BSL – Reaching 30 and celebrating a new way of doing business

This year, BSL is 30.  Thirty is a good age for reflection: not too old to dwell overly on the past, but yet with a lot of learning under its belt upon which to build the future.  Because after all, BSL is both a learning institution and a future-thinking organization. BSL’s Aileen Ionescu-Somers reflects on new ways of doing business and the requisite leadership qualities for the future.

So many organizations, even the best minds out there, find it very difficult to predict the future. History is rife with poor predictions. The most glaring case in recent memory, though (apart from certain presidential elections!), was evidenced by a declaration by the IMF in 2007, just before the 2008 financial collapse, when the IMF declared:  “Overall risk to the (world economic) outlook seems less threatening than six months ago.” Not only did the IMF get it wrong. Most of the world’s multitude of economists, financiers, leaders and governments also did.

In some ways, this is a direct result of globalization. With it, the world became more complex and change accelerated. All the indicators show that the future will be even more unpredictable and uncertain than before. Yet, business does not like uncertainty. Uncertainty is associated with fear, anxiety and pessimism. Uncertainty can be the bearer of bad news. Stock markets are allergic to uncertainty. Business executives in global multinationals work so hard on cancelling out uncertainties that a senior executive told me once that “innovation does not come from big companies”, and that new ideas and “out of the box” innovations are often dead in global corporations before they are born.

Uncertainty breeds risk averse corporate cultures and risk mitigating instincts amongst managers. And the consequence is that we forget about the opportunities out there. Despite the feeling that there is a lot of bad news around, there are great things happening in the world. It is not fake news that life expectancy is still increasing. It is not fake news that income continues to go up for most of the world’s increasing population, and that illiteracy and poverty levels continue to go down.

These positive developments are actually huge opportunities for unleashing future potential for technological opportunity and development. And indeed, nowadays, much innovation is driven by technology. How accessible technology has become for ordinary citizens in my lifetime! The pace is set to increase exponentially over the course of our BSL student’s lifetimes. The future offers huge opportunities, giving future generations an unprecedented ability to do everything in new ways.

However, the down side is that with growing inequality, increasing numbers of now angry and vocal people feel left out. Indeed, they are either choosing not to participate – or are not empowered to participate – in building a better and more inclusive society. Another downside is the growing fragility of the complexity we have created in the world. When what happens in one place very rapidly affects everything else, this is what we call systemic risk.

System risks can convert into real life situations and then the system can start to break down; this is what we call systemic shock. By now, we have all either observed or experienced systemic shock first hand. We see it in financial crises, health risks such as ebola/pandemics, and in the major challenges related to migration in today’s world. Today, systemic risks and shocks are set to become much more virulent because of the interweaving of societies and sub-systems, re-enforced by technologies and accelerated by “just-in-time” management systems that push resilience and responsibility to its limits. As a result, the new realities we are living with are collapsing biodiversity, climate change, more pandemics, more financial crises…and ever more destructive systemic shocks.

Therefore, we need a new awareness of how to deal with these new realities. We need to understand how we can mobilize ourselves differently and come together as a community to manage systemic risks. We need to lessen the negative impacts of systemic shock and capture business opportunity for the greater good of society and celebrate new ways of doing business. How do we weave this complex tapestry together? How do we think about complex systems in entirely new ways? That is not only the challenge of scholars, but it is the challenge of all individuals engaged in thinking about the future. Business leaders are no exception.

Since business leaders are pragmatic, they need both frameworks and tools to guide their thinking. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example, present business with a framework for understanding and mitigating future systemic risk.  Our BSL students are more than familiar with the SDGs, and what they represent. They are also familiar with the Gap Frame research, the conceptual basis for BSL’s thought leadership. The Gap-Frame is a normative framework that translates the SGDs into relevant issues and indicators for business. This BSL/University of St. Gallen research provides companies with a tool that helps translate the SDGs into workable steps to manage systemic risks around globalization more effectively and to achieve specific targets and objectives.

So the conceptual research at BSL closely relates to the SDGs, and I hope I have made the point that the SDGs relate to both systemic risk and shock mitigation. But they also relate to business opportunities. The SDGs are an underlying theme for the BSL Gap Frame Innovation Week (GFW) which we ran 4 times in the 2016/17 academic year.  Indeed, some of our students and even our faculty are far from their comfort zones during those weeks. During the GFWs, our students choose a problematic global issue linked to the SDGs and develop a start-up or innovation initiative to contribute to dealing with the problem. The GFW presents our students with a small concentrated “piece of the action” on leadership learning for the future.

