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Why these books?
Edgar Schein has been a giant in the field of OD for decades. Instead of writing a separate summary of his last three books, I decided to combine them into one summary. These books offer excellent examples of real organizational issues. In his last book he adds Lessons Learned, which are really beneficial to reflect on for anyone whose aim is to increase organizational effectiveness. I believe you will see several connections with Stakeholder Centered Coaching from the father of Organizational Development. As Peter Block (2011) said in a recent book, we all owe a debt of gratitude from Edgar Schein and his work in helping organizations be better.
Schein, Edgar. (2009). Helping. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Helping is a basic relationship that moves things forward. Help is only help if it is seen as help. We all know from experience that for help to be given, AND accepted, ‘Trust is must’ between the helper and the receiver.
We all need help because, most of the time, we cannot accomplish our goals and jobs without others. If we can do it alone, we wouldn’t need coaches, feedback, or organizations. Completing tasks require communication that is often times reciprocal. Many times, reciprocity is affected by our history with family, friends, and the organizations we work in. In most cases, new relationships require trust building that will be influenced by previous experiences. Without a baseline of trust, help will be slow or limited.
Schein points out possible traps for both the receiver and the helper, along with what the helper may not know before attempting to help:
Five possible traps for the receiver/client
- Initial mistrust. Will the helper be willing and able to help? Such caution is normal and appropriate but may cause the client to hide the real problem at first. …
- Relief. Having finally shared the problem with someone else who may be able to help, the client certainly feels relieved. Along with that often comes a welcome sense of dependency and subordination …
- Looking for attention, reassurance, and/or validation instead of help. …
- Resentment and defensiveness. The client may look for opportunities to make the helper look inept. …
- Stereotyping, unrealistic expectations, and transference of perceptions. … the client calibrates everything the helper does against these expectations and judges the quality of the growing relationship on this basis rather than on the help given.
Six possible traps for the helper
- Dispensing wisdom prematurely.
- Meeting defensiveness with more pressure.
- Accepting the problem and over-reacting to the dependence.
- Giving support and reassurance.
- Resisting taking on the helper role.
- Stereotyping, a priori expectations, ‘counter-transference,’ and projections.
Five things the helper does not know at the beginning
- Will the client understand the information, advice, or questions being asked?
- Will the client have the knowledge and skill necessary to follow the helper’s recommendations?
- What is the client’s real motivation?
- What is the client’s contextual situation?
- How do clients’ experiences shape expectations, stereotypes, and fears?
The helper can choose to be an expert who provides information, a doctor who will diagnose the problems and prescribe a solution, or a process consultant who will focus on the relationships and specify what kind of assistance will help. Schein then outlines the conditions for help to be effective.
Principles and Tips:
Principle 1: Effective help occurs when both giver and receiver are ready.
Principle 2: Effective help occurs when the relationship is perceived to be equitable.
Principle 3: Effective help occurs when the helper is in the proper helping role.
Principle 4: Everything you say or do determines the future of the relationship.
Principle 5: Effective helping starts with pure inquiry.
Principle 6: It is the client who owns the problem.
Principle 7: You never have all the answers.
Helping lays the groundwork for his next book, Humble Inquiry (Principle 5 above), where Schein focuses on questions rather than answers. How do we get the most ideas for possible solutions? Isidor Rabi, Nobel Prize for physics, said one of the reasons he thinks he has been successful was because of his mother. When he came home from school she didn’t ask, ‘what did you learn in school today?’ Instead, his mother asked him, “Izzy, what good questions did you ask in school today?” Dr. Rabi said the focus of his responsibility was on asking questions and to be curious, were the foundation his own learning.
Schein, Edgar. (2013). Humble Inquiry. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Most of us do not like conversations or meetings that spend time telling us what we already know. A summary of what we know, “Yes;” every detail, “No.” When others talk on and on about what we know a lot of the time we just zone out or become secretly irritated. On the other hand, when we are asked questions, we respond differently. Questions are more like an invitation to contribute. It is more of a feeling that what is being discussed has not be finalized, and my contribution might be useful.
Not all questions are equivalent. Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person. What seems to really help move thinking along is asking the right questions.
Schein is very intentional by combining humility with inquiry. Humility is required for learning. Humility signals ‘I don't know, but am curious to find out how or what others know.’ How willing are we to genuinely learn from others? Humility is one of the things we look for in Stakeholder Centered Coaching to find good people who want to be better AND are willing to ask for feedback and suggestions. Think about it, if you already know everything, what’s the point of a conversation.
Schein relates the story in his book about his daughter coming down to his study to ask a question and he responded by saying she was interrupting his work. His daughter left crying. His wife came down and said his daughter just wanted to know if he wanted a cup of coffee. We can probably relate to this story because we’ve have done similar things - feeling guilty, making assumptions, and not clarifying the issue. The moral of his example is: Asking a question helps clarify what the other person wants.
Here are some things Schein has learned from his experience in “humble inquiry:”
- When the choice is between you or me, look for a way to explore us, the relationship itself.
- Ask an open question to get information that you need (a question that is not answerable with just a yes or no)
- When one is too busy with one’s own agenda but wants to display a caring attitude, what often works best is a small change in behavior, not a total revision of the relationship.
- A small change allows a brief interruption to get more information before making a big decision.
- The small change should invite joint problem solving.
- Small changes now avoid the need for big changes later.
- Humble Inquiry would have enabled a small change.
Control the process, not the content first. Content can follow and is enhanced when the process is right (Helping – refer back to the summary of his first book).
