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Steve Jobs: Leadership through Simplicity in Design

July 26, 2015
Young Steve Jobs So much of what we consumers purchase is based on shoddy workmanship, planned obsolescence and crappy follow-up customer service. Those in corporate leadership positions don’t seem to get it, typically getting cycled in and out of their top jobs for short periods. Screwing up doesn’t seem to matter, including unethical behavior, prompting generous severance packages. These corporate leaders are often not around to witness the full consequences of their inept leadership.

Whether physical products or services, their design usually leaves something to be desired, screaming out the ubiquitous question: “Why can’t you idiots in corporate land design things that work easily?”

Well, there’s one person who understood this early in life, and who lived the simplicity and elegance of design every day: Steve Jobs, who was my age (a few months older). Indeed, when someone your age who’s well known passes away, or dies tragically, you recognize your own imminent mortality, that we’re on Earth for but a nano-second in time. And if you’ve respected that person’s achievements over many years then you feel that the world has lost someone very special.

The first computer I used was an Apple II+ in 1982 when I joined the Government of Canada as an economist. A dual 5 ¼ inch floppy disk drive, three of my co-workers and I shared this state-of-the-art invention, much to the amazement of the rest of the regional office. People ogled the contraption, asking if they could ask the computer a question and if an answer would issue forthwith.

Alas, no.

But it was a very cool machine in its day.

Steve Jobs Steve Jobs, one of the world’s great contemporary innovators, left this planet for another life on October 5, 2011. Prior to his passing and since then a plethora of books have been written about him. While I can’t attest to which books are preferable, I can point to two that are great companions, having read them.

First, there’s Walter Isaacson’s 2011 masterpiece Steve Jobs (and 2013 paperback with epilogue about his death) for those who want more objective detail about his life and times. This authorized biography (600-plus pages and years in the making) sets the bar for informative books on Steve Jobs.

The second book is Steve Jobs Life by Design, which I really enjoyed, largely because of its conciseness–reflecting Jobs’ minimalist approach to design. Author George Beahm, a retired U.S. Army major, bases his book on Jobs’ last lecture at Stanford University’s 114th commencement on June 11, 2005. Check out Jobs’ full address here: How to Live before You Die.

Beahm does a brilliant job at capturing the essence of Steve Jobs, replete with leadership and life lessons, in less than 200 pages. It’s a gem of a book. He also links very nicely to another excellent book that I read several years ago: The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams by Randy Pausch, delivered on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, and one of the most watched videos on the web. His succinct book is a must-read.

Elon Musk Now I can hear some out there objecting to what’s been written so far, saying “Steve Jobs was a prick; he treated Apple employees and friends horribly and was in ways a narcissist.”

You’ll get no arguments or excuses from this quarter. Yet, one has only to look at other revered corporate leaders to realize they’re also very prickly, with hugely demanding personalities. Witness Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder and genius, Elon Musk (pictured, and also co-founder of PayPal ). Musk, like Jobs, doesn’t suffer fools. But it’s why people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs achieved such incredible things for the benefit of consumers and society.

So chill out, naysayers.

At his June 11, 2005, commencement address, Steve Jobs made one particularly valuable comment. Young people, then and 10 years later, continue to have a very difficult time in the job market, added to with onerous student loans. Reflect on his words:

Find the work that you love–and then relentlessly pursue it. That’s where you will find your fortune.

At the core of true leadership is the essence of simplicity, the ability to see through complexity, distilling patterns and trends, the inter-connections between ostensibly unrelated events. Top level leadership is not for everyone. Possessing the far-reaching vision to see what’s currently not possible, yet propelling everyone in the organization to move forward in unison at a breathtaking pace, is for the extraordinary individual. Steve Jobs certainly had that unique ability.

Your life is unique, so live it without regrets because you pass this way only once.

– Steve Jobs (Stanford University 2005 commencement address)

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The Race to the Bottom: Absent–Employee Engagement

July 19, 2015
Loblaws strike The corporate world is peculiar. Lots off odd–and corrupt–things occur in companies, large and small, at home and in far corners of the world. When it comes to oddities, sometimes one can distill a certain sense of reasoning and logic. But often we scratch our heads, wondering what the heck is going on?

Your faithful correspondent has seen plenty of weird stuff in his 40 years in the job market. One of the weirder–no, let’s be straight here and call it perverse–practices in the corporate world has been the introduction of top employer awards. These back-scratching, self-serving awards have undermined their initial intent: to recognize and profile companies, regardless of size, that have demonstrated strong leadership in business growth, employee relations, learning and development, and social and environmental responsibility.

In short, these companies aren’t focused on shareholder value growth, a notion that former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch harshly criticized a few years ago. Real top employers operate in a holistic manner. They practice leadership on a daily basis and engage employees at all levels of the organization.

