Become a Manager who Leads

Kevin P. Dincher

A long-time client surprised me last week. He called to update me on his pursuit of a new position within his company and in the course of our conversation said that his CEO “is an extremely talented manager but not much of a leader.” The assessment itself didn’t surprise me; I have known this CEO for over 30 years and agree completely. What did surprise me was hearing Dave make the distinction. We have often talked about the differences between managing and leading. Like most people, however, Dave generally use the terms interchangeably and doesn’t really make a distinction day-to-day—just the kind of thing that drives leadership experts like John Kotter crazy.

For over 40 years, Kotter has been on a mission to get people to think about the distinction between management and leadership. Our ongoing transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy, however, has made Kotter’s work much more difficult. We still need to understand the difference between management and leadership, but it is increasingly difficult to be an effective manager without also being a good leader.

In the Industrial Age, ownership of capital—i.e., factories—was the basis of wealth, and in those factories, manual workers were to a great degree undifferentiated cogs in an industrial machine to be managed. Managers didn’t have to give much thought to what they were producing or to the people who were producing it. Managers followed orders, organized the work, allocated resources, assigned the right people to the necessary tasks, and ensured completion of the job as ordered. A good manager was one who could keep a large, complex organization operating reliably and efficiently.

Things are different in the Information Age when the basis of wealth is access to people’s knowledge. As management guru Peter Drucker foresaw, the rise of the knowledge worker has profoundly changed the way business operates (Management Challenges of the 21st Century).  If you are a manager in the Information Age, to be successful you can no longer simply organize work and assign tasks. You need to be a manager who leads.

  • You need to define purpose and inspire results. While manual workers could focus narrowly on the specific task assigned them, knowledge workers can only produce if they know how their work fits into and contributes to the big picture. They need to know the purpose of their work—and they look to you to provide that purpose.
  • You need to nurture skills and develop talent. Continuing innovation is part of knowledge work; therefore, knowledge work requires continuous learning.  In the Information Age, it has become your job to create a climate for learning and to design work not just for efficiency but to build competence. You now need to be a coach and a mentor while facilitating formal and informal learning opportunities.
  • You need to treat workers as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” These days we hear a great deal about employee engagement, satisfaction and retention—and the high cost of turnover. The crux of the matter, however, is that the basis of wealth in the Information Age is access to people’s knowledge. Disengaged manual workers may become slow or sloppy—but the assembly line keeps them moving, and they still need to get the nut on the bolt. However, when knowledge workers become dissatisfied and disengage, then you lose access to your primary asset—their knowledge. Knowledge workers need to want to work for you and your company. Therefore, you have to create the working and cultural conditions in which employees not only feel challenged by their work but are recognized and valued as well.

Engage employees. Nurture skills and develop talent. Define purpose and inspire results. Now we’re talking about leadership rather than management.  There are still good reasons for understanding the difference between management and leadership—and one of them is that it is increasingly necessary that good managers learn to be good leaders. In the world of knowledge workers, Drucker said, “one does not manage people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher


Be a Leader that People Want to Follow – Invest in Talk!

Kevin P. Dincher

People say that talk is cheap, but it’s not.  Businesses spend a great deal on talk:  on communication systems so that employees can talk with one another, on meetings and strategy planning sessions, on getting customers to talk with them, on telling their stories at trade shows, and much more.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh invests heavily in talk.  The company’s renovation of Las Vegas’ old City Hall for its new offices includes the cost of making the building deliberately inconvenient—by creating collisions points that encourage people to connect with one another and talk.  For example, many of the original 19 entrances to the building will be closed off so that arriving and departing employees collide with one another through a central plaza, and restrooms will be located in the center of the building so that people from different departments collide with one another.  The design makes it more likely that people will connect with one another rather than being isolated and never seeing each other.   Hsieh says he envisions a culture where people talk and build relationships;   he believes that the best ideas and productivity occur serendipitously when employees engage in constant casual contact and conversation.  “We don’t really telecommute at Zappos,” says Hsieh.