Here is some other learning distributed throughout the book:
- Don’t jump in telling answers until you know what the other person really needs to know.
- Don’t assume that the person with the question has asked the right question.
- Asking for examples is not only one of the most powerful ways of showing curiosity, interest, and concern, but also—and even more important—it clarifies general statements.
- Accessing your ignorance, or allowing curiosity to lead you, is often the best guide to what to ask about.
There are other examples with sample questions in the book specifically dealing with Diagnostic Inquiry, Confrontational Inquiry, and Process-oriented Inquiry.
Much of Schein’s work has great potential in meetings. Knowing that some meetings are not apparently safe to ask questions, most people complain about attending. These sample questions can help mediate a couple of problems with meetings. Many times there is encouragement to get into action before thinking.
Another problem with some meetings is “the culture of TELL.” We meet, the person with positional authority tells what to do, meeting is over. Most companies that are being successful have safe meetings with the goal of exploring options and creative solutions.
Schein ends with a series of questions to ask oneself, which if asked with genuine inquiry, can be useful:
- What is going on here?
- What would be the appropriate thing to do?
- What am I thinking and feeling and wanting?
A few additional questions, if the task is to be accomplished effectively and safely, are:
- On whom am I dependent?
- Who is dependent on me?
- With whom do I need to build a relationship in order to improve communication?
Developing Helping relationships is critical and using Humble Inquiry can lead to building trust and generating more effective outcomes.
Schein’s third book, Humble Consulting, relates how these tenets are applicable to being a consultant. Consultants, of course, can be external or internal.
Schein, Edgar. (2016). Humble Consulting. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Process Consultation emphasizes the need to involve the client in the process of figuring out what is wrong and what can be done about it. This statement in the preface sets the tone of this book. As a consultant, I spent a lot of time telling. To be sure, there are times to be overt and direct. As a starting point, however, using some of the skills and strategies outlined in Helping and Humble Inquiry might produce better results without giving premature advice.
As Schein points out, many solutions are not technical ones. He quotes Heifetz as one who says complex problems today need more ‘adaptive solutions.’ The process of finding solutions is a more long-term strategy than the one problem/one solution mindset that can become more of a “Whack-a-Mole” strategy.
Being the expert and providing information and/or advice works, but only for simple, bounded problems. That process also fails when the problem is complex, culturally multifaceted, and constantly changing. Additionally, being the expert can set up the client to become dependent on your ideas and reduce their taking on responsibility of building problem solving systems.
Humble Consulting Requires a New Kind of Personal Relationship with the Client when working on messier problems and trying to get at what is really on the client’s mind and what is worrying him
Humble Consulting Requires a New Kind of Behavior in the Very First Contact. “Tell me a little bit more about what you have in mind?” “Why do you want to do this culture survey?” “What problem are you trying to solve?”
Humble Consulting Requires a New Attitude of Humility, a Commitment to Helping, and Curiosity. Honor the difficulties that the client faces and to focus on him and the situation, not on my own needs to sell myself, my skills, and my insights. I allow myself to become genuinely curious. It is honest, spontaneous curiosity that best conveys my interest and concern for the client.
“Humble Consulting Attitude.” Think of it in terms of the three Cs—commitment, curiosity, and caring.
- COMMITMENT: YOU HAVE TO BE EMOTIONALLY READY TO WANT TO HELP. Try not to worry about whether this will produce income or not; let your motive be to see if you can solve the client’s problem.
- CURIOSITY: YOU HAVE TO WANT TO KNOW “WHO IS THIS PERSON?” AND “WHAT IS THE SITUATION?” Be genuinely curious, because that will make you an active, engaged listener from the moment you are in contact with the other person.
- CARING: YOU HAVE TO GET PERSONAL AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. Focus on the person and what the client-to-be says to you. Clear your mind as much as possible of preconceptions.
Another tenet in Stakeholder Centered Coaching is the discipline to follow through. In a good working relationship, I need to be able to predict how much I can count on you to make and keep your commitments and how open and reliable you will be in your communication with me.
At one level of consulting the outcome becomes pseudo help. We meet, we talk, we have great discussions. Yes, I have done this. I let myself become seduced by the problem or the organization. This produces little, if any, real or lasting change.
At the next level of consulting. Schein asks the question, “Is what we are doing really helping?” At this level we want to investigate the data, the culture, and the goal of our consulting. Another question that can be revealing is, “Why did you decide to call me?”
Schein cited an example whereby people at a meeting get frustrated by the agenda. The participants say they never got to the real issues. After two hours (or how ever long the meeting is scheduled) people walked away without real discussion of issues and possible solutions. Schein asked a question, “Where did this agenda come from?” Answer, “the executive’s secretary.”
They asked the secretary to join the meeting. Schein asked how she developed the agenda. She said she put down the items as the participants would call her. It came down to timing. There was no effort to prioritize the items prior to the meeting or at the beginning of the meeting. If this is a problem, why not prioritize what has to be decided during the time we meet? How many procedures endure because no one ask a question or challenges the process?
In this book Schein addressed several scenarios that are pertinent to many of our organizations. The only principle is that you should remain committed to being helpful. The most dangerous aspect of being the helper is to give premature advice and thereby to undermine your own credibility. The trap for the helper is that the client had considered it, ruled it out for various good reasons, and now wonders why the consultant has come up with such a bad idea.
In the end, the goal is to: 1) find out what the client is worried about; 2) what they see as the preferred future: and, 3) what are the immediate and long-term problems really need to be addressed. The combined wisdom of this trilogy by Edgar Scheiun goes a long way to make a positive difference.
