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A Guide To Superior Management Effectiveness

Forbes recently named, A New Way To Think, as one of the 10 must-read books for 2022. 

In the book, authored by Roger L. Martin, he urges business leaders to toss out the old ways of thinking, and instead try new models in every domain of management – from competition and customers to strategy, data, culture, talent, mergers and acquisitions, and everything in-between. 

More specifically, within 14 chapters, Martin explores his recommended new ways of thinking about:

  • Competition
  • Stakeholders
  • Customers
  • Strategy
  • Data
  • Knowledge Work
  • Corporate Functions
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Talent
  • Innovation
  • Capital Investment
  • Mergers and Acquisitions

Roger L. Martin 

Today, Martin answers these questions for us: 

Question: As The Great Resignation rages on, what is the most important thing leaders must know about recruiting and retaining top talent? 

Martin: Leaders need to keep two things in mind in dealing with The Great Resignation. 

First, a key driver is adverse reaction to talent being forced back to the office. The COVID lockdowns terminated the habit of commuting to work and doing one’s work at the office and created a new habit – working from home. 

While businesses conceptualized the lockdown aftermath as a return to normal – i.e., working at one’s office – the subconscious thought otherwise. It was a break of the now-comfortable habit of working at home. And the conscious longs for comfort and familiarity over all else. When forced out of the comfort zone, the subconscious drives us to consider all possibilities, not just the one associated with the breaking of habit. That is what talent is doing now. Faced with forced return to the office, it is reevaluating and considering all possibilities – and the status quo is losing a lot of those reevaluations because to the subconscious it doesn’t feel like the status quo. 

To stem The Great Resignation, companies need to work with their talent to slowly develop the new habit of working at the office. If companies are patient, they will be rewarded. 

Second, what leaders need to keep in mind about talent is that it is motivated more by being treated as a unique individual than by being paid the maximum possible amount. 

Talent sees itself as having worked extremely diligently to develop its unique capabilities and hates being treated generically – e.g., you are an EVP, and this is the remuneration and privileges of all of our EVPs. Never lump talent into a category, even a lofty one. Signal that you see each person as an individual who needs to be treated consistently with their individuality.  

This relates back to the first point. A generic return-to-office order is particularly galling to talent. The message is: You are just like everyone else, and we don’t care what you think – you are returning to the office now. Good luck with that! 

Question: As millions of workers quit, culture change is top of mind. But you argue that most culture change efforts fail because leaders try to change it by mandate. What’s the alternative? 

Martin: Culture forms organically over time as members of the organization work together. Inorganically attempting to mandate a different culture is an exercise in total futility. If leaders want to see culture change, they need to be the change they want to see. They need to behave when working with others in their organization in the way they want others to behave. Others in the organization will watch and understand that is the way things should be done in the organization – and over time, a consistent culture will take shape. 

Thus, the most powerful driver of culture change in any organization is the interpersonal behavior of the most senior leaders, not their pronouncements.  

Question: What is the secret about strategy that no one tells you? 

Martin: Strategy and planning are entirely different. 

The vast majority of activities referred to as strategy are actually planning. Planning involved creating lists of sensible initiatives. Strategy is the making of an integrated set of choices that positions the organization on a playing field of choice where it can be better than any other organization on that field. 

Strategy is important because lists of sensible initiatives won’t compel customers to take the actions, we wish them to, which is why most plans don’t produce the outcomes that are desired. Our choices need to be designed to compel customer action. Among other things, which will make some initiatives that on their own may appear sensible, are actually a waste of resources.   

Question: In your book, you write that if you feel comfortable with your strategic plan, there’s a strong chance it isn’t very good. Why? 

Martin: The goal of strategy is to compel customer action. But no organization (other than a government monopoly like the Department of Motor Vehicles) can force customers to buy your product/service. So, you can never be comfortable that your strategy will produce what you wish. It requires faith in the set of choices you have made – and that is uncomfortable. 

Planners, on the other hand, tend to believe that that if their choices are sensible, they will automatically produce the results they expect, so they are more comfortable, until such time as their plans fail to compel the customer actions they assumed.   

Question: What is the most important thing you hope readers will take away from your book? 

Martin: Lots of what you have been taught either in formal business education or in the company/industry in which you work are just plain wrong. 

Lots of models that have developed and become dominant over time for thinking about business problems don’t produce the results that the models promise. But very few people question the efficacy of the models, even though they don’t work.

Don’t let your models own you in this way; you need to dump models that don’t work and adopt models that do. To help that, the book covers 14 business models that don’t work and provides 14 replacement models that will work better

A New Way To Think is timely, thought-provoking a book to add to your must-read list this year. 

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.


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