13 November 2009 • 7:00 am

Embarrassing Public Radio Strategic Plan Leaked to Public

WBEZ - Chicago Public RadioI am a big fan of public radio, and my local station in Chicago, WBEZ. I don’t always agree with their programming decisions, but for over 25 years they have been my primary source for thoughtful and intelligent programming, both locally-produced and nationally syndicated. So it was with more than just professional interest yesterday that I read the following anonymous blog entry (emphasis and links added) on WBEZ’s Facebook page – I’m a stakeholder. more

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.


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.


20 August 2009 • 7:00 am

Saul Alinsky’s Rules for (Consultants)

Saul_AlinskyOne of the most memorable books I was required to read in graduate school was Saul Alinky’s Rules for Radicals. The class, as I recall, was called “Power and Politics in Organizations,” and Alinsky’s slim yet compelling text stood out among the three or four books my classmates and I had to complete during the ten weeks of that valuable class.

Saul Alinsky was born and raised in Chicago, where he became known for his organizing of meatpackers and later, civil rights groups. He is generally regarded as the originator of the term “community organizer” which was front and center in the rhetoric of last year’s U.S. presidential campaign – Alinsky’s teachings and writings influenced Barack Obama’s community organizing work in Chicago. Alinsky has always been a polarizing figure, even 37 years after his death in 1972. In the opening lines of Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote,

“What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”

Alinsky wasn’t subtle, nor was he deferential. In plain language, he expressed his passion for change, and generations have learned from his wisdom.


18 July 2009 • 8:27 am

Walter Cronkite and the Erosion of Trust

walter_cronkiteReading the obituaries and fond remembrances of Walter Cronkite, who died yesterday at the age of 92, I am struck by the simplicity and power of the label “the most trusted man in America” that was his – exclusively. Cronkite was, of course, the anchor of the CBS Evening News on American television from 1962 until 1981, an era when there was no internet, no cable TV, and far fewer sources of news. In contrast to the newspapers that delivered yesterday’s news in depth,  television journalism was about immediacy – it was today’s news – and about brevity. Cronkite’s 30 minute newscast format (which had been expanded from 15 minutes shortly after Cronkite became anchor) required less detail and more thoughtful editing than any newspaper story. 

Cronkite’s passing gives us pause for reflection; on his remarkable career, on the evolution of news and information sharing during our lifetimes, and the increasing irrelevance of network television news. Like many of my generation, I especially remember Cronkite for his role in two of the moments that defined 1960s America – his genuine emotion in November 1963 when he told us that President Kennedy was dead, and his boyish excitement at the triumph of the success of the Apollo moon landing, exactly 40 years ago this week.


16 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Irrational Side of Change Management – Part 3 of 3

In Parts One and Two of this series of three posts, I introduced an article published recently in the McKinsey Quarterly entitled The Irrational Side of Change Management, and summarized their first seven of nine lessons about why common sense hasn’t helped improve the success rate of change. If you didn’t read the first post, please start there.

Condition IV: Capability Building

The skills of the workforce and the capabilities of the organization must change to support the change agenda.

Lesson 8: Don’t overlook employees’ beliefs when driving behavior change

McKinsey idea: Requiring behavior changes without understanding what employees believe may not have the desired effect. Behavior stems from personal beliefs, and without understanding those beliefs, mandated behaviors may run counter to employees’ self-perception.

Tenacious Tortoise comment: McKinsey’s example of bankers becoming uncomfortable with becoming salespeople is not convincingly applied in the general case. But it is easy to see that simply telling employees to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do will have less effect than patiently creating an understanding of why the new behavior is desired and understanding and addressing any discomfort that the new behavior creates.


15 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Irrational Side of Change Management – Part 2 of 3

In Part One of this series of three posts, I introduced an article published recently in the McKinsey Quarterly entitled The Irrational Side of Change Management, and summarized their first three of nine lessons about why common sense hasn’t helped improve the success rate of change. If you didn’t read the first post, please start there. We continue here with the next four lessons.

Condition II: Role Modeling

Conventional wisdom says that leaders must visibly behave in ways that reinforce the change agenda, and enlist others with influence to support the cause of change.

Lesson 4: Leaders are biased when seeing themselves

McKinsey idea: Most senior executives understand the concept of role modeling, in the abstract. But they mistakenly believe that they are already exhibiting the necessary behaviors. 360 degree feedback sessions and surveys help executives see beyond their own biased and generous view of themselves as ‘being the change.’

