Monday, June 10, 2013

Backbone - Simply Performance

No matter what you think about your company, it conducts plenty of useless meetings, miscommunication costs it dearly every year and high potential employees are being bullied. I could go on.
Photo image of a business meeting where the executives seem much more interested in playing video games or playing pranks on sleeping coworkers.
It is said that, when the CEO of General Electric asks for coffee, one of his vice presidents will inevitably get him Brazil. Why? What does this mean? It means not that Brazil is for sale but that employees have a tendency to try to anticipate what the boss wants and often misread the signals. The fact that this is tolerated goes beyond my understanding. Better communication about what is wanted and about the unacceptability of such over reaction would go a long way in my opinion.
Moreover, because the company is the one paying for "Brazil", the employee would have no problem over reacting to the boss' wishes. What a waste.
The reality is that corporate waste runs rampant and that the problem is right under the leader's nose. This begs the questions: what would a company be like where people actually stood for what is right? What if people focused on what creates value rather than waste time on useless social exercises?
If you are a CEO, you want to answer these questions. You want to figure out how to get your people to act like professionals rather than children. Productivity and growth are at stake.
Beauty shot picture of Susan Marshall's great book "How to Grow a Backbone" "10 Strategies for Gaining Power and Influence at Work"
How to Grow a Backbone
Susan Marshall has made a career out of helping leaders answer these sort of questions and driving the right change. Her company, the Backbone Institute, makes transformational growth its target. Her book, How to Grow a Backbone, is a fantastic read that gives insight to the concepts behind the transformation.
From the title of the book, I got the impression that I would not learn much from the book since I clearly knew everything about having backbone. You will probably feel the same. I was wrong and so will you.
As I begun reading I wondered whether it was necessary for Susan to include the word backbone in almost every sentence. I thought that she was being overly simplistic. But as I worked through the book, she was able to take her style and paint the picture majestically. More important, it became evident that she was simply doing what every great CEO should do when an important subject is at hand: she talked about it and talked about it. Legendary CEO, Jack Welch, described how change had to be driven hard every day; that it had to be mentioned in every conversation time and time again. He would suggest that repetition had to continue well after we became tired of it. In the same fashion, Susan described the many ways in which a lack of backbone would cost the company. Every time, the concept was simple. Also every time, the importance was high. Do not be mislead by the simplicity. You must focus on the potential value to all.
Illustration of multiple repeating cycles over a bright yellow background and with the word "Repeat" above.
The company will benefit from employees with backbone. Employees will benefit from an increase of backbones through out the company. Employee families will benefit when each employee develops backbone. Everybody wins. As I said, the subject is very important to dismiss.
Now that if you are a leader who fears developing great professionals who express their mind, then this is not for you. You are already great! Here is Brazil.
There is simply no way I can do honor to Susan's work within this short post. As I read the book, she made me realize how many important employee traits were tied to the idea of a solid backbone. In a way, she has found the common denominator in performance. Yet, most impressive of all is that it is about something that most CEO's would immediately dismiss as being either soft or not material to their business. In my opinion, great professional performance is exponentially monetizable.
As the great leader that you are, plunge into the book. I will certainly refer to it plenty of times in future posts. Also look at Susan's services to evaluate what she could do for you. The risk associated with the exercise is minimal. The potential reward is stratospheric.

Book Title: How to Grow a Backbone
Book Subtitle: 10 Strategies for Gaining Power and Influence at Work
Author: Susan Marshall 
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
ISBN: 0809224941

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