Quick and Nimble: Lessons from leading CEOs on how to create a culture of innovation
Bryant believes that every leader faces the same challenge, regardless of their company’s size: How can companies foster a quick and nimble culture – with the enviable qualities of start-ups – even as they grow?
Drawing on interviews with more than 200 CEOs conducted for his New York Times column, Bryant has imagined himself as a dinner party host, introducing themes to each chapter, and then letting the CEOs share their lessons, insights and stories in their own words.
While no two leaders or organisations are the same, there are many similarities in their approach, and culture is always at the root of the success or failure. Each chapter offers insight into driving cultures, with many interesting stories including:
- Why culture matters: Steve Case, the cofounder of AOL says the reason for the failed merger of Time Warner and AOL was all about people. “Ultimately it came down to poor execution of what I thought was a good idea, and that was largely attributable to people and relationships and resentments and pride and egos…you’ve got to focus on making sure you get people aligned around the right priorities. If you do that well, a lot can happen. If you don’t do that well, not much can happen
“Real innovation happens when all employees bring their best selves to work every day and freely share new ideas to help the team, knowing that they will be encouraged and rewarded for doing so”
- A simple plan: There’s no hard and fast rule for the right number of measurable goals you need for an effective plan, but having three or fewer means people are much more likely to remember them. As most people who go grocery shopping will know, you usually have to make a list if it is more than three items, so any more makes remembering difficult. Shivan Subramaniam, the CEO of insurers FM Global, set up a simple framework after merging with another company and recognising the need for everyone to be on the same page. The key results they aim for are profitability, retaining existing clients and attracting new clients. That’s it. Everyone from any country can understand it and every employee’s incentive plan is designed around it, so that everyone knows ‘If I do this, it helps in this manner’
- Rules of the road: A number of leaders introduced clever expressions that define their values and are picked up and repeated by employees. Jeff Weiner’s, CEO of LinkedIn, is “next play” – borrowed from a basketball coach who wanted his team to focus on what was coming next, not what had just happened. Chris Cunningham, CEO of Appssavvy, a social media marketing firm, started using the word “crush” – to embody a sense of confidence, encourage everyone to go for it, and crush the competition. Now everyone in the company uses it, giving a real boost to energy levels. Robert LoCascio, CEO of LivePerson, a software company, worked with all his employees to develop the values and managed to end up with just two – ‘Be an owner’ and ‘Help others’. He realised the need for values because his company had grown to a point where he wasn’t happy with how hierarchical it had become. Creating the values, along with other changes like making the leadership team move back into open plan offices, was not a comfortable process. Over the next year and a half, about 120 employees left and many of the management team were replaced. But LoCascio now feels he has created a long term sustainable company that will thrive even when new leaders take over in the future
Bryant tackles other interesting topics – from making sure everyone feels respected; not being afraid of difficult conversations when direct feedback on performance is needed; the hazards of email; and how to bring fun into the workplace.
Ultimately, he believes that creating a high performing culture where everyone wants to bring their best selves to work, is a secret weapon for CEOs looking to emerge as winners.
About the author Adam Bryant is a senior journalist and bestselling author. His regular New York Times column – Corner Office – began in 2009 and features leadership interviews with chief executives. Adam was formerly business editor at Newsweek magazine and won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. His first book, The Corner Office; Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, was a New York Times bestseller. He also teaches “The Practice of Leadership,” course at Columbia University.
“In Quick and Nimble, Adam Bryant orchestrates discussion on the idea—and its practical application—that culture is not in ‘support’ of strategy; it is strategy. Bryant’s gift for asking incisive questions of remarkable people, and translating their insights into crisp and lucid prose, makes for joyful reading indeed—smart, provocative, and immensely useful!” Jim Collins, co-author of Built to Last and author of Good to Great
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Author: Adam Bryant