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The Mahler Company's Online Business Digest

Mahler on How to Move Whole Systems

One of the themes in all our classes is a focus on how successful leaders actually change organizations. Graduates of our Advanced Management Skills Program (our public program offered twice a year) or our internal Corporate Universities learn how leaders like Archie Norman, Jack Welch, or David Marquete (see adjacent book review of Marquete’s turnaround journey aboard a nuclear submarine) successfully transformed change resistant organizations. They also learn how flawed leaders like Carly Fiorina failed in their efforts to transform organizations. The role of leaders in actually leading change from a principled, intellectual and moral position is actually rather recent. This article is about an approach pioneered by Mike Beer at Harvard. Beer, an astute observer of organization behavior, focused on how to help organizations achieve: …sustained high levels of performance through organizing and managing to: (1) implement its strategy, (2) elicit commitment, and (3) enable ongoing learning and change. Building [a High Commitment, High Performance Organization] requiresleaders to make a conscious choice. That choice involves promises; for example, leaders must maintain the firm’s mission and cultural identify, maintain the “psychologicalcontract” on which commitment has been built, and allow employees to have a voice in the affairs of the enterprise. 1 (Emphasis added) Beer’s book is really about the words in italics in the quote above: How to take advantage of the knowledge and intellect of workers in the modern enterprise to radically improve the execution of strategy. He describes it as “speaking truth to power”. At the center of his thinking is how leaders “know” what is going on in their organizations. Years ago, on a walkaround diagnostic visit to the corporate headquarters of Bausch & Lomb, I complimented the new COO on the grandeur of his office. He was only in the position a few months and was, at heart, an operating guy. His answer was, “the walnut walls are great, but I don’t know what is going on ‘out there’ anymore”. The NETMA problem: Nobody ever tells me anything. 1 Michael Beer, High Commitment, High Performance: How to Build a Resilient Organization for Sustained Advantage, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009 ?, ?

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Mahler Book Corner-Turn the Ship Around

As you can imagine, we read many business books, from the academic kind reporting the latest thinking to the highly practical stories written by CEO’s. Occasionally we find one that does both. We have come across just such a combination in a very interesting new book written by a CEO. It is not written by your run-of-the-mill corporate titan who had to deal with a terrifying market or stultifying regulations. It is writtenby L. David Marquet, (Capt., US Navy Retired) who recounts what he learned commanding nuclear submarines. As such, it addresses a range of topics, often in surprisingly subtle ways. ?, ?

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Grow your own CEO

Appointing a successor to the CEO from within the business has many advantages to those offered through an outsider, but how do you spot, groom and install such an important figure from your talent pool?

First published by and reproduced with kind permission from The Grapevine Magazine, May 2008

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Need a New CEO? Here’s a Radical Idea: Grow Your Own!

The carnage caused in the financial markets by the sub-prime mortgage meltdown isn’t just hurting those at the intersection of Main and Wall Streets. It’s reaching deep into corporate boardrooms, as accountability for hundreds of billions of dollars in risky loans comes home to roost. Stanley O'Neill and Charlie Prince are only the first CEOs who'll face the music. And their firms, like many that follow, will make the usual round of "celebrity star searches" to find an outside candidate to fill the breach. Indeed, it’s already been reported that Merrill Lynch is looking to tap the New York Stock Exchange's John Thain.

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Management/Leadership Development in India

As industry in India grows exponentially, there is a paucity of training available that can help companies build leadership bench strength.  University-based programs are available and while tailored to the Indian market, tend to focus on traditional Western concepts of Strategy, Organization Behavior and the like.   Such education focuses more on cognitive skills then on the fundamental challenge in integrating Indian companies into a global marketplace: behavior change...

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Strategies for Building Change Leaders

Driving Organizational Change Through Executive Education

This White Paper is part of a series of planned reports on critical business issues. It is based on the latest research in leadership development and change management, on The Mahler Company's extensive experience in developing effective leaders, and on our work in helping organizations to implement critical change initiatives.

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Making the Most of Sarbanes Oxley

Managing the Financial Organization at Key Transition Points

From time to time, we at Mahler encounter a firm that seems to provide a valuable service to the organizations we deal with.  We have seen many of our clients go through enormous pain around Sarbanes –Oxley (SOX) compliance.  Keen CFOs ( is a consultancy that provides interim Chief Financial Officer level assistance to organizations which require this skill.  They understand SOX compliance and specialize in providing sophisticated advice, counsel, and hands-on implementation of policies and procedures to ensure best practices and compliance with generally accepted accounting principles and securities laws to insure there is no shortfall or lack of continuity with this key organizational process.

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The Global Matrix: Making Them Work

Today’s leadership challenges are remarkably different from those of only a few short years ago.  Today’s modern, complex organizations are leaner, flatter, spread over more time zones, and involve complex webs of influence across what is coming to be known as a Global Matrix.

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Guildelines for Selecting Change Leaders

Choosing the right person to lead a major change initiative may be one of the most important decisions you ever make. To do it right, you have to focus on managers who share the traits of innovation leaders and possess a talent for building teams and a willingness to take risks. But that will get you only so far, says Jean-Philippe Deschamps, a professor of innovation at IMD in Lausanne. To select the best change leaders, he claims in a recent article, you also have to take into account the type of change you’re making and where leaders are needed in the innovation process.

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Four Keys to Managing the Hard Side of Change

For two decades now, executives in charge of organizational change have heard the same message from management experts: To achieve success, focus on the soft side of change – culture, leadership, and motivation. But is this advice correct? In a recent article, three experts from the Boston Consulting Group acknowledge the merits of this approach. But they also claim that it pushes the leadership pendulum too far in one direction and, by emphasizing intangibles, deprives leaders of reliable measures to gauge the success of their change efforts.

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How a Danish Company Thrives in Japan

Despite its wealthy consumers and high standard of living, Japan is a market that many global companies find difficult to penetrate. Even when the potential for success is high, the obstacles are often overwhelming: endless negotiations with Japanese intermediaries, seemingly impenetrable business networks, and the high cost of establishing a market presence in Japan.

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Many Unhappy Returns

One Man's Quest to Turn Around the Most Unpopular Organization in America

When Charles Rossotti was asked in 1997 to become the first businessperson to head the IRS, this description of the job was provided by a former commissioner: “The hours are impossible, the pay is lousy – but you get lots of abuse.” Undeterred, Rossotti gamely accepted this “job from hell” and set out to transform the largest agency in the US government. But the challenges he faced were enormous: 100,000 demoralized employees, a tangled and antiquated computer system (with no email!), and service levels that earned the agency the lowest rating of any institution in America.

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Mahler Interview with Innovation Expert:
Marc Meyer

What can companies do to better manage the way they develop new products?

First, they have to set more ambitious targets for product development and not just sell the same old stuff to the same customers over and over again. They have to focus on new, emerging market needs and on new types of applications for their technologies. That requires more innovative thinking in both the front-end, marketing aspect of the business, and in the back end — in technology and manufacturing.

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