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In Search of Excellence

Is your organization “In Search of Extra Lunch” instead of “In Search of Excellence”? The clock and the calendar determine who should be the leader, not your organizational structure.  Learn more with Allen and Karla!


Listen to the podcast here:


Karla Nelson:  Welcome to the People Catalysts’ Podcast Allen.

Allen Fahden:  Hello, Karla.

Karla Nelson:  Hey there. How are you doing today?

Allen Fahden:  I am happy that it’s morning.

Karla Nelson:  Good mornings are definitely a way to start out the day so-

Allen Fahden:  Absolutely.

Karla Nelson:  … I’m really excited about the podcast here today. This is really interesting because we looked at the book “In Search of Excellence,” and it’s an international bestseller book by Tom Peters and you never hear about Robert Waterman.

Allen Fahden:  No.

Karla Nelson:  But did he co-write the book. In 1982, it was one of the best selling business books. In the first four years it sold over three million copies, and I could not believe in doing the research on this that between 1989 and 2006 it was actually the most widely held monograph in the U.S. Of course, that was focused on business I’m sure. They had different ways of researching that. It really talks about the art of science and management, that balance between the art of what you’re doing, but then also having the model, just like the scientist model in regard to managing and what we call, we go back to ideation implementation, and what was funny was that basically the way the book started out was not a book at all, it was McKinsey that put two projects together. The first, they gave their top consultant at their corporate office in New York a lot of money. The project was called, wait for it, the Business Strategy Project, but they could never implement the strategy. The had the strategy down, but they could never effectively implement it.

The second project was with the author of the book, Tom Peters, to basically look at the implementation issues, the structure and the people side. At that time, that was seen as a “less important” focus. Well, that’s what Peters said in his interview with that company, that was seen as less important. McKinsey wanted to first look at the business strategy and then look at the organizational aspect of it. It’s why we called this podcast In Search of Extra Lunch, right, because you have a problem with that Allen.

Allen Fahden:  Yeah and one of the problems is when you operate the way we’ve always operated, people get frustrated. When they get frustrated they just want to say to hell with it, go to lunch. Then when they go to lunch what do they want to do? Emotionally, let’s eat emotionally because I’m so miserable in my job. By the way, are you done with that bread you got over there because I wouldn’t mind eating that.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, pass the butter please.

Allen Fahden:  In search of extra lunch if that’s where we wind up every time.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, or just looking at the clock too, right? Is lunch here, is lunch here?

Allen Fahden:  Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  Really, what was crazy is they did identify the problem, but ideation and implementation are two completely different things.

Allen Fahden:  Absolutely. It’s interesting too because the common parlance denies the way that things get done. It’s strategy and execution and those have been the words for years. But if you replaced them with ideation and implementation, that implies that there’s a lot more to do this than just some guy sitting in his office thinking up a strategy, then telling everybody to go execute it.

Karla Nelson:  What was really amazing about this book and why it was successful was because that really was innovative at the time. I’m not going to go into the eight parts of the book, you can buy the book, it’s a great book. I agree with what they’re saying, they’re just identifying the problem in the main scene which is the problem is structure isn’t organization. The picture of the thing is not the thing. An organizational chart or structure is not the organization.

Allen Fahden:  I think there’s a really interesting thing we’ve all experienced. When you interview for a job they’re looking at the picture, the structure. They’re saying so and so owns manufacturing and that’s the org chart. But that, you find out, is not the way things really get done in the organization. You get in and the real stuff happens in the coffee room or at the proverbial water cooler, the cliché. It’s the conversations that take place between the people who actually need to work together to get things done and oftentimes, it has very little to do with the organization except for the land mines you’ve got to avoid.

