The Leader's Voice : How your communication can inspire and get results!
Boyd Clarke and Ron Crossland
Excerpt from The Leader's Voice : How your communication can inspire and get results!
Last Word: Calling All Capitalists
“Leaders act in a stream of history,” wrote John W. Gardner. On September 10, 2001, Rudolph Giuliani was a lame-duck mayor struggling with cancer and mired in a divorce scandal. One hundred and twelve days later he was named Time’s “Person of the Year” Context shifted and Giuliani responded with speed and humanity.
Even his staunchest political enemies have praised President George W. Bush’s contextual clarity post 09.11.01. Not necessarily a natural communicator, Bush defined the context well. “We are at war,” he said, naming the conflict a fight of good versus evil. When leaders understand context, they have greater leverage. If they don’t get the context right, then constituents see their communication as pretext or subtext. For example, consider President Clinton’s remarks during his prolonged goodbye at Andrews Air Force Base shortly after President Bush’s inauguration. Possessing perhaps the greatest natural communication talent ever witnessed in an American President, Clinton seems to have misjudged the occasion. It appeared like he was still campaigning for office, rather than gracefully relinquishing it. “I left the White House,” he said, “but I'm still here.” With Hillary standing at his side, he concluded, “We're not going anywhere.” Because he was out of context, !
Some believe that context creates great leaders from ordinary individuals. Some believe that ordinary men and women rise to the context because of their leadership ability. Maybe it’s a little of both. Rising to leadership or having it thrust upon you is a debate we choose to leave open. Either way, leaders must understand context. Without understanding or creating context, The Leader’s Voice echoes in an empty room.
Leaders who understand context regard current events as connected to the past and the future. Understanding the necessary decorum of the moment is important, but great communicators understand the larger reality that surrounds every situation. As we evaluated the best communicators, we observed that they were not as tempted by the trivial. Because they viewed each day against a larger backdrop they were able to select the most important facts, emotions and symbols to communicate. They seemed to effortlessly connect the timely with the timeless. Leaders get context right when they see themselves and their constituents as actors across time, not puppets on a momentary stage.
The History Channel
To gain greater appreciation for the powerful technical and social forces that are altering our work lives, let’s allow history to instruct. In 1445 few appreciated the flood of both intellectual and economic exploration unleashed by Gutenberg’s press. The world went from 35,000 to perhaps as many as 10 million books in less than 50 years. Over the span of two generations, the world changed from information being held by the rich and powerful to information being affordable and readable by the most common of families. As many as 10,000 monks who had held esteemed positions as calligraphers and copiers of texts, employed by a powerful religious monopoly, were outsourced by moveable type, with as many as 95 percent losing their jobs. Printing companies became the IBMs and Hewlett-Packards of the day, creating a new entrepreneurial class who rose from the ranks of non-aristocratic rabble. As the printer’s hardware became more common, publishers gained dominance through controlling content. The proliferation of the moveable type press was a stimulus for the pressures that resulted in the scientific and artistic Renaissance, religious Reformation and political Revolutionary eras.
The founding brothers of 1776 faced a diversity of hotly contested political and philosophic opinion. These able communicators combined oratory and print communication to create and sustain an untested political model. They translated squabbles concerning taxation into terms of liberty and inalienable human rights. Communication that created passionate alignment was powerful enough to purchase a Republic through faith and blood.
Back in Birmingham, England, Abraham Darby’s invention sparked a different revolution. The mild-mannered Quaker was simply looking for a better way to make pots. Instead, his coke-fired blast furnace inspired others to use iron to build a host of amazing things, including a workable steam engine and the world’s first iron bridge. It was constructed in 1779 near a town later renamed Ironbridge.
Over the 1880s more railroad track was laid in the United States than during any decade before or since. The next ten years produced peak railroad company failures. In 1895 the sky above Manhattan was thick with the wires of more than 70 telephone companies. By 1940 there was essentially one and much of the cable was being routed underground. There were over 100 American automobile companies in 1920 and only four by 1950. In 1860, seventy percent of all U.S. labor was farm labor. Benjamin Holt’s invention of first the steam tractor and then the gasoline-powered tractor revolutionized farm work. Today farm labor is at three percent and newer technologies will likely cut that in half soon. The Blue-Collar Revolution forever changed docks, distribution centers, factories and mines. This change in the backbreaking, life-shortening work of the Industrial Revolution has created a nation where 90 percent of the workforce can truly be labeled as knowledge or White-Collar workers.
