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  • About the Author: Ron Ashkenas

    Ron Ashkenas is a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective.

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15 Jun. 2017 | Comments (0)
Even Experienced Executives Avoid Conflict
Few managers will admit to actively avoiding difficult conversations with colleagues. But I’ve noticed that while many speak about the importance of candor for getting things done, managers often sidestep or steer clear of emotionally charged situations by pretending they don’t exist, delaying the day of reckoning, or bringing in sympathetic third parties.

25 Oct. 2016 | Comments (0)
You Can’t Delegate Talent Management to the HR Department
Successfully identifying, developing, and retaining leadership talent is critical for any organization’s long-term success. That’s why many of them, particularly the largest ones, rely on full-time “talent management” professionals, who work in coordination with other parts of HR.

08 Apr. 2016 | Comments (0)
Navigating the Emotional Side of a Career Transition
Let me begin this post with a personal confession: Although I’ve talked with many managers about career transitions over the years, I’ve never had a career transition myself until now.

15 Mar. 2016 | Comments (0)
Even Experienced Executives Avoid Conflict
Few managers will admit to actively avoiding difficult conversations with colleagues. But I’ve noticed that while many speak about the importance of candor for getting things done, managers often sidestep or steer clear of emotionally charged situations by pretending they don’t exist, delaying the day of reckoning, or bringing in sympathetic third parties.

28 Sep. 2015 | Comments (0)
First-Time Managers, Don’t Do Your Team’s Work for Them
One of the most common stumbling blocks for new managers is failing to set the right boundaries in their new job. Here, I’m referring to boundaries as the guardrails that determine what the new manager should and should not do, how much time to spend on the job, and how success will be measured. These lines tend to get blurry as new leaders clamber to justify their promotion, often over-performing to produce great results.

10 Sep. 2015 | Comments (0)
Jack Welch’s Approach to Breaking Down Silos Still Works Ron Ashkenas
Working across organizational boundaries was a new way of thinking 25 years ago — one that was largely championed by Jack Welch. Fast forward to today, and we live in a different world. Our communications technologies have dramatically improved, and we have instantaneous access to massive amounts of information. Welch’s “boundaryless organization” should seemingly be the de facto reality for most companies.

19 Jun. 2015 | Comments (0)
There’s a Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration
Everyone seems to agree that collaboration across functions is critical for major projects and initiatives. The reality, however, is that meshing the skills and resources of different departments, each focused on its own distinct targets, to achieve a larger organizational goal is much easier said than done. In fact, it takes much more than people being willing to get together, share information, and cooperate.

18 Jun. 2015 | Comments (0)
The 3 Ways People React to Career Disasters
It’s not how hard you fall, but how you pick yourself up that really matters. That is what we learned from 9000+ responses to our HBR survey on bouncing back from career setbacks. Resilience alone won’t cut it—you need to do some serious self-reflection.

09 Mar. 2015 | Comments (0)
Help Your Team Spend Time on the Right Things
What is the most common resource that’s always in short supply? The answer, of course, is time. This applies not only to your time, but to your team’s. It’s the one organizational resource that is neither expandable nor renewable.

26 Jan. 2015 | Comments (0)
When a Public Mistake Requires an Old-Fashioned Apology
Everyone makes mistakes. We make bad decisions and insensitive statements, we speak before we think, and we let our emotions get the best of us. But since we hold very senior executives to a higher standard, when they mess up, it often becomes a public spectacle.

24 Nov. 2014 | Comments (0)
Why Managers and HR Don’t Get Along
Managers often rely on their HR partners to help them build an effective team, but then chafe at them for forcing them to “follow the process.” The bottom line, as Ram Charan argued in his recent HBR article, is that many line managers are disappointed in their HR people.

02 Oct. 2014 | Comments (0)
Good Managers Look Beyond Their “Usual Suspects”
Managers sometimes “round up the usual suspects” because they only trust a small number of people to handle key projects or initiatives. Take a step back and think about how to expand your talent pool to get the actual results you want.

05 Sep. 2014 | Comments (0)
When an Inability to Make Decisions Is Actually Fear of Conflict
Why can’t managers — even at a very senior level — have open, honest and candid debates, work through their differences, and then reach agreement? That’s what they’re paid to do. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, for two reasons.

