Getting personal about change

Posted in Aktuellt, Leadership / Ledarskap on August 23rd, 2019 by admin

The need to shift mind-sets is the biggest block to successful transformations. The key lies in making the shift both individual and institutional—at the same time.

A surefire way to shoot yourself in the foot when you’re leading a large-scale change effort is to ignore what’s on the minds of your employees. In research we conducted for our recently published book, Beyond Performance 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, July 2019), we found that executives at exactly zero companies that disregarded an analysis of employee mind-sets during a change program rated the transformation as “extremely successful.” Conversely, executives at companies that took the time and trouble to address mind-sets were four times more likely than those that didn’t to rate their change programs as at least “successful.”

Those numbers reflect the power of mind-set shifts. In human systems, they help to achieve the same effect as the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly or a tadpole into a frog: when employees become open to new ways of looking at what’s possible for them and their organization, they can never return to a state of not having that broader perspective, just as butterflies and frogs can’t revert to their previous physical forms. To achieve such a metamorphosis, leaders must first identify the limiting mind-sets, then reframe them appropriately, and finally make sure that employees don’t revert to earlier forms of behavior. In this article, we take readers through the process to shift mind-sets, with a particular emphasis on why the final stage is so important and so difficult.

Identify the root causes of behavior that helps or hinders
The story of the Manchester Shoe Company, told by Benjamin Zander in his book The Art of Possibility, neatly encapsulates the significance of a positive mind-set. In the early 1900s, inspired by a desire to enter a faraway market, two traveling salesmen were sent as a beachhead into the region. A few days later, two telegraphs came back independently. One said, “Situation horrible. They don’t wear shoes!” The other said, “Glorious opportunity; they don’t have any shoes yet!” Imagine what would have happened if the company had acted only on the first message.

Now consider Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad’s management fable of four monkeys sitting in a cage staring at a bunch of bananas accessible only by steps hanging from the roof. Whenever the monkeys try to climb the steps to reach the bananas, a blast of cold water blocks them. After a few days, realizing there’s no point in trying to get the “forbidden fruit,” they naturally give up. Some humans in the room then remove the water hose and, at the same time, replace one of the original monkeys with a new one. On seeing the bananas, it starts up the steps, but the other simians, being social creatures, pull it down before it gets blasted by water. The new monkey is startled, looks around, and tries repeatedly to scale the ladder, only to be repeatedly pulled back. Finally, the new monkey accepts the group code of conduct and doesn’t bother to go for the bananas.
Over the next few weeks, the onlookers remove the rest of the original monkeys, one at a time, and replace them with new monkeys that have never seen the water. By the end of the experiment, with perfectly ripe bananas sitting on the platform above, and monkeys that have never seen a jet of water, none of the animals tries to climb the steps. They’ve all learned the unwritten rule: “you don’t grab the bananas around here.”

Hamel and Prahalad created this story not to represent any actual findings from the field of primatology but instead as a potent and memorable way to demonstrate a wider truth about organizational life—namely, that mind-sets ingrained by past management practices remain ingrained far beyond the existence of the practices that formed them, even when new management practices have been put in place.

Here are three business examples that underscore the perils of ignoring this lesson. Example one: a bank that identified how its high performers succeeded in crossselling decided to roll out a change program with support scripts and good profiling questions for the other bankers to use—and was dismayed to find that these moves had a negligible impact on sales. A second example: a telco introduced a dramatically simplified process and rating system for performance reviews only to find that its leaders still avoided delivering tough messages. Finally: a manufacturer invested hundreds of millions in a knowledge-management technology platform meant to discourage hoarding and encourage collaboration—only to declare, several months later, that the system had been a complete failure.

In all these examples, the companies did a good job of recognizing the behavioral change needed to achieve the desired goals. Yet they didn’t take the time, or use the tools available, to understand why smart, hard-working, and well-intentioned employees continued to behave as before (see sidebar, “Uncovering unconscious mind-sets”).
At the bank, for instance, two seemingly good but ultimately performance-limiting mind- sets accounted for the failure of the new sales-stimulation tools and training. The first was “my job is to give the customers what they want”; the second, “I should follow the Golden Rule and treat my customers as I would like to be treated.” At the telco, employees had a deep-seated, reasonable-sounding belief that “criticism damages relationships.” At the manufacturing company, people had an underlying conviction that “around here, information is power, and good leaders are powerful leaders.”

Uncovering unconscious mind-sets

The primary tool for uncovering subconscious mind-sets is an interview technique known as “laddering,” grounded in the theory of personal change set out by Dennis Hinkle in 1965. The ladder employs techniques such as role playing, posing hypothetical questions, provoking participants, prompting storytelling, and drawing linkages between current and previous statements. These efforts prompt people to reflect on their deepest motives and eventually lead them to state the values and assumptions they use to construct their personal world.

Although the laddering technique is powerful, its limitation is that it’s hard to scale in large, diverse organizations. A complementary technique, which provides for gathering a broader and deeper fact base about what’s going on beneath the surface, uses focus groups and visual cues. This approach involves putting a hundred or so pictures on a table and asking participants to choose the images that best represent their feelings on a given topic—for example: “What most energizes or frustrates you about the organization?”

“What is your greatest hope for the organization?” “Which image represents what it’s like selling to customers?” “Which image represents how it feels to be in a performance review?” “Which image represents how collaboration and knowledge sharing work around here?” Pictures trigger a more honest, emotive, and visceral conversation than stock questions that start with “Tell me about . . .”

The third tool for more broadly understanding organizational mind-sets comes from the social-science methodology known as qualitative data analysis (QDA). This technique mines rich sources of textual data (such as reports, websites, advertisements, internal communications, and press coverage). It then uses linguistic techniques (narrative, framework, and discourse analysis) to identify recurring themes and search for causality. One basic and straightforward QDA method that many people are familiar with is the use of word clouds.

The upshot? By looking at—and acting on—only observable behavior, company leaders overlooked its underlying root causes. Consequently, the change efforts of all three organizations led to disappointment.

Reframe the root causes
Once the root-cause mind-sets are identified, the next step is to reframe those beliefs and thereby expand the range of reasonable behavioral choices employees make, day in and day out. That creates the caterpillar-to-butterfly effect described earlier. Would different beliefs, for example, have inspired expanded and better-informed behavioral choices for average-performing bankers? If so, which beliefs? Suppose they believed that their job—indeed, the way they add value for others—was to “help customers fully understand their needs” rather than “giving customers what they want.” Also, what if instead of applying the “Golden Rule,” bankers applied the “Platinum Rule”: treating others as they (rather than bankers) want to be treated.
And what if the telco executives, in their performance-management discussions, had believed that “honesty—combined with respect—doesn’t damage relationships; in fact, it is essential to building strong ones”? And what if the manufacturing managers had thought that “sharing information rather than hoarding is the best way to magnify power”? Had they believed that, the company very likely wouldn’t have needed an expensive (and ultimately futile) knowledge-management system to help employees reach out to one another and share best practices.
Beneath each of the reframes described above, it’s important to note, lies a deeper shift in worldview. For example, moving from the giving-customers-what-they-want mind-set to helping them fully understand what they really need reflects a move from subordinate to peer. Recognizing that honesty builds rather than destroys relation- ships reflects a shift from victimhood to mastery. And choosing to believe that power is expanded by sharing information, not that hoarding information is power, focuses on abundance, not scarcity.
The best examples of naming and reframing are not only profound (using practical, relatable terms that reflect these deeper changes in worldview) but also insightful (raising the subconscious to consciousness in ways that expand possibility), memorable (so issues can easily be raised and discussed in day-to-day work), and meaningful (specific to the organization and evoking a “that’s so us!” response).

In this way, a retailer found it vital to shift from “listening and responding” (a reactive mind-set) to “anticipating and shaping” (a proactive one), and an engineering company
that wanted to improve the way it captured external ideas found that it was consis- tently overoptimistic about results and underestimated its competitors. This company came to realize that these shortcomings were driven by a “winning means being peerless” (expert) mind-set, which led to increasingly insular behavior. Changing to the learner mind-set—“winning means learning more and faster than others”— prompted employees to look for best practices in competitors and beyond.

Human-health analogies reinforce the message of business examples. Consider the predicament of people with heart disease. Years of research have shown that most cardiac patients live considerably longer if they cut out smoking and drinking, eat less fat, reduce their stress levels, and exercise regularly. Indeed, many patients make a real effort to do so. Yet study after study has shown that 90 percent of people who have undergone surgery for heart disease revert to unhealthy behavior within two years.

Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, decided to reframe the underlying mind-set beneath the patients’ narratives. He wanted to change it from “If I behave this way, I won’t die” (fear driven) to “If I behave this way, my life will be filled with joy” (hope driven). In his words, “Telling people who are lonely and depressed that they’re going to live longer if they quit smoking or change their diet and lifestyle is not that motivating. Who wants to live longer when you’re in chronic emotional pain?” How much better would they feel, he thought, if they could enjoy the pleasures of daily life without suffering any pain or discomfort? In his experiment, 77 percent of his patients managed to make permanent changes in their lifestyles, compared with a normal success rate of 10 percent. Make the change personal Reframing the root causes of mind-sets that block change is a critical step in the right direction and can sometimes create the desired shift in behavior on its own. At the aforementioned bank, for example, once employees were exposed to the Platinum Rule, they could immediately see how much more productive following it would be. They simply had never previously thought about the impact on customers of the way bankers had been relating to them.

More often than not, however, employees struggle to change their behavior for reasons that are more emotional than intellectual. The single biggest barrier to rapid personal change, after all, is our propensity as leaders to say, “Yes, that’s the problem and the shift we need. If only others would change how they think and behave, we would make more progress.”
At one company we know, for example, leaders were asked to estimate how much time they spent tiptoeing around other people’s egos: making others feel that “my idea is yours,” for instance, or taking care not to tread on someone else’s turf. Most said 20 to 30 percent. Then they were asked how much time they spent tiptoeing around their own egos. Most were silent. Psychology explains this dynamic as a very predictable, and very human, “self-serving bias.” It involves viewing our own actions favorably and interpreting events in a way beneficial to ourselves. This explains why 25 percent of students rate themselves in the top 1 percent in their ability to get along with others. It’s why, when couples are asked to estimate their contribution to household work, the combined total routinely exceeds 100 percent.