While reflecting on these historical events, it is easy to forget the great individual and institutional changes that were required of simple men and women and ordinary companies, both large and small. Working in a factory was a radical concept not so long ago. Leaving the farm’s hearth and home was considered dangerous and immoral (an underlying message communicated even as late as 1939 in the movie classic The Wizard of Oz. Imagine the courage it took to stand over a blast furnace. Thousands flocked to Coalbrookdale to see Darby’s unbelievable Iron Bridge. We often wonder about the adults who painfully struggled to learn to read so they could enjoy the fruit of Gutenberg’s invention. And in each of these eras there were leaders, understanding or creating context, aligning passionate hearts to accomplish the extraordinary.
For example, the best-known orator during the American Civil War was Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. He was upstaged by the 271-word Lincoln address because Lincoln understood the context and Everett didn’t. Gettysburg was a battleground, not a political pep rally stage. Lincoln delivered a eulogy honoring the dead and a plea for a nation to remain whole. In 1961, John F. Kennedy created context with his declaration, “I believe we should go to the moon.” He launched a scientific goal on the philosophic rocket of American strength, commitment and pride. Americans responded and we accomplished in one-third the time a goal experts estimated would require 25 years.
Revolution’s Next Round
Now, let’s explore the context of your leadership, the business world of today. You have the fortune, or misfortune, to lead during a time that scholar’s have headlined as:
“THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION”
As consultants we have learned that talking about change pays less with each passing year, so we will be brief. Standing still is not an option as competitors click by at T3 speeds. Slow movers are road kill on the information superhighway. Playing it safe is the high-risk strategy. Success demands that we change ourselves, our teams and our companies, yet no one seems to be able to tell us exactly how to change or what to become. As always, we will be held accountable for the results. High growth success makes us a media darling and mediocre results or less make us a commodity.
We are connected 24/7.We complain about information overload and brag about our growing number of unanswered emails. As rapidly as we move, competitors have taken a permanent position in our periphery vision. Customers are one web link away to finding a better deal and the competition for talent makes pro sports look like sand lot haggling.
With one final burst at perfecting the industrial age business model, we have been playing to the increasing beat of Better, Faster, Cheaper for the past three decades. TQM added a brass section to the music and the volume increased. Better, Faster, Cheaper. Baldrige, ISO900X and ERP reduced the number of roadies and increased the number of road shows. Better, Faster, Cheaper-enter BPR, JIT and CRM. E-commerce, email, and e-lancers put e-every tune on an e-broadcast and youngsters ripped everyone off without paying a royalty. Better, Faster, Cheaper. For the first time in history, rapid progress may mean you are falling behind.
Revolution’s next round is underway. We have a term for job positions occupied by travel agents, stockbrokers, receptionists and many other information-oriented transactional jobs-Toast! Not crunchy, cooked-just-right toast. We are talking about burned to the crisp and then left on the counter for three days toast. The kind of toast that leaves a thin layer of toast sweat on the counter. Yuck!
The converging technologies of wireless communication, the world wide web, nano-technology, databases and intelligent systems are spawning white-collar robots by the billions, each with access to enormous databases and instantaneous communication. These ubiquitous and intelligent systems will replace much of the routine and administrative maintenance aspects of work. If a printing press can change the world, imagine what these technologies will transform.
If your job is comprised largely of gathering, crunching and relaying information, you might ask yourself: “Am I just an expensive microprocessor?” Mr. Jeeves and his kindred programs will replace these types of activities in order that we may work at things requiring a truly human perspective, judgment, and ability. “Ninety percent of all white-collar jobs will be changed beyond recognition over the next ten years,” states Tom Peters.
There has been a deluge of books and articles describing these dynamics. We have selected from this abundance those elements we feel will create the longest and most serious changes. Each one of these changes are altering the current context, which means leaders must dig deep and decide what their personal conviction is concerning these changes. As a leader, you must put voice to conviction and declare context, which is why we have added our thoughts concerning the communication dimension attached to these changes. Remember, if you don’t understand or create context, your voice will not be heard.
