Posts tagged ‘management’


Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work: finding fulfilment in the early 2010s

06.02.2012

Two of my friends have books coming out. I’ll discuss one for now, as it’s been a long long weekend.
   The first is my Medinge Group colleague Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work, which has now made it on to Amazon, and is getting wider distribution.
   You can get an idea of what Meaning at Work is about from Nicholas’s own article at the RSA’s (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) website. But if you’ve followed Nicholas’s work over the years, it’s a logical continuation of his inquiry into making businesses more human and engaged.
   Living the Brand, for example, was an early look into organizations that had successfully implemented their brand at every level. The concepts are familiar to most branding practitioners, but Nicholas brought them to life with real-world examples and analyses of those successful organizations. Fast forward to Branding Governance, and there are useful discussions about corporate citizenship and corporate participation. Meaning at Work looks at what attitudes people need to find fulfilment in their work, with engagement and challenge being the keys.
   I’ve managed to secure chapter one from Nicholas, who in turn got it from the publisher, minus the illustrations (omitted due to copyright reasons), so you can get a better idea of what it entails. In this first chapter, Nicholas discusses what meaning is, and brings to live numerous examples from literature, art and film. If you’ve ever wondered about some of those works you have heard of but not inquired in to—Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse or the real meaning behind Réné Magritte’s La trahison des images—Nicholas draws out the necessary meanings for his book in a very accessible fashion.
   It’s interesting that Nicholas discusses the depth of meaning in this first chapter, because if you take his works over the course of the 21st century, they are getting deeper and deeper into what makes us—and successful organizations—tick. Each can be read independently, of course—Nicholas isn’t out to sell us a series of books—but there is a natural progression that he has as an author. As someone who has only written one book solely—the rest were joint works—it’s a record I admire. Download chapter one of Meaning at Work here, and order it from the publisher or Amazon UK.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, publishing | 1 Comment »


What’s wrong with our values now?

11.05.2011

Alistair Kwun always finds great articles on personal identity. The latest is from Wesley Yang in New York, discussing the Asian-American experience, and why, despite having such good grades at school, are there so few Asian-American leaders in the US? (Incidentally, this is a strange term: what do Americans call non-oriental Asians?)
   I applaud Wesley in writing this piece, because it’s an issue that needs a voice. Whenever you write an article that covers an entire race, it’s always going to be tough. The debate he’s generated is very valuable, and it’s through that that we can improve ourselves and our systems.
   You almost need to base part of it on stereotypes, no matter which race you talk about. And Wesley highlights that there may well be racism in the US against Asian-Americans (just as there would be in China against Caucasian Chinese if someone did an article from that perspective):

If between 15 and 20 percent of every Ivy League class is Asian, and if the Ivy Leagues are incubators for the country’s leaders, it would stand to reason that Asians would make up some corresponding portion of the leadership class.
   And yet the numbers tell a different story. According to a recent study, Asian-­Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents. There are nine Asian-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. In specific fields where Asian-Americans are heavily represented, there is a similar asymmetry. A third of all software engineers in Silicon Valley are Asian, and yet they make up only 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5 percent of tenure-track scientists are Asians, only 4.7 percent of the lab or branch directors are, according to a study conducted in 2005.

   But here’s what I don’t get. The idea that because we retain our values, we’re worth less as leaders. That somehow, having decent values means we lack some kind of ability to take risks.
   Wesley doesn’t generalize. In fact, he points out numerous examples of Asian-Americans who did take risks. And, when I think about it, among my peers, our propensity to take risks isn’t far off any other group’s.
   Here are the two paragraphs that struck a nerve:

Chu has a pleasant face, but it would not be wrong to characterize his demeanor as reserved. He speaks in a quiet, unemphatic voice. He doesn’t move his features much. He attributes these traits to the atmosphere in his household. “When you grow up in a Chinese home,” he says, “you don’t talk. You shut up and listen to what your parents tell you to do.”

And the attempt to connect that with the following idea:

Aspiring Asian leaders had to become aware of “the relationship between values, behaviors, and perceptions.” He offered the example of Asians who don’t speak up at meetings. “So let’s say I go to meetings with you and I notice you never say anything. And I ask myself, ‘Hmm, I wonder why you’re not saying anything. Maybe it’s because you don’t know what we’re talking about. That would be a good reason for not saying anything. Or maybe it’s because you’re not even interested in the subject matter. Or maybe you think the conversation is beneath you.’ So here I’m thinking, because you never say anything at meetings, that you’re either dumb, you don’t care, or you’re arrogant. When maybe it’s because you were taught when you were growing up that when the boss is talking, what are you supposed to be doing? Listening.”