We Don’t Really Telecommute?

That is a radical idea in today’s business environment—and it challenges the studies that say working from home makes some workers more productive.  It is also an idea that can get you a great deal of negative press.  Ask Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer.  The reaction to the memo ending telecommuting at Yahoo! was immediate and virulent.

Hsieh and Mayer, however, are two CEOs with roughly the same idea:  bringing people together creates a different creative energy that they both want to tap into.  But while Hsieh has been called an innovator, Mayer has been chastised for disrespecting her employees, blaming them for Yahoo!’s problems, and failing to support working parents.  Why the difference?  There are certainly many possible reasons—but one may be the differing levels of investment in talk.

Leading by Memo?

Hsieh has a pretty clear picture of what he wants Zappos to become—a community of workers that is integrated into the larger societal community—and  because he never tires of talking about this vision, everyone knows what he is about and where Zappos is going.  Therefore, when people hear “we don’t really telecommute” they aren’t particularly surprised.  It fits.  It may or may not be a good idea,  but people know that it fits.

As for Mayer, while Hsieh is constantly talking about a vision and how Zappos is going to get there, she wrote a memo.   Actually she didn’t write the memo.  HR did.  Mayer didn’t even tell people about this monumental change herself.  Whether eliminating telecommuting at Yahoo! is a good change or not, she didn’t invest in enough talking.   She needed to talk more about her vision for Yahoo! and how Yahoo! was going to get there.  Then whether they thought it was a good idea or not, they would know that eliminating telecommuting fit.

Actually, Mayer’s need for investing in talk is greater than Hsieh’s.   Zappos is a small (1500+ employees), growing and vibrant company whose culture already bears Hsieh’s stamp.  Yahoo! is a large (14,000 employees) company which is considered stodgy and lethargic in comparison to its competitors—and Mayer is trying to create a corporate culture that supports her vision and her strategy to rebuild the company. Anyone who tries to convince you that re-engineering a company’s culture is anything but difficult is doing you a disservice.   Mayer’s job is much harder than Hsieh’s—so she should be talking much more about her vision.

But the question is:  what is Mayer’s vision?  In her first six months as CEO Mayer made big changes—and not just by ending telecommuting.   As Dan Farber wrote for a recent CNET blog:

Six months into the job, Mayer has sprung for free food worldwide, ditched the BlackBerry, instituted weekly company update meetings, recruited ex-Googlers, revamped sales, launched flagship products including Yahoo Mail and Flickr, and signed deals with top content providers, such as NBC Sports and Wenner Media.

But Mayer’s most important job is to articulate a vision of what Yahoo can be beyond what she has described as giving “end users something valuable and delightful that makes them want to come to Yahoo every day.” That mission statement is not different from that offered by her many CEO predecessors at Yahoo.

Invest in Talk

A clear vision helps everyone understand why you are asking them to do something.   When people see for themselves what you’re trying to achieve, then the directives they are given tend to make more sense.  People may still not like those directives, but at least the directives make sense.  But in order for that to happen, you need to talk—and talk often.   Talk about the vision every chance you get.

Of course, it is also important to “walk the talk.”  Talk may not be cheap, but actions do speak louder than words.  What you do is more important and believable than what you say.  Lead by example, not by memo.

Let’s talk, Ms. Mayer.  It won’t be cheap—but it will be worth the investment.

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Why Organization Development? It’s all About Organizational Health.

Kevin P. Dincher

I recently attended a networking event that included both “front line” professionals and senior level executives.  Regardless of whom I spoke with, my self-introductions as an Organization Development consultant met with the same three responses.  A few asked, “How long have you been in HR?”  A handful of others wanted to know what training I specialize in.  The most common response however was the glassy-eyed smile that said, “I don’t know what that is—but I am too polite to say so.”

