Quick and Nimble

Summary Written by Jill Donahue
"The companies that will thrive over the long haul, will understand that culture is a key element of their strategy."

- Quick and Nimble, page 247

The Big Idea

Am I making a difference?

"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (writer), Quick and Nimble, page 19

You likely already have a mission and that mission may be what attracted your employees to your company. Today more than ever before, people are inspired to work for companies that have missions that are meaningful to them. But that is not enough. What is more important, says David Sacks, the founder, chairman and CEO of Yammer, is a simple plan that helps each person see the clear link between what they are doing and how it drives the goals to achieve the mission. “When you create a shared goal, you turn an out-group to an in-group,” said David Rock, Director of NeuroLeadership Institute.

So ask yourself, “Have I created up to three clear goals and helped every person on my team see the clear link between what they do and how it contributes to the mission?” People want to contribute, know they have made a difference, feel like they have a level of control over their destiny and that they are valued. This will change the culture from lackadaisical to motivated and your people from time punchers to contributors who want to get the job done right!

Insight #1

School should never end

"Every company has to adopt a philosophy of constant learning if it hopes to succeed in today’s economy."- William D. Green (former chairman and CEO of Accenture), Quick and Nimble, page 148

Think about the last high-performing people who left your organization. Chances are, they left because they had not been learning; they were bored. It is a well-known fact that high performing people are constant learners, so smart leaders will nurture that trait and foster a culture of motivated learners. How do they do that? Here are just a few of the actionable ideas:

  • push people into different positions
  • pay for training – but motivate people to opt-in
  • encourage people to figure out themselves what they need for their development
  • when your people come with a problem, don’t make decisions for them, ask them what they recommend
  • encourage mistakes

Huh? Encourage mistakes? Let’s delve into that last point a bit further. Mark Fuller of WET Design sometimes starts meetings by saying “Let me tell you where I just screwed up.” Why? He wants to set the tone of being comfortable exposing and learning from mistakes – together. He had a teacher who once advised him to applaud himself whenever he made an error. “Reward yourself because you caught the error before I did!” she said and forever changed his view of mistakes. After all, the expression isn’t ‘learn by trial and success’; it’s ‘learn by trial and error’.

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Insight #2

Command-and-control leadership is dead

"One leadership lesson I learned – and this goes in the bucket of ‘obvious’ – is the critical importance of being a good person and treating people well."- Richard R. Buery Jr. (CEO of the Children’s Aid Society), Quick and Nimble, page 51

People can’t be successful when there is fear. Command and control no longer works. When people don’t like going to work because of the way they are treated, outcomes will suffer. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation believes that the quality of followers is in direct correlation to the respect the leader holds them in. He says it is not how much the followers respect the leader that is important but rather how much the leader respects the followers. It’s everything, he says.

I learned a new meaning to MRI in this chapter. Robin Domeniconi, the former chief brand officer for the Elle Group, says she uses the expression “MRI” as a cultural cornerstone. It means “most respectful interpretation” of what someone is saying to you. This allows you to say anything to anyone as long as you say it the right way. For example, “I’m just curious, and I want to understand what you’re saying better. Right now, my point of view is quite different. So can you help me understand why you don’t want to do this?” is going to be much better accepted than the “That’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard.” I have applied this with my business partner and our arguments discussions have become much more productive and pleasant.

Beyond respect, leaders need to take interest in their people and care about them. David C. Novak, the CEO of Yum Brands, said that caring about people is the cornerstone of his leadership approach (read the summary of his book here). I had a boss once who infrequently asked about my family and it seemed she did it more out of a sense of duty than sincerity. I had very little confidence that she cared about me. As a result I protected myself and felt less engaged. The ideas shared by Bryant reinforce my decision to allow myself the pleasure of taking a personal interest in the people I work with. It’s more fun for all of us.

In summary, innovation is the by-product of an effective culture. And an effective culture is a result of treating people right. If you hire people to think (and who doesn’t these days?) you can not control how they think, but you can control or at least have an effect on the environment around them and create a culture conducive to great thinking, innovation and growth.

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Adam Bryant

Adam Bryant conducts interviews with chief executives for Corner Office, a feature about leadership and management in The New York Times and on NYTimes.com that he started in March 2009. It now appears twice weekly, on Friday and Sunday.

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