Today it was an insightful day in the structures of an organization. The delivery of the class was interesting…it was like going to a film club.

We watched scenes from “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest” where to avoid prison McMurphy pretends to be insane and serves time in an asylum ward controlled by Nurse Ratched who rules the asylum with an iron fist, controlling every aspect until the inmates form coalitions to counter her will. We looked at the nature of organizational politics. It is a jungle, where might is right, the big animals eat the small ones, Where 3 is 2 against 1! So coalition is the recipe for survival, especially in time of scarce resources. The leaders sharpen a competitive spirit, followers act in solidarity. It can be quite a depressing environment…especially if you do not how to survive in the lion’s den!

How many “Nurses Ratched” can you count in your organization?

Hint! A coping strategy: “EVLN”: If you have trouble to fit in this frame here are your choices:
E for Exit, get out!
V for Voice: speak up, ask for help, build coalitions.
L for loyalty, work with the system.
N for Neglect, psychologically check-out while remaining in position.

The choice is yours!

Ghandi’s life was the inspiration for the next film clip. The 1982 Oscar grand slam featured Ghandi when he decides to challenge the Royal monopoly on salt-making in India through civil disobedience. The movie was full of symbols – compelling signs with a significance. Salt as independence, the white clothing as solidarity, the sunset as the end of the British empire, the lighthouse as symbol of hope …..

Ghandi an inspiration for all, representing a compelling value system, embodying justice and shared beliefs. He brings inspiration and a sense of authenticity. Ghandi’s equivalent in an organization is the “fearless leader” one who inspires confidence, one that we would follow blindly, who provides the glue that holds the organization together. Quite compelling….who in your organization inspires you?

“Five Easy Pieces” features a brilliant Jack Nicholson, a lapsed pianist on his way to see his ailing father who stops with a group of friends at a roadside café to have a meal…. Things quickly go wrong when he demands a toast…. not on the menu. The waitress refuses to “break the rules” and Nicholson shows the best of his acting! Should the waitress have been more flexible, and Nicholson willing to meet half way?

This clip was meant to show us the importance of human development, should the waitress have been better trained? But also I wonder: Should Nicholson learn some manners? Do we think we can fix all with some training?

“Twelve O’Clock High” a 1949 film about a military operation during world War II showed the importance of firm leadership in an organizational structure.

Every organizations has in some measure all of these aspects, the question is do we know how to balance? How to adjust according to organizational need? Do we have too much of a jungle? Too little inspirational culture?

And if so….what are we going to do about it?

Today while a group was being coached by media professionals, others played a team building game where a group of us seating around a table was given a set of shapes – two pieces were missing from the set and we had to identify the missing pieces in 30 minutes. Piece of cake you would say…yeah, right… the only caveat…we were blindfolded. It was a horrific experience. We had to wear the blindfold from the very beginning, even when we were given instructions – for me this was the first moment of frustration….. I realized I cannot follow instructions if I cannot see – some may argue I cannot follow instructions period, but that’s not the point here.

Three teams were playing. At the end of the period, and despite an extension of 10 minutes nobody could identify the missing pieces. Frustrated, we took a break to re-gather a few minutes later to debrief on what we could have done differently…on what we could have done as a team to get to success. Bear in mind, the groups were extremely diverse, we never worked together before, we came from different countries, different background, very few were English mother tongue…. This is an occasion where diversity did not help. We did not have a common understanding, we did not have common grounds, we had different ways to express ourselves, referring to a piece in our hands as “This” does not help when you cannot see. We did not identify a leader….we did not spend any time agreeing on what the task at hand was…we all started from our understandings and the assumptions others understood the same, we did not spend enough time checking on progress as time was passing, we just concentrated on the task at hand, we set to work immediately, trying to get the job done without planning, without agreeing on roles, on responsibilities..just charging ahead…. A big lesson, learned at the expense of a frustrating afternoon.

Working with blindfold made me think of working with colleagues virtually….when you cannot see a person everything seems so much more difficult!