New World of Work
For the foreseeable future, information will be the business resource and innovation its work (read this sentence three times before proceeding). The organizational structure that best fits this future is the distributed network. We are all learning that creating alignment in a distributed network is more difficult than in either a hierarchy or matrix. Communication in a hierarchy goes up and down and in a matrix it goes in, out and across. In both cases, the communication generally travels along predetermined lines, propelled by power and procedure. A distributed network by design demands a free flow of resources and communication. Hierarchies and matrices share power as the fundamental organizing principle. A distributed network is organized around the work itself. Everything is organized and reorganized to support one thing-work that matters. Communication in a distributed network is powered by message relevance and leader credibility. The Leader’s Voice is heard above the natural, chaotic noise of the network.
“In an era when terrorists use satellite phones and encrypted email, U.S. gatekeepers stand armed against them with pencils and paperwork and archaic computer systems that don’t talk to each other,” reported the Boston Globe on September 30, 2001. The military is altering structure to match the realities of war, just as businesses are altering structure in order to compete. In both cases, communication, more than power, creates passionate alignment.
The Golden Age of Talent
Talent retention is a euphemism that describes the individual and organizational struggle to adapt to a distributed network. Employment matters-people have to make money. Production matters-companies have to make profits. Individuals must learn to produce in a distributed network. Companies must provide work that matters. We laugh at and cry for companies who are trying desperately to retain talent that hate their jobs and don’t add value, as well as companies retaining tremendous talent while offering grunt work.
The individual, 401K and benefits in hand, travels now from company to company as a complete business unit. As of this writing, the average business size is decreasing AND mergers and acquisitions are occurring at a fever pitch. Whether you personally enjoy free agency dynamics or enjoy the continuity of working for the same organization over time, there seems to be plenty of opportunity. The only way you can thrive in either of these conditions is to contribute. If your skills are not valuable or distinctive, you will descend the economic food chain. As intelligent systems improve, your opportunity to work will depend upon the non-machine contributions you make.
Talent will not stay for employment alone. Leaders must communicate powerfully enough about the meaning of the work to inspire passionate alignment. This is the only strategy that will retain talent.
Innovation Is Everyone’s Business
As the sparkle of new millennium fireworks fell from the Eiffel Tower, the world’s business gurus gathered on hallowed ground for a level four harmonic convergence. Stars and planets aligned, they inspected the corporate entrails of the previous century and agreed, one and all, that the new new thing, the new main thing, the new holy grail of corporate success in the new century would be innovation.
Innovation is creativity in its working clothes. It has experimentation as a co-worker and failure as a strategic partner. Alone, technology doesn’t guarantee innovation. Only a practiced discipline of innovation will produce results. Henry Petrosky wrote in To Engineer Is Human that “no one wants to learn by mistakes, but we cannot learn enough from successes to go beyond the state of the art.” While failure can be painful, innovative companies embrace this pain. If you want more innovation, allow more experiments.
The communication challenge for innovation is complex. Businesses last only when financial successes outweigh failures. Yet rapid prototyping and experimentation cannot be used as a license for anarchy. Leaders will have to communicate the limits of both boundary and process as they relate to innovation’s demands and dynamics. Communicating successfully about your innovation context will depend upon message clarity and message repetition.
To Brand Is Human
Good service and good quality are essential for entry into the market place, but neither confers advantage. “While everything may be better, everything is increasingly the same,” declares Paul Goldberg.
“The ’surplus society’ has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality.” We agree with Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale. They have pegged it.
Quality, advertising and distribution channels are all elements of playing the game of business. Since these have all become so similar, business is left with only one source of creating distinction. Regardless of the touch point, customers must experience the brand in order to value the brand. A brand is worth no more than a customer’s last experience with a brand touch point. The emphasis for leaders is to brand inside the company as vigorously as they brand outside the company, i.e., brand alignment.
The communication problem for branding inside is intimidating. As skilled as we have become at communicating brand identity to customers, we are woefully inconsistent and uninspiring at communicating the message internally. In fact, the messages we communicate to customers, employees and investors often feel unrelated. The formal messages sent via advertising, vision statements, analyst conference calls, annual reports and web sites usually lack alignment and often conflict. We can’t tell if these are mixed messages or mixed-up messages. Most informal messages that reach employees have little to do with the formal messages, but everything to do with today’s project, quarterly profits and legal compliance. Our advice to leaders: Stop saying everything and start saying something.
