1 October 2009 • 7:00 am

Risky Business

coin_flipAs promised a couple of weeks ago, I’ve now gotten a copy of Sam L. Savage’s The Flaw of Averages from my local library. Although I am still reading it, I can already say that it is an enjoyable read, accessible, and contains a wealth of valuable insights that I’ll be sharing with you. I’ll be buying my own copy soon, and encourage you to take a look at it as well. It has already gotten me thinking more about how much better we need to understand the concept of risk.

We have all grown up in an era in which computing technology has had an increasing influence on the way we think about pretty much everything. In my first year of high school, slide rules were required for those taking physics classes. By the time I took the physics class (in my senior year), we were able to instead share the one calculator the school had bought for each classroom in the physics department. I suspect that some of today’s technologies will someday be as outdated as slide rules are today. If you don’t even know what a slide rule is, don’t worry (but you can read more about it here).


29 September 2009 • 1:58 pm

BackNoise – Cool or Scary?

Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan

A couple of months ago, a friend clued me into Chris Brogan’s blog. Brogan is an author and social media guru (of whom I hadn’t heard before) that my friend had seen give a great speech. It was otherwise hard for my friend to tell me exactly why I should pay attention to Brogan, but he told me that I needed to. So I subscribed to his blog, and have occasionally been engaged, and sometimes even fascinated with his postings.

One such fascinating moment was today, when Brogan posted a (sorta) amateur video of his entire keynote speech at a recent new media conference in Atlanta. The video is over an hour long (caution: it contains some coarse language) and worthwhile if you want to get a fresh and expert perspective on using social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) effectively in marketing. But even if you don’t watch more than a few minutes of it, you’ll see a new, cool, elegant (in the sense of simplicity), and prospectively scary new idea called BackNoise.


28 September 2009 • 7:00 am

The Deliberate Organization

As a mediocre writer and crossword puzzle addict, I am continually amazed at the richness of the English language, and yet surprised at the number of words serving double- or triple-duty; words carrying the weight of multiple meanings. One of my favorites examples is the word sanction, which can either mean a penalty for a violation of law, or explicit permission for some action. Homophonic antonyms, such as raise and raze (e.g. to put up or take down a building) are also especially amusing.

One such word I find myself using often in my writings here is deliberate. Both its verb and adjective meanings (which are sometimes pronounced differently) powerfully apply to our interest in strategy, change, and organizational leadership. Let’s take a closer look.


27 September 2009 • 5:10 pm

A Bit of Self-Promotion

This Tuesday morning (at 11:00 a.m. EDT), I’ll be Heather Stagl‘s guest on her blogtalkradio show, talking about measuring the workforce.

On Wednesday and Thursday 7-8 October, I’ll be speaking at the American Strategic Management Institute’s Performance conference in Chicago.

For more details, please click here, or go to the Events link above.

25 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Four Reasons NOT to Conduct an Employee Survey

Employee surveys are useful tools for understanding the beliefs, attitudes and opinions of an organization as a whole.  Surveys are commonly used in pursuit of change to discover and understand organizational culture, resistance, morale, and a host of other characteristics that can shine the light on opportunities for improvement.

However, not all surveys will improve the situation.  The following are four warning signs that conducting a survey may do more harm than good.


24 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Strategy by Walking Around


Many years ago, there was a bit of a surge in the management buzzword stream of an idea called Management by Walking Around (MBWA). Although the idea is traced to early days at Hewlett Packard, where managers were encouraged to spend their time visiting employees, customers, and suppliers, the idea was popularized in an 1985 book by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin entitled “A Passion for Excellence.” Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of the book or MBWA; my sense is that the idea has been out of the mainstream for a while. Perhaps the walking around concept became obsolete around the time that telecommuting became possible and popular.

