Soundview Executive Book Summaries


Creating Ownership in Your Company

Although we place a high value on the knowledge and expertise of business gurus and authors, there is also much to be learned from executives who are out in the trenches of the business world, running companies and making decisions every day. This is the focus of our Executive Insight video series.

In a recent video, we interviewed Roseline Marston, president of A.D. Marble & Co., which provides environmental, cultural and engineering services focusing on archeological and historical structures. A.D. Marble is an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company, and Ms. Marston provides some excellent insight into how to create ownership in your company that goes well beyond just owning stock.

I have pulled out a few leadership principles that I culled from the interview, but you’ll want to watch the whole video:

  1. Physical presence is essential – Marston doesn’t depend on email to run her company. She regularly visits all six of their sites, and while there, works from a cubical next to other employees. She also works closely with each office manager and uses video conferencing when needed.
  2. Keep financials transparent – not only do employees see the financials on a regular basis, but they’re also trained in how to interpret them. In this way everyone knows how things are going, and are aware of crises early on.
  3. Ownership is important – knowing what is happening financially helps employees to better see how their work affects the bottom line.
  4. Feedback keeps things running smoothly – A.D. Marble solicits feedback from customers and employees about how they’re doing, and Marston applies this feedback to make improvements.
  5. Handle conflict directly – while the company has procedures in place for major breaches in behavior, all other issues are handled first at the peer-to-peer level.
  6. Leadership trumps management – Marston looks for potential leaders within the company, watching for those that demonstrate selflessness, loyalty and accountability. Leadership is not just about position, but about attitude and action.

If you’d like to watch the whole interview, or to enjoy our other Executive Insights videos, you can subscribe to Soundview Executive Book Summaries. All editions include the monthly video interviews. And we’d love to hear back about what you’re learning as well.

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The Responsible Business

What does it mean for a company to be responsible? In the past the focus was on treating employees fairly, obeying the law, and not polluting the environment. Dictionary.com defines corporate responsibility this way: duty and rational conduct expected of a corporation; accountability of a corporation to a code of ethics and to established laws.

But a shift has taken place in recent years away from the idea of just doing no wrong, to a forward-looking idea of doing more right. This is the new corporate responsibility. Recent books that touch at the many aspects of this change in thinking include Common Purpose by Joel Kurtzman, Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and Tactical Transparency by Shel Holtz and John Havens.

But Carol Sanford, author of The Responsible Business, takes it a step further by looking at the very heart and soul of the company and how it operates. One key principle that Sanford emphasizes is having a workforce of CEOs, where “every person in the co-creative group (employees, suppliers, partners, contractors) think like a CEO and feel responsibility for the success of the whole, including financials, in their everyday decisions and actions.”

In this way of thinking, responsibility is taken down to the level of the employees – the people who live in the community, have children in the local schools, and see the day-to-day effects of the decisions made by the company. If a company is accountable to the larger community in which it functions, this can have a huge impact on how it does business.

If you’d like to hear more about Carol Sanford’s thinking on corporate responsibility, please join us for our Soundview Live webinar with her on October 13th at noon EST. The webinar is aptly named Becoming a Responsible Business, and there will be ample time to ask your questions regarding the implications for your company.



A FREE Resource You HAVE to Use!

There’s a reason I tend to conclude my posts by telling everyone to visit Soundview’s Web site, Summary.com. The site is regularly updated with information about newly released executive book summaries, book reviews (1,000 FREE reviews and growing!), upcoming Soundview Live Webinars and other great business learning resources.

I’ve got great news about another new resource available at Summary.com. How much do you think it would cost to attend an event where you hear vital business lectures from speakers such as Bill George, Patrick Lencioni, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Paul Krugman and David M. Rubenstein, among others? The event is the World Business Forum, and a ticket can cost as much as $2,500.

Fortunately, Soundview has partnered with HSM Global, producers of the World Business Forum, to bring you exclusive audio summaries of the event’s major speakers. These audio summaries are available for you to listen to for FREE!

Each audio summary is a 10-minute MP3 that features a narrated overview of the speech. The summary includes actual clips from the live speech given by the presenter at World Business Forum. If these tough economic times meant that you weren’t able to spend $2,500 on a ticket to the World Business Forum, these FREE audio summaries allow you to hear what you missed.

I need to stress here that you do NOT have to be a Soundview subscriber to listen to the World Business Forum audio summaries. These exclusive content pieces are FREE for everyone to learn from and enjoy. In fact, I’d recommend starting with Patrick Lencioni, whose latest book Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears that Sabotage Client Loyalty is now available as a Soundview summary!

To listen to the audio summaries from the World Business Forum, CLICK THIS LINK!



Are You Guilty of the Blame Game?

No one enjoys having to go through the process of debriefing a project that failed to meet a deadline or achieve the intended goal. When things go wrong in the workplace, how we handle it can mean the difference between learning from our mistakes and falling into a cycle of disappointment.

For executives the challenge is exploring the issues that caused the project to fail. Managers need to execute the right strategy when it comes to accountability. The danger is to fall victim to the blame game. This occurs when managers hold meetings with employees in the hopes of finding a scapegoat for the project’s problems. The situation can rapidly turn toxic if employees deflect the issues onto one another or back at the manager.

What’s needed in this situation is an environment in which both manager and employee feel comfortable speaking truthfully. Authors Roger Connors and Tom Smith help executives achieve a more positive, principled accountability process in their book How Did That Happen?

If you have yet to read this summary, put it on your must-read list ASAP. It’s one of the few books on accountability that attempts to make the process a positive one for all involved.

I also wanted to remind everyone that one of the book’s authors, Roger Connors, is our next guest on Soundview Live. This Thursday, March 25, at Noon (eastern), we will be sitting down with Roger to discuss accountability and how your organization can avoid spinning its wheels when a project hits the skids. We’re getting a lot of requests for information about this event, so please click the link above or visit us as Summary.com to learn how you can be a part of the program!



Unbecoming Attractions

I couldn’t tell you the last time I set foot in a movie theater. I won’t voice the usual grievance of previous generations and toss out details about the cost of a single ticket during my youth (although, ahem, the cashier generally saw a couple of images of Washington rather than Alexander Hamilton’s portrait, if you understand my meaning). To be honest, I don’t go because I simply can’t take the incessant ringing of cell phones despite multiple requests to silence them before the film begins.

However, I would certainly hesitate to complain about such a problem if I lived in St. Croix Falls, Wis. A theater patron in the town wrote a humble e-mail to the theater to voice her displeasure that she could not use a credit or debit card to purchase tickets for a showing of Shutter Island. It seems to me that the majority of Americans walk around with mostly plastic and very little paper in their wallets these days. Her complaint sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?

What this theater-goer received in return was a profanity laced tirade from the company’s vice president. Anyone who works in an organization that receives customer complaint e-mails has probably wanted to do exactly what the VP of Evergreen Entertainment did in this situation. Twenty years ago before e-mail and social media dominated every second of our lives, the woman’s complaint would have been in the form a letter that would have found its way to the trash. At most, she would have told her story to a dozen friends and the theater may have lost a few patrons.

That was then. I’m certain you can guess exactly what the aggrieved patron did next. You can click here and see for yourself.

In our new summary of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust, the authors repeatedly emphasize the need for companies to be more human toward their online customers. While yelling at one another is certainly a human action, it’s probably not what Brogan and Smith had in mind. In fact, this situation is a perfect example of how trust gets broken online. It also demonstrates the exponential power of one poor customer service interaction. The actions of Evergreen’s VP toward one customer now have 4,300 people lining up online to take their own shots at the company. You can only imagine how much the VP wishes he’d never hit “Send” on his rage-fueled e-mail.

As for the theater-goer, maybe she should take a page from my book and wait for Shutter Island to be released on Blu-Ray.



An Acceleration in Accountability

Today should be an eventful session on Capitol Hill. I’ve been keenly following the news reports about the investigation into Toyota’s mysterious acceleration problems with a number of its vehicles. I’m a bit of a nervous driver and although I don’t personally drive a Toyota, the thought of this same problem occurring with my car is enough to keep me tuned in to any news about the issue.

Toyota’s President and CEO Akio Toyoda will testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform via a prepared statement. It is expected that Toyoda will accept full responsibility for his company’s safety issue. While this type of statement is what we would expect of a CEO in the midst of a crisis, it raises an obvious question, one which was also raised by the authors of a recent Soundview summary: How Did That Happen?

There have been media reports that describe Toyota’s troubles as a negative outcome of the company’s recent success. The business grew quickly and needed to keep pace with the rapidly increasing demand for its product. In the race to produce more cars, commentators argue, corners were cut and safety was sacrificed. In my opinion, this is pure speculation. Toyota will require the type of analysis of its accountability procedures about which Roger Connors and Tom Smith write in How Did That Happen?.

While Toyoda does the talking before Congress, employees at every level of Toyota’s organization will be asked to examine their own performance and decision-making as it relates to the company’s acceleration issue. Connors and Smith are believers that with the right emphasis on the part of management, employees will willingly participate in a positive, principled program of accountability. Toyoda has an opportunity to lead the way for the company that bears his name. It will be interesting to see what happens next.



Tackling the To-Do List

Of all the Mondays that surface throughout a given year, this particular Monday has to be among folks’ least favorites. The first Monday after the start of a new year is generally when most people return “in force” to the office. Let’s face it, the majority of us work the kind of job where we were still diligently checking our e-mail and various digital devices during the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s Day. “Time off” is a relative term for most workers and it’s even more rare during times of economic uncertainty.

The new year is the start of many things. It’s when we attempt resolutions and use the first few days of January as a launching pad for change in our lives. The changing of the calendar is a great time to start something new. Of course, for the bulk of us, we entered our offices this morning with plenty to keep us occupied. Tackling a lengthy to-do list should probably replace resolutions as a New Year’s tradition.

It could be worse. You could have this executive’s to-do list. After reading it over, worrying about writing this blog didn’t bother me as much.

Author Bob Johansen understands the challenges that leaders currently face. In his book Leaders Make the Future, he discusses the disruptive environment that is causing a real challenge for traditional leaders. He terms our current era as a VUCA world, one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. What makes Johansen’s book interesting is that he takes a global perspective on the changing role of the leader. Backed by more than 10 years of research from the Institute for the Future, Johansen’s advice may help to solve some of the more complicated problems faced by leaders today.

It’s definitely worth a look … not that I mean to add another item to your lengthy to-do list.