Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Leading Knowledge for the WIKI age


Modern businesses co-create value with their customers, and the Windsor Leadership Trust may be a model for how to co-create knowledge with participants.

Take a parallel from contemporary businesses. ‘Service’ is becoming the watchword for value-creation: even manufacturing firms derive ever-increasing proportions of their revenues from services rather than the sale of products. For example, Rolls Royce Engines, the manufacturers of aircraft engines, earn 54% of their revenues from service contracts, designed to give the customer value-in-use, rather than simply an ‘input’ to their supply chain. Airlines want reliable flying airplanes – and an engine manufacturer who can provide that outcome is more helpful than one which simply delivers an engine to the assembly plant. Yet business schools – still the main providers of management education in the UK - are often managed as if they are simply selling products – theories, programs and graduates.

This is because they rely on a ‘banking’ model of education. Business schools treat knowledge as a kind of currency, and behave like old-fashioned retail banks. The practical experience of mangers and business-people is gathered up by researchers, converted into general models and theories, stored in journals and books, and then sold back to practitioners. Most people have to physically go to a business school to get access to this knowledge – just as they would go to their local bank branch to access their money. Even distance learning is the equivalent of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM):  you can download your distance education package over the internet. But this simply configures the issue as one of distribution: the knowledge is disconnected from practice, packaged in discrete parcels posted, e-mailed or uploaded for later consumption. Distance assumes that students – even experienced managers – are at a distance from the source of knowledge – the business school.

Yet if we step back from this image to see where knowledge and wisdom actually reside, we discover that managerial knowledge comes in many types, is already widely distributed, and that real learning comes from creative interchange, not one-way delivery.  Recognizing that important knowledge is embedded in managerial and leadership practice, it should be possible to follow the example of the Windsor Leadership Trust ‘consultations’, and to create business education that makes use of this personal and tacit experience. Some have been trying:  Exeter University’s Centre for Leadership Studies runs programmes by what it calls ‘close learning’. Students, all practicing managers, use their current leadership roles as the focus for their learning; each has a personal tutor to guide them through a program of sophisticated, challenging and wide-reaching studies, making use of theories and models; encouraging careful reflection, improvements in practice, and ever deeper understanding. Modern communications technology enables us to take the professors to the practitioners; but it requires a new skill set for management educators, and new models of program design.

Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, provides an even more radical metaphor for management education. coachingourselves.com is a newcompany enabling managers to learn from their own experience. Noticing that knowledge about customer satisfaction, for example, rests with the managers responsible for delivering it, CoachingOurselves pulls together the people with fragments of experience across a company and provides the intellectual frameworks and provocative questions to organize it in well-tested theoretical frameworks. Companies like SAP in Germany and Sasken in India find that managers hugely improve their understanding, solve real problems, and become more engaged and creative in their managerial work. Furthermore, their new insights into managing feed new sessions for the CoachingOurselves portfolio, thus co-creating management knowledge as well as adding value to managerial practice. This is, in effect, the birth of a Web 2.0 version of the business school – we might call it a wiki-school.


Close learning is a new metaphor for management education, and the wiki-school is a new way to think about a business school. Both offer valuable ways to extend the dynamic co-creation of value (the defining feature of WLT consultations), and may be of great help to alumni of the WLT who want to reach more people inside their own organizations and networks.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It does have an off button: The newest discussion guide for managers and leaders

We at CoachingOurselves are proud to announce our latest topic discussion guide: "It does have an Off Button" by our newest author; Peter Todd, Dean of the Faculty of Management & Henry Mintzberg of McGill University.

"It does have an Off Button" allows management teams to evaluate the impact of mobile technologies on their managing and generate some ideas for taking command of them.

Managers learn to appreciate the benefits and the threats of this technology, harness it to increase their managerial effectiveness, and understand the critical importance of balancing soft information in managing effectively.

Always provocative and eye-opening, CoachingOurselves topic discussion guides will leave management teams with new perspectives and key learnings that will make them better managers.

