Be Like Steve Jobs: Offer Focus AND Freedom

Point to the mountain – but don’t tell people how to climb

Steve Jobs

First Focus…

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 he took his leaders on a retreat. On the final day he stood at the whiteboard and asked: “What are the ten things we’re going to do next?” His lieutenants fought to get their ideas on the board. As the discussion subsided, it displayed the list of ten. At this point Jobs crossed off seven. “We can only do three,” he explained. What he meant: we can only do three things brilliantly well (and better than the competition). Jobs obsession with focus has become the Apple motif. He once declared: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Focus should be a mantra for any business. But it’s particularly important for businesses plying their trade in knowledge and ideas. There’s precious little that’s tangible about a creative business: an office, some laptops and software, weightless intellectual property – and a group of creative, clever people. This imbues the business with an entrepreneurial spirit and a flexibility that’s exciting and full of potential. But agility presents an ever-present challenge: what to focus on – and what to say “no” to.
Creative people can do anything, and they often try. I call it the “Kid in a Sweetshop” Syndrome. Everything looks so appetising and interesting the business ends up doing too much. As a result what they deliver to customers is average. And they end up feeling a bit sick when they look at their profits – and the success of their rivals.

The key to offering focus is to be crystal-clear about:

  1. Purpose – Why you’re in business
  2. Values – What you believe in
  3. Focus – What you want to be famous for
  4. Vision – What your business will look, sound and feel like in the future

…Then Freedom

Paradoxically, once you have established clarity, you can empower your people with confidence. When Jobs found a person he trusted he offered latitude. He called his chief designer Jonathan Ive his “”spiritual partner” and organised Apple to offer him free rein. Creative leaders point to the mountain; but allow enormous freedom on how to climb it. By contrast, non-creative businesses offer the following prescription:

“First, put on your boots… 
“Second, use the handy and detailed map provided by your line manager.”
“Third, lean your body weight forward and swing your right leg. You are now what we call ‘walking’.”
“Fourth, ….”

You get the picture.

In 2013, the advertising business Ogilvy & Mather became the first agency to be awarded over 100 Cannes Lions for creativity, while also winning its first ever Creative Effectiveness Award. The Ogilvy corporate culture is expressed like this: “We don’t like rigid pecking orders. We give our executives an extraordinary degree of independence, in the belief that freedom stimulates initiative. We dislike issuing orders; the best results are produced by men and women who don’t have to be told what to do.”

This blog is an early draft extract from my book “The Spark – How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity” (FT Publishing, 2014) an inspiring ‘how-to’ manual to boost innovation in your team or business - available in all good book shops and on Amazon

All Rights Reserved, © Copyright Greg Orme 2013

Don’t Be A Crash Test Dummy – Please Ensure Your Culture and Strategy Are Fastened Securely

In brief: Four insights into organisational culture followed by three leadership tips to ensure you reach your destination – rather than repeatedly crashing your business dreams. 

A common response to the global downturn is: “we need a new strategy”! But there’s a problem.

New strategy = new structures and processes.

New structures and processes = new behaviours.

How people behave on a day-to-day basis is where strategy collides with culture. The new strategy gains impetus from engaged staff – or is bought to the sort of shuddering halt normally experienced by a crash test dummy.

Four Insights into Organisational Culture

1. What’s culture?

Culture is the water in the fish tank. It’s everywhere you look. And, if you’ve worked in a business long enough, virtually invisible . It’s “the way things get done around here”: values, language, symbols, stories, beliefs and habits – everything from the organisation chart to the bonus system, accepted behaviour in meetings to parking spot allocations. Like fish tank water, it needs regular attention to stay fresh – and to avoid the growth of green slime!

2. Why’s it important?

Culture is important because it’s the way people learn how to behave. Crucially, it’s stronger than any new, whizz-bang strategy.

3. Is there a “right” or “wrong” culture?

What is your business trying to achieve? The culture at a creative agency like Saatchi & Saatchi is different from the culture required to deliver Sainsbury’s success in retailing. Both vary from the “lone-wolves-together” culture at a newspaper or on a trading floor. The best test is: “Does this culture help us to achieve our objectives?” Culture is not right or wrong, but appropriate or inappropriate.