In many behavior-related areas, we human beings consistently overestimate how much we are part of the solution, not the problem, and role modeling change is one of these areas. On average, when leaders are asked if they “role model desired behavior changes,” a full 86 percent report that they do. When the same question is put to people who report to these leaders, it receives only a 53 percent average positive response.
How best, then, to overcome this bias and help leaders and employees commit to changing themselves? Our own journey has led us to the deep conviction that offsite,
5 workshop-based learning journeys of small groups of 20 to 30 employees are the most powerful intervention. These are typically centered on in-person working sessions, over two days, led by facilitators experienced in the principles of adult learning and knowledgeable in techniques developed in the field of human potential. The workshop methodology is grounded in the “U-process”—a social technology developed during a ten-year partnership between Generon International, Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Society for Organizational Learning.

The U-process has three phases:
• Sensing. This typically involves a senior leader who has already been through the workshop and shares the company’s change story, describes her or his own personal change journey, and answers questions from participants.
• Presencing. This involves participants exploring their personal “iceberg” of behavior. It includes working through modular, discussion-based content and questions that equip leaders to achieve new levels of self-awareness and self-control. “Where and why do I act out of fear rather than hope? Scarcity rather than abundance? Victimhood rather than mastery? And what would be the result if I made different choices?”
• Realizing. In this phase, participants make explicit, public choices about personal mind-sets and behavioral shifts; identify “sustaining practices” that will help them act on their insights; and reflect on how they will engage their personal networks for the challenges and support they will need during the rest of their personal change journey.
Following these workshops, small groups typically convene to offer peer accountability and advice. After a number of weeks, there is a further facilitated session to take stock of changes in behavior.

We acknowledge that this approach will sound unduly “soft” to some. But we’ve seen it have a transformational impact on everyone from Dutch engineers to American invest- ment bankers to Middle Eastern government officials to employees of South Korean conglomerates. While some organizations put all their employees through such a workshop, they can achieve most of the impact through a critical mass of people leaders, which the field of epidemiology has shown to be, typically, 25 to 30 percent of the total. In these cases, all leaders eventually shed the “if only they would change” mentality and replace it with a profound sense of “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
Not every successful change program we have seen uses these techniques, but in our experience every change program that used them (in the context of other recommended interventions) has been successful, and in time frames far faster than most leaders had expected. The effect can be particularly positive when organizations grapple with how to thaw what’s often referred to as “the frozen middle”—a changeresistant layer of middle managers.

Reshape the work environment
Victor Frankl was an Auschwitz survivor whose seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning,has long challenged and inspired readers across academic and professional disciplines. He summed up, in a compelling way, the full picture of what it takes to achieve caterpillar-to-butterfly-like personal change when he wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” We find it helpful to use a shorthand version of Frankl’s idea: S (stimulus) + T (how you choose to think about the stimulus) = R (response).
The S in this equation is vital for the aforementioned work on the T to fully take hold: after all, as the story of the monkeys illustrates, the work environment is a particularly powerful shaper of employee mind-sets and behavior, albeit a relatively slow-acting one. Nonetheless, if employees come out of workshops committed to change but find themselves back in the very same work environment that had ingrained their original mind-sets, it’s far less likely that the new mind-sets will become truly personal— or permanent.

By way of analogy, imagine that you go to the opera on Saturday and to a sporting event on Sunday. At the climax of the opera, the very best part, you sit silent and rapt in concentration. You and the rest of the audience then offer a genteel clap. At the climax of the sporting event, also the very best part, you leap to your feet, yelling and waving and jumping up and down. You haven’t changed; you are the same person with the same feelings, values, and needs. But your context has changed, and so has your mind-set about the behavior that is appropriate for expressing appreciation and enjoyment—and therefore the behavior you choose to exhibit and the practices you choose to participate in.

When it comes to changing the stimulus (the S)—the work environment—employees are exposed to, we find that the four levers in McKinsey’s “influence model” offer the most practical and proven guide (exhibit).1 Our research and experience demonstrate that changes in thinking and behaving will be significant and sustained if leaders and employees see clear communications and rituals (the understanding and conviction lever); if supporting incentives, structures, processes, and systems are in place (the formal-mechanisms lever); if training and development opportunities are combined with sound talent decisions (the confidence and skills lever); and if senior leaders and influence leaders allow others to take their cues from the leaders’ own behavior (the role-modeling lever).

Many leaders wonder which of the four levers is the most important. Evidence shows that they all matter, with minor statistical variations in degree, and that people do not have to experience them in any particular order—the key is to ensure that all of them are experienced consistently. Communicating to employees that you want them to adopt sports-stadium mind-sets, practices, and behavior is no use if your evaluation systems, and the leadership moves that employees see, are those of the opera house. If you want people to think like sports fans, you must create a stadium environment that encourages and enables them to think and act differently.

We’ve discussed the importance and value of both the stimulus (the S) and the thinking (the T) separately, but in reality they are profoundly linked. One person’s mind-sets (the T) drive that person’s behavior (the R), which becomes the role modeling part of the S for those who interact with this person—a testament to the importance of starting changes in the T at the top.
It’s no accident that we’ve used a lot of stories in this article. Storytelling is powerful: it goes beyond facts and figures to stimulate and shape mind-sets. Thinking in terms of stories is also a helpful reminder that change is ultimately personal, as every story is open to individual interpretation and individual meaning. Along the same lines, if you want to lead change, you must take on both the contextual and personal dimensions. Mastering them is a challenge but also can be incredibly rewarding—not just for the organizations and people you’re trying to lead but also for you as a leader and, ultimately, as a person.

Source:, August 2019

Making a culture transformation stick with symbolic actions

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Executive Team / Ledningsgruppsarbete, Leadership / Ledarskap, Strategy implementation / Strategiimplementering on August 15th, 2019 by admin

Elephant in the room: making a culture transformation stick with symbolic actions

Leaders are familiar with the challenge of making a cultural transformation. To signal changing expectations, execute carefully considered symbolic actions.

Why did a leading global agriculture player order small rubber elephants adorned with the company’s logo for its meeting rooms? Far from being mere props, these elephants were symbols to facilitate desired behavior shifts in employees.

The organization was undergoing a cultural transformation to become a higher-performing, more innovative company. Leadership realized that to achieve this goal, employees needed to become more open and comfortable having the candid conversations required to move ideas forward—they needed to be able to put the elephant on the table. To encourage this change, leadership sought a way to signal the beginning of the transformation and role model the new behaviors.

Leaders across industries are familiar with the challenge of making—and sustaining—a cultural transformation. To signal that cultural expectations are changing, leadership should execute one or two carefully considered symbolic actions.

Make expectations clear through role modeling
“Beyond Performance 2.0” discusses the importance of senior leaders employing symbolic actions—highly visible acts or decisions that indicate change in the organization—to demonstrate their commitment to the transformation. Symbolic actions can augment critical, but often less visible, day-to-day behavior shifts among leaders, addressing a common frustration: “I’m doing things differently but no one is noticing.”

Our research shows that transformations are 5.3 times more likely to succeed when leaders model the behavior they want employees to adopt. We also found that nearly 50 percent of employees cite the CEO’s visible engagement and commitment to transformation as the most effective action for engaging frontline employees.

Symbolic actions are most successful when employees connect the dots between the act and the broader change message, facilitating both a mindset and behavioral shift. For example, employees at the agriculture company were initially confused when they discovered the rubber elephants. But their confusion subsided when they saw leaders pick them up and put them on the table as they raised difficult topics others might have felt uncomfortable surfacing. The practice was eventually adopted by other employees when they too needed to call out the elephant in the room.

Develop a portfolio of symbolic actions
Leaders can identify the right symbolic actions for their organization and evolve their approaches by undertaking three key activities:

1. Define the purpose of and audience for potential symbolic actions.
Leaders should identify what specific changes they want to facilitate and which group should be part of the symbolic action. Being clear on what is being symbolized and for what purpose will focus energy on the ideas that will have the greatest impact.

2. Brainstorm symbolic actions.
Go for quantity over quality when generating ideas. Use external examples for inspiration and adopt design-thinking tactics, such as empathy mapping, to better understand the audience. Categorizing the ideas according to design dimensions such as who will execute the action and the frequency of the action (one-time, periodic or ongoing) helps the group iterate.

3. Review and prioritize ideas.
Evaluate the list as a team and identify options that you feel will be the most effective, shifting the focus to quality over quantity. Prioritized actions should be consistent with broader transformation messaging and should be designed to appeal to the different sources of meaning that motivate and inspire employees, such as doing good for society, supporting their working team, or enabling personal gain.

The behavior change and the broader culture change transformation catalyzed by the elephant on the table ultimately paid off for the agriculture company. Its employees now have more open, candid conversations, enabling improved performance and health of the organization. The company climbed to the top decile of organizational health in McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index database—an achievement that our analysis indicates correlates with clear improvements in financial performance. For shareholders, there is nothing symbolic about those returns.

For more on leading successful large-scale change programs, see our book, “Beyond Performance 2.0.”

Source:, July 2019
Authors: By Jessica Cohen, Matt Schrimper and Emily Taylor

The negative impact of self-serving, controlling leaders

Posted in Aktuellt, Leadership / Ledarskap on August 13th, 2019 by admin

There are two distinct categories of leaders as perceived by employees, says business author and management consultant Scott Blanchard.

“Employees perceive either that they have a good manager who has their back and is someone they can trust, or that they have a self-oriented leader who sees direct reports as less important, potentially interchangeable parts.”

Blanchard explains that it is critical for managers to be perceived by their direct reports as positive leaders. Companies need to make sure they are not allowing or incentivizing managers to do things that are damaging to people’s engagement and performance in the workplace.

“People who perceive that their manager has their back have an overwhelmingly strong positive correlation toward performing at a high level,” says Blanchard. “That means going above and beyond the job description, staying with the organization, endorsing it as a good place to work, and being a good team member.”

“When we looked at the negative impact of leaders who use controlling behavior, we found that self-oriented leaders tend to be more controlling where others-oriented leaders are more facilitating and enabling.”

Blanchard points to research conducted by Dr. Drea Zigarmi and Dr. Taylor Peyton Roberts, who looked at different motivation techniques used by athletic coaches.

