Sunday, October 24, 2004

Obsessions

Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

非凡CEO的迷痴

Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive 非凡CEO的迷痴 is Patrick Lencioni's second book written in 2000, again it is a fiction as well as a management book. The readers would be eager to know the obsessions of that very successful person. CEO is supposed to be rational and sensible. It is curious to note that such a person could be obsessed with anything. In fact, on very important issues, we had better be obsessed rather than let them off the hook lightly.

The story looks like a novel involving commercial spies. It is a tale of two companies, similar in the industry they were in, their niche, their strength, their customers, their size, their strategy. It is a matter of management style which made differences in their culture and organization health. The story evolves around a virus which attacked a company. It set off suspicion and created a crisis. The story told the strength of a cohesive team of good organization health and how it fought off the virus. The virus revealed the secret of the obsessions to the CEO of the rival company who thought otherwise. You will guess the ending about the future of these two companies.

The interesting part is the virus, who is the VP of HR, kind of like a very capable EO specializing in our professional area. The problem with him was that he did not participate actively in discussions, was not willing to share his views, and not wholeheartedly merged with the management team. He liked to hide himself and revealed his opinion last, and in a non-committal way. He appears to me as having the attributes of some civil servants. The virus was exposed as not being able to align with the culture of the company. I wonder if this is a sin for civil servant for not being able to align with the culture of the government, or the department, or the grade.

The thrust of the story is the obsessions. They are actually very simple and concern the organization culture, its core values, its identity, direction, strategy and objectives. The obsessions are how the CEO took these in mind and action. He was obsessed with being cohesive, being clear, over-communicating and reinforcing. These are the four disciplines to be upheld.

1st discipline: Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team - We all know that it is desirable to have team members working happily together. But the obsession went a step further of letting team members know one another's unique strength and weakness, openly engaging in constructive ideological conflict, holding one another accountable for behaviours and actions, and committing to group decisions. As a result, the cohesive and healthy team was able to fight off the virus which tried to contaminate the team spirit.

2nd discipline: Create organizational clarity - Writing up vision and mission statements is a common practice in setting up the identity of the company and its long term goal. It was trendy a few years ago and everyone did it. The CEO of the rival company said it was mentioned in Build to Last which all management people knew well and could readily recite. But these statements are just empty slogans only fit for display as decoration on the wall. The obsession is to make these organizational identity, culture, strategy and responsibilities very clear, that action plans could be formed without confusion based on them.

3rd discipline: Over-communicate organizational clarity - Over-doing anything is an obsession. But for issues as important as the organizational clarity, there is no thrift in over-communicating them. The obsessed CEO conveyed messages on organization clarity repeatedly on every occasion, using simple language to eliminate confusion and inconsistency, using multiple media to meet different level of reception, and cascading the messages down the ranks until the message was heard by all.

4th discipline: Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems - At the end of the day, it is human that preserve or undermine culture. The CEO was obsessed with sustaining the health of the organization by making sure that the human systems were used to reinforce organizational clarity. All staff were tested and reinforced of their alignment with the organizational culture through the recruitment process, performance management, rewards and recognition, and dismissal.

We all claim that culture is hard to change. But the reality is that culture is also hard to maintain. When the CEO found a culture that was good for the company, he was obsessed to preserving it, or seen the other way round, obsessed to changing the behaviour of the staff to align with the culture. Or you may say that he was changing other cultures or sub-cultures to align with his culture. This is very hard to do, and it really takes an obsessed CEO to keep the company on the track.

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