I think that walking around can be effectively applied in the arena of strategic management. Few executives that I’ve interviewed in the course of developing organizational strategy have disagreed with the prediction that I’d get many different answers if I were to separately ask managers and employees to describe their organization’s strategy. So walking around and asking the strategy question is a useful diagnostic; a way of creating a sense of urgency around formulating and communicating strategy across the enterprise.


22 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Five Traps of Performance Measurement

Sir Andrew Likierman

Sir Andrew Likierman

An unusually practical article appears in the October issue of Harvard Business Review on the topic of performance measurement. I regret that I can’t share a link with you, because HBR content is not available online, except to subscribers of the magazine (perhaps the folks at Harvard haven’t yet read about the idea of Free). No matter. Though I can’t share the article itself with you, at least I can summarize it here.

Entitled The Five Traps of Performance Measurement, Andrew Likierman’s article is concise and valuable. Sir Andrew Likierman is no less than the Dean of the London Business School, a non-executive director of Barclay’s Bank, and Chairman of the UK’s National Audit Office. He knows of what he writes.


21 September 2009 • 7:00 am

What’s Your Proposition?

Amazon is shaking up retailers, both big rivals and small independent stores, as it speeds its way beyond books toward its goal of becoming a Web-sized general store. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Amazon is shaking up retailers, both big rivals and small independent stores, as it speeds its way beyond books toward its goal of becoming a Web-sized general store. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Try to imagine the largest bookstore in the world. Aisle after aisle, floor after floor of books, maps, audio books, music, video, you name it (if you’ve ever had the unique and wonderful experience of visiting Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, you’ve got a great visual image to begin with). But this bookstore isn’t limited by physical size, or shelf space or inventory cost; it carries nearly every title in print, and a huge back catalog of used and out-of-print books. And in the unusual case where they don’t have the book you want in stock, they can try to get it for you from other stores or the publisher. Every time you enter this store, you’re immediately recognized and greeted by name at the door, and your personal guide stands ready to recommend books and other goods you might be interested in. Of course, you don’t have to get in your car to visit this store, it is as near as your computer. Of course, the largest bookstore in the world is


19 September 2009 • 11:39 am

Tortoise Stories Everywhere!

Tortoise rescuer John Formby holds Freeway the tortoise Saturday, September 19 in Worthing, England. (photo by Billy Elliott)

Tortoise rescuer John Formby holds Freeway the tortoise Saturday, September 19 in Worthing, England. (photo by Billy Elliott)

From colleague and occasional Tenacious Blog contributor Heather Stagl comes a link today to a story out of London, where a motorist rescued a Hermann’s tortoise while it was crossing five lanes of the M25, the loop road around London.

Although it is likely that “Freeway” the tortoise, as he is now known, is someone’s pet, (since he has an embedded microchip), it is not yet known where he came from (since the chip is blank). Motorist John Formby spotted what he originally thought was a rock on the road, but when he saw it was moving, pulled off to effect the heroic rescue. Despite the fact that cars had been passing right over it, Freeway was unfazed. According to Formby, “it seemed very determined just to get where it was going.”Freeway is now living comfortably at an animal rescue center in Worthing, along England’s south coast, while staff try to find his owner.

Branding as the Tenacious Tortoise seems to be working. According to Heather, “I see tortoise stories everywhere now.”

Do you see tortoise stories everywhere? Please send links to

18 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Leading Questions

At the center of the balanced scorecard concept is the observation that measures of organizational performance have traditionally been lagging indicators; measurement of actual performance after the fact. Management accounting is focused on describing performance during a time period that has ended – last quarter, last year, year-to-date, etc. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with lagging measures, they are of limited use to an organization’s leaders. All they do is tell what has already happened.

The ‘balance’ in balanced scorecard refers to the ideal of providing leaders with a balanced portfolio of lagging and leading performance indicators. Leading indicators are valuable because they help managers form an expectation of what will happen, and enable testing of the cause-and-effect hypotheses that are at the core of the strategic planning process. But identifying candidate leading indicators and selecting from among them requires careful consideration and a healthy skepticism of apparently easy answers.