“Zigarmi and Roberts found that controlling behavior is most often demonstrated in four different areas. One is a controlling use of rewards. In the study with athletes, this manifested as: My coach tries to motivate me by promising to reward me if I do well; My coach only rewards me to make me train harder; and My coach only uses rewards and praise so I can stay focused on the tasks during training.”

Even though this research was done in a sports coaching environment, Blanchard says it’s not hard to understand how it relates to a workplace environment.

“Another controlling tactic is negative conditional regard, which is: My coach is less friendly with me if I don’t make the effort to see things their way; and My coach is less supportive of me when I’m not training and competing well.”

Intimidation is a third dimension, says Blanchard: “My coach shouts at me in front of others; My coach threatens to punish me; My coach intimidates me into doing things he or she wants me to do; and My coach embarrasses me when I don’t do things that they want.”

The final controlling approach is excessive personal control: “My coach expects my whole life to center around my work; My coach tries to control what I do during my free time; and My coach tries to interfere with the aspects of my life outside of my work.”

Blanchard says that when managers and coaches use controlling behaviors, they crush the positive intentions people would naturally bring to their work or sport. These behaviors also have a negative effect on a direct report’s sense of self accountability, says Blanchard. This is described in academic circles as locus of control.

“A locus of control is the extent to which a person believes they have control over their own outcomes. Here’s the idea: if I have an internal locus of control, I believe that through my efforts, my thoughts, and my determination, I can achieve success in getting the kind of outcomes I’m looking for at work. An external locus of control is where I believe outcomes are determined not by internal forces such as my own grit and determination but by the external environment.”

Encouraging and cultivating a person’s belief in their internal ability to positively influence their environment is important, says Blanchard. He points to research done by hiring consultants at Hireology, which shows that a candidate with an internal locus of control has a 40% greater likelihood of success in a new role.

Blanchard explains that people who work for a manager who is self-oriented and controlling will actually begin to doubt or set aside their belief in their ability to achieve successful outcomes.

“If people experience overly controlling management, they have two choices: they can perform because they have to, which is called controlled regulation; or they can just do the minimum to get by—that’s called amotivation.

“Others-oriented managers support personal industriousness and reinforce a sense of personal accountability. When you engage in positive behaviors, you reinforce the notion of internal locus of control where you take responsibility for your own results. This leads to autonomous regulation—a high quality of motivation—where you perceive you’re doing something deeply connected to who you are and what’s important to you.

“Work becomes more motivating when it aligns with who you are. The old adage is true: ‘If you find a job that you’re really passionate about, you never have to work another day in your life.’ Your work just feels like something that’s natural.”

Others-oriented managers help instill that kind of meaning and accountability in their people, says Blanchard. “It’s about working side by side with people in a way that lets them grow into their autonomy. Managers who overtly control people squash or kill that initiative, which causes their direct reports to be less loyal, accountable, and motivated.

“If you want to have robotic employees who only do what they’re told to do and what they’re rewarded to do, then keep putting controlling managers in front of them. But if you want people who take ownership of their jobs, produce better results, and are eager to stay with the company, you have to hire and prepare managers to be others-oriented.”

Source: Kenblanchard.dom, August 2019

How leaders kill meaning at work

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on July 8th, 2019 by admin

Senior executives routinely undermine creativity, productivity, and commitment by damaging the inner work lives of their employees in four avoidable ways.

As a senior executive, you may think you know what Job Number 1 is: developing a killer strategy. In fact, this is only Job 1a. You have a second, equally important task. Call it Job 1b: enabling the ongoing engagement and everyday progress of the people in the trenches of your organization who strive to execute that strategy. A multiyear research project whose results we described in our recent book, The Progress Principle, found that of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.

Even incremental steps forward—small wins—boost what we call “inner work life”: the constant flow of emotions, motivations, and perceptions that constitute a person’s reactions to the events of the work day. Beyond affecting the well-being of employees, inner work life affects the bottom line. People are more creative, productive, committed, and collegial in their jobs when they have positive inner work lives. But it’s not just any sort of progress in work that matters. The first, and fundamental, requirement is that the work be meaningful to the people doing it.

In our book and a recent Harvard Business Review article, we argue that managers at all levels routinely—and unwittingly—undermine the meaningfulness of work for their direct subordinates through everyday words and actions. These include dismissing the importance of subordinates’ work or ideas, destroying a sense of ownership by switching people off project teams before work is finalized, shifting goals so frequently that people despair that their work will ever see the light of day, and neglecting to keep subordinates up to date on changing priorities for customers.

But what about a company’s most senior leaders? What is their role in making—or killing—meaning at work? To be sure, as a high-level leader, you have fewer opportunities to directly affect the inner work lives of employees than do frontline supervisors. Yet your smallest actions pack a wallop because what you say and do is intensely observed by people down the line. A sense of purpose in the work, and consistent action to reinforce it, has to come from the top.

Four traps

To better understand the role of upper-level managers, we recently dug back into our data: nearly 12,000 daily electronic diaries from dozens of professionals working on important innovation projects at seven North American companies. We selected those entries in which diarists mentioned upper- or top-level managers—868 narratives in all.

Qualitative analysis of the narratives highlighted four traps that lie in wait for senior executives. Most of these pitfalls showed up in several companies. Six of the seven suffered from one or more of the traps, and in only a single company did leaders avoid them. The existence of this outlier suggests that it is possible for senior executives to sustain meaning consistently, but that’s difficult and requires vigilance.

This article should help you determine whether you risk falling into some of these traps yourself—and unknowingly dragging your organization into the abyss with you. We also offer a few thoughts on avoiding the problems, advice inspired by the actions and words of a senior leader at the one company that did so.

We don’t claim to have all the answers. But we are convinced that executives who sidestep these traps reduce their risk of inadvertently draining meaning from the work of the people in their organizations. Those leaders also will boost the odds of tapping into the motivational power of progress—something surprisingly few do.

We surveyed 669 managers at all levels of management, from dozens of companies and various industries around the world. We asked them to rank the importance of five employee motivators: incentives, recognition, clear goals, interpersonal support, and progress in the work. Only 8 percent of senior executives ranked progress as the most important motivator. Had they chosen randomly, 20 percent would have done so. In short, our survey showed that most executives don’t understand the power of progress in meaningful work.4 And the traps revealed by the diaries suggest that most executives don’t act as though progress matters. You can do better.

Trap 1: Mediocrity signals

Most likely, your company aspires to greatness, articulating a high purpose for the organization in its corporate mission statement. But are you inadvertently signaling the opposite through your words and actions?

We saw this dynamic repeatedly at a well-known consumer products company we’ll call Karpenter Corporation, which was experiencing a rapid deterioration in the inner work lives of its employees as a result of the actions of a new top-management team. Within three years of our studying Karpenter, it had become unprofitable and was acquired by a smaller rival.

Karpenter’s top-management team espoused a vision of entrepreneurial cross-functional business teams. In theory, each team would operate autonomously, managing its share of the company’s resources to back its own new-product innovations. During the year we collected data from Karpenter teams, the annual report was full of references to the company’s innovation focus; in the first five sentences, “innovation” appeared three times.

In practice, however, those top managers were so focused on cost savings that they repeatedly negated the teams’ autonomy, dictated cost reduction goals that had to be met before any other priorities were, and—as a result—drove new-product innovation into the ground. This unintended, de facto hypocrisy took its toll, as a diary excerpt from a longtime Karpenter product engineer emphasizes:

Today I found out that our team will be concentrating on [cost savings] for the next several months instead of any new products. . . . It is getting very difficult to concentrate on removing pennies from the standard cost of an item. That is the only place that we have control over. Most of the time, quality suffers. It seems that our competition is putting out new products at a faster rate. . . . We are no longer the leader in innovation. We are the followers.

This employee’s work had begun to lose its meaning, and he wasn’t alone. Many of the other 65 Karpenter professionals in our study felt that they were doing mediocre work for a mediocre company—one for which they had previously felt fierce pride. By the end of our time collecting data at Karpenter, many of these employees were completely disengaged. Some of the very best had left.

The mediocrity trap was not unique to Karpenter. We saw it revealed in different guises in several of the companies we studied. At a chemicals firm, it stemmed from the top managers’ risk aversion. Consider these words from one researcher there:

A proposal for liquid/medical filtration using our new technology was tabled for the second time by the Gate 1 committee (five directors that screen new ideas). Although we had plenty of info for this stage of the game, the committee is uncomfortable with the risk and liability. The team, and myself, are frustrated about hurdles that we don’t know how to answer.

This company’s leaders also inadvertently signaled that, despite their rhetoric about being innovative and cutting edge, they were really more comfortable being ordinary.

Trap 2: Strategic ‘attention deficit disorder’

As an experienced leader, you probably scan your company’s external environment constantly for guidance in making your next strategic moves. What are competitors planning? Where are new ones popping up? What’s happening in the global economy, and what might the implications be for financing or future market priorities? You are probably brimming with ideas on where you’d like to take the company next. All of that is good, in theory.

In practice, we see too many top managers start and abandon initiatives so frequently that they appear to display a kind of attention deficit disorder (ADD) when it comes to strategy and tactics. They don’t allow sufficient time to discover whether initiatives are working, and they communicate insufficient rationales to their employees when they make strategic shifts.

Karpenter’s strategic ADD seemed to stem from its leaders’ short attention span, perhaps fueled by the CEO’s desire to embrace the latest management trends. The problem was evident in decisions at the level of product lines and extended all the way up to corporate strategy. If you blinked, you could miss the next strategic shift. In one employee’s words:

A quarterly product review was held with members of the [top team] and the general manager and president. Primary outcome from the meeting was a change in direction away from spray jet mops to revitalization of existing window squeegees. Four priorities were defined for product development, none of which were identified as priorities at our last quarterly update. The needle still points north, but we’ve turned the compass again.

At another company we studied, strategic ADD appeared to stem from a top team warring with itself. Corporate executives spent many months trying to nail down a new market strategy. Meanwhile, different vice presidents were pushing in different directions, rendering each of the leaders incapable of giving consistent direction to their people. This wreaked havoc in the trenches. One diarist, a project manager, felt that rather than committing herself to doing something great for particular customers, she needed to hedge her bets:

The VP gave us his opinion of which target candidates [for new products] may fit with overall company strategy—but, in reality, neither he nor anyone in our management structure knows what the strategy is. It makes this project a real balancing act—we need to go forward, but need to weigh commitments very carefully.