One vital element of being a truly excellent employer is how you treat your employees. And that includes being transparent with your business decisions, corporate strategies, and relations with employees and unions (if present). If you’re not doing this on a daily basis then your company has no right to being part of a top employer ranking.

Yet as just noted there’s weird stuff going on in the corporate world. Witness Loblaws, Canada’s biggest grocery chain, which has won for six consecutive years a top 100 employer award.

Loblaws Strike 2 It defies logic. How can a company that has worked relentlessly at shrinking its workforce and diminishing the role of its unions be included in the contrived top 100 employer ranking? Your correspondent has been a Loblaws customer for over 15 years, though not a willing participant due to Ottawa’s non-competitive grocery market. At your correspondent’s local Loblaws store, the dwindling staff slog on, grim-faced, stocking shelves and responding to customer inquiries, but never initiating with “May I help you find something?”

One of Loblaws’ tactics has been to change the names of its stores, ostensibly as part of rebranding exercises, thus creating new legal entities. The result is employees being faced with new employment conditions, including wages and work hours. Unfortunately, your correspondent witnessed a number of his favorite employees, notably experienced cashiers, leave the company, accepting exit packages offering lump sum payments. The remaining staff appear defeated as they go about their daily work duties.

Recently, 97% of Loblaws workers in Ontario voted to go on strike over several bargaining issues. Days before publishing this post, members of the union representing 12,000 workers at 60 Loblaws stores in Ontario avoided a strike by voting for a six-year contract. Members of locals representing other Loblaws branded stores had yet to hold ratification votes.

Yours truly has made a point to engage many of the employees at his local store in conversation, from cashiers to department stockers. It’s amazing how revealing and honest people are when you show that you’re interested in their plight. Employees detest Loblaws. They detest how they’re treated, how their wages have been manipulated downwards, and how staffing is done at minimal levels, combined with almost everyone in a store being part-time.

Sobeys The problem of strikes, threatened and actual, has plagued Loblaws for years. Largely driven by the fear of the Walmart groceries juggernaut and Target, the latter of which collapsed within two years and left Canada with its tail between its legs. Loblaws has engaged in a race-to-the-bottom of cost-cutting, union-fighting and new supply chain management, which proved to be a disaster a few year ago. The result has been thinly staffed stores, with varying pay rates within stores due to the union issue. The consequence is poor customer service, despite the valiant efforts of many Loblaws employees.

Recently, your correspondent and his wife, Sue, moved a few miles away to new neighborhood. Interestingly, there’s no Loblaws store nearby; instead, there’s a Sobey’s store a few minutes away. One afternoon, shortly after moving in, yours truly visited the Sobeys store, a five minute walk away. Sobeys is Canada’s second largest grocer, based in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, and a grocer not without its own union issues.

The first thing your correspondent noticed when entering the store were employees, many employees, in contrast to Loblaws. When inquiring about supplements to an employee, the fellow explained that he wasn’t all that familiar with them but would find someone who was. Your faithful’s expectation was a Loblaws experience, with no one coming to help. A few minutes later a young pharmacist approached, asking how he could help. He then ushered your surprised correspondent to his office and proceeded to seek more information.

A repeat performance occurred a few days later, but this time with the fellow who managed the grocery part of the store, who had in an earlier visit helped with a question on a product. He made a point of acknowledging your correspondent, saying, “Give it a few weeks and you’ll get to know the store.”

These were mind-altering moments, for never in his years of shopping at Loblaws had staff shown that much interest in his needs. But it doesn’t negate the point that workers in Canada, in this instance grocery employees, face the ongoing downward pressures of corporate cost-cutting. One could ponder what the absence of unions in Loblaws and Sobeys would mean for hourly wage rates, working conditions, benefits and pensions.

It comes down to this: if a company wishes to be legitimately seen by the public and its employees as a top employee then the true test is whether it consistently delivers superb customer service. If you’re doing this as a company then you’re likely treating your employees well.

Whole Foods 1 Let’s quickly check out two innovative grocery companies in the United States as a comparison.

Trader Joe’s, founded in 1958 as Pronto Markets, with a name change in 1967 to its current form (owned since 1979 by a German family trust) sets the bar for customer-focused grocery stores. Your correspondent and his wife visited a Trader Joe’s in 2008 in San Diego while on a trip. It was certainly an eye-opening experience, prompting an email to the company to see if it had any plans to come to Canada. Alas, no.

And witness Whole Foods (pictured above and below), founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, another hugely successful American grocer that just opened near downtown Ottawa. This required a visit from yours truly to see just what all the fuss is about. Well, it’s certainly not overstated. Our visit was, again, an eye-opening experience, with a big selection of specialty products, reasonable prices and courteous staff. Indeed, a subsequent email was sent to Whole Foods to ask them to consider opening their next store in Ottawa’s west end.

