Once upon a time, designers were considered a fairly rarified breed in the corporate world—people with more interesting hair, eyeglasses and talent than the rest of us, but not a key part of the “real” business. Today, however, that’s changing. As more and more companies face the need for constant innovation, design is earning more respect. In fact, these days, many organizations are training their employees to think like designers. Jeanne Liedtka, a professor of strategy and author of three books on design thinking, argues that learning to approach problems the way designers do can be a useful way to spark innovation in almost every company.
Whether you’re working at your dream job or you’ve been plotting your escape for months, chances are you’ve experienced your fair share of days that simply can’t end soon enough. From snarky colleagues to grim commutes, the possibilities for our working day taking a wrong turn are seemingly endless, and remedies aren’t always in sight. Caroline Webb, CEO of Sevenshift, an advisory firm focused on performance in the workplace, has put together a guide for improving our work life with her book How to Have a Good Day. Drawing upon research in neuroscience, behavioral economics and psychology, Webb tells us how we can make our work smarter, productive and satisfying.
Throughout our careers, we encounter a range of management styles, with mixed results. But what is it that distinguishes a regular boss from a truly great boss? Why is it that some help us to reach new heights, while others make us feel constrained? These are deceptively simple questions with many complex answers, the latest of which comes from Sydney Finkelstein. In his new book Superbosses, Finkelstein takes as his guide figures from disparate industries, including jazz musician Miles Davis and newspaper editor Gene Roberts, and examines the traits of those who have spawned extensive networks of talent, the titular superbosses, and ultimately brought greater success to themselves.
Developments in technology have always led to changes in management practices. Papyrus and writing made the first empires possible, and the telegraph and telephone later gave the modern corporation its central nervous system. As digitalization changes the nature of our work, it’s not so wild to imagine management will change too. One answer may be Holacracy, a trademarked management system designed by former programmer Brian J. Robertson. Using what he describes as “a new social technology”, Robertson hopes to remove what he sees as a key defect in the modern enterprise: the inability to incorporate the insights of individuals into the actions of the group.
Why do so many overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies not live up to expectations? Very often the blame is pinned on ‘cultural challenges’ a subjective and suitably vague term. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that in most cases the problem begins with the acquiring firm’s motives. In the past few decades the majority of Chinese overseas acquisitions have targeted resources. Their aim is to improve performance or lower costs by acquiring other companies’ resources such as technology, raw material, talent, etc. Acquisitions with this purpose come with several challenges afterwards. Is there a better way to evaluate possible acquisition targets? If yes, what is it?
Managers instinctively think about the threat of competitors because they can push down prices and lower profits. But there are other threats to profits that managers should not ignore. One of these is the threat that suppliers can pose. This idea was formalized and called “supplier power” by Harvard economist Michael Porter in 1979. The idea is that even with little competition a firm can still lose profits to a supplier that has significant bargaining power. But the situation gets even more complicated when the people bearing the supplier power are its own star employees. What should a company do about that?
About 15 years ago, Brian Robertson was feeling frustrated with the management hierarchy traditionally used by companies. He felt it had a tendency to stifle innovation, create inefficiencies and prevent individuals from fulfilling their potential. Robertson channeled that dissatisfaction into the development of one of the best known self-management systems, Holacracy, something that has been adopted by the likes of Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos. In this interview, Robertson, the author of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World, clears up some of the misconceptions and gives an overview of Holacracy.
Even when a deal is signed, the acquisition is far from over. The next step, integration, can be even more challenging. Up to 80% of M&A transactions fail to create any new value. This becomes even more complex when a Chinese company is buying a Western company, purely due to the cultural differences. Given that marriages in rich countries end in divorce about half the time, it’s perhaps not surprising that a union between thousands of people also faces long odds. But integration experts say that with foresight, planning and clear communication, many of those challenges can be overcome.
Congratulations! After all the haggling, 14-hour flights, and 11th-hour dramas, you’ve closed the deal. Your firm now owns a business in another country. The bad news: that was the easy part. Post-acquisition legal and regulatory troubles can present huge challenges. There are many, many requirements, and companies ignore them at their peril. Depending on the market, there may be a lot to advise about. In the US, for instance, the Uniform Commercial Code runs to 2,698 pages, and each of the 50 states has adopted its own variation of those model statutes. In addition, companies should also be concerned about intellectual property law and labor compliance issues.
Like the movies, corporate acquisitions are a collaborative art: miscast one role, and you can ruin the whole picture. The CEO may be the star of the show, but a successful deal demands a strong executive board and chief financial officer—along with investment bankers, lawyers, accountants and public relations advisors—especially when the deal in question is the purchase of a foreign company. As Chinese companies look to expand abroad through acquisitions, it’s worth reviewing the difference each member of the team can make. Here’s our take on how a company should go about choosing the cast of characters prior to an M&A.