Review of “Open Leadership” Framework (Leadership and Social Technologies Book)

Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group and co-author of the bestselling book Groundswell, was generous to include me on her distribution list for an advanced reading copy of her new book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead. Open Leadership both motivates and provides an excellent framework & toolkit for changing and opening up an organization through support of social technologies. In this post I overview key elements of the book and my favorite contributions to the business & leadership book landscape.

Charlene Li describes “open leadership” as “about how leaders must let go to gain more.” Stepping aside from Open Leadership’stable of contents, I created a one-slide summary figure (sort of like a “cheatsheet”) to help describe the key concepts. While the figure doesn’t capture every element of the book, I think the figure focuses on the key areas a company must address when designing and implementing social technology-based strategy.

Open Leadership

I see her book as tying together five key areas:

  • Openness Strategy and Design – This part of the book covers an audit of where your company is at in terms of openness. This part also frames open strategy in terms of four objective areas (applicable to company/brand/product) of learn, dialog, support, and innovate and increasing levels of engagement with constituents. I like this part of the book particularly because it starts to weave together marketing, branding, social technologies, and the fringes of innovation.
  • Benefits & ROI – For those that have read Groundswell, this part is similar in that it covers some qualitative and quantitative models for using social technologies. One area where the book goes further is in its segmentation of these models by the learn, dialog, support, and innovation objectives outlined in the openness strategy section. Here I see the models as inspirational and thought-provoking as opposed to being ready off-the-shelf. Readers should draw learnings from these and figure out how to best adapt for their specific management context (as there are a mixture of top-down and bottoms-up quantitative analysis and numerical sensitivity issues). Charlene provides some additional perspectives on customer lifetime value and net promoter score, the latter which is a personal favorite for tying brand management and social technologies together in an instructional context (e.g., business school curricula).
  • Openness Covenants – This part of the book covers social media guidelines and policies. Covenants are about how an organization defines the “safe area of the sandbox to play in”. The use of checklists and case examples makes for a nice reference and workbook to drive an organization’s development process.
  • Openness Orchestration – I found this part of the book to be one of the most important areas of the book. Because the use of social technologies involves openness across the entire organization (sometimes cutting across isolated departments and functions) this book provides a nice treatment of thinking about customers and constituents, specific workflow areas (e.g., customer service, marketing), and organizational models (e.g., centralized, distributed) and tradeoffs for implementing.
  • Organizational Change – There are sections of the book dedicated to nurturing organization change, and this involves mindsets and traits, leadership assessments, and something Charlene Li calls the “failure imperative”. While organizational change is a “soft” topic in many texts, Charlene Li does a nice job reconstructing a variety of real-life case examples of how companies and individuals failed in specific situations related to social technologies. Some of the companies and individuals managed to pick themselves up, re-adapt, and succeed eventually. Similar to use of social technologies, effectively dealing with failure is something core to innovation, improvisation, and leadership. So the sections covering organizational change are a nice wrap to the book and provides concrete inspiration from which to draw.

Open Leadershipserves as an excellent, end-to-end process toolkit and is well-suited for corporate executives, marketers, business information technology professionals, and management consultants looking for leadership frameworks supported by social technologies. Treatment of the subject is just above the technology-evaluation level (which would include determining whether technologies such as BuzzMetrics, Yammer, Radian6, Communispace, Umbria, Twitter, WordPress, and Facebook are appropriate).

Book Review of “The New How” (Business Strategy Book)

It is atypical for me to write a book review for this blog, but Nilofer Merchant’s “The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy” is very respectable contribution to both audiences of this blog and the process of strategy development in general. In particular, the book does two important things beyond other strategy books:

  • it breaks down the ivory tower of centralized strategy and addresses, in detail, the roles and responsibilities that each employee must fulfill in the new model, and
  • the book explicitly documents a collaborative process that one can use to develop strategy, a process which from my vantage point has only been addressed either through mentorship and transfer of tacit knowledge or in fragments within other documents.

The book divides strategy into two domains – 1) where a company competes, and 2) how a company competes. The premise of the book is that the former topic (where a company competes) is well-addressed by existing strategy books, such as those by Porter, Chan, Kim, and Mauborgne. Nilofer’s book addresses the gap in business texts regarding the latter topic, which includes day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter strategies, such as “how do we grow sales of product XYZ” or “how do we grow sales of division Y by Q%?”  As she writes, “One person’ strategy is another’s tactics. The unnecessary and fruitless war of what is tactics or strategy or execution must end.”