On February 9, 2012, Trader Joe’s followed Whole Foods’ lead and signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group based in Immokalee, Florida, recognized for its successful Fair Food campaign.

Whole Foods 2 Big is not always better, regardless of whether a company achieves economies of scale. The problem with big, besides the pointy heads in head office being detached from customers and employees who work the frontlines, is the impact on people–allegedly a company’s most valuable asset–when corporate cost-cutting becomes the focus of its attention and existence.

Competition drives innovation, customer service and value-pricing for consumers. And in the process employees stand a chance of being treated more humanely. Canada’s oligopolistic grocery market is serving no one but shareholders.

It’s time for a change and an end to the race to the bottom.

When you shop pay attention to the work environment. Are the employees attentive, initiating contact with you, and do they smile readily, indicating some measure of happiness with their work? Make a point of engaging them in conversation. Let them know you care about how they’re treated by their employer.

I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.

– Jackie Robinson (Second baseman and first African American to play in the major leagues)

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The Nasty Society: Throwing Away Decades of Progress

July 12, 2015
Globe on Dollars One of the biggest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the gullible Western media and uninitiated public was the alleged benefits of opening markets under the guise of free trade.

British economist David Ricardo’s 200 year-old concept of Comparative Advantage (more accurately it’s about opportunity cost) argued for a country to specialize in a good, or goods, which could be produced more cheaply, leaving other nations to focus on other goods that could be produced at lowest cost. By specializing in a range of goods across countries, the result is the emergence of free trade with reciprocal benefits for all participants.

To appropriate Ricardo’s theory and apply it to a latter 20th Century–and now 21st Century–context is for the foolhardy and the naïve to swallow. Yet that’s precisely what the majority of economists have done, compounding their errors by arguing against Western governments’ stimulus programs post-Great Recession of 2009-10. Brighter lights, such as respected economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman understand the perils of engaging in simplistic arguments concerning free trade and combatting government deficits in an age of intractable high unemployment.

Today’s advocates of Ricardo’s comparative advantage apparently are not aware that “back-in-the-day” (circa 1800) governments were not heavily subsidizing manufacturers (eg, Brazil’s and France’s aircraft industries), or engaging in currency manipulations (ie, China) or union-busting as a means to attract employers (aka Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin). David Ricardo’s simple world 200 years ago didn’t possess the inter-connected issues and numerous unpredictable events that characterize today’s economy and society, not to mention a global trade network of dozens of participants.

Charlie Chaplin Your correspondent worked for the Government of Canada for three decades, mostly as a senior labor market economist, but whose last nine years was with the Department of Industry (cousin to the U.S. Commerce Department). From serving the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Science & Technology to subsequently working on competitiveness and innovation issues, your correspondent was surrounded by those who had drank the Kool-Aid on the marvelous benefits of outsourcing work to far-off countries, under the guise of David Ricardo’s comparative advantage. My contemporaries, and scores of esteemed economists and experts, argued that countries such as the United States, Canada and Great Britain should embrace knowledge jobs (more on that in a moment), leaving dirty manufacturing work and repetitive administrative jobs to developing countries.

During this period (2000-2010) Canada’s manufacturing sector continued to take hit after hit, all the while Canada’s prime ministers and cabinets (Liberal and Conservative) mostly slept.

Now, where is Canada’s economy, and in particular the manufacturing sector?

Going nowhere but backwards.

And of course this links directly to Canada’s persistent unemployment problem.

A lot of hyperbole has been generated by economists, politicians and policy wonks on the fuzzy concept of knowledge workers.

Girl and blackboard Coined by 20th Century management guru Peter Drucker in 1959, the expression knowledge worker took hold in the nineties and 2000s as the offshoring of manufacturing and service sector jobs (eg, data processing, computer programming and call centers) accelerated.

Compounding the pressure on North American workers has been mechanization and automation, improving efficiency and productivity. Indeed, the recent trend of some manufacturing work being repatriated to the United States from China has some people excited. However, this repatriation is accompanied with the qualification of increased automation in manufacturing plants, along with workers being paid less than before jobs were offshored, combined with the decline of unions (notably in the US). The biggest beneficiary of pulling manufacturing jobs out of China has been Mexico, with its proximity to the US (and Canadian) market and possessing a skilled labor force.

The knowledge worker concept is elastic, stretching out as far as one wishes. If you’re not using your hands (specifically, not getting them dirty) but supposedly doing a job that requires some measure of thinking, then you’re eligible to be a knowledge worker.