And what are the key facets of leadership learning for the future? There can be no doubt that professional business acumen and expertise are as important as they ever were, if not more. But a sense of purpose directed by an ethical compass and a developed sense of both local and global responsible citizenship are also key prerequisites. The latter leads to levels of global knowledge and understanding that are also essential to, I would say, the very survival of organizations of the future.

We have recognized at BSL that much leadership learning today is reasonably strong on developing hard business acumen and expertise, but focuses too little on  multiple other essential albeit “softer” aspects of leadership learning. With this in mind, we can ask ourselves: What will be one of the most important traits of a future leader?  I would say, “curiosity”. The global business leader of today has to have a high level of global knowledge and understanding. Without curiosity, we will not have an effective or indeed knowledgeable leader. The SDGs, the BSL Gap Frame research and the BSL Gap Frame Week, provide current and future business leaders with routes or paths to satisfy curiosity, take action on what is learnt, direct ethical compasses, glean global knowledge and understanding from local and global committed citizenship and – actually – to prepare our students for their future.

For example, during our last BSL GFW on governance issues, our activities brought deeper knowledge and recognition to our students that the world’s governance systems are fossilized and cannot begin to cope with the changes that are currently happening and that will happen in the future. To celebrate new ways of doing business for the future, we simply have to develop new ways of managing the planet collaboratively, using collective wisdom. As I have pointed out at the beginning of each GFW, truly amazing things can happen when individuals come together to change their future.

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Active in thought leadership, consulting, applied research, teaching and supervising DBA candidates in sustainability & responsibility.

The Speak-up Series

Scandals like Volkswagen or Fells Fargo made it clear again: Before a scandal erupts, many, many people in the company knew about the ongoing ethics problems for quite a long time. But, why did they not speak up? Bettina Palazzo will explore in this series:

  1. How leaders discourage that their team members address uncomfortable truths and what they can do about it.
  2. How leaders need to conduct speak conversations that make it safe and worthwhile for employees to speak up.
  3. Why employees do not speak up and who the courageous people are that do dare to speak up.
  4. How employees can prepare am effective speak-up conversation and how they can conduct this difficult talk with courage and confidence.

#1 Speak-up : The Role of Leadership is crucial

Speaking up on topics of ethics and compliance is hard to do. Already speaking up when you disagree or have bad news can be difficult in organizations.

But speaking-up is important because companies need to know about ethical problems early, before they become a major scandal. Research shows that before a corporate scandal is revealed, people in the company knew about the problem for at least a year.

In order to encourage speaking-up, you need a climate of trust, where coworkers can speak up in a safe environment knowing that their opinion counts and that they do not have to fear negative effects for themselves and their careers.

Very often, though, leaders discourage speaking-up without even noticing :

  • Leaders are bad role models and do not speak up to their superiors themselves. Coworkers will always model their behavior to how their superiors behave. An example: Regular hand-washing is very important to prevent infections in hospitals. The most important factor in increasing hand-washing is when senior doctors act as role models and frequently wash their hands.
  • Leaders have an authoritarian leadership style that is based on command and control. Clearly this is unfavorable for the creation of a relationship between managers and coworkers that allows to speak up easily. An authoritarian leader presumes he/she knows best and does not empower coworkers to freely share their own, dissenting opinion. When coworkers disagree, they use the force of their authority to get their will.
  • Leaders do not listen to their coworkers.
  • They do not actively ask for their coworkers’ opinion.
  • They are not open to feedback.
  • They do not give constructive feedback themselves to coworkers.

We can see, if leaders want their team members to speak up, they need to work on a more participatory leadership style and create a climate where giving and receiving constructive feedback is normal. Only if this open and safe culture is well established, employees will speak up.

The importance of the leader’s role in speaking up cannot be over-estimated. This quote from the book « Making Conflict Work: Harnessing the Power of Disagreement » by Peter T. Coleman and Robert Ferguson sums it up so nicely:

People with low power who are not convinced their honest perspective is really valued instinctively withhold their ideas. A leader has to do much more than say things like «My door is always open» or «I really want to know what you think” to get the goods from subordinates. The leader has to prove again and again through statements and actions that honesty is valued and that constructive disagreement goes unpunished.

