Jose R. Costa’s picture

By: Jose R. Costa

Few people would deny the crucial role agility plays in helping a person succeed in today’s ever-changing business environment. The best leaders read the shifting marketplace and course-correct to help their businesses stay ahead of the curve. Yet while “agility” may be a trendy concept, the key to actually being an agile leader is far less sexy: It’s humility.

A lack of humility makes it difficult for you to correct your course when you are headed down the wrong path. Humble leaders, who prioritize learning and seeking new answers, are more likely to change when they make a mistake. Those who can’t put the right answer ahead of their need to be right are more likely to become stuck in the face of changing circumstances.

Here’s an example.

Many years ago, I worked at a large restaurant chain under a chief marketing officer (CMO) who thought she had all the answers. When someone challenged her, she would scream at him and wouldn’t back down. This created a chaotic atmosphere where people were afraid to bring new ideas, offer opinions, or even talk to her if they didn’t have to.

Jim Benson’s picture

By: Jim Benson

If I have been on a decades-long drive to make work more flexible, Alton Brown has been on a similar one in the kitchen. There is no shortage of rants on his various shows about “unitaskers”... things in your kitchen that can only do one thing and therefore are only useful in a few, often unlikely, contexts.

Alton Brown takes a dim view of unitaskers and lax workplace safety. In agile and lean, and in good business in general, we seek to mimic this flexibility by getting people to experience different projects, job types, and perspectives. This helps us deal with frustrating situations by having many people in the organization who can respond quickly to variation or opportunity.

Having said that, in the great pendulum-swing that is human excitement, we have gone so far the other way that we want everyone to be a generalist and shy away from being purposeful about who is going to do what.

And, in general, it’s helpful to know what we are doing.

Eddie King’s picture

By: Eddie King

The first message sent by Morse code’s dots and dashes across a long distance traveled from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore on Friday, May 24, 1844—175 years ago. It signaled the first time in human history that complex thoughts could be communicated at long distances almost instantaneously. Until then, people had to have face-to-face conversations; send coded messages through drums, smoke signals, and semaphore systems; or read printed words.

Susan Fowler’s picture

By: Susan Fowler

Are you lazy? Do you think most people are basically lazy? Do you enjoy being disengaged at work? Do you think millions of people worldwide enjoy being disengaged? Is that why we need to be prodded, bribed, praised, and pushed into doing what we’re tasked to do? If managers did not hold us accountable for achieving our goals, do you think we would slack off? If you answer yes to any of these questions, maybe your basic beliefs about human motivation need updating.

You have a natural yearning to thrive—thriving is your human nature. Being bored or disengaged isn’t thriving. Being lazy isn’t thriving. Resenting hard work isn’t thriving. The truth is, no one wants to be bored, disengaged, or lazy. At our core, we don’t resent hard work. We welcome productive and meaningful work, even when it’s hard. We appreciate meaningful challenges. We even want to be accountable—we just don’t like being held accountable! We want to contribute, feel fulfilled, and grow and learn every day. We long to thrive. Recognizing our nature to thrive leads to a critical question: How do I thrive? Now, thanks to groundbreaking research, we know the answer. It’s different than what we’ve been led to believe.

Shobhendu Prabhakar’s picture

By: Shobhendu Prabhakar

In India, Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most revered leaders of our time. He was a man who devoted his life to truth and nonviolence. You may be wondering why I’m talking about him here. Well, we all enter our place of work with a set of values that influence how we see and approach our work. So it’s important to understand how what you believe aligns with what you do.

The more I read about Gandhi and these two of the many values he preached about and lived his life according to, the more I found I could connect and correlate truth and nonviolence to the idea and practice of quality. I’d like to share those connections with you.

Christine Alemany’s picture

By: Christine Alemany

No matter how siloed roles or departments are, no one works in a bubble. What happens in marketing affects finance. And finance’s forecasts have ramifications for customer service. In such an interdependent world, managers must learn to open up with all stakeholders or risk losing others’ faith—and losing profits.

