Friday, June 25, 2021

Leading a High-Energy, Productive Meeting

Source: Tameday

Elizabeth Doty has written a good article for Strategy+Business titled, "How to Boost People's Energy and Productivity During Meetings."  Doty offers several useful strategies. 

1.  Offer a clear, compelling prompt.  Most often, this prompt should come in the form of a question that both focuses the discussion and stretches people's thinking.

2. Don't start with a blank slate. Give people some fuel to energize their thinking. Doty writes, "You might provide a messy first draft or a sketch for them to react to, or tell the story of a recent incident that relates to the project goal. One of my colleagues likes to start work sessions with a live phone interview with a customer, employee, or stakeholder."   I love the interview technique.  What a great way to ground the discussion in the actual challenges faced by key constituents and to insure that executives are not too isolated from what's really happening on the front lines.  

3.  Consider shifting formats.   We have all become pretty adept at the breakout group format in Zoom these days.  Don't let that notion go away when you return to in-person meetings.  Provide some time for small subgroup discussions amidst a larger team meeting.  For instance, David Garvin and I wrote in the past about the power of what scholars call the dialectical inquiry method for making decisions.  In that technique, you break a team into multiple subgroups and ask them to generate contrasting alternatives. Then, the subgroups come together to debate these options, critique each other's ideas, and then revise their proposals.  

4.  Give the team some templates to help structure their thinking.   These templates might include an affinity map, journey map, cause-effect diagram, or business model canvas.  These structures can help channel the conversation and provide a tangible product at the end of the meeting that can be shared with others and that captures everyone's thinking.  

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Happiness and Our Openness to New Experiences

Source:  Wikimedia

Harvard Professor Arthur Brooks has a great column in The Atlantic this week. The essay is titled, "Don't Approach Life Like a Picky Eater."   Brooks writes:

Openness to a wide variety of life experiences, from visiting interesting places to considering unusual political views, brings happiness. “Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet, “will himself sound the depths of his own being.”

He had the data on his side. Openness, also known as neophilia, is strongly, positively associated with happiness. Of course, you can push this too far, becoming chronically disgruntled without a constant stream of novelty, or turning into a danger addict always searching for the next extreme experience. True happiness comes from a healthy, balanced neophilia that cultivates a love for the adventure of life.

Brooks argues that we should consciously choose "curiosity over comfort" at times.  I agree.  Neuroscience indeed confirms that novelty stimulates the brain in positive ways. However, we need to be aware of the dangers of impulsive behavior.  We don't want to pursue a new experience simply because it's novel, and we don't want to engage in reckless behavior in search of a short-term thrill.  That is unlikely to lead to sustained happiness.  With some care and thoughtfulness, however, we can adopt a mindset of healthy restlessness. 

Case Studies on Leadership & Strategy

For those working on syllabi for the fall, here is a list of some of the case studies I've published over the past ten years.  I'm glad to answer questions about any of this material.
In addition, you might be interested in reviewing some of the simulations I've developed in collaboration with Harvard Business Publishing and Forio.   These simulations include the Everest Leadership and Team Simulation, co-authored with Amy Edmondson, and the New Venture Simulation: Food Truck Challenge.  

Friday, June 04, 2021

What Factors Might Derail Your Career?

Source: Career Advancement Blog
Elena Lytkina Botelho and Katie Semmer Creagh have published an HBR article titled, "What to Do if Your Career is Stalled and You Don't Know Why."   In this piece, they describe research on what has derailed the careers of successful managers as they try to reach the C-suite.  Botelho and Creagh analyzed the circumstances regarding 113 talented individuals rejected during the final round of the selection process for C-suite roles at their companies.  They found three sometimes misunderstood factors that explained the derailing of many successful careers: 
  • Executive presence: "This is an ill-defined catchall for a multitude of issues from the seemingly trivial but career damaging body odor, to deeper challenges, such as when someone doesn’t carry herself/himself in a way consistent with company culture. Often executives who fail to appear confident get comments about lackluster executive presence."
  • Communication style:  Candidates stalled if they seemed too academic or cerebal, appeared to be too long-winded, failed to engage people with effective storytelling, or if they used "I" instead of "We" too often.  Sadly, some also stumbled because they spoke with a significant accent.  
  • Peer-level relationships:  Some candidates received stellar reviews from their managers, but failed to connect well with their peers.  They were perceived as too competitive, or perhaps too interested in personal vs. team success.   The best candidates demonstrated a more effective ability to persuade and influence their peers. 
What's the lesson for individuals trying to protect against a future career derailment?  Be sure to gather feedback on these issues, not just your ability to deliver results or accomplish important tasks.  Don't assume that silence on these issues from your boss means you are performing well along these important dimensions.  Ask about these factors, seek out advice from mentors, and find ways to work on your personal development in these areas.  Be proactive, rather than being vulnerable to a surprise derailment in the future.  

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Sustaining a Culture of Experimentation After the Pandemic Subsides


Did your company shift and adapt in an agile manner during the early months of the pandemic?  Were you impressed with how the organization was willing to try new things? Did this period of time mark a break from past situations all too often characterized by "analysis paralysis" and slow, bureaucratic planning processes?   Many organizations can answer "yes" emphatically to all three questions.  Now the challenge is to maintain this culture of experimentation and agility as the pandemic subsides.  That will be difficult for many firms.  Some will backslide into past practices.  In an article for Fortune, Mark Hoplamazian,  CEO of Hyatt, argues that we can't go back to business as usual.  We have to continue to embrace the culture of experimentation that has been essential for firms to survive and even thrive during the pandemic.  He writes: 

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves into a chronic yet more manageable state, business leaders might be tempted to return to the comfort of business as usual. That would be a mistake.

While some organizations were stopped in their tracks by the onset of the pandemic, those that welcomed experimentation were a step ahead in their ability to manage through it. Accustomed to being agile and listening to their stakeholders, they had a kind of strategic muscle memory that allowed them to smoothly embrace new ideas, behaviors, and practices.

But here’s the tricky thing about experimentation: It means being comfortable with some experiments not working out. Continuously learning and modifying is a critical piece of the puzzle.

It’s no secret that the pandemic brought the travel and hospitality industries to a screeching halt, and it’s my firm belief that Hyatt’s focus on listening, testing, learning, and adapting is what led us through the pandemic and put us on a clear path to recovery.