Articles tagged with: management


Christmas Reading

Good reads for the holiday season.

Christmas Reading

At Serious we spend a lot of time reading & we have collected a list of eight of the books we read in 2015 that made the biggest impact on us.

In no particular order……… 





Bargaining with the Devil - When to Negotiate, When to Fight - Robert Mnookin

This book by the head of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation is unsurprisingly case-study based.  The studies range from the historical and political (Hitler, Churchill and Mandela ) to the world of business (IBM and Fujitsu) and the more personal realms of divorce and inheritance.  The studies illustrate Mnookin’s key message that negotiation should always be considered as an option.  Specifically, we should always “systematically compare the expected costs and benefits” of every conflict; this point is frequently missed when emotions are raging and/or moral judgments have been made. I am afraid I still haven’t figured out the correct pronunciation of the author’s name.

A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)  - Barbara Oakley

Engineering Professor Barbara Oakley has written this simple to understand book on how to improve your ability to learn.  Using evidence based research she highlights techniques such as chunking, tackling difficult problems first and letting your diffuse thinking work on difficult problems overnight.  This is a valuable addition to your library especially if you are studying or have children at school.

Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend - Barbara Oakley 

The second book in this list from Barbara Oakley deals with very different subject matter but displays all of her polymath abilities, diverse life experience and considerable humour.  Oakley draws on research from brain imaging to explore the relationship of genes, emotions & behavior in so called “Machiavellian” individuals.  She weaves the science with the stories of well-known sociopaths such as Slobodan Milosevic and Mao Zedong and with the personal story of his (Mao’s) own sister.  What is most useful is that the book highlights how to identify similar individuals in our own lives and thereby avoid suffering at their hands or harbouring any unrealistic expectations about the likelihood of them changing.

Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success - Matthew Syed

I first came across ex Table Tennis world champion and now Times columnist, Syed in 2011 with his excellent first book “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice”.  He broadens his scope here to cover the subject of failure across almost the entire gamut of human activity including the fields of politics, engineering, education, medicine and the law.  Syed covers how we should change the way we view failure and most importantly how we must systematically use evidence to extract and implement learnings to avoid continually repeating errors.


Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies- César Hidalgo

This is one of the most ambitious books I have ever read and it deserves to be widely read.  It is essentially a (very credible) attempt to integrate Physics, Math’s, Information & Communications Theory and Economics in order to explain human development!

Hidalgo has an easy style which makes the sometimes complicated subject matter very accessible.  That said he admits to having reordered the chapter flow several times as he wrote the book and I am not sure there is a right answer as the field he is covering is so huge.  Notwithstanding this he has managed to synthesize several previously unrelated fields and a large body of cutting-edge work into what will develop further into a unified theory of human growth.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference & why it matters - Richard Rumelt

This 2011 book is now my answer whenever I am asked what book I recommend on strategy and before that I could never answer the question with a single book alone.   Good Strategy Bad Strategy is an essential read for all involved in any kind of long term thinking or planning (whether it is called Strategy or not).  One of his key messages is that most things that are called “strategy” are not!  Rumelt details how to run the gamut of “fluff”, muddled thinking, goal obsession and other common strategy traps.  His prescription is essentially ”less is more”, with a simple three-step process that has a strong (and very necessary focus) on execution.

Zero to One – Peter Thiel.

This book made it to #1 on the NYT books list. Peter was one of the founders of Paypal and is a good buddy of Elon Musk. He is worth several billion dollars and in his book he evangelizes how one should go about crating something from nothing. Clearly Peter is an INTP and this is an INTP perspective of how you should create and run a company.  While I can understand his perspective I am not sure I agree with all he has to say. Luck plays no part in his success (according to him) and of course “to the victor goes the spoils” he gets to write about history.

Superforcasting: The art and science of prediction – Philip E Tetlock and Dan Gardner

Along the lines of Thinking Fast Thinking Slow, this book chronicles the activities of Superforecasters, a group of people whose ability to make accurate predictions far surpasses (statistically) that of professional forecasters, futurologists and intelligence agencies. What do these people have in common? They understand math especially statistics, they make frequent changes to their predictions based on timely information, and they consider both sides of the probability that is what is the likelihood of something occurring and what is the likelihood of it not occurring.  A good read for anyone in the field of decision making and planning.   

Posted in Business Management


How to Manage Conflict in Teams

Setting teams up for success is the best way to avoid conflict

How to Manage Conflict in Teams

Stanford Professor of Organizational Behavior, Lindred Greer provides good advice on how to manage conflicts within teams. In this video she outlines the types of conflicts that can occur within teams and how to deal with them.  Conflicts can arise from differences on tasks, process, relationship and status.  Understanding who is involved in the conflict and why they are involved is the first step in managing the conflict. 

With virtual teams it's important to have a face to face kick off which allows them to get to know each other and understand the context that others are coming from. In our work with virtual teams across the globe we always insist on a face to face meeting where team members come together. In the face to face meeting not only do we work on the task/s the team has to manage but we spend time working on interpersonal relationships. We then have face to face followups every 3 months. In the intervening periods we conduct teleconferences which run to a strict agenda and time. The benefits of such an approach far outweigh any of the costs involved. Setting teams up for success is the best way of avoiding conflicts in the first place.



Singing together (breathing together) helps unite people

We have long taught people that one way of creating deep connections with others is to breathe at the same rate as the other person is breathing. Singing is a common way that this can be achieved either at church, a football match or listening to your favourite song. Now research conducted in Sweden shows that when people sing togehter, ie breathe together, their heart rate synchronises.


