Rock Balancing

The Biggest Choice You Don’t Even Know You’re Making

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, and four washed-up recent entrepreneurs sitting in a dive bar go over, again, how their dreams got wrecked. One says: “We didn’t focus.  We overbuilt our team.  We pursued too many products.  When the music stopped, our core business wasn’t profitable.  Another start-up that was two steps ahead in… Read more » Read more

Decision Maker

The Question Every Decision Maker Should Answer First

The business community is dramatically more focused than ever before on a powerful set of advanced tools for decision-making, particularly applications of a rich base of research on cognitive biases.  We’re believers in this work, and I’ll reflect on aspects of it in future posts.  Here I’d like to focus on a much more basic… Read more » Read more

Circular leaves

Should We Have Two Leadership Teams?

A number of the entrepreneurs we advise have reached the stage of enterprise-building where there are more executives within their organizations than fit naturally on the top management team. They face the question of whether to have a second, more inclusive leadership team that creates a forum for all the “most senior people” to participate…. Read more » Read more

Market Logic

Market Logic of a Business: Seven Fundamental Questions

One of the questions we often see in our work is about whether and how to launch a business that doesn’t yet exist.  This question comes up both in the context of early stage start-ups shaping their strategy and in the context of teams in larger companies considering the launch of new businesses. Answering this… Read more » Read more

attrition

What to Do When Your People Are Leaving

There are few things more unsettling for people-driven businesses like tech companies, professional service firms and asset managers than a spike in attrition.  High attrition can easily become a downward spiral, as the exit of key people causes others to question the firm’s health and the opportunities they’ll have. Often management teams haven’t experienced this… Read more » Read more

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Finishing the Work of Founding a Company

Founders often feel their work can never be completed.  Or they feel that the completion of this work could only be the completion of the company, an exit in which the company becomes someone else’s opportunity, someone else’s problem. Let’s play with the opposing idea: that there is a distinct founding era in a company,… Read more » Read more

Sol Lewitt

Why We Invest in Reviews and Rate Performance

GE made headlines with their decision to eliminate ratings. Accenture’s CEO announced in an interview with the Washington Post last year that they were eliminating their annual reviews: “We’re going to get rid of it. Not 100 percent, but we’re going to get rid of probably 90 percent of what we did in the past…. Read more » Read more

After the Election

After the Election

I shared the letter below with our team at Incandescent this morning: a personal reflection on how this moment in our national history connects to our firm as a community and to our work.  In a time when so many of us find ourselves in new territory as leaders and as citizens, wrestling with what… Read more » Read more

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How We Run Incandescent: Principles and Practices

Over the last three years of building Incandescent, we’ve also been building a document we call How We Run Incandescent. The primary focus of this document is to provide an operating framework: a way of thinking about the principles of how we operate that translate effectively into our practices, the shared ways we as a… Read more » Read more

smart-execs

The Stupidest Thing Smart Executives Say

“Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution!” We define micromanagement as what happens when a sponsor – the leader who delegates a goal and specifies a brief articulating what outcome is needed, by when, subject to what constraints – starts doing what should be the owner’s work of shaping the path to the… Read more » Read more

Volunteer Economy

Self-Management and the Volunteer Economy at Incandescent

Since the publication of Beyond the Holacracy Hype in HBR this summer, a number of people have asked me whether Incandescent has a form of self-managing organization.  For the most part, the firm operates in a clear but loose hierarchy, in which objectives are delegated from clear sponsors to owners who then have great latitude to… Read more » Read more

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Micromanagement 101 and Other Recent Adventures

After publishing Beyond the Holacracy Hype in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review, we’ve followed up with two digital articles in HBR: How Self-Managed Companies Help People Learn on the Job (co-authored with Ethan Bernstein and Charlotte Dobbs), which lays out some personal learning experiments people can try whatever kind of environment they work… Read more » Read more

Encoding Learning

Encoding My Learning and Teaching: A Personal Reflection

Over the past couple of years, I’ve twice shared my priorities for personal development publicly – partly thinking my reflections might be useful to others, but mostly acting out of a belief that it would be useful to me to publicly state my commitments.  In “Three Lines to a Bird,” I describe the importance of… Read more » Read more

Duck Rabbit

The “Duck-Rabbit” and the Art of Entrepreneurship

Anyone who has built a company knows what it’s like to flip back and forth between just knowing that what they’ve pictured in their head really will get realized in the world – and despairing that the latest just-maybe-insurmountable obstacle could derail the venture entirely. In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein writes about the “duck-rabbit” picture. … Read more » Read more

