On Leadership

I love to read about innovation, but there aren’t a lot of books specifically about innovation, so I also read about management theories and best practices. Any book on management and most books on innovation will inevitably talk about leadership. As good management doesn’t really mean leadership. However, bad management always mean bad leadership or a lack of leadership.

A few things stick out in my mind when I think about leadership. The first is a clear vision. Where a vision directs the team on where the organization is going and what it is trying to be. This vision is something that the members of that organization can look to whenever there are questions of right/wrong or priorities. It allows people to move beyond the typical office politics, because those never help with achieving the vision.

The second is clear transparent communication. In some cases this is communicating the vision, but in more important cases this is communicating how and why things are going side ways. For example, when I was working at AMD, there was clear communication about our current financial positioning requiring lay-offs to “right size” the business. Now, the execution of those lay-offs and the fact that there were more than one, wasn’t exactly the best leadership. However, the executive team took ownership of the bad situation and ensured the entire team knew what was happening. Furthermore, the executive team was able to point to a vision of what AMD was and use that to rally the team around. In fact, later that year I used the organization’s vision to lead a number of strategic planning meetings to shift where people were focusing work.

The third item that great leaders drive is a culture and taking ownership of their organizations culture. In Ben Horowitz’s book, Who are What You Do¬†he discusses how a manager’s promotion decisions can impact the culture of the organization. In the book, he specifically talks about a sales executive that, apparently, had a habit of telling lies. Some of them small, but some of them were told to his managers and customers. This resulted in unhappy customers. Unfortunately, this sales exec was promoted, which then lead to an understanding to that lying is acceptable for people to get ahead.

In organizations that have poor leadership, typically the three above items are all missing. The members of the organization will fill the lack of communication with their imaginations and spend a great deal of time discussing what could or is going to happen.This leads to disgruntlement within the organization and loss of productivity. It will lead to your best people leaving.

One of the people in the agile community I’m apart of on Linked In would say that this is a dysfunctional organization. In those cases you have two options, either figure out a way to fix the organization from the inside or leave. In the case of AMD and me, I ultimately left, but partially was for personal reasons and partially because the organization wasn’t in the best of shape after the lay-offs. I’m really happy that AMD has righted its ship and is doing much better now.

I think that every person of an organization should reflect on how their management team is behaving. Do they have a vision? Are they following that vision and actively trying to meet it? Are they forthright with their communication? Do they obfuscate when they communicate and allow employees to fester and stew about things? Do they promote a culture that you believe is a healthy culture that you are proud to work in? Do you have a good group of people you work with in spite of the culture the management has put in place? Finally, do you think that you have the ability to address the dysfunction in the organization if you think that you do, in fact, have bad leaders?

Do you work in an organization with bad leaders? What are you planning on doing?

Strategy and Business Management

As I mentioned in my Business and Silver Bullets article, there are a lot of different approaches to managing your business, or at least a portion of your business. None of these approaches are easy to implement and it seems that there’s a bit of a revolving door around what leadership approach is the best for a given business. Furthermore, it’s troubling to me that organizations are looking at initiatives like Lean and Six Sigma as only operational improvement opportunities. As I’m reading through how Business Architecture works, it’s obvious to me that many of the organizational deployments of LSS have failed in reaching their full potential. I saw it at Samsung, AMD, and I’m skeptical of the full reach I’m going to have at Regence. It’s not a failure of the individuals deploying it or of a given leader, it’s a failure of the full organization to accept that changes need to happen. Organizations need to integrate approaches like LSS into their core strategic planning process. Otherwise those methodologies will only impact a limited area and won’t appear to have a holistic approach to making changes to an organization.

From my experiences Lean and Six Sigma methodologies can indicate the need for organizational re-alignment. These require real change with serious effort to implement those changes. In many cases those are outside the scope of the project facilitator, the leader of the process improvement center of excellence, and likely the owner of the processes. It’s got to come from an executive sponsor. They have to be able to provide the organizational courage to make real changes to an organization. Through these tools it’s possible to identify redundancies and areas where organizations require massive change.

Why don’t organization implement these changes? Too many priorities is likely one problem. Another is that these changes are hard and unless they are well versed in Lean or organizational structures, they won’t understand why the changes are fundamental to continued success of an organization. They may not understand the changes because they weren’t involved in the redesign process intimately enough. Finally, it might also be that these changes are bottoms up recommendations and not top down.

I believe this is why Business Architecture eventually was a created as a discipline. I believe in organizations that are truly Lean that these types of roles are not needed. Simply because the bottoms up approach allows the leaders to focus on different things especially since a true Lean organization is always customer centric. In organizations that there is a great deal of legacy behavior and entrenched management fiefdoms, it might be a requirement to go through an organization like Business Architecture to give the true sense of ownership to the leaders. It makes the bottoms up recommendations that come from the BA team seem like it’s a top down approach that is sanctioned by all of leadership. It let’s people see that clearer tie between the different organizations in a way that a lot of Lean work doesn’t. It’s designed to be holistic not something grown into the whole over time.

This leads to a different method for developing strategy than what a lot of Lean practitioners utilize. Business Architecture focuses on the current capabilities and works to align the strategy from there. Lean starts with the 5 year vision and goals and figures out how to align existing projects and improvement efforts to enact those goal, through providing a metric for the person doing the work on the ground.

I think that these business management approaches are both valid, I’m really biased towards Lean, but I do believe that in many organizations Business Architecture is likely required. It leaves the control a bit more in the leadership rather than the Lean approach. I believe they both can impact strategy in an effective manner, but it’s likely that BA will be more tightly coupled from the start than many Lean initiatives.