Localize – Link – Globalize

In the 17 July 2006 issue of Newsweek International, an article by Ron Moreau and Sudip Mazumdar entitled, “Bigger, Faster, Better: India’s top tycoon hopes to kick the country’s nascent boom into hyperdrive by remaking its stores, farms and even its biggest cities,” provides a compelling twist in corporate social responsibility. Earlier this year, Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, Ltd, announced the creation of a new, major business venture under the Reliance umbrella, Reliance Retail, Ltd. This is only one step in Mr. Ambani’s far-reaching vision in retailing that seeks to bring broad-sweeping changes in agricultural production and retailing across India as well as how people live in urban areas:

…Ambani, 49, has finalized plans to invest more than $11 billion over the next decade to build two new satellite cities outside creaking, overcrowded Mumbai and Delhi. He foresees these metropolises emerging within just four years, each with a population of 5 million people making $5,000 a year, on average (or seven times India’s norm), and hosting top multinational companies. And that is all pretty simple – a development on steroids – compared with the idea that really gets Ambani going.

Ambani’s favorite scheme aims to revolutionize in one swoop two of India’s largest but most backward sectors: farming and retail. Despite boom times, India is still a nation where 100 million mostly small farmers work with ox and plow, where 96 percent of retail stores are mom-and-pop shops and most of the roads between farm and store are mud tracks. Ambani plans to invest $5 billion by 2011 to put both the farms and the stores on the road to modernity, connect them through a distribution system guided by the latest logistics technology, and create enough of a surplus to generate $20 billion in agricultural exports annually.

I don’t have a clue whether Mr. Ambani will be successful in achieving what he envisions. Actually, that is not the point. What is significant, though, is that he apparently understands the connections between the circumstances surrounding those who produce food, and food production, logistics, and retail sales to consumers; he is willing to challenge the inadequacies and deficiencies in the current system; and even more, he is taking no small risks in making a significant play to install an alternative system that is more respectful, efficient, and sustainable for those who participate at the “ground level,” so to speak.

Basically, Mr. Ambani is addressing the problem by taking an approach that runs backwards from the conventional wisdom of a globalized model. He is, first, raising the capability and capacity of the farmer / producer, establishing an infrastructure to move productive output swiftly and safely to downstream stages in the value-chain, and providing fair compensation for the farmer / producer to assure sustainability:

To transform Indian farmers into quality suppliers for his new retail chain, Ambani plans to create 1,600 farm-supply hubs across India, providing technical know-how and credit, selling seeds, fertilizer and fuel, and buying produce.

Then, he is scaling the output of the farmer / producer to exceed local demands for food stuff and move the overage into the global market:

He also plans to build some 85 logistics centers to move food to retail outlets and to ports and airports for export. Reliance is gearing up to train tens of thousands of new employees in the next six to eight months to do everything from erecting prefab warehouses to transporting fresh produce. Even Reliance’s admirers note that with little experience in farming or retail, Ambani is taking his biggest risks yet. “There will be mistakes,” Ambani admits. “But we are not scared. We will correct our mistakes fast and move on.”

This is opposite to the typical globalizing business model that strips output from agricultural producers for a pittance and pumps it into the global market at the outset without regard or interest in the sustainability of the producer’s business or preserving the sanctity of the local community. The consequence of the more typical approach is farm consolidation, loss of livelihood and location, and dependence on globalized agriculture for local food supplies – not a good position to be in if supply chains are disrupted.

The critical path is to stabilize the producer / provider at the individual / family / community level; link producers / providers with others through flexible and dynamic networks capable of moving information, goods, and services in response to demand AT A LOCAL LEVEL; and lastly, scale the operations to match output with fluctuations in demand on a global level. This simple three-step formula – localize, link, and globalize – is a useful scorecard to measure the validity of any strategy aimed at utilizing natural resources or leveraging human resources in particular areas. If it strives to globalize first or prematurely, the approach is exploitative at best and unconscionable at worst!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, August 27, 2006

Vision 101

Leaders prompt alignment. With alignment comes a flow of human energy and creativity that advances whatever cause is underway. Through this flow endeavors deemed important are initiated, actions are taken, and change occurs within a proposed framework.