I am not surprised when business professionals and decision-makers don’t know what Organization Development is.  Saying this won’t make me popular in OD circles, but we OD practitioners do a poor job of explaining what we do.  Sometimes we tell you that OD is just “HR on steroids.”   Most frequently we try to sell you solutions—splashy tools for team-building, leadership development or communication skills training.  At best we make claims about change management and call ourselves change agents.  Oddly at times we just decide not to tell you what we do; it is amazing how often someone on one of the online OD discussion groups I belong to advises not explaining what OD is because it just confuses you!

When we can’t (or won’t) explain OD, when we equate OD with HR, or when we focus on selling tools and pre-fab solutions, then we fail to offer you and your company the one thing of unique value that OD has to offer:  improved organizational health.

Organizational Health:  The Competitive Advantage

In The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business,  Patrick Lencioni explores the advantages that organizational health provides.  Healthy organizations are better places to work, and they consistently outperform their peers. They are more profitable and have higher levels of growth and customer retention. Over the long-term, healthy organizations are more sustainable.

Lencioni describes an organization as healthy when it is “whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations and culture are unified.”  Simply put, everything fits.

  • You know why your company exists—and so does everyone else in the company.
  • You have the right people in the right jobs—and they know what their jobs are, know how their jobs fit with other jobs in the company, and how their jobs contribute to your company’s reason for being.
  • Everyone knows what success looks like and what is important for achieving that success—and everyone has the tools and resources they need to succeed.
  • People, structures, processes and culture all work together to move your company towards achieving its reason for being.
  • Relationships and communication—both inside your company and between your company and any outside stakeholders (customers, clients and vendors)—work in ways that help you reach your reason for being.

Healthy organizations may be more profitable, but Lencioni is right when he says that achieving organizational health “requires real work and discipline, over time, and it must be maintained.”  Achieving organizational health is not easy.

This is Where OD Comes In

At its core OD is about working with you to improve the health of your organization.  When OD practitioners are really doing OD work, here is what they do.


  •  Assessment/Analysis:  First an OD practitioner works with you and your employees to gather information about your organization and then analyze the data collected.  Genuine OD work is always data-driven.
  • Diagnosis:  Then an OD practitioner works with you to review the data and analysis to help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your organization—where things “fit together” and where they don’t—and then to help you identify your goals for becoming a healthier organization along with what resources are needed and available.


  • Treatment/Change Plan:   Next you and the OD practitioner work jointly to define a specific, detailed plan of action that capitalizes on your company’s strengths, addresses weaknesses and moves you toward your goals for becoming a healthier organization.  The “Treatment Plan” will include a wide variety of elements—possibly process improvements, cultural changes, or even some of those glitzy tools for team-building, leadership developing, communication skills training or diversity improvement that consultants are always trying to sell you.  A successful plan requires two things.  First, everything in the plan must be data-driven.  You don’t do something just because it is trendy or because you read an article in a magazine on a plane.  Second, the OD practitioner must have a grasp of the change process and change management.  Remember:  70% of change efforts fail (Kotter, ” target=”_blank”>Leading Change).
  • Implementation:  Then you, members of your organization and your OD practitioner work together to implement your plan.


  • Evaluation:  Throughout implementation and afterwards, an OD practitioner works with you to evaluate what is happening.  Is your company actually changing?  Is your company learning?  Are the changes actually improving the health of your organization?  What more is needed?  This keeps you from getting off track, allows you to capitalize on success, and enables you assess ways of further improving your organization’s health.

That’s what OD is and what OD practitioners do when they are really doing OD—helping you improve the health of your organization—and not  just offering you programs and solutions.

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Posted in Organization Development (OD). Tags: , , , , , . Comments Off on Why Organization Development? It’s all About Organizational Health.

Re-engineering Your Company’s Culture? All You Need to Do …

Kevin P. Dincher

For some time now corporate culture has been a hot topic among business executives and management consultants.  More and more, managers are coming to the recognition that organizations are actually made up of people and relationships rather than just structures and processes—and discovering that they are really managing a culture with its own values, beliefs, expectations, behavioral ground rules and power structures.  Companies like Southwest Airlines and Zappos are seen as models for the advantages that building a healthy, vibrant culture can give to a brand:  these are businesses that attract and retain the best talent, effectively translate their values to their products and services, and clearly show their customers what they are really all about.  It is understandable that other businesses want to emulate their success—and since their culture plays a critical role in that success, it is just as understandable that business owners and executives want to know how to change their own corporate cultures to gain similar competitive advantages.

