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Replace "best practices" that aren't with those that are "superior"
on 31 October 2009
With regard to the meaning of "fierce," it is the same when used in the title of Susan Scott's previously published book, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. The word usually connotes being aggressive, confrontational, perhaps even hostile when in fact Pierce notes that it can also be used when expressing affection, loyalty, appreciation, and perhaps even love. However it is used, whatever is expressed should be honest, real, genuine, frank, candid, and in all other respects authentic. The subtitle of this book refers to a "bold alternative to the worst `best' practices of business today." This is a subject of great interest to me because much nonsense has been written about how the best practices of a GE, for example, can help other organizations succeed. The fact is, that best practices are not core values. They must be modified, sometimes replaced entirely as changing circumstances demand. It is worth adding that GE's best practices during Jack Welch's last year (2001) as chairman and CEO have changed significantly since then.
Ernest Hemingway once observed that all great writers have a "built-in, shock-proof crap detector." Scott suggests that fierce leaders also have one as well as what she characterizes as a "squid eye." That is, as Paul Lindbergh explains, "Seeing squid means you are seeing many things that others cannot and do not see. It means having sight in the presence of the blind. It means that you are a selective and efficient information gatherer. This is what `quid eye' really means, and when you apply it to other aspects of your life, you will have, metaphorically, more tuna in your net and fewer guppies and old rubber boots. And if you can see one `tell' [i.e. an indicator that what you seek is nearby], you automatically get others. It's almost like beginning to understand the nature of a tell or the nature of signs left behind for our eyes and senses to use."
Devoting a separate chapter to each, Scott brilliantly examines these six "worst" best practices, juxtaposed with her recommended replacement:
Worst "Best" Practice: 360-Degree Anonymous Feedback
Fierce Best Practice: 360-Degree Face-to-Face Feedback
Comment: In the "culture of candor" that Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and James O'Toole describe in Transparency, 360-degree face-to-face feedback would be a common, everyday practice.
Worst "Best" Practice: Hiring for Smarts
Fierce Best Practice: Hiring for Smart + Heart
Comment: Cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence are not mutually-exclusive. As Warren Buffett once observed, "Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don't have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it's true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy."
Worst "Best" Practice: Holding People Accountable
Fierce Best Practice: Modeling Accountability and Hold People Able
Comment: I have observed in numerous organizations the problems that result when workers either have no idea what the model is (if there is one) or have a model they do understand and do not respect it.
Worst "Best" Practice: Employee Engagement Programs
Fierce Best Practice: Actually Engaging Employees
Comment: Some of the best insights are provided in this chapter. Rather than planning and implementing a company-wide program, however, increased employee engagement can only be achieved one day at a time, one conversation at a time. If Gallup's research is correct, about 60% of the average workforce is passively engaged. Most of them see no reason to become actively, productively engaged. The challenge is to give them that reason, not a "program."
Worst "Best" Practice: Customer Centricity
Fierce Best Practice: Customer Connectivity
Comment: There is nothing inherently wrong with the phrase "customer centric." The problem is that few organizations are customer-centric but most claim to be. Customers become what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba characterize as "evangelists" only when they are respected, feel appreciated, and enjoy the experience of obtaining whatever they seek. Most retail merchandisers are "buyer-centric."
Worst "Best" Practice: Legislated Optimism
Fierce Best Practice: Radical Transparency
Comment: I agree with Scott, "Weak leaders want agreement. But fierce leaders want to know the truth." In fact, they insist on unvarnished, commercial-strength truth as the currency of their communications. There is much to be said for building a consensus, for seeking common ground and agreeing to compromises on less important issues. That said, it is imperative to keep in mind that Dante reserved the last and worst ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality. "In a culture of legislated optimism, leaders know only the sound of one hand clapping...legislated optimism is the tactic of those whose who attempt to camouflage rotten news with pretty words, confusing words, empty words."
This review can only begin to suggest the rigor and precision with which Susan Scott explains why various so-called "best practices" are frequently ineffective and in some instances self-defeating. The "bold alternative" to which the book's subtitle refers to a number of "superior practices" whose effective implementation requires a combination of character, knowledge, judgment, skills, alertness (i.e. having and using a "squid eye" to spot "tells") and determination (i.e. fierceness) that will enable those in key positions "to lead change, manage, and motivate a multi-generational workforce and execute initiatives that impact the top line and the bottom line simultaneously, while delivering shirt-term results." Scott then challenges her reader to "demonstrate agility, speed, inclusiveness, strategic acumen, and innovation, manage uncertainty and risk, and mitigate the impacts of globalization, off-shoring, a recession, global warming, and the price of oil, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." How, specifically, to do all that? Read the book.
Those who share my high regard for it are urged to check out Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check, Brian Carney and Isaac Getz's Freedom, Inc., Alan Deutschman's Walk the Walk, and Transparency co-authored by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and James O'Toole.