5 August 2009 • 7:00 am

Technology Happens – And An Industry Collapses

(Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company)

(Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company)

Those of you reading Monday’s post about the mystery industry whose distribution methods kept evolving and cannibalizing older versions can now view the rest of the story. As presented in an op-ed piece by columnist Charles M. Blow in last Saturday’s New York Times, the graphic shows the demise of the traditional recorded music industry in ‘graphic’ detail. It’s another example of the power of thoughtful graphic design.


3 August 2009 • 7:00 am

Technology Happens – A Quiz

An recent op-ed piece in the New York Times graphically illustrated the impact of changing technology on an industry familiar to all of us. It reminded me a bit of my earlier riff on Netflix vs. Blockbuster, but it was the graphic that I found especially compelling. I’ve reproduced a portion of the graphic here, deliberately obscuring some of the detail and some of the data. The horizontal axis is time, and each of the vertical bars in the charts leading from left to right represents one year, from 1973 to 1999. Each of the patterns represents the emergence, growth, and demise of a particular distribution method for this industry’s product, and the height of each bar represents the constant current dollar value of goods shipped in each year (in billions). A black box is drawn around the peak year for each of the distribution methods.


30 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Hunkering Down, or Seizing the Day?

Newborn gazelle hunkering down for safety, Serengeti, Tanzania

Newborn gazelle hunkering down for safety, Serengeti, Tanzania (© Erika Bloom)

Reading blogs, scanning headlines, and staying in touch with old friends, it seems to me that right now there is a lot of hunkering down going on. Hunkering down, like dodging bullets and any port in the storm are vivid metaphors for the actions of people when there is danger about. During a global recession, individuals naturally think about protecting themselves and their families from the risk of unemployment, investment failure, and other threatening stuff.

Organizational behavior is a ‘soft’ science that begins with the premise that organizations exhibit collective behaviors. This too is natural. Fish and birds move in unison. Bees, ants, and other insects live in highly-ordered societies that act in concert. Wolves hunt in packs. Evolutionary biologists explain these behaviors as adaptations not just for the survival of the group, but the survival of the species.


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.


10 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Beyond Petroleum? No, BP is Back to Petroleum

In retrospect, the news this week that British Petroleum is backing away from its highly-visible efforts to lead development of alternative energy sources is hardly surprising. BP is shutting down its separate office for the Alternative Energy division, substantially cutting its investment, and its chief executive has taken early retirement. In his in-depth analysis, Financial Times reporter Ed Crooks identifies some of the key factors that led to the apparent course correction.

6 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Poached Frogs and the Capacity for Change

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.

So goes the often cited and vividly unfortunate metaphor of the poached frog, which is used so often in business settings that it has become a tired cliché. James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly has even devoted an entire series of blog posts devoted to the worthy cause of banishing its use, and the myth has been busted by scientists and journalists alike, notably in Issue 1 of Fast Company. I confess to having succumbed to the lure of using the poached frog story myself, but I have since foresworn using it, and encourage you to do the same.


27 June 2009 • 12:29 pm

Economist: U.S. Health Care Reform is ‘Going to Hurt’

Today’s brief (some might say lazy) Saturday post points you to a concise piece in The Economist, an esteemed publication I admire for the quality of its writing, if not always for it’s political views.

What distinguishes The Economist’s writing from all of the noise and posturing is both its incisiveness and its moderation. Their introductory piece is a worthwhile five-minute read that summarizes the key issues without getting bogged down in rhetoric. And their Photo-shopped picture of Barack Obama might make you smile.


25 June 2009 • 11:23 am

The Facilitator’s Toolkit: Capturing the Change Agenda

After the initial challenge of change programs (getting leaders to agree on the need for change), the next challenge is to gain consensus on the change agenda. Organizations familiar with balanced scorecard (BSC) know that the BSC strategy mapping process is a powerful tool for visualizing strategy and gaining consensus. But the strategy map is not always the right tool for the job.