Flat Army

At our last meeting of the Council on Customer Experience at the Conference Board of Canada, I got to add to my book collection – always a happy experience! Dan Ponterfract is the Head of Learning and Collaboration at Telus and has driven a philosophical and cultural shift in the way TELUS views and experiences learning. His book, Flat Army, documents how he drove change in TELUS corporate culture. He maintains that there is no easy way to undo what years and even decades of bad management practice have done to leaders. His emphasis? Command and control is rampant, evil and unnecessary. I love anyone who is willing to kill the elephant in our boardrooms! As you can tell, Dan doesn’t pull any punches in his book. To me it is a great story of the power of employee engagement  – what it takes and how long it takes to drive cultural change. Drucker was right when he made the comment that culture eats strategy for lunch. To work in this environment of change management means you need the qualitative skill to understand quantitative results. To permanently engage your employees, you need insight, not just data. And without your employees, your most recent strategic plan will remain in a binder on a shelf collecting dust. Doomed to failure with no means of execution.

If you need a quick qualitative skill update, check out my QRCA webinar on aspects of changing corporate cultures on April 24th.  Registration is free if you are working in this area. And who wouldn’t want to? Just my opinion, yes, but to me the only way to maintain competitive advantage in an increasingly complex world.

Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization

Strategy Execution

I’m starting to plan my return to Copenhagen Business School for the summer and came upon little gem. It was written by CBS Professors  Sven Junghaven and Fleming Poulfelt, Per V. Jenster from the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and Michael Jessen Holm, a marketing professional.  Strategy Execution provides a unique and focused perspective on how strategy is conceptualized, and more importantly, implemented.  I have seen many strategic plans on the bookshelves of senior executives – few are executed. Why? Some interesting answers are provided by the authors.  Their focus is on small and medium size enterprise – a little examined segment of the market.  Although centred in Denmark, this book would be useful for any SME organization or consultants who specialize in the area.  Getting a different perspective from the standard North American festish with short-term profitability may give a competitive advantage in your strategic planning cycle.  A worthwhile read.

Strategy Execution: Passion & Profit

Change the Culture, Change the Game

More often than not, corporate culture is appearing on the agenda of organizations. How to capture it, revise it, use it, expand it, change it.  Corporate culture of the past emphasized convenience for the organization – treating people as widgets in a factory.  Harsh words, perhaps. But the truth of the matter is that most organizations treat creative capital badly. But now that the economy is a concern, attention is being paid to maximizing creative capital. And that means paying attention to your people. Not as lip service. Certainly not as a branding exercise – a sound bite promoting ‘our greatest assets are our people.’ There is no faster way to disengage employees than to make marketing claims that have no basis in reality! The problem with corporate culture is that in order to shift it – it is also likely that your business model will also need an overhaul.

Being at the Copenhagen Business School over the summer was a transformational experience for me. The Danes are serious about corporate culture and I will be designing a course in corporate anthropology for next year. I am back in the classroom at Sheridan starting next week and also gearing up for a tedx talk on corporate culture mid-September. Corporate culture is definitely on the top of my “shift list”. I sometimes define creativity as an act of liberation from habit that brings something new into being.  We all are well aware that the old models don’t work – they just don’t provide competitive advantage in tough economic times.  So we agree that the shift is necessary – but how? That is always the question.

I’m a big believer in ROWE – results-oriented work environments. Digging through my library for potential sources of inspiration led me to “Change the Culture, Change the Game.” The authors have devised a model of accountability that can be used as a starting point for implementing organizational change.  Changing an organization’s culture is both a top-down and a bottom-up process. It involves all the leaders in your organization and should never be left up only to a Human Resources Department. Certainly not in a weekend retreat. How long did it take you to build the culture that no longer works? Its an ‘all hands on deck’ type of effort. Whether you are looking at a slight shift or a corporate overhaul, a need for improved performance or a change in business model – there is some solid information here for use.  Too busy to pay attention to corporate culture?  Well … survival is optional.

Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results

The Artist is Present

Presence has become a management concept. Otto Scharmer’s Theory-U, otherwise known as Presencing, has grown into a small and vital industry, training organizational practitioners worldwide. The U can be mapped onto the Hero’s Journey – take a look at Ginger Grant’s book, Finding Your Creative Core, to understand more fully what this means.

The psyche of organizational culture is action-oriented. This means doing. Meeting, talking, getting results, reporting, achieving the objective. Too, we think of the Hero’s Journey as a myth, ultimately, of doing: questing, and reaching the objective of the quest, by whatever expected or unexpected means.

But what does it mean have presence? To, simply, be present?

As part of her recent retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the performance artist Marina Abramović sat, each day for the duration, with any visitor who wished, for as long as they wished. The encounters were silent. They lasted as little as about one minute and as long as twenty or more. Each encounter was documented with a single photograph of the visitor’s face, and occasional photographs of the artist’s. These photographic documents are available to view on MoMa’s flickr page, and on the artist’s page. Please visit them (links below). If you choose to look, the photographs reveal a great deal about presence.

Looking at the photographs closely is a way of being present in itself. There are nearly 2,000 images, showing a moment of presence on the part of individuals of all ages and races. You will recognize a few faces, of Lou Reed, Björk, Viggo Mortensen, and these are rather startlingly free of makeup and revealing of wrinkles and natural flaws. One dark-eyed man shows up, again and again. Nearly all the rest are anonymous. Some are tearful. Some seem impassive. Some heads are tilted backward, some forward. Jaws jut or are drawn inward. Lips are relaxed, or compressed, or upturned slightly into a  Mona Lisa smile. Eyes are shining, dull, wide, narrowed, or focused with what seems like perplexity. All mesmerizing. So much information in a collection of moments.

None of these expressions will be unfamiliar. Our brains are exquisitely wired to perceive facial signs. And, these are the kinds of things one can only experience consciously, actually see, when simply looking, closely, for an extended moment. Uninterrupted. Just being there. Just being present.

One may say that the museum is a far safer place for presencing than the workplace. Even sitting in the presence of a recognized master, witnessed by other strangers waiting behind a rope, penetrated by a democratically unforgiving illumination, and risking being revealed in a close-up photograph that will become a public document.

Pause for thought.

MoMa flickr page (selections from the photo documents)

Marina Abramović The Artist is Present (the document in its entirety, showing the length of each sitting)

Feature film, “The Artist is Present,” to be released June 1