November 2019 | Nano Tools | Leadership
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributors: George Day, Geoffrey T. Boisi Professor Emeritus, Senior Fellow at the Mack Institute for Innovation Management, The Wharton School; Paul Schoemaker, Founder and Former CEO and Chairman of Decision Strategies International, Inc., Former Research Director of Wharton’s Mack Center for Technological Innovation, Founder and Chairman of Q2 Technologies (a new digital tools company).
Become a more vigilant leader to pick up early on weak signals of potential opportunities and threats — and be proactive rather than reactive.
What’s the difference between Charles Schwab, which was early to see and act on the promise of “robo-advisors,” and Honeywell, which stumbled when Nest Labs came out first with an internet-enabled thermostat? Or GM’s embrace of autonomous cars versus Denmark’s largest lender Danske Bank, which lost its status as one of Europe’s most respected banks after missing red flags and getting caught up in a money-laundering scandal?
The answer: vigilance. We are all vulnerable to missing signals due to limited attention, competing priorities, and, often, a lack of curiosity. What manager has not said “My plate is full” at some point, proceeded to ignore a signal of a potential problem, and later regretted it? As we read memos and reports, we may frame troubling issues in overly abstract — and easier to dismiss — terms, losing touch with what is really happening on the ground. We also may not appreciate the stresses others are under or the reasons they may withhold information from us. The net result is a partial and often a distorted view of what is happening right under our noses inside the organization.
Our understanding of the nature of vigilance, including corporate foresight, has advanced steadily. In vigilant companies, leadership attention is leveraged for greater agility and advantage, whereas in vulnerable companies, misdirected attention creates blind spots, myopia, and delayed reactions. The challenge for leaders is to deal appropriately with vast amounts of “regular” information while strengthening the ability to pay attention. The following four steps can help you spot early warning signs — and take action — sooner.
Google cofounder Larry Page has challenged his teams to anticipate the future not just by asking what is or likely will be true, but also what could perhaps be true, even if totally unexpected. Such guiding questions are a productive way to launch a scoping dialogue.
Procter and Gamble (P&G) keeps some retired executives in Europe on a part-time retainer so that they can periodically report on interesting developments in, for example, private label or branded products. For P&G, this is part of its “connect and develop” approach to innovation, which helped it launch a highly successful rotating toothbrush years ago.
General Electric’s senior health care group created a task force to process an array of weak signals about new opportunities for health care in India. These signals suggested several nonlinear shifts, including a shortage of doctors and hospital beds, growing unmet health care needs, and an underdeveloped health insurance industry, but also good digital connectivity. The mandate for the task force was to illuminate areas that might deserve more attention as interesting potential opportunities for GE in India.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, director of Custom Programs at Wharton Executive Education. Nano Tools for Leaders® is a collaboration between joint sponsors Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. This collaboration is led by Professors Michael Useem and John Paul MacDuffie.
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