Ever heard of Myers-Briggs personality type indicators? Well, they are very popular tools to assess what your preferences are in terms of how you express yourself.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) instrument was developed by Isabel Myers and Katharina Briggs as an application of Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types.

This theory suggests that we have opposite ways of
– gaining energy (Extraversion and Introversion),
– gathering or becoming aware of information (Sensing or Intuition)
– deciding or coming to a conclusion about information (Thinking or Feeling) and
– dealing with the world around us (Judging or Perceiving).

If you prefer Extraversion you focus on the outside world to get energy through interacting with other people. You are gregarious, expressive, active…
If you prefer Introversion, you focus on the inner world and get energy through reflecting on information, ideas, concepts. You may like spending time alone, to reflect, decompress, there is so much of the external environment you can take in at once.
If you prefer Sensing, you notice and trust facts, details, and present realities. You are realistic, practical…

If you prefer Intuition, you trust interrelationships, theories and future possibilities. You are abstract, conceptual, original..
If you prefer Thinking, you make decisions using logical, objective analysis. You are reasonable, critical…

If you prefer Feeling, you make decisions to create harmony by applying person-centered values. You are empathetic, accommodating, accepting…
If you prefer Judging, you tend to be organized and orderly and to make decisions quickly. You are systematic, planful, methodical….and probably you can tell by looking at your closet or your desk at work! A typical Judging type will look for the 5 basic steps to becoming more flexible 

If you prefer Perceiving you tend to be flexible and adaptable and to keep your options open as long as possible. You are spontaneous, open-ended…. You do not need to plan a holiday in advance…. You just go with the flow!

It is assumed that each of us has, in one measure or another, all 8 types, but we have a natural preference for 4 of them, just like we have a natural preference to use the right or the left hand. There is no right or wrong…this is not an instrument to measure your skills, but rather a way to help you identify your style and to appreciate other people’s style so you may better understand why they act in a certain way.

I first took the MBTI about 10 years ago I was in a very different job, very different circumstances (not last I was 10 years younger!)…but was really surprised to see my preferences had changed quite dramatically. I will not dwell on what type I am now, all I will say is that the trait “Original” is the most dominant among my sub-traits, the typical trait of someone who looks for what could be better, new or different. Who always strives to improve, who likes being original, often seen as both creative and practical and may occasionally surprise others by going off in a new direction.

My type was summarized with the following adjectives: Original, Reasonable, Questioning, Critical, Tough, Early Starting….Yes, I can see myself there.

Fun bit: ‘TJs” types seem to be over-represented in the management ranks.
The only ‘preference’ that has a gender bias: Feeling (well – we kind of suspected that!)
Remember: While preferences stay the same Behaviours CAN change! No excuses!
Try out – they offer a similar test you can do for free on the web.

Phil Collin’s “You can’t hurry love” is one of my favourite songs of the ’80s. And it is a song that came to mind as I woke up thinking abour organizational change. Well…read on, they do have something in common.

Phil Collins says

“My mama said
You cant hurry love
No, youll just have to wait
She said love dont come easy
But its a game of give and take
You cant hurry love
No, youll just have to wait
Just trust in a good time
No matter how long it takes

How many heartaches must I stand
Before I find the love to let me live again
Right now the only thing that keeps me hanging on
When I feel my strength, ooh, its almost gone

I remember mama said
You cant hurry love
No youll just have to wait
She said love dont come easy
Its a game of give and take
How long must I wait
How much more must I take
Before loneliness
Will cause my heart, heart to break”

Well, think about it in organizational terms. How long are we willing to stay true to our commitment to change? how many heartaches, difficulties, moments when you feel “why am I doing this” are we willing to live through before we give up, how long are we willing to nurture the people around us and help them go through it? How may seeds are we willing to spread in the hope one of them will blossom? How many times are we willing to take the punch, fall, but get up and start walking again? How many projects we are not willing to see through to success because we just cannot stand the course? How many good ideas are we willing to be responsible to see fail because we just do not have the courage to carry on?

