Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
I’m reading Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, which tells the story of his journey from India to Silicon Valley and his journey to the top of the firm, becoming only the third CEO in its 40 year history.
Microsoft had been left behind – focusing on a lucrative PC business while Google took over the web, Amazon took over the cloud and Facebook took over relationships – and Nadella’s job was to figure out what needed to be done to keep the company relevant.
Imagine you had such a problem to solve – you were the Captain and had to figure out which direction to go in – where would you start?
Nadella’s approach, described in the book, offers a rare perspective – an unusual insight into the mind of a leader raised with Eastern values operating in the trenches of the West – and you get a glimpse of this in the quotes and stories he tells.
For example, he quotes Ray Ozzie, who in a leaving memo wrote “The one irrefutable truth is that in any large organization, any transformation that is to ‘stick’ must come from within.”
It may seem obvious that if you want to create a change that lasts you need to get the people in the business involved, on side and excited about what is going to happen.
Too many leaders, however, think that organisations are like armies, and they can come in, give orders and change everything.
Or, they’ll come in and fire everyone and start again.
Or they’ll come in, create incentives and prizes for performance and get results.
This kind of thinking is exemplified in the trend for incoming CEOs and managers to have a 100 day plan – what are they going to do in the first 100 days.
That approach is centered around them – their ideas – their plans. That has to do with them assuming that they know more than everyone else and will just knock heads together and make things happen.
What they should be doing in those first hundred days is listening.
Nadella says that he had a team of individuals – people that ran things that worked by themselves – in silos.
They felt they were doing fine and didn’t need him coming along and telling them what to do.
So, what did he do?
He writes that he met each leader individually, “taking their pulse, asking questions and listening.”
It would have easy to have a meeting and spend the time talking about his vision – but I imagine that even if he knew what needed to be done – the act of asking questions and listening was what made his leaders realise that he was there to work with them rather than just be the boss of them.
It’s also nice that his team realised that they had to make their cloud service, Azure, support Linux because that’s what startups use – and that’s where the big new digital businesses will come from.
One of the things that you should notice when you see how Nadella approaches change is how important it is to have people who are on the inside working on things.
That means if you’re a consultant you’re going to struggle to get your ideas accepted if you’re on the outside of the team, looking in.
You’ve got to be a participant in the process, someone who is on the same side as the organisation you’re working with.
And that’s not an easy thing to do – if you get a job there then you’re into the politics and less able to give an independent view.
If you’re too far outside you’ll never get started.
Now, there’s no clear answer to this – but there is a difference between the legal and commercial structures involved and the nature of the team.
You’ll get on the inside if you understand the world view of the people inside – if you can see what’s happening through their eyes.
Then, if you have that understanding and you can help the leader get things done, there’s a good chance you’ll be invited onto the team – and the way in which that’s done from a legal and commercial point of view will get resolved somehow.
The point is that you should see consultancy not like a doctor advising a patient, where the patient heads off to live with the disease and the doctor heads home for a glass of wine.
Instead, you should see consultancy as getting on a aircraft as part of the flight crew – with aligned interests with the crew and passengers on the importance of getting back to the ground safely.
The doctor is involved – you’re committed.
And the change you make will stick.