Friday, January 12, 2018

#52books Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance

A view into one 90s era CEOs mind with an interesting take on changing organizational culture and what it really takes. #businessbooks #ibm #fortune500 #organizationalleadership

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#52Books Book 2 – Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, Louis Gerstner

Format: Kindle

I have a weakness for organizational biographies. They map to my interest in what happens behind-the-scenes to make things go.

I also worked as a temp at IBM for a few months at the beginning of the Gerstner era, scheduling travel for executives, spending hours on the phone surveying pharmacies for an early electronic prescription system in partnership with Walgreens, and creating the occasional PowerPoint presentation.  I didn’t see the effects of Gerstner’s strategic and culture change during my time there, other than the occasional comment around the loosening of the dress code.

Gerstner addresses issues that are common to many large organizations – centralization vs. decentralization, culture, fiefdoms, and silos, and the challenge of creating appropriate environments for change.  Changing culture, he emphasizes, needs to include changing what you measure.  “People do what you INSPECT, not what you expect.”

He also emphasizes that if a CEO wants to make a significant change, he (or she) will have to make that initiative personal and do much more than just oversee the development of strategy documents and the occasional exhortative email. Leaders are visible, they are involved, they are clear, and they are consistent. For YEARS.

In this, Gerstner describes what I have seen in my career that has derailed major change initiatives:

– Leaders who feel that with a major training event, change will magically happen.  I’ve never seen this work.

– Lack of clarity around direction. With the growth of Agile, many managers seem to have abdicated the hard work around setting a destination or defining successful change and sticking with that definition long enough to see results.

– Lack of commitment around that direction.  Sometimes, that lack of commitment appears in strategic plans as attempts to include both new and old activities – many of which work at cross-purposes – and promise to do so with the same resources.

Gerstner’s book is a fun read and an eye-opening look at how one highly-regarded CEO thinks.  Read Section 3 on Culture and Section 4 on Lessons Learned.  He wrote this in 2002. What he saw back then still appears in organizations over 15 years later.  Scary.

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