If you google corporate culture or organizational culture, you will pull up what seems like an endless list of articles and blogs on how to change your company’s culture.  There are two things that many of these articles and blogs have in common.  The first is they assure you that trying to change an existing corporate culture is extremely difficult.  Article after article, blog after blog, the gurus and consultants tell you that re-engineering your company’s culture, although not impossible, will probably be the most difficult change effort you will ever undertake.  That is not at all promising when you consider that it has become axiomatic that overall something like 7 out of 10 formal change efforts initiated by organization are considered failures.

The second thing that many of these how-to blogs and articles have in common is this:  after affirming how incredibly difficult it is to change an existing corporate culture, the authors go on to offer a sleek 4- or 5-step process for changing your culture that creates the impression that perhaps re-engineering your culture may not be so difficult after all.  I read one blog recently that talked about how difficult re-engineering culture is—and then had the temerity to say that to change a culture “all we need to do is two simple things.”

Anyone who tries to convince you that re-engineering your company’s culture is anything but difficult or who seems to be presenting an easy process for changing your culture is doing you a disservice.

Culture is an intricate system of values, beliefs, behavioral norms and power structures that have developed over time and have become institutionalize. 

Many elements of your culture develop over time through lived experience within your company.  What actually succeeds historically (rather than just what the formal documents say) gets institutionalized and become “the way we do things.”  Individual and group interactions, tribal knowledge, social pressure and reprisals, how conflicts are resolved, how decisions are actually made, engagements with clients and customers – all these events and interactions along with much more teach your employees unconsciously and unintentionally what to think and how to act in your company.

Don’t underestimate culture.

Don’t underestimate how powerful your culture is.  It drives the way that people and groups interact with each other, with clients and with stakeholders more powerfully than your formal policies and procedures.

Don’t underestimate how deeply rooted and pervasive your culture is.  Culture is your corporate DNA—it is your company’s core characteristics, your true identity.  And all members of your organization live by it.  Regardless of what you do in your onboarding process, your employees will teach new members “the way we do things” –this is how we see things, this is the way we think about things, and this is the way we act here.

Don’t underestimate how complex your culture is.  Not only does it develop unconsciously in a myriad of complex interactions and pervade your company, it also exists in subcultures throughout your company.  Your sales, marketing, engineering and administrative groups will all share a common culture—but they will also each have their own variations, their own behavioral quirks and interactions which affect the whole system to some extent .

Why try to change your company’s culture? 

 While changing your culture is not simple, the reason for considering whether or not to change your culture is:  culture affects productivity, performance—and profits.

Unlike more tangible aspects of your organization—like processes that can be streamlined or improved to reduce employee overtime or errors—the direct impact of culture is difficult to measure.  But because culture provides guidelines on how things actually get done (regardless of what is in the policy and procedure manual), it affect everything your employees do:  customer care; product quality; attendance and punctuality; safety; communication and decision-making; trust and integrity—the list is endless.

In 2011 Booz & Co., a leading global management consulting firm, published research (“Why Culture Is Key”) in Strategy +Business showing the importance of culture to organization success.  They found that companies with cultures that are highly aligned to innovative strategies have 30% higher enterprise value growth and 17% higher profit growth than companies with low degrees of alignment.

You live in your culture every day—but you probably don’t pay it much heed.  When your culture and strategy are not aligned, however, then your culture becomes counterproductive.  Think of culture as the environment in which your strategy—and your brand–either thrives or dies a slow death.  Culture matters enormously—and creating and maintaining a successful culture that is aligned to your strategy takes careful attention and hard work.

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Posted in Change Management, Corporate Culture, Organization Development (OD). Tags: , , , , . Comments Off on Re-engineering Your Company’s Culture? All You Need to Do …
%d bloggers like this: