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SSA Notebook | July 2012

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1. The Secret to Honeywell’s Sweet Success

This Economist article profiles how Electronic giant Honeywell International underwent a huge transformation over the last decade, “from bitter to sweet.” A devotion to Continuous Improvement, one of the cornerstones of what has become known as the “Honeywell operating system (HOS),” helped the company go from almost bankrupt to highly profitable and productive. What can others learn from this example? The story helps to uncover some of the critical success factors that many could draw lessons from. For example, it reinforces the point that companies must focus on quality, safety, and innovation, and not just costs alone. That’s how Honeywell experienced its giant leap in productivity.

2. G100 on the Critical 100

Daniel Casse, Managing Director of G100, and Ram Charan, G100 and SSA & Company Senior Advisor, published this great article on “The Critical 100” on HBR’s blog network. This piece started with a G100 Talent Academy session on the critical 100 people in an organization, and developed into a full-fledged article with contributions from NCR’s Chairman and CEO Bill Nuti and G100 Talent Academy chair Anne Mulcahy (retired CEO of Xerox). The idea presented here is that within every company, there’s a group of people scattered across the organization who are “especially attuned to emerging challenges and capable of driving positive change.” Regardless of their title, these people are highly “influential, connected and respected.” More often than not, this group represents an untapped asset for CEOs. This article puts forth a compelling argument for why CEOs should engage their “Critical 100” to be effective leaders, and offers great tips on how to identify and leverage this broader group.

3. How Bossless Companies Can Work

While a bossless system might not work for everyone, this Wall Street Journal article provides plenty of food for thought on organizational structure and its impact on engagement, motivation and innovation. The author explores three successful technology companies that either have no bosses or have a flat overall structure, which include: Valve Corp. (a videogame maker), W.L. Gore (a maker of Gore-Tex and other materials) and GitHub (a software company). Leadership roles generally emerge organically at these companies, and an internal marketplace of ideas determines what gets done.

4. Why Good Arguments are the Essence of Risk Management

Justin Fox, Editorial Director of the Harvard Business Review Group, offers a novel explanation for JP Morgan’s spectacular $3 billion-plus trading loss: while chief investment officer Ina Drew was out of the office with Lyme Disease, the London traders no longer had someone who knew how to oversee good arguments: “Managing risks – especially the hard-to-pin-down, moving-target risks that any financial trading operation has to cope with – inevitably involves arguing. Which is why managing those arguments, as Ina Drew appears to have done brilliantly during the financial crisis but wasn’t around to do for the past couple of years, is so important.” Fox makes a serious point: risk management requires good arguments about successfully managing arguments about what exactly the risks are and how seriously they should be taken.

5. How Big Data Makes Businesses Smarter

Here’s a great overview from The Financial Times on what “Big Data” really means. The author interviewed two research vice presidents at Gartner to help define big data and explain how executives can use this new economic asset to enhance their organization and its competitiveness. While there’s a lot of talk about the different types of data (social, machine, and location data) or the associated new technology, the article notes that these do not necessarily characterize the biggest business potential. Rather, the real business opportunity arises from the ability to combine more data together and let the data sources invalidate or reinforce each other. “Refuting data forces the business to ask questions, while reinforcing data increases the confidence in current business practices and processes,” the experts explain. Therefore, the real prospect big data brings for businesses is better data-driven decisions. Recent research supports this point. Companies that are just starting to understand the impact of big data are falling behind.


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