No More Corporate Dodgeball 101509


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Every company has untapped capacity for growth and success within its own four walls. But we are so busy playing a game I call ‘Corporate Dodgeball’ that we fail to drive great unifying ideas and success through our organizations. We need to stop – Actually, I mean to say: YOU need to stop.
Unless we change the HOW of what got us into trouble, we won't just end up back at the cliff edge again, we'll dive straight over it. It’s time to figure out what and HOW we need to change.

Published in: Business, Career
  • Social media can definitely play an internal role ... however, it’s effectiveness will depend on the extent of alignment between corporate purpose and individual purpose. I used the word purpose deliberately rather than vision or mission. This is because I am aware that corporates have ’removed’ vision and mission statements - but instead have honed in on Values (Coke Cola is an example). I guess the rationale is that individuals can align with values much easier than a vision or mission. My own experience of founding Leaders Cafe Foundation has shown me the awesome power of purpose/passion ’alignment’. The fact that values are seldom ’black or white’ is another discussion for another time - as highlighted by Malcolm Gladwell in his book - The Tipping Point :-)
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  • Charles - I think if issue you point to is good followership. How do you have the debate, have your view not prevail but then still engage as a collaborator towards success. You gotta have the debate, engage the topic and once the call is made, decide what team you are in. This book ( nailed the full range of what is needed in good followership.
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  • Erin - you are so right in that this internal change of high exchange/collaboration/flow can be supported by social media. the focus of most social media conv today are how to have conversation with customers and i can't imagine how companies can do that if they are not doing so internally. C-level folks often think of the social media stuff as 'chatter' but i think it's a matter of how we pay attention to the 'chatter' so we can take in smaller bits of pre-digested information rather than the neat-tidy work often brought to execs. There could be some great sessions on how 'social media' can allow us to reinvent companies inside-out. Thanks for joining in the dialogue here! - Nilofer
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  • YES. Process matters as least as much, if not more than short-term results.

    What if company strategy read like a compelling short story?
    Re: Rule #1- I think social media is a great tool for for enabling co-creation. The challenge is that these channels are not used by many C-level folks yet.
    Re: Rules #2-3: Leaders need to be humble, yet strong enough to support learning experiments. Think orchestra conductor.

    I met Matt Smith (improviser) at a scrum exchange conference. He does a wonderful exercise where he whiteboards all of the audience's associations with failure. When the audience can't think of another thing, he does a high-speed re-enactment where he embodies all of them. It was wonderfully cathartic and a powerful, playful way to express self-limiting beliefs that impede progress.

    Nilofer, thanks for this great conversation starter.
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  • I think the points you make are good ones. But I think one that is equally important is that in most organizations, the strategy is subtly subverted by people who pretend to 'run the play', after it has been called. In many cases, as you suggest, they could have, but chose not to participate in the process of drawing up 'the play'. In others they did participate, but their view did not prevail. Unless the organization acts like a 'team' and everyone moves as a coordinated unit, the probabillty of success is dramatically reduced.
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No More Corporate Dodgeball 101509