Karla Nelson:  That’s a great point. In “In Search of Excellence” they do go through different companies, and they’re trying to bring out why are they so excellent. What you’re identifying there too in the big picture is that halo affect and there’s an entire book basically, actually, there’s two books that spin offs of this. As we’re looking we obviously did “Good to Great”. We’re doing “In Search of Excellence”, and we’re looking at “Built to Last” based off of an incredible article on MarketWatch. We’ll make sure it gets tagged in the notes section is that these companies that they looked at for every reason that they thought they were excellent, they were all duds. Most of them were meh, it was like eh. There’s a lot of research in this regard, yet these business books are still some of the most regarded business books. The challenge is they’re only identifying the problem. So-

Allen Fahden:  Which is good, it’s good. It just doesn’t go far enough.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, exactly, exactly. Allen, I know you’ve mentioned several times that, and I’ve also experienced this as well, we go into organizations to try to put this together but the times that companies are the most successful is when they understand that a mover being in the position of authority, there your points are, and that’s critical-

Allen Fahden:  Absolutely.

Karla Nelson:  … especially depending on if you’re in ideation implementation to be able to balance those two.

Allen Fahden:  Yep. It’s really the only time that things have really, really gone from beginning to end. It’s when that mover is in authority. That’s where you balance … The org chart, the structure, gives you the authority and then who you are makes you effective in the organization, and you got to have both.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, and you just identified there is function management versus role management. A function is where you sit on an organizational chart. A role is what you bring to the table, and the part of the work that you do really well. You have to give leadership and authority, two different people at different times, but you still have to have your point guard. You need everybody on your basketball team, but if you don’t have somebody calling the shots about who’s going to go where.

I think Allen, and I’ve probably said this 1,000 times over again, but movers really have it the easiest. Remember, this is only 15% of the population. How do you find a mover? Well the only way is to utilize the assessment that you co-created 25 plus years ago. This is the only person that basically doesn’t have a dog in the fight. Being a mover, I can literally attest to this, I just want to find the best idea and get everybody working together. What happens is people look at you and they say, “Oh you’re a leader,” and they want you on their team. But the challenge is we need everybody, just not at the same time. The mover has a natural gut instinct of balancing that without having a dog in the fight. We just don’t care about is it my idea, we don’t care about necessarily everything that’s going to go wrong, but we appreciate somebody telling us what’s going to go wrong, which, again, the shaker doesn’t, there’s the prover.

Then we know we need those darn makers, we just don’t want hand it off to the maker. Therefore, we love everybody, even if you don’t identify it specifically there’s just a natural gut instinct that happens and I think we get praised way too much. We get handed a lot of work too, by the way, because you want to get it done. But I think they have it the easiest. But how do you choose who’s going to be in that lead situation? Because every single core nature of work responds to it differently.

Allen Fahden:  That’s right. It’s actually the clock and the calendar that chooses who is in leadership. In other words, each phase of the project as the project moves along, because it’s based on the fusion of innovation research, project had a beginning, middle, and end. There’s a certain time in each project that a project is ready to have the leadership handed off to the next person in line. If you hand off too early you’ve got problems and if you hand off too late you’ve got problems. That’s one of the great abilities of the mover is the mover has a great sense of when it’s time to hand off and who it should be handed off to.

Karla Nelson:  Definitely. Let’s just discuss for a little bit the challenges that each core nature of work has. By the way, the mover, their biggest challenge in being the leader is if they don’t have a full team, if they’re missing somebody. They’re just naturally gut instinct, and we’ll get into a little bit of the buzz words associated with why. We talk about employee engagement and 70% of people hate their jobs. It’s simply because they’re miscast. If you don’t know their core nature of work how do you know which role that you’re going to lead? Allen, why don’t you comment a little bit about how shakers … especially in leadership, especially in CEOs we’ve seen this day in and day out, even when they’re trained on the methodology because you’re trying to turn the tide, when you’ve been doing the same thing for 30 or 40 years … but comment a little bit, especially being a mover shaker on when a shaker’s put in a leadership position. Let’s break it down so “In Search of Excellence” ideation implementation. Since we’re on the mover, I’ll take mover and then you take shaker.

In ideation, a mover will have a problem if they are not in a leadership position and everybody just talks around the table about what the hell the strategy is going to be. You’re never going to leverage that mover to their extent if there is no facilitation and a way to conduct something that something is going to get done. There is ideation and the challenge that if a mover doesn’t get that, they’re going to retract. You’re never going to leverage that person in the organization. They’re just going to be frustrated and they’ll move to that 70% of people that hate their job.