What gets lost in the discussion on the location of jobs (and their “quality” and associated benefits) is the role of the corporation. Once upon a time, US companies were able to legitimately espouse their patriotism and what they contributed to American society and culture on top of providing good paying jobs. That’s no longer the case. Corporations now have no substantive allegiance to America or Canada or Great Britain or Germany, etc. They’re multi-national entities that are geographically dispersed and that use offshore tax havens to re-direct profits. Maximizing shareholders wealth is the mantra. Interestingly, it was retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch who strongly criticized this short-sighted mindset. Check out this short interview on this topic with Welch.

Containers The genie can’t be put back in the pseudo free trade bottle. In the past few years, much effort has been made by a wide variety of countries to form regional trading blocks, which is in theory anathema to David Ricardo’s concept of free trade. The 19th Century guru, held to high esteem by his following flock of economists, is being undermined by the politics of relationships and convenience. However, Ricardo’s world never conceived of trade sanctions due to nuclear proliferation, human rights abuses or illegal forced occupations of neighboring states.

The geo-political world is rapidly becoming both a complex beast beyond human comprehension and its ability to competently respond effectively. The hard work of Canada’s and America’s founders and settlers, combined with those who worked tirelessly (most of whom were immigrants) to build world class manufacturing industries is now largely forgotten.

What will be the legacy of today’s political and corporate leaders?

Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.

– Elon Musk (Founder of Tesla and SpaceX)

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The Year of the Blogger: Self-Empowered Leadership

July 5, 2015
Blog 1 Leadership comes in many forms, one being what’s called “Thought Leadership.” This post goes out to bloggers around the globe for making a difference.

Print media has been around for some time–actually a very long time. In 59 BC Roman leader–make that dictator– Julius Caesar ordered the creation of a series of bulletins from his government, or what were officially called Acta Diruna (Daily Acts). Carved in stone or metal, these bulletins were posted in public areas. A couple of hundred years later, China’s Han Dynasty produced government (imperial) bulletins on blocks of wood.

Fast forward to the mid-1500s when the Government of Venice produced handwritten monthly newsletters (Notizie scritte) aimed at conveying economic, military and political information to the public. France and England got in on the act in the 1600s, with England’s first A Current of General News first published in 1622. The Gazette de France followed in 1632. And your correspondent’s favorite news source The Economist, founded in 1843, has proved its staying power in a media-fueled world.

The introduction of radio in 1920 caused a seismic wave in print media, followed several decades later with the advent of television in the 1950s. And, of course, the introduction of the internet has caused turmoil to both print and television news.

Inject the initial creep and subsequent explosion of blogging in the past decade and you have a recipe for information overload. Everyone, from big shot journalists to small-town reporters to alternative online news sources to independent bloggers, is vying for attention–in most cases just a small piece of the action (except for the big shot news anchors).

Competition is healthy, whether you’re selling laundry soap, motor vehicles or news. Once upon a time, as noted in the introduction to this post, writing for the masses was in effect a monopoly. Over time, especially as the 20th Century proceeded, competition increased as print media, radio and TV battled it out. The state of affairs early in the 21st Century has become nothing short of a street-fight for Joe Public’s attention.

As much as we’re all drowning in information overload, the key point to remember is that we now have one main thing: CHOICE.

shakespeareblog What has begun to emerge in the past few years is an odd trend, one that’s quite disturbing and which will hopefully correct itself if only because of the hyper competitive virtual information space.

That trend is big name journalists and conventional news anchors who have disgraced themselves due to hubristic acts, either in the name of bolstering their apparently weak self-esteems or their lack of personal ethics.

The venerable Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s branding strategy places a lot of emphasis on its heavyweight TV and radio personalities, from the disgraced Jian Ghomeshi (charged with sexual assault) to Evan Solomon (recently fired for breaking the corporation’s ethics code of conduct) and Amanda Lang who narrowly escaped getting sacked for conflict of interest and allegedly biased reporting due to her relationship with a senior RBC executive.

Then there’s columnist Margaret Wente’s plagiarism which got her suspended temporarily from Toronto’s Globe & Mail and sacked from CBC’s media panel.

The list goes on with Global News Leslie Roberts resigning for conflict of interest acts.

In the United States, there have been numerous instances of professional misconduct by TV and print journalists. Witness NBC’s news anchor Brian Williams, whose years of trips to various corners of the world produced a number of inflated reports–okay, the guy lied.

And then there are ABC’s Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos (undisclosed donations to the Clinton Foundation) and New York Times writer Jayson Blair who in 2003 was exposed for fabricating stories and plagiarism.

What’s going on here? As Steve Paikin of TV Ontario posed recently on his daily current events show, is it an issue with journalists or with journalism?