Block, Peter. (2001). Flawless Consulting (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Why this book?
The New IQ Leading Up, Down, and Across Using Innovative Questions
Written by a noted executive coach to the Fortune 100, Chris Coffey, and Los Angeles Business Journal Nonprofit CIO of the Year, David Lam, this book details how to literally change your life by making simple changes -- just by asking the questions detailed in the book. The authors share the foundational elements of Innovative Questions, this process of asking effective questions and making useful statements to turn around your conversations. The authors provide repeated and easy to try examples of how to radically change your interactions with others for the better.
This insightful new book provides relevant and immediately usable techniques that let you turn confrontational situations into truly productive outcome!
Peter Drucker is quoted in the foreword by Marshall Goldsmith, “The leader of the past knew how to tell; the leader of the future will know how to ask.”
An Innovative Question (IQ) is defined as “using a question or making a statement followed by a probing question to create a space for you and your conversational partners to make better decisions.” Such questions have the ability to get people to pause and think, often lead to an 'aha moment.' And, as a result, it focuses the parties on getting to the best possible result, known as an Ideal Final Result. In this book, readers learn about the questions and phrases that make up Innovative Questions and how to apply them.
Forward by Marshall Goldsmith
Lending credibility to Innovative Questions, world-renowned executive coach and leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith entices us with his insight on the book:
What I find so interesting is this book has been written from the student’s point of view…. Chris and David crafted the book incorporating Chris’ coaching philosophy and process as well as David’s execution. It’s a great premise and an incredibly insightful and entertaining read.
The fable is an excellent example, and, along with the more “how to” chapters, Chris and David have written a very good book that will help you, your team, and your organization be even more successful.
I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it as much as I did!
The new IQ:
Innovative Questions lead to thoughtful, reflective dialogue and debate rather than a recipe or the “old-style” command and control style of leadership.
Innovative Questions are easy to understand and learn to use with minimal preparation or time commitment.
Innovative Questions move past an often poisonous preprogrammed response.
The basic operating process of Innovative Questions is Space Creation, which achieves the best possible results for all involved. Innovative Questions allow this by creating clarity without insinuating blame. And when both parties participate more often than not a win-win outcome ensues.
The stated goal of the authors is to keep Innovative Questions as simple as possible but no simpler. Innovative Questions form a model that is understandable, efficient, effective, workable, and not time consuming.
The benefits of The New IQ include:
- Using a question or making a statement to open Safe Space for you and your conversational partner to make better decisions.
- Innovative Questions gets people to focus on getting to the Ideal Final Result.
- Innovative Questions helps create a more positive perception of you and turn conflict into positive outcomes.
Stimulus and Response
Humans only do three things: think, feel, and behave. The only thing we can truly control is our behavior, and behavior is an observable response to a stimulus. Innovative Questions allow us to get in between stimulus and response and create a thoughtful response instead of a knee-jerk, pre- programed reaction.
Cicero states, “Ability without honor is useless.” Borrowing the wisdom of Cicero, effective leaders are those that possess:
- A bedrock of principles
- A strong moral compass
- A vision for the future
- The ability to influence people to follow that vision.
These values also manifest themselves in an earnest desire to help the other person succeed and in allowing others to feel psychologically safe. The authors stress the importance of collaboration, consistency, and respect as the bedrock of principles for an effective leader’s interactions with others.
Getting clarity on the Ideal Final Result is the Holy Grail of the influence process. Clarity empowers us. Lack of clarity invariably brings unclear expectations, unclear commitments, and a failure to reach desirable outcomes.
Where getting clarity is the first step in the process, the Ideal Final Result is the desired outcome. In many cases it brings an entirely different, and better, end result than we were expecting.
The authors describe six questions of clarity:
- What is the Ideal Final Result?
- How do we define success?
- What measurements/milestones we will use along the way?
- What resources are there?
- Who is accountable for what?
- What are the consequences/rewards for failure and success?
The Fable: An Example of Innovative Questions
The Storm and The Calm is a fictional story (a fable) of a startup corporation in which a newcomer applies Innovative Questions to identify a strategic Ideal Final Result. The protagonist, John, identifies three necessary skills at the beginning of the story:
- Dealing with conflict.
- How to fairly convey points of view to fairly influence the outcome.
John articulates two fundamental elements that are needed to create Safe Space. First, individuals must feel “psychologically safe” to challenge different points of view and to present their own point of view. Second, teams must establish “ground rules” for interactions upfront.
As the meeting begins, we get to observe how people violate some of the pre-established ground rules, how they are dealt with. Through the use of Innovative Questions a Safe Space is created for constructive and positive dialogue and debate going forward.
As the meeting proceeds, John describes the many skills he has learned in working with a leadership coach. These include: 1) win-win; 2) the four goals of working through any problem or opportunity; and, 3) the definition of consensus
- Win-Win is defined as everyone has participated, their point of view is understood and has been fairly considered, and they support the final decision. The Thomas Kilman conflict model and Fisher and Ury negotiation models are incorporated into the analysis effectively.
- The four goals for working through problems/opportunities are defined as:
- Topic goal: What the actual words say.
- Relationship goal: How do I want to be treated? As an equal? As a partner? And, am I being treated that way? For example, “I feel that I am being respected by my peers as an equal.”
- Identity goal: How you want to think of yourself and how you want the other person to think of you in general. For example, “I'm fair and I think others see me as fair.”