So how can leaders create a speaking-up culture?

They have to do seemingly simply things like listening to their team members. Easier said than done. We are often hard-wired to respond instead of taking the ideas of others in. Especially leaders are tempted to jump too quickly to conclusions and offer solutions. Understandably so, after all a manager’s job is to solve problems…sometimes they are so eager to solve the problem, that they do not take the time necessary to really understand what is going on by using tools like active listing and asking the right questions. Leaders should never underestimate the small problems their team members might address. You never know, they might be the beginning of bigger problems or the tip of an iceberg.

Furthermore, leaders need to sharpen their senses and watch out if coworkers fall into silence over a topic. If everybody is chronically of the same opinion in team meetings and nobody ever offers a dissenting opinion, it is time to take a trusted team member a side and ask some open questions.

Finally, leaders need to make speaking up normal:

  • They should explain to all of their team members form their first day of working together, that sharing their open opinion with him or her, is vital and that they will be receptive to constructive feedback and always say “thank you”.
  • Leaders can integrate speaking-up into their team meeting routines. Of course, they will need to role-model this first.
  • Leaders need to prove that their followers can trust them and that speaking-up will be safe and worthwhile.

So we see, speaking up is first and foremost a communication and relationship problem. If you have good communications and a good relationship with your coworkers, if they trust you, if you do share responsibilities with them, speaking up is much easier.

Stay tuned and watch for the next episode of the speak-up series!
Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

Reflection on Leading Change – a BSL professor’s perspective

As I am receiving the post-course assignments of my class “Leading Change”, I am reflecting on my own situation: after more than 30 years of leadership in multinational corporations, from HP to Logitech, rolling out a new ERP system globally, managing a large product development group, I realise how many changes I have been through, whether they were internally triggered (new strategy, new leadership, new business, up- or down-scaling) or finding their root in the change of environment: new Operating systems, new technologies, new competition, new customers and most importantly new consumer behaviors. In some cases, I have been suffering through the changes, in other cases, I could surf the wave of the change or even had the privilege to be an actor of the change. Yes, some were great successes, but in all cases, I remember the struggles I had to deal with the uncertainty, with trial and errors on strategies, with novel organisational designs, with resistance to change, with large layoffs or hiring. I could have really used the material that I shared with the course participants ! On the other side, this material is directly leveraging the experience I gained through a full professional life…

In today’s world, I also realize that the participants will face many more changes than myself or my generation did, with faster pace, more complexity and tougher impact. I strongly believe that the education they got at the BSL will allow them to anticipate changes, actively adjust course of direction and execute with efficiency. Indeed, participants are constantly encouraged to be curious, to take distance and to work in teams, which are three critical assets to lead changes.

Wishing all participants and readers lots of success in this endeavour !

Yves KarcherYves Karcher

Prof. of Leading Change and Managing Turnaround at BSL

A learning agenda designed to Boost Diversity & Inclusion – May 10 at BSL, it’s a full house

Unless you have been stuck in a Swiss nuclear bunker for the last 5 years, you will have at some point during your daily social media fix, come across the term Gender Bias. Whether you’re a man who craves more family time with his children (but your boss raises an eye brow when you want to work from home because your kid is sick) or a woman who has her eye on the next VP role but your tendency to under value yourself gets in the way of applying – the power of gender bias (commonly known as stereotypes) is a root cause that prevents men and women from being able to bring their full and true selves to work.

Gender stereotyping can influence perceptions of leadership competencies and most talent management systems can reinforce and perpetuate bias that favors men over women. There are many stakeholders involved in talent management systems, from HR to senior leadership teams, and a Catalyst study carried out in 2009 showed that there are three key compounding effects:

  1. Imperfect execution. When talent management practices and programs interact, gaps between the design and execution can introduce gender bias, even to systems already sensitive to the problem.
  2. Checks and balances. Few companies employ effective checks and balances that mitigate gender bias in talent management and decrease gender gaps in senior leadership.
  3. Perpetual loops. The cyclical structure of talent management appears to reward attributes based on bias inherent in the system, creating a perpetual cycle in which men dominate senior leadership positions.

Even though this study was published nearly a decade ago, these effects are still very much alive and kicking.