In the case we looked at the other day here at IMD, we saw that for change to really “stick”, for culture to change deeply, for change to be adopted so that there is not relapse, it takes on average 10 years. Basic a generational change. Ten years of commitment, to ensure that just superficial changes in the “observable artifacts” trickle all the way down to the soul of an organization, to its DNA, to change those basic assumptions that are its foundations.

Ten years is a long time one may argue…. but if we know this is what it takes, we should have the honesty to only start those changes that we are willing to see through to success, otherwise just do not even start.

PS: thanks Simone for sharing with me today an example of how one of the pilots we started with our program is now bearing fruits…. yes, change can happen… just stay the course!

We were given the task of designing a communication plan to convince a group of (very stubborn) leaders and managers of a company to implement a new system in their company. It was a computer simulated exercise, we were given an organigram, some clues about the individuals, a credit of 120 days to convince all 24 top managers to adopt the new system (and be happy at the end of it, and try to keep our job!). We were split in groups of 4 and told them we had a few tools, no time limit (the test was the only thing between us and lunch though!) and we were wished good luck…..Easy (thought some if us)….well…. it was quite challenging, no matter what we tried, some simply refused to “just do it”. So we had to find out about internal politics, about influence networks, who the early adopters are, who goes for lunch with whom, who are the “passive aggressive” who is willing to spend his “goodwill account” (or I prefer calling it his brownie-point bag) to help you, whether hierarchical relationships are more important than the informal networks….3 hours later and with zero credit we had convinced 95% of the group, not the whole group, but we were pretty happy with the results and learned a lot of do’s and don’ts along the way and the 4 in the team happily went for lunch together (I mean we were still talking to each other despite the radically divergent opinions on whether sending a decree was more effective than having a one-to-one meetings).

What are some of the take-home messages from this exercise about using communication to manage a transition?
Find out early who is committed to the change, target early the Innovators, the opinion leaders, the gatekeepers, the network leaders (they help you influence others)…lave the resistors to the end, create and maintain momentum, use small group meetings to “seed” and large events to “harvest”, do not abuse people’s time, do not over-communicate (face-to-face are at the top of the media richness scale, mass e-mail at the bottom!), respect people’s view, ensure the change is fair (both in process and outcome…which means make sure people are heard, decisions are applied with consistency, feedback is given in a timely fashion, decisions are based on facts, communication is sincere and personal, you need to understand early what drives you can better influence them….we learned the lesson during the exercise…we started having more success when we realised who was going for lunch with whom… 🙂

gandhiToday was a fun day, one in which we could spend the time looking at ourselves, and our styles. Our seating arrangement was very different from the previous day….and we were told….the arrangement has a meaning.

In preparation for the course we had to fill a questionnaire, many questions probing about ourselves, our preferences, our habits…some of the questions as usual were quite irritating in efforts of this sort, but I complied…. I knew it was going to be interesting to see the results.

The three change styles defined were Conservers (those who accept the structure, who prefer incremental change, who appear disciplined, who enjoy predictability, who may focus on detail and routine) – conservers are about 25% of the working population (roughly!), the pragmatists (those who explore the structure, who prefer functional change, who may appear practical, who are focused on result, who operate as mediators, who may take more of a middle-of-the-road approach – these are about 50% of the population and then there are the originators, the remaining 25%,those who challenge the structure, who prefer expansive change, who may appear unconventional, unorganized, undisciplined, who will likely challenge accepted assumptions, who enjoy risk and uncertainty, who are visionary and treat accepted procedures with little regards…these are the BIG ideas people….but who easily get bored, who hate routine, but these are the people who will get the organization moving and will keep it moving!. Well, for those of you who know me, it is not hard to figure out which group I fell in and with both my feet! And quite a number of fellow CGIAR System Office leaders were in the same group….surprising, eh?

