Archive for April, 2012

Buses, Green Jackets, and Costs

April 29, 2012

Rosa Parks

Through electronic trading, international markets move in nano-seconds. Because of cyber-space, an email sails across the globe in no more than few minutes – often faster. Speed adds value. But social change – inside organizations and communities – requires weeks, months, sometimes years. Often, a slow pace or simply  resistance by powerful interests generates a very high cost.

Too Slow & Public Relations

The relationship between time and cost is connected to change. Public relations is a “foil” that precludes real knowledge and distributes a pre-determined position or message to promote an advantage. It protects image. Experts generally agree when the expense to image or other factor becomes too great, change is likely to occur. Companies use cost to press for fast change. Timely payment on a mortgage, taxes or a credit card – avoids additional fees. Quick and preventive actions relative to your health gets rewarded through lower insurance premiums.

Whose Interest?

Nudge, the book by Thaler and Sunstein, focuses on “choice architecture” and the related behavior science research that guides how we can best gain attention or give a signal for change. In the private sector, getting “ahead” of change, discerning trends, and using them to market advantage is relevant to innovation and success. In any issue involving people, who incurs cost and how much before change happens are  key factors. Plenty of social and political capital is spent keeping the status quo.

A recent newscast about Rosa Parks prompted me to think about the importance of urgency.

History Speaks

In the context of tremendous and persistent inequality, one woman took action that defied powerful norms of an oppressive majority. In Montgomery City, Alabama the first 10 seats on buses were reserved for whites. When Rosa Parks chose her seat, she sat midway down the aisle.

With the bus nearly filled, a white man entered. He expected to be seated in the front area. Consistent with the prevailing law, the bus driver insisted that Parks and three other African Americans give up their seats for him to be proximal to the reserved whites only section. Quietly, Rosa Parks refused. She kept her seat and was arrested and convicted for breaking the “Jim Crow” laws.

At the time, a significant majority, of bus riders were African American. Eventually, the city-wide bus boycott of more than a full year generated extraordinary economic and social costs. Erosion of the racist separate but equal doctrine generated by the Plessy Case in 1896 was launched by the Supreme Court ‘s decision that found segregation unconstitutional in 1956. Sixty years for legal change – and many, many more decades after for social progress. Today, intended and unintended inequities still exist. 

The Green Jacket

Augusta is an all-male club and has been for 80 years. A few exclusive sponsorships are offered for the Masters golf tournament by the Augusta National Golf Club. IBM, a large and prominent corporation has been a consistent sponsor and the CEO is routinely offered a membership in the Club. Virginia Rometty is CEO of IBM. She is a golfer and die-hard fan. Rometty was denied an Augusta green jacket simply because she’s a woman. The Masters, is a famous golf tournament and  contemporary example of institutional sexism. People in power exclude others to retain their dominance. Jews were not invited for decades and blacks were excluded until 1990. For now, males want and seek control for an all-male club. 

Influentials Choose

When (and if) they choose, influential people can increase the speed of change and reduce costs – real dollars, social and opportunity costs. Leaders balance multiple interest in their choices. In the social sector, the aim is most often charity or justice for a vulnerable population. In the private sector, it is for responsible economic performance (and its benefits). Progress is greatly affected by leaders’ actions. Consider how your work might get further faster.

Whose needs are being served by the pace of change in your organization or community?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

From the Playbook: Watch and Listen

April 8, 2012

 

 

 

 

If you made a list of people to learn from – who would you identify and why?

Besides formal education and experience, observing others can be a huge part of learning. Seasoned author and editor John Byrne (Business Week, Fast Company and Fortune) turned his list of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs into a fascinating book, WorldChangers. His criteria included social and economic impact, world-changing vision, inspirational power, innovation and enterprise performance.

Whether social or business outcomes are your aim, there are some terrific lessons in the profiles Byrne provides. From Byrne’s full list, I’ve picked a few people and their key contributions:

To innovate, Steve Jobs (at Apple) did not use focus groups and market research. He didn’t bother to ask consumers. Instead, he led a company that delivered what consumers wanted, “insanely great” products.

To usher in the personal computer revolution and tackle social challenges, Bill Gates (at Microsoft & his Foundation) is very careful about selecting his staff, business partners, and allies.

To extend logistics and customer reach, Fred Smith (at FedEx) applied his VietNam Marine Corp experiences to integrate operations and ensure proximal support in delivery systems.

To drive new ways for people to purchase goods, Jeff Bezos (at Amazon) quit a good job to launch an e-commerce effort that he is managing for growth and customer service instead of profit, intentionally.

To revive a failing brand, after an 8-year absence, Howard Schultz (at Starbucks) restored financial discipline and focus to a company that had become irrelevant to consumers.

My interpretation of these exemplars identifies important principles for success in managing and leading. In relative order, here’s what I learned:

(1) Deliver what’s needed, it assures  sustainability. (Jobs)

(2) Pick great people (and partners), they matter more than anything else. (Gates)

(3) Get close recon from trusted sources, precise knowledge of context before action is vital. Discard gossip. (Smith)

(4) Take risk and time for retreat, grounded and clear thinking is vital in a complex, highly dynamic workplace. (Bezos)

(5) Consistently challenge, pursue a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. (Schultz)

I emphasized the Gates lesson  because if you don’t get that right –the others have far less influence. These potent messages have the promise to deliver great returns for organizations, big and small.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com


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