- Process goal: What the actual process is in making a decision. For example, “How do I want to resolve this?”
- Consensus is defined as when everyone understands how and why the decision was made and the team commits to execute on the decision even if they argued against it in the decision-making process. Generally, the team needs to make peace with the fact that whoever has the position power in the room is the final decision maker.
As part of the team’s ground rules John defines argumentation as the study of effective reasoning for the purpose of incorporating a specifics set of skills to be used by the team. According to John, the major components of an argument are:
Claim: statements we want the listener to believe.
Evidence: the grounds for making the claim.
Inference: the main proof line from the evidence to the claim.
Warrant: the license to make the inference.
The fable provides an effective way to introduce influence and communication skills around: clarity on Ideal Final Results; using ground rules: consensus building; achieving win-win outcomes; brainstorming; dealing with conflict; decision-making; and, the art of argumentation. These are all skills that can be developed and become part of an individual’s behavioral DNA.
Mastering Innovative Questions
Building on the foundation of argumentation presented in the fable, Chris and David cover multiple aspects of Innovative Questions in the last 10 short chapters of the book. They discuss principles for change, the necessity of practice, and how important it is to understand any model before being able to master it.
In their discussions on human nature, Chris and David identify three important human elements:
- Emotions are part of day-to-day human experience.
- Leaders benefit when they allow their team members and stakeholders a Safe Space to talk about their emotions.
- Leaders have an obligation to work through a conflict.
The Innovative Questions model also works well with Situational Leadership™, allowing leaders and others to assess the readiness of individuals to perform well on a task. Questions such as the ones below allow leaders to quickly find out the likelihood of success for any of their peers or team members when starting on a project:
- How often have you done this before?
- What did you do to achieve your level of success?
- How confident are you that you will be successful in the future?
The book then turns to the inevitable: how will people respond to changes you are making in your leadership style? Chris and David frankly discuss apologizing for past mistakes and any foibles going forward, and being patient for your team members to come around to the positive changes you are making.
Ground Rules and Continual Improvement
Innovative Questions allow its practitioners room to set ground rules with its team, and also provide a great set of questions for assessing what happened and how to move forward in the most effective way. Questions that help with learning and moving forward include:
- What did you set out to do?
- What actually happened?
- How did it happen?
- What insights do you have?
- What are you going to do moving forward? or
- If you could do it again, what would you repeat and what would you do differently?
Wrapping It Up
The book ends with a transition to the real-life experience that David faced. It starts with an unsuccessful interaction with one of David’s staff members. Then the book shows, in detailed steps, how David worked with Chris to turn it around. Integrating pieces from throughout the book, it provides great insight to how effective Innovative Questions will be when used with skill.
The appendix includes a sample daily sheet for tracking personal improvement and over 200 Innovative Questions that apply to a multitude of circumstances. Ultimately, taking a few of these questions in to any meeting and making them part of your behavioral DNA allows you to improve your abilities as a team member, leader and manager. Mastering Innovative Questions helps you become a skilled and effective conversationalist, and reminds us of an essential Innovative Questions tenet: One who is skilled in the art of conversation can truly improve the result of almost any interaction.
Enjoy the book.
Download a sample Chapter
Book is available on Amazon
 As per Albert Einstein.
Why this book?
This book offers ample examples of why the outlier contributor and the one's we might listen to the least, might be our most prized resource. In our Stakeholder Centered Coaching framework we encourage leaders to include among their stakeholders those who offer differing points of view and who the leader may have difficult, or strained, relationships. These individuals often, over the course of the change process, wind up being the most valuable to include. The book also offers insight into the role of timing, varied experiences, and the use of enemies to the likelihood of successful results.
Originals: How Non-Conformist Move the World.
Grant, Adam. (2016)
New York: Viking.
In some circles there is a belief that non-conformists can be hazardous to the organization. In the area of accounting, that may be true. Yet, if creativity as the lifeblood to fuel needed innovation, there is plenty of room outside the accounting department where non-comformity is needed. The question is how to benefit from the mavericks in the organization while focusing on results.
When considering the risk involved for the non-conformist and the organization, George Bernard Shaw’s quote seems to fit: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Of course, there are limits to anything. This book concentrates on the advantages of being open to creative ideas and people.
“Research demonstrates that it is the most creative children who are the least likely to become the teacher’s pet.” This is also an issue for managers and executives. Managing the creative type is not easy. Author William Deresiewicz wrote a book called Excellent Sheep (2015) which postulates students are taught to follow direction (ah, Frederick Taylor still has impact) as well as organizations who want conformance as the standard.
Here is a story in the book. “An angel investor offered $250,000 to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to bankroll Apple in 1977. It came with an ultimatum: Wozniak would have to leave Hewlett Packard. Wozniak refused at first. ‘I still intended to be at that company (HP) forever,’ Wozniak reflects. ‘My psychological block was really that I didn’t want to start a company because I was just afraid,’ he admitted. Wozniak changed his mind only after being encouraged by Jobs, multiple friends, and his own parents.”
When we look to the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the world, we think they are just different, more self-assured, and lucky. Not True. It may seem like they look for risk, in fact, they avoid it. Page and Brin of Google stayed at Stanford because they didn’t want to drop out of the Ph.D. program. They actually tried to sell Google for $2,000,000 in 1997. The offer was rejected. Lucky for them.
There are many other examples in the book of very successful people who kept their day job while working on new ideas. Endeavor cofounder and CEO Linda Rottenberg observes “They take the risk out of risk-taking.” Most of these creators don’t like risk any more than the rest of us do.