Tenacious Tortoise comment: Some executives view the strategic management process and change programs as a burden on their time – they say, “I need to get back to my real job.” These are the ones who are most likely to miss strategy review meetings, or arrive unprepared. The moment of truth comes when the senior executive either offers leeway and forgiveness, or holds team members fully accountable for their engagement with the process. I’ve seen months of good change program effort derailed when the leader him- or herself opts out of a critical meeting, or worse, is distracted by e-mail and phone calls during the meetings. Of course, these behaviors aren’t visible to rank and file, but the message sent in the leadership team has a profound effect on their subsequent behavior in the organization. This is why the quality of the coaching relationships I am able to build with leadership team members is a good predictor of the overall success of the change program.


14 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Irrational Side of Change Management – Part 1 of 3

An article in the McKinsey Quarterly hit my radar from several different directions in the last few days. Entitled The Irrational Side of Change Management, the title itself was more than enough to arouse my curiosity, especially since I’d recently written a post of my own about irrationality. Unfortunately, as you may know, McKinsey restricts access to some of its best content to its premium subscribers. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of this well-written article, and had quality time over the weekend to read it a couple of times.

The summary and my comments presented here (in three posts this week) are no substitute for reading the article itself, and it is likely that with some effort you can find a copy to view within your own organization or network of colleagues. My aim is to both entice you to read the article and to engender discussion here.

Despite the plethora of books and articles on the topic of Change Management since the 1996 publication of John Kotter’s Leading Change, McKinsey’s Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller contend that the field of change management hasn’t been very successful. Kotter’s earlier research revealed that only 30% of change programs succeed; McKinsey’s 2008 survey of over 3,000 executives worldwide found that only about one change program in three is successful.


11 July 2009 • 2:00 pm

Viral Video: United Breaks Guitars

Weekend lazy post.

You’ve got to hand it to musician Dave Carroll. When United Airlines admitted that they broke Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor guitar, but refused to compensate him for the damage, he know how to respond. In Carroll’s words (emphasis added):

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3,500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world.

Well, Carroll has made good on his promise. Enjoy the result below. As of this writing, his first video has been viewed over 1.6 million (update: nearly 3 million, as of 15 July) times on YouTube.


1 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Divorce Rates, Voting Patterns, and Graphic Design

A Facebook post from an old friend over the weekend reminded me of the immense power of graphics to convey information. Most of those reading this are likely to use PowerPoint or other presentation software regularly; it has become a basic tool of communication in organizations everywhere. I am convinced of a universal truth; we can all stand to improve the way we communicate graphically.

But few of us have the benefit of formal training in art and design, and many rely on default settings in such programs as Excel and PowerPoint to determine how our charts and graphs appear. We simply think far less about the grammar and construction of our data than we do about our words.

The Facebook post pointed to an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Charles M. Blow and accompanying graphic. The graphic powerfully (and some might argue unfairly) presents a lot of information in little space to illustrate Mr. Blow’s point. My aim in including the graphic here is not to get into the politics, but to illustrate the power of graphics to communicate.

The graphic reminded me of an experience I had around 10 years ago that profoundly improved my graphical communication skill and mindset, and it all happened in one day. I am referring to my attendance at a one-day seminar conducted by a brilliant scholar in the field, Edward Tufte. Tufte is Professor Emeritus of statistics, information design, interface design and political economy at Yale University, and author of a series of stunning books on graphic design: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, and Beautiful Evidence.

He has also been a vocal critic of PowerPoint, a sample of which can be found in his article PowerPoint is Evil a few years ago in Wired Magazine. Here’s a taste (emphasis added):

“…slideware – computer programs for presentations – is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.”

Disciples of Tufte are thoughtful and considerate of choices in how to present data – far beyond the insight needed to choose between a pie chart and a bar graph. His thinking doesn’t provide absolute answers about right and wrong, but a way of thinking about conveying information that will make you (and ideally your change program reports) more effective.

Balanced scorecard (BSC) reports of performance measures are notoriously data rich and information poor. Most of the available software for BSC reporting acts to constrain rather than broaden the user’s choices for presenting data, and to segregate and subordinate any added contextual prose. In their passion for simply getting the numbers into the report, contributors spend little time considering choices for how to present the information. But effective reporting content enables effective strategic decision making, and the reverse is always true.

Those serious about effective communication are well advised to attend one of Tufte’s one day seminars, which are offered at locations around the U.S. at the very modest cost of $380 (currently), a bargain that includes copies of all four of the books listed above. I strongly recommend this experience to all visitors to the Tenacious Blog. 

Have you attended Tufte’s seminar? Do you have examples of particularly effective or poor graphics? Please share them below. (If you need help including a graphic, drop it in an e-mail, and I’ll figure out a way to include it).

New York Times chart


New York Times Correction: June 30, 2009

The chart accompanying the Charles Blow column on Saturday incorrectly identified which presidential candidates won Maine and Tennessee in 2008 in a list of states ranked by subscriptions to online pornographic sites. Maine voted for Barack Obama, not John McCain. Tennessee favored Mr. McCain, not Mr. Obama.