03 Sep. 2014 | Comments (0)
You Can’t Delegate Change Management
Many managers, even at the most senior levels, don’t fully appreciate the difference between announcing a major change initiative and actually making it happen. When senior leaders disappear after a big change announcement, and leave lower-level managers to execute it, they are missing in action.

15 Jul. 2014 | Comments (0)
If You Have a Bad Boss, These Are Your Options
Nobody likes having a bad boss. But if you do, there are ways to survive.

20 Jun. 2014 | Comments (0)
Even Good Employees Hoard Great Ideas
One of the most heated debates involving innovation revolves around how to best incentivize people to develop and implement new ideas. Research on this issue offers a wide range of conclusions.

04 Jun. 2014 | Comments (0)
Senior Managers Won’t Always Get Along
When members of a senior management team don’t get along, the negative impacts can cascade through an organization. Those conflicts have the potential to reduce productivity and morale for dozens or hundreds of people.

09 May. 2014 | Comments (0)
Two Ways to Reduce “Hurry Up and Wait” Syndrome
Have you ever been asked to drop everything to complete a seemingly urgent task, and then found that the task wasn’t so urgent after all?

22 Apr. 2014 | Comments (0)
Stop Pretending That You Can’t Give Candid Feedback
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching a leadership program in Kuwait for a national petrochemical company. The senior leaders in the program were terrific – they were bright, curious, engaged, and motivated to learn.

17 Mar. 2014 | Comments (0)
If You’ve Just Taken Over a Team, Quickly Let Underperformers Go
The best way for a manager to be successful is to build a top-notch team. But when most managers take on new positions, they hesitate to act quickly in replacing poor performing incumbents. Months later, these managers say that they should have moved faster in making the tough “people calls.”

20 Feb. 2014 | Comments (0)
Don’t Abandon Innovation — Simplify It
My fellow HBR blogger Bill Taylor recently made a pitch for all of us to stop using the word “innovation” in 2014. Despite his plea, I suspect this word isn’t going anywhere. It’s too important as a driver of growth and renewal.

07 Feb. 2014 | Comments (0)
To Use Technology Effectively, Ask the Tough Questions
Over the years I’ve talked with hundreds of managers about the reasons for complexity in their organizations — and in almost all cases they cite “technology” as one of the main culprits. But in the next breath, they also acknowledge that technology has revolutionized the way they work.

23 Jan. 2014 | Comments (0)
When It’s Hard to Celebrate Your Colleague’s Success
How do you feel when one of your sales colleagues closes a big deal? Or when a fellow manager is recognized for leading one of the best projects in the company? Or when a co-worker is selected for a special assignment or training program?

24 Dec. 2013 | Comments (0)
Would You Work for a Tobacco Company?
I recently had the opportunity to talk with a class of second year MBA’s, and one of the most outstanding questions students raised was whether they should take jobs with companies that they considered to be socially irresponsible.

02 Dec. 2013 | Comments (0)
The Dangers of Denial
Great leaders tell it like it is. In other words, they focus on reality, no matter how painful or unpleasant it might be, and then figure out what to do about it. In contrast, less effective leaders sometimes avoid hard truths, argue with the data, and delay tough decisions.

18 Nov. 2013 | Comments (0)
Nice Managers Embrace Conflict, Too
Most people want to be liked: It’s one of the fundamental tenets of human behavior. The only problem with this mindset is that creative ideas and better ways of getting things done often stem from constructive conflict.

11 Sep. 2013 | Comments (0)
To Simplify, First Clear the Underbrush
To make way for innovative and big-picture thinking, managers need to clear the underbrush that often chokes productivity. This is the first of seven strategies for simplifying your organization that we outlined in an earlier post. Here are four best practices to get you started.

29 Aug. 2013 | Comments (0)
Don't Make Decisions, Orchestrate Them
Is the role of the manager to make decisions, or to make sure that decisions get made? The answer, of course, is both — but many managers focus so much on the first role that they neglect the second.

31 Jul. 2013 | Comments (0)
The Problem with Executive Isolation
In many large organizations, executive assistants, chiefs of staff, schedulers, and advisors surround senior people; and that's in addition to direct reports who handle particular subject or functional areas. While this process does help to leverage a leader's time, it also has its dark side.

