June 2011

A Case Study on Leadership and Integrity

I was a manager and then executive in IBM software product development from the late ‘60’s through the early ‘90’s. The change in IBM’s organizational culture over that period was dramatic. During the ‘60’s, IBM embarked on a international, multi-product development effort that resulted in the System/360 – a product line with several new software operating systems and at least 8 different hardware systems along with a new line of peripherals. The development of these products spanned the globe and took place in more than 30 groups in approximately 15 different locations from Europe to North America to Japan. There were countless interdependencies among these groups and, as might be expected, rivalries and conflicting priorities among them. But a few, relatively small, central groups in upstate New York were successful in managing the interfaces and interdependencies between the many components of the various hardware and software systems, the schedules and the budgets.

Bob O. Evans was the overall executive in charge of development in those days. He was a man of impeccable integrity – his word was his bond, and he insisted on the same kind of behavior throughout his organizations. Failing to give your word to provide a necessary component on schedule was unacceptable. Not honoring a commitment was inexcusable. The System 360 project was sometimes referred to as a “bet-your-company” effort, and its success set the growth path for IBM for the next 25 years.

A few years later, in the early ‘70’s, when Evans was the president of the product development division, I managed the creation of the first version of the MVS operating system which was, up to that point, the largest single software project IBM had ever attempted. Twenty different groups in 12 locations were involved – a total of nearly 3,000 people at its peak. Each of the groups reported to geographic executives that often had other conflicting priorities – their own pet projects, non-software products that they were also responsible for, budget and headcount constraints, and so on. Even so, it all worked.

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Ask the Consultants- Fear and Commitment

This month’s question comes from Tim Vanini, PhD, owner and partner in multiple businesses in the area of professional and residential turf and grass development, research and project management (http://www.ndturf.com):

“So far 2011 has proven to be a fruitful year with record profits!  Even so, fears have set in about producing the amount of residual income that my partners and I are committed to in 2012 and 2013.  How do I move past this?”

Tim, thanks for your question.

Fear can be a big part of leadership, of committing oneself (with others) to something unpredictable and even unheard of. Depending on the context we have for it (the way in which and through which the situation occurs to us), it can be embraced and empowering or counterproductive and even debilitating.

It can be easy to, in our immediate reaction to experiences like fear, uncertainty and anxiety, seek whatever way we can most quickly “survive” the threat present. In the face of the gap created by the act of committing, we act- often automatically and blindly- to fix, change, avoid or tolerate our experience of fear. Consider that, counter-intuitive as it may seem, the access to transcending the fear and creating power and freedom is not to get out of it or conquer it, but to accept it and embrace it fully.

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Building an Organization That Works, Part 2

This is the 2nd part of an ongoing series–if you haven’t, we recommend you read the first part to set the context and get full value for yourself.

We begin where we left off:

Please consider for yourself what works and doesn’t work in your organization. How is your organization structured to support effectiveness? Innovation? Identification of potential obstacles or issues? Do members of your organization experience themselves as being responsible for the results of the organization as a whole?

It is valuable to consider by what format or structure an organization can most effectively and reliably facilitate access to the collective knowledge of the members of the organization. We assert that one key element of a successful organization is a systematic approach to communication. Every one who must be included in a given conversation is included, and, in a way, that minimizes inefficiencies while maximizing collaboration.

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