Toyota Needs Action On Three Levels

My latest article at my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today, is now live:

Toyota Needs Action On Three Levels

Last night I gave a talk on ethics and leadership and I based a large section of it on a reading of Akio Toyoda’s Wall Street Journal op-ed piece apologizing for his company’s shortcomings and outlining plans to correct them. Published Tuesday, it is a good example of some of the concerns that face a public leader in trying to craft and lead an organization that not only talks ethics but also acts on its ethics.

'Working on machinery' by Flickr user NIOSH
'Working on machinery' by Flickr user NIOSH

Set aside, just for the moment, any anger you may feel that an op-ed statement is perhaps too little, too late. There are definitely ways in which some may say his statement falls short, as does the fact that he had to almost be shamed into attending congressional hearings on Toyota’s problems. Instead, let’s take his statement at face value, because, by doing so, we can draw lessons from it.

The story of how Toyota responds (is responding) to its catastrophic problems illustrates the three levels on which leadership must work if an organization is to act ethically. I have written about this before — I call it Heart, Head, and Hands. What I mean by that is intention, policy, and execution.

  • Intention: What is my mission and purpose? To what extent is the achievement of my goals more important than how I go about it? (Heart)
  • Policy: Are there systems, structures, and practices in place, and are they sufficient? Do they connect logically with my mission? Can they reasonably be expected to result in the fulfillment of my mission? (Head)
  • Execution: Am I carrying out my plans, in the way I intend? Am I following my own rules? (Hands)

So many organizations focus on the first two, and ignore the third — but that’s where things go wrong. All too often, when a problem comes to light, the organizational response is to create new policies and procedures. But many, many times the problem is that someone did not follow rules. Often, there’s one slip that gets tolerated, and then magnified over time. A leader needs to keep their eye firmly on all three levels.

Toyoda’s op-ed is remarkable because he admits that it is at the level of execution that things broke down, and he sees execution as the critical component in correcting the problems.

Sure, he points out that Toyota’s heart is in the right place, as he refers to the “Toyota Way.” And in multiple passages, he outlines specific plans about how he will be correcting the safety problems that are coming to light. That is, he’s got his head in order.

But he also talks about the hands. He admits that it wasn’t a matter of having wrong policies — but that Toyota did not execute its own plans properly. “I recognize that we must do better — much better — in responding to safety issues,” he writes. Elsewhere, he admits, “we didn’t listen as carefully as we should — or respond as quickly as we must” to problems. And, “we focused too narrowly on technical issues.”

That’s looking backwards. Looking forward, Toyoda writes:

I pledge that Toyota will set a new standard for transparency and speed of response on safety issues. We also will strive to lead on advanced safety and environmental technologies. And I will continue to personally visit our sales and manufacturing workplaces to reaffirm the Toyota commitment to excellent quality.

Here, too, is a good lesson — a lesson about execution. It takes three things from a leader to really push execution: Commitment to focus on execution over time; Accountability and a willingness to be held responsible for outcomes; and Courage to act on decision. Toyoda’s statements suggest he is thinking about all three factors.

I am not a Toyota owner, but I know many who see the current problems as a blip in an otherwise stellar record. Akio Toyoda’s statements suggest that this can truly be the case — so long as the execution really is there.

Membership Rolls Dropping. What Does 'Support' Look Like?

My latest article on my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today, is now live:

Membership Rolls Dropping. What Does ‘Support’ Look Like?

Yesterday on the DC Metro, I found myself seated behind someone who was reviewing the minutes from a board meeting. I don’t normally read over shoulders but this was just about being shoved in my face. The font was large and clear and had lots of bold. I recommend that people think twice about what sensitive documents they peruse in public — I am not proud to say I could not stop myself from glancing along.

Be Careful, Stick Figure by Flickr user chad_k
'Be Careful, Stick Figure' by Flickr user chad_k

The heading proclaimed these as the minutes from the meeting of a very high profile national advocacy organization. This is an organization that has been around for decades and has been very effective in changing national views on a range of issues. (I am not saying what group this is.)

The page my travelling companion was reading recapped a contentious discussion about membership. Turns out that this organization has fewer than 60,000 members. That caught me up short. It seemed wildly out of step with the organization’s powerful profile.

It also opens up a window into the crisis of confidence that large nonprofit institutions are  facing throughout society. Everywhere you turn, you see formerly-major institutions losing relevancy and crumbling. They are good organizations that do good work. But they are running into brick walls all over the place. The United Way, the League of Women Voters, many public broadcasting stations, and more. Community benefit organizations are facing more difficulty in fundraising, and increasing skepticism. And memberships are falling off the cliff.

