Culture First – Is Yahoo on the right track?

Marissa Mayer – Targeting Culture First

The more I think about it, the more I appreciate Marissa Mayer’s decision to go for “culture” first. I think it’s brilliant. She needs the whole team to be on the same page – doing the right things at the right times… and that’s not easy, even with everyone in the same building. However, it’s even more difficult to reframe a culture with a dispersed “virtual” work force. Culture change is one of the most difficult challenges a leadership team faces.

In the short-term, I think Yahoo’s biggest challenge is in making Yahoo a place that people WANT to come to work because of the energy and interactions that happen “by chance” when people are close by. During her time at Google, they invested heavily in making their facilities “collaboration enablers”… and they were very successful. Why wouldn’t Yahoo benefit from a similar strategy?

I know that it’s not fashionable, but I’m rooting for Marissa Mayer and her leadership team. They don’t have much visible support… but I think the long-term results will speak for themselves.

What about you? Rooting for Marissa or disappointed?

Innovation – Is the team paying attention?

Marissa MayerYahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took a very controversial stand recently It got me to thinking about our business model, and why we choose to innovate in a traditional, collocated, style. I think there are some very good reasons why we do.

Innovation is rarely an “individual sport”. It’s rare to find someone who can turn a problem statement into an innovative product on their own. Innovation often usually requires collaboration. It thrives on the freedom to build upon the ideas (good and bad) of colleagues (and competitors)… and the faster the innovation process happens, the better. Ultimately, innovation only pays off when it turns into something real – something that matters. So the emphasis is on getting from theories to practice as quickly as possible. In the product development world, we call that “time to market”.

Like it or not, the “chemistry” that happens in a room – and the “serendipity” that happens when colleagues can quickly connect around an idea, is much easier when we are in close physical proximity. How many times has an idea drifted away because the conversation was delayed by a “busy signal”? How many conference calls have drifted into mediocrity because one or more of the participants disengaged (because it’s so easy when nobody has to make eye contact)?

Our business is built around new product development for aerospace, medical, and industrial markets. We design, build, and test new technology and then our customers depend on it – for years. Much of the “development” part of our business involves physically assembling and testing products – and that requires being “physical proximity”. Many of our innovative products also require unique skills and special processes. We work together to make complicated things happen quickly and consistently.

So, for our business and many businesses like ours. Working from home is not an option. For other business models that aren’t tied to a physical product, it’s not quite as clear. However, as much as I like the freedom to work from home, I’m not convinced that it’s the best solution. If “time to market” for a physical product is important for your business… working from home is probably NOT the best model.

I think Marissa Mayer has acknowledged a very important fact. If you want people to work together and get things done, you need to be sure that everyone is paying attention. “Telecommuting” allows the team to drift – to be “partially engaged” when the team needs them to be “all in”. I applaud Marissa Mayer for doing what needs to be done to get Yahoo back on track… starting with getting everyone to pay attention to the right things at the right time.

What do you think?

Which comes first – ‘Trust’ or ‘Trustworthy’?

I’m fortunate to work at Moog, an organization that identified TRUST as a foundational value more than 60 years ago. At the time, men like Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. (of MIT fame) and others focused on measuring productivity and improving profitability by INCREASED CONTROL of individuals in the work place. In stark contrast to the “command and control” approach that was in vogue, Bill Moog and his executive team built a culture of trust and mutual respect that has stood the test of time. The emphasis on trust at Moog, and the corresponding freedom (DECREASED CONTROL of individuals) that followed in the workplace, resulted in a company culture of trust that is a competitive advantage. Moog’s robust aerospace processes and the freedom to speak freely have been a cornerstone of our success – and an encouragement for people to trust and to be trustworthy. It’s not surprising that, decades later, Stephen Covey’s article “Thirteen Behaviors of a High Trust Leader” noted that “demonstrating trust in people actually encourages them to act in a trustworthy manner”.