A growing body of evidence suggests that entrepreneurs don’t like risk any more than the rest of us. They tend to plan out scenarios, hedge their bets with what-if plans and have Plan B or C or D ready to go. “Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice.” Scott Adams said, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Many times geniuses don’t recognize when they have a good idea developed. They just keep kissing frogs and eventually a great idea pops out.
One lesson in the book is having many great ideas increases your chance of the major hit rather than waiting for the one big earth-shattering product. “Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five, Beethoven produced 650 in his lifetime, and Bach wrote over a thousand. In a study of over 15,000 classical music compositions, the more pieces a composer produced in a given five-year window, the greater the spike in the odds of a hit.” What this means is most of what Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven wrote never paid in front of audiences or has lasted long enough to be heard today by a Symphony Orchestra. Edison’s “1,093 patents notwithstanding, the number of truly superlative creative achievements can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.”
“If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative,” Steve Jobs said back in 1982, “you have to not have the same bag of experience as everyone else does. Having a wide range of experiences also helps in the production of new ideas. The data on Nobel Prize winners by researchers at Michigan State follows:
Artistic Hobby Odds for Nobel Prize winners v. scientists
Music: playing an instrument, composing, conducting 2X
Arts: drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpting 7X
Crafts: woodworking, mechanics, electronics, glassblowing 7.5X
Writing: poetry, plays, novels, short stories, essays, books 12X
Performing: amateur actor, dancer, magician 22X
Interest in the arts among entrepreneurs, inventors, and eminent scientists obviously reflects their curiosity and aptitude. Here are some more thoughts from the book:
- Time living abroad didn’t matter: it was time working abroad, being actively engaged in design in a foreign country, that predicted whether their new collections were hits.
- The more the foreign culture differed from that of their native land, the more that experience contributed to the director’s creativity. An American gained little from working in Canada, compared to the originality dividends of a project in Korea or Japan.
- The most important factor was depth—the amount of time spent working abroad. A short stint did little good, because directors weren’t there long enough to internalize the new ideas from the foreign culture and synthesize them with their old perspectives.
Intuition has some strengths and also some weaknesses. Steve Jobs made many great decisions based on intuition. He also made a foolish decision about the Segway. Erik Dane, a researcher says that intuition is helpful within the domain where we have experience. However, the same confidence can be negative when we apply over confidence in areas where we have little or no experience. Any strength overused can be a negative.
There is an old adage that says, “go out on a limb, that is where the fruit is.” It seems to us we should be on a familiar tree before going too far out. At the same time expressing creative ideas can be risky within an organization if there is not enough ecological safety. Einstein’s quote may help, “Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds.” Keep reminding yourself that hubris about your thinking can also get you in trouble. There is a balance because surrounding yourself with people who stroke your ego can be as debilitating. The following quote by Howard Tullman explains, “Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds comfort.”
“Do you believe you can effect change, and do you care enough to try? If you believe you’re stuck with the status quo, you’ll choose neglect when you’re not committed, and persistence when you are. If you do feel you can make a difference, but you aren’t committed to the person, country, or organization, you’ll leave. Only when you believe your actions matter and care deeply will you consider speaking up.” Charles Garfield (1986), Peak Performers, says that internal locus of control, or efficacy, is the number one contributor of the best performers on the job. Efficacy is the belief that you can do something about the situation. It is the opposite of “learned helplessness.”
Leadership is essential since it affects the system, “At work, our sense of commitment and control depends more on our direct boss than on anyone else.” This was born out by the Gallup Organization (1999) First Break All the Rules, where they posit people leave managers, they don’t leave organizations.
However, if you are able to attract a curmudgeon of a manager to your viewpoint, they can be your best support. “Disagreeable managers are typically the last people we seek when we’re going to go out on a limb, but they are sometimes our best advocates.” “It is often the prickly people who are more comfortable taking a stand against others and against convention.” As a Google employee put it, disagreeable managers may have a bad user interface but a great operating system.
Bill Gross, Idealab wanted to find out what drove success versus failure. “The most important factor was not the uniqueness of the idea, the capabilities and execution of the team, the quality of the business model, or the availability of funding. The number one thing was timing. Timing accounted for forty-two percent of the difference between success and failure.” So, having experienced people with political savvy can be as important as having a great idea. “Sprinting is a fine strategy for a young genius, but becoming an old master requires the patience of experimentation to run a marathon.”
There is more discussion in the book about timing, those who take longer to think through issues (some people call this procrastination). There are distinct advantages of reflective thought as well as intuitive quick thinking. Daniel Kahneman (2013) Thinking, Fast and Slow, goes into great detail of the advantages of both types of processing.
Another creative tool is espoused by Karl Weick. He says, “putting old things in new combinations and new things in old combinations.” When you remember some of the heuristics found in life, this may be one of the most important. Synthesizing, recombining, and reframing a problem can be extremely beneficial. There are many examples in business from Post-It Notes, Velcro, and Air Bags (hand grenade technology),
Here is another provocative point. “Enemies Make Better Allies Than Frenemies.” The book outlines how enemies are more consistent and overt with the objections. Those who are friends may have more hidden agendas that might be a surprise down the road. Michelle Duffy, University of Minnesota, explains, “It takes more emotional energy and coping resources to deal with individuals who are inconsistent.” This is a concept we encourage you to read more about.