Alignment is produced in three ways: integrity, vision, and fear – greed (see previous posting). Leaders lead because of their ability to draw upon at least one of these three dimensions “…in the exercise of power within a social system to produce alignment.” Of course, the greater the skills leaders have in more than one dimension, the more fluid their movement from one dimension to another as circumstances warrant, and ultimately, the more effective they will be.

Leaders who can exercise more than one dimension possess the wherewithal to use “vision” as a way to both inspire and motivate. While somewhat synonymous, the terms “inspire” and “motivate” represent a critical duality that is central to the importance of vision in the repertoire of tools used by effective leaders. Inspiration originates when there is sufficient detachment from what is or a future extrapolated from what was to see possibilities otherwise missed. Motivation is fueled by an expectation of comfort when that which is feared is dismissed and the stress of achievement is diminished. Leaders are able to use inspiration and motivation at the right time and in the correct context to build momentum and keep the flow going.

The diagram below illustrates the dual nature of vision. As an organizatio – represented by the green triangle – moves through time toward an endpoint on the horizon, it passes through its “vision” – illustrated by the yellow circle – of what it anticipates it will become or what will influence it. Philosophical ideals and spiritual values pre-date and eclipse the organization and provide a guiding moral framework that is timeless in its relevance and significance.

While the pursuit of abstractions such as peace, justice, love, and freedom is a source of inspiration, it lacks the type of structured approach required to convert the obtuse into the actionable. At some point people benefit from a clear picture of what can be reasonably expected after a finite period during which people invest their time, energy, and resources to have the intended results. Vision in this practical sense relates to the mission of a project, goals and objectives of an organization, and the “nuts and bolts” details of strategies and tactics required to complete the mission. But it is not the simple restatement of these elements a la Dilbert. Instead, it is a story told that depicts what reality might look like if the mission is completed successfully.

Just as leadership is about alignment, vision is about change – seeing it, relating to it, describing it and making it happen. Leaders who are in command of the tools of vision tell stories that inspire people at their higher levels of functioning and motivate them to take necessary action in giving practicality to that which is dreamed. Great leaders are involved; they embody the changes they are attempting to influence rather than remaining aloof and attempting to control them remotely.

A significant part of the story a powerful leader tells is not only in words but by example in deed. The leader espouses the principle in clear wording, such as the following extract from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech delivered to more than 250,000 on August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC:

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

It’s no wonder Dr. King could lead thousands – he posited the principles as a dream worth striving for, outlined the very trying and difficult steps that would have to be taken to make the dream reality, walked the talk hand-in-hand with others, and put his life on the line to stand tall in what he believed possible for his country and its people.

Of course, Dr. King was a “student” of another great leader in this respect, Mahatma Gandhi. The following extract from a brief biography on Gandhi’s life by B.R. Nanda sums up the compelling nature of a leader who strikes a dynamic balance between the philosophical and the practical:

His genius, so to speak, was an infinite capacity for taking pains in fulfillment of a restless moral urge. His life was one continuous striving, an unremitting sadhana, a relentless search for truth, not abstract or metaphysical truth, but such truth as can be realized in human relations. He climbed step by step, each step no bigger than a man’s, till when we saw him at the height he seemed more than a man. ‘Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe’, wrote Einstein, ‘that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’ If at the end he seemed like no other man, it is good to remember that when he began he was like any other man.”

The result of his strong stands on principle and living the life of change – being the change – was a key factor in India gaining independence. His strict adherence to the concept of non-violence and non-resistance sets a stellar example for others to follow in their struggles with freedom and justice. And the lessons of his life continue to inform and influence generations of Indians as they build on the foundation of self-determination he laid and propel his beloved country into prominence as an economic and political global powerhouse.