4. What’s the role of leadership?  

Cultures can go rotten without clear leadership. Relationship-focussed cultures become highly politicised. Task-focussed, performance cultures become harsh, uncaring – and even amoral. Great examples: the Barclays LIBOR-rigging scandal, the role of banks in the global financial crash – and don’t forget Enron. Leaders keep the water clean.

Three Tips for Leading Culture 

Here’s what you can focus on increase your effectiveness.

1. Take time to fully understand your culture

Cultures differ on the focus they put upon maintaining relationships versus achieving goals. Understanding where your culture is on this spectrum requires close observation of the physical environment, the way people spend their time and how they communicate. (PS, you can also use analysis tools to try to quantify what can be viewed as “fluffy stuff best left to HR”).

2. If you simply want to manage the culture – learn to swim with the current

Aligning your style to the prevailing culture is a powerful way to stack the deck in your favour. This might be about taking the time to get to know people within a relationship-based culture. Or, it might be about developing clear goals in a focussed, high-performance culture.

3. If you want to lead change in the culture be prepared for a tricky job – that starts with you

Good management swims with the prevailing cultural currents. But a leader’s job is to constantly evaluate what might need to change to make things better. Put another way: “Do we need to change the water?”

Changing a culture is possible. But it effects the beliefs and behaviours of everyone so it takes time, energy and focus. If you want to change a culture, lead from the front. Don’t simply mandate new behaviours, demonstrate them. Every day.

Summary

Whether you are changing a culture – or just ensuring it works – Oscar Wilde was right: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” It’s true for organisations, as with people. There isn’t one “good” culture we should all aspire too.

But on thing’s for sure. Whatever your unique situation, culture needs to wrap around strategy like a well-designed seatbelt.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Caution Change Ahead!

6 Ways To Avoid Being Tripped Up When Leading Change In Your Organisation   

Creating change is often difficult, expensive, and prone to failure. And as a leader when you initiative the “pet project of the month” over and over again but nothing really changes guess what? You start to look a little like a politician: all mouth and no trousers.

Change is difficult because it’s about new behaviours. And we all know how difficult it is to alter our own habits (drinking less, exercising more or turning the TV off once in a while!) Imagine how much harder it is when you are trying to modify the attitudes and actions of an entire organisation.

Over the years I’ve been involved in the implementation of major change in a variety of businesses. From my experience – and research into good practice – here are six handy tips to help you to become a successful Change Maker.

1. Start Shouting Fire – Many businesses are too inward looking. They don’t listen enough to their clients or know enough about their competitors. An inward-facing mentality can breed complacency, even arrogance. As a leader you need to show your people that the need for change is urgent. If there is not a pressing commercial or operational “fire” in your business (and there normally is) you might need to start it yourself.

2. Get the right people involved, at the right time, during the process –  change often starts with one or two people, but making it stick is not a solo sport. To get things going you need to get enough people involved with the expertise and credibility required. And ensure they are working as a team. Change Management is like getting a car started when it’s bogged down in the mud. You need a coordinated, sustained push with as many people involved as you can rope in.

3. Develop a Clear Inspirational Purpose – if it’s not there already start with a rigorous and collaborative development process to find this, then add specific objectives. Anything less is a recipe for confusion and apathy.

4. Communicate, communicate, and then communicate again – It is amazing how many businesses do not communicate effectively. Try this as a test: ask six team members what the fundamental purpose of your business is and see how different their replies are. You might be surprised.

5. Empower Your People – Make sure your team can grab the purpose and make it happen. But empowerment is pointless if it’s just a word. Take a look at your systems, structures and skill levels to make sure the sort of behaviour you want is even possible in your business.

6. Plan for some short term wins – Change is painful and difficult at times and it needs a sustained effort; timelines are normally not weeks but months and even years. To show your team the late nights are worth it make sure the changes you are bringing about delivers short term wins along the way.

Copyright © 2011 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

With thanks to John P. Kotter’s ‘Leading Change’