   So being considered, taking in everyone’s viewpoints, and not being brash about something is a bad thing?
   In a decent, multicultural society, one would hope that we can appreciate different norms based on how someone is raised. And it’s not just between two races. Even in a single race, you can have someone whose parents taught them to be quiet and another whose parents encouraged lively debate. Is one person worth less than the other? Is one less suited for leadership? I don’t think so: so many other things need to be looked at.
   Surely the “weapon” for any race is the ability to have perspective and to be proud of all your cultural norms? While Wesley’s examples are about a few Asian-Americans who want the recognition they deserve, those of us who are proud of our culture and have done all right because of it—and being smart enough to bridge our traditions with the host nation—might think the following, as one of Alistair’s friends did:

My issue with articles like this is that they seem to encourage disdain for our heritage. I am trying to raise my daughters to have pride in their ethnicity.

   My view was this, initially, and I’m still quite happy with this comment on Al’s wall. Naturally, I could not extend it to our other oriental cousins because it’s a statement founded on personal experience, but I’m sure some would agree with this. I added the italics for emphasis here:

I would have thought that because we are “different”, it would make us more suited to challenging “the Man”. We can question them because we come from a culture that affords us perspective—and it’s not just us Chinese, but anyone with any ethnic background. (I was even chatting about this to a white Irish–American New Zealander recently.)
   But is there a ‘traditional’ pathway? If there is, I don’t know of it, and was never told it. Maybe I won some genetic lottery and had parents who were smart enough to realize that having values is not an impediment, if you can make them work to your advantage. I also had parents who took risks—the risk of going to a new country, the risk of starting their own businesses—and where my mother, when she was working for someone, refused promotion because she didn’t want the extra responsibilities.
   But isn’t risk-taking something instilled in all Chinese émigrés? In the US and here, it was those who headed to the 金山. Those were the pioneers and they had a hard time. Those of us with grandparents who fought the Japanese. Those of us who came out with our parents. If we respected their histories, we should realize—and maybe this is me talking in hindsight—that we have our own mark to make like our forebears, and that means having our own adventure.

   I don’t believe there’s something about our culture that holds us back from speaking our minds, being subservient or taking risks. We invented enough stuff to show that we have decent lateral thinking among our ranks. What about Honda? It’s a motorcycle and car company now making jet planes—how many companies started doing bikes and now makes planes? I have always thought the “meekness” that Wesley writes of is, in itself, a stereotype: if you buy into it, then you’ve just hurt yourself by conforming to someone’s false idea of what it means to be Chinese.
   Goodness knows the number of times I’ve heard (though, interestingly, not last year) ‘I thought Asians weren’t interested in politics.’ Well, obviously, we are, and we’ve had more of them for a lot longer than a lot of other cultures. (Try telling Peter Chin or Meng Foon of their supposed disinterest over the years.)
   The mark of an open-minded society is one which values people equally, realizing that everyone has a different way of doing things.
   The mark of maturity is having perspective, which has come about through contact, dialogue, travel or endeavour.
   If the failure of an Asian-American to speak out prevents them from being promoted, then maybe we need to look hard at that organization.
   Because I honestly don’t think blame should be levelled at the person for being the way they are.
   What it does show is that there are systems that are inherently racist. When it comes to denying Asian-Americans their rightful place, it’s apparently now our fault once again for being who we are.
   I’m hoping to high heaven that the stats in New Zealand aren’t as dire as the ones Wesley cited, though we sure are under-represented politically. I don’t blame the voters, and I don’t blame the potential candidates. But it should make us wonder about the fairness of the system and the institutions behind it.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


What we need from leaders in the new decade: creativity leads the list

22.06.2010

My friend and colleague at the Medinge Group, Ava Hakim, passed on a few papers from her day job at IBM. The first is the latest edition of a biennial global CEO survey, while the second asks the next generation of leaders—Generation Y. The aim: to find out what these groups think about the challenges and goals for CEOs.
   Unsurprisingly, both studies (involving thousands of respondents) had commonalities, though Generation Y placed global awareness and sustainability more highly on their list.
   Creativity, however, is ranked as the most valuable leadership trait. What society doesn’t need, they tell us, is the same-again thinking if we are to make progress in the 2010s. The old top values of ‘operational excellence’ or ‘engineering big deals’ no longer come up top in this new decade.
   Or, as I heard from one gentleman yesterday, we can’t afford to have the sort of ‘experience’ certain people tout, for they do not have 25 years’ experience—they just have one year’s experience, over and over again, 25 times.
   You know I’m going to say it, so I might as well: this sounds like the sort of ‘experience’ some of my political opponents have had, day in, day out. Groundhog Day comes to mind.
   Indeed, the studies indicate that we have a far more complex world, and same-again thinking isn’t going to cut it.
   In the first study (emphasis in original):

Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs. Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realize their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate.

