Conference Report: CEOs Plenary

E. Forrest Christian GO Conference Leave a Comment

The Plenary Day opened with the video (available on the website) again, so that all us “authors” and new people could know what it was. It was followed by some history of the work on the theories. (Do you know the bookStrategic Leadership that’s an academic-level book on Jaques and Co.? I think it’s related to the work in the US Army and is a T. Owen Jacobs thing, but let me know if you know more.)

Ken Shepard introduced the special guests, whom I’ll cover later. Noting here Jerry Hunt’s appearance because he’s from Texas and wears boots, plus had an interesting book I need to pick up, and was editor ofLeadership Quarterly for some years. Kathryn Cason is here, too: it’s good to finally see what she looks like.

Today’s focus is what is happening now. Larry Tapp, ex CEO of a packaging company and paritally retired dean (?) of the Ivey Business School in Western Ontario, appeared by recorded phone interview. He talked about general problems in business, and said that family businesses are probably the best place currently (at least in the west) to bring in RO ideas.

Michael Raynor of Deloitte Research did the first real talk. Raynor has a new book out on strategic uncertainty, answering how RO was useful to him in grappling with this problem that he deals with in his new book. (He wasn’t here selling the book, since the GO Society has been giveing us copies of the book to all of those of us who were here at the conference.

The thrust of the book is that people who studied successful companies looked at survivors. Raynor pointed out that Jim Collins’s bad companies had survived 30 years and were basically returning at the rate of the Dow. “If I had a company that survived for thirty years and returned at that rate, I’d think I was pretty successful!” The problem is the companies that fail.

Mediocrity, it turns out, is much safer than being a risk-taking, Big Hairy Audacious Goal company.

“Why not go for greatness? Because it can kill you!

Raynor argued that work levels provides a way to see at what level we have to manage strategic uncertainty. Higher levels have almost entirely uncertainty, rather than commitment. Lower levels deal with commitment more than uncertainty. You have to do the right work at the right level.

If the CEO is simply whipping the horses to get next quarter’s results, he is simply driving decisions into a stuck-in-the-middle mindset, because that is what is safer than either end (in his diagrams: see the preso).

They passed out copies of his book but I missed out, as I did Nancy Lee’s book. Ah, well, the problem of being someone who’s helpful!

It was an interesting presentation and he is an excellent speaker, albeit a bit fast. (Thinking of the non-native speakers in the audience here.)

Art Mann is the Chairman of the Board of Donsco, a family-owned business, 100 years old, in the metals industry. Foundries and such. Clients include Honda and Toyota. He found out about EJ at the Santa Fe Institute, where a consultant next to him muttered that the presentation they were hearing was “just warmed over Elliott Jaques”. Mann started reading EJ’s works and ended up developing a relationship with him and Kathryn Cason.

He wanted to thank EJ, because he believes in the power of these ideas, emphasizing that EJ’s great contribution is that he tells us why we need to do things this way.

He listed his “favorite teachers”, saying that EJ organizes them into a coherent system. Some of his faves included people that I’m pretty sure that EJ himself thought were less than useful. But they were some of mine, too, so it was nice to hear someone else saw something in them that fit in with EJ’s ideas. EJ himself talks about how RO can’t provide everything you need for a successful business (see his chapter in the new GO Society book, released last night).

Great story about, after starting RO work, seeing one of his best employees punching in timecards for all his friends. (I’ll note as an aside that in the USA, this I think is a serious crime, falsifying work documents.) He chewed the guy out for awhile, and then remembered how demeaning he always found timeclocks when he did shift work years previously. But somebody had to get fired for this serious infraction of core work processes.

“So I fired the time clock.”

He also pitched all his incentive systems, because they just didn’t work, just as EJ predicted.

Mann then talked about a VP who had some serious Minus T going on. If someone has the capability, knowledge and skills, and values the work, they will be leaders as managers. Unless the “disqualify themselves” through their own serious behavioural/psychological problems of Minus T. This example was of a guy who couldn’t control his temper.

All this work led to a strong valuing of clear dialogue. He closed with a statement from his company (which I’m unfortunately paraphrasing):

Whatever or whomever is found to prevent or inhibit open and honest dialogue will be removed.

Norm Trainor, CEO of the Covenant Group, appeared through prerecorded video. He talked about some interesting things:

RO helps him to be personally courageous, to move as big of a rock as he can. He talked about how that was true of many of his clients as well. They would see that they were not returning as much as they could be to the world, that they could move a bigger rock. “We see increases of 50-200% of the growth of businesses when people work at their capacity.” (Check all quotes against the videos on the GO Society website.)

RO is one of the most “sane-making approaches” to work and organization. Push the biggest rock that you can. “It is a tremendously freeing system.”

John Morgan, head pastor of a Pinon Hills Church in New Mexico, USA, also spoke on using RO to organize his large church staff. I like John (we come from similar upbringings and share a faith) but I’m running out of time. I’ll point you to his article.

Except two points:

“One of the things that caused our church to grow was deselecting some of our staffmembers.” They fired people, which seems so “un-Christian”. But he pointed out that they were not going to be fulfilling what God had for them to do in that role, and that they moved on to much more fulfilling roles.

“It’s brought peace to our staff…. They’re good people but if you’re not structured right you’ve got Civil War.” I have friends in religious organizations and they do indeed get a lot of fervor from workers.

He’s always fun to watch, in my opinion.

Mark Cutifani, EVP Operations, CRVD INCO, spoke on the work being done there now. Inco has had Jaques stuff around it for years but it is finally getting moved in.

He talked about how the CEO has to understand the social context of the company’s work, and how he or she has to be willing to change the social context. “Sudbury was INCO. INCO was Sudbury.” Every decision would affect the entire community.

I’m cutting off here and will get back to him later. I’ve got three pages of notes on his talk.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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