Monday, March 02, 2015

Can Pure Intelligence Handicap You When It Comes to Strategy Formulation?

Roger Martin wrote an interesting blog post some time ago for Harvard Business Review.   In the piece, Martin explained why smart people might have a difficult time in the strategy formulation process.   He described strategy as "making choices about an uncertain future."   The strategic decision-maker must cope with high levels of ambiguity, and they operate in an environment where no single right answer exists in many cases.  Martin explains how intelligence affects strategic choice:

The essential qualities for this type of person are flexibility, imagination, and resilience. But there is no evidence that these qualities are correlated with pure intelligence. In fact, the late organizational learning scholar Chris Argyris argued the opposite in his classic HBR article Teaching Smart People How to Learn. In his study of strategy consultants, Argyris found that smart people tend to be more brittle. They need both to feel right and to have that correctness be validated by others. When either or both fail to occur, smart people become defensive and rigidly so.

What's the implication for strategists?  In a world where no single right answer may exist, decision-makers need to be careful about analysis paralysis.  They must resist the temptation to try to gather every last bit of data possible, thereby slowing the decision process to a crawl.    Analytical decision-makers must add intuitive and creative types to their team.  Moreover, they must be willing to conduct rapid tests and experiments, rather than becoming entrenched in lengthy planning processes before moving to implementation.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Downfall of Many Cross-Disciplinary Teams

Yesterday, one of my former students asked for advice.  He has been selected to lead one of six task forces focused on different dimensions of quality for his company.   These six task forces have senior executive sponsors, and they will be responsible for reporting findings and recommendations to the chief executive.  He's very excited about the opportunity.   The responsibility and visibility associated with this project do not usually fall to people at this relatively early stage of his career.  He sat with me to talk about this new role, and he wanted to know what challenges or obstacles he should be prepared to face.  I offered the following observation.  On these types of cross-disciplinary teams, the leader needs to be extremely mindful of the fact that each team member has a "full-time job" in the organization.  Tensions may emerge between the team member and the manager to whom they report on a day-to-day basis.  The manager may become upset that this special project is soaking up significant amounts of the employee's time.  As the leader of the cross-disciplinary team, you need to be prepared to work with each team member to address this potential obstacle to success.  The project leader must be able to outline expectations with each member, and to speak directly with the day-to-day managers so that they understand their employees' roles and responsibilities on the project.  The leader also must be respectful of team members' commitments, particularly at times when they might be especially busy in their day-to-day job.   In my experience, this struggle to balance the obligations of team members serves as the largest pitfall that cross-disciplinary teams face in organizations. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Five Great Questions to Ask When a Team is Stuck

Suppose your team is stuck.   The group has discussed two main options for moving forward, but it can't agree on which course of action to pursue.  Two factions have emerged, and the dialogue has become contentious.   People have become entrenched in their positions.  What types of questions can you ask as a leader to help the group become unstuck?  Here are five great questions you might pose to the group:

1.  What other options might we consider, beyond the two proposals currently on the table?

2.  How might our principal rivals in the marketplace look at this issue?  How might they approach it differently?

3.  Are we trying to solve the wrong problem?   What we if we framed the issue and/or defined the problem/opportunity differently?

4.  What if you had to argue for the option that you currently oppose?  What are the main arguments you would make for that course of action and why?

5.  What if you were the CEO of this organization (as opposed to looking at it from the perspective of your division, department, discipline, etc.)? How might you look at this issue differently? 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Attracting the Best College Talent

Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO and co-founder of Collegefeed, has written a terrific article for Harvard Business Review regarding the recruiting of top college talent.  Agrawal surveyed 15,000 millennials as part of a research project on this topic.  60% of the respondents were still in college, while the remainder had graduated recently.  The two charts below highlight some of the key findings:

Note several conclusions that might surprise you.  First, cultural fit matters more to millennials than compensation or company mission.  In today's Wall Street Journal, we read about the extraordinary lengths to which companies are going so as to convey the meaning and purpose of the work to millennials.  Yet, this finding says that culture matters even more than mission.  