Part 1 of the book provides a call to action for individual employees and leaders. But the book goes further by providing specific responsibilities that each person must fulfill. Where I admire the book is in its approach to addressing each employee’s role. Whereas “older” methods of strategy may have been focused on executive management teams, this book provides context, terminology, and frameworks for educating a broader audience. As an aside, I am also struck by the fact that Nilofer does a good job of incorporating concepts of improvisation into the strategy development process, culture, and mindset of employees. Improvisation is especially a soft spot for me given my involvement with Business Improvisations, a collaboration between business academics and improvisation instructors which helps companies in areas such as innovation, leadership, teamwork, etc. through customized, experiential learning sessions.

Part 2 of the book goes into greater detail on process of strategy development. It breaks down the process into four major areas:

  • Question Phase – articulating the problem scope and assessing the current state of the organization
  • Envision Phase – creating options for the organization developing criteria that would be used to evaluate options
  • Select Phase – using a “MurderBoarding” process to sort, tune, fix, etc. options
  • Take Phase – creating accountability, identifying who does what, and getting down to interdependencies and execution.

Although the book goes into much greater detail on all of these areas (with specific examples, charts, tables, etc.), one of my favorite charts is the MurderBoarding overview chart (copyright image reproduced below from “The New How” via permission from Nilofer Merchant). I often find this part of the strategy development process to be at risk of falling apart – this part of the strategy process is inherently messy, and unless the team focuses on a disciplined reference framework (like the one here), it becomes too tempting and easy to try to cut corners. Look carefully at the chart and see if you have been tempted to cut corners in the process. For example, did you forget to test the idea in part before finalizing the strategy? Or did you forget to vet and refine the criteria used to evaluate a strategic option?

Diag018Even as an experienced management consultant and manager, I would highly recommend this book (I’ve also added it to my popular Crash Course Consulting Reading List). The book is practical and covers a body of knowledge that has been largely undocumented to date. Whether one explicitly uses the processes Nilofer describes, the book still provides a good framework for assessing how one is doing. This book is well-suited for corporate executives, strategic planners, general managers, and management consultants. It would also be good as a textbook to supplement strategy and/or consulting courses.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts!

My Experience With Teaching Ethics Session As Part Of Core Marketing Course

This past week I had a chance to teach an ethics session as part of a larger, core marketing course that I am teaching at Irvine University. I write this post to share my experiences on what worked and what didn't.

Now as context, about four years ago in 2005 I wrote a post on covering ethics as part of business school curricula, and to make a long story short, back then I didn't have a very comfortable opinion on how effective that type of training would be and whether students would want to pay for such training. I have since that timeframe (and based on comments from folks) augmented my opinion a little bit in that while I feel that ethics is something that should not be exclusive to business schools, it is something that leaders need to work with, and as such, is a fundamental topic for business schools to address.

That said, I am not quite comfortable with how I addressed ethics in this past week's session. Setting my effectiveness and student perceptions aside for the moment, here's the basic path that I took:

  • Though I'm no business historian, I characterized the history of the revitalization of ethics in the business schools as falling into two mini-eras in recent history– One of these mini-eras started on the order of five to ten years ago and was driven by a lot of the corporate scandals, executive fiascoes (e.g., Enron), and need for better financial reporting (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley). In this first mini-era, business schools introduced ethics into their curricula with some of them incorporating ethics into leadership courses with others taking ethics and spreading a little bit of those ideas into all courses. Waving my hands a lot, I cited Michael Lewis' piece, "The End" (Of Wall Street), the role of credit default swaps, and failure of ethics (among other things) being at the heart of the cause of the economic downturn. So I concluded that business schools can still do more. Mini-era two is taking place with MBA graduates taking part in the student-led MBA Oath, which has been going viral.
  • I indicated that leaders need to be concerned with ethics – basically what I said above in that it is not the sole responsibility of business school students, but that we can further the practice of ethics.
  • I promoted two key frameworks for analyzing ethical concerns– Both of these frameworks are from Chapter 4 of the McGraw-Hill Irwin textbook, "Marketing", 9th Edition, by Kerin et. al. One framework was the standard, 2×2 consulting-like matrix that broke ideas into 4 quadrants with (Ethical-Not Ethical on one axis and Legal-Not Legal on the other). We spent time discussing certain scenarios and whether they fell into one quadrant or the other. I argued that the legal axis was, in principle, more straightforward than the ethics axis, where the degree of overlap and misfit between individual, company, general business, and international ethical principles are more fuzzy and can require reconciliation whether by management, ethics officer or other. I cited Transparency International as a data point and source for international practices and norms for ethical conduct. The second ethical framework that we covered conceptually balanced profit maximization and shareholder value against items like environmental, societal, and other factors. Here I feel that the best management practices for balancing things are not so well-developed, but I struggle a bit with how this area should be advanced.
  • I talked about ethical codes of conducts (as documents that need to be affirmed by employees in many companies) and associated online training programs – although I did not have example references or documents to point to off-the-cuff.