The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes. They are adopting new channels to engage and stay in tune with customers. By drawing more insight from the available data, successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number-one priority.

Later:

Facing a world becoming dramatically more complex, it is interesting that CEOs selected creativity as the most important leadership attribute. Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.

And:

Creative leaders consider previously unheard-of ways to drastically change the enterprise for the better, setting the stage for innovation that helps them engage more effectively with today’s customers, partners and employees.

The study also highlights an increase in globalization, especially in developing markets, leading to greater complexity. It also says the most successful leaders are prepared to change the business models under which they operate.
   In fact, the world we now live in demands that our leaders are globally aware, and see the need to compete in a global market-place.
   The implications for this city are that Wellington can no longer afford to see itself as merely the capital of New Zealand or the geographic centre. It is one of many cities that must compete for attention and resources at a global level—which means creating world-class centres of excellence for our industries. Creating such clusters can even help them stay domestically owned.
   The study indicates that the style of leadership is going to be, necessarily, internationalist—which means we can’t afford to have leaders who are monocultural, and fake multiculturalism. This, like any aspect of a brand, must be embodied for real. It doesn’t mean giving up what ‘being a New Zealander’ is; it does, however, mean that we have to be able to communicate with other nations and cultures, seeking advantages for ourselves.
   Innovation is a driver both in terms of internal processes and as a core competence—so leaders had better be prepared to do this. And being closer and more transparent with customers—or in the case of a city, citizens—is something practised by the most successful leaders, says the study. It reminds me of the topics in the first book I contributed to, Beyond Branding—where integrity and transparency were at the core.
   When it comes to the Generation Y study, the results were similar. This table summarizes the two quite well, and notes how the two groups differ:

   I don’t want to be giving the impression that the second study is less important, but realize that some of you are sorely tempted to see me wrap up this post.
   I will say, quickly, that the lessons are clear: the next generation expects leaders to be globally minded and sustainable.
   Chinese respondents in the second study, in fact, valued global thinking ahead of creativity. This perhaps highlights where the People’s Republic, above the other Chinese territories, is heading: looking outwardly first and delivering what customers in export markets want.
   As creativity is naturally a trait among Wellington businesses, it’s nice to know that many are already prepared for the challenges of the 2010s. And some of our most successful names would not have got to where they are without global thinking, even if some have been acquired by overseas companies: 42 Below, Weta, and Silverstripe come to mind.
   However, I can’t see these traits being reflected in politics—and that’s something I hope we can change in the local body elections, for starters.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Saab promises new generation of cars will have original DNA

26.02.2010

Rumour has it that the new Saab—a small car (finally)—will resemble the ur-Saab, the 92. In fact, inside Saab, it has the codename 92.
   Where have I heard this one before? I know. Stefan Engeseth’s Detective Marketing, 2001 edition. And from what I understand, since in 1999 I could not read much Swedish, it featured in the original Swedish edition, too.
   While I am no fan of retro design, a modern one that has strong inspiration from Saab’s roots could go down well with the market—especially if the new 9-1 model had some advanced, non-fossil-fuel powertrains.
   A car tied to Saab’s roots as an airplane manufacturer could reinvigorate passion for the brand in the same way as the Jaguar mascot unveiling under John Egan in the 1980s. And new boss Victor Muller, CEO of Spyker, has wasted no time getting Saab loyalists excited about the brand again. He has not set his sights on brand-new customers: he wants the old Saab buyers back.
   While it might have Opel underpinnings, it at least gets Saab into the European premium compact car game, one which GM denied it, probably due to overlap with its mainstream brands. It was an opportunity missed as BMW, Audi and others broke in to the compact and supermini game.
   I know at least one Swede who finds Muller’s promises exciting, and I sincerely hope to be proven wrong when I expressed doubts about bringing a 40,000-sales-per-year company back from the brink. Below is the announcement of Spyker finalizing its purchase (via Detective Marketing).