Morley Safer CBS’ crusty veteran correspondent Morley Safer (pictured, and a Canadian by birth) dismissed blogging a few years ago, raising his nose at the thought of untrained journalists venturing into the territory previously owned by those with the necessary credentials. What Safer missed in his condescending put-down was that bloggers, like reporters, journalists and columnists, have acquired life experiences, whether from work, global travel or community service, not to mention acquired research, analytical and writing skills.

Who’s Safer kidding here? Only himself in a misguided attempt to massage his ego.

There’s an inherent arrogance possessed by conventional journalists and columnists that they own the writing-commentary space, that only they are qualified to comment on the wide spectrum of issues and topics that affect society, the economy and the environment.

Bloggers self-empower, typically with little or no financial remuneration. They share their knowledge, discoveries and experiences unreservedly with virtual communities.

Competition is one of the hallmarks of a healthy, democratic society. Citizens–people–must always be free to choose. Only the people know what they want and what is good for them. In the context of news and information, society is in the midst of a profound shakeup, and it’s scaring the crap out of mainstream media. Blogging and bloggers are but one piece of the emerging online media puzzle. They’re playing an important role in presenting alternate ideas and speaking truth to power.

It’s a crowded but exciting information space for all.

The world runs on individuals pursuing their self-interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a, from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way.
Milton Friedman

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The Incredible Shrinking Middle Manager: Flat is Back

June 28, 2015
Black MManager The role of the middle manager is one of the more maligned functions within organizations. Whether they’re the opinions of employees, management theorists or pseudo experts vying for attention, it seems that everyone likes to target middle managers as being redundant to organizations. These bouts of revelation come typically during slow economic growth periods, and especially during recessions.

While we’ve been technically out of recession for some six years, middle managers have been taking a shellacking of late. Whether it’s in the public sphere or corporate world, the numbers and percentage of middle managers in companies has been shrinking again, similar to previous slow growth periods.

It’s easy to pick the low-hanging fruit, whether middle managers, supervisors, back-office staff or staff providing direct customer service. Just don’t touch those in senior management positions. Of course there are exceptions in some companies, which take the axe down through the hierarchy.

However, there’s a reticence to negatively affect the lives of those hidden away in the corner ivory tower offices. And in the Government of Canada (and by association, the US Government) the span of control of executives has reached ridiculously low proportions, reminiscent of the traditional 1960s ratio of one manager for six to eight employees. That’s fine for those in supervisory positions, but not in today’s world for middle managers and certainly not for executives.

I just have to think of my 32 year-old son who works for a major bank, where he had during a recent assignment some 45 staff split between two major cities. Weekly air flights was the practice, working on weekends and available for last-minute conference calls was the norm. Federal public servants would go into apoplexy if faced with such demands.

Magnifying Glass What gets lost in the hyperbole is that middle managers–and supervisors–are the interface between senior management and staff. Middle managers are where staff first receive information that’s critical for their work. They’re where staff turn to for consoling, venting frustrations and requesting new career development opportunities.

Middle managers are the buffer and integrator of information that descends from the gods–those at the peak of the organizational pyramid. They decipher the hidden meanings in the correspondence from the top, actively inquiring into the facts.

Middle managers make a critical difference in how organizations function.

Unfortunately, not all companies understand the role of middle management. Yes, having excessive organizational layers is not desirable in today’s turbulent, competitive global economy. Organizations need to be flexible and adaptable. However, the issue is not just one of too many middle managers and supervisors in some situations, it’s more important to look upwards to try to determine how many layers are sandwiched between the middle and the top.

Witness recent cuts made by a number of Canadian companies. Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s telecom power triad, turfed hundreds of managers and 15% of executives. Bell Canada did the same previously, dumping 2,500 management jobs. Wal-Mart Canada eliminated 200 head office jobs, and Tim Horton’s (recently acquired by Burger King) chopped around 40% of its middle management jobs.

According to Statistics Canada, 10.4% of jobs in Canada in 1995 were in middle management. Two decades later that share now stands at 7.8%. In the context of the country’s labor force, which expanded by over a third during this 20 year period, the role and visibility of middle managers in organizations has clearly diminished.

Flat is Back.

Flat Earth Popular in the eighties and nineties, the concept of the flat organizational structure is undergoing a resurgence. U.S. online shoe retailer Zappos nuked all of its management positions this past spring. CEO Tony Hsieh has embraced what’s called a holocracy, in which employees are organized into overlapping circles of responsibilities. This intersection–interconnection–of job roles is supposed to produce more collaboration and better communication. Top management, in the absence of a middle management, conveys its strategic directions, goal setting and planning directly to the worker circles.

Created by Brian Robertson, a holocracy is another participative form of employee involvement in the workplace. In this short TED Talk Robertson provides an illuminating perspective on how organizations can re-organize to achieve better results by enabling employees.