In implementation, a mover is going to get frustrated if there’s no way to come up with an ideation of the blockage that they potentially hit as it comes down. You decide on the strategy, you’re creating a new marketing plan, but now all of a sudden, you have to run through the technology. Then you run into a block through the technology and have to solve a problem. If they don’t have that entire team that can do that and they’re not allowed to facilitate that team and give everybody the authority at that time … Movers don’t mind giving authority to anybody, they just want to get it done. Do you want to talk a little bit about shakers and break that down on ideation implementation, and the challenges they’ll have on both sides?

Allen Fahden:  Absolutely. Well, first of all, a shaker feels excited and at home, and very positive when starting off the very beginning of a project because you’re generating ideas. A couple things about a shaker, a shaker loves an original idea. Of course, that’s not very likely to get an original idea done inside an organization. But nonetheless, shakers will love that and will lobby for those ideas. But even more importantly, a shaker falls in love with an idea as long as it’s mine.

The other part is, I’m going to be lobbying like crazy for my ideas and I’m going to believe that … Now, this is hard for non-shakers to completely believe this or understand this, but I’m going to be looking around the table and making sure that nobody else wants their idea that gets implemented rather than mine. The nice thing having a mover there, especially running the meeting, is that they don’t have a dog in the fire as you say and that means that they’re not trying to get their idea done, so I can trust them more easily. I know a mover has a good gut instinct for finding the most original, but at the same time, practical idea. It’s got to be something doable as well as original and ideas all look the same to shakers, so I don’t care which one it is that gets picked, as long as it’s mine. A shaker behavior, the darker side is it can get nasty competitive and like, well I don’t like your idea let’s go with mine.

Karla Nelson:  Especially in a leadership position, we’ve seen this all the time. Shaker will just say, “No, you’re going to do what I say.”

Allen Fahden:  Yeah, my way or the highway. Or the other one is.

Karla Nelson:  … the next day is they come up with a different idea.

Allen Fahden:  That’s what I was going to say. “Oh wait a minute, I’ve got a better idea.” “We’re already halfway done with the one you had yesterday. Don’t drive me crazy.”

Karla Nelson:  Yep, then at implementation their run home to mommy is just intense. We already came up with the idea, okay. we ran into a roadblock. It’s not about changing the entire strategy.

Allen Fahden:  Yeah, right, because that’s a run home to mommy for a shaker which must be a bad idea. Let me come up with 10 more.

Karla Nelson:  Not that they can’t be leaders, it’s just everybody has to know their role so that you can balance it out. Then you’re not shifting and letting the run home to mommy, and the authority on an organizational chart adjust the agreement of the entire team, both in ideation and implementation, which are different because remember, ideation your mover is your point guard. Implementation, your prover is. But it still runs back and forth on the relay team, it’s just who is going to be the initial go-to person to balance out the other three core natures of work.

Let’s move on to a prover then Allen in regards to a leader … This is great in a leadership position. Provers are great depending on what leadership position. When they understand this method, I think they’re great CEOs and just great leaders, bottom line. It’s just that to a prover in ideation, if you don’t work through everything that’s going to go wrong, good luck getting their buy-in, good luck, because they’re thinking about the 15-20 things. This is exactly what happens, business strategy movers and shakers go a back room, they decide what’s going to be done, and then they look to the provers and makers to make it happen, yet they didn’t even involve them in the process, and it’s likely not even thought through.

We have a client just right now, mover and shaker, great people, amazingly brilliant, go into the back room, spend millions of dollars, and then didn’t think about all the stuff that could have gone wrong. Now, millions of dollars are lost and they’re trying to back pedal to fix it.

Allen Fahden:  Clean up the mess, yes.

Karla Nelson:  But when a prover’s in a leadership position in ideation it was never going to work anyway, right?

Allen Fahden:  Right. There’s a guy that I knew who was a CEO of a very large company that you would recognize. They called him the piranha. He was a prover, and you would bring him an idea and they would call him the piranha because he’d have it down to bone in about six seconds.