I won’t tell you what an originator thinks of a conserver, and I won’t dwell on a pragmatist’s view of an originator…. but we all agreed an ideal team is composed of a diverse mix of the 3 groups, you need balance, you need to ensure that you have great ideas but that someone takes the time to implement them! But if you do not want to stagnate, get into “stationary motion”, you know who to call!

OK, in our line of work we are so used to jargon that we do not even question anymore what an MTP is, who is on the TMT, your next EPMR….the list could go on…. but in a training where you are lucky enough to sit with people who come from different backgrounds, the basic assumptions get questioned…so there was a statement that included the “S” word… “stakeholders”… most of us did not even realise it, we are so used to using and abusing the word that we do not even question what (or who) a stakeheolder is…. but one of the participants was brave enough to say…excuse me….”what is a stakeholder”…. after a few feable attempts…our trainer venutured into a “anybody who can affect or be affected by you….in simple terms anybody who can ruin your day!”

Many of us giggled….

– “Visitors are informed that in the United Kingdom traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road. In the interest of safety, you are advised to practice this in your country of origin for a week or two before driving in the UK”…. uh? (Road Safety Act 2006)

Try to break a piece of glass by throwing sand at it….think about it when you try to make a difference in your workplace

– Culture is a simplification, a convenient short hand, it keeps on breaking down as you get closer to the point that you get to the level of individuals.

– If you want to change culture, hold your stated values long enough to change the basic assumptions

– Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser – Lou Gerst (Former CEO, IBM)

– Be aspirational, not only inspirational! Go beyond the incremental!

– Friendship expressed as a Fruit Culture

Peach culture: soft on the outside, willing to share personal information with people you hardly know….but after the soft part is over you reach a hard nut at the center…hard to get thru

Pineapple culture: prickly on the outside, but once in, you go all the way to the core. Once a Friend, always a Friend!

Today was the day of culture, one when we looked at how cultures can influence an organization. We studied the cases of IBM and WWF.
Some of the nuggets..
Culture is inherited wisdom, allows you to stand on the shoulder of the giant, but be careful to keep it alive!

The best way to change culture may not be the most direct one….

Small things matter, YOU can start to change, you do not have to wait for some superior force to come. You can make a difference when there are things you believe in.

Individuals bring with them a little piece of each culture they come into contact with. Individuals are a unique combination of experiences.

Lou Gerstner, CEO IBM once said: ” I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game it IS the game. In the end, and organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. Vision, strategy, marketing, financial system can set you on the right path and can carry you for a while. But no enterprise will succeed over the long haul if those elements aren’t part of its DNA”

So the question begs “Is strong culture good for performance?” …in 1982 Tom Peter in “In Search of Excellence” said a definite YES! “The excellent companies are marked by very strong cultures, so strong that you either buy into their norms or get out”
In 1992, the same Tom Peters in “Liberation Management” tried to convince us absolutely NO! “It is the remarkable difference of character among the so-called ‘subordinate’ units that allow the parent to thrive…..”

and how about now? after 2 and half decades of management research we finally came to the conclusion that “YES and NO”….. this leaves me wonder about management scholars and their self preservation….but more than that this makes me think that high performance comes from sharing a SMALL SET of “living” core cultural elements letting everything else vary as needed.

Today was a day when I appreciated once more the value of diversity!

imdI am at IMD, a leading business school based in Lausanne, Switzerland participating in the CGIAR Senior leadership course. There are about 35 of us, coming from over 20 countries, not all from the CGIAR centers, a number of national partners are here too. It is a great gathering of interesting people. We are following a course on leadership in change. Given the CGIAR reform process the course is very timely. I will write a few notes from the course, notes that I hope my colleagues will find interesting….little nuggets of wisdom (if you wonder what wisdom is…keep reading as the subject of wisdom, culture, cult….. will be explained in one of my posts…) that I would like to share with you. So keep reading….the tag is CGIAR Senior leadership 09