Monday, January 29, 2007

The Achievements of Collaborative Leaders

The theme of my “State of the Firm” address last week to the Makovsky organization was the importance of collaboration in building an optimal company, as well as the many ways everyone benefits when we are all working together.

Thus, it was heartening to me when looking at an article the other day in Fortune from July 21, 2003 (in my “save pile”) in which Jim Collins, the noted author, chose the top 10 greatest CEOs of all time.

Collins said: “On the one hand, a company depends more on the CEO than any other individual (and certainly for the really big decisions). …Yet a company equally depends on the CEO’s understanding that his or her role still represents less than 10 percent of the total puzzle.” His implication: the other 90 percent is about the entire organization and how effectively each person is carrying out his or her role, collaborating for the greater good.

The group selected, he said, had a “true corporate ethos, in the original non-business sense of the word corporate: united or combined into one. Thus, it is important to note the singular achievement of each of Collins’ Top 10. (By the way, in order to qualify, the CEO had to be out of office for 10 years.)

Here is the list, along with my synopsis of the achievement Collins cited as making the difference:

10. David Packard: Hewlett-Packard. He rejected the then tradition of CEO isolation and focused on employees. Packard made MBWA (management by walking around) famous and shared equity and profits with all employees.

9. Katherine Graham: Washington Post. Unique courage distinguished her: the Post was the first paper to pursue the Watergate story when it was largely disregarded. “Courage is the not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in its presence,” she believed.

8. William McKnight: 3M . He turned innovation into a systematic, repeatable process.

7. David Maxwell: Fannie Mae. He rebuilt a problematic organization around a new mission: strengthening America’s social fabric by democratizing home ownership.

6. James Burke: Johnson & Johnson. Burke led the development of the famous J&J credo which has been the constitution, if you will, that has guided the company through many issues and strategic challenges, and is widely regarded as a model tool by leading corporations everywhere.

5. Darwin Smith: Kimberly-Clark. Smith converted Kimberly-Clark from a dying giant paper mill company, jettisoning a 100-year heritage, into the world’s #1 paper-based consumer products company – while many business gurus predicted disaster. Surely, everyone has heard of Kleenex.

4. George Merck: Merck & Co. His guiding philosophy which built this pharma giant: The purpose of a corporation is to do something useful, and to do it very well. “And if we have remembered that, the profits have never failed to appear. The better we remembered, the larger they have been.”

3. Sam Walton: Walmart. There are few CEOs that have had to overcome their charisma, but Sam Walton did. He had the soul of an operations man, a place where charisma can get in the way, as much as it is an asset in sales. He refused to let it distract from his central message: to make better things affordable to people of lesser means.

2. Bill Allen: Boeing. When World War II was over, people thought Boeing was dead. But Bill Allen never saw Boeing as the bomber company that others did – but rather the company that would build flying machines for the public (e.g., 707s, 727s, 747s). His guiding management principle: “Don’t talk too much. Let others talk.”

1. Charles Coffin, General Electric. He oversaw two social innovations of huge significance: America’s first research laboratory and the idea of systematic management development.

The successes of all of these CEOs were a direct result of their deep sense of connectedness to the organizations they ran. Each was a committed collaborative leader who worked with and through teams to build acceptance of new paradigms, ideas, processes or programs.

Collaboration is at the foundation of good business and solid public relations. While all of these CEOs did not make headlines in their day, they established leading American institutions, whose reputations alone represented enormous value for their customers, as well as on their balance sheets.

Each of us needs to be a collaborative leader, because the success of our companies depends upon more than the just great ideas we bring to the table. It depends upon our willingness to share knowledge, power and credit.

Technorati Tags: business, communications, communication, public relations, CEO, collaboration, Jim Collins, David Packard, Hewlett-Packard , Katherine Graham, Washington Post, William McKnight, 3M, Fannie Mae, David Maxwell, James Burke, Johnson & Johnson, Darwin Smith, Kimberly-Clark, George Merck, Merck & Co, Sam Walton, Walmart, Bill Allen, CEO, Boeing, Charles Coffin, CEO, General Electric

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why Suffer Another Year of Burnout?

