Notes — retrospective 2

Ideas from the archive.

Notes started as a short-form newsletter on another platform. This post is a selection of some of favourite ideas from that archive.


Human Relations 2.0

The science of management has long revolved around the question “How?” at the expense of “Why?” Widening the discussion to include ends as well as means also opens the door to the most troubling moral and ethical conflicts. The Taylorist routines would suddenly be thrown into doubt. Yet judicious or benevolent restraint – which is key to democratic leadership – is not a concept with which most C-suite execs are comfortable… In charting a new course, organisations can find guidance in the requirements for human happiness as humanism defines them. (Benjamin Kessler, INSEAD Knowledge)

Staying with this piece referencing Gianpiero Petriglieri’s work, the following is a related passage from one of his articles linked therein.

How might an agenda for the humanities make business better?

Humanism and instrumentalism, in short, cannot solve each other’s problems because they are each other’s problem. Theirs is, at its best, a marriage of inconvenience. They must remain well-matched antagonists to make business better, and make us better humans… Once they stop having to be useful, the humanities become truly meaningful. Only that will allow team human to catch up with team machine. But neither, ultimately, must get too far ahead or we will lose a struggle that keeps us human and makes societies prosper. Sometimes it is useful to move fast and break things. Other times it is wise to move slow and heal people. (Gianpiero Petriglieri, Harvard Business Review)

A better coaching conversation through “hero questions”

  • Tell me about a time this month you felt energized.
  • What have you learned about yourself from working on this project?
  • What strengths have you found most useful on this project?
  • Who have you recently helped, and what difference did it make in their work and yours?
Asking employees to look back at these peak moments helps managers better understand what it took to get there — and, more importantly, what it will take to get there again. (Joe Hirsch, Harvard Business Review)

Creating the energy and belief in a strategy

In a turnaround, you have to create energy. In physics, we learn that energy is a finite quantity. In business and organizations, it’s not. It is something you can unleash. A company is a human organization made up of individuals working together in pursuit of a goal. If this is your central idea, it has significant implications for how you lead. You are not trying to be the smartest person in the room—you are trying to create an environment in which you can unleash this energy. (Hubert Joly as quoted in McKinsey & Company)

Purpose “turns the light on” if leaders exemplify it

Above all, leaders must continue to walk the talk. The choices made by leaders at every level send a powerful signal: leaders should not only publicly recognize and promote direct reports who consistently live the purpose, but they must also be willing to stand in the way of those who don’t, even those whose performance is otherwise strong. Leaders must also manage their time in a way that’s consistent with purpose. For example, if the company’s purpose requires a deep connection with customers, leaders should take the time to engage more frequently with them. This role-modeling behavior serves as a critical example for the rest of their team. (Cathy Carlisi, Jim Hemerling, Julie Kilmann, Dolly Meese and Doug Shipman, BCG)

Reimagining talent; reorienting for “spiky leaders”

Through virtually managing a team and revamping a business, leaders will find that so much of what we call “people development” is actually a set of processes that train people to manage complexity, rather than question it. Some CEOs are realizing they don’t need smooth operators—those all-rounders, devoid of obvious weakness, whose main strength is managing the complexity they often create themselves. Instead, CEOs need the messy folks who tell it like it is—those people who have “spikes,” or great strengths, in some areas and some glaring weaknesses in others. There’s magic to those diverse folks who help us find surprising ideas in surprising places. (James Allen, Bain & Company)

Invest in talent development irrespective of a crisis

To sideline talent development is to send a signal to people around you that your future is actually not that important now. How do you motivate people? You motivate people when they feel like they’re part of something, they’re contributing to something. So I don’t think I would do that.

That’s not just about spending money, which is sometimes what motivates that type of mindset – that we’ve got to cut back, we don’t have money. Training budgets are often the very first things that get cut when times are tough. The best way to develop talent is for an individual boss or individual leader to work directly with the people that work for her one-on-one. That’s what ‘superboss’ leaders do. (Sydney Finkelstein as quoted in Knowledge@Wharton)

Thinking exponentially and acting incrementally to shape the future using time cones, not timelines

Futurists think about time differently, and company strategists could learn from their approach. For any given uncertainty about the future — whether that’s risk, opportunity, or growth — we tend to think in the short- and long-term simultaneously. To do this, I use a framework that measures certainty and charts actions, rather than simply marking the passage of time as quarters or years. That’s why my timelines aren’t actually lines at all — they are cones.

For every foresight project, I build a cone with four distinct categories: (1) tactics, (2) strategy, (3) vision, and (4) systems-level evolution. (Amy Webb, Harvard Business Review)

Growing and mobilising political support in your career

To maximize your political capital, you need to look beyond the usual places—and sometimes even beyond your organization. “In order to do our jobs well, we are usually dependent on all kinds of people, whether we know it or not,” Ocasio says. “You need to find the critical actors that you will be dependent on—even peers who fall outside one’s industry or market. It’s subtle, but it’s still a valuable source of political capital.”

Diversifying is also useful because certain forms of capital may be more or less helpful to your job as it evolves. “When moving into a new role, most people use the sources of political capital they’ve used in the past,” Ocasio says. “But that’s not necessarily going to help you succeed at the next level. You can’t rely exclusively on past experience for how to approach your new position.” (Drew Calvert, Kellogg School of Management)

The talent advantage of agile — a case study for non-digital teams

…the new model has been really positive for talent management. Some people who were only moderate performers in our old structure have become real stars in the new model. And it has proved to be a great way to develop people extremely rapidly. The dynamic team structures allow people to share ideas and learn from each other, and more junior personnel get lots of responsibility and exposure to senior colleagues. (Michaela Mayrhofer as quoted in McKinsey & Company)
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