If high-level leaders don’t appear to have their act together on exactly where the organization should be heading, it’s awfully difficult for the troops to maintain a strong sense of purpose.

Trap 3: Corporate Keystone Kops

In the early decades of cinema, a popular series of silent-film comedies featured the Keystone Kops—fictional policemen so incompetent that they ran around in circles, mistakenly bashed each other on the head, and fumbled one case after another. The title of that series became synonymous with miscoordination. Our research found that many executives who think everything is going smoothly in the everyday workings of their organizations are blithely unaware that they preside over their own corporate version of the Keystone Kops. Some contribute to the farce through their actions, others by failing to act. At Karpenter, for example, top managers set up overly complex matrix reporting structures, repeatedly failed to hold support functions (such as purchasing and sales) accountable for coordinated action, and displayed a chronic indecisiveness that bred rushed analyses. In the words of one diarist:

Last-minute changes continue on [an important customer’s] assortments. Rather than think through the whole process and logically decide which assortments we want to show [the customer], we are instead using a shotgun approach of trying multiple assortments until we find one that works. In the meantime, we are expending a lot of time and effort on potential assortments only to find out later that an assortment has been dropped.

Although Karpenter’s example was egregious, the company was far from alone in creating chaotic situations for its workers. In one high-tech company we studied, for example, Keystone Kop–like scenarios played out around the actions of a rogue marketing function. As described in one engineer’s diary, the attempts of many teams to move forward with their projects were continually thwarted by signals from marketing that conflicted with those coming from R&D and other key functions. Marketers even failed to show up for many key meetings:

At a meeting with Pierce, Clay, and Joseph, I was told that someone from marketing would be attending our team meetings (finally). The meeting also gave me a chance to demonstrate to Joseph that we were getting mixed signals from marketing.

When coordination and support are absent within an organization, people stop believing that they can produce something of high quality. This makes it extremely difficult to maintain a sense of purpose.

Trap 4: Misbegotten ‘big, hairy, audacious goals’

Management gurus Jim Collins and Jerry Porras encourage organizations to develop a “big, hairy, audacious goal” (BHAG, pronounced bee-hag)—a bold strategic vision statement that has powerful emotional appeal.5 BHAGs help infuse work with meaning by articulating the goals of the organization in a way that connects emotionally with peoples’ values. (Think of Google’s stated mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”)

At some companies, however, such statements are grandiose, containing little relevance or meaning for people in the trenches. They can be so extreme as to seem unattainable and so vague as to seem empty. The result is a meaning vacuum. Cynicism rises and drive plummets. Although we saw this trap clearly in only one of the seven companies we studied, we think it is sufficiently seductive and dangerous to warrant consideration.

That company, a chemicals firm, set a BHAG that all projects had to be innovative blockbusters that would yield a minimum of $100 million in revenue annually, within five years of a project’s initiation. This goal did not infuse the work with meaning, because it had little to do with the day-to-day activities of people in the organization. It did not articulate milestones toward the goal; it did not provide for a range of experiments and outcomes to meet it; worst of all, it did not connect with anything the employees valued. Most of them wanted to provide something of value to their customers; an aggressive revenue target told them only about the value to the organization, not to the customer. Far from what Collins and Porras intended, this misbegotten BHAG was helping to destroy the employees’ sense of purpose.

Avoiding the traps

Spotting the traps from the executive suite is difficult enough; sidestepping them is harder still—and wasn’t the focus of our research. Nonetheless, it’s instructive to look at the one company in our study that avoided the traps, a creator of coated fabrics for weatherproof clothing and other applications. We recently interviewed its head, whom we’ll call Mark Hamilton. That conversation generated a few ideas that we hope will spark a lively discussion in your own C-suite. For example:

When you communicate with employees, do you provide strategic clarity that’s consistent with your organization’s capabilities and an understanding of where it can add the most value? Hamilton and his top team believed that innovating in processes, rather than products, was the key to creating the right combination of quality and value for customers. So he talked about process innovation at every all-company meeting, and he steadfastly supported it throughout the organization. This consistency helped everyone understand the strategy and even become jazzed about it.

Can you keep sight of the individual employee’s perspective? The best executives we studied internalize their early experiences and use them as reference points for gauging the signals that their own behavior will send to the troops. “Try hard to remember when you were working in the trenches,” Hamilton says. “If somebody asked you to do a bunch of work on something they hadn’t thought through, how meaningful could it be for you? How committed could you be?”

Do you have any early-warning systems that indicate when your view from the top doesn’t match the reality on the ground? Regular audits to gauge the effectiveness of coordination and support processes in areas such as marketing, sales, and purchasing can highlight pain points that demand senior management’s attention because they are starting to sap meaning from your people’s work. In Hamilton’s view, senior executives bear the responsibility for identifying and clearing away systemic impediments that prevent quality work from getting done.

Hamilton’s company was doing very well. But we believe that senior executives can provide a sense of purpose and progress even in bad economic times. Consider the situation that then–newly appointed Xerox head Anne Mulcahy faced in 2000, when the company verged on bankruptcy. Mulcahy refused her advisers’ recommendation to file for bankruptcy (unless all other options were exhausted) because of the demoralizing signal it would send to frontline employees. “What we have going for us,” she said, “is that our people believe we are in a war that we can win.”6 She was right, and her conviction helped carry Xerox through four years of arduous struggle to later success.

As an executive, you are in a better position than anyone to identify and articulate the higher purpose of what people do within your organization. Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create the meaning that motivates people toward greatness. Along the way, you may find greater meaning in your own work as a leader.

About the authors: Teresa Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Steven Kramer is an independent researcher and writer.

Stresslarm: Nio av tio chefer jobbar på semestern

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt, Leadership / Ledarskap on June 25th, 2019 by admin

En nyligen genomförd studie visar att chefer tycks ha synnerligen svårt att koppla bort arbetet på sin lediga tid. 92 procent av cheferna uppger att de arbetar på semestern och åtta av tio kan inte låta bli att vara uppkopplade på sin lediga tid.

Siffrorna kommer från en undersökning bland drygt 1.700 ledare som branschorganisationen Ledarna inom privat tjänstesektor (LPT) har gjort. 46 procent av de svarande är kvinnor och 54 procent är män, och de företräder ett brett urval av branscher med en viss övervikt på IT-sektorn, uppger LPT i ett pressmeddelande.

Av studien framgår att en majoritet av svenska chefer jobbar oftare efter arbetstid i dag än vad det man gjorde förr. 98 procent av cheferna jobbar över och nästan hälften av cheferna jobbar över flera dagar i veckan. 

Bara 27 procent känner sig helt lediga efter arbetstid och en majoritet av de tillfrågade jobbar minst ett par gånger i veckan på ledig tid. 92 procent jobbar någon gång på semestern, medan 60 procent uppger att de gör det minst någon gång per vecka.

Den oklara gränsdragningen mellan arbetstid och fritid riskerar att leda till ohälsa. Även chefer måste få chans till återhämtning, säger Magdalena Stadin, doktorand i hälsa- och vårdvetenskap, som forskar om digital stress i arbetslivet.

”Den som inte får distans till jobbet och möjlighet till vila och återhämtning kan i längden lätt drabbas av utmattningssymptom som exempelvis sömn- och koncentrationssvårigheter, vilket i sin tur ökar risken för sjukskrivning på sikt”, säger hon. 

Stressen av att ständigt vara uppkopplad på mejl och sociala medier ser ut som ett växande problem. 82 procent kan inte låta bli att vara uppkopplade på ledig tid och 95 procent scannar mejlkorgen när de egentligen ska vara lediga. Var fjärde chef uppger att de förväntas ha koll på mejlen även utanför arbetstid. 

”Digitala verktyg ska vara en tillgång och möjlighet men de gör oss också mer tillgängliga. Det gör att allt fler chefer har svårt att släppa arbetet vilket i sin tur bidrar till en ökad stress och andra problem. I dagens samhälle finns det en märklig förväntning på omedelbar bekräftelse, lite som att chefer är 112:s motsvarighet och alltid ska rycka ut. Alla till mans bör kanske fundera över vilka förväntningar man har och ska ha. Våra chefer ska hålla länge”, säger LPT:s ordförande Lorri Mortensen Mates i en kommentar.

Nästan samtliga chefer upplever att de är stressade, visar LPT:s undersökning. Var tredje chef stress flera gånger dagligen. Det som stressar cheferna mest är en hög arbetsbelastning på grund av ledningens krav och att försöka få ihop livspusslet.

Källa:, 25 juni 2019

Want a better decision? Plan a better meeting

Posted in Allmänt, Leadership / Ledarskap on June 18th, 2019 by admin

Effective meetings produce better business decisions. Yet too many decision meetings are doomed from the get-go. You can do better.

Decisions are the lifeblood of organizations, and meetings are where important business decisions often happen. Yet many executives are nonplussed—at best—when describing their own experience of meetings. Some business leaders we know wonder openly how they can dedicate so much time (commonly six to seven hours a day and often more) to an activity that feels so unproductive. “I spend nearly all of my time in meetings,” admitted one top-team member to us recently, “and I don’t get to sit down to think on my own until after 6:00 p.m.”

“I spend nearly all of my time in meetings,” admitted one top-team member to us recently, “and I don’t get to sit down to think on my own until after 6:00 p.m.”

Many leaders will empathize. In a recent McKinsey survey, 61 percent of executives said that at least half the time they spent making decisions, much of it surely spent in meetings, was ineffective. And just 37 percent of respondents said their organizations’ decisions were both high-quality and timely.

How can senior managers get better, faster business decisions from the meetings they attend or lead? Certainly, getting steeped in best practices is wise, as there is a wealth of good thinking available on the topic of decision making (see sidebar, “Read me: Quick-hit recommendations for decision makers”). In the meantime, we recommend looking closer to home, namely at the preparation that should happen (but perhaps doesn’t) before your own meetings. SidebarTry this exercise: take out your phone, open your calendar, and review today’s remaining meetings against the three questions below to see if you can spot any of the interrelated “fatal flaws” that most commonly sabotage meeting effectiveness. Besides improving the quality and speed of your team’s decisions and helping you make better use of your time, we hope the exercise helps you shed light on the underlying organizational dynamics and mind-sets that may be seeding dysfunction in the first place.

Question 1

Should we even be meeting at all?

