities such as adaptability, agility, creativity and energy cannot be found in workplaces where deference is strong.
“For organisations, the fundamental problem with systems of deference is that they cause a drag on organisational performance and on the ability to change” – Robin Ryde
When deference is strong inside organisations, the opportunities for broadening and sharing responsibility as well as the diversity of voices, ideas and solutions are significantly reduced. This in turn narrows the judgements on which organisations can rely on, causing a negative impact on making effective decisions against business challenges. The kind of organisation that deference creates often possesses a hesitant, weak dialogue, fears failure, adopts a controlling mindset, is ethically inconsistent and under-utilises its talent. I was reminded of the demise of RBS – the biggest bank in the world before CEO’s Fred Goodwin’s controlling management style drove it into bankruptcy and government ownership.
On the other hand, when deference is weak, an organisation is more likely to make use of quick, free exchange of dialogue, has the confidence to innovate and an empowering mindset. This kind of organisation is strongly unified, well-leverages its talent and authentically supports change.
Uncommon leadership, by Phil Higson and Anthony Sturgess
“Uncommon leadership” is the new book by Phil Higson and Anthony Sturgess designed to encourage leaders to think differently to develop competitive advantage. The nature of leadership has changed dramatically over recent years. The rules of their role are challenged by frequent criticism brought to public eyes by social media, plus the messy reality of the workplace of the networked era.
With that premise, Anthony Sturgess and Phil Higson offer a fresh perspective on today’s leaders’ skills. They start by pointing out three critical issues:
• The importance of integrity – to address a loss of confidence in the motivations and actions of some leaders;
• The desirability of more shared leadership throughout the organisation – to reduce the damage caused by too much power being concentrated in the hands of too few people;
• The need for a more holistic view of leadership – to help to cope with the complexity of the business environment, and the growing importance of relationships between organisations.
Their thought-provoking insight goes on through the investigation of five key themes or competitive advantages, structured around a ‘5-S leadership framework’.
Seeing – finding the sense before it becomes common. The first element is seeing with vision, “seeing things that others don’t, can’t or won’t.” To do that, when the future is inherently unpredictable, sense-making becomes a crucial leadership skill. “If leaders are to find the sense before it becomes common sense, they need to be able to make sense.”
Sense-making suggest an on-going vigilance, continually scanning and searching the context we are in. It also includes looking for discontinuities and gaps. “And, do not be afraid of finding a big gap!” In fact, finding the sense before it becomes common involves testing ideas to see if they work, then adapting as we gain more awareness.
The authors bring attention to the three foundations for holding sense-making conversations, namely:
• trust – listening to, respecting and acting on input from others;
• honesty – communicating in a way that enables others to make sense of your input;
• self-respect – integrating the above without losing your own self-belief.
Shaping – making good sense into common sense
“It is one thing to find the sense, but quite another to do something with it. Seeing sense only begins to make sense when others can see it too. For that to happen, leaders need to move beyond sense-making towards sense-giving.”
Seeing was about sense-making. The following step is about persuading, influencing and giving sense to the teams leaders lead.
Showing – doing the common things uncommonly well
The third ‘S’ builds on the second. Once the uncommon sense around the right things to do to differentiate the business from others becomes common, the enterprise needs to excel at doing them. Key is to bring the insight to fruition by connecting the great ideas and practices to customers and opportunities.
But leaders also need to build a “strong sense of togetherness” within the organisation and help employees to fulfil their potential. So the final two ‘Ss’ are crucial to make the uncommon sense flourish.
Serving – having the common touch – is about building trust and support within the company, but also making connections both inside and outside the enterprise. It requires the ability of being in touch with the feelings of people, noticing the small things that can make a big impact on colleagues and caring enough to do something about them.
The last ‘S’, should be required reading especially for leaders embarking on the social business journey. Sharing – making uncommon leadership common is about harnessing the power of collaboration. “All too often we don’t realise the knowledge and potential within the teams or groups of people we have assembled. In many cases, we already have the insights and knowledge needed to solve problem, or identify innovative ways forward, within our organisations. But often that knowledge and expertise remains dormant or under-used.”