  1. No More Dodgeball! An Imperative for Workplaces Besieged, Beleaguered, and Bombarded
  2. How we play matters. Great products are not designed in isolation. Great businesses are not run in silos. Great outcomes are not created by just one party. Yet, the implicit rules in business today reward individual contribution and avoidance of blame rather than collaboration and risk-taking. These rules promote a game of corporate dodgeball— where we collectively lose. Let’s reinvent the rules of business so the new norm is that we play to win (and win repeatedly).
  3. Each of us is, like it or not, part of the corporate dodgeball problem.
  4. Let’s Look in the Mirror I have some bad news: we are the problem. It’s not “them,” not the guy down the hall or in the big office upstairs. It’s “us.” Do you recognize yourself in these examples? Have you ever stared at a crack in the Q u i c k T i m e ™ a n d d e c o m p r e s s o r a a r e n e e d e d t o s e e t h i s p i c t u r e . ceiling rather than taking on some issue you were aware of? Perhaps you told yourself “everyone already knows,” or perhaps you felt you wouldn’t be heard if you raised an issue. Have you ever tucked away or shaved off relevant data, or sugar-coated issues, as solutions get passed up the chain of command? Perhaps you even viewed the issues as just a bunch of “unnecessary details.” Have you ever allocated only 20 minutes for a major strategic discussion that would set the course of something really important? Do you fail to allocate time to talk through issues because you “have a schedule to keep”? We fail to use our voices, our intellect, and our wisdom to help the businesses we work in. We hold back. We skip the necessary debates. We limit discussion, choosing to focus on getting things done, not doing the right thing. This must stop.
  5. The Co$t: We Fail to Win There is an invisible price to this game of corporate dodgeball, and we all pay it. We think that solving the company’s problems is not our responsibility. We say, “It’s above my pay grade,” or “It’s not my job,” or “Someone else surely owns this,” and we move on. But what does that mean in real life? It means there is a gap in the organization and if it doesn’t get fixed, your paycheck is going to suffer. That’s right, yours. Only 5% of us understands our company’s strategy. Not only do many of us shirk responsibility for the outcomes at our companies, but we often don’t even know where the company is going. Research shows that only 5% of workers understands their company’s strategy.1 Only one person in twenty is prepared to answer, clearly and realistically, what his company is doing and how his individual efforts contribute to it. That means 95% of us are relying on what others tell us to do, rather than knowing what to do on our own. The cost of all this is that we fail to win in the marketplace. Even if we get lucky once, we don’t know how to win repeatedly. That’s an unnecessary tax, and one we can overthrow. 1 Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton. 2000. The Strategy-Focused Organization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  6. Ending the corporate dodgeball game requires three new rules.
  7. Rule #1: Each of Us Becomes a Co-Creator Each of us must go from being an individual contributor without responsibility, authority, or the power to raise our voice, to a co- creator for the future. A co-creator is an advocate, champion, and Q u i c k T i m e ™ a n d d e c o m p r e s s o r a a r e n e e d e d t o s e e t h i s p i c t u r e . lobbyist for the creation and adoption of the best ideas to help the company win. It’s not about the title, it’s about an attitude. Being a co-creator does not mean I do your job. Or that you do mine. Instead, we watch each other’s backs as we design our future of success, but then each of us owns our part. Accountability is shared in the thinking and more discrete in the doing. We slow down to think, and move faster to create the outcome. From everything we know, competitive advantages today are not owned by just one part of the company; they are baked into the whole organization. That means companies need to work across department boundaries and organizational silos. It’s only when companies do this that they are able to set direction and make the tough choices that make them unbeatable. When each person is able to go beyond tending her “piece” of the puzzle and take on the whole view, the pieces combine to create a competitive advantage. To make this happen, we need to change how we behave toward one another.
  8. Rule #2: Leaders Shift to an Unhero Role The very thing that makes good leaders valuable often biases them toward a “smartest guy in the room” approach to strategizing. The self-confidence and competitiveness that got them into their leadership role makes them believe they are smarter and faster than others. But you know what happens when leaders act like that—like a “chief of answers”? It makes everyone else the “tribe of doing things.” We need to move away from having “superheroes” in the business. There’s one goal for all of us: repeated wins. It’s not one big “hail Mary” kind of win, it’s the ability to win time and time again. When leaders empower others to create solutions, they empower the organization to grow exponentially. We often think of the leader as the guy with the cape, but we forget about the full superhero team. Batman was not the only character who saved the day; Alfred got all the gizmos and sounded the alarm so Batmanknew what to do.
  9. Rule #3: Reward the “Students of the Game” The reason we don’t take full charge of challenges? We are afraid of failure. More specifically, we are afraid of being blamed for failure at our companies. Better to have only fingers on the issue rather than a firm grip, just Q u i c k T i m e ™ a n d d e c o m p r e s s o r a a r e n e e d e d t o s e e t h i s p i c t u r e . in case. Because we fear the downside, we avoid signing up completely. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle of accountability. But, we can change this. Leaders can enable their teams to take appropriate risks by letting people turn failure into a learning opportunity, so that failure is no longer the “career death move” that it is today. And they can reward the risk-takers. That will let each of us become students of the game who say, “I will try; I will stretch. I may fail, but I will learn what will make this company more successful.” Let’s bring failure into the room. If we don’t value and accept failure in our business, we will never get people to take full responsibility for success.
  10. When we play by these three collaborative rules of business, we end the game of corporate dodgeball (hooray!) More importantly, we all play a game that creates great value.
  11. The future is co-created. The secret sauce of a winning organization is a critical mass of people committed to a shared outcome. Through collaborative rules, we go from “I designed it and they do it” to “We know it, we create it, we own the outcome.” Business then becomes as much a conversation of the heart as a meeting of the minds. When we come together to solve a problem, we’re creating more than a team, we’re creating a business force. We’ll deal with the tough issues, even when they are unpopular! We’ll call them out, deliberate on them, discuss the problems that matter, and ask, “Can we?”, “Should we?”, “Will we?”… until we come together to a solid, resounding “Yes.” And success will come from this. Because everyone co-owns success.
  12. The New How Movement The New How shares processes to do strategic planning everywhere in the organization. It also defines the key behaviors people need to bring into the process. This manifesto focuses on the people underpinnings that cause businesses to fail. If you want to know more about the business processes to take advantage of a collaborative culture to innovate faster and strategize to win, then you’ll be interested in the New How.
  13. Create (Co-Own) the Movement Send this along. We want to change the rules of business and eradicate corporate dodgeball. Help by sharing this with five people to raise the discussion inside firms. What we’re talking about orative Strategy through Collaborative Strategy Creating Business Solutions usiness. In her highly ovides insightful, isn’t easy, but it is a necessary change. (Thank you for your courage.) solutions to problems oach the “New How.” Continue the conversation. Dialogue with me on Twitter @nilofer. Change happens when lofer Merchant, under and CEO of bicon, Inc., is a leading thority on creating siness solutions through llaborative strategy. r unique approach s proven effective for obe, Apple, Nokia, and P, among other clients. many people engage in ideas. I hope you’ll join me in changing the game of business. popular speaker at siness leadership events, pos, and conferences, lofer has won multiple wards for her insights applying strategic nking and innovation. e lives and works in Buy the #newhow book. Read it. Share it. rthern California. Tell me how I can help. Let me know if I can come talk to your organization, trade show, club, Nilofer Merchant association, etc. to help share these ideas. A bit about me: My name is Nilofer Merchant, and I’m CEO of a company that helps other companies find and win markets. I want to help many businesses reach better outcomes. I work Buy the book with some of the best technology companies in Silicon Valley. I know that when those companies succeed, it’s because they are playing by the three rules I’ve named. When I see the larger business community struggling, I want to help it address its new reality. We’re going to create Become a fan and experience more downturn by doing what we’ve always done. Let’s wake up and shift how on Facebook we do business. I’ve written a book on collaborative strategy that I hope transforms the business landscape. Business strategy typically has been planned by corporate chiefs in annual meetings, and then handed to managers to carry out. In The New How, I show corporate directors, executives, and managers that the best way to create a winning strategy is to include employees at all levels, helping to create strategy they not only believe in, but are also extremely invested in making real. No More Dodgeball! | ©2009, Nilofer Merchant. All rights reserved. |