About CoachingOurselves:


CoachingOurselves is a collaborative approach to management and leadership development created by Henry Mintzberg and Phil LeNir. World renowned management and business thinkers have authored 90-minute discussion guides for management teams.  These are a platform to build trust, learn from experiences and each other, and plan strategies and actions to make change happen.

Organizations use CoachingOurselves to deliver:
90 minute workshops for cohorts of 15 or more,
On-demand & self-directed collaborative learning across the organization,
Toolkits enabling HR business partners to deliver just-in-time 90 minute interventions.

CoachingOurselves is used by over 130 organizations and 10,000 managers around the world.

Contact Warren Cohen at warren@coachingourselves.com or (+1) 514-419-1849 for more information on getting started today.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Social Learning and Management Development

"Leadership, like swimming, cannot
be learned by reading about it."
Did you ever wonder how you learned to be a manager? Ever think about the process through which you, and the other managers in your organization, are improving as managers and leaders? It likely doesn't have much to do with classrooms, lectures or e-learning programs.

Recently, I came across the idea of two broad forms of learning; Cartesian Learning and Social Learning. A Cartesian view assumes that "knowledge is a kind of substance and that pedagogy concerns the best way to transfer this substance from teachers to students." Many classroom & e-learning programs are based on a Cartesian view of learning; nuggets of information, sometimes called learning objects, are transferred to learners who then become better at doing whatever it is they need to do.

Social Learning, on the other hand, is "based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions." I believe the majority of a manager’s actual learning and development occurs through this type process.

For example, just reading this article could be called a Cartesian Learning event. The impact is relatively small. However if you have a discussion with some colleagues, making sense of the concepts in this article and figuring out how they might help solve a current challenge, such as helping the middle managers in your organization learn and develop while keeping costs low, this becomes Social Learning. The impact for yourself, your team, and perhaps even your organization, will be far more significant.

Another term that has recently become quite popular is Informal Learning, sometimes erroneously used interchangeably with Social Learning. Informal Learning has been defined as "the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and values from daily experience and people around us." I think of Informal Learning as any learning that occurs outside of a structured learning environment, whether it is through a Cartesian, Social, or any other educational process.

For example, if you attend a class and the teacher shows a YouTube video introducing some concept, this is a formal learning experience. On the other hand if a colleague happens to send you a link to that same YouTube video which you then watch, this is informal learning. The only difference is the context during which the learning took place.

There are studies that indicate 75% of the learning taking place in an organization is informal. Which begs the question; why is so much of our leadership and talent development budget devoted to very formal learning programs, which are mostly based on the Cartesian view of learning?

Another concept frequently used in relation to Social Learning is the idea of Social Media. YouTube, Wikipedia and Blogs are fantastic examples of Social Media, where consumers and producers of content are one and the same. An extremely useful aspect of the Social Media paradigm for learning and development is that everyone can categorize, rate and provide qualitative information about the content. I recently met the Head of Learning at BT Group who described a YouTube like system they had built using SharePoint. Employees are encouraged to create and upload HowTo videos, which were being watched, and used with great benefit, by many others in the organization. The project, called Dare2Share, proved to be immensely successful, with hundreds upon hundreds of high quality learning objects created, categorized, rated and consumed by employees. Though this is a fantastic use of Social Media as applied to learning and development, the creation, sharing, categorizing and rating of learning objects in a YouTube like system is not Social Learning.

Though some educational structures leverage group discussion they do not necessarily result in Social Learning. Communities of practice, defined as "Groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly" are platforms through which managers have conversation around problems or actions. Similarly, Action Learning, defined as "an educational process whereby the participants’ studies their own actions and experience in order to improve performance", when practiced by groups, encourages reflection and discussion around problems, or actions, for learning. Though both Action Learning and Communities of Practice result in discussion around problems or actions, they begin with a pre-defined problem and do not typically include conceptual input.

Several years ago, in his book Managers Not MBAs, Henry Mintzberg, a well known management thinker, wrote that "Thoughtful reflection on natural experience in the light of conceptual ideas, is the most powerful tool we have for management learning". CoachingOurselves is an approach to management development created by Professor Mintzberg and I based on this concept. Bringing small groups of managers together to reflect and discuss recent managerial experiences in light of conceptual content results in a simple, yet highly effective, approach to management development.