   When he talks about ‘DNA’, Muller really means brand: it will rediscover and redefine that brand and its entrepreneurial spirit, using it to fuel the corporate culture, and having that drive product quality, R&D and other functions. If he succeeds in reaching his 100,000-per-year goal, then we can say that brand loyalty was a huge driver.
   His first announcement alone has been praised, Saab’s 100-day plan gives distributors and loyalists some certainty, and the folks in this video actually look enthused—already this is not like a tired, Rover-style attempt at getting the company back on its feet, even if the annual sales’ figures are far worse than what the English company had prior to its collapse.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, design, leadership, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »


Toyota’s troubles stem from forgetting its principles

06.02.2010

I was surprised to learn that Toyota still has not issued a worldwide recall of its troublesome Prius NHW30 model, even though one had gone out in New Zealand.
   In layman’s terms, the brakes allegedly don’t work when you want them to. In more complex terms, the software has trouble distinguishing between different types of braking, and drivers may experience a delay in ‘pedal feel’.
   I was always a bit sceptical about the recalls over the unintended acceleration, given that the last time I heard those words, they were in relation to a falsified report from CBS’s 60 Minutes, a show known to me for making up stories (Killian memoranda, anyone?). Hearing them again, I thought it was just another excuse for the clumsy driving of a few individuals who couldn’t figure out where the accelerator was (which was what happened with Audi in the US). But it seems this matter has been around for a long time, and recalls were being done even last year.
   But the Prius matter, something that has not come under a global recall, appears more serious than carpets getting in the way, which is the problem behind the unintended acceleration complaints. AFP reports:

The Transport Ministry has received some 80 complaints in February about malfunctions in the brake system of the latest model of the flagship Prius, the Tokyo Shimbun reported without quoting sources.
   Five of them were actual crashes in which the drivers claimed the brakes did not work properly, the daily said, adding that the ministry would urge the company to launch an investigation.
   It was not possible to immediately confirm the report.

   Already Toyota has been berated by top management for going too far from its core principles by its honorary chairman, Shoichiro Toyoda. The company had been trying to sell big cars in China during the financial crisis, and spent a good part of the 2000s developing large pick-up trucks for the US market. Bloomberg reported last June that a meeting was called:

Shoichiro scolded the president [Katsuaki Watanabe] for being so anxious to boost sales and profits that he’d let Toyota emulate now bankrupt General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Toyota had become addicted to big, expensive cars and trucks and had forgotten the customers’ need to save money, Shoichiro said, according to the person’s account.

   In other words, Toyota’s culture has been suffering, and we all know what happens when sales’ volume and profit are pursued at the expense of quality or engineering. (Ask Mercedes-Benz.)
   Toyota may be an example where too many niches were created, simply to get consumers in the showrooms—and now that’s coming to bite it on the rear end. Having too many niches has one immediate drawback: consumers no longer understand the structure of the range. Is the small car the iQ, Ist, Vitz, Porte, Belta or Passo? Do I move from that to a Corolla, Auris, Blade, Corolla Rumion, Probox, Raum, RAV4 or wotsis?
   The mistakes are understandable in some ways. Toyota had to create more new models as attention spans shortened. While a car might be able to be presented as “new” for two years in the Japanese market 10 years ago, consumers expect something else within half a year. To fund this appetite, the company looked for ways to maximize profits in every market—with the US one fuelled by bigger and bigger vehicles. It had to take costs out of cars, especially with electronics (by combining as many functions on to one system as possible) and architecture—and it may be these areas where the Prius suffered.
   But no company can really afford to pursue too many niches—Mazda overextended itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as did Nissan in the early 1990s—when times are tough. Toyota should have forecast a downturn, as many business experts did. The question that the company needs to ask itself is: what made it so blind in the 2000s?
   Even ignoring the idea of unintended acceleration for now, Toyota ends the lunar year on a low. It will always have its diehard followers—there are many models not affected by these issues—but the company must refocus its brand for the New Year toward its traditional principles. There is every sign the company knows that, with Akio Toyoda, the founder’s grandson, now at the helm, and doing spot checks down on the production floor. (I’d rather Toyota have someone like that than a “celebrity CEO” who gives good press. The era of the celebrity boss is over for now.) It is simply a pity that the company did not get on to its mounting problems—there are claims that unintended acceleration reports began surfacing with Toyota’s Lexus ES model as early as 2004—sooner.
   Few buy a Toyota because the cars make one’s heart beat faster. They are a default choice for many people who want the simplest conveyance from A to B. Akio’s job has been reminding his own team of that, and reinstituting the ‘Toyota Way’ and kaizen, terms that many of us who went to business school during a certain era recall.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, technology, USA | 4 Comments »