In another Sommers’ Summaries coming up, the Bridgewater Company is referenced about their culture.“ In 2010, Bridgewater’s returns exceeded the combined profits of Google, eBay, Yahoo, and Amazon.” Bridgewater created a transparent organization structure that sustains safe, open dialogue to create the best possible future.” Before you criticize people, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” Diversity of ideas is expected and nourished. “If you hire people who fit your culture, you’ll end up with people who reinforce rather than challenge one another’s perspectives.”
Ray Dalio, Bridgewater points out, “The greatest tragedy of mankind comes from the inability of people to have thoughtful disagreement to find out what’s true.”
Creating a safe culture to express, talk out ideas, and have a support system that honors diversity of thought is crucial in generating new solutions to problems that exist. “Research shows that surface acting burns us out: Faking emotions that we don’t really feel is both stressful and exhausting. If we want to express a set of emotions, we need to actually experience them.” For instance: Anger can create a sense of urgency but just reacting with anger might get you in trouble. Debra Meyerson and Maureen Scully suggest that the key is to be “simultaneously hot and cool-headed. The heat fuels action and change; the coolness shapes the action and change into legitimate and viable forms.” “But once the heat is on, how do we keep our cool?”
The book ends with recommendations for schools and how to deal with Originals.
Buckingham, M. & Coffman, C. (1999). First break all the rules. New York:
Simon & Schuster.
Garfield, C. (1986). Peak performers. New York: Avon Books.
Kahneman, D. (2013). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farr, Straus and Giroux
Why this book?
Stakeholder Centered Coaching is about improvement. As the environment and world changes, our knowledge, skills, and applications will have to keep pace. In this book Marshall Goldsmith identifies some reasons why people stay with what has been working believing it will always produce good results. He discusses strategies that will help leaders get feedback on what behaviors are working and what are not, our barriers to behavioral change, and how “feedforward” can increase productive results.
Why this book?
Pfeffer and Sutton outline five elements in our organization that widen the gap between knowing and doing. As the founder of Stakeholder Centered Coaching Marshall Goldsmith is fond of saying: “There is no evidence that the world is a better place because of what we know; the world is a better place because of what we do.” This book outlines some of the barriers that prevent individuals from getting things done. The five limiting processes can be used in coaching individual leaders and more structurally at a higher organizational level.
The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action.
Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R. (2000).
Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
The term GAP is used to indicate many differences between what we say or believe and what actually happens. Pfeffer and Sutton provide a very helpful template to more fully understand what gets in the way of behaving in alignment with your espoused goals and values.
Knowing different theories is important AND, as well all should know, insufficient. The importance to transfer knowledge into action, apply useful ideas, and focus on how to adapt new learning, is summed up by Lew Platt, former the CEO of HP, when he said: “I wish we knew how to execute what we know at HP.” If we can’t apply knowledge into useful application to the organization, the work gets stymied or at least delayed. If we learn by doing, the gap between knowledge and action shrinks. People learn to swim by getting into the water, not by reading books on swimming.
A point made early in the book offers a reason so many efforts to get results do not produce in a timely manner. So many systems built by consulting firms, information technologists, and knowledge gurus are separated from those who are closest to the work. This also leads to ineffective use of budgets, intellectual capital of the people working, and sometimes an arrogance of knowing what’s best from the office. Pfeffer and Sutton say: “Social interaction is often crucial.” Watch a couple of episodes of Undercover Boss on CNBC network. You will be amazed at what you learn when you walk in the shoes of the frontline colleagues.
Another idea in this book suggests that “knowledge” is viewed as a noun. This finite description can, or will, limit the possibility of gaining future knowledge. What if we focused on “learning” as an alternative? This active verb signals an ongoing process. Herb Kelleher, SW Airlines said, “We hire for attitude.” He said he can teach ticketing processes but he can’t teach attitude. Sounds like he is on to something.
Here is are the five elements that play out in real time:
- When Talk Substitutes for Action
- When Memory Is a Substitute for Thinking
- When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge
- When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgment
- When Internal Competition Turns Friends into Enemies
Anyone who has sat through endless meetings, long planning sessions, or been involved with the reverse “butterfly effect” (a great deal of energy with little result) will see one or more of the five elements playing out in real time.
- When Talk Substitutes for Action. There are distinct advantages from constructively talking about problems, processes, and purpose; but without taking action we cannot see whether or not the proposed plans work or wastes time and energy. Unfortunately, some people are content going to meeting and talking. How many of you have been in meetings that are reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day where the same meeting happens over and over again. We have talked about the same issue month after month with no action that would move us forward.
When people think talking about something is taking action, valuable resources in time, money, and ideation suffer. Even when a decision is reached about a problem; that does not ensure action will be taken on that problem. “A decision, by itself, changes nothing.” Preparing written reports without action does not produce feedback that is needed and useful to the organization.
Pfeffer and Sutton warn us, “Mission statements are among the most blatant and common means that organizations use to substitute talk for action.” They go on to say: “There seems to be little connection between how much effort an organization devotes to planning or even how well it does planning and how well it performs.” Planning without actions is an academic exercise. When hiring, do we talk to the person and see if we like them? Do we actually have them do something so we can see what they do with an issue?
- When Memory Is a Substitute for Thinking. “People in organizations that use memory as a substitute for thinking often do what has always been done without any reflecting.” You hear: “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Well, what did we learn from that initiative? What has changed in the context that it may be worth trying again? Do we have different staff with different skills?
A quote in the book by Stephen Quesnelle stated: “Sacred cows are the barriers that everybody knows about but that nobody talks about…They’re the policies and procedures that have outlived their usefulness – but that no one dares touch.”
