By: Marilyn D. Jacobson, PH.d
When you consult for many Fortune 100+, a few smaller companies, and some not-for-profit organizations, while also teaching MBA students, you have stories to tell. Stories have always been important to me (I have two degrees in English literature), but mostly because I have gotten to know people intimately from an organization development perspective, and for the last 10 years as an executive coach. Conducting interviews has been a major part of my work, using what is called a 360, involving in-depth interviews with individuals, followed by interviews with their supervisors, subordinates and peers. Reporting what was revealed as strengths and areas for development, followed by coaching, creates a strong bond with each individual. While I could never repeat names, I had some great stories, which by necessity were only pillow talk.
How did I know it was time to write a book? My daughter, who is also my editor and proofreader, has suggested it for years. As a woman with children and friends who did not work, my life was bifurcated. Few asked and I did not talk about why I frequently left to travel on business. I managed to live two separate lives with support from my husband. I rarely talked about what I was doing as a consultant. Also, the work was highly confidential, and it would have been unethical to tell stories. Nevertheless, there were many to tell, and they came piling out, expunged of organization and individual names, in Buenos Aires when a friend and I spent many evenings over glasses of Malbec. Before we returned home, she had convinced me I should write a book.
I knew I had content, but I did not want to write about myself and I couldn’t write about my clients. Time went by and I read Thomas Friedman’s book That Used To Be Us, and I realized that I had several outstanding clients, but that they were unprepared to enter the global, high tech, hyper connected fast-paced world that was approaching with hurricane force. Each individual had mastered a piece of what was needed, and I believed, collectively, they could provide a profile helpful to other leaders actively confronting this new environment.
The first step was to ask my clients and a small group of other executives if they would participate in a book that I was going to write. Each person I approached did not say maybe, please elaborate, or no thanks. They said “yes”! What followed was a book concept paper, an agent who also liked stories but helped me to focus. What do I want my stories to do? Was my message or point of view clear? One day he said “From what you are saying, you want to turn the pyramid upside down” and there it was – my message. The stories were there, and the collective wisdom was there. Next to include was my premise: to be agile in this volatile marketplace, command and control organizations had to disappear. Employees have to engage fully, so that the complexities of managing a world-wide organization, using appropriate technologies, or indeed inventing them, requires a flatter structure with decision-making dispersed throughout, rather than isolated at the top.
It worked. I had a willing group of high-level executives, who would participate, and each had a story and lesson to share, and I had the message, strengthened by experience and research.
Turning the Pyramid Upside Down adds to what the executives offer, and makes the case regarding leadership that will make the difference in the future.
Following are the themes drawn from the stories in the book:
- People are number one; they are the only sustainable advantage.
- Innovation happens in an environment that fosters continual cooperation and exchange of ideas.
- Technology requires focus and discovery possible only with total involvement.
- Partnering and collaborating to deal with escalating complexity requires pooling knowledge across the organization.
- Promoting dialogue by asking, not telling.
- Leaders emerge when need arises. Talent and skills for greater success are already there.
- Engagement is the watchword to achieve strategic outcomes.
- Teams can decide as well as implement.
- Hiring A players draws other A players.
- Wellness and happiness in the work place is more than just balancing work and personal life; it actually reflects that there is an economic and psychological connection between health the workplace.
The essentials of what organizations seeking success in this rapidly approaching new world will require:
A Culture that inspires employees to contribute at a high level and partner with others to make the organization competitive is Goal #1, and the basic element of this new culture is moving away from a hierarchy. The new structure advocated is geared to the breakdown of silos or fiefdoms to flatter organizations where cooperation and collaboration is fostered.
Innovation, creativity, exploration and discovery should take center stage in the contest between numbers and newness. Without the concerns of power, status and revenue, which inevitably come from top-down organizations, investigation and investment in cutting-edge technologies can occur.
Creating work environments that encourage exchange of ideas eliminates individual cubicles and substitutes a workplace that facilitates team effort instead of isolation.
I now know when to write a book. It is when you have something to say that introduces a new formula for thought and action.