14 October 2009 • 7:00 am

The Importance of Pre-Meeting Meetings

I spoke on the phone with someone this morning who has had tremendous success getting leadership buy-in from multiple levels in a large organization. As he shared his story, he reminded me of something that seems like overkill but that contributes to successful change initiatives: having meetings before the meeting.

Having pre-meetings is far different from having post-meetings. Post-meetings happen because not everything that needed to be said came out during the actual meeting, due to fear, mainly. Pre-meetings are held to make sure that what needs to happen in the actual meeting actually happens.


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.


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.


10 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Best Practice in Best Practice?

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his speech on healthcare. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his speech on healthcare. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama gave his highly-anticipated speech on health care reform to a joint session of the U.S. Congress and a national TV audience yesterday evening. For those outside of the U.S., speeches to both houses of Congress are relatively rare (except for an annual ‘state of the union’ address), and this speech marked a crucial point in the intense health care reform debate that has been raging here for the past several months. I am sure that several other bloggers have already or will shortly provide their take on the speech itself, so I will spare you my own interpretation. But Obama used the ‘best practice’ term to describe a couple of U.S. regions in which per-capita health care costs are both significantly lower than average, while quality of care and outcomes are better than average (a theme in a New Yorker article I reviewed over the summer), in his desire to improve the cost and quality of health care across the country.


4 August 2009 • 7:00 am

Make Your Organization Road-Ready

1933dodgeI saw an antique car in a parking lot today. Just quickly browsing on the internet, it looked like an American model from the early 1930’s (like this 1933 Dodge photo I found on

I started to wonder what it would take to make a car like that road-ready based on today’s standards. How much of the car was original, and how much was reconstructed using today’s technology and materials? Had there been any upgrades to the engine or exhaust, and did it have any hidden but modern features such as air conditioning or a CD player? Did it even have seat belts or any other more modern safety features?

When building an existing organization for the future, we can ask ourselves similar questions.


29 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Competition and Collaboration from Netflix

Netflix prize web page

Netflix prize web page

The Tortoise’s fascination with Netflix was enhanced with the news yesterday that Netflix’s public competition to improve the effectiveness of its recommendation system has drawn to a close with two teams essentially tied for the prize. But each of the two teams are actually consortia; teams comprised of other teams. Netflix has harnessed the power of competition and collaboration to solve a challenging business problem.

Subscribers to Netflix are asked to rate (on a scale from one to five stars) each movie they’ve rented, and are even able to rate movies seen in theatres or elsewhere. The data base of millions of individual ratings are used to predict and recommend movies to individual subscribers. The system works pretty well; around two thirds of all rental decisions made by Netflix subscribers are the result of a computer-generated recommendation.


28 July 2009 • 7:00 am


Everyone makes mistakes – we often say that ‘to err is human, to forgive divine.’ And despite occasional assertions to the contrary, our leaders are in fact human. So our leaders have made mistakes, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The consequences of our leaders’ mistakes are usually greater than the mistakes of those led; through their decisions and actions, leaders cause many others to do things. This is the definition of leadership. In meritocracies, individuals rise to leadership roles because they are viewed as capable and skillful, and are therefore expected to make good decisions for the organizations they lead. But we also say that ‘mistakes will happen.’


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.