Increasing your chances of implementation success

or how to get people doing what they say they will

Increasing your chances of implementation success

successCreating detailed plans which force you visualise what you will be doing, when you will be doing it, who you will be doing it with; plus the addition of support processes such as public commitment that you will follow through and the knowledge that significant others are doing likewise will significantly increase the chance that you will follow through on those actions.

Research conducted in voting patterns in the USA show that the use of voting plans increased voter turnout by 9.1% compared to potential voters who had no voting plan but who were contacted via phone calls to encourage them to vote.

(Nickerson, D. W., & Rogers, T. (2010). Do You Have a Voting Plan?: Implementation Intentions, Voter Turnout, and Organic Plan Making. Psychological Science, 21(2), 194-199.)

Our experience in the field of organisational development supports these findings. With the aid of a publicly displayed “leadership matrix plans” we found that employees of a large R&D organisation rated their managers higher on leadership in their annual employee engagement survey than the previous year and compared to divisions where managers did not use “leadership matrix plans”.   These plans clearly articulated the actions (behaviours) that “leaders” would exhibit, when they would do it and where they would do it. The plans were publicly displayed so all employees knew what behaviours they should expect to see, and managers were assisted via training and coaching to support them.

The plans clearly identified what leadership was and thus helped to create a leadership identity that the managers were required to live up to. As well, since all the managers of the division were required to undertake these actions their behaviours were in turn reinforced and supported via the social comparisons they were able to make with their peers.


The 4 Things Great Managers Do

The 4 Things Great Managers Do

employee recognition







There is no mystery to good management, though many management consultants and Business schools may like to make it seem so. Management is about working with and getting things done through the actions of others. Here are four things that great managers do to make this happen.


1. Management By Walking Around

MBWA is a great way to increase contact between senior management and the people who work for them. The Japanese have a great term for the workplace -GEMBA and it is where the action happens, where the work takes place. Masaki Imai the great Kaizen (method of continuous improvement) guru tells a story of what Mr Toyoda (founder of Toyota Motors) used to do when hiring new engineers. He would greet them on their first day at work, take them to a place on the shop floor, draw a square or circle on the ground and tell the engineer to stand in that square all day. The next day he would take the same engineer to another part of the factory floor, draw another square and tell the engineer to stand there. The lesson of the story was that you could not make work place based decisions if you did not know what was happening on the shop floor and the starting point was to learn by watching the work been performed.


MBWA is not about an aimless walk around, it needs to be done with a purpose: to listen to people and find out what is going on in real time; to provide positive reinforcement; to communicate the latest company news; and to discover and promote ideas for improvement. Along with trust built from upward feedback tools and other team working methods, teams embrace their manager’s presence positively as a visible sign of support and appreciation of their everyday demands.


2. Set a Vision and Communicate It

All companies have strategic plans; hopefully you will get overviews and progress reports every time there is an annual general meeting. Great managers are able to take the strategic plan and specifically the vision for the business, and translate it so it becomes meaningful for their employees. Too often this is left to the PowerPoint slide master to accomplish. By that I mean all the info is put on a PowerPoint and sent out to everyone in the organisation, in the vain hope that it will be understood (if at least it gets read). That is not communication, and in fact that is downright disrespectful to your employees. Great managers take the time to discuss the vision and the strategic plan with their employees, what it means, how it affects them and what they the employees are required to do to execute the strategy and achieve the vision. Discussing the vision with employees is also a great way of understanding what concerns people may have or how they feel in general about the vision and the direction the company is taking.


3. Providing Positive Reinforcement

Most people need to be acknowledged for their efforts and receive recognition for the work that they do. If the only time that takes place is during performance appraisal time then it’s way too late. Findings of both the Hewitt and Gallup employee engagement surveys highlight the strong link between recognitions and praise to employee engagement. When you take this into consideration then you have to acknowledge that providing positive reinforcement in a way that is meaningful to each individual for those actions and results that you desire in an employee, is a no brainer.


4. Open time

Busy-ness can often be interpreted as a sign of importance or even value; that is, “I am so busy because I have so many things to do.” My take is different, If you are a busy manager then you are either doing the work of others; you are disorganised; or you have bought into a culture where “busy” is perceived to be important (or worse still some combination of all three!)

What I continually find astounding is that managers can find the time to fight fires or intervene when things go wrong, but cannot find the time to be involved in continuous improvement or value adding activities.

One of the things great managers do is find the time to meet with the people who work for them – not just via management by walking around themselves, but by scheduling time to be “available” for anyone of their employees to meet. I call this open time; a time set aside in your calendar where you are in your office but available to meet with anyone who wants to see you with out making an appointment. It is a time where employees feel they can engage you one on one without worrying about disturbing you in any way.


In conclusion, good management is not complex, however it does require the discipline to focus on some simple behaviours in a consistent fashion. Specifically, get out, meet and listen to your people, translate the company’s vision for them, recognise them when they do what you want and finally make time for your people.

Posted in Business Management


Team Development

The often overlooked ingredient for success

Team Development

Many of you will be familair with the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model of team development. But do you know it's origins and how to utilise it?

Dr Bruce Tuckman published his Forming Storming Norming Performing model in 1965 while doing research work for the United States Navy where he and other social psychologists were studying small group behaviour. As well as investigating actual groups he also conducted a meta anlysis of literature in the area of group development.

Posted in Business Management


Managing Know How

Fix the processes before you try managing by objectives

Managing Know How

When Rudy is not changing the world of business for the better, he is busy changing the world of junior football for the better. Rudy is the president of “the most progressive junior football club in Australia”; I know the club is, because he told me!  Seriously Rudy is not given to hyperbole and relies on measurable data to support his claim. Over 600 boys and girls have directly benefitted from the dedication and commitment he has shown over the past three years.

Posted in Change Management

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