Second, students want to understand the career opportunities available to them down the road.  How can they grow and develop over time?  What is the potential path ahead?  Where might they be in 3-5 years?   

Third, on campus efforts clearly matter as companies try to recruit top notch talent.  However, word-of-mouth through friends matters the most, and on-line efforts (job boards and social media) are crucial elements to the recruitment process.   Campus activities and outreach are important, but you have to go beyond the usual information sessions and job fairs to be effective.  

Here at Bryant, the most successful employers certainly conduct info sessions and appear at the career fair.  However, they have found many more ways to connect with students through course projects, networking events, and ways in which they connect our alumni who work there with current students.  They also use social media effectively to attract talented students and inform them about the opportunities at their companies.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How Experts Can Train Novices More Effectively

Novices in many fields look to those with experience for mentorship, advice, and training.  It's quite natural for them to do so.  Unfortunately, the experts do not always make great teachers.   They can't empathize with the novices, and they sometimes have a hard time explaining how they learned to do what they do.   Scholars call this phenomenon the "curse of knowledge."  Think about the challenges some superstar athletes face when they try to coach others upon retirement.  Examples of those who struggled in this regard include Magic Johnson, Ted Williams, and Isaiah Thomas. 

Harvard doctoral candidate Ting Zhang has been conducting interesting research on how experts can break the "curse of knowledge."  She has focused on two strategies that could help.   First, experts can document their learning process while they are novices, and then look back on their notes when asked to provide coaching and advice to others.  Second, experts can "rediscover inexperience" by acting like a beginner again. 

In one study she asked undergraduates to record notes about their summer internships, and she collected the diaries.   Months later, they were asked to provide advice to others pursuing internships.  She gave one half of the experts access to their old notes, while the other half did not receive the diaries to review.   The new interns gave higher evaluations to the advice given by those who had reviewed their diaries. 

In a second study, she asked musicians to record themselves playing guitar.   One half of them could play as they wished. The other half were directed to play with their non-dominant hand.   Those in this second group felt more like beginners again, empathized more effectively with novices, and they gave more concrete and effective advice to beginners as well. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fostering Higher Employee Engagement

By now we have all seen the dismal data regarding employee engagement.   Here's the key finding from Gallup:  "The bulk of employees worldwide -- 63% -- are "not engaged," meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. And 24% are "actively disengaged," indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers."  

Many companies have made it a strategic imperative to foster higher levels of engagement.  Often these organizations focus on the corporate culture and the work environment.  They reconsider employee compensation, benefits, and other non-pecuniary rewards.   However, I think many of these efforts will falter unless organizations focus on the single biggest driver of disengagement.  As the old saying goes, you don't quit your company; you quit your boss.  Companies need to focus on the relationship between supervisor and employee.   Developing and enhancing the skills and capabilities of these supervisors will go a long way toward improving engagement.  If the supervisors do not change the way that they lead, then all the other efforts will have minimal impact. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Movie Theaters Will Have To Change

In past blog posts, I've written about the potential unbundling of cable television, as well as the challenges that the traditional broadcast networks face.   This week, Chris Gayomali has an interesting column at Fast Company about the future of the entertainment business.  He describes five potential developments in the upcoming years.   Naturally, he talks about issues such as the unbundling of cable.  His fifth point is quite interesting though.  Here it is:


MOVIE THEATERS WILL BE FORCED TO FOCUS ON UX

Meanwhile, movie theaters (remember those?) will need new ways to convince customers to change out of their PJs. While local IPAs and grilled asparagus and goat cheese pizza might not be lyrics in "Let’s All Go to the Lobby," they are offerings on the menu of Alamo Drafthouse, an Austin-based movie-theater chain that hopes to expand to 50 locations nationwide by the end of 2017. Goodbye, hermetically sealed nacho cheese!

I think Gayomali is absolutely right.  As content becomes available to us any time we want it, and as the in-home experience keeps getting better, movie theaters will face a tough competitive environment.  They will absolutely have to focus on the user experience.  Not unlike brick-and-mortar stores actually... the in-store experience can help retailers compete against e-commerce players.  Similary, the in-theater experience will be a key competitive weapon.