Communicating Projects, by Ann Pilkington
What’s interesting in Communicating Projects is how the author condenses sound and robust research into simple, easy-to-digest tips for achieving behavioural change. When you look at the simplicity of its structure, it is hard to believe that this book is drawn upon rigorous theory.
Developing the strategy
“Failing to plan is planning to fail – or so the saying goes.” At first this sounds obvious. But, Pilkington warns us that this stage is so often taken for granted – and therefore overlooked, and that in the majority of the cases it causes the whole project communication to fade. So, where to start? One of the first lessons that she teaches us is that strategic planning is a step-by-step process with each stage informing the next one. “Only when this is complete should the actual communication activities be designed.” The result of this activity will be set out in the communication strategy document.
Understanding the situation
Strategic planning starts with carrying out research. Good communicators make sure they really understand the situation before deciding what to do. It is key to interpret the intended meaning of the project objectives and milestone, the external and internal nature of the change, the existing level of stakeholders’ awareness, the organisational culture, risks and issues, and lessons learnt from previous projects.
The communications strategy should explain who the project will engage with. This is an important piece of work that forms part of the analysis stage and needs to be done early on in the strategic planning process. “An understanding of stakeholder perspectives will feed into the communication objectives and messaging.”
Included in this stage is the need to understand the level of employee engagement. I like the emphasis Pilkington places on giving employees a voice. If they feel very well informed, have a say in what happens and are listened to, then they are more likely to feel committed to the project. That way, not only can engagement levels be maintained or increased but the project has more chance of realising its benefits. If trust is achieved, employees can make effective use of their voices and become major contributors of the project communications.
Aims and objectives
They are different from each other. The aim of the communication strategy is overarching and more general than an objective. Yet, it has to be clear and easy to understand (e.g. ‘Obtain stakeholder support for the project’). Objectives must support the overall goal by giving it focus and direction, enabling activities to be measured effectively, ensuring the best use of resources, encouraging leadership to support the communications approach, and helping the most appropriate tactics to be chosen.
Once the objectives have been clearly identified, the next step is to decide the best approach in order to achieve them. Key here is to match the strategy to the objectives that have been set and to remember that different objectives require different strategic approaches.
Having an agreed set of messages is necessary to ensure that consistency is maintained along the whole project communication. They should be reinforced throughout all the activity and any opportunity should be taken to remind stakeholders of them. Messages should be simple and straightforward both in language and tone. “It should be possible for anyone on the project to understand and communicate them.” While bullet points may be an easy solution for the project communicator, Pilkington suggests that incorporating the messages into a narrative or story rather than a list of points, in some cases can work better. A whole chapter, Creating Great Content, gives full details and useful advice on the subject.
Develop a plan and tactics
The strategic approach guides which communications channels and tactics will be best to use. Pilkington does stress how important it is to communicate a message in the most appropriate way. The method of communication – often called ‘channel’ – really becomes part of the message and needs to be appropriate for the content. Every channel has their advantages and disadvantages. It is a question of deciding which is the best for the message intended to be communicated, always remembering that it should match the strategy as it has been set.
Getting skilled at evaluating is very important. The author points out that research is vital not only as an input to strategic communication planning but also throughout the implementation of the strategy to check if it is working. “If it isn’t then the approach can be adjusted and different tactics designed.” As the communication strategy is implemented, research will help to identify the activities that are less effective or ineffective and these can be stopped and resources diverted into something more effective.
The answer to the question ‘What to measure’ goes back to the objectives that were set in the communication strategy. “These are what need to be measured.”
Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life, by Ian. P. Buckingham
If you were looking for a book describing the role of brand as a powerful and unifying route to sustainable employee engagement, you may want to read Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life by Ian. P. Buckingham.
