Peter DiGiammarino : Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Posted on: October 19th, 2014 by bobmorris

D13_041_019Peter DiGiammarino is a senior executive with 35 years of success leading businesses that target tight public and private markets around the world. In addition to running companies, he serves public, private, private-equity-owned, and venture-capital-backed software and services firms as an adviser and/or board member and has consistently helped them to achieve their full potential to perform and grow. As a leader who has served successful companies in the role of CEO, Peter knows how to develop and lead teams of high-powered, driven professionals. His emphasis is to create and implement plans that are true to the organization’s market, offerings, competence, and purpose.

Peter currently serves as Chairman of Compusearch and advises a dozen other organizations as CEO of IntelliVen. He is based in San Francisco, California. He is also adjunct professor in the Organization Development program at the University of San Francisco where the workbook he authored, Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World, is used to teach a course he developed on Organization Analysis and Strategy. His book, Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World, was published by IntelliVen (July 2013).

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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Manage to Lead?

DiGiammarino: I have been writing consolidated insights based on lessons learned since undergraduate days. My first work-study job was to draft a procedures manual for the computer center to train new employees and to find ways to be more efficient. As a leader, I learned it was smart to write-up and distribute lessons learned to save others the trouble of learning again what had already been figured out. I stopped far short of writing a book, though, because it seemed that a book was nothing more than a heavy business card written primarily to gratify the ego of its author.

In 2010, American University asked me to organize a class based on what I had learned about developing successful organizations. My Teaching Assistant and I organized volumes of material into the seven truths and developed slides and scripts to cover each in detail. Students eventually suggested that the slides and script be handed out ahead so class time could be spent learning how to put the material to work rather than listening to me tell them what they could have read. Suddenly, it became clear that my content in book-form solves a real problem.

Still, I worried that AU would think I was just trying to make money selling slides in book-form to students who would have no choice but to buy them. When I shared my concern with my eldest daughter, she said: “Come-on Pops! Get over it and just write the darn book!” My wife piled-on saying the content deserved to be more polished and that working on a book would improve the product. Both were right!

At first I wanted to publish the content on a Web site thinking it more accessible to more people. I found that Web sites and blog posts are good for developing, organizing, and storing content but not so accessible to mass audiences who are conditioned to referencing books. After over 100 blog posts, more or less one for each of the slides used to lead 38 hours of classroom content, I organized them into the eight sections of the book.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

DiGiammarino: When I asked friends who authored books what they had learned from the experience, it became clear that an author is a customer of his/her publishing company though most authors think otherwise until they have been through the process. Also, I wanted to target early- and mid-career professionals who are more comfortable with digital content integrated with templates on intelliven.com. I also wanted to easily add and push-out new content as it evolved in a way that reader could access for no additional fee Publishers are not yet geared to support such an approach so I looked for a way to self-publish.

I came upon Inkling, the largest distributor of interactive, digital college textbooks and worked with their content management platform, Habitat and a third party, Innodata, to load the text, work problems, links, and graphics into interactive, digital form. Inkling, Habitat, and Innodata are outstanding to work with as they transform the way academics and professionals share and monetize original content. The Inkling version is accessible from PC, pad, or phone. Other advantages of the interactive version:

o Syncs between devices in real time, regardless of one’s Mac, PC, and mobile device preference.

o Includes self-assessments and work problems which help ensure that material is being actively learned as opposed to being mindlessly skimmed.

o Allows users to record notes in the text itself while reading or in class; notes are easily shared with instructors and classmates and in real-time to support running discussions as desired. Particularly helpful notes can be starred for easy reference later.

o Allows highlighting, search, glossary look-up, private or public annotations, animation, slideshows, puzzles, and social media sharing.

o Links to templates that can be filled out to put content to use as soon as it is learned.

Manage to Lead also had to be available in softcover from Amazon because most readers (unlike college students) are still conditioned to buy and read books in paper form which was accomplished using Amazon’s self-publishing platform known as CreateSpace.