22 Jul. 2013 | Comments (0)
The Hidden Side of Meetings
Managers at every level almost universally complain that many of their meetings are a waste of time. It's an old story, repeated over and over. So why is it so difficult for organizations to develop and sustain more effective meeting patterns?

27 Jun. 2013 | Comments (0)
Seven Strategies for Simplifying Your Organization
Agreeing on complexity as a problem is one thing, but doing something about it is quite another — particularly for managers who are already over-worked, stressed, and can barely keep up with their current workload.

18 Jun. 2013 | Comments (0)
What Educational Disruption Means for Your Company
With graduation season upon us, it's important to remember that as a manager you must often be a teacher too. A major part of your role is instruction — which means that you need to pay attention to the massive disruption going on in higher education and what it means for company learning.

24 May. 2013 | Comments (0)
Overcome the Complexity Within You
Although it doesn't show up explicitly in any personality test, some people seem to be more prone to creating complexity than others. Instead of cutting to the heart of an issue, they tangle it further; rather than narrowing down projects, they allow the scope to keep expanding.

17 May. 2013 | Comments (0)
Change Management Needs to Change
As a recognized discipline, change management has been in existence for over half a century. Yet despite the huge investment that companies have made in tools, training, and thousands of books, most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects.

26 Apr. 2013 | Comments (0)
Why Organizations Are So Afraid to Simplify
While most managers complain about being overloaded with responsibilities, very few are willing to give up any of them. It's one of the great contradictions of organizational life: People are great at starting new thing, but have a much harder time stopping the ones that already exist.

04 Apr. 2013 | Comments (0)
How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge
I was recently perplexed when I received a request to speak to a group of senior managers about reducing complexity. Why did they want to revisit what was already a core competence?

25 Feb. 2013 | Comments (0)
Compromise Requires Relationships (Not Friendships)
Today companies tend to be more egalitarian, and more concerned about costs and perceived boondoggles, so that many of these relationship-building vehicles (some of which were excessive) no longer exist. However the need may be greater than ever, since managers often do not work in the same locations as their peers, spend more time traveling, and usually do not have the luxury of extra hours to just "get together" with colleagues.

28 Jan. 2013 | Comments (0)
In a Change Effort, Start with the Last Mile
One problem that constantly recurs in changing organizations is what we might call the last mile dilemma. The term comes from the telecommunications industry, which struggled for many years with how to efficiently extend their networks the "last mile," or into individual homes.

08 Jan. 2013 | Comments (0)
Don't Ask for Feedback Unless You Want It
A friend of mine who works for a large global corporation recently sent a note to her CEO, sharing her views on questions that he raised on his internal blog. The next week she received a call (more of a reprimand) from HR asking why she had emailed the CEO. She responded, "Well, the CEO said, 'Let me know what you think.' So I did." Sure enough, that statement was removed in the CEO's next blog post.

21 Dec. 2012 | Comments (0)
Make It a Habit to Give Thanks
While Thanksgiving in the U.S. is celebrated with sports events, family dinners, and time off from work, its real purpose is to reflect on everything that we have to be thankful for — such as health, family, material possessions, and general success. It's also a good reminder that "thankfulness" and "appreciation" are important managerial behaviors in effective organizations — behaviors that need to be fostered throughout the year, not just when there's a holiday.

19 Dec. 2012 | Comments (0)
Why Accountability Is So Muddled, and How to Un-Muddle It
One of the most sacred tenets of management is the need for clear accountability. As such, organizations spend enormous amounts of time and energy defining jobs, roles, and goals — and then figure out who to reward or punish when things go well or poorly.

04 Dec. 2012 | Comments (0)
Where You Sit Determines What You See
Depending on how you look at it, you'll see the silhouette of two faces or a vase. It's a classic illusion that psychologists use to demonstrate that all of us have biases that influence how we interpret events. To some extent we see what we unconsciously want to see.

15 Nov. 2012 | Comments (0)
The Chicken-Egg Problem with Organizational Change
Timing is critical for successful organizational change. What you do first and the sequence of actions that follow can make or break your effort. But in many cases, it's not completely clear whether one step causes another or vice versa. Like the classic "chicken or the egg" dilemma.