Shrinking memberships is a real problem for these organizations, as dues are one of their important revenue sources. Here’s one thing that I believe is going on: The perceived value of my membership has increased. That is, it takes a lot more to get me to “join” an organization now than it used to.

There are many reasons for this. An argument could be made that declining membership rolls are reflective of a sector that is ripe for a shakeup. That may be part of it. But there is a broader force as well.

There are now more ways to show one’s support of a cause, campaign, or organization than there used to be. From easy “liking” and “fanning” on Facebook to retweets, online petitions, and blog comments, the spectrum of options available to prospective members has widened and deepened. Actual, dues-paying membership is ‘way over there at the edge.

Effective organizations are taking account of this and are finding new ways to find revenue (creating for-profit non-profit hybrids), and using new metrics besides just  “members.” For mission-based organizations, focusing on “members” will undercount your actual influence and distort your operations, taking you off mission. More important is having a good understanding about how people move from one form of support to another, what levers you can push to encourage that, and what the utility is of each form of support.

Important Online Conference: Including The Excluded

I wanted to share with you some important work that my friend, Beth Offenbacker, is up to.

Beth leads a firm called Public Decisions, which is breaking fascinating ground as one of the premier online real-time training, conferences, and stakeholder engagement. Many of her conferences take place in Second Life, which — more than just being a toy — allows you to do things you can’t otherwise do such as virtual tours, in-depth conversation among far-flung people, and more.

Beth has partnered with Learning Times, a leading producer of online communities,  to convene an annual international flagship conference. This year’s conference is coming up, and it looks very interesting.

Here is what Beth’s materials say about it:

Including the Excluded: The 2010 Stakeholder Engagement Online Conference

Public, private and nonprofit/NGO professionals who experience challenges with effectively engaging diverse people or groups are invited to attend the Stakeholder Engagement 2010 Online Conference: Including the Excluded. The three-day program highlights practical insights and best practices from around the globe for engaging people who have historically been excluded (for example, those subject to racial or ethnic discrimination), individuals with physical or mental disabilities, or persons who are socially excluded for a variety of reasons (such as people who are homeless or in a country illegally).

Held on Tuesday, March 2 through Thursday, March 4, this online conference is open to the public and no travel is required. Registration is $179 USD for individuals and $2,000 USD for site registrations. Group discounts and full-time student/faculty rates also available. Complete registration details are at www.seconf.org.

The conference is ideal for professionals whose responsibilities include engaging stakeholders on an ongoing or periodic basis, including those in the fields of planning, environmental management and engineering, health, education and nonprofit management.

Registrants will become part of the online conference community, attend conference sessions, participate in networking activities and take field trips in Second Life. They also will be able to access session recordings, presentation materials and continue networking with fellow registrants for at least six months following the conference.

Including the Excluded is presented by PublicDecisions, the online provider of professional development programs for stakeholder engagement and Learning Times, the leading producer of online communities and online conferences for education and training. The Presenting Sponsor is Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

You can keep up on what’s up with the conference by following @publicdecisions on Twitter or search on the #SEConf2010 hashtag.

(I was an early adopter with Second Life. My name used to be Bradrourke Dynamo. Alas, I let that identity go fallow and I recently recreated an identity. You can find me in Second Life under the name: Brad Roundel.)

Myers-Briggs In The Nonprofit Workplace: How To Lead With J's And P's

When they discover Myers-Briggs personality types, many people are transfixed by the dichotomy between “extraverts” and “introverts.” This may be because this is the easiest and most in-you-face concept.

That was my own experience, when I first learned that I am an ENTP personality type.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has four factors, each of which has two possible values. Knowing these values can allow us to understand what our biases and inclinations are when it comes to our personaties, as well as those of others. This is useful in the workplace (and, in fact, in any situation where it’s all about how people get along: families, civic efforts, etc.).

Equal Opportunity Employment by Flickr user pasukaru76
"Equal Opportunity Employment" by Flickr user pasukaru76

It’s especially useful to know (or be able to identify through observation) others’ types, because that can help you get along with them better and — as a leader — can help you create balanced teams that are the most effective. It helps to have lots of different types around.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Extravert / Introvert — Where you get your energy
  • INtuitive / Sensing — How you take in information about your world
  • Feeling / Thinking — How you like to make decisions
  • Judging / Perceiving — How you organize your world

One’s Myers-Briggs type is not destiny. It is more a description of what your “default” or preferred way of handling things is.