The Dalai Lama, political leader of the Tibetan government in exile and spiritual guide for thousands of people around the world, offers yet another powerful example of vision in the ethereal married with the practical. Below is a extract from his commentary entitled, “A Human Approach to World Peace“:

Science and technology, though capable of creating immeasurable material comfort, cannot replace the age-old spiritual and humanitarian values that have largely shaped world civilization, in all its national forms, as we know it today. No one can deny the unprecedented material benefit of science and technology, but our basic human problems remain; we are still faced with the same, if not more, suffering, fear, and tension. Thus it is only logical to try to strike a balance between material developments on the one hand and the development of spiritual, human values on the other. In order to bring about this great adjustment, we need to revive our humanitarian values.”

Again, overarching philosophical ideals and spiritual principles are associated with the conundrum of daily issues that plague humanity. The Tibet issue is one of three commitments made by the Dalai Lama wherein he gives unwavering focus. It is in this arena on the world stage that principle is carried into action for all to see and learn. This is vision in its purest form. No one can ask more of a leader than that!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Monday, February 13, 2006

Leadership 101

Last week was spent on the road checking in with clients and helping them manage changes within their organizations. Oftentimes, the causes for such changes are presented to me as breakdowns in communication, unrealized opportunities, performance problems, inadequate adaptation, and gaps in the flow of resources. The clients’ default reactions are hierarchical: someone needs to be contracted or hired, someone else is opting to retire, others need to be reassigned, and others still, let go. However, the reality is bigger and more complex than having a few people go and bringing in fresh blood. Change, in a flurry of what’s working, what’s not, and what could work better, first requires that these disparate conditions be placed within a framework. This is followed by convening people whose interactions have the potential to make a positive difference for their organization within that framework. Their interactions lead to more appropriate and measured actions through goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics.

As explored more fully in an earlier posting, organizations consist of sustained conversations – the basis of all human social behavior. If one wants to change an organization, change the conversations its members are having. On one level this is simple and straightforward. Matching forums with meaningful agendas is at the heart of what strategic framing and organization design are all about. People draw upon their power to convene within a social system to setup a wide range of conversations and sustain those that are deemed the most important. Of course, the point of these conversations when establishing or sustaining an organization is to gain alignment – the energy source for growth, progress, and success of any organization.

There is a clear association between those who have the power to convene for alignment and leadership. In fact, while there are hundreds of definitions for leadership, the one I use is “the exercising of power by an individual within a social system to produce alignment.” Productive, collective effort within a social system requires people to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. And through that alignment, motivation is stimulated.

Alignment occurs in three ways:

  1. Integrity. Just as an organization has integrity, so do people. Purpose: why am I here; principles: what do I stand for; intentions: what am I up to, constitute the foundation of institutional and personal integrity. When I feel that my integrity is held in the integrity expressed by others and, ultimately, their organization, I am motivated to participate in what they are doing to see how our collective efforts can be leveraged.
  2. Vision. Imagining a world where one’s purpose, principles, and intentions play out so that others can see it, too, and want to be part of making it happen is a powerful act of vision. Any vision is based first in personal experience. When it is presented to others such that they can shape it with their own dreams and create a shared view of what is possible, the vision becomes an engaging, motivating force.
  3. Fear – Greed. Visions cannot become reality without drawing upon the talents and skills of those who do not necessarily align with the values of integrity or share the same vision. Their motivation comes from a combination of “what’s in it for me” and “what will happen to me if I don’t participate.” The fear – greed continuum appeals to the baser instincts of people in areas where their absence of detachment affects their decisions. For the vast majority, it is easier to do what one is told, to do one’s job, to follow the rules. Alignment means playing along to enjoy the benefits and avoid the pitfalls. But it is a route that is susceptible to the corruptive forces of the hierarchy as explored in a previous posting.

