Blog article

Lazy leaders and heroic managers

A persistent narrative has grown up over the years about why so many change efforts fail — or at least why they are harder than they need to be. It goes like this: A heroic leader is trying valiantly to change the organization, but he’s meeting with resistance. It comes from the layer of “permafrost” — aka long-serving middle managers. These managers are vital to the success of the change effort because they have to translate the new strategy into work streams and projects. But they’re not working fast enough or getting enough done.

Is this narrative true? Given the high rate and frequency of change failure in organizations, can all of it be blamed on lazy managers freezing up their organizations?

My latest research suggests there’s a different story — one in which the roles are reversed. When change efforts are failing, I lay the blame not on lazy

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Building for the future

In the late 1990s, Deryl McKissack visited a high school in Washington, DC, to speak to the student body about her career. At the start of that decade, she had founded her architecture, engineering, and construction management firm in the U.S. capital, inspired by her family’s 115-year-old business. When she walked into one of the school’s restrooms after her talk, McKissack was struck by its deteriorated state. She thought about the young women walking through those doors every day and the effect these conditions could have on their self-confidence — and she realized her purpose as a leader was to improve lives through building and design.

Today, as president and CEO, McKissack sits at the helm of a

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Why employee surveys, like political polls, are misleading

When results of the 2020 elections began to come in, a familiar question resurfaced: Why did so many polls get their predictions so wrong? The question has sparked all sorts of analysis, with Stephen Engelberg, editor-in-chief of the nonprofit news agency ProPublica, describing a “big failing.”

It isn’t just news media and political groups that need to take note of the mismatch between polled behavior and actual behavior. This moment should also serve as a wake-up call to businesses. The systems our society uses to measure how people feel simply aren’t, at some level, working. That includes the surveys organizations use to try to gauge the sentiment of their workforces.

Through my work helping businesses of all kinds, from tech companies to the U.S. military, design successful workplace cultures, I run into this problem all the time. The internal data businesses collect gives them what they believe is

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Running a global hospitality business in a pandemic

Minor International is a hospitality industry powerhouse. Based in Bangkok, Minor operates more than 530 hotels in 56 countries, with a large presence in Asia (where it operates chains across the region, including the Anantara luxury hotel brand), Europe (where it runs the NH chain of hotels), and Africa. The company also owns brands in the well-being and lifestyle sectors and runs 2,300 restaurants. Founded in 1967 by American William Heinecke, who was then 17 years old (hence the name Minor), the company began as an advertising and cleaning business. A decade later, Minor began its journey into hospitality, opening a resort on the coast southeast of Bangkok, in Pattaya, that today is part of Minor’s Avani chain. In 2019, the company’s group revenues reached US$3.8 billion, with profits topping $343 million.

Then came COVID-19, and the hospitality industry, which traditionally accounts for 10 percent of global GDP,

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Use social design to help your distributed team self-organize

The corner office. The water cooler. The cubicle farm. So many of our place-based work clichés feel suddenly anachronistic in a world of remote work and Zoom fatigue. Many people will be happy never to return to the office, and some organizations will be OK with that. And as we navigate toward the new normal, it isn’t just where we work that will change — how people work together will evolve, too.

We’ve also redefined what it means to be an essential worker. Clerks, technicians, health aides, and others once dismissed as a low-skill, high-turnover segment of the workforce have now been recognized as being just as worthy of esteem, gratitude, and, in some cases, hazard pay, as doctors, nurses, and first responders. The bottom line is that employees at all levels of an organization matter.

Together, these two developments suggest we need to realign our organizations to

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COVID fatigue is real, but don’t let it disrupt your recovery plans

The COVID-19 crisis has now become, for better or for worse, “business as usual.” Despite the recent increase in cases in many parts of the world, the prospect of a vaccine becoming available in 2021 is quite rightly improving people’s outlook for the future. Over the last many months, we adjusted, cut costs, went remote, implemented new technology, bought sanitizer and masks, and reworked supply chains. And now we can start to make plans for a world that is not constrained by a pandemic.

One response we’ve noticed during the pandemic, however, is a new kind of corporate fatalism about future crises that we’d warn against. COVID-19 blindsided even many of those who thoughtfully engage in enterprise risk management (ERM). Their reaction: “What’s the point?” Much risk planning, the thinking goes, was irrelevant for COVID-19 and may continue to be in today’s uncertain world. Wouldn’t it be better just to

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