05 Nov. 2012 | Comments (0)
The Best Debater May Not Be the Best Leader
With tonight's U.S. presidential debate just hours away, there are many people who assume that the winner of the debate will be the superior leader. But having worked with hundreds of senior leaders over the years, I'm not convinced that debating skill is a good indicator of leadership potential.

15 Oct. 2012 | Comments (0)
More Direct Reports Make Life Easier
Although it may be counter-intuitive, one of the most powerful changes you can make in your organization is to increase spans of control — a simple shift that can liberate employees, streamline the hierarchy, simplify processes, and reduce costs. Let me explain.

10 Oct. 2012 | Comments (0)
Take Accountability for Your Own Success
Many years ago I was working with a project team at what was then Chase Manhattan Bank when a once-in-a-decade snowstorm shut down New York City for several days. For the next six months, the project team used that snowstorm as an excuse for why their project was delayed.

05 Oct. 2012 | Comments (0)
Bring Courtesy Back to the Workplace
Respect towards others should be standard behavior in the workplace, regardless of role, rank, or reputation. But as companies have become more virtual, global, and stressed out, this assumption can break down unless we focus on it more explicitly. Let me explain.

26 Sep. 2012 | Comments (0)
Manage With a Portfolio Mindset
Because so much organizational work is done in silos, we sometimes forget the common skills and approaches that can be leveraged across the enterprise. One such skill is portfolio management, the application of systematic tools for reducing risks and maximizing the return on investments.

24 Aug. 2012 | Comments (0)
When Failure is a Good Option
Failure is also an essential player in performance improvement. One of the best ways to develop people is to push them beyond their comfort zones, to learn new content areas and practice new skills. With few exceptions, this type of learning inevitably comes with some amount of failure because it takes practice to learn — whether it's music or management.

21 Aug. 2012 | Comments (0)
Thinking Long-Term in a Short-Term Economy
Do you find it odd that when a company announces a profit of $8.4 billion in a single quarter, the performance is reported as "disappointing"? Or $5.7 billion as "dreadful"? Fact is, these were the terms used to describe the results produced by Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell after their second quarter earnings release.

15 Aug. 2012 | Comments (0)
Bring Back the General Manager
Have you noticed that general managers are scarce these days? These are the executives who run discrete businesses and control all of the resources associated with them. But in many large companies, the only true general manager is the CEO. Everyone else, whether in the C-suite or in the senior management ranks, runs a piece of a business or a support function.

02 Aug. 2012 | Comments (0)
Ten Ways to Inhibit Innovation
Every company is looking for the magic formula that will produce breakthrough products and services. But a better starting point is to think about what gets in the way of innovation, especially in firms that already have lots of talented, creative, and motivated people.

02 Aug. 2012 | Comments (0)
You Can Prevent Layoffs
When you strip away the fancy jargon, a successful business fundamentally makes more money than it spends. While managers can pull any number of levers to accomplish this, the one they most often choose reads: "Reduce Costs!" And perhaps the most common way they cut costs is to eliminate jobs.

27 Jun. 2012 | Comments (0)
Embracing Risk in Career Decisions
Risk management is critical for business decisions — but may not be healthy for making decisions about your career. If you want your career to take off, you may need to do the opposite of what risk managers try to do.

22 Jun. 2012 | Comments (0)
Learned Helplessness in Organizations
Managers build concentric circles of excuses that absolve them of accountability for change or improvement. So instead of finding creative ways to deal with regulations or budget cuts, they accept the status quo and blame external conditions for the problems that exist.

20 Jun. 2012 | Comments (0)
Breaking into a New Company
Despite all of the evidence that diverse styles, skills, and experiences enhance innovation and productivity, many firms still struggle to successfully incorporate external talent. In these kinds of settings managers may unconsciously ignore or demean fresh perspectives.

29 May. 2012 | Comments (0)
Don't Dismiss Stretch Goals
Healthy organizations need both stretch and success to stay alive and vibrant, just like a well-balanced diet includes food that is both tasty and healthy. The key to integrating the two is to carve quick wins out of long-term goals.

