Tuesday, June 12, 2007

In the future, senior executives will work together harmoniously to achieve shared goals for their company

So say Professor Yves Doz of INSEAD and Mikko Kosonen (formerly of Nokia), who write in this month's Harvard Business Review ("New Deal At the Top" - link $$). Here's their view in a few words:

Senior executives at new deal companies assume collective - not individual - responsibility for results. They do so by building interdependencies... motivating themselves to engage with one another rather than work in splendid isolation.... Challenges to conventional thinking are encouraged - as are challenges and criticism from outside the ranks of the top team...

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Yeah, I don't believe it either. There are so many things in this model that are counter to human nature, never mind management selection and conditioning, that it's difficult for me to believe that a company could work in this way (perhaps a democratic company, but how many of those are there?). Every glimpse I've had into the senior executive conference room (and I spent six years in one) has shown a very different picture of the "deal at the top."

Let's take them one at a time.
  1. Collective responsibility for results - flies in the face of the passion companies have for individual accountability (call it accountabalism, like David Weinberger does).
  2. Engaging with one another - senior executives have rivalries over budgets, targets, and the next step in the hierarchy--never mind substantial individual workloads--that make it very difficult to engage deeply with their peers.
  3. Challenges to conventional thinking - I heard the now-discredited Bob Nardelli speak last year, and when referring to Home Depot he said "I this" and "my that"--never "we" or "our." And read this Business Week article to see how James McNerney slammed in Six Sigma during his tenure at 3M, without debate or reflection. Last time I checked, GE (where both CEOs came from) was considered the premier senior management talent factory, and they don't sound ready to embrace participative management.

I also thought this quote was telling:
Claus Heinrich, an executive board member of SAP and the director of global human resources, put it like this: "If I see Leo [Apotheker, a fellow board member and head of customer operations] doing a great job, I say, 'Wow, great!' I am quite willing to subordinate some of my own priorities to help him achieve the common goal."
Very warm and fuzzy, but as I read that I wonder how his year-end performance review would go. "Yes I know I didn't make my objectives this year, but I was subordinating my own priorities to help Leo achieve the common goal!"

It's possible that all six companies I worked for were utterly dysfunctional, but I tend to believe that senior executive rivalry is innate in the people who rise today to those positions. [And when I was a senior manager, I was right in there fighting for my goals, my department, etc., along with the rest of them.] Only the exceptional company, with a different training and career-pathing process, which considers a different kind of person to promote, will be able to overcome it. There may be a day when all great companies are run by X-Teams, but I think that day is a long way off.

(Photo: "Teamwork" by candace.jeanne via flickr)