Each CoachingOurselves meeting focuses on a topic, prepared by a management or business thinker, introducing a managerial concept and guiding the group discussion.

These are topics such as "Decision Making; Its not what you think", "The Play of Analysis", and "Thinking Entrepreneurially to Grow your Business", written by management & business authorities such as David Ulrich, Philip Kotler, Marshall Goldsmith, Michael Beer and Henry Mintzberg. Unlike Action Learning or Communities or practice, CoachingOurselves begins with reflection on recent managerial experiences in light of conceptual input.

The impact of these management groups getting together, without consultants, external facilitators, or professional trainers, once every other week is surprising. Individuals develop specific practical actions and make incremental changes, after each session, rapidly adding up to impressive improvements for themselves, their team and the organization.

In CoachingOurselves, managers are given the responsibility for their own development and results. Some find this surprising, however it makes sense that if trust the managers we hire to run large projects and drive teams they can certainly be given the responsibility to decide how best to spend their time with respect to learning and development.

All this makes CoachingOurselves a scalable, cost effective development program with high impact and almost no overhead for the HR people supporting and managing the process.

Over time, CoachingOurselves motivates and inspires broad changes in the culture of the organization. Henry Mintzberg, in the HBR article titled Rebuilding companies as communities, wrote that in "an organizational context... community means caring about our work, our colleagues, and our place in the world, geography and otherwise, and in turn being inspired by this caring". Closely related is a comment by Peter Block, in his recent book on Community: The structure of belonging: "Sustainable improvements in community occur when citizens discover their own power to act." 

The concept of community makes me think of a small village, where people really know one another and care for one another. This is much more than a community of practice, where I offer help and advice if you ask, but I do not really know you and so I am unable and unlikely to offer help on my own initiative. In a village the people really know one another, they care for each other and care for the community as a whole. People take initiative on their own or as a group to improve the community. Imagine what might happen if managers throughout an organization see themselves as citizens of their corporation. Imagine what your organization might accomplish when, as Peter Block describes in his book, "citizens stop waiting for professionals or elected leadership to do something, and decide they can reclaim what they have delegated to others."

As CoachingOurselves groups continue to meet on a regular basis, trust develops rapidly and aspects of real community take root. People begin discussing what they are really thinking. All those things that go through our head as we work in our organizations but never articulate begin to emerge. Once that happens people take initiative to tackle and solve the real managerial and business problems around them. A sense of community develops in these teams, which often become major catalysts for change in their organization.

To get an idea of Social Learning in general, once you are done reading this article, I encourage you to have a discussion with colleagues reflecting on recent managerial experiences in light of the concepts introduced in this article, and then do something with your new insights.


To learn more about CoachingOurselves visit us at http://www.CoachingOurselves.com/, and consider trying CoachingOurselves with your management team, or in your organization. There are a growing number of organizations around the world now using CoachingOurselves with impressive results.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

If you place in a bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies...

“If you place in a bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the bottle horizontally, with its base [the closed end] to the window, you will find that the bees will persist, till they die of exhaustion or hunger, in their endeavor to discover an [opening] through the glass; while the flies, in less than two minutes, will all have sallied forth through the open neck on the opposite side…

It is [the bees] love of flight, it is their very intelligence, that is their undoing in this experiment. They evidently imagine that the issue from every prison must be where the light shines clearest; and they act in accordance, and persist in too-logical action.


To [bees] glass is a supernatural mystery… and, the greater their intelligence, the more inadmissible, more incomprehensible, will the strange obstacle appear. Whereas the feather-brained flies, careless of logic… flutter wildly hither and thither, and meeting the good fortune that often waits on the simple… necessarily end up by discovering the friendly opening that restores their liberty to them.” 

(Gordon Siu)

Thanks to Henry Mintzberg for referring me to this story

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The 25-hour workweek and other radical ideas for better employee productivity and Does money really affect motivation?

Two friends of mine publish the J&E Alert, a fantastic newsletter highlighting thought provoking thinking on leadership, management and business. Below I share two snippets of their newsletter.

