Volume 10, Issue 2
2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC
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2008 started with a dramatic roller coaster ride for global stock markets and queasy stomachs for executives trying to maintain a semblance of calm about the uncontrollable. The presidential political campaign produced no clear frontrunners, and that has led to increased negative campaigning and sharp elbow debating to put candidates on the defensive. It’s always tough for executives to remain focused and stay on message. Some of the distractions can involve real crises; others can come from temporary irritants like the unanticipated actions of markets, competitors and customers. The most effective executives decide rapidly whether new things are game-changing or not, and adapt quickly. By constantly returning to fundamentals, and by trying to get to the essence of an issue, the best executives select the most effective steps to take when facing new challenges. This issue selects some recent examples of distractions and how some executives are dealing with them. As you think about these stories, examine the ways in which you and those who work with you deal with the roller coasters and non-essential distractions that can be barriers to success. Decide how you will lead a way out of the energy and time wasting things that distract from productivity and achievement.
Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. One book received a highly recommended four-star rating; nine books are rated three-stars; four books received two-star ratings; and one book eked out a one-star recommendation. Visit our current bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 196 books read or those being considered this year, including 31 that were added to the list in January. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering or if there’s a book lingering on the Shelf of Possibility that you think we should read and review sooner rather than later, let us know by sending a message to email@example.com. You can also check out all the books we’ve ever listed at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/All Books.html.
Leading innovation can drive some executives to distraction. Managing huge change initiatives can become overly disruptive, and some efforts can be abandoned when the economy provides revenue challenges. The 1Q2008 issue of The McKinsey Quarterly has a useful article titled, “Leadership and Innovation,” (http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Leadership_and_innovation_2089_abstract) that may help. Here are some suggestions: “Define the kind of innovation that drives growth and helps meet strategic objectives. … Add innovation to the formal agenda at regular leadership meetings. … Set performance metrics and targets for innovation. … Embrace innovation as a top team. … Turn selected managers into innovation leaders. … Create opportunities for managed experimentation and quick success.” The article also describes some of the barriers to innovation, and contains insights gleaned from surveys of executives.
How well are you, those who report to you, and your organization doing when it comes to innovation? How important is innovation to your future? How do you measure the successful execution of innovation?
How do you determine the talent that’s needed to perform specific jobs in your organization? How well are you matching people and jobs? What does turnover or performance glitches tell you about the ways in which you are selecting people for jobs?
Everybody has aspects of our jobs that we wish someone else would do. Those with skilled direct reports can give broad direction, and are thrilled when an assignment comes back that matches expectations. Sometimes wasted hours are spent by executives doing PowerPoint slides themselves, or spending endless time on e-mail or finding out information through Google. In an article titled “Scuttling Scut Work” (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/122/scuttling-scut-work.html) Fast Company examined this situation in their February issue, Following a 10% workforce reduction in 2005, Pfizer decided to explore ways in which employees could be productive in their own jobs by having someone else do repetitive tasks or do research while the employee does something else. They created what they call OOF: Office of the Future. According to Fast Company, Pfizer’s senior director of organizational effectiveness, Jordan Cohen, “…was reading Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, which profiles India's virtual-assistant companies. After analyzing the activities of Pfizer employees, he learned that they spend 20% to 40% of their time on four activities: creating documents, manipulating and analyzing spreadsheets, scheduling meetings, and researching. So he called the companies in Friedman's book. Could they do this stuff? He found hundreds of operations, many with thousands of employees, specializing in so-called knowledge-process outsourcing--dealing with information and data. He rounded up 30 adventurous souls at Pfizer for a test-drive with four employees at OfficeTiger in Chennai. The initial test run didn't work well. Assignments came back unusable, sometimes marred with typos, and with data incorrectly analyzed. Cohen realized that the problem stemmed from Pfizer employees not specifying what they ultimately needed, and the Indian companies struggling with multistep projects. … OfficeTiger proposed a team system, putting a dozen skilled workers in one room and passing the project around repeatedly. ‘I didn't think it would work,’ Cohen says. ‘There were too many handoffs.’ But it did work, and the pilot took off. Word spread through Pfizer's towers, until the program included 200 employees. Meanwhile, Cohen worked to create a simple interface; now, when a Pfizer employee clicks the OOF button in Microsoft Outlook, a single triage worker in India receives the request and assigns it to a team, and the team leader calls the employee to clarify the larger purpose. The team leader then sends back an email specifying the cost. ‘At this point, the Pfizer employee can say yes or no,’ Cohen says. ‘That's the ultimate measure: Is this research project worth $750?’ The verb ‘OOFable’ entered the lexicon of Pfizer's pilot users.” Starting this month, 10,000 Pfizer employees can use OOF. “For OOF services, Pfizer pays $15 to $35 per worker hour, far less than they'd pay the McKinseys of the world, whose rates typically start at $215 per hour. Pfizer is alone in rolling out a large-scale knowledge-outsourcing program, but many companies are experimenting within individual departments.”
What time wasters cost you and your organization too much because of the way you currently do them? Can you outsource those things and save money as a result? How much does a PowerPoint slide cost when you prepare it yourself? Is there an OOF button you can press to get someone else to work on something for you?
Another way to consider distractions is to choose them. There’s nothing like a short break to clear the head. The Internet provides an almost endless array of possible distractions. Here’s one site to consider: www.bigthink.com. The creators of this site call it a “You Tube for Ideas.” Through video interviews with broad range of thinkers, participants can listen, think, and engage with each other on big questions. It’s a place to go to listen to someone who knows more than you do, or someone whose point of view differs from yours. What could be more distracting and refreshing than that? The site defines its mission as follows: “Our task is to move the discussion away from talking heads and talking points, and give it back to you. That is Big Think's mission. In practice, this means that our information is truly interactive. When you log onto our site, you can access hundreds of hours of direct, unfiltered interviews with today's leading thinkers, movers and shakers. You can search them by question or by topic, and, best of all, respond in kind.” We read about this site in an article in the January 7 edition (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/07/technology/07summers.html) of The New York Times, where you can learn more.
What distractions do you desire? With whom do you engage on life’s big questions? What gets you back to work?
Here’s an update on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:
Ø In a moment of weakness, we gave
a hard time in the August
2007 issue of Executive Times
to both the Emperor Nero and to Bear
Stearns’ James E. Cayne when we stated that if we had a Nero award we
would give it to Cayne for playing golf so frequently while Bear’s hedge
funds were melting down. Astute readers pointed out that Nero neither golfed
nor fiddled around while Rome burned. Cayne announced recently that he will
step down as Bear’s CEO. Here’s part of the announcement: ‘“Jimmy has much to
be proud of -- under his leadership Bear Stearns has grown substantially over
the past 15 years, with revenues increasing to $7 billion from $2 billion and
the number of our employees more than doubling to 14,000,’ said Vincent Tese,
Bear Stearns lead independent director. ‘This was his decision, and we are
very pleased that he has agreed to stay actively involved in the business as
chairman of the board.”’ Fore.
Ø In some prior years, we’ve
noted Fortune’s annual list of the
100 Best Companies to Work For. Here’s a link to the current list: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2008/.
One interesting observation: employees at these companies are more satisfied
with their pay today than they were ten years ago.
Latest Books Read and Reviewed:
(Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com. When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com. Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2008 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html).
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