#13 – Demonstrate a propensity to trust. 

Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned your trust.  Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning your trust.  Learn how to appropriately extend trust to others based on the situation, risk, and character/competence of the people involved.  But have a propensity to trust.  Don’t withhold trust because there is risk involved.

“People ask me how I’ve had the interest and zeal to hang in there and do what I’ve done.  I say, ‘Because my father treated me with very stern discipline:  he trusted me.’  I’m stuck, I’ve got to see the trust through.  He trusted me.  I trust other people.  And they did the job.”

     – Robert Galvin, Jr., Former CEO, Motorola

“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”

     – Henry Stimson, U.S. Statesman

“I have found that by trusting people until they prove themselves unworthy of that trust, a lot more happens.”

     – Jim Burke, former CEO, Johnson & Johnson

These men are voicing strong support for a principle that I have also held for many years. But there are others who make an argument for more control versus more trust. Our experience at Moog is a clear example that demonstrating trust actually encourages us all to act in a trustworthy manner.

Do you have similar experiences that you’d like to share?. I’d love to hear from you.

– Dave

Innovation Requires Leadership

The last 25 years have put enormous pressure on Aerospace companies to improve efficiencies and cut costs. As a result, many companies embraced “Six Sigma” and “Lean” in an attempt to reduce waste and become more profitable. The companies that succeeded were rewarded with increased profits and, in many cases, increased market share.

Today, the business world is even more challenging than it was in the 1980’s and, while there are still great opportunities, there are greater risks. This networked, crowdsourced, global business world, demands much more than efficiency and cost cutting to succeed and grow. In fact, the companies that thrive are those that foster innovation. So CEOs in every domain are quick to point out that they intend to focus on innovation.

That is easier said than done. Innovation cannot be “legislated”, and it doesn’t often happen “spontaneously” – even in organizations with talented people and a strong technology base. Innovation requires leadership.

More than ever, the role of leaders is to create an environment that encourages people to bring forward new ideas; a place where contributions are recognized and experimentation is supported. The environment that best supports innovation is a “learning friendly ecospace” that encourages people to “try a bunch of new things and see what works”, as Tom Peters suggested over 20 years ago. In this environment, creativity is encouraged and there is a balance between the need for innovation and execution – delivering on our commitments.

This year, you and I need to encourage innovation without sacrificing efficiency or accountability. We can all be innovative as leaders, in the factory, the lab, the office, and on line, regardless of what “department” we lead. In fact, we MUST because innovation is important for EVERY part of every business. What will you do to encourage innovation this year?

What will you do to encourage innovation this week?


An unexpected benefit of “leading by example”

Sometimes (possibly MOST of the time) the best way to lead is by example… for many reasons. Last Saturday, I took a few hours out of my schedule to do just that – and I was pleasantly surprised by what happened.

We’re actively working on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as one way that our corporate values can be demonstrated in the community. Our approach is not new or novel – we hope to “get employees actively involved in the community to provide help in tangible ways”. We’ve had several successful “events” including a gift of sewing machines to local ladies to help them earn additional income, and participation in a charity 10k run.

Saturday, I did something that I hadn’t yet done in Bangalore. I went to the park. Normally, my Saturdays are about “getting stuff done” during the day and spending some time with my lovely wife in the evening. I look forward to Saturdays because I get to “catch up” on things – and my schedule is very flexible… but I’ve never gone to the park.

This Saturday was different. I went to Cole’s Park to meet with friends from Pro-Vision Asia, an NGO that is dedicated to helping people who are physically or mentally challenged. Pro-Vision Asia had invited me and my colleagues from Moog to come to the park for a “play day” with children from the local neighborhood. We were to help lead some simple games and activities for the children. I also looked forward to meeting some new friends on the Pro-Vision Asia staff.