With respect to the big picture, I was able to cite a number of cases where companies (e.g., Body Shop, POM, BP) have made ethical and social concerns an essential part of their business and/or marketing strategy, but I think my ability to cite, crisp quantitative information could have been better. What are the costs of being ethical? What are the costs of not being ethical? Where does being ethical add to the bottom-line in terms of revenues, sales commissions, shareholder value, reduced churn, etc.? The answers I provided to these questions were either a bit long-winded or not available at the tip of my tongue.

In any case, if folks have thoughts on ethics, teaching ethics, receiving ethics training, etc., please feel free to share your stories. I am interested in what works and doesn't work for folks.


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Leadership Is Innate (Part 2?)

Three years ago I wrote a post entitled "Leadership Is An Innate Skill?". In that post, I essentially avoided the core topic (because I didn't have an opinion), but I made some anecdotal points about  how one could foster one's leadership style (which I thought was a more important point). My views on leadership haven't changed fundamentally since my original post in that I believe that some leadership skills can be learned, there are many different leadership styles, and contextual and organizational items play a role (e.g., can influence one to diverge from one's own leadership style or enhance it).

That said, reader Tom Hartly has brought to my attention a new book entitled, "Leadership Is Innate". I've not read the book, but one can peruse a bit online and figure out which side of the coin is being argued. The description reads:

Top CEOs will tell you that leadership traits come as "part of the package" and "can't really be taught". Scientists have recently begun to discover how genetic differences contribute to key leadership skills.

When Collaboration And Leadership Are More Important In Non-Profits Versus For-Profits

Ventures or new organizational initiatives, whether in the profit or non-profit sector, face tough mortality rates early on. Luck clearly plays a role in the success of new initiatives, but I find that many times it has to do with a combination of tackling too many items, lacking organizational skills or resources, and not working out important issues of collaboration and leadership.

Non-profits bear a bigger brunt in my opinion:

  • People tend to be naturally (and rightfully) more altruistic in non-profit endeavors –  This creates a large appetite, but it must be tapered with some discipline and a devil’s advocate mentality to say that "we should first bite off a smaller goal".
  • Non-profits may have greater tendencies to lack optimum organizational structures – As I mentioned in a prior post outlining how MBAs can apply skills in a non-profit environment, many non-profits I’ve seen have more diverse demographics than corporations. This is great, but it may also mean that a non-profit is getting contributed (pro-bono) support where one can’t control the quality or goals of the resource as one would with an employee of a commercial entity. Non-profits may also lack resources in the way of $$ or specialized help on-staff.
  • Non-profits may lack collaboration mechanisms more widely used in the high-tech space – Some of the team members may be working virtually from the organization (e.g., if contributed pro-bono work). Given that virtual teams have "amplified collaboration needs" (term coined here by Arienna Foley), it is worthwhile to figure out how to get the people to actively collaborate and get quick wins. Some bootstrap tools that may help in the greater effort of getting the team to work together include things like free conference calling (, instant organizational intranet (note whitepaper PDF file)  and communication platform (e.g., using free configuration of 21Publish group publishing service), and Skype (free voice over IP, e.g., for international team members).

In any case, I hope that these items and pointers above may help give some ideas to those working for non-profits. This post was motivated by a portion of a broader discussion I had with Dr. Saraiya regarding  the South Asian Health Research Institute (SAHRI). Dr. Saraiya asked me to write down some of my thoughts in starting a new endeavor.

Steve Shu

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