Karla Nelson:  It’s so amazing because, everybody we need them at a different time.

Allen Fahden:  Yep.

Karla Nelson:  A prover in a leadership position, knowing the process, knows that they don’t need to just kill an idea and just kill it, kill it, kill it, it’s no, let’s work with this, but we work with it to a point that a prover gets to poke all the holes in the idea, in the ideation process. 80% should be spent planning and your prover is critical. Your mover, shaker, and prover are critical. Remember, makers don’t come into ideation.

Then implementation, having your prover as the direct point of implementation. If you have not done ideation correctly, the prover will just look at this and go, this is really not going to work because you didn’t think about the 20 things that could go wrong. Remember, we could overcome those 20 things in ideation. But if you decide and you put a whole bunch of money, like millions of bucks behind adopting and putting together technology that you didn’t bring your prover in, this is exactly where technology companies, we’ve seen it so many times over again, is they spend millions and millions of dollars and they didn’t work with their provers to say that’s not going to work, I wouldn’t use that. Nobody’s going to adopt that because you haven’t done this. You didn’t even think about user experience. How many times has that happened, right?

Allen Fahden:  Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  If you want to speak about a prover in the implementation aspect of it as well, what could go wrong there?

Allen Fahden:  Once a prover has an idea where you’ve gone through what an go wrong and you’ve corrected the flaws, the prover, the great person, to become the lead person in the implementation of the idea, because provers are great at managing a bunch of makers who can do the same thing over and over again, especially you found a replicable partner that you can make money at, it’s a great time to turn it over. However, the hand off is really important because the prover can also look at the idea and say, “Oh I don’t know, I just don’t see this happening.” Then they’ll … I had this experience where they’ve taken the idea and they’ve changed this and changed that because anything goes wrong they would just throw it out, and the idea would come back. They would replace it with something more in the box, so to speak, something they’re more familiar with. You’d have a great innovative idea, then the prover would take it and say well here it is, it’s all ready to implement now. It’s like the idea would come back looking nothing like what was agreed upon.

Karla Nelson:  Of course they didn’t get the buy in, right?

Allen Fahden:  Yep.

Karla Nelson:  We need everybody, just at different times.

Allen Fahden:  At different times.

Karla Nelson:  Everybody leads at different times and you bring up a good point. I’ll talk for just a moment about the maker. Makers, and you touched on it, they want to do the replicable work. They want to be told step-by-step what to do and do not throw spaghetti against a wall and see if it sticks for the maker because makers are awesome, we need them. It almost reminds me of the, I know we use this quote all the time, Warren Buffett, “I hate innovation.” Right, and that’s because you want to replicate something and have it be successful.

Makers, I don’t even ever think I’ve worked with a maker that was ever in a natural leadership position. I think they’re highly undervalued because they don’t want to be in the meeting. They don’t want to have anything to do with creating the idea of what we’re going to do, which we call ideation, which I know you said earlier, the terms typically today are strategy and execution, they don’t want to be in the strategy. They want to be in execution, but they want it to be to a point of specifics, do this, as I say, they eat checklists for breakfast. If you put a maker in a leadership position without their knowledge or without a process, they’re going to go back to their desk and sweat for the next two hours. We don’t see this as much because makers are natural eat checklists for breakfast and people put them to work. However, a pitfall there in implementation, which they’re critical is, if you haven’t thought this all the way through don’t even go to them, don’t expect them to speak up in the meeting. Give them a checklist, walk them through specifically what needs to do. Record a video that says step one, step two, step three, step four, so that they can follow and do it over and over again. Watch them put the stop watch on to see how quickly they can get it done. Of course, that’s an extreme maker.

But you really hit the nail on the head there I think. It reminds me of that quote by Niels Bohr that you always use, and that’s the brilliance of this book, right?

Allen Fahden:  Yep.

Karla Nelson:  Is “Until we discover the paradox, we have not yet begun to solve the problem.”