My friends Mehra, Mahesh, and Moonaswami from Pro-Vision Asia









When I arrived at the park, the children were already happily singing songs with Nancy, and two other Pro-Vision Asia leaders. Later, the children (and many of their mothers) heard a simple lesson on hygiene – how to keep from spreading flu and cold germs… and then we helped the children in small groups with a craft. It was great fun to help the kids and to see them just enjoying the simple craft – gluing colorful circles onto their “paper plate fish” – and just being kids. They were having fun with kids their age and creating something colorful – a high point in their weeks (which often alternate between big challenges and the mundane). Their enthusiasm was contagious.

Their enthusiasm is contagious…

I’m so glad that I went to the park on Saturday. I was privileged to do something for someone else. I went with no expectations – thinking that I should do this to “lead by example” – and hoping that I might help in some small way. However, from my small contribution, just spending an hour or two with the kids, I also received something. I came away with a smile – and some new friends. What a gift!


I re-learned something that we all know (but seem to forget)…

“When we give, not expecting anything in return, we are often surprised at the wonderful gifts that come our way.”

Innovation takes Capability AND Curiosity

Several times a year, I have the privilege of talking to university students about education and finding “meaningful” work. I’m often asked “What should I do to get a job in engineering?” I’ll encourage the aspiring engineer to “learn one thing well” – the fundamentals of their engineering discipline. It’s only from the foundation of true understanding, a grasp of the physics in any problem, that the engineer can grow to solve complex problems and to be truly innovative.

However, there is another, very important trait that is critical to innovation, in any domain:

The insatiable desire to know “Why?” – an incurable curiosity about the world around them.

Curious people think about the way things are – and how they could be. They’re driven to learn, to develop, and to grow… and then they help others do the same.

In a recent blog post, I suggested that “every one of us have the ability to lead in some way. It doesn’t matter if you lead a team or you just lead yourself.” I encouraged each of us to “look for opportunities to help the rest of us to be better.” Today, I’d like to suggest one way to do that: BE CURIOUS – and encourage others to be curious, too.

Albert Einstein, the famous physicist said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”

“The important thing is [don’t] stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”

What can you do differently this week; not just in the traditional “R&D” sense, but in everything you do? Maybe you can think of a better way to share ideas or maybe there’s something you could do differently that would make your team more effective (or more fun). Think about the possibilities for better products, better service – or maybe a brand new way of looking at an “old” problem.

What if each of us began looking for better ways to work together with our colleagues – whether in our office or on the other side of the globe? That’s leadership – and each of us can do that. What would happen if we all helped each other by encouraging curiosity and exploration? I wonder…

I’ll bet you’re curious, too.

Credits:  Thanks to Matt Monge ( for reminding me that curiosity is important in every part of our lives.

Leaders make everyone around them better…

Every one of us have the ability to lead in some way. It doesn’t matter if you lead a team or you just lead yourself. You have an effect on us, your colleagues, in the way you interact with us and the expectations that you have for us to succeed. You and I – all of us – have the opportunity to do our part – to help our colleagues succeed. That’s what great leaders do. They make everyone around them “better”. In his book “True North”, Bill George said “Authentic leaders not only inspire those around them, they empower them to step up and lead.”

Today, I’d encourage you to look for opportunities to help the rest of us to be better. As you do that, several things will happen: 1) You’ll open up new opportunities for positive communication and building trust, 2) You’ll find yourself seeing new possibilities for your colleagues – and for yourself, and 3) You will be helping your workplace to become an even better place to work.

How will you lead today?

It’s worth it!

Leadership is not an easy job – but it can bring great fulfillment and satisfaction. Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and now Harvard Business professor, captured it very well when he said:

“There is no satisfaction in your professional life that can compare to this… No individual achievement can equal the pleasure of leading a group of people to achieve a worthy goal. When you cross the finish line together, all the pain and suffering you may have experienced quickly vanishes. It is replaced by a deep inner satisfaction that you made a difference.”

It’s all worth it!

– Dave