Depending on the circumstances, leaders draw upon the energies available within each of the three types of alignment to advance the organizations they lead. Some have integrity so unquestionably solid it compels others to follow despite not having a clear picture of what the world would look like if everyone behaved according to these values or a hierarchical structure upon which to calculate the cost, risk, and benefit of participation. The most notable of such leaders represent particular spiritual or philosophical belief systems that became the cornerstones for the most persistent social systems in human history. Certainly the evidence is strong that there is much to be gained from fronting one’s core values as a key element in leadership. But, not everyone is ready to cast their lot with someone solely on values alone. This may garner alignment at the outset, but they need more to stay aligned.

Some leaders are able to describe through words and graphics how the world could look if a particular set of core values were adopted such that many others are immediately engaged by it, resonate with it, take it as their own, and start down the path toward making it reality; the vision of one becomes the vision of many. However, the more likely scenario is that one person’s vision matches the visions of others to one degree or another, but not completely. In this case, the effective leader introduces a process by which multiple visions are brought together into one shared vision that holds critical elements for all who want to pursue it. While a shared vision produces alignment, it commands the strongest buy-in only by those who were there when it was created. The leader must stay vigilant in continually representing the vision to those who are new to the organization and in some instances prompt further adaptation of the vision to hold others who come in later.

With both integrity and vision, the virtual or physical presence of and interaction with the leader is essential to maintain alignment. Collective efforts that have dependency on one leader are at risk to go astray unless a formal system is setup to manage the behavior of people in the organization. Formal systems provide boundaries that determine who is in and who is out of an organization, enable the formation of hierarchies, enact rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, and establish processes that manage the work of organizations. Within a formal system, the vision of the organization is translated into sets of actionable goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. Alignment is achieved when people work these plans. Some leaders are effective enforcing this type of alignment within the formal systems by encouraging them through the promise of reward should they accomplish what they are responsible to do and threatening them with undesirable consequences should they fail. It is the classic case of “carrot and stick” motivation. In other words, the fear – greed continuum is alive and well.

As mentioned earlier, my work with people in client organizations is about framing their circumstances so that an appropriate set of conversations are convened and the participants can make a positive difference in helping their organization adapt. The evolving design of the organization is based on the results of certain conversations that need to happen: does the organization need to recall its integrity – get back to its roots, so to speak; does it need to renew its vision – see itself in an entirely different way filled with more possibilities; does it need to redirect its formal system – become more consequent and disciplined. These questions require different conversations and depending on whether the organizational alignment is better derived from integrity, vision, or fear – greed determines the leadership skills required to make the conversations happen.

Therein lays the challenge of doing my work well – matching the skills of leaders with the circumstances where they will prompt alignment. And if there are no immediate leaders available with the requisite skills, I coach those who show talent and interest so they strengthen their “toolkits,” gain confidence in their capabilities, and embark upon leading in new ways under unfamiliar situations. And helping those people become more evolved, well-rounded, and flexible leaders is what makes doing this work worthwhile!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Affiliations: Cycles of Corruption and Renewal

Even though our thoughts are born in the private spaces of our minds, we humans do not live solitary existences with occluded thinking. At some point we express our private selves in the public arena whether that be a tight-knit circle of family and close friends or an expansive network of colleagues and associates of like-mindedness or dissimilarity.

Statements made about what we think impact others and, in turn, influence what they think.

Depending on how one resonates with the statements of another defines the type and degree of affiliation those two can have, if any. Sometimes what a person says is a statement of principle, ideal, or deeply-held belief that equates to a “universal truth.” Such statements, like motherhood and apple pie, are hard to contest – they just are. How we behave in relation to them, though, is another thing entirely. Many a vicious and deadly conflict across the panorama of human history has been fueled by behaviors in the name of spiritual principles and humanistic ideals like peace, justice, love, and freedom.