Premature closure is a way to get out of facing problems. It also sucks the positive energy out of the room. It also can become a barrier to any alternative, more positive approach. People don’t like uncertainty so they run to conclusion as fast as they can. The authors quote David Kelley: “This is the best we can think of right now. But the only thing I am sure of is that it is temporary and it is wrong. We just have to keep experimenting so it keeps getting better all the time.” This quote signals learning continual because the landscape keeps changing.
And there is another danger that comes from a history of success. “As their successes accumulate, organizations grow complacent and learn too little,” as stated by the authors. Richard Pascale (1990), Managing on the Edge, said in his opening line: “Nothing fails like success.” We get lulled into believing we have arrived at the right answer and we resist ongoing reflection and thinking.
- When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge. Remembering one of W. Edwards Deming’s principles was Drive Out Fear, the authors reminds us that without a safe place ideas will stay hidden. In The New IQ by Chris Coffey (2015) he explains the need for having ‘safe space’ to create opportunities for deeper conversations. Taking risks must be honored and sometimes rewarded.
When fear exists, people don’t talk as much and they certainly will not take a risk on an innovating idea. Here is a quote which can have a dampening effect: Samuel Goldwyn: “I don’t want yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell me the truth – even though it costs him his job.” This quote from the book is an example of why people will not give honest feedback. The alternative is what David Russo said in this book: “We punish nothing. We reward creativity. Very much like Maria Montessori, we believe creativity should be followed, not led.”
The following suggestions are quoted in the Knowledge Doing Gap for driving fear out of the organization during Hard Times:
- Prediction: Give people as much information as possible about what will happen to them and when it will happen.
- Understanding: Give people detailed information about why actions, especially actions that upset and harm them, were taken.
- Control: Give people as much influence as possible over what happens, when things happen, and the way things happen to them; let them make as many decisions about their own fate as possible.
- Compassion: Convey sympathy and concern for the disruption, emotional distress, and financial burdens that people face.
- When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgment.
A perfect example of when measurement obstructs good judgment is - meet your sales numbers or find another job. You might get the numbers and lose the relationships with customers and colleagues. Whatever the metrics, they should be used as guides for actions since we can never have absolute control of all variables. The metrics should also be aligned with the behavior we want to see. Measuring sales at the expense of relationships may not be a long-term success indicator.
Another example is why GE, Microsoft, Google and others abandoned the ‘rank and yank’ measurement system for employees. Ranking everyone and eliminating the bottom 10 percent, in theory, would increase productivity. The result was eliminating some of the most creative team members and fear was created among those who still had a job. The cost of human resource replacement is high in money, time, and organizational knowledge.
When measurement obstructs good judgment there are many short-term consequences for the people and the organization. “Morale governs motivation which is key to timely product development; strong culture fosters a healthy work environment” and that “employees need rewards for key contributions and successes.”
The authors make the point: “Real control does not come simply from having a plethora of outcome measures. Control and improvement come from measures that provide information about processes, measures that give people immediate and understandable information about how they need to act.”
“Too many leaders confuse feedback with paperwork.” “Filling out a form is inspection, not feedback,” says Kelly Allan from (?)… “History has taught us that relying on inspections is costly, improves nothing for very long, and makes the organization less competitive.”
Metrics should be relevant to organizational values, long-term success, and be as controllable as possible by the person who is being held to the standards. “You might think that organizations would recognize the commonsense wisdom expressed in a line from Otis Redding’s song:” “Sitting by the Dock of the Bay” on the need for fewer, focused measurements: “Can’t do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same.” as quoted by the authors.
- When Internal Competition Turns Friends into Enemies. “The beliefs about competition are so ingrained that they serve as mindless, automatic, but powerful principles for organizing and managing individual behavior.” We have to be careful that the metrics don’t spur on internal competition where to win, your colleague has to lose. That shortsighted process will ultimately defeat the system. “Internal competition makes it even more difficult for people to put knowledge into action and to learn from each other.
Firms That Surmount the Knowing-Doing Gap. Those companies that have been successful have created the space for conversations that lead to action. And, after action is taken, feedback is and collected and used for reflection for continuous improvement. It takes leadership, and honest conversations about important issues, to create a culture where the gap is closed between knowing and doing.
Turning Knowledge into Action. The following quotes from the Knowing Doing Gap seem to capture why action is so important.
“CEO David Kelley likes to say that: “Enlightened trial and error outperforms the planning of flawless intellects.”
“There is no doing without mistakes. What is the company’s response?”
“Reasonable failure should never be received with anger.”
Clayton Christensen, famous author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and other valuable books wrote: “What companies need is a forgiveness framework, and not a failure framework, to encourage risk taking and empower employees to be thinking leaders rather then passive executives.”
Close the GAP – Release new energy for yourself and others to put great ideas into action.
Here is the link to order your copy
Coffey, C. & Lam, D. (2015). The New IQ: Leading Up, Down, and Across Using
Innovative Questions. USA: Prism Consulting, LTD
Deci. E. (1995). Why we do what we do. New York: Grosset Putnam, Inc.
Herzberg, F. (2008). One more time: how do you motivate employees? Boston: Harvard
Pascale, R. (1990). Managing on the edge. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Pink, D. (2009). Drive. London: Riverhead Books.
Walton, M. (1986). The Deming management method. New York: The Putnam
Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Why this book?
