When Da.vid Nova.k took over as CEO of Yum! Brands, he had a new strategy in mind. Instead of ha.ving each store sell just one Yum brand-A&W, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Long John Silvers, Pizza Hut, or Taco Bell-he wanted to give customers more choice and increase sales per unit by bringing two or more brands together in a single store. Research showed the public loved the multi-branding approach; Mom could ha.ve chicken while the kids had tacos. Nova.k prepared carefully to share his new vision with his executive team and distributors, and laid it out for Yum’s top 500 executives and franchisees at a three-day workshop. He thought they all were behind him.
But he soon got the verbal equivalent of a punch in the nose from Taco Bell franchise owner Ned Kirby. Kirby had liked the multi-branding idea and followed up by asking his Yum contacts for more information. But his “phone calls got passed from here to there,” he told Nova.k, while each brand pushed him to focus on its product alone.
Kirby’s comments were a difficult dose of reality for Nova.k. He thought he’d trained his executives to a.void arrogance at all costs, to be open to learning from anyone. He thought he’d wiped out that “not invented here” mind-set that stifles innovation. Apparently not.
Ultimately, Nova.k put together a completely new operating team to handle the aggressive rollout of multi-branding outlets he’s planned for 2002. But the story would ha.ve ended differently at many companies. Some leaders, when confronted with bad news, ignore it or label the messengers as “resisters.” Instead, Nova.k was committed not just to teaching his troops, but also listening to and being taught by them.
To succeed in this knowledge era, every leader must get everyone in the company to contribute to the collective knowledge pool, and in turn get employees to act faster and more effectively. The best leaders-from Nova.k to General Electric’s Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt, Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli, and 3M CEO James McNerney-do this by creating teaching organizations that develop leaders at all levels.
World-class leaders pass down their heritage of leadership. They do that not by the force of their personalities, but by injecting teaching and learning into their organizations. They build a continuous generation of knowledge in which everyone both teaches and learns.
The job of every leader is to get everyone to contribute to the collective knowledge. In virtuous teaching cycles, teachers are open to new perspectives, and learners ta.ke responsibility for debating their points of view with the teacher. They know that brea.king down traditional hierarchical and functional walls that compartmentalize knowledge leads to bottom-line results.
Cultivating a “teachable point of view.” Great leaders don’t care where good ideas come from. They don’t let their egos prevent them from learning from any source-outside their industry or below their hierarchical level. The ability to teach begins with a “teachable point of view”-a set of ideas, values, and ways of energizing people that can be articulated and put into action. That comes from ma.king tough decisions.
The teachable point of view provides a basis for dialogue and debate, ensuring that people are aligned and that the best, most recent information is acted upon. It comes from the top, but everyone has input. A teachable point of view must be open for constant dialogue and revision, but this doesn’t mean every issue is negotiable. Leaders must be willing to explain their thinking and listen to questions and concerns, but at some point, it’s the leader’s job to pick a course and stick to it.
The answers to these key questions will help leaders develop a teachable point of view:
Ideas: How will we ma.ke money and win in the marketplace?
Values: What beha.viors are required to put our business ideas into practice?
Emotional energy: How do we keep people motivated and working with high energy?
Edge: Which difficult decisions must I ma.ke?
Part of the art of leadership is understanding whether people are resisting change for the good of the company or just to protect their own self-interests. Resisters are most devastating when they’re on the senior team; they need to be turned around or removed. It’s essential to get the top team aligned around a teachable point, and it’s worth the enormous effort it ta.kes.
Creating the right conditions for top teams to come together requires the effective use of power to generate the emotional energy that produces beha.vior changes. This is tricky. Hierarchical leaders-the CEO, CFO, CIO, division president, or other unit head-may be uncomfortable using power, and team members may resent the leader’s mandate. This kind of resentment just gets stronger as you approach the top of the hierarchy, the biggest power players, the people who are most used to running their own shows and ha.ve the most turf to protect. Some are likely to fear that clarity of direction will entail a political loss for them personally.
Great leaders also understand the importance of carefully structuring the event at which the group develops its teachable point of view. It’s important that leaders come prepared with points of view of their own, but sharing those first or overpowering the dialogue will narrow the discussion. Their primary role is to inject energy to keep the process open. Wherever possible, work with the group to come up with a shared vision.
Still, there are times, particularly where there are boundary issues that leaders don’t want to open for discussion, when they must ma.ke their point of view known and understood. GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, captured this best: “I ma.ke every decision,” he says. “I get lots of advice, but I don’t delegate. I ask, ‘What do you think?’ from everyone. Then, boom-I decide.”
True teaching organizations encourage dialogue on the teachable point of view throughout the entire organization on a regular and systematic basis. It ta.kes a methodology to reach scale quickly and efficiently. Just think about the leadership challenges that companies such as GE and Wal-Mart face. They ha.ve hundreds of thousands of people who must act in alignment to serve customers and execute strategy. But every company is equally challenged to drive dialogue and alignment throughout the ranks.
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