TOP 10 COMPELLING LEADERSHIP LINKS: AUGUST 17-21

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leadership links

1. Jeff Bezos reacts to the NY Times scathing review of Amazon’s work culture.

2. Does silicon valley “culture of intensity” really drive productivity?

3. Is your culture “toxic?”

4. Moving careers? Learn to code.

5. Has leadership development reached a crisis?

6. The death of annual performance reviews.

7. How to get rid of the frog in your throat and “master” public speaking.

8. A useful guide to putting an end to micro-managing your team.

9. Naysayers and grumblers may have an edge when it comes to reaching their goals.

10. Lastly, Amazon’s HR team will work over time create a better culture.

Amazon’s Culture Problem

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amazon's culture problem

One of Amazon’s 14 principles of leadership is entitled, “Have backbone; disagree and commit.” It suggests employees “challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting.”

We’ve all seen how that policy has propelled Amazon’s success—but we rarely get a glimpse of how it affects the overall culture of the organization until now.

In a groundbreaking New York Time’s article Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld talked with over 100 former and current Amazon employees and learned how Amazon’s culture drives success, but fuels internal problems.

The article profiles current and ex employees who show an unnerving underbelly in Amazon’s culture: “Every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk” and “If you’re a good Amazonian, you become an Amabot” [read: robot.] and, “You drown someone in the deep end of the pool” in order to poach their talent.

Clearly, the culture is competitive and as their leadership principles dictate, people are encouraged to “tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings.”

While Jeff Bezos has made a fortune from this completive culture, some think it will end up having long-term drawbacks. Talent is leaving and prospective employees are reluctant to join Amazon especially when employees feel like “the CEO of the company [is] in bed with you at 3 a.m. breathing down your neck.”

Of course those at Amazon “shoot for the moon” and want to think big and invent. They don’t mind toughing it out to be at the cutting edge. But can they continually push the envelope in such a culture?

Through our work at BLG we have found that organizations, both large and small, work better and produce more divergent ideas when their teams operate in an environment of safety.

Amazon’s competitive atmosphere requires bright talent to bring their best ideas to the table and have them withstand a gauntlet of criticisms and questions. Yet innovation research and BLG practice has found this practice doesn’t open the door to truly divergent, blue-ocean thinking.

To innovate ideas must be shared, but they must also be protected and added on to. Knocking an idea down will only stop the next idea from being aired.

Leaders must foster an environment where people can challenge, but aren’t pushing. They need to evaluate without judging and give feedback apart from political mechanisms.

And this is something Bezos can do. He himself said, “Part of company culture is path-dependent—it’s the lessons you learn along the way,” and, more recently, “My main job today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture.”

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LG Leadership Insights offers advice to leaders, entrepreneurs, and students  

TOP 10 COMPELLING LEADERSHIP LINKS: August 10-14

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leadership links

  1. Google has become Alphabet. Legal tricks and fresh perspectives.
  2. An important negotiation tool…silence.
  3. Why Baby Boomers get pink slips.
  4. Having difficult conversations starts with culture.
  5. Speaking of culture…can it be scaled successfully? Perhaps.
  6. Are passwords enough to protect your security? Probably not.
  7. Foster an innovation culture by using these four tips.
  8. Good advice isn’t always…good advice.
  9. Mentor’s help elevate and propel leaders.
  10. Lastly, understand the “frenzy” over high-tech talent.

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In Leadership On the Edge BLG presents thought provoking articles, videos, and news from the world of leadership.

Why Leaders Need a Shakeup: Google Becomes Alphabet

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google shakeup

On Monday Google formed a new company called Alphabet. Google Inc. will become part of Alphabet Inc.. This arrangement will allow Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to continue to work on different projects (like extending human life) without distracting from Google’s search and video goals. Sundar Pichai, Page’s lieutenant, will become the new CEO of Google.

Larry Page defends the shakeup in his blog:

“We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.”

The sudden shift gives both Google cofounders the space and the tools to work on new, innovative projects without upsetting investors. They hope that the shift will bring about the following:

“We are excited about…

  • Getting more ambitious things done.
  • Taking the long-term view.
  • Empowering great entrepreneurs and companies to flourish.
  • Investing at the scale of the opportunities and resources we see.
  • Improving the transparency and oversight of what we’re doing.
  • Making Google even better through greater focus.
  • And hopefully…as a result of all this, improving the lives of as many people as we can.”

Sometimes it is important for leaders to turn their business or their routines upside down in order to pursue new goals and innovation. Now Google cofounders can shoot for the moon and engage in Blue Ocean thinking without worrying about derailing their search business.

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BLG Leadership Insights offers advice to leaders, entrepreneurs, and students  

Hints From Academia: Teams & Creativity

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team work innovation

In an organizational setting much of creativity occurs in the context of a team. Therefore, how individuals relate to others on their team may be very relevant to their own creativity. Interestingly enough, while we make a lot of assumptions about this, there is not a lot of concrete research. But two particularly interesting articles in this area come to mind and offer excellent insights.

In the first piece, Why Seeking Help From Teammates Is a Blessing and a Curse: A Theory of Help Seeking and Individual Creativity in Team Contexts, the authors, Jennifer S. Mueller and Dishan Kamdar, explore whether help seeking is positivity related to ones own creativity. Using data collected from a large multi-national corporation they find that while seeking help from team mates can result in creative performance, creativity is sometimes limited because people often feel the need to reciprocate help. Clearly seeking help is both a blessing and a curse.

In another article What Goes Around Comes Around: Knowledge Hiding, Perceived Motivational Climate, and Creativity, the authors, Matej Černe, Christina G. L. Nerstad, Anders Dysvik, and Miha Škerlavaj, examine an unfortunate reality of organizational life: employees often retain information from their coworkers rather than offering help. This creates a distrust loop. It has major negative implications for organizational creativity and innovation.

Taken together these pieces provide real hints as to why it is essential for innovation leaders to create a team environment of safety and trust.

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Hints from Academia is BLG’s effort to highlight those academic pieces we feel offer special insights and guidance to the world of practice.