How could such noble and lofty ideals be at the heart of destructive behavior? The root cause is not the ideal but how a person chooses to put the ideal or principle into effect. Intangible abstractions like peace, justice, love, and freedom need an image to which people can relate in order for them to see what life would be like if society adhered to these concepts. The tool most commonly used is “vision,” an idealized extrapolation of what the world might be if human relationships, social institutions, and ecological responsiveness at all levels were based on these principles. Visions – no matter how well-articulated and beautiful the potentialities they describe – are nothing more than the well-considered opinions of a select group of people. Visions are not predictors of the future. Still, a common vision of what is possible and highly desired forms a powerful motivating force for the group that shares it. Unfortunately, there are many groups that have a multitude of visions based on the same set of principles and ideals, but pursue different outcomes. These differences have the potential to enrich the pool of possibilities among them, or to become the seeds of conflict and contentiousness. Too often, it is the latter.

Visions are both personal and social. Affiliations begin with principles and ideals expressed by one and shaped by many as a shared vision worth pursuing collectively. While one person can hold an ideal and front a vision with which others are aligned, visions require more than one person to make them a reality. Therefore, the more people become involved the greater the likelihood of success.

Oftentimes, there are not enough people compelled by a vision to carry it into fruition and sustain it over time. This is typical for organizations that begin in a spirited, entrepreneurial manner fueled by the creative energies and ideas of one or a handful of committed individuals. Initial success warrants more resources to feed growth. Not everyone is drawn by the vision or even the ideals that undergird it. Instead, they are attracted by what’s in it for them if they do or what they will miss or lose if they don’t. Once again, the continuum of fear and greed arises to capture the hearts and souls of the unwary and unsuspecting. Ironically, no matter how well-engrained the core values and heartfelt the vision of an organization in the founders and first generation of affiliates, every addition to their ranks who is driven more by fear and greed compromises the original sense of the organization.

People who are not in touch with the principles and ideals that drive them, lack vision, or whose visions are not shared by those with whom they seek to affiliate become complicit in the corruption of any organization they join. Similarly, people new to an organization do not have shared experiences with those who deeply honor its organizing principles and care for its guiding vision. As a result, people not closely aligned to the integrity of an organization, are at risk to undermine it.

This presents an organizational dilemma. No organization is sustainable over time without changing who is affiliated with it, what it does, and the manner with which it does it. Yet by definition these changes introduce other people into the organization who are not necessarily aligned with its founding beliefs. To protect itself in spite of all these variations in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, an organization converts its philosophical underpinnings into a formal system comprised of rules, regulations, policies, procedures, programs, processes, funding, resources, roles and relationships as a method of control. It becomes institutionalized as a way to preserve itself.

Granted, this institutionalizing of an organization serves to protect its basic integrity, but it does not guarantee long term success. The slide into corruption caused by those whose greed prompts illegal, unethical, and unjust behaviors is sharply reduced, but by penalty of adhering to tradition and adopting an unwieldy conservatism that is slow to adapt. While an organization can explode by paying inadequate attention to risks it is taking, an even more insidious condition is where the lack of appropriate responses to a changing context in which the organization exists causes the organization to implode. Either way, corruption unchecked inevitably leads to decline and, ultimately, destruction.

What, then, keeps an organization going over time – what makes it sustainable? History shows it is the ability of the organization to allow someone or several to restate the underlying principles and ideals upon which it was founded and reframe its vision such that its purpose becomes a revitalizing source of passion for those who are committed to those values; people are inspired and re-energized; the organization is reborn. Sustainability is a function of healthy, recurring life-cycles. They begin in the intellectually pristine space of universal principles and ideals and are followed by the unavoidable corruptive forces of unshared visions and divisive actions driven by individual or collective fear and greed. This prompts the resurrection of originating principles and ideals, renewal of visions of possibilities, and the realignment of integrity. Organizations that persist over time live, die, and are reborn. Their basic “genetic structure” is transferred from generation to generation while its mode of operation and relevance in the social environment that sustains it adapts. The key to long-term success for any organization is how well this cycle is triggered and honored. Sounds easy, but it is a challenge millions have failed to heed!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, January 19, 2006 and updated on Tuesday, January 31, 2006