Morris:
To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

DiGiammarino: My daughter’s original suggestion was that it be a workbook for students and clients; and that is exactly what it is, just as initially envisioned.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between great leadership and great management?

DiGiammarino: I agree with those that say you manage things and lead people but you also manage things in order to lead people so the two are not so much different when intertwined in great leaders. That ties in with the double meaning of the title of my book. Manage to Lead helps you to

o Manage yourself to do things that every leader ought to do and when you do them you are de facto leading.

o Squeak by in the role of leader even when you do not happen to be a born leader but you are a good manager!

Morris: Can great leadership be managed?

DiGiammarino: Even great leaders can and should be managed: by themselves, by their board, and/or by their team. The very thesis of Manage to Lead is that following the advice there-in helps any person, even a great leader, better serve in the role.

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many organizations have such a difficult time retaining their most valuable employees?

DiGiammarino: It is a badge of honor and a sign of greatness for an organization’s best people to leave in order to take top roles elsewhere. Consider, for example, how Mckinsey spawned future leaders of American Express (Golub) and IBM (Gerstner). GE has also made its stellar reputation grooming top CEOs but keeping only one for itself. As described in Reid Hoffman’s recent book (Alliance), jobs are projects, not life sentences. A career is best thought of as a mosaic of experiences across many organizations. Jim Collins once told me that the most an individual can do in one organization is a tour of about seven years. In my case it was two seven-year stints that necessarily had to end in leaving. It is inevitable that the best will leave. The wise strategy is for leaders to make the most of valuable employees while they have them.

Morris: Opinions are sharply divided about the importance of charisma to effective leadership. What do you think?

DiGiammarino: I have little use for charisma all by itself but it can come in handy. For example:

o When on the brink of disaster, such as when funding levels drop precipitously overnight as in 2008, an organization leader needs to resist temptation to squirrel away behind a closed door to figure out the exact right things to do and, instead, personally stand and deliver in front of the troops a message that compels them to follow.

o People in an organization need to be known, liked, respected, appreciated, and admired by others, especially by the leaders. The CEO does not need to be on a first name basis with every employee but each needs to feel like a person of importance and the leader needs to make sure it happens.

Morris: As I indicate in my review of the book for various Amazon websites, there are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye.

For those who have not as yet read the book, please respond to a series of questions that these passages evoke. First, The Seven Truths (18-19). Which of the seven seems to be the most difficult for leaders to obtain buy-in from direct reports? Why?

DiGiammarino: The most difficult of the seven truths for leaders of early stage organizations to accept is that no one does much alone and so a leader should be open to input from others. Most early stage organization leaders think it is a sign of weakness to need help and that they are supposed to know all the answers. They look at highly visible leaders such as Gates, Jobs, and Ellison and fail to see that each has an extraordinary team and network of strong players that make him appear to be more capable than he would be on his own.

Morris: Who: Market (24-25) By what process is this determined?

DiGiammarino: More important than getting the right market is getting the top team aligned so that they are all targeting the same market. As long as they talk it out and get aligned they will do well. Once they are aligned they can then iterate to get to a good, better, and best market…but first it is imperative to all have the same market in mind.

A way to get aligned is for each executive to fill out the W-W-W template and then ask a facilitator to help the group compare, consolidate, and iterate to a common articulation of whose (WHO) problem (WHY) the organization solves (WHAT). It turns out to be harder to do than anyone first imagines. It can take a year or more to get the top team and their board aligned but once aligned results soar.

Morris: Why: Problem (25-28) By what process is this determined?

DiGiammarino: The top team should seek to solve problems that are:

o Important in that it is worth a lot to solve in that the cost of not solving is high
o Pervasive such that a lot of people have the problem so there will be a large market to develop
o Persistent in that it doesn’t go away like the Year 2000 problem did.

If there are multiple problems to choose from, agree to target a persistent problem that is the most extreme in terms of importance and pervasiveness.

Morris: What: Solution (28) What are the most important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when determining the best solution to the given problem?