Retention Tree image

How to Retain Talent – and How to Lose People the Right Way

Of all the systems relating to talent that I’ve ever had a hand in developing, the most powerful was a system we developed at Katzenbach Partners called “the retention tree.”  The system is extremely simple, and this short post includes everything you would need to implement it yourself. The context: Katzenbach Partners hired many people… Read more » Read more

On Hiring Well

On Hiring Well

Choices about whom to hire are among the most important choices any company makes. Hiring constitutes “choosing the choosers” of what a company will do and how they will do it, whether at the micro scale of delivering service at a car rental counter or the macro scale of building a new business. Unlike domains… Read more » Read more

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Cultures That Yield the Right Divergence

Two posts ago, I shared my thoughts on Adam Grant’s book Originals. As part of Adam’s listening tour to develop his thinking, he visited our office in New York for a conversation about cultures that are both cohesive and that foster divergent thinking and constructive dissent. In preparing for the dialogue with Adam, I wrote… Read more » Read more

Culture: a CEO's manifesto

Culture: A CEO’s Manifesto

This piece is adapted from a letter to a Fortune 500 CEO, building on a dialogue we had about evolving the culture of a company in its second century. The path described here isn’t meant to be a universal recommendation – we’d do very different things in different contexts. Rather, I share this as a… Read more » Read more

Post-Mortems

The Power of Stepping Back: Conducting Post-Mortems

Nothing is more valuable than maximizing the amount we learn from our experiences, individually and collectively. This learning matters too much to leave to chance. A post-mortem discipline is tremendously valuable to institutionalize in a company, with impact that goes beyond the direct learning from the sessions. This impact is felt particularly as part of… Read more » Read more

Self Managment is One Part Architecture, Two Parts Culture

Self Management is One Part Architecture, Two Parts Culture

In the first of four posts on self management, I tried to name the distinct building blocks that constitute the foundation of a self-managing organization. After a second post characterizing the strengths and weaknesses of Holacracy, the third and most recent post laid out an architecture for self management that I believe would in many cases be… Read more » Read more

Performance Management - Beyond the Ritual of the Annual Review

Beyond the Ritual of the Annual Review

An awful lot of ink in the past couple of years has been spilled about whether performance management is a fundamentally flawed idea, and whether formal reviews generally – and performance ratings in particular – should be scrapped. For people who would like to understand the arguments on both sides, two articles by friends capture… Read more » Read more

escher red

Self Management: A New Architecture

In the second of four posts on self management, we looked at Holacracy as an attempt to solve for a fully-specified structural framework for self-management. Holacracy is thoughtfully designed and elegant. However, most companies interested in unleashing energy by flattening their structures don’t need the air-tight system the Holacracy constitution provides. They need to be… Read more » Read more

escher swans

Is Holacracy the Answer?

This is the second of four posts on self management. To start with the first post, click here.   In “The Building Blocks of Self-Management,” we started to examine four propositions that characterize different potential features of self organization: 1. Autonomy of execution: once an objective has been delegated to someone, they can decide how… Read more » Read more

The Building Blocks of Self Management

The Building Blocks of Self Management

Self management is increasingly in the spotlight, touted as a new form of management for the 21st century. Companies such as Zappos, Medium and Buffer have made big, high profile bets on self management—at times grappling publicly with the challenges inherent in the transition. Frederic Laloux, Brian Robertson, Dennis Bakke and other authors have attracted… Read more » Read more

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What is Entrepreneurship?

A recent conversation brought me back to Howard Stevenson’s classic definition of entrepreneurship (see Eric Schurenberg’s Inc. piece for a useful elaboration): Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled Over a long enough time horizon, almost any significantly ambitious person’s quest begins to take on a significant element of entrepreneurship… Read more » Read more

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Growing Our Team at Incandescent

The formative era for any firm is important not only because it establishes the capabilities that enable the firm to create value, but also because it generates the DNA that shapes and constrains the firm’s later development. I founded Incandescent in February of 2013, and we began building a broader team in the fall of… Read more » Read more

Founder and COO

Founder & COO: Pulling Out the Tangles

Highly creative founder-CEOs almost inevitably reach a point where they want or need their companies to run better.  Often, this leads to the hiring of a Chief Operating Officer.  Perhaps no single pair in organizational life is as hard to manage as the founder/CEO and COO relationship. Part of the challenge of turning an obvious,… Read more » Read more

Patients with their eyes bandaged sit after their cataract surgeries at a hospital of the Aravind Eye Care System in Madurai, in India's Tamil Nadu state

Who Are the Social Impact “Billionaires”?