Removing superfluous meetings is perhaps the single biggest gift to an executive’s productivity. Start by examining your recurring meetings, as these are a fertile place for otherwise useful and timely decision topics to mutate in unproductive ways.

Consider the case of the healthcare company that held a recurring “growth committee” meeting that in principle should have been making decisions about strategic partnerships, M&A, and new lines of business but in practice rarely did. Meanwhile, the company’s executive committee (which included several of the growth-committee members, along with the CEO) also met routinely to cover the same ground—and was making the decisions.

Why the disconnect? Left unexamined, the growth-committee meeting had evolved over several years into a discussion forum and holding pen for topics to be decided by the executive committee. Moreover, the range of subjects the growth committee covered had widened considerably beyond its original remit. The meeting was, in effect, not only redundant but also confusing to managers further down in the organization about what decisions were being made and where.

Poor clarity around decision rights encouraged wide-ranging discussions but not decisions, and over time this behavior became a habit in meetings—a habit that exacerbated a general lack of accountability among some executives.

While the company went on to remedy the situation and successfully streamline where decisions about growth priorities were made, the issues the CEO and top team had to confront went well beyond eliminating redundant meetings. For example, poor clarity around decision rights encouraged wide-ranging discussions but not decisions, and over time this behavior became a habit in meetings—a habit that exacerbated a general lack of accountability among some executives. Moreover, the team lacked the psychological safety to take interpersonal risks and thus feared making the “wrong” decision. Together, these intertwined factors encouraged leaders to escalate decisions up the chain of command, as the growth committee had done. Had the CEO attacked the symptoms by only announcing fixes from on high (say, blanket restrictions on the number of meetings allowed, or introducing meeting-free blackout days—both actions we have seen frustrated leaders take), the problems would have continued.

This is not to say that time management isn’t part of the solution. It is, and if ingrained habits or cultural expectations encourage meetings as your company’s default mode, then soul searching is in order. If you are one of those leaders who reflexively accepts meeting invitations as they appear in your calendar, then you should hit pause. Your goal should be to treat your leadership capacity—a finite resource—as seriously as your company treats financial capital (an equally finite one).

When recurring meetings are needed, check with the other decision makers to ensure the frequency is right (can weekly become monthly?). Look also to see if the decision might be best made by an individual. Remember: Delegating a decision to someone doesn’t mean that the person can’t still consult others for guidance. It just probably doesn’t require an entire committee to do so.

Finally, it’s tough to spot problems when no one is looking. At the healthcare company, like at many organizations, it wasn’t anyone’s responsibility to ensure that senior-management meetings had clear, non-overlapping purposes. A chief of staff can be invaluable here, as we will see next.

Question 2

What is this meeting for anyway?

At a broad level, we naturally associate the meetings we lead with the topics they cover (think “branch network review” or “China strategy”). But how often do we go further and clarify whether the meeting is meant to share information, discuss it, or decide something? It may seem rudimentary, but we can all recall meetings (and large-group meetings in particular) where the lines between sharing, discussing, and deciding were blurred or absent—or where the very purpose of the meeting is unclear, as was true of the healthcare company’s growth committee and its ever-expanding list of discussion topics. In such situations, meetings may begin to seem frustrating and even futile.

This was the dynamic that product-development leaders were struggling with at an advanced industrial company. The team attended a monthly meeting where they were meant to make decisions about whether to advance or kill products in the middle stages of development (the company had similar meetings for early- and late-stage products). But instead, the meetings involved hours of discussion and few decisions.

Your goal: treat your leadership capacity as seriously as your company treats financial capital.

In part, this was because of the complexity of the topic; the success of the products in question wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but the products were all far enough along to show real promise. Any decisions would therefore be difficult to make. Another challenge was that each product had a group of backers at the meeting who didn’t want to see their work torpedoed. The mix of interests and motivations in the room, combined with the lack of organization and role clarity (a factor we will explore next) spelled trouble. The result was a freewheeling mix of provocative, meandering, inconclusive discussions. At times, important questions would get raised that couldn’t be answered, in part because participants didn’t have the information they needed beforehand. In one meeting, for example, the team didn’t know the status of a major customer’s own product-development efforts. This was vital because the customer’s products would rely on the ones being developed by the industrial company. In other cases, meeting attendees were expected to review the relevant material as the meeting took place around them.

To tackle the problems, the company tapped a leader to serve in a chief-of-staff capacity for the effort. This colleague coordinated the materials before the meeting, ensured that they were distributed in advance, and along the way verified that the proper staff work had been done in the first place. This minimized the “informational” aspects of the meetings themselves, saving time while in fact better preparing the participants with the information they needed.

This colleague also helped run the meetings differently—for instance, by keeping the lines clear between discussion and debate sessions, and the actual decision making itself (following the principles outlined in the exhibit). This allowed for richer, more thorough conversations about the products and debates around the trade-offs involved, and ultimately led to better decisions. After the meetings, the chief of staff ensured the appropriate follow-up took place and that the various committees stayed closely coordinated with one another. Finally, the company trained additional executives in these skills so that the role could be reproduced and the benefits scaled

A final note. Just because a decision is made doesn’t mean people are committed to it. As the industrial company’s example suggests, people bring their own motivations to meetings, and we’ve seen plenty of cases where a “yes” in the meeting turns into a “maybe” in the following days and weeks. Part of the solution for this is to make sure the next steps are clear, including the nitty-gritty details of execution. After all, a decision only matters if it can be implemented. The broader challenge, of course, is making sure that everyone feels a stake in the outcome. Getting there involves institutionalizing the principle of “disagree and commit,” articulated by Jeff Bezos in his 2017 letter to Amazon shareholders.

Question 3

What is everyone’s role?

Just as it’s crucial for meetings to have a clear purpose and for attendees to know whether they’re meant to be debating or deciding, it is equally important to know who makes the call. Indeed, even if it’s clear who the decider is—and even if it’s you—it’s a mistake to meet without fully considering the roles of the other participants and how they are meant to influence the outcome. This was part of the challenge faced by the industrial company’s product-development team: where the backers of a given product sought to informally veto any moves that would kill or delay it, even though they had no explicit authority to do so.

Poor role clarity can kill productivity and cause frustration when decisions involve complicated business activities that cut across organizational boundaries. At a global pharmaceutical company, for example, a pricing decision for a new product became a political, energy-sapping affair because several leaders believed they each had decision-making authority in overlapping parts of the pricing process. Further confusing matters, the ultimate pricing decision was made by a committee where no single member had clear authority to decide.

Blurry accountability can also have immediate repercussions in an era where speed and agility are a competitive advantage. For example, a major business unit of an industrial company missed out on a high-priority acquisition because the head of the unit thought the CEO and executive team needed to approve all acquisitions. The CEO, meanwhile, thought the business head could make the call. Before the mix-up was sorted out, just 48 hours later, a rival had stolen the deal.

To get a handle on meeting roles and responsibilities, we are fans of using a simple yet comprehensive “cheat sheet” of responsibilities. Our list goes by the acronym DARE, and while you may prefer different nomenclature in your company, make sure you can identify the essence of these four roles when you hold your next decision meeting. (Note that your chief of staff could also come from any of these roles and serve in two capacities.)

  • Decision maker(s) are the only ones with a vote and the ones with responsibility to decide as they see fit; if they get stuck, they should jointly align on how to escalate the decision or otherwise get the process unstuck, even if this means agreeing to “disagree and commit.”
  • Advisers give input and shape the decision. They have an outsize voice in setting the context of the decision and a big stake in its outcome—for example, the decision might affect their profit-and-loss statement. But they don’t have a vote on the decision.
  • Recommenders conduct the analyses, explore the alternatives, illuminate the pros and cons, and ultimately recommend a course of action to the advisers and decision makers. They see the day-to-day implications of the decision, but they also have no vote. In general, the more recommenders the better in the process—but not in the decision meeting itself, as noted in the exhibit.
  • Execution partners don’t give input so much as get deeply involved in implementing the decision, and therefore they must be informed. For speed and clarity, you will need the right ones in the room when the decision is made so they can ask clarifying questions and spot flaws that might hinder implementation. Notably, the number of execution partners doesn’t necessarily depend on the importance of the decision. An M&A decision, for example, might have just two execution partners: the CFO and a business-unit head.

These stakeholders are all critically important, and they should hear so from you—even as you take away their decision rights, votes, veto power, and escalation authority, as appropriate. Remember, just because they don’t have a vote doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice. Good decisions are the culmination of a thoughtful process. Clarified roles will help that process be thorough—and speedy.

One role you never want represented? T, for tourists. Many of your colleagues will want to be in the loop and will even need to be involved downstream eventually—but if they have no role in the decision-making process, they shouldn’t be in today’s meeting. Get disciplined, keep them out, and find other ways, such as memos or town halls, to communicate decisions to relevant stakeholders.

Many of your colleagues will want to be in the loop and will even need to be involved downstream eventually—but if they have no role in the decision-making process, they shouldn’t be in today’s meeting.

Be mindful, however, that tourists come for a reason, and having a lot of them is often a sign of deeper problems. It’s human nature, after all, to want to know what’s going on. If you aren’t giving them a clear sense of how their roles fit into the decisions being made, you can expect grumbling—and it will be deserved. To prevent it, make it a point to communicate more than just the outcome of a meeting, but also what it means for specific roles. In large organizations, enlist other leaders, including your direct reports, to help you.

The best organizations use multiple channels and vehicles to share and reinforce information about important decisions, policies, and so on. The worst companies tend to leave it to serendipity—and to chance.

Finally, there could be plenty of situations where a “guest” seems a perfectly reasonable idea—say you want to give an up-and-coming direct report a chance for some C-suite exposure. If they are truly contributing to one of the roles we’ve outlined, go for it. More likely, you risk falling into one or more of the traps described in this article. If what you want is exposure for your colleague, suggest that the CEO invite them to lunch instead.


Kopiera sporteliten: Fem framgångsprinciper bakom vinnarteam

Posted in Executive Team / Ledningsgruppsarbete, Leadership / Ledarskap on June 3rd, 2019 by admin

Den som vill skapa ett framgångsteam gör klokt i att inspireras av eliten inom idrotten. Här är ingredienserna för att knåda fram ett vinnarlag – oavsett sport eller näringslivsgren.  Framgångsrika idrottsklubbar har en lagprestanda som många företag trånar efter. I sin nya bok ”Vinnande ledarskap” identifierar forskarkollegorna Margareta Oudhuis och Stefan Tengblad de principer som ligger bakom medaljerna. 