Managers have to constantly interact with other parts of the organization to do their jobs well. As a departmental head, you must be able to explain to the other managers what your team’s goals are, how you plan to achieve them, and why that is good for the company.

The upshot is that open communication between departments makes employees see and embrace their roles in the organization as a whole, which helps them become actively involved in companywide success.

The art of interdepartmental communication

Moving toward more transparent communication takes time, energy, and behavioral changes. Try adjusting your style and protocols in the following ways to increase the flow of genuine information in your workplace:

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

By: Mike Figliuolo

Creating a business plan is the most fundamental step in building a business, and the importance of it cannot be underscored enough. You may ask, “Why do I need a business plan? Why can’t I just launch my business and get to market?”

First, you must define your business and how you’re going to compete. You must understand the market and the space your business will occupy in that market vs. your competitors. You’ll need to clearly define your product and why your customers should be interested in it.

Once you’ve defined that product, you’ll need to have a good understanding of how you’re going to take it to market. After that you need to understand and articulate how you’re going to operate that business, and create a plan to support those operations. Most likely that will mean you’re going to have people, so you’ll need a plan for managing them and the resources that come along with them. You’ll also need to define the administrative responsibilities and how you’re going to fulfill them.

Once you’ve got all that down, you’ll need to project your financial results and create a clear financial plan that helps you understand how the business should perform over time.

Harish Jose’s picture

By: Harish Jose

I must confess up front that the title of this column is misleading. Similar to the Spoon Boy in the movie, The Matrix, I will say, “There is no lean problem or a Six Sigma problem. All these problems are our mental constructs of a perceived phenomenon.”

A problem statement is a model of the actual phenomenon that we believe is the problem. The problem statement is never the problem! It is a representation of the problem. We form the problem statement based on our vantage point, our mental models, and biases. Such a constructed problem statement is thus incomplete and sometimes incorrect. We don’t always ask for the problem statement to be reframed from the stakeholder’s viewpoint.

A problem statement is an abstraction based on our understanding. Its usefulness lies in the abstraction. A good abstraction ignores and omits unwanted details, while a poor abstraction retains them, or worse, omits valid details. Our own cognitive background hinders our ability to frame the true nature of the problem.

Davis Balestracci’s picture

By: Davis Balestracci

Recently, I’ve had a sad, increasing sense of déjà vu. Twitter has become even more vacuous, and LinkedIn has quickly devolved into a business version of Facebook. Literally right after I finished this draft, I read a newspaper headline: “Twitter Use Eroding Intelligence. Now there’s data to prove it.”

Peter Block suggested a radical solution 20 years ago: new conversations. From a 1999 article of his: 

“I would like to see a six-month moratorium on the following conversations:
• The importance of having the support of top management
• How workers do not want to be empowered
• That leaders need to provide a good role model
• How to hold people accountable
• How to get people on board and aligned
• The need to be customer-focused
• How to do things faster and cheaper
• How to give more choice to the people close to the customer
• The need for a clear and common vision
• The ground rules for dialogue, consensus, teamwork, decisions, and feedback
• The importance of systems thinking and whole-system change
• The call for servant leaders, and the end of command and control
• The need for continuous improvement”

Boris Liedtke’s picture

By: Boris Liedtke

‘Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants,” said Henry Ford in 1909, “so long as it’s black.” Ford’s strategy of standardization and efficiency made a runaway success of the Model T car and built Ford Motor Co. into one of the world’s biggest automakers. But 110 years on, standardization does not make for a successful strategy in the face of emerging transportation technologies.

For one thing, it is unclear where technological progress is headed. Whether it is self-driving or electric cars, fuel-cell-powered vehicles or something else entirely that replaces the polluting combustion engine, no one knows for sure. It’s likewise hard to predict the speed of advancement, such as faster battery charging and longer range of electric cars.

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