DiGiammarino: The solution has to address a problem that, if solved, drives so much value that it is worth the customer paying a price that nets a fair profit after covering the costs of developing, supporting, enhancing, marketing, selling, and delivering it. This is a simple algebraic formula for a successful business; but being simple doesn’t make it easy though it can be a homerun when all the elements fall into line.

Morris: How: Do-Sell-Grow (28-30) How best to measure the progress and impact of this process?

DiGiammarino: At any point in time an organization’s growth is constrained by one of the three core processes; i.e., its ability to do, sell, or grow. The key is to track all three.

o How many of its solutions can the organization deliver on time, on target, on budget?
o How many customers can the organization convince to purchase the solution?
o How fast can the organization grow its ability to deliver and to sell?

Whichever of these three currently constrains growth is the one to work on next; and then it’s on to the one that next constrains growth.

Morris: Work Problem: Get Clear (42-47) By what process to achieve this clarity?

DiGiammarino: The Get Clear work problem you refer to relates to developing the financial model that underlies and describes the organization’s business. Every business needs such a model. Few, if any, businesses are so dramatically different from any that have ever existed before that they can’t start by finding a successful business that is like the one they being built which means that a good place to start is with a similar organization’s financial model. If the organization deviates from a conventional business model it should do so for explicit, rational reasons that can be tested and verified.

Morris: Core Leadership Group (54-56) Two questions: How to determine its membership? and What are the defining characteristics?

DiGiammarino: A leader should look to populate his/her core leadership group with a small number of people s/he likes and knows well, who are good at different things important to the business, and who are wildly excited about working together to deploy their great strengths to achieve a common goal while giving all the credit for any success to others in the organization.

Morris: The Change Framework (67-68) Is this a strategic project or one that will be permanently embedded within the organizational structure? Please explain.

DiGiammarino: The Change Framework sets the context for strategic projects that are to change the way an organization works in planned ways. It does not stay in place permanently. By definition, it relates to initiatives that are terminated when the intended change in place. What ends up being permanently embedded in the organization is a disciplined way of thinking about, and of managing, planned change.

Morris: Meetings: Ground Rules (85-87) Which is most important? Why?

DiGiammarino: As explained in Manage to Lead, the most important ground rule depends entirely on the state of the group and what the leader seeks to accomplish. What is most important is that the group have rules and that the leader work with the group to develop and enforce them, whatever they may be and as they evolve to serve the group’s specific developmental purposes. That said, one of the ground rules most urgently needed in the early going is to Participate as part of a Collective Leadership and not as a Representative of a Constituency. The default mindset, perhaps because of too much time reading about politicians, seems to usually be that a leader/manager needs to fight each other for what is good for the people in his/her unit but it turns out that what serves the CEO and the organization best is if each member of the top team work as part of a collective whole to magnify enormously the capacity of the top to see what needs to be done and to then do it.

Morris: FOCUS: Penetrate Peaks (99-101) Penetrate which “peaks”? Why? Then what?

DiGiammarino: The simple rule is to rank order all things upon which to spend time according to importance and to then spend time on the most important until it is no longer most important. It could move from top to second most importance in a matter of seconds or it could take days, weeks, months, or even years. The idea is to consciously decide how to spend time rather than being enslaved by the onslaught of the inbox and its equivalents. Most people need help sorting, ranking, and deciding how to spend their time. It is an important job of the leader to be clear about what each person should be doing in support of the whole.

Along these lines, one of the most important things a sports team coach does is decide who plays which position. The same is true in any organization. Early stage ventures tend to start with everyone involved in everything. A measure of organization maturity is achieved when the leader realizes it is no longer all about having people helping him/her but, instead, it is about him/her making clear what each is supposed to do and then helping them do it successfully.

Morris: GROW: Organization Evolution (104-110) To what extent is this involved with a process of “natural selection” in the given competitive marketplace, if not industry? Please explain.