1. Rätt miljö 
Klubbar som når långt har bland annat en publikdragande arena, toppmoderna träningsanläggningar och viktig kringexpertis som fysioterapeuter, idrottsläkare, dietister och sjukgymnaster. Det vill säga allt som krävs för att maximera spelarnas förutsättningar.  

”Miljön ska underlätta för idrottarna att fokusera på kärnverksamheten och de sportsliga prestationerna. Motsvarande tänkesätt kan man utgå från när man utformar arbetsplatser”, säger Margareta Oudhuis, professor i arbetsvetenskap vid Högskolan i Borås. 

2. Skickligt lagbygge
Balans mellan individ och kollektiv är grundläggande i topplagen. Å ena sidan ska varje spelare tänja sin egen roll och maxförmåga. Å andra sidan måste det finnas en kollektiv ansvarskultur, där alla gemensamt jobbar för att laget ska vinna. 

Var och en måste också känna sig uppskattad och bekräftad, konstaterar Margareta Oudhuis och tar före detta förbundskaptenen för landslaget i ishockey, Conny Evensson, som exempel. 

”När han klev in i omklädningsrummet efter en match gick han inte fram till stjärnan i laget som ändå blev omklappad av alla, utan till den spelare som ingen ser. Det gjorde han medvetet för att lyfta dem som inte får lika stor uppmärksamhet.”

3. Robust spelfilosofi
Spelfilosofin är lagets ryggrad som klargör hur målet ska nås. Den är också en form av värderingsmässig ledstång att hålla sig i. 

”När spelfilosofin sitter i ryggmärgen frigörs energi till kreativitet. Framgångsrika lag lyckas också ständigt förbättra den”, säger Margareta Oudhuis. 

Om lagets filosofi och värderingar inte respekteras ska tränaren markera, säger hon vidare. En uppmärksammad händelse var när Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Olof Mellberg och Christian ”Chippen” Wilhelmsson trotsade lagets riktlinjer och gick ut på krogen. Krogbesöket ledde till att de skickades hem från landslagssamlingen i Göteborg 2006. 

”Det fungerar inte om lagets värderingar bara gäller vissa spelare. Alla – även stjärnorna – måste respektera dem. En spelare berättade att laget fick ett större förtroende för förbundskaptenen Lars Lagerbäck efter beslutet.”

4. Orubblig vinnaranda
För att ta sig till medaljerna gäller det att ha en välkomnande och öppen miljö i laget. Nya, skickliga spelare ska inte ses som ett hot, säger Margareta Oudhuis. 

”Kommer det in en riktig bra spelare ska laget tänka, ‘vad kul nu blir vi ännu bättre’. Om det uppstår osund konkurrens är det nödvändigt att stävja den. Det gäller även inom arbetslivet.”

Den tidigare tränaren för herrlandslaget i handboll, Bengt ”Bengan” Johansson, var en mästare på att mejsla fram rätt laganda bland spelarna, konstaterar hon. 

”Han lyckades bland annat få en väldigt duktig spelare att sitta på bänken och vara lycklig när laget vann. I stället för att känna sig utanför, stöttade han genom att vara glad och lyfta dem som spelade.”

5. Fullt fokus ger flyt
Fokusbubblan är avgörande för att kamma hem medaljerna. Inget lag har segrat med spelare som är disträ eller riktar koncentrationen mot annat än det som händer på planen. Det kan vara värt att påminna sig om på företagen, där just fokus snarare har blivit en bristvara på många håll, anser Margareta Oudhuis.

Ritualerna före match är ofta viktiga. Legendariska förbundskaptenen Tommy Svensson hittade en numera berömd metod för att få laget i vinnarstämning inför åttondelsfinalen mot Saudiarabien i VM 1994, där Sverige tog brons.

Han läste dikten ‘I rörelse’ av Karin Boye. Det fick spelarna att bli berörda och känna att ‘vi klarar detta’ – och så gick de ut på planen och vann matchen.”

Källa:, 3 juni 2019

Så minskar du stressen på jobbet

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on May 27th, 2019 by admin

För mycket mejl, för många möten, för lite tid. Känns det bekant? I dag är besvär orsakat av stress och andra psykiska påfrestningar på jobbet vanligt. 

Struktören David Stiernholm har de senaste 15 åren hjälpt olika verksamheter att strukturera upp. Här är hans tips för att minska stressen på jobbet.

Pappershögarna är lägre, kontorslandskapen öppnare och mötena slukar allt mer arbetstid. Under åren som David Stiernholm varit verksam som struktör har han besökt hundratals arbetsplaster och lagt märke till ett antal saker som förändrats. Att vi i dag jobbar mer och mer digitalt är självklart men konsekvenserna är att inflödena blivit många fler än tidigare. 

– Det är inte bara inflöden av information utan även att kommunikation sker i många olika kanaler. Många jag träffar uttrycker att de behöver hjälp med att reda ut det här, hur ofta ska jag titta vad som skrivs och vad ska jag fokusera på? Många upplever att de blir avbrutna hela tiden, säger David Stiernholm.

David Stiernholm har lyckats strukturera upp sin egen arbetssituation så att han kan leva efter 37-15-4-metoden. Han jobbar 37 veckor om året, är ledig 15 veckor och jobbar bara fyra effektiva dagar i veckan för att kunna vara ledig på fredagar.
David Stiernholm har lyckats strukturera upp sin egen arbetssituation så att han kan leva efter 37-15-4-metoden. Han jobbar 37 veckor om året, är ledig 15 veckor och jobbar bara fyra effektiva dagar i veckan för att kunna vara ledig på fredagar. Foto: Nicklas Thegerström

Boken ”Förenkla på jobbet” riktar sig framför allt till verksamheter där anställda eller egenföretagare själva lägger upp sitt arbete. Det kan till exempel vara experter, forskare, skribenter och chefer. 

– I dag är folk mer hänvisade till sig själva. Många förväntas själva lägga upp sitt arbete och lära sig nya system utan att kanske riktigt fått förklarat för sig vad man ska ha det till. Det skapar stress.

I dag tar också möten allt mer tid av arbetsdagen. Så pass mycket att många inte riktigt hinner det de ska göra på sin övriga arbetstid. Det kan medföra att man får jobba över eller småjobbar hemma på kvällarna. Att planen för dagen spricker är också vanligt, liksom otydliga mål. Ambitiösa personer utför fler arbetsuppgifter än de förväntas. Det är mycket till dem boken riktar sig åt. 

– Men också personer i chefspositioner som är utsatta då många assistentjobb och andra stödfunktioner försvunnit. Det är klassiskt att mellanchefer blir klämda. De ska vara operativa och tillgängliga för sina medarbetare och samtidigt hålla huvudet ovanför vattenytan, arbeta strategiskt och genomföra det som kommer ovanifrån. Det är lika vanligt i näringsliv som i offentlig sektor. 

Lösningarna då? Det viktigaste menar David Stiernholm är att hitta roten till problemen för att kunna svara på frågan om varför någonting är så krångligt. 

– Idén är att om man hittar själva grundproblemet så löser man många fler aspekter och symptom än de man först tänkte att man skulle lösa. Det är ofta ganska få problem som ställer till det ganska mycket. 

En viktig faktor är tid och allt som ska hinnas med på arbetsdagen. David Stiernholm säger att många har ganska dålig uppfattning om hur lång tid en viss arbetsuppgift kommer ta och att många överskattar hur brådskandet vissa saker är. 

– Om man är ambitiös är det lätt att tänka okej, det är brådskande så jag måste släppa allt annat och göra det direkt. Du borde istället fråga chefen, när behöver du egentligen ha det klart? Och inte nöja sig med så ”snart som möjligt” för det kan betyda väldigt olika för olika personer. Bråttom är ett godtyckligt begrepp. 

Vad är svårigheterna? 

– Att vi gapar efter för mycket direkt. Börja med någonting väldigt avgränsat och försök förenkla det. Om du börjar med ett stort problem och du samtidigt är stressad och har för mycket att göra är det väldigt lätt att misslyckas. 


Läs mer: Pauser på jobbet gör dig mer effektiv 

David Stiernholms tre tips för struktur på jobbet

1. Hitta grundproblemet

Jag tar avstamp i klassiska kvalitetsförbättringsverktyg som utvecklades i Japan på 50-talet och som går ut på att man frågar sig själv fem gånger vad problemet är för att komma fram till själva grunden till varför det blir på ett visst sätt. 

2. Avsätt egentid 

När möten slukar mycket av arbetstiden är det viktigt att avsätta tid varje vecka för att bara jobba med sådant du måste göra men kanske sällan hinner. Det är okej att flytta på den tiden om något viktigt möte skulle bokas, men bara om du flyttar tiden till en annan dag den veckan. 

3. Kräv tydliga deadlines och mål 

Vet man inte riktigt när någonting som är brådskande egentligen måste vara klart är det lätt att stressa i onödan. Kräv en exakt tid av din chef för att få bättre koll på hur du ska prioritera och lägga upp din tid. Tydliga mål gör att du inte bränner ut dig genom att göra uppgifter som egentligen inte förväntas av dig. 

Källa:, 27 maj 2019
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Vad är det som gör en chef populär?

Posted in Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on May 21st, 2019 by admin

Kraven på dagens drömchef är betydligt högre i dag än tidigare. Men vilka egenskaper är viktigast för att en chef ska bli omtyckt av sin personal? Forskarna Lisa Björk och Charlotte Simonsson ger sina bästa råd för att hantera ledarskapsrollen.

Lyhörd, tydlig, coachande och en människokännare. En rapport från Manpower där 2.307 både anställda och företagare svarade visar att många föredrar chefer som är människokännare – i stället för sakkunniga inom sitt arbete. Tre av fyra tyckte dessutom att deras närmaste #chef är ganska eller mycket bra. Men kraven på dagens drömchef är betydligt högre än förr i tiden.

– Dagens chef ska vara både terapeut, visionär och operatör, säger Charlotte Simonsson, som har forskat på ledarskap och är forskare på institutionen för strategisk kommunikation, Lunds universitet.

På dagens arbetsmarknad ska chefer kunna hålla flera bollar i luften. Samtidigt som de ska se den enskilda medarbetaren, och inspirera eller stötta, ska chefer också leda verksamheten och komma med nya strategier, menar Charlotte Simonsson. 