Usually, as the end of any year approaches, like clockwork I hear a few people complain about burnout: that powerless, "stuck," bored, anxious and drained-of-energy feeling that would make anyone want to get out quick.

Part of the problem is that technology now makes it possible for us to work round-the-clock. I see people consulting their PDAs in meetings, restaurants, moving cars and recently even at a funeral! The question is: Why suffer with bad burnout habits … especially when you can change your behavior at the start of the year, thereby preventing the slow onset of this "disease"?

Here are a few tactics I’ve employed throughout my career to keep big, bad burnout from biting Ken Makovsky:

- Take your allotted vacation time — all of it — whether it's in snippets or in one big lump.

- Find your own "decompression techniques" — activities such as cat naps, meditation or exercise — that relieve tension and help you relax. Don't just think about it. Do it!

- When your desk is loaded and you don't know what to do first, step back, make a list and determine your priorities. You can only start reducing the pile “one piece of paper” at a time.

- Faced with a barrage, do the little tiny things first that others may be waiting on, each of which may take 5 to 10 minutes. Save up the bulk of your time for the single big important task that also has to be completed that day. You may also need to clear your priorities with your boss.

- Many burnout types suffer from the "I am the only one who does great work" syndrome. Forget it! You're not! Don't edit other people's work when there’s no need.

- Ask for help before it is too late and something doesn't get done or, worse yet, you suffer. But, for example, if you are approaching your boss, think in advance about what will really help (e.g., offloading a particular assignment, work in getting better support, resetting priorities which may involve calling a client in advance and setting a new deadline).

- Build a support system for yourself with people (including, hopefully, your boss) who can help you find solutions. Griping to others who cannot facilitate change only makes it worse, and it affects morale. A plan of action is the only solution.

- Practice staying calm when the storm hits. It really works, but it doesn't happen overnight. It is a cultivated skill. Begin working at it now.

As I have said before, if we do not periodically disconnect from the web and our jobs, we will be unable to connect with life.

Technorati Tags: business, communication, communications, 
Public Relations
burnout, decompression techniques,
time management
, priorities, support system,stress

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Role Model to End All Role Models

Role modeling is very important to me ... both being a good role model and also having good role models. Well, one of my role models of the past 20+ years died last week, just two days before his 90th birthday.

His name? Dr. Harry Sands. I met Harry for the first time when I joined the Board of Trustees of the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, one of the largest postdoctoral centers for psychiatry in the U.S., where Harry served as executive director. I quickly learned that he had an astonishing record of achievement as an authority on epilepsy, as well as being a noted psychologist and leader in his field.

But what struck me most about Harry initially was not his powerful, upbeat personality and leadership skills, but his small stature and the fact that he was significantly handicapped. Harry walked with the aid of braces and crutches, as he was born without hip sockets and had no movement in his legs. Because he needed leverage to move his body, over the years his crutches applied enormous pressure on his shoulders which, by the time he hit his early 80s, finally gave out, and Harry was confined to a wheelchair.

Why was I so inspired by this man? Well, first of all, when you met Harry, he appeared to be a physically broken man, but in reality, once you got to know him, he was one of the most mentally intact, well-balanced and sharpest individuals I ever met. The key point is that Harry never saw himself as a broken man, but rather the diverse and intellectually stimulating personality that he really was. This was reflected in the way he led organizations (and he rose to the top of nearly every one he participated in) and dealt with people.

When you were with Harry, it was never about Harry, it was always about you. What you were doing. How you were coping. What your plans were. How Harry could help you (he helped my son and my wife at critical moments). You had to force the subject to get Harry to talk about himself. And Harry, who was so well read and in tune with the times and also had a gold-letter resume, had so much to say. He had traveled the world and had seen many of the great destinations. Nothing prevented Harry from going anywhere. He even told me that in his youth, he went hiking with his friends, and they would pick him up and lift him over the tough spots.