We believe effective talent management strategies which boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace, power performance and generate competitive advantage.  This builds reputation for being a great place to work and ultimately, a healthier bottom line.

On May 10 2016, I will be helping facilitate a conversation on empowering inclusion in business at Business School Lausanne with 30 business and diversity thought leaders living and working in Switzerland.  This collective intelligence session will be the first step in crafting programs which unravel the challenges we all face in the workplace daily and empower inclusive business within organizations.

 

Author: Natalie Wilkins,  BSL Professor

What do Sustainability, Inclusion and Organisational Transformation have to do with Leadership?

Hint:

BSL professors have taken a long hard look at leadership and sustainability and have a strong vision of what is needed to make transformative organizational change a real buzz and not just a string of jargon. We know it won’t be easy, it involves mindset, culture and habits. We know that even when all these important elements are taken into consideration the hurdle of willingness and the resilience to push through the discomfort of uncertainty in order to sustain the change, remains.

There are courageous leaders working throughout industry to make this happen and BSL is looking to bring a selection of these people together to dialogue, share insights and learn how we each are contributing to make this happen. May 10th 2016, we’ve invited 30 companies to bring their know-how to the table. BSL brings its own secret sauces; our grass roots expertise, millennials’ insights and a fervent desire to convene a conversation that honors those who are willing to create change.

If you are running a team, a department or company and would like to receive information on the outcomes or reserve a place at the table on a second courageous leadership conversations in June contact: Mary.Mayenfisch@bsl-lausanne.ch.

Author: Nadene Canning, BSL Professor

Nadene Canning

Learning to Lead

Active learning challenge

In preparing the fall semester of Leadership and Management skills for the Masters students at Business School Lausanne, I sensed that the in class learning needed a new dimension, past students had experienced painting together to build team skills in class and climbed Mount Everest in a virtual simulation. For a topic like Leadership, learning needed to move into reality and that takes place outside of the classroom. I decided to design an experiment that would challenge students to build active learning paths between leadership theory, and their reality while paying careful attention to their own behavior during the challenge.

The 3-day Forum on Social Innovation and Global Ethics, SIGEF, provided the perfect laboratory to carry out the experiment. It offered a rich diversity of round tables, panel discussions ranging from Impact Investment, Accelerating Sustainable Growth, Social Entrepreneurship, Technology and Media, Poverty reduction and Food security (see complete program here) as well as access to 30 Socially Innovative Projects hosted by NGOs, associations and social enterprises from Brazil, Morocco, France, Mexico, Togo, Switzerland and Cameroon.

The mid-term was not an exam, it was an assignment split into two parts – the first required the students review the Forum program, find a theme which interested them and choose a speaker or spokesperson whom they could interview during the event to learn more about the theme as well as the leadership path of the chosen individual.

Strategic planning – Always have a back up plan

Interview questions had to be reviewed, discussed and approved in class prior to the event. The first big surprise came when asked what the Plan B was, in case students preferred speaker didn’t show up. This question was greeted with blank stares – An initial wake-up call! As much as we like to plan how and when things are going to happen, and be optimistic about the future potential outcome, we always need a fall back plan, so we’re not left scrambling…This question provided a speedy lesson in Real life strategic planning, in practice.

One student had elaborated a strategy to mitigate this potential risk. By sharing it, the other students quickly understood they too needed to come up with a 2nd and 3rd interview candidate and the appropriate questions. As it turned out, two-thirds of the students were faced with a no-show of their first choice candidate and had to re-organize a new interview while dealing with feelings of surprise, anxiety and in some instances anger. Each succeeded in securing a second impromptu interview and during part 2 of the mid-term assignment shared their experience and the interview, with the class.

Inspired by action

Student learning was multi-dimensional and rich – they each met and spoke with passionate people running social impact projects from Mexico, New York, Switzerland the UK and the Netherlands. Students were surprised by the “easiness” of the encounters, curious conversations about climate change, dance music, violence against women and food security led left students feeling inspired. Each one of the people they interviewed has a burning desire to make change and the will to carry it through. They are ordinary people, no different from any of us. The one thing that sets them apart is that they have made a conscious choice to be an agent of change, to act on something they believe will make a difference.

