Appearing in December 2016 issue of In The Black
Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right
By Joseph Badaracco
Harvard Business School Press, $50, 147 pages, ISBN 9781633692398
This book is a reprint of a classic version that first appeared in 1997, and its message is, if anything, even more relevant today. Badaracco, a Harvard professor, starts from the premise that decisions between right and wrong are easy: it get tough when the choice is between two paths which both have virtues and drawbacks. When a decision involves personal values it becomes even tougher, and one can easily become lost in a thicket of over-thinking and rationalisations.
Badaracco looks at three real-life cases. In the first, a financial analyst is invited to an important meeting but it becomes clear that the invitation was because a ‘token black’ was needed. In the second, a manager is faced with the prospect of firing an under-performing employee, even though he knows that the problem stems from the woman’s commitments to her family. The third involves the decision over whether to introduce the ‘abortion pill’ RU 486; either choice is going to antagonise a stakeholder group, and the moral issues are ambiguous.
Focusing on only three issues allows Badaracco to unpack them in detail. Along the way, he looks at the views of a range of thinkers, from Aristotle’s tests of moral character to Machiavelli’s outcome-based system. He even looks at the ‘sleep test’ – that is, whether you can sleep well after the choice is made. Each has their value but none are definitive.
He is wary of ‘grand principles’, including those in corporate mission statements. They often assume simplicity, whereas any manager knows that complexity is a daily reality. He is equally suspicious of the idea that all problems are open to split-the-difference negotiation: some defy consensus, and somewhere along the line someone has to make a decision.
Badaracco follows the three cases to their conclusion but is more interested in the process of decision-making. He concludes that the key does not lie in the answers but in the questions, mainly the questions asked of oneself. Working out what to ask requires, above all, a clarity of mind, and in the final chapter Badaracco suggests that this can come through making time for moments of serenity, looking to the ‘lived truths’ of others, and keeping perspective on one’s real place in the world.
This is a short book but a pithy, important one. Anyone looking to take up a leadership role will find something resonant here. After all, as Badaracco says, managers are the ethics teachers of their organisation. So they are obliged to try to get it right. It comes with the territory.
Momentum: How to Build it, Keep it or Get it Back
Wiley, $35, 232 pages, ISBN 9780730331933
In the business context, momentum can be difficult to define but it is usually easy to recognise. McQueen sees it as a key part of brand success, allowing for new ideas, considered risks, and employees pride. Done the right way it can become self-sustaining, but if left to itself it can vanish before your eyes.
McQueen has been watching the process for long enough to be able to construct a self-diagnostic tool, and he uses it to launch into a broader study. Energetic, talented people is the place to start, but he carefully differentiates between frantic action and purposeful activity. The company leaders have to determine a pace that can be sustained, and ensure that milestones and achievements are recognised and celebrated. Most of all, momentum must be actively managed and cultivated, and tied to results.
McQueen looks at several firms that took their eye off the bottom line. Another common mistake is to depend on what has worked before. Even if a company started from a single critical innovation there is a need to continue looking for small, incremental improvements. Good work habits should be built into the culture so they become automatic.
The biggest danger is bureaucracy, even in companies who thought ‘it can’t happen here’. Well, it can – even in companies built on innovation, like Microsoft. He also examines Lego, Hitachi, Kodak and Samsung, all of which offer interesting lessons.
The problem with this book is that it often skims across the surface when depth is needed. The open-plan design, with lots of funky colours and trendy quotes, might also put some readers off. Nevertheless, Momentum, while being a light read, provides plenty of food for thought.
ReOrg: How To Get It Right
By Stephen Heidari-Robinson and Suzanne Heywood
Harvard Business Review Press, $49, 256 pages, ISBN 9781633692237
At some point, most executives will lead or be a part of a reorganisation effort. A reorganisation can unlock latent value and tap into emerging opportunities, but they often create anxiety and distraction instead. Heidari-Robinson and Heywood, former leaders in McKinsey’s Organisation Practice, have seen enough reorgs (as they call them) to know what works and what doesn’t, and their aim here is to provide a five-step pathway. First, you have to know why you are doing this, with a clear understanding of the reorg’s profit and loss. Another critical element is identifying the strengths you want to preserve, which entails listening to the views of the people affected. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, it is better to work from multiple options, and draw on past experience. Fourth, as the authors emphasise, “get the plumbing and wiring right”: make sure there is sufficient attention given to implementation, with a written strategy available across the organisation. Finally, make sure that new and relevant metrics in place, and ensure there is a system check at a specific time after the reorg. This sounds complicated but Heidari-Robinson and Heywood explain it in clear terms, drawing on their own experience and broad McKinsey data. Re-orgs are never going to be easy but this book can go a long way to reducing the fear factor.