You can subscribe directly by sending an email to the editors (Mireille Jansma & Jurgen Egges)



In this article, Rana Florida (CEO of Creative Class Group) shares her unconventional views on 'being the boss' and on how to let employees be 'their better selves'. From the article: "Please don't call me boss, don't send me approvals like I'm your boss, don't ask for approval to go on vacation", I said. "We are all colleagues. You are getting paid for your expertise. I am not going to do performance reviews or expect status reports. It's up to you to manage your own workload, to manage the clients, and to deliver a quality service."

Florida also points to Jason Fried of 37signals, who wrote a piece in the New York Times about productivity and variations in working time for employees. At 37signals they shorten the work week from May through October. Fried: "When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time."


Article - Does money really affect motivation? A review of the research (Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, HBR, 10 April 2013)

An old theme: the effects of financial incentives on intrinsic motivation. For whomever needs arguments to oppose - or defend? - bonuses and other target-related forms of payment.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Decision Making: It's not what you think by Henry Mintzberg (Part 3)

Introduction by Phil LeNir:

Following is the third and final excerpt of the themed discussion guide on Decision Making: It’s not what you think. In 2007, Henry Mintzberg and I started a company called CoachingOurselves to develop these discussion topics. We brought a reflective approach to developing leaders and managers to the enterprise learning space.

The building blocks of our approach are 90 minute sessions by small groups of managers. Each session is guided by one of our themed discussion topics. Managers work through the topic together; sharing their knowledge, learning from experiences, resolving issues and planning strategy and actions to make change happen.

The 90 minute sessions are the foundation to Leadership Development Programs, HIPO programs, Reflection Cafes, Cultural Change initiatives, and Event Workshops.

The topics can be used standalone, or can be combined with others to build a curriculum focused on specific business objectives; driving change, leadership, developing the organization, engaging people, venturing and innovating.

In this blog I have included the second part of the topic titled Decision Making: It’s not what you think. It has been split into 3 parts, with the third part below. To get real value out of this topic gather your management team together for discussion and reflection on your decision making process. Simply begin a discussion by answering the question(s) on each page, and let the discussion go wherever it needs to go.

As opposed to the classical view based on classroom training or e-learning, Henry and I believe managers and leaders learn best through reflection on natural experience in the light of conceptual ideas. This approach has been successfully used by hundreds of organizations around the world to deliver leadership and organizational development programs and initiatives.


Following is the third part of the CoachingOurselves topic: Decision Making, It’s not what you think, by Henry Mintzberg:






Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Decision Making: It's not what you think by Henry Mintzberg (Part 2)

Introduction by Phil LeNir:

Following is the second excerpt of the themed discussion guides on Decision Making: It’s not what you think. Henry Mintzberg and I started a company called CoachingOurselves to develop these discussion topics.We brought a reflective approach to developing leaders and managers to the enterprise learning space.

The building blocks of our approach are 90 minute sessions by small groups of managers. Each session is guided by one of our themed discussion topics. Managers work through the topic together; sharing their knowledge, learning from experiences, resolving issues and planning strategy and actions to make change happen.

The 90 minute sessions are the foundation to Leadership Development Programs, HIPO programs, Reflection Cafes, Cultural Change initiatives, and Event Workshops.

The topics can be used standalone, or can be combined with others to build a curriculum focused on specific business objectives; driving change, leadership, developing the organization, engaging people, venturing and innovating.

In this blog I have included the second part of the topic titled Decision Making: It’s not what you think. It has been split into 3 parts, with the second part below. To get real value out of this topic gather your management team together for discussion and reflection on your decision making process. Simply begin a discussion by answering the question(s) on each page, and let the discussion go wherever it needs to go.

As opposed to the classical view based on classroom training or e-learning, Henry and I believe managers and leaders learn best through reflection on natural experience in the light of conceptual ideas. This approach has been successfully used by hundreds of organizations around the world to deliver leadership and organizational development programs and initiatives.


Following is the second part of the CoachingOurselves topic: Decision Making, It’s not what you think, by Henry Mintzberg: