Whisper Courses

This reminds me of something our leadership-development team launched last year with behavioral nudging. We created what we call “whisper courses,” which were based on the premise that, as leaders, we have the best intentions yet get so busy and forget to do the many little things that matter so much. I recall us talking about how nice it would be to have this invisible … [ Read more ]

Create a Sales War Room for Better Post-Merger Integration

After a merger, it is a mistake to expect sales reps on their own to address all of the inevitable questions from customers and tactics of competitors. Unfortunately, sales managers are often too preoccupied with integration issues, so the front line is left to its own devices.

To resolve this problem, successful acquirers create a temporary sales war room, or interim leadership group. Led by two … [ Read more ]

New Leader Tip: Learn What Is and Isn’t Working

One of the first things I did when I joined [Philips], in late 2010, was to write an open letter to about 700 people—basically, the group we call the Consumer Lifestyle leadership and a layer below them. I invited them to tell me what they thought was working well in the business and what wasn’t. This gave me a pretty good idea of what was … [ Read more ]

Snowball Sampling: Identifying People with Informal Influence

Employee resistance is the most common reason executives cite for the failure of big organizational-change efforts. Companies need to develop strong change leaders employees know and respect—in other words, people with informal influence. But there’s one problem: finding them. How can company leaders identify those people beforehand to better harness their energy, creativity, and goodwill—and thereby increase the odds of success?

One way we’ve found … [ Read more ]

A Premortem for Contrarian Thinking

“The premortem technique is a sneaky way to get people to do contrarian, devil’s advocate thinking,” explains psychologist Gary Klein. “Before a project starts, say, ‘We’re looking in a crystal ball, and this project has failed; it’s a fiasco. Now, everybody, take two minutes and write down all the reasons why you think the project has failed.”

Take the Pulse of the Room

Ask participants to write down their initial positions, use voting devices, or ask participants for their “balance sheets” of pros and cons. “Frankly, I’m surprised that when you have a reasonably well-informed group it isn’t more common to begin by having everyone write their conclusions on a slip of paper,” remarks Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. “If you don’t do that, the discussion will create an … [ Read more ]

Making Better Investment Decisions

Always ask people making an investment recommendation to present their second-best choice. It’s rarely better than the first. But both might actually be good, and both recommendations of another business unit might not be. Considering just one recommendation from every business unit will deprive you of many investment opportunities you’d get if you asked for two.

Tell Five Stories at Once

We typically see organizational leaders tell two types of stories to inspire their teams. The first, the turnaround story, runs along the lines of “We’re performing below industry standard and must change dramatically to survive—incremental change is not sufficient to attract investors to our underperforming company.” The second, the good-to-great story, goes something like this: “We are capable of far more, given our assets, market … [ Read more ]

Taking a Realistic Approach to Budgeting

Executives at Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil were looking for ways to make it more nimble and more realistic about its goals. So they adopted a new approach to year-end budgeting, which breaks it out into three different sets of numbers. These included targets (“what we want to happen”), forecasting (“what we think will happen, whether we like what we see or not”), and … [ Read more ]

Letting Employees Choose Their Next Assignment

Managers of a product team at Microsoft offered employees the chance to pick their next assignment, rather than having the leaders hand down those decisions. In this case, to retain top talent in a competitive market and to boost employee satisfaction, team leaders pitched their projects to employees, allowing them to evaluate the opportunities and chart their own course. Some managers worried that participants would … [ Read more ]

Adopt Simple Rules to Break the Resource Allocation Status Quo

Simple resource allocation decision rules can help minimize political infighting because they change the burden of proof from the typical default allocation (“what we did last year”) to one that makes it impossible to maintain the status quo. For example, a simple harvesting rule might involve putting a certain percentage of an organization’s portfolio up for sale each year to maintain vibrancy and to cull … [ Read more ]

Avoiding Decision Bias with “Next-Best” Ideas

A technique for avoiding decision bias is to request that managers show more of their cards: some companies, for instance, demand that investment recommendations include alternatives, or “next-best” ideas. This approach is useful not only to calibrate the level of a manager’s risk aversion but also to spot opportunities that a manager might otherwise consider insufficiently safe to present to senior management.

Ensuring Investment Discipline

Rio Tinto institutes checks and balances to manage internal lobbying. We have something called the Investment Committee, which approves sizable investments of any kind and consists of the CEO, CFO, the head of technology and innovation, and the head of business services. In other words, it does not contain any of the divisional heads. The plan is that this committee has enough data to have … [ Read more ]

Team Alignment?

At one well-known energy company, the five executives of a top team were asked to list the company’s 10 highest priorities. Alarmingly, they listed a total of 23 priorities; only 2 appeared on every executive’s list and only 7 on the lists of more than three members; indeed 13 of the 23 priorities appeared on only one list. In other cases, the team doesn’t agree … [ Read more ]

Encouraging Mentoring

At McKinsey mentoring is regarded as a vital part of the development culture but is still not as common as it should be. To encourage it, several McKinsey offices now ask all associates at regular intervals which partners they view as mentors. Although a small number of partners were named by as many as a dozen associates, most partners were surprised to find that fewer … [ Read more ]

Top Executives Need Feedback – Here’s How They Can Get It

The Problem
Subordinates don’t want to offend the boss. Therefore, as you become more senior in an organization, you tend to get less feedback. Over time, you risk growing confused about your development needs and becoming isolated from criticism. While many senior executives do have outside mentors, because they do not directly observe the executive their advice is only as good as the narrative … [ Read more ]

Tracking Pricing Effectiveness

Every company should have a set of pricing metrics that measure the financial and operational health of pricing across the business. These metrics may include simple data, such as the average selling price, discount, and margin for key products; operational data, including the number of pricing exceptions and win/loss percentages; and special measures to track the progress and impact of specific pricing initiatives. Best-practice companies … [ Read more ]

Reverse Expats

As companies in emerging markets grow in number and in strength, they become tougher competitors for multinational companies, for which a dearth of intimate local knowledge is increasingly costly. Furthermore, the war for managerial talent is heating up in the developing world. Companies with reputations for developing local leaders are far more likely to attract the talent they need to pursue attractive growth opportunities. These … [ Read more ]

70–20–10

We use 70–20–10: 70 percent on our core business, 20 percent on adjacent business, 10 percent on others, as a sort of allocation principle, and we are constantly moving people around to achieve that percentage. Another thing we have is something called 20 percent time, where we tell people, especially in engineering, that they can spend 20 percent of their time on whatever they want. … [ Read more ]

Hunting vs. Farming in Sales

It’s easy for organizations to fall into the habit of seeking sales growth only through existing customers. Even though the sales force is typically best placed to find and approach potential clients, individual reps may shun the uncomfortable task of cold-calling in favor of selling to customers they know well.

One large distributor of auto parts tried tackling this problem by separating these activities. Its … [ Read more ]