In a recent post “Economics in a World Where Everyone Matters Equally,” we looked at the world through the lens of “integrated return on investment” (IROI), defined as the total surplus captured by all stakeholders affected by an endeavor. This could be expressed as a percentage annual return on the total investment made, including both… Read more » Read more

acumen water crop

How Economic Progress Happens

In Economics in a World Where Everyone Matters Equally, I explored the concept of “integrated return on investment” (IROI), defined as the total surplus captured by all stakeholders in an endeavor. This could be expressed as a percentage annual return on the total investment made, including both the capital invested directly in the enterprise as… Read more » Read more

Photo credit: Acumen.org

Economics in a World Where Everyone Matters Equally

Economics through the eyes of a financial investor revolves around return on investment, a measure of how much value the investor can capture and extract. Let’s imagine a metric, perhaps hard to measure but easy to conceptualize: the total surplus, as captured by all stakeholders in an endeavor. This could be expressed as a percentage annual… Read more » Read more

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How to Run a Company

Most companies aren’t run any particular way. There’s a kind of default Fortune 500 management style in which certain elements predominate – performance management built around an annual goal setting process, engagement surveys, spans of control between six and eight, and dozens of other informally understood constructs – without anyone really being able to say… Read more » Read more

Part 7

Going with One’s Grain

People differ. Great achievement rarely goes against the grain of an individual’s particular strengths. Twyla Tharp’s metaphor of focal length conveys this notion of with and against one’s grain: When I apply a critic’s temperament to myself, to see if I’m being true to my DNA, I often think in terms of focal length, like… Read more » Read more

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The World’s Best Customer Experience Executive

I recently wrote about how difficult it is to differentiate a company on the basis of customer experience. Taking this perspective suggests there are four rational ways for companies to think about customer experience differentiation: Take the plunge and commit to a radical path that passes the three litmus tests outlined in Is “Customer Centricity”… Read more » Read more

The Prague Astronomical Clock in Old Town

How to Think About the Future

Yogi Berra said, “Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.” There’s certainly a place in the world for prediction. Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise describes that place well – its extent and its limits. Generally, prediction is a more relevant way of thinking in operations than in strategy. So how should leaders… Read more » Read more

Is “Customer Centricity” a Strategy?

One of the biggest and most frequent mistakes of top managers in big companies is to make statements about vision and strategy that aren’t differentiating, or that they aren’t committed to translate into reality, or – more than occasionally – both. Among the most tempting such statements is that it is strategically central for this… Read more » Read more

Strategy and Myth

Strategy and Myth

Rereading Peter Schwartz’s classic The Art of the Long View recently, I came across a characterization of myth from James Robertson’s American Myth, American Reality: Myths are ‘the way things are’ as people in a particular society believe them to be, and they are the models people refer to when they try to understand their… Read more » Read more

Revisiting Strategy

Revisiting Strategy One Year Out

Last year, we had the honor to work with the team at Solutions Journalism Network, helping them define their strategy. Co-founders David Bornstein, Tina Rosenberg and Courtney Martin, and their team, have a very large aspiration: they seek to make rigorous journalism about solutions as much a part of the fabric of the profession as… Read more » Read more

Setting Strategy

Setting strategy: 6 Cs

The work of setting strategy aims at a clear “where by when and how” that I’d articulated in the prior post as: Commitment to a destination and to core concepts that shape the choices for how to get there At the same time, this work involves deep consideration of dimensions that can be influenced but… Read more » Read more

Clear Strategy

What Does it Mean to Have a Clear Strategy?

Too often companies treat the crux of “having a strategy” as a formal question – is there a document that lays out in writing a direction forward, a set of targets and a plan?  Really, “having a strategy” is both an operational and an intellectual question – a matter of what people are doing and… Read more » Read more

When Is No Hierarchy Best?

When Is No Hierarchy Best?

All too many companies think they will be great by accident. It is unlikely that the recipes for greatness are one of the following: A) Operating in whatever way people see fit right now B) Doing what seems natural in light of the things in front of you C) Operating according to the general norms people learned… Read more » Read more

Photo Credit: Tiffany Franke

On Human Enterprise

Human achievement can reach as far as our ability, individually and collectively, to shape the enterprises that propel us toward our purposes. The spread and consolidation of railroads; the lifting of brands to a global scale; the interlocking efforts of prevention and treatment that have contained the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the West and made… Read more » Read more