Book Review: Talk, Inc.

Trust is an essential element of leadership, but how exactly do we build that trust as leaders? Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind propose just that in their book, Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders use Conversation to Power their Organizations. It’s one of the best books I have read on “how” to embark on the journey of trust-building in organizations. It doesn’t settle for wordy but useless statements like “leaders should generate trust in their followers”. Rather, it provides numerous examples–from a number of cultures and industries–of what leaders are doing to embrace conversations in their organizations. These authentic conversations help to build the trust needed for organizations to thrive.

The authors present numerous ideas from mostly non-mainstream companies–many of which I hadn’t heard of before. I found this refreshing as they didn’t recycle the same old ideas (do we really ever need another commentary on GE’s work-out program?).. They interviewed leaders of a few Indian companies as well, presenting an intriguing cultural perspective that is important for us to understand as our organizations continue to globalize.

Groysberg and Slind argue that there has been a significant shift in organizations in recent years. Leaders simply cannot delegate communications to professional communicators. They must adopt organizational communication as their responsibility, not someone else’s. This shift has occurred for five main reasons (see page 7):
1. Economic Change – As workplaces become more knowledge-based, organizations must find more sophisticated ways to communicate.
2. Organizational Change – As organizations become flatter, all directions of communication (lateral, bottom-up etc.) are as important as top-down communication.
3. Global Change – Workforces are becoming more culturally diverse, and this is forcing organizations to adapt their communication amidst these cultural dynamics.
4. Generational Change – Millenials are infiltrating leadership positions and are expecting leaders to communicate directly with them.
5. Technological Change – Various technologies (including social media) are allowing direct access to the source, and enabling leaders to communicate in different ways to employees.

I have reached similar conclusions in my own research and still believe HR Leaders need to take on the social aspects of their organization. I believe that corporate communications functions in most organizations will become integrated into HR Departments (if they haven’t already), as organizations learn to understand and value the power of the collective voice of their employees. Talk, Inc. gives us numerous examples of “How” organizations are doing this, and I highly recommend it for any leader pondering a change effort in his/her organization. I also recommend it for any leader taking an a new leadership challenge. This book will give you the tools needed to better understand the intricate social and communication fabric of your organization.

Note: I purchased this book myself and have no affiliation with the authors or the publisher.

Book Review: Rapid Realignment

Alignment is one of those intuitive things that is easy to write about but much harder to practice. Of course HR, Finance, Communications, Operations, and Sales should be aligned towards the same goals/directions. No one is going to argue they should not be. But many organizations are full of silo-ed departments that are not aligned, and that creates numerous difficulties for them as these departments pull the organization in varied directions simultaneously. George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky recently published a book specifically on the subject of realignment. In Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance, Labovitz and Rosansky build on their previous best-selling work and provide many practical ways for leaders to realign their organizations.

The book is broad in scope, and touches on numerous organizational issues such as social media, continuous quality improvement, culture, employee engagement, strategic planning and many more. Each of the aforementioned topics could be a book in themselves, and that broad scope dilutes its usefulness a bit. The authors do cite a number of case study stories, and I loved those. These short anecdotal stories bolster their thoughts and research by providing pragmatic examples of continuous alignment. I just wish they would have expanded those more as we could have learned much from the alignment efforts of the companies they researched.

I especially enjoyed the social media chapter and their thoughts on how companies can bolster their vertical and horizontal alignment by harnessing the power of social media. It was a thought-provoking, engaging, and well-written chapter on the subject. They did not just rehash what we already know about social media and provided some depth to the ongoing conversation of what organizations should actually do with these advancing social technologies. A leader can’t simply decree “Thou shalt align” to his organization and expect it to magically align. Rather, leaders must engage in continuous conversations throughout the organization. Social media has given leaders powerful tools to do that more effectively, but t has also made organizational communication more slippery to understand. The examples they cite from WalMart and PWC really help readers understand how some companies are using social media technology to align their organizations.

Overall, I did enjoy the book, and it is an extremely useful tool for a leader to align his or her strategies. Advanced leaders may read this and then look for more detailed or deeper information on specific topics to further bolster those strategies. That is fine, since we have to start from somewhere. Labovitz and Rosansky provide that starting point and definitely provide a useful contribution to the literature on alignment.

Note: I have no affiliation with the authors and purchased this book myself.

Labovitz, G. & Rosansky, V. (2012). Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Alliance Leadership

I came across an interesting comment recently: “Firms need to think more strategically about developing not just managers or global managers, but alliance managers, as they will run the companies of the future” (Isabella & Spekman, 2001, p.240). Isabella & Spekman write about the importance of alliances in the 21st Century, and how leading in an alliance requires a unique blend of skills and competencies. “Alliances” in this context being partnerships between organizations that benefit both organizations in some way, but do not involve an absorption of the individual organizations into each other. The complexity of these competencies are compounded in a global environment where leaders must understand intricate cultural nuances and dance a tightrope between the collective interests of the alliance and the individual interests of the organization the alliance leader works in. Forgoing rights & focusing on those personal relationships will paradoxically allow leaders to lead in the complexity of emerging global society

So how does an organization develop an “alliance leader”? Considering most organizations struggle with developing leaders domestically, this might too far-fetched to expect much out of most organizations in this area. If an organization struggles with developing front-line supervisors, can we be expected to develop alliance leaders? But let’s say it is possible, what would it look like?

First, the alliance leader would need to be brilliant at forging personal relationships in business settings. Alliances simply require a unique level of trust and commitment on both sides and that foundation of trust must be build at the personal level.

Second, the alliance leader needs a thorough understanding of the cultures involved in the alliance. There is no simple way to bypass this, as misunderstanding cultural norms may unintentionally derail the trust required for the alliance to succeed.

Third, the alliance leader needs to understand the art of forgoing some rights in order to collectively achieve more. This may be too much for a North American leader to do though. but perhaps that is why the world’s greatest future alliance leaders will probably not come from North America.

Isabella, L.A. & Spekman, R.E. (2001). Alliance leadership: Template for the future. In William Mobley & Morgan McCall (Eds.). Advances in global leadership (Vol 2). Bongley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.