– Vi har gått från ett mer uppgiftsorienterat ledarskap till mer människovetande, jag tror det är en del av samhällsutvecklingen där chefer får en mindre hierarkisk roll, säger hon.

Den nya synen på ledarskap utvecklades under 1980-talet. Ledningsfilosofin betonade kommunikativt ledarskap istället för traditionella strategiska mönster. Enligt Charlotte Simonsson befinner vi oss fortfarande i den utvecklingen. 

Samtidigt som dagens ledarskap gör det enklare att fånga upp medarbetare, som mår dåligt, innebär det också mer ansvar för chefen. Det i sin tur riskerar att ge stresspåslag tillägger Charlotte Simonsson. Hela sju av tio chefer mår så psykiskt dåligt att arbetet drabbas, visar en undersökning av fackförbundet Saco, under förra året. Dessutom har många chefer arbetat trots sjukdom eftersom de upplever att ingen annan gör jobbet. 

Längst ned på listan över egenskaper, som chefer önskas behärska, skvalpar resultatorienterad och effektiv. 

Senaste gången Manpowers undersökning genomfördes var för fyra år sedan. Även då hamnade resultatorienterad och effektiv i botten. Däremot har tydlighet blivit en allt viktigare egenskap bland chefer.

Varför vi efterfrågar mer människokännande drag av dagens chefer är en svår fråga att besvara. Men en förklaring kan vara att arbetslivet blir allt mer gränslöst. Det menar Lisa Björk, som är utvecklingsledare i organisation och ledarskap på Institutet för stressmedicin, ISM. Hon har framför allt studerat den offentliga sektorn. 

– Flera personer har ett gränslöst arbetsliv där gränserna för fritid och arbetstid suddas ut, många arbetar på kaféer eller aktivitetsbaserade kontor när vi går över till en tjänstebaserad ekonomi, säger hon.

När människor arbetar utanför kontorstider eller på olika platser ställer det högre krav på att chefen är närvarande. Framför allt eftersom egenskaper såsom coachande uppskattas mer. Samtidigt är det en utmaning när arbetet blir mer flexibelt. 

– Flera studier visar att medarbetare känner större arbetsengagemang när chefer uppvisar en sorts mänsklighet, men för att vara en stöttande chef krävs det att du har rätt förutsättningar, säger Lisa Björk. 

Det krävs att chefen har lagom med underanställda, annars är det svårt att validera varje enskild medarbetare. Likaså krävs det att du som chef har stöd från personen ovanför dig – med andra ord din egen chef. 

– I offentlig sektor har mycket nära stöd till chefer plockats bort, exempelvis sekreterarfunktioner, dessutom sitter somliga chefer långt ifrån sin egen chef, vilket gör det svårt att hinna vara den chefen man önskar vara, säger Lisa Björk. 

Drömchefen kommer troligtvis fortsätta vara en människokännare ett bra tag framöver, tror både Lisa Björk och Charlotte Simonsson. 

– Ingen föds som en perfekt chef utan det handlar om att utveckla sina mänskliga förmågor, säger Lisa Björk. 

Experterna tips:

1. Börja med att vända dig mot dig själv.

– Hur ser dina förutsättningar ut för att vara drömchefen? Fundera på hur stor arbetsbelastningen är, exempelvis hur många underanställda du klarar av för att vara en bra chef, men även hur relationen ser ut till din egen chef, säger Lisa Björk. 

2.  Prata med dina medarbetare om ditt #ledarskap.

– När jag har intervjuat chefer säger många att de inte har berättat för sina medarbetare hur de vill att deras eget ledarskap ser ut. Genom att prata med kollegorna är du tydlig med vad de kan förvänta sig av dig, säger Charlotte Simonsson. 

3. Fundera på hur du motiverar dina medarbetare.

– När du har kollat igenom dina förutsättningar är det dags att kolla på hur du motiverar andra. Vad är viktigt för mig och vilken typ av ledare vill jag vara, säger Lisa Björk. 

4. Ta ett helhetsgrepp.

– Dagens chefer kan inte vara bäst på allt när de har så mycket att göra. Det viktiga är att du som chef tar ett helhetsgrepp och blickar framåt, säger Charlotte Simonsson.

På uppdrag av Manpower Work Life genomförde analysföretaget Inizio undersökningen i januari 2019. Materialet omfattar anställda, egenföretagare, arbetssökande och studerande. Totalt svarade 2.307 personer på undersökningen. Respondenterna hade möjlighet att välja mer än en egenskap som drömchefen behärskar. 

Fackförbundet Saco:s undersökning är en sammanställning av olika källors datamaterial. Bland annat från Arbetsmiljöverket, Försäkringskassan och SCB. Materialet omfattar både enkätfrågor och statistik. 

Källa:, maj 2019
Charlotte Simonsson, Lisa Björk, Manpower och Saco. 

Three keys to faster, better decisions

Posted in Aktuellt, Board work / Styrelsearbete, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on May 3rd, 2019 by admin

Decision makers fed up with slow or subpar results take heart. Three practices can help improve decision making and convince skeptical business leaders that there is life after death by committee.

Two years ago, we wrote about how it was simultaneously the best and worst of times for decision makers in senior management. Best because of more data, better analytics, and clearer understanding of how to mitigate the cognitive biases that often undermine corporate decision processes. Worst because organizational dynamics and digital decision-making dysfunctions were causing growing levels of frustration among senior leaders we knew.

Since then, we’ve conducted research to more clearly understand this balance, and the results have been disquieting. A survey we conducted recently with more than 1,200 managers across a range of global companies gave strong signs of growing levels of frustration with broken decision-making processes, with the slow pace of decision-making deliberations, and with the uneven quality of decision-making outcomes. Fewer than half of the survey respondents say that decisions are timely, and 61 percent say that at least half the time spent making them is ineffective. The opportunity costs of this are staggering: about 530,000 days of managers’ time potentially squandered each year for a typical Fortune 500 company, equivalent to some $250 million in wages annually.1

Managers at a typical Fortune 500 company may waste more than 500,000 days a year on ineffective decision making.

The reasons for the dissatisfaction are manifold: decision makers complain about everything from lack of real debate, convoluted processes, and an overreliance on consensus and death by committee, to unclear organizational roles, information overload (and the resulting inability to separate signal from noise), and company cultures that lack empowerment. One healthcare executive told us he sat through the same 90-minute proposal three times on separate committees because no one knew who was authorized to approve the decision. A pharma company hesitated so long over whether to pounce on an acquisition target that it lost the deal to a competitor. And a chemicals company CEO we know found himself devoting precious time to making hiring decisions four levels down the organization.

In our previous article, we proposed solutions that centered around categorizing decision types and organizing quite different processes against them. Our latest research confirms the importance of this approach, and it also highlights for each major decision category a noteworthy practice—sometimes stimulating debate, for example, while in other cases empowering employees—that can yield outsize improvements in effectiveness. When improvements in these areas are coupled with an organizational commitment to implement decisions—embracing not undercutting them—companies can achieve lasting improvements in both decision quality and speed. Indeed, faster decisions are often a happy outcome of these efforts. Our survey showed a strong correlation between quick decisions and good ones, suggesting that a commonly held assumption among executives—namely, “We can have good decisions or fast ones, but not both”—is flawed.

Three fixes that make a difference

Avoiding life on the bubble

Of the four decision categories we identified two years ago, three matter most to senior leaders. Big-bet decisions (such as a possible acquisition) are infrequent but high risk and have the potential to shape the future of the company; these are generally the domain of the top team and the board. Cross-cutting decisions (such as a pricing decision), which can be high risk, happen frequently and are made in cross-functional forums as part of a collaborative, end-to-end process. Delegated decisions are frequent but low risk and are effectively handled by an individual or working team, with limited input from others. (The fourth category, ad hoc decisions, which are infrequent and low stakes, is not addressed in this article.) Clearly, it is important that these types of decisions happen at the appropriate level of the company (CEOs, for example, shouldn’t make decisions that are best delegated). And yet, just as clearly, many decisions rise up much higher in the company than they should (see sidebar, “Avoiding life on the bubble”).

Even those businesses that do make decisions at the right level, however, complain about slow and bad outcomes. The evidence of our survey—and our experience watching executives grapple with this—suggests that while the best practices for making better decisions are interrelated, there’s nonetheless one standout practice that makes the biggest difference for each type of decision.

Big bets—facilitate productive debate

Big-bet decisions can be future-shapers for a company, the most important decisions leaders make. And they often receive much less scrutiny than they should.

The dynamic inside many decision meetings doesn’t help. It’s as if there is an unspoken understanding that the meeting should proceed like a short, three-act play. In the first act, the proposal is delivered in a snappy PowerPoint presentation that summarizes the relevant information; in the second, a few tough yet perfunctory questions are asked of the presenter and answered well; in the final act, resolution arrives in the form of an undramatic “yes” that may seem preordained. Little substantive discussion takes place.

In a global agricultural company, for example, the members of the executive committee tended to speak up only if their particular area of the business was being discussed. The tacit assumption was that people wouldn’t intrude on colleagues’ area of responsibility. Consequently, when the top team moved to decide on a proposed new initiative in Europe, the leaders from the US business stayed silent, even though they had years of hard-won experience in marketing and cross-selling similar agricultural products to those new ones under discussion. Nonetheless, the decision was made, the products launched—and sales lagged expectations. Later, the European sales force was frustrated to learn their US counterparts had relevant experience that would have helped.

Whether the cause of such dynamics is siloed thinking or a consensus-driven culture (of which, more later), the effect on decision making is decidedly negative. Bet-the-company decisions require productive interactions and healthy debate that balance inquiry and advocacy. In fact, the presence of high-quality interactions and debate was the factor most predictive of whether a respondent in our survey also said their company made good, fast big-bet decisions?

Leaders can encourage debate by helping overcome the “conspiracy of approval” approach to group discussion. Simple behavior changes can help. For example, consider starting the decision meeting by reminding participants of the overall organizational goals the meeting supports, in order to reframe the subsequent discussions. Then assign someone to argue the case for, and against, a potential decision or the various options under consideration. Similarly, ask the leaders of business units, regions, or functions to examine the decision from outside their own point of view. A rotating devil’s advocate role can bolster critical thinking, while premortem exercises (in which you start by assuming the initiative in question turned out to be a failure, and then work back for likely explanations) can pressure test for weak spots in an argument or plan.