No one was better at motivating others to overcome obstacles. I recall once, not too long ago, having dinner with him and telling him about a series of depressing developments that I had experienced, only to have Harry “pick me up.” What was floating in my brain as this remarkable guy was talking to me was that it should have been the reverse; I should have been helping him through a difficult time. At that point Harry had 17 medical issues he was coping with simultaneously. But he was used to it and not thrown by it. Through most of his life into his mid-teens, he was in and out of body jackets and hospitals, having multiple surgeries.

Harry was also a great idea guy. You would have wanted him in every creative session. We had great discussions about politics, business and philosophy. He was the kind of person who would tell you how much he loved you and your friendship. His memory about details of your family was incredible.

Two years before he died he wrote a book about his life. He spoke about the key to longevity: setting goals and accomplishing them. His wife and sons told me that on the day he died he was talking about what he needed to get done and his plans for the future.

In 1921 Eubie Blake wrote a romantic song that became an American standard, “I’m Just Wild About Harry!” It was rewritten in 1948 and became a campaign song for Harry Truman. For the long line of people who knew, worked with or were friends with Harry Sands, I am certain I speak for all of them in believing that if Eubie Blake were alive today and had had the good fortune of knowing Harry Sands, he would no doubt have rewritten and dedicated the song to this very unique man who wore the name proudly.

Technorati Tags: business, communication, communications, Public Relations,
Role Model, Harry Sands

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why “A.G.E.” Makes a Difference

In my lead op-ed for BullDog Reporter last week, I predicted that greed, ambition and ignorance would inevitably give rise to corporate crises in 2007. Well, we didn’t have to wait long for the first scandal of the New Year.

Robert Nardelli’s swift termination as head of Home Depot — largely because of a board relationship that disintegrated over executive pay and an arrogant management style — brought to mind an acronym that a client once used to describe the way most companies are destroyed: “A.G.E.”

What does A.G.E. stand for? Arrogance. Greed. Ego.

Over the years — as leader of one firm and, before that, as a member of the senior management of another — I can attest to its truth. Humility trumps Arrogance … a mindset that diminishes others, stimulates hate and wastes a tremendous amount of time (because other people always need to strategize how to deal with you). Greed. Need I say more? It is the reason for the jailing of most felonious executives and the source of nearly every scandal. In a less extreme form, it causes disruption. Ego. “Check it at the door,” as they say. A healthy ego proceeds with confidence and yet faces reality. No façade.

Technorati Tags: business, communication, communications, public relations, Home Depot,
Nardelli, A.G.E.,

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Reputation Forecast

The start of the New Year is a good time for companies – if not done already – to take a look at their corporate reputations…and determine what the outlook is.

Most of us are well aware of the benefits of a financial forecast. Similarly, the "reputation forecast" is a basic tool for thinking strategically about the future of your company in today’s reputation-driven economy, when your company’s value is in play and at risk on a day-to-day — even a minute-to-minute — basis. A reputation forecast enables you to identify potential opportunities and vulnerabilities early on, before any action (or lack thereof) can irreparably damage the good name of your company

The factors that are likely to have an impact on the ways in which your organization is viewed by all of its constituencies will vary from company to company and industry to industry, but they are likely to include:

  • Demographic trends
  • Psychographic profiles
  • The economy
  • The impact of technology
  • Competition
  • Geopolitical trends
  • Regulatory issues

Each has the potential to play out on a local, national or global level. Each will have an impact on your employees, shareholders, customers and suppliers … and ultimately, on your company’s value in today’s “reputation economy.” You need to know what impact, if any, these variables are likely to have on your:

  • Product development
  • Marketing and advertising programs
  • Shareholder relations
  • Community relations
  • Customer relations
  • Employee loyalty
  • Recruitment and training
  • Market capitalization

Creating a reputation forecast can be a challenging exercise, but you’ve probably already created a simpler version, if you have any experience managing issues or crises. What I’m suggesting is that you apply these principles more broadly, to every aspect of your business … and revisit them quarterly, or even monthly, because in today’s Wired World, change is so rapid that you’re always at risk of being swamped by it.

Technorati Tags: business, communication, communications, meetings, forecast, public relations, reputation