Allen Fahden:  It’s interesting because the paradox is usually some kind of a contradiction in terms, a cousin of the oxymoron, military intelligence, jumbo shrimp, bank and trust.

Karla Nelson:  I haven’t heard that one, bank and trust, that’s great.

Allen Fahden:  I made that one up. The funny thing is, here’s a book that is identifying strategies about implementation, but they couldn’t implement the strategy about implementation.

Karla Nelson:  There’s a paradox for you.

Allen Fahden:  This will make your eyes cross and probably drool a lot at your extra lunch.

Karla Nelson:  It was brilliant in the fact that it identified the problem. I think that’s the biggest challenge with most business books. You could read the MarketWatch article that really inspired to do this with “Good to Great” “Built to Last” and “In Search of Excellence” is that they all identify the problem. But guess what? If you really thought that was a great company and they’re all, “Heh, neh,” 10 years later, or gosh, 20 years, 30 years later for this book, and we’re still looking at this as, “Wow, you’re a business person. You need to read this book.” We’ve identified this in a million different ways, change management, culture, employee engagement. We call it leadership. It’s just buzz words that we have spent billions, probably trillions of dollars in the last 50 years and what’s changed? Nothing. 70% of people still hate their job. The reason is because they are miscast. We need everybody, but you have to put them in the right sequence at the right time, as we call fit in sequence with ideation and implementation, that’s how you solve a problem.

It actually reminds me now, I’m thinking of that quote from Deming, “94%-

Allen Fahden:  “94% of failure is not people failure, it’s process-

Karla Nelson:  Process failure.”

Allen Fahden:  … failure.

Karla Nelson:  He was amazing. When you get into what Warren Buffett’s talking about, “I hate innovation,” that’s saying hey, you guys have worked so hard to get to where you’re at that you can replicate something over and over even though innovation always has to come back in. That’s the underlying thing. It’s not about picking the great companies, it’s not about the fact that we’re trying to identify all the things that you should do right, we know that, it’s the messy stuff that we’re talking about in regards to just because you say the eight different steps of this particular book, but the overarching theme, which is structure isn’t your organization. That is it exactly it, because if 94% of failure is process failure, it’s not your people. Everybody wants to point the finger and say, “Oh it’s the people,” and that’s the messy stuff inside we don’t talk about, but then we have these business books that make great points. But just by identifying the problem is not solving the problem.

Allen Fahden:  Right.

Karla Nelson:  That’s exactly why we’re inspired.

Allen Fahden:  They do identify the problem, but they didn’t identify all the problems. They didn’t identify the problem that kept them from implementing. That’s where this book and a lot of others have fallen down is this blind acceptance of the way that we work together. In other words, that’s never up to question, don’t question that. We’ll just move ahead and solve this other problem over here, this other problem over here and we’ll have a bestselling book, and we’ll be rich and famous, or whatever, and also very much invested. Obviously, we should do everything this book says exactly because it’s a very successful book and a lot of people bought it, millions of people. Millions of people can’t be wrong, can they? It’s just they haven’t seen something that’s there.

Karla Nelson:  But have they done their research of okay these are the great companies, this is what they did and they didn’t do well, are they bankrupt? Think about that for a second. It will be interesting, we’re on a series now, we’ve gotten inspired. We’re going to look at all these business books … By the way, Allen hasn’t even met the author of this book and I’ve read, and actually I met the other of “Good to Great”, Jim Collins, awesome people. I think their books are fantastic. I agree with what’s said in it. The problem is they’re not solving the problem.

I really like that quote and I think I’ll end with that is that “Until we discover the paradox,” which I believe the paradox has been discovered with these books, the paradox is. But here’s the second part, “We have not yet begun to solve the problem,” so we’ve barely scratched the surface on the way people do work, barely.

Allen Fahden:  Yep.

Karla Nelson:  If you’d like to learn more you can go to thepeoplecatalysts, that is plural, .com and learn more. Thank you again Allen. It’s always fantastic to have these discussions with you. We’ve been working together for a very long time, but I always get so excited to think about the possibilities of the way we can redo work.

Allen Fahden:  I love it. Always fun, thanks.


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