In his work, the author shows the link between employee and brand engagement, making a compelling case for branding as something that belongs to each employee of the organisation.
According to Buckingham, at it’s core, engagement is based on reciprocity and the exchange of things with others for mutual benefits. It implies a state where the company and its employees exist in a condition of mutual understanding.
In this context, the employer strives to create a work environment that is satisfying and rewarding for its employees, while stimulating their emotions and desire to address their higher-order needs. “The employer literally invites them to bring themselves to work and become similarly invested (engaged) in the long-term success of their organisation or brand.”
A point stressed by the author is that employees’ engagement with the brand is discretionary, which means it cannot be forced or faked. Engaged employees are usually self-electing rather than made that way by corporate programs. That is why two-way communication needs to be “expanded dramatically.”
This requires allowing employees the opportunity to explore assertions made about the brand for themselves and two-way channels to exchange feed-back. The more empowered and involved they feel, the more likely they are to generate on-brand and on-strategy initiatives through their own power and efforts.
The author writes about a joined-up approach to engagement which takes into consideration the outsider world, such as communities, customers and corporate partners. With the increasing use of digital communications and the power, reach, unpredictability and response time of social media, it’s no longer possible to control stakeholder perceptions with silos-specific communications. Boundaries are blurring. “It’s disingenuous, counterproductive and confusing to pretend that the brand the world outside engages with is or should be any different from the brand “presented” to employees.”
This requires trust and transparency inside the business.
“Trust is fundamental to sustainable employee engagement and brands can’t be sustained without engaged employees. There is a lot of noise surrounding the Edelman Trust Barometer for a reason.”
Riding the Creative Rollercoaster, by Dr Nick Udall
“We need to step more regularly and more profoundly into the unknown. Then and only then can we truly value difference, play with new and novel intersections and lean into the void. For it is from these empty spaces that the future emerges” – Dr Nick Udall
If you believe that bringing creativity to work is a necessary prerequisite for achieving personal fulfilment and organisational success, then don’t miss Riding the Creative Rollercoaster. By emphasising the importance of both the highs and lows of the creative process, Nick Udall describes what leaders should do to “evoke the music of innovation.”
Evocative leadership and post-conventional worldview
It requires enormous amounts of energy by visionary leaders – not political statesmen – to build trust, engage talent and embrace difference. They accept that technology is omnipresent, pervading our work and life, and enabling us “to amplify, accelerate and cross-pollinate at the push of a button.”
Since we have only scratched the surface of what technology can bring to facilitate better conversations and creative exchanges, progressive leaders are ready to invest in new capabilities and skills. They see “leadership as a lifelong endeavour” and embrace the strategic challenge of our time, which is “to out-innovate and to out-learn.”
To catalyse creative insight and collective breakthrough, they move from a conventional to a post-conventional worldview: they are open to new experiences, seek meaning and discover purpose, and are able to free themselves from an attachment to the known and an aversion to the unknown. Their attention is positive, open and generative as opposed to defensive, selective and wary. They have an ability to play, and understand that it is through play that we discover ourselves. They also see potential and intentionally disturb the status quo to release the co-creative potential of the organisation.
The Five Temptation of a Leader, by Patrick Lencioni
Throughout a leadership fable, Lencioni is able to deliver the message very clearly: “Being the chief executive of an organization is one of the most difficult challenges a person can face in a career. But it is not a complicated one…All chief executive who fail make the same basic mistakes; they succumb to one (or more!) of the five temptations.”
TEMPTATION 1: The desire to protect the status and ego satisfaction in a CEO’ career. Lencioni explains that this is the most dangerous of all the temptations. In fact, CEOs should embrace a desire to produce results. The future of a company is too important to hold it hostage to the CEO’s ego!
