Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Lessons from Harvard Business School 

After my previous post, I thought a few remarks on management would be appropriate. The following are some disparate quotes that I culled from HBS Working Knowledge articles that may have some relevance to that post as well as some related issues.

From “What Great American Leaders Teach Us” — Tony Mayo, executive director of the Harvard Business School Leadership Initiative, on how leaders are selected:

There is a strong tendency to search for a candidate who has a specific track record of success, but board members need to understand the context in which specific CEO candidates were successful. It is all too easy to ignore both the past contextual framework of success and the present one. Are they aligned? Does success in one context predict success in a new one?... Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, boards tend to favor the “proven” talent, but often fail to ask “proven in what context?”
From “Time to Treat Toxic Emotions at Work” — Peter J Frost, professor of organizational behavior at the University of British Columbia, on how top management behaviour sets the tone in an organisation:

Heavy doses of toxicity (pain that strips people of their self esteem and that disconnects them from their work) can come from a number of sources, including the behavior of immediate bosses, uncooperative employees or even abrasive clients. But the tone in an organization tends to be set from the top and so toxicity is often a top-down phenomenon. As one HR manager I interviewed observed: “Fish stinks from the head!” The higher up the toxic person is, the more widely spread is the pain, and the more people there are who behave in the same way. If you have a CEO who delivers public lashings—in effect does his performance appraisals in public—then you will have the lieutenants begin to join in.
From “Are You Supporting Your B Players?” — Harvard Business School professor Thomas J DeLong on why some managers have difficulty relating to their so-called “B” grade workers:

Managers who are high achievers themselves find it especially difficult to focus on B players. The Achilles’ heel of these A-type managers is that if they can’t do something right the first time, they give up or they manufacture a compelling rationale that explains why it is not worth the effort to improve employee satisfaction.

Furthermore, he said, such managers are afraid of getting labeled. “If you want to threaten a really smart person who is task driven, question his or her competency. That’s the very soul of who they are,” he said. These managers also keep busy schedules and are reluctant to slow down to learn new skills. Sports champions such as Tiger Woods, he said, can do their training out of public view. But managers almost always train on the job.
From “What You Don’t Know About Making Decisions” — Harvard Business School professors David A. Garvin and Michael A. Roberto on decision-making:

[K]eeping people involved in the process is, in the end, perhaps the most crucial factor in making a decision—and making it stick. It’s a job that lies at the heart of leadership and one that uniquely combines the leader’s numerous talents. It requires the fortitude to promote conflict while accepting ambiguity, the wisdom to know when to bring conversations to a close, the patience to help others understand the reasoning behind your choice, and, not least, a genius for balance—the ability to embrace both the divergence that may characterize early discussions and the unity needed for effective implementation. Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire and a renowned military leader, understood the true hallmark of leadership in the sixth century BC, when he attributed his success to “diversity in counsel, unity in command.”
From “Think You Manage Creativity? Here's Why You're Wrong” — Robert I Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University in Stanford, California, on fostering creativity:

If it’s creativity you want, you should encourage people to ignore and defy superiors and peers—and while you’re at it, get them to fight among themselves. You should reassign people who have settled into productive grooves in their jobs. And you should start rewarding failure, not just success; reserve punishment only for inaction.

People who do what they think is right—rather than what they are told or what they anticipate their superiors want—can drive their bosses crazy and get their companies in deep trouble. But they also force companies to try ideas that some boss or powerful group may have rejected as a waste of time or money...

[I]n The HP Way, David Packard brags about an employee who defied a direct order from him. “Some years ago,” he writes, “at an HP laboratory in Colorado Springs devoted to oscilloscope technology, one of our bright, energetic engineers, Chuck House, was advised to abandon a display monitor he was developing...” House was convinced he was on to something, so he persisted with the project... The resulting $35 million in revenue proved he was right. Packard continues: “Some years later, at a gathering of HP engineers, I presented Chuck with a medal for ‘extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.’”

... [I]f you want to develop new products and services, I urge you to keep your creative people away from your biggest customers—and for that matter from critics and anyone whose primary concern is money.

... Every bit of solid theory and evidence demonstrates that it is impossible to generate a few good ideas without also generating a lot of bad ideas. Former Time Warner chairman Steve Ross had a philosophy that people who didn’t make enough mistakes should be fired...
That’s all for today. Class dismissed.


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