Gen Y (19-34) loves the idea of any organizational design that reduces hierarchy and that gives them more freedom (however one may wish to define it). Gen X (35-49) will approach it trepidatiously, given it is assuming the management mantel from retiring Baby Boomers. And Boomers, notably the younger sub-set (50-59) will shake their heads collectively, muttering “Been there, done that.”

Will holocracy have any staying power? It depends, particularly on the results it produces for companies. The bottom line is regardless of label, these concepts–fads if you prefer–are about top management creating a work environment where people are able to perform to their fullest and, by logic, have the greatest positive impact on the organization’s results.

So let’s stop using middle managers as punching bags, the proxy for senior management lashing out when its ill-thought corporate strategies produce undesirable results. The challenge for top management is to simultaneously keep an eye on the distant horizon, moving the organization towards its vision, while striving to bring the best out of employees in tactical daily operations.

Changing corporate culture is not a tactical exercise. It’s about engaging the hearts and minds of people.

– Jim Taggart

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The Clueless Leading the Clueless: When National Vision and Leadership Matter

June 22, 2015
Harper 1 Leading a nation is a tough job.

National leaders come in all varieties: from the visionary (eg, America’s Franklin D. Roosevelt, Canada’s founding prime minister Sir John A. MacDonald, Great Britain’s Winston Churchill) to the administrator (eg, America’s Jimmy Carter, Canada’s current prime minister Stephen Harper, Germany’s Angela Merkel), to the despot (eg, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, Uganda’s Idi Amin Dada).

And then there’s Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, a self-perceived rock star to his citizens but who clearly is following Machiavelli’s playbook, with some pernicious twists and adaptations. Stay strong, Ukraine!

Canada, as a middle power of 35 million citizens but the second largest country geographically on the planet (second to Russia), used to matter. And that was when it had a smaller population.

Whether it was Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who fought tirelessly against Apartheid in South Africa (coercing US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to support sanctions) or Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson who received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1957 for setting up the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal crisis, Canada has made a significant difference in the world on several occasions.

Unfortunately, the past near quarter century has been a time warp of corrupt government (witness the Liberal Party of Canada under Prime Minister Jean Chretien), impotent government (Chretien’s successor Paul Martin) and, currently, inept government under the iron fist of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

images One common theme has run across the past three federal governments (administrations in American speak): the lack of a focused vision that captures the hearts and minds of Canadians.

If there were ever a time that demanded the attention of Canada’s 35 million citizens, it is now. The exception is World War Two, when a totally different context was set in motion.

Stephen Harper (56 years of age) is one of Canada’s longest serving prime ministers. This may be seen as a major feat, considering how negatively Canadians perceived him when he first came into view as a strongly right wing reformer, the product of an early childhood Toronto upbringing but which was uprooted and shot across Canada to Alberta, to some America’s putative 51st state.

It would be easy to forgive Stephen Harper for his misplaced intentions to remake Canada, considering what must have been a traumatic childhood in Calgary, home to the anachronistic Calgary Stampede. Layer on top a badly bruised Canadian electorate following the never-ending scandals within the federal Liberal Party, under the direction of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and you have a country yearning for the subtle snake-oil messaging of Stephen Harper. It has indeed been a bizarre decade of Canadians turning to one another in wide-eyed exclamation, uttering (children, please close your eyes): “How the fuck did we get to this state?”

Yes, it is rather puzzling.

So let’s take a moment to examine three very different topic areas where the Harper government has fallen flat, showing virtually no leadership, while simultaneously engaging in frequent unethical behavior.

Consumers 1) Consumer Rights and Health:
There has probably never been a situation in Canadian politics where the hyperbole was in such overdrive that the Minister of the Department of Industry was rubbing his legs together in glee, exclaiming how the Harper Government was on the side of consumers and had introduced legislation which would spank the country’s big three telecom companies: Rogers, Bell and Telus. Three year contracts would become toast and Canadians would be the better for it. Two year contracts would be the maximum duration.

Except that someone forgot to send Harper and his Minister of Industry the memo that the telecom companies, despite being allegedly an evil trio, are pretty smart. You do the math. Canadian telecom consumers are no further ahead financially with their wireless plans.

Indeed, in its 2015 Wall Report, Wall Communications Inc. reported that the cost of wireless plans in Canada rose, overall, by three to four times the rate of inflation. And of note, new entrants to the wireless spectrum, some of whom have subsequently exited due to the imposing influence of the big three, had plans 25 to 50% cheaper.