10 May. 2012 | Comments (0)
Managers Don't Really Want to Innovate
Innovation may be an organization's life blood, but still its success rate in most companies hovers at just 17%. What prevents companies from innovating better? One possibility is that managers don't really want their people to innovate, no matter what they say otherwise.

09 May. 2012 | Comments (0)
The Paradox of High Potentials
To retain high-potential employees, the conventional wisdom is deceptively simple: Identify, develop, and nurture them. By paying special attention to the very best people, they will stay with the firm and eventually emerge as key leaders.

25 Apr. 2012 | Comments (0)
Great Leaders Use the Power of Dreams
Buying a lottery ticket has an extremely low chance of paying off. Yet many people, at least in countries where it's legal, do it anyway. Why do so many people play such long odds? The answer is: It gives them an opportunity to dream.

24 Apr. 2012 | Comments (0)
Telltale Signs of an Unhealthy Hierarchy
We may talk about eliminating hierarchy, but most organizations still have one. Frankly, it's very hard to mobilize limited resources and diverse skills without someone taking charge. That's why hierarchies have existed for thousands of years.

20 Apr. 2012 | Comments (0)
Rejection Is Critical for Success
There are few experiences more painful than being rejected. Accepting rejection however is not an easy process. When this happens repeatedly, it often leads to two types of dysfunctional patterns in organizations: entitlement and resignation.

12 Apr. 2012 | Comments (0)
Your Career Needs to Be Horizontal
Why do people assume that a big title trumps a value-creating initiative? The answer is that hierarchy is more than just a way of designing the organization: It drives how we think about relationships, contribution, careers, and success.

29 Mar. 2012 | Comments (0)
Firing Someone the Right Way
Many managers let anxiety drive the firing process instead of intellect, making a difficult moment even worse. What's been your experience with firing — or being fired?

27 Mar. 2012 | Comments (0)
Does Your HR Function Complicate Things?
What happened to Human Resources? What used to be a high-touch unit in many organizations has now become automated, outsourced, and oriented towards self-service.

06 Mar. 2012 | Comments (0)
Break Through Your Mental Bureaucracy
Psychologists define compartmentalization as a defense mechanism that we use to avoid the anxiety that arises from the clash of contradictory values or emotions. For example, a manager can think of himself as nurturing and sensitive at home, but a hard-nosed tough guy at work.

28 Feb. 2012 | Comments (1)
Why Don't We Always Tell The Truth
From my experience, there are three fundamental concerns that cause people to shade the truth, either consciously or not. Being aware of these "lying triggers" can sometimes help to improve communication and reduce the feelings of mistrust.

22 Feb. 2012 | Comments (0)
When the Help You Get Isn't Helpful
Have you ever received unsolicited, off-target advice? But what if their understanding of what's wrong is, quite frankly, wrong?

08 Feb. 2012 | Comments (0)
Learn to Trust Your Gut
Have you ever questioned the guidance of a GPS navigation system? The calm and definitive voice tells you to turn right — but your knowledge of the area makes you want to veer left.

23 Jan. 2012 | Comments (0)
Stop Bashing HR
Especially today, recruitment, retention, and development of human capital is a critical success factor for almost any organization.

17 Jan. 2012 | Comments (0)
In Presentations, Learn to Say Less
Imagine that you had 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes at the next executive staff meeting to get your message across.

13 Jan. 2012 | Comments (0)
Why Best Practices Are Hard to Practice
Not long ago a senior HR executive confessed to me that her company's succession planning and talent management processes didn't work very well.

05 Jan. 2012 | Comments (0)
Start the Year in the Right Rhythm
We don't often think about it, but life is based on natural, recurring rhythms: Days, years and even our own lives have predictable cycles that allow us to navigate through time.

23 Dec. 2011 | Comments (0)
Managing Former Peers
What's your experience with the dynamics of peer promotions?

07 Dec. 2011 | Comments (0)
How to Translate Training into Results
Most everyone would agree that the training and development of managers is a critical component of success for organizations — especially if you believe that a stronger leadership team makes a competitive difference.

28 Nov. 2011 | Comments (0)
Innovation Is Everyone's Job
To what extent are you responsible for innovation in your company?