Each of the factors is important in its own right. But, in the workplace, I have found the last letter-pair in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to be particularly  important. This is P vs. J — “Perceiving” vs. “Judging.”

Peceivers And Judgers

Many people misunderstand this factor, because of the pejorative sense the word “judging” conveys — they hear “judgmental,” which people see as negative. But it has nothing to do with that. This factor describes how a person organizes their world.

A P is always scanning for new information and prefers to defer making decisions until absolutely necessary. A J, on the other hand, is always on the lookout for decisions already made, and prefers to make a decision and move on whenever possible. For a P, decisions are contingent and new ideas can reopen decisions that had already been made. To a J, decisions are only reopened in extreme circumstances.

In the workplace, J‘s tend to get on P‘s nerves, who see them as overly uptight. Meanwhile, P‘s tend to absolutely infuriate J‘s, whe often regard them as unstable and mercurial.

Seth Godin’s recent article on hunters and farmers can be seen as a description of P‘s (hunters) and J‘s (farmers).

Tips For P Leaders

Lots of nonprofit leaders, in my experience, are P‘s. I’m one myself. Over the years I have learned a few pointers in getting along and thriving.

Advice for leaders who are P‘s:

  1. Remember what others are hearing. Remember the J‘s around you are looking for and actively cataloging commitments made. So, when you muse about things, talk through alternatives, and suggest you might be rethinking this or that initiative — others may be hearing definite plans. This can cause anxiety and misunderstandings.
  2. Find a safe sounding board. As a P, you need to find someone to bounce ideas off of. It might be safest to look for someone outside your organization to talk to.
  3. Play to people’s strengths. J‘s are incredibly good at identifying the commitments people make — who promised to do what by when. They are the best people to have taking notes at a staff meeting, they are in their element driving complex projects with intricate deadlines, and in ensuring that policies are adhered to. Do you need solid and consistent performance, day-in, day-out? Get a J on the job.
  4. Be clear when you’re just talking. Make sure you let people know that sometimes you are raising ideas without any decisions attached — and that you will definitively say when you do make a decision. It is important for others around you (especially J‘s) to be able to know what is stable and what is fluid.
  5. Careful you don’t get distracted! If you work with many other P‘s, it’s easy to get sidetracked. P‘s are distracted by shiny objects and, get a few of them together in one room, it’ll be one new initiative after another! That’s great, but . . . older initiatives may tend to fall by the wayside. As a leader, make sure there are enough J‘s around to keep things on track.

That last point, about getting sidetracked, cannot be overemphasized.

The Distracted Organization

In my experience and observation, it is very easy for an entire organization to take on P characteristics if there are too many P‘s in senior leadership without any J balance. And, for whatever the reason (we can speculate all we want) it seems like there are a lot of P people throughout the nonprofit sector.

Furthermore, people often (not always) tend to gravitate to folks like them. So, a leader can end up surrounding themselves with people they like, but who do not necessarily complement or balance their skill sets.

So, many organizations can themselves become mercurial, easily distracted by shiny objects and new ideas. I can remember returning from a meeting with one organization. The meeting lasted three hours and we never even touched the agenda. “That is a totally P organization,” I told my colleagues. (I even wrote a memo about it for others, for their use in working with the organization.)

Knowing this, knowing the potential for distractedness (the downside of the P factor), it is important to work against that and actively seek out people who are different from you. This is of course true in an inclusionary sense (gender, ethnicity, orientation, background, and so forth) but it is also true in a personality type sense.

What Are P‘s Good For?

Are P‘s a terrible thing? Distracted, mercurial, flighty . . . they sound like a nightmare in the workplace!

Speaking as a P, certainly not. P‘s can drive a lot of energy, creativity, and out-of-the-box breakthroughs (these are not solely the province of P‘s, don’t get me wrong).

If you need a stalled project accelerated, put a P on the job. If you have a high-energy and time-limited task (like prepping for an important meeting or event), a P can really shine. Because of their omnivorous approach to things, a P can be great in a generalist troubleshooter position and (balanced with a good J as a partner) can be a great manager.

In a future post, I may outline my thoughts about some of the other Myers-Briggs factors and how they relate to leadership. Please note, though, that this is just based on my experience and I am not an expert on personality types. I’ve just thought a lot about them and try to use them in my day-to-day life.

What’s your type? How has that impacted how you get your work done?