A similar situation, but more serious, is being played out when it comes to federal food inspection. Stephen Harper’s five-year gutting of the public service has decimated frontline operational employees who work to ensure the health and safety of Canadians–every day. The same applies to railway and airline safety inspections, which operate on the basis of industry self-regulation. The catastrophic Lac Megantic oil tanker-laden train explosions on July 6, 2013, in Quebec’s beautiful Eastern Townships, exemplify a federal government that became lax on ensuring rail safety, with disastrous consequences for the many small communities through which freight trains travel daily.

Science and Technology 2) Science, Technology and Innovation
Your faithful correspondent has some measure of knowledge in this arena, having spent three decades with the Government of Canada, the last 10 years with the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology, and subsequently working on manufacturing and innovation competitiveness issues.

Stephen Harper may have a Master’s degree in economics but it’s questionable whether he ever worked in an applied setting. Considering the volatile, unpredictable and global street fight for market share, one could easily conclude that one of the top three priorities of a national government would be strengthening the country’s competitiveness: from human capital (economist jargon for education and skills training) to new technologies research and commercialization to infrastructure enhancements (eg, roads, bridges, airports, internet broadband)

But that’s not Stephen Harper’s world. His world is giving tax breaks to parents whose kids play sports. He lays off federal public servants who are responsible for keeping the workplace, food and railways safe. He wipes out the jobs of federal scientists; those who are lucky to keep their jobs are forbidden to speak to the media, let alone the public.

A few facts on Canada’s slow decline:

• The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2014 report on 144 countries showed Canada slipping further down the competitiveness rung, from 14th to 15th place, the lowest since 2006.

• The respected Conference Board of Canada places Canada 13th out of 16 peer countries on innovation, with the country showing particular weakness in productivity, income per capita, and the quality of its social programs.

• Canada is ranked at 14th place (behind Australia and Indonesia) by Global Firepower (note: nuclear capability is excluded, but such factors as economic health, political/military leadership and limited naval capabilities are taken into consideration).

• The OECD’s 2014 report on mobile broadband subscriptions placed Canada in the bottom third of the 34 member states. Ranking behind Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain is not encouraging news.

• However, some good news: the WEF ranked Canada at 4th place on its human capital index out of 124 countries 2015. It’s not totally bleak.

When faced with persistent questioning from the opposition parties and critical media articles, Harper resorts to his favorite strategy: Crime and Punishment.

Harper uses crime in a misguided attempt to deflect the attention of Canadians from such substantive issues as the country’s international competitiveness ranking, a stubbornly high unemployment rate (especially with youth and indigenous peoples), and Canada’s weak showing in science and technology.

This has a huge impact on Canada’s global competitiveness.

Indeed, Stephen Harper has proven to be a master of the politics of fear. From attempting to paint the image of evil Islamic jihadists (aka terrorists) lurking in the Canadian shadows to a near hysterical response to efforts to legalize medicinal pot to trying to manipulate the public to believe that violent crime is rising across the country (when the opposite has actually occurred), Harper’s reputation has become one of ignoring, or even running away from, tough issues requiring well thought out solutions for the country.

G7 3) Canada’s International Stature
There’s nothing like getting religion. And, oh, how did Stephen Harper get it.

During his first several years in office, he seemed to take exquisite glee in poking China in the eye for its human rights abuses. Ostensibly, this would have seemed to be the appropriate tactic. Poke ‘em, and poke ‘em hard!

But that’s not how international diplomacy typically works–especially with China.

It took Stephen Harper several years to figure that out, but then he seemed to leap to the other end of the spectrum. The point is, it is an art to determine the degree of tension a national leader must exert on a country such as China if the desired result of improved human rights is to be achieved. Harper is in some ways a bit of a bull in a china shop when it comes to international diplomacy.

Witness how he has tried to manipulate the media with respect to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. If Harper thinks that tough talk about Russia’s adventures in Ukraine from wee Canada holds any sway with Putin then it may be time to retract the plate of hash brownies. Vladimir Putin has laughed at US president Barack Obama. He’s met numerous times with Germany’s Angela Merkel (who speaks fluent Russian) but who has made little headway with Putin. However, Harper’s tough talk makes great media headlines in Canada–but nowhere else.

Harper’s “muscular” approach (as labelled by some commentators) to the desperate situations in Syria and Ukraine is more appropriately explained as belligerence. The irony with Harper’s tough talk is that Canada’s defence spending is a mere one percent of GDP; NATO has been urging Canada to boost its spending to two percent to reflect member countries’ average. Since the 2009-10 fiscal year, Harper has steadily cut the defence budget, notably after Canada’s withdrawl from Afghanistan. Layered on top of the defence department’s contraction is a report that is critical of how procurement is being carried out.