Over the course of 10 weeks an idea that was initially greeted with skepticism proved to be a powerful learning experience, especially when the ride is bumpy, as this student so aptly put it: “Thank you again for your efforts to improving our leadership and management skills. Although at moments it was stressful, as you were pushing us out of our zone of comfort, now I can see the point and meaning of it. The case studies, the forum that we had to attend to, the interviews and the analysis of the Bcorp. company, were all endeavors that broadened my skills and perspective.”

Author: Nadene Canning, BSL Professor

Nadene Canning

 

 

How can we create fast, effective and reliable processes of inspiring leadership and team spirit?

I used to be a military deputy-commander in a highly-influential command unit. In response to high tension demanding culture, I created an inspirational leadership process that improved significantly our ability to perform effectively under stressful conditions. Our ‘traditional-routine’ for our officers unit, would take us almost 3 days to get into high performance effective mode. At that specific situation, I invented a different process that succeeded to get everyone tuned, and in high quality performance in 3 hours. The differences were in the attitude and communication tools I introduced into our unit.

The steps were:

1) Create partnership through declaration of the mutual successes and mistakes beyond ranks and formal authorities.

2) Ask every member to bring forward honesty and openness to learn from each other mistakes and successes.

3) Define clearly the indications of success of the unit and the individuals.

4) Ask everyone to relate to what is not working in their areas of responsibility and in the coordination with others, starting from the lower ranks to the higher ranks.

5) Ask everyone to come up with suggestions for these issues. Those suggestions had to be practical and easy to apply in short term.

6) Ask everyone to relate to the processes that were working so everyone could learn and apply in all units.

7) Ask for commitment of mutual enrichment through the processes, and define event-line for next enrichments.

For applying such a process, there is a need for short and simple preparations, including the steps that are mentioned above, plus a plan on how to maintain it.

All these processes were used later in all kinds of organizations, and they appeared to be contributing to fast, effective and reliable inspiring leadership and team spirit.

In common organizations, such a process will happen only after significant troubles. The key was to create trusted safe partnership, with simple communication tools. We – the leaders, had the courage to create this different process, as we trusted ourselves and our leadership. We created safety to win with us. It demanded from us to share our mistakes as much as our successes, and thus created the wanted partnership.

For more information about my training and blog, click here.
Yiftach SagivAuthor: Yiftach Sagiv, Professor at BSL

 

 

First glimpse at Holacracy: shaking up work practices

So here is the news: we are exploring the Holacracy system with our administrative team here at Business School Lausanne. Yes, Holacracy. And yes, don’t worry if you don’t know what that means. It’s new to us too and it’s an experiment we’d like to share with you as we go about it.

The word “holacracy” comes from “holon” (a whole that is a part of a larger whole) and it thus means the connection between holons – and – the governance (-cracy) of and by the organizational holarchy.

In the context of organizational development, Holacracy is a different system for working together – one that encourages self-organization, power distribution and decision making in the best interest of the organizational purpose. The concept was invented by Brian Robertson, a 35-year-old former programmer who created Holacracy in 2007 because he had a “burning sense that there has to be a better way to work together.” (Read more in his book “Holacracy”).
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The language of leadership

BSL’s Professor Tim Connerton gave a talk on the language of leadership at the 2015 edition of TEDx Geneva.

Tim shares his experience in using key words for communicating to inspire and empower others for cooperation in daily life. He shows that leadership language can create, demonstrate and motivate organizational cultures for positive attitudes, trust, respect and accountability.

Watch the video here:

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Retrospect – Make your Impact as a Creative Leader Event

When I think of unleashed creativity, I think of the great artists and savants who have changed the world, and I tend to place them in the category of “superhuman”. At the “Make your Impact as a Creative Leader” event, we were all challenged to think otherwise. Creative leadership is attainable, but unlocking that potential requires us to go through the path less travelled – the path into ourselves. We are so busy looking outside for the right circumstances that we ignore the internal barriers that sabotage our potential. “Break your own rules” was the first lesson Elaine Frances taught us that afternoon. Break the rules inside your head and the rules in your life by listening carefully to thoughts that tell you “cannot”, “should not”, “must not”. The path of the creative leader starts with self-compassion, because there will be many opportunities to fail. With self-compassion, we can always learn, grow and see our failures as progress. Therefore, be kind to yourself, and set a framework where there are no bad ideas and all perspectives are valuable.
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