Thursday, January 16, 2014

Simplicity is beauty

“Even the founders of Google have worried about losing the magic that helped propel their search engine’s phenomenal growth. When Larry Page announced that he was taking over the chief-executive role from Eric Schmidt a few years ago, he explained to reporters that the company needed to move faster and recapture the agility of its early days, before it grew into a colossus.” [Management Be Nimble, Adam Bryant, The New York Times, 4th Jan 2014] “One of the primary goals I have,” Mr. Page said at the time, “is to get Google to be a big company that has the nimbleness and soul and passion and speed of a start-up . . .” 

“Discussions of corporate culture can easily fall into platitudes and generalities, so I set out to answer a more specific question: What are the main drivers of corporate culture — the things that, if done well, have an outsize positive impact, and if done poorly or not at all, have an outsize negative impact? After searching for patterns among my interviews, I identified six key drivers that every organization needs to foster an effective culture that will encourage everyone to do their best work and help drive innovation.” 

[The six key drivers according to Bryant are: (1) A Simple Plan; (2) Rules of the Road; (3) A Little Respect; (4) It’s About the Team; (5) Adult Conversations; (6) The Hazards of Email . . .  And if I were to summarize them, it would go something like: transparency is it, not hierarchy; keep it simple; talk face-to-face with subordinates like you’re one team made up of adults and you’re not pulling rank as the boss; and don’t email if you want an adult-to-adult conversation with your team.]

“A Simple Plan: One of a leader’s most important roles is to boil down an organization’s many priorities and strategies into a simple plan, so that employees can remember it, internalize it and act on it. With clear goals and metrics, everyone can pull in the same direction, knowing how their work contributes to those goals . . .”

Simplicity is beauty. Obviously I first heard that in the Philippines. Yet, I also knew that in the Philippines we like comprehensive, holistic and inclusive. On my to-do list when my old MNC company gave me a regional role was: get subsidiaries to refresh planning/budgeting thought process. [And I had a Pinoy strategy consultant join me while visiting two subsidiaries – because I myself had a bias for comprehensive, holistic and inclusive – and well aware that I too needed to get up to speed; and had another Pinoy consultant based in Manila as a sounding board.] I had gone through seven years of doing planning and budgeting at our Philippine subsidiary and was doing it mechanically but felt the need to question and figure out the “object of the exercise” – beyond adhering to the supposed New York guidelines.

And my journey would go farther: from attending a strategy course to fixing problem businesses to raising the competitiveness of subsidiaries concerned before they could become problem businesses to being involved in M&As – including transforming the company's budget process from a principally finance-driven exercise to a goal-setting and alignment process (after the president saw how we were doing it in the region.) And more recently, my Eastern European friends similarly had to go through a journey, eleven years and counting. And the experience has taught them how to cut to the chase, for example, and the imperatives of execution – that the test of the pudding is in the eating. And so they could relate to the above NY Times article, having recently set their sights on: “Only great products will do; we must ‘own the store’; there will be no compromises.”

And so while employers, especially in the West, have invested in in-house education and training, they would see the educational system as in need of fixing, given that it is the source of talents. “. . . [W]hat truly counts in hiring decisions is not the rote knowledge that helps college students answer examination questions, but skills and competencies that are essential for, and often developed at, work.  To be useful, the bricks of modern education need the straw of experience-based skills.  Bricks without straw tend to crumble; they cannot support weight, as has been known from Biblical times.” [Alan Kantrow, How Business Can Help Measure Education Outcomes that Matter, Harvard Business Review, 9th Jan 2014]

“The Collegiate Learning Assessment and its new version, CLA+, are already in use by over 700 institutions around the world.  What these instruments do is assess the effectiveness of college courses in developing not discipline-based knowledge, but the ability to “analyze and evaluate information, solve problems, and communicate effectively.”  The results often shock faculty, who are more comfortable in teaching content than in developing their students’ critical thinking and communication skills.”

And from McKinsey & Company [McKinsey survey, Aug-Sept 2012]: “Employers, educational providers, and youth live in parallel universes. To put it another way, they have fundamentally different understandings of the same situation . . . In large part, this is because they are not engaged with each other.”

And in PHL all the more it would take us some doing and loads of time to learn to “analyze and evaluate information, solve problems, and communicate effectively” – because we have yet to translate “simplicity is beauty” into concrete terms as in cutting to the chase, and the imperatives of execution? We can’t stop wanting to cross the “t’s” and “dot the “i’s” – because we want comprehensive, holistic and inclusive! Yet, where are we?

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