So where does that leave Canada’s 35 million people? Not in a very reassuring place, when one takes into the account the dozens of intersecting economic, environmental and geo-political issues that a national leader must address on a daily basis. It is a measure of not just political leadership incompetence but indeed irresponsibility for Prime Minister Harper to continue playing games with the national electorate. There’s too much at stake for Harper and his sycophantic ministers to keep playing the political fire-up-the-electorate’s-emotions game.

It’s now time for visionary leadership guided by a set of principles and ethical behavior.

On October 19, 2015, be sure to vote if you’re eligible. In the last national election of 2011 a mere 61.4% of eligible Canadians turned out to vote, the third lowest turnout in Canadian history.

Make a difference–Vote!

Confederation is a compact, made originally by four provinces but adhered to by all the nine provinces who have entered it, and I submit to the judgment of this house and to the best consideration of its members, that this compact should not be lightly altered.

– Wilfrid Laurier (7th Prime Minister of Canada, July 1896 – October 1911)

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim Grand Manan FBTake a moment to meet Jim.

Building Change Adaptability Using the Greiner Maturity Model

June 14, 2015
Iguana Building change adaptability in a turbulent world is a key skill that all of us need to master.

Models, while appearing to many people as boring and immaterial to the real world, do have a very useful role to play in helping us understand better the dynamics of change. In the context of this post, they help explain how leadership can play an integral part in enabling people to become engaged in the workplace. The outcome is greater change adaptability and resilience.

One helpful model is Larry Greiner’s growth curve, consisting of six phases and five dimensions. Greiner developed his growth model to help organizations think about how they’re adapting to a changing external environment. Building a strong change capacity is instrumental to an organization’s evolution and long-term success. His model is depicted below.

Grenier Model Greiner’s sixth phase (added after his model was first developed) involves collaborative partnerships, alliances and mergers as part of the organizational change continuum. Many organizations have not, or will not, reach that level of maturity for a number of reasons, key ones being:

a) the time needed to evolve and to successfully transition to the next phase;
b) the presence of dynamic, visionary leadership that’s capable of taking effective action;
c) an engaged workforce that’s focused on creativity, innovation and doing things differently.

As much as models are important instruments to help organizations position themselves for the future, it’s equally important to descend from the 40,000 foot level to the real organizational world to figure out how to adapt to unrelenting change. Therefore, to make effective use of Greiner’s model a systematic process of individual and collective reflection and inquiry will yield greater impact for organizational improvement.

Understanding the Greiner growth curve provides the necessary foundation for helping frame the conversation in your organization. Refer to the table below which summarizes key aspects of each of the phases, along the first five main categories. These steps are best carried out in teams across the organization, and at all levels. For example, those who are involved in setting the organization’s strategic direction need to contribute to this process; the questions posed below may be incorporated into your next strategic planning process.

Grenier org practices Step One
Collectively reflect about where you and your co-workers see your organization on Greiner’s growth curve. Then ask yourselves:
a) Why are we at this point on the curve?
b) What brought us there?
c) What has our journey been as an organization to reach this point?

Step Two
Think about whether your organization is reaching the end of a stable period of growth and nearing a ‘crisis’ or transition. Some of the signs of ‘crisis’ include:
a) Employees feel that managers and corporate policies are getting in the way of how they them perform their jobs.
b) They feel that they’re not being fairly rewarded for their efforts.
c)Morale is poor, with high turnover and low productivity being the consequence.

Now ask yourself what the transition will mean for you personally, and what it will mean for your team. Will you need to:
1) Explore new ways on how to share leadership among the team’s members?
2) Determine your value-added to the team?
3) Change the way you communicate with others?
4) Adjust how recognition is done for your team?
5) Examine where new market opportunities for your products or services?

Step Three
As part of leaving behind the phase through which your organization has just travelled, engage your team members in the following activities:
a) Plan and take preparatory actions that will make the next transition as smooth as possible for you and your team.
b) Where do you see your organization on the growth curve in the next 12 months?
c) Revisit Greiner’s model for growth again every 6-12 months, and think about how your current stage of growth affects you and others around you.

An additional tool that can be used to assess your organization’s learning capability along the different phases and at the key crisis points is the Learning Organization Assessment (see page 20)

Take time with your team to answer the questions, and then score the answers using the guide. From there, initiate the needed conversations and actions to address where you scored low.
Change is a messy business. It’s not a linear process, nor one that can be easily anticipated.

As Peter Senge, author of the acclaimed The Fifth Discipline, has stated: “Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life.”

The key to an organization being capable of making the transition from the old to the new is to create the needed time for individual and team reflection and inquiry. In doing so, this separates those organizations that will continue to grow and evolve in a volatile change environment that does not accept the status quo as the answer.

It’s about being adaptable to change.

There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.

Theodore Roosevelt

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

DSCN2815Take a moment to meet Jim.


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