The Meaning of Work
Driving along State Highway 33, traveling through Idaho’s Snake River Valley, Boyd and his father, Ray, experienced a rare moment about work. Ray was a bricklayer. He had the thick calluses and Popeye forearms that are signatures of the trade. Ray was ill, and the unspoken reality between him and his son was the limited time Ray had left. As they passed through the valley Ray pointed out the many buildings he had built. Boyd said, “Dad, many of these buildings will be here even long after I’m gone.”
“Not a bad way to spend a life,” Ray said.
Boyd saw the expression on his father’s face as he completed this simple statement. It was the same look of satisfaction Boyd had observed as a youngster, as he had cleaned and packed his father’s tools. Ray would arrive on a flat patch of land one day and then, not long after, would leave the job site, admiring the building that had not been there before.
We are consultants.
Nothing we do feels permanent. Our beliefs about what we teach, coach and consult about constantly evolve. Tangibility, permanence, beginnings and endings are elusive. It is tough to know when to celebrate. There is no harvest marker that rallies us, or our colleagues, to celebration.
Individuals have always been defined, in part, by their work. The surname “Clarke” is derived from the work title “clerk.” Today, many workers feel outmoded and struggle to stay relevant. Just at the moment “work” has attained the state of early philosophers’ dreams, days spent working with ideas and people, it seems to have lost meaning.
But work has meaning, despite the general ennui. We look back over the course of our work with customers and it is easy to remember careers we have helped, situations we have turned around and organizations we have impacted. There are few tangible clues to these accomplishments, but the results have been real. Recalling these stories adds as much meaning to our work as counting our financial success.
Crossing the bridge from our experience to yours, we realize that most workers in America are consultants. Most of us peddle ideas and organize information. We all perform skilled service and information work based upon some contractual agreement. And we are willing to bet many managers, if not most, have grappled with the serious issue of work’s meaning. In our minds, leaders who create a meaningful work context have accomplished a difficult and significant task. Constituent’s will volunteer extra hours, work harder, expend more energy and naturally increase their contribution to esprit de corps when they are working for something that matters. Give them a reason.
The Reorganization of Planet Earth
Recent polls indicate that half of all baby-boomers imagine 100 years to be a realistic lifespan. Those who have mapped the human genome may have guaranteed a 200-year life expectancy for the next generation. Dr. William Haseltine from Human Genome Sciences, in an interview with The Motley Fool, said:
“Our task is to couple individual immortality to the essential immortality of life itself, and I believe through stem cell replacement, we have a clear vision of how to achieve it. Whether we will do it in the next 100 years or beyond one cannot predict. But we now know the potential is there and we believe it can be achieved.”
Democracy and freedom were academic ideas 250 years ago. Today, democracy governs more individuals than any other political system. In 1946 there were 76 countries. Today there are more than 200. Democracy, freedom and the rise of the knowledge worker have created opportunities as resources have shifted from things to ideas. But a problem lurks. It sometimes takes money to make dreams come true. As Hernando de Soto writes concerning people in non-democratic societies, “They have houses, but not titles; crops, but not deeds; businesses, but not statutes of incorporation. It is the unavailability of these essential representations that explains why people who have adapted every other Western invention, from the paper clip to the nuclear reactor, have not been able to produce sufficient capital to make their domestic capitalism work.” Democracy allows individuals to own and borrow against tangible assets, creating capital that is then used to purchase dreams and build companies.
Calling All Capitalists
Which of these new technologies will save us? None. It is not our technologies that have advanced us or held us back. Dysentery kills more children each day than any other disease, yet basic medical technology can cure this. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere with technology, yet the dialogue between even friendly nations is often strained and strident. We have the technology to feed everyone, yet millions die of hunger each year. Our most challenging problems are not now, nor have ever been, technical. It is our social systems that fail us.
The basic principles we use to organize ourselves are the clear predictors of success for nations, businesses, communities and teams. For years we have followed the literature concerning the economic success of nations. Three characteristics are at the top of most scholars’ lists: extreme freedom, rule of law and moderate climate. The top two are social principles. Apparently these two can even overcome the effects of immoderate climate.