Dr. Gawande states that, even with the best intentions, mistakes can and will happen. He explains “the how” behind the safety record of the airline industry resulting in so few airplane crashes, and how this same knowhow was applied to hospital surgery resulting in a great reduction in medical errors. The connection to Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers is clear in the use of Checklist to help ensure successful behavioral change by executives and leaders.
Gawande, Atul. (2009). The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. New York: Metropolitan Books.
The book begins by identifying two reasons why we fail in our attempts to get better at leadership, coaching, and organizational development. First, is simple ignorance. If you don’t know what leads to errors chances are more errors occur. Acquiring knowledge and skills can help reduce this cause of error.
The second reason for failure in our attempts to get better is not applying what we know. We might be more forgiving of ignorance but not using the knowledge we have is grounds for malpractice. In the airlines and medical field the consequences can be disastrous. Failure to overcome these errors in any organization wastes time, money, and energy.
It was the success of the airline industry to almost eliminate errors through the use of checklists was the inspiration for Dr. Gawande to adopt this practice in the medical profession and write this book. In complex environments, experts are up against two main difficulties. The first is the fallibility of human memory and attention, especially when it comes to mundane, routine matters that are both important and easily overlooked under the strain of more pressing events. A second problem is our human nature to make assumptions that are not true. Sometimes we get bored and we skip some seemingly less important steps to save time. When activities become routine, we assume everything will go as planned. This is often a mistake.
One antidote for such breakdowns is the use of checklists. The checklist can be invaluable for assuring that procedures are followed which are critical to successful outcomes. When it comes to passengers arriving safely to their destination, or a patient successfully coming out of surgery with a positive outcome, you would think the use of a simple tool like a checklist would be religiously followed. In one hospital, the infection rates plummeted from 11% to 0% within 10 days of adopting a checklist. It is hard to imagine a customer or patient who would not want a checklist used when flying or have surgery.
Gawande points out that a key for developing the checklist is asking those closest to the work to create it. In hospitals nurses are on the frontline. In his book Gawande recounts multiple stories about checking with physicians about washing their hands is a small change that save lives. The startling statistics on reducing deaths and complications from surgery from such small corrections based on the use of checklists is compelling. For a nurse to ask such a question of a physician only happened because they had the backing from administration to confront physicians. Otherwise the ego of many physicians involved in these studies would have squashed such questions.
The implementation of checklists in every organization requires a degree of nuance as well as executives committed to making the discipline of using checklists work. Complex problems are like raising a child. One rocket is like another rocket. But not so with raising a child…every child is unique. Although raising one child may provide experience, it does not guarantee success with the next child. Expertise is valuable but most certainly not sufficient.
Gawande emphasizes the importance of the communication within the team. A man is fallible, but maybe men are a little less so. Having more people involved increases the chance of finding a problem sooner. One interview expressed the following. “The biggest cause of serious error in this business is a failure of communication,” Airlines have made a policy clear that a co-pilot must speak up if there is a concern. Surgical teams a Harvard Medical Center, where Gawande practices has set up pre-operation meetings to make sure the team is working in concert and post-operation the team meets to review the procedure. In the Army, they have adopted a practice called the After Action Review (AAR) to learn from operations immediately after completion.
A major element of the communication within the team is inclusion. Bringing in all voices who have a stake in the process. The philosophy is that you push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center. You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise. All you ask is that they talk to one another and take responsibility. That is what works.
A negative example given was FEMA during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. They were relying on information from many sources. However, the top administrators were not using email that delayed information flow. Rather than relying on those at the site to make necessary decisions (inclusion), they waited for approval or clearance from the top. In this same emergency the group that performed the best was Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart was able to send 2498 truckloads of emergency supplies in quickly. When complexity happens, freedom to respond is important.
Dr. Gawande makes the point that: Giving people a chance to say something at the start seemed to activate their sense of participation and responsibility and their willingness to speak up. Organizations will continually need all the brains and skills we can muster to solve complex problems.
Back to checklists, here are some practical tips on their use:
- Good checklists are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything – a checklist cannot fly a plane.
- With a READ-DO people carry out the tasks as they check them off – it’s more like a recipe. You want to keep the list short by focusing on what is called “the killer items” – the steps that are most dangerous to skip and sometimes overlooked nonetheless.
- No matter how careful we might be, no matter how much thought we might put in, a checklist has to be tested in the real world, which is inevitably more complicated than expected.
- We adopted mainly a DO-CONFIRM rather than a READ-DO format, to give people greater flexibility in performing their tasks while nonetheless having them stop at key points to confirm that critical steps have not been overlooked.
In the surgical area, the hospital developed seven checks before anesthesia, nineteen during surgery and another five before leaving the operating room for the recovery room. In the eight hospitals that were used in the study of the potential benefits of using checklists, complications fell by 36% and deaths fell by 47%.
In our coaching using the Stakeholder Centered Coaching methodology with leaders it is not an immediate life or death situation like surgery or flying a plane. However, the implications to organizations could be on a slower path to life or death. Organizations are clearly affected by the decisions and actions of leaders higher up in the organization. The lessons from The Checklist Manifesto have enormous benefit for our clients as the use of checklists:
- Clearly defines specific behaviors that have been agreed upon between the leader and the coach
- Helps make the behaviors in the checklist visible through the act of writing them down
- Serves as a reminder, or memory aid, to the leader who has many, many things competing for his, or her, attention
- As in his book Triggers Marshall Goldsmith says: “They are active behaviors rather than passive ones.”
- Provide reinforcement to a leader that she, or he, is succeeding in improving as a leader