TEMPTATION 2: The desire to be popular and wanting to be well liked by peers and direct reports. CEOs who cannot resist this second temptation often fail to hold their direct reports accountable for delivering on the commitments that drive results. Some CEOs do not want to deal with the prospect of upsetting one of their peers and often fail to provide constructive or negative feedback along the way. However, Lencioni’s advice is to “work for the long-term respect of your direct reports, not for their affection. Don’t view them as a support group but as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is to produce predictable results. And remember, your people aren’t going to like you anyway if they ultimately fail”.
TEMPTATION 3: The need to make “correct” decisions, to achieve certainty. CEOs with a strong need for precision and correctness often postpone decisions and fail to make it clear what their direct reports are accountable for. They provide vague and hesitant direction and hope to figure out the right answers along the way. Here, the suggestion from the author is to “make clarity more important than accuracy. Remember that your people will learn more if you take decisive action than if you always wait for more information. And if the decisions you make in the spirit of creating clarity turn out to be wrong when more information becomes available, change plans and explain why”.
TEMPTATION 4: The desire for harmony. Some people, including CEOs, believe that it is better to agree and get along rather than disagree and conflict with one another. However, this desire for harmony can sometimes restricts the ‘productive ideological conflict’, the productive interchange of opinions around an issue. Without this kind of conflict, decisions can be suboptimal while the best decisions are made after all knowledge and perspective are out on the table. With that regards, Lencioni advice to “tolerate discord.Encourage direct reports to air their ideological differences and with passion. Guard against personal attacks but not to the point of stifling important interchanges of ideas. Tumultuous meetings are often signs of progress”.
TEMPTATION 5: The desire for invulnerability. CEOs are relatively powerful people and being vulnerable with peers and direct reports is not a comfortable prospect. CEOs often believe (mistakenly) that they lose credibility if their people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas. However, Lencioni suggests: “Actively encourage your people to challenge your ideas. Trust them with your reputation and your ego. As a CEO, this is the greatest level of trust that you can give. They will return it with respect and honesty, and with a desire to be vulnerable among their peers.”
In conclusions, Lencioni suggests CEOs to focus on results more than status, accountability more than popularity, clarity more than certainty, productive conflict more than harmony and trust more than invulnerability.
What’s the Future of Business? (WTF), by Brian Solis
The book is original, innovative and elucidates the ongoing evolution of social business in an engaging way. In his work Solis describes how social and mobile technologies have been impacting on the way of doing business. Innovative companies are working and communicating with both customers and employees in entirely new ways. They have transformed the way they operate, innovate and form relationships through social business. Adaptation is necessary to survival. While this changes are driven by technology, ultimately they are cultural and behavioural.
I selected the below quotes on the topics of the value of social media, communities, change, innovation, people, technology, vision and purpose.
The value of social media
“The brilliance of social networks is the opportunity to transform negative experiences into positive outcomes. Conversations inspire opportunities for product refinement or innovation to create remarkable experiences from the onset.”
“Social media is more about social science than technology. It is about experience. As such, its value is not realised in the Likenomics of relationships status or in the scores that individuals earn by engaging in social networks.”
“The value of digital experiences is rooted in people, relationships, and the meaningful actions between them. Yes, it’s not just social…it’s digital and real world experiences that count for everything. Value is measured through the exchange of social currencies that contributes to one’s capital within each network.”
“The future of community requires greater depth of understanding and intention. Community is much more than being a part of something; it’s about doing something together that makes being a part of something matter. Community must have a purpose.”
“Contributing value to people and investing time and energy into networks of relevance will earn any organisation a position of equal or greater influence.”
“Change is taking place today with or without you. To what extent varies from company to company. But without an understanding of how technology and society are evolving and how decisions are influenced and made, businesses are left to make decisions in the dark.”
“This is a time of change which requires coalescence and solidarity. We can’t change whether the culture is rigid or risk adverse. We can’t innovate if those who experiment are not supported.”
“Organisations need to focus on cultivating a culture of adaptation rooted in customer- and employee-centricity and, more importantly, empowerment. Those companies that invest in the development of an adaptive culture will realise improved relationships that contribute to competitive advantage.”