We started this book proudly proclaiming we are passionate capitalists. And we are. Communism, while a noble philosophy, fails as a social system due to irreparable flaws. The difference between a prosperous Europe and the struggling Soviet Republics is even more dramatic when you consider the technological prowess of the former Soviet Union. Capitalism, like communism, has flaws. Capitalism, as an economic principle, can fail and in many ways has lost its way. Combine capitalism with democracy and the chances for success increase. A social system that grants the greatest opportunity to the greatest number has the greatest chance for success. As de Soto explains:
“With its victory over communism, capitalism’s old agenda for economic progress is exhausted and requires a new set of commitments. It makes no sense continuing to call for open economies without facing the fact that the economic reforms underway open the doors only for small and globalized elites and leave out most of humanity. At present, capitalist globalization is concerned with interconnecting only the elites that live inside the bell jars. To lift the bell jars and do away with property apartheid will require going beyond the existing borders of both economics and law.”
We, like de Soto, do not propose a socialized redistribution of wealth, but rather an expansion of economic opportunity provided by the combination of democracy and capitalism. Capitalism’s new context must include commitments that unlock the social and technical power of the many, rather than being used solely as a mechanism for increasing the wealth of the few.
Just as social system failures are at the heart of the world’s economic problems, they are at the heart of most business problems. We struggle with ERP and CRM, and while technical problems remain, it is the social adaptation to these technologies that causes most of the failures. As a technical advancement, TQM took 15 years to root. We believe it could have happened in half the time if leaders had paid attention to the social dynamics sooner. Historically, positive social changes in countries or companies have been driven by leaders with passionate voices.
Sidebar (near the beginning of the chapter):
The classic example of someone who doesn’t understand context is the inept best man at a wedding party that, during his ubiquitous toast, goes into the groom’s single sexual escapades as the horrified bride looks on.
You’ve been there, or at least know someone who has. Everyone in the wedding party winces, the father of the bride’s face goes beet red and the best man becomes a pariah. People who don’t understand context tend to say things that they later regret. Kind of like Bill Gates in a deposition or Ted Turner at a microphone.
Second Sidebar (in section on technology)
A great example of this kind of change can be seen at theme parks. It takes thousands of white-collar employees to support miniature city-like theme parks. There are gardeners with Ph.D.’s and maintenance workers with engineering degrees. Chefs come from the finest culinary institutions and accountants from the best business schools. There are all kinds of employees: lawyers, bus drivers, software developers, costume characters, stuntmen, singers, dancers, carpenters, welders, marketers, salespeople, cashiers, ticket takers and police officers. There are writers, designers and producers to create and build the new rides and MBA’s to chart long-term strategy. Theme parks are models of efficiency, always seeking to improve. A ride that takes one less employee to operate at peak capacity can save thousands of dollars. If food service managers can eke out just two pennies extra in per capita spending, it can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars. The million-dollar bonanza is getting a family to stay one extra day.
Like the rest of corporate America, theme parks are embracing database technology. The producers responsible for the new Men in Black Alien Attack attraction at Universal Studios Florida used Filemaker Pro to keep track of all the intricate details of this $70 million ride.
Based on the first MIB movie, the attraction enlists guests as agent trainees alongside Will Smith’s Agent Jay to track down and zap a hoard of nasty alien bugs that have escaped from a crashed space ship. Set on the streets of New York City, Men in Black Alien Attack is incredibly complicated. It features more than 400 aliens, including a whopping 127 different species. Because the ride is interactive, there are 35 different ride ending combinations and thousands of different ride scenarios.
Universal’s database tracked, among other things, the size, look, location, budget, cost estimate and names of the vendors working on each alien. It was the most extensive use of a database in the design and production of a theme park attraction.
The benefits are clear. Paperwork and data updating have been reduced from two days to 15 minutes. Bob Chambers from It’s Alive Co., the California company that developed and managed the database for the MIB team, says a well designed and executed database can save 30 percent on project costs for the ride systems.
--From The Leader's Voice : How your communication can inspire and get results!, by Boyd Clarke, et al. ©July 2002, SelectBooks used by permission.
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