The objective should be to explore assumptions and alternatives beyond what’s been presented and actively seek information that might disconfirm the group’s initial hypotheses. Creating a safe space for this is vital; at first it can be helpful for the most senior participants to ask questions instead of expressing opinions and to actively encourage dissenting views. Productive debate is essentially a form of conflict—a healthy form—so senior executives will need to devote time to building trust and giving permission to dissent, irrespective of the organizational hierarchy in the room.

A final note of caution: minimizing the number of debate participants to speed up decision making could harm decision quality. As many studies show, greater diversity brings greater collective wisdom and expertise, along with better performance. This is also true in decision making. To ensure a faster process, companies should manage the expectations of debate participants by limiting their voting rights and sticking to other agreed-upon processes, as we explore next.

Cross-cutting decisions—understand the power of process

An executive we know joked during a meeting that “a committee is born every day in this organization.” Just then, another executive nearby looked up from his computer to announce he had just been invited to join a new committee. The comedic timing of the line was perfect, but it wasn’t a joke.

Or perhaps the joke is on the rest of us? We often find companies maintaining a dozen or more senior-executive-level committees and related support committees, all of which recycle the same members in different configurations. The impetus for this is understandable—cross-cutting decisions, in particular, are the culmination of smaller decisions taking place elsewhere in the company. And cross-cutting decisions were the ones that executives in our survey had the most exposure to, regardless of their seniority.

Yet when it comes to cross-cutting decisions (involving, for example, pricing, sales, and operations planning processes or new-product launches), only 34 percent of respondents said that their organization made decisions that were both good and timely.

There are many reasons cross-cutting decisions go crosswise. Leaders may not have visibility on who is—or should be—involved; silos make it fiendishly hard to see how smaller decisions aggregate into bigger ones; there may be no process at all, or one that’s poorly understood.

Solving for cross-cutting decisions, therefore, starts with commitment to a well-coordinated process that helps clarify objectives, measures, targets, and roles. In practical terms, this might mean drawing a bright line between the portion of a meeting dedicated to decisions from the parts of a meeting meant to inform or discuss. Any recurring meetings (particularly topic-focused ones) where the nature of the decision isn’t clear are ripe for a rethink—and quite possibly for elimination.

Good meeting discipline is also a must. For example, a mining company realized that its poor decision making was related to the lack of rigor with which executives ran important meetings. As a result, the top team developed a “meeting manifesto” that spelled out required behaviors, starting with punctuality. The new rules also required leaders to clarify their decision rights in advance, and to be more deliberate about managing the number of participants so that meetings wouldn’t become bloated, on the one hand, or lack diverse views, on the other.

The manifesto was printed on laminated posters that were put in all meeting rooms, and when the CEO was seen personally reinforcing the new rules, the news spread quickly that there was a new game afoot. As the new practices took hold, the benefits became apparent. In pulse-check surveys conducted over the course of the following year, the company’s measures of meeting effectiveness and efficiency went up by almost 50 percent.

A social-network analysis, meanwhile, allowed a global consumer company to identify time wasting around decision making on a heroic scale—as many as 45 percent of interactions were found to be potentially inefficient, and 23 percent of the individuals involved in an average interaction added no value. In response, the company broke down complex processes into key decisions, clarified roles and responsibilities for each one, defined inputs and outputs for each process, and made one person accountable for each outcome. After conducting pilots in several countries, executives used two-day workshops to roll out the process redesign. The resulting benefits included a significant financial boost (as employees used the freed-up time in higher-value ways), as well as an arguably more important boost in employees’ morale and sense of work–life balance, which in turn has helped the company attract and retain talent.

Delegated decisions—make empowerment real

Delegated decisions are generally far narrower in scope than big-bet decisions or cross-cutting ones. They are frequent and relatively routine elements of day-to-day management. But given the multiplier effect, there is a lot of value at stake here, and when the organization’s approach is flawed it’s costly.

In our experience, ensuring that responsibility for delegated decisions is firmly in the hands of those closest to the work typically delivers faster, better, and more efficiently executed outcomes, while also enhancing engagement and accountability.

Our research supports this view. Survey respondents who report that employees at their company are empowered to make decisions and receive sufficient coaching from leaders were 3.2 times more likely than other respondents to also say their company’s delegated decisions were both high quality and speedy.

A vital aspect of empowerment, we find, involves creating an environment where employees can “fail safely.” For example, a European financial-services company we know started a series of monthly, after-work gatherings where leaders could meet over drinks to discuss failure stories and the lessons they’d learned from them. The meetings were purposely kept informal, but top management nonetheless established ground rules to ensure that the stories would be meaningful (not trivial) and that employees telling the stories would be protected. The meetings started small but became popular quickly. Today, a typical session includes 40 to 50 of the company’s top 150 leaders. The climate of trust and openness the sessions encourage has translated into better ideas, including practical lessons that have helped the company speed up its release of new products.

As this example suggests, empowerment means not only giving employees a strong sense of ownership and accountability but also fostering a bias for action, especially in situations where time is of the essence. That’s easier said than done if there’s no penalty for avoiding a decision or sanction for escalating issues unnecessarily.

Executives who get delegated decisions right are clear about the boundaries of delegation (including what’s off-limits and how and where to escalate what’s beyond an individual’s competence), ensure that those they entrust with decision-making authority have the relevant skills and knowledge to act (and if not, provide them with the opportunity to acquire those capabilities), and explicitly make people accountable for their areas of decision-making responsibility (including spelling out the consequences for those who fail to respond to the challenge). This often means senior leaders engaging in conversations and dialogue, encouraging those newly empowered to seek help, and in the early days subtly and invisibly monitoring the performance of those participating in “delegated” forums so as not to appear to be taking over. Leaders might want to start mentoring their reports with a small “box” of accountability, slowly expanding it as more junior executives grow in confidence.

For leaders looking to become better delegators, it’s not a question of choosing between a style that is “hands-on” or “hands-off,” or between one that is “controlling” or “empowering.” There’s a balance to be struck. Root out micromanagers who are both hands-on and controlling, as well as “helicopter autocrats” who are hands-off and controlling, occasionally swooping in, barking orders, and disappearing again. But the laissez-faire executive—generally too hands-off, delegating but leaving those with the responsibility too much to their own devices (sometimes with disastrous results)—is also a danger. The ideal in our experience are hands-on and delegating leaders who coach, challenge, and inspire their reports, are there to help those who need help, and stay well clear of actually making the decision.

After the decision: Seek commitment, not unanimous agreement

In his April 2017 letter to Amazon shareholders, CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the concept of “disagree and commit” with respect to decision making. It’s good advice that often goes overlooked. Too frequently, executives charged with making decisions at the three levels discussed earlier leave the meeting assuming that once there’s been a show of hands—or nods of agreement—the job is done. Far from it.

Indeed, any agreement voiced in the absence of a strong sense of collective responsibility can prove ephemeral. This was true at a US-based global financial-services company, where a business-unit leader initially agreed during a committee meeting not to change the fee structure for a key product but later reversed course. The temptation was too great: the fee changes helped the leader’s own business unit—albeit ultimately at the expense of other units whose revenues were cannibalized.

One of the most important characteristics of a good decision is that it’s made in such a way that it will be fully and effectively implemented. That requires commitment, something that is not always straightforward in companies where consensus is a strong part of the culture (and key players acquiesce reluctantly) or after big-bet situations where the vigorous debate we recommended earlier has taken place. At a mining company, real commitment proved difficult because the culture valued “firefighting” behavior. In staff meetings, company executives would quickly agree to take on new tasks because it made them look good in front of the CEO, but they weren’t truly committed to following through. It was only when the leadership team changed this dynamic by focusing on follow-up, execution risks, and bandwidth constraints that execution improved.

While it’s important to devote enough resources to help propel follow-through, and it’s also important to assign accountability for getting things done to an individual or at most a small group of individuals, the biggest challenge is to foster an “all-in” culture that encourages everyone to pull together. That often means involving as many people as possible in the outcome—something that, paradoxically, in the end will enable the decision to be implemented more speedily.

While it’s important to assign accountability for getting things done to an individual, the biggest challenge is to foster an “all-in” culture that encourages everyone to pull together.

Follow the value

There are many keys to better decision making, but in our experience focusing on the three practices discussed here—and on the commitment to implement decisions once taken—can reap early and substantial dividends. This presupposes, of course, that the decisions leaders make at all levels of the organization reflect the company’s strategy and its value-creation agenda. That may seem obvious, but it bears repeating because all too often it simply doesn’t happen. Take the manufacturing company whose operations managers, faced with calls from the sales team to raise production in response to anticipated customer demand, had to consider whether they should spend unbudgeted money on overtime and hiring extra staff. With their bonuses linked exclusively to cost targets, they faced a dilemma. If they took the decision to increase costs and new orders failed to materialize, their remuneration would suffer; if the sales team managed to win new business, the sales representatives would get the kudos, but the operations team would receive no additional credit and no additional reward. Not surprisingly, the operations managers, in their weekly planning meeting, opted not to take the risk, rejected a proposal to set up a new production line, and thereby hindered (albeit inadvertently) the group’s higher growth ambitions. This poor-quality—and in our view avoidable—outcome was the direct result of siloed thinking and a set of narrow incentives in conflict with the group’s broader strategy and value-creation agenda. The underlying management challenge is part of a dynamic we see repeated again and again: when senior executives fail to explore—and then explain—the context and underlying strategic intentions associated with various targets and directives they set, they make unintended consequences inevitable. Worse, the lack of clarity makes it very difficult for colleagues further down in the organization to use their judgment to see past the silos and remedy the situation.

Designing an organization to deliver its strategic objectives—setting a clear mission, aligning incentives—is a big topic and outside the scope of this article. But if different functions and teams do not feel a connection to the bigger picture, the likelihood of executives making good decisions, whether or not they adopt the ideas discussed earlier, is significantly diminished.

Source:, April 2019

About the authors: Aaron De Smet is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Houston office, Gregor Jost is a partner in the Vienna office, and Leigh Weiss is a senior expert in the Boston office.

The authors wish to thank Iskandar Aminov, Alison Boyd, Elizabeth Foote, and Kanika Kakkar for their contributions to this article.