“The ability to recognize new opportunities is perhaps the greatest challenge rivaled only by the ability to execute. Emerging and disruptive technology is now part of the business landscape. Innovation, trends and hype are not going to stop. In fact, they will only amplify. The capacity to identify and consider new solutions and responses is critical. It must be supported by innovative collaboration and decision-making processes and systems to access and react. Innovation must be perpetual.”
“Organisations that embrace the spirit of intrepreneurialism will empower employees to experiment through failure and success to improve engagement and morale.”
“Now’s the time to form a special unit to start exploring needs, opportunities, expectations, and behavior to develop an action plan that doesn’t distract your focus, but instead invest in the alternative realities that are already taking shape.”
“It starts with vision. Chances are that your organisation is already exploring new media, technology, and alternative channels. To start with vision is a seemingly trivial step, but its role sets the stage for a meaningful business transformation. Someone needs to press PAUSE to stop the chaotic rush toward modernisation and ask, “Why are we doing this?” Without doing so, businesses are only perpetuating the problem as it exists today.”
“Aspiring to a higher purpose is what separates mediocrity from performance and relevance. And, purpose is a pillar of experience.”
“The truth is that innovation works for us and against us. Investing in it with purpose and design is our responsibility. Whether you are an entrepreneur leading the latest or the next hot start-up, a business executive seeking solutions or competitive edge, a decision maker or a champion for change in any industry, this is the time to see through the chaos of features, trends, IPOs, investments, ballooning valuations, and so on, to clear a path for meaningful progress.”
Culture Shock: A Handbook for 21st Century Business, Will McInnes
“It is time to change” is something McInnes emphasises many times in his book. A new wave of disruptive organisations have already understood and embraced the need of shifting patterns in the way they are doing business. These organisations have stopped adopting the old command and control approach and instead have move towards building a progressive workplace where organisational democracy and intelligent use of technology help their people to collaborate and move faster.
These companies have been recognising and celebrating all the benefits derived from adopting this new approach. So, what do these progressive organisations look like?
A progressive business has a very clear, meaningful and higher purpose that the author defines as a “Purpose of Significance”. A story of meaning, a mission that inspires, a cause to get behind and a movement to belong to are what our organisations desperately need to have in our competitive business landscape.
Contemporary progressive businesses have understood that Democracy and Empowerment are what’s needed to make their Purpose of Significance happen. These companies have created innovative, alternative and even subversive ways for decision making because “It makes sense. Business-sense. Society-sense. People sense,” writes McInnes.
An inclusive approach to management and the opening up of issues to a broader base of participation, can only lead to powerful and tangible business results as well as an improved ability to react more quickly to any unpredictable situation, increased collaboration, effective internal communications and higher levels of employee engagement.
The book puts the topic of people before that of leadership with the author urging the need of recalibrating and shifting emphasis to the fundamental of “human leadership”. The challenge in the 21st century is the development of a more Conscious Leadership, which works with purpose and vigor.
Another fundamental characteristic of progressive organisations is their ability to change very rapidly as well as their propensity to do so. “For me,” the author comments, “it’s one of their most violent and disruptive advantages. To thrive, to reach for our Purpose of Significance, and make a difference to the world, we have to increase our change velocity.”
Fast-moving businesses have a great deal of flexibility, willingness to adjust and the ability to learn, iterate and change many times faster than old fashioned companies. Since things will and always do change, harnessing that change becomes key to success. This requires organisations to be in ‘Beta’ mode – which means always learning, improving, iterating – and to adopt the perception that failure is learning itself, an opportunity to adapt and move forwards.
McInnes nicely sums up the path businesses will take moving forward and the vital characteristics needed to become progressive organisations:
“In the 21st century, business will become more human, it will become an organism again, but we need everything – including our finances – to be people centred, to have heart, and to be helping to make a positive difference.”
Essential words of advice for communicators everywhere, making this an important read to add to your summer holiday book shelf!