DiGiammarino: Any organization that gets through the start-up phase, where it makes even a little bit of money, can invariably be grown to make quite a bit more. If there is a Darwinian process at play it is in the iterations and mutations that play out in the early going. Once there is something to work with, no matter how small, it can generally become something significantly bigger. Manage to Lead lays out a framework, not to go from nothing to something, but to go from something to a lot!

The original idea behind the WHO-WHAT-WHY template, which is where the Manage to Lead content started, was to use it to assess the extent to which a given organization was clear about its market, problem, solution and assign a score to indicate the probability the venture would be a success. As the material evolved it became more complicated but the idea is still that any organization can be assessed using Manage to Lead as a score-sheet to determine how likely it is to perform and grow according to its plan. The framework is then also useful to determine what is most important to work on next towards that end.

Morris: What is the proper relationship between Effectiveness vs. Systems and Process Maturity

DiGiammarino: You need one (system and process maturity) to ensure you have the other (effectiveness) in the face of growth…consequently they are far from mutually exclusive and more accurately characterized as interdependent or inextricably linked.

Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?

DiGiammarino: Three leaders who I have learned from and who I try, in some measure, to emulate, along with what interests me most about each follows:

1. Paul Revere: Competence (silversmith), life-long learner (learned to smelt copper and started a copper smelting business at 80 years old), conviction (steadfastly committed to what he believed was right during the American Revolution)

2. John Muir: Naturalist who made US citizens (from the president on down) appreciate the enormity and beauty of nature, a humanist, and an engineer

3. Emmett Kelly: Optimist (his character always looked for the bright side no matter how bad things got), best at what he did (sad-faced clown), sought to stand out by being different (the first sad-faced clown)

Morris: Long ago, Thomas Edison observed, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Your response?

DiGiammarino: I agree. Anyone can have ideas and even invent things. Turning ideas into reality and then driving to scale is what is hard, fun, and rewarding. Edison didn’t just invent a practical light bulb…he invented the electric industry!

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read Manage to Lead and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Where to begin?

DiGiammarino: It is always best to get clear about what is to be accomplished and then to review it with two or three core team players to improve the idea and to get others on board to help realize it. In light of this, my suggestion is that the CEO take a stab at writing down what s/he wants to do and run it by a hand-picked few to get their reaction, factor in their input, secure their support, and then work with them to develop with a plan to execute. In this case, such a plan would include communicating that there is a new commitment to personal growth and professional development and then asking organization leaders to propose and then follow through on ideas to take steps in that direction. Such ideas might include:

o Tell everyone to never do anything because a leader tells them to; instead tell them to do what they do because they know what they are doing, want to do it, and think it is right to do. If someone finds him or herself doing something because a leader told him/her to but that s/he doesn’t understand, want to do, or think is right to do then it is to be raised for discussion.

o Put people in charge of important things and then help them be successful at what they have been assigned to do but leave them alone to make progress with a high degree of independence. Form a review board to be briefed regularly with leaders attending to provide support, guidance, and direction.

o Ask people throughout the organization how to make the place better and then assign them to work in cross-organization, cross-level, cross-tenure teams to implement the best ideas. Have groups report regularly to the management team and assign one member of the management team to sponsor each group’s work and make sure it stays on track but without taking over. Assign those leading each initiative and working in such groups to read and follow the advice presented in Manage to Lead.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Manage to Lead, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

DiGiammarino: The seven truths are like seven fingers on which sits a tray; if any one supporting finger gets out of synch with the rest, for example if it is too well develop or not developed as much as the rest, the tray falls over. All seven must be assessed, addressed, and developed iteratively and continuously in step with the others.

That said, there are invariably two things that, if a leader addresses, cause a major upward inflection in performance by organizations in the size range you mention.

Organizations can get to $15-20M by sheer energy, determination, and intelligence of the founder. Beyond that takes behavioral changes which do not come naturally because they are so dramatically different than what has correlated with the leader’s success so far.

The first is to be open to input (Get Help) and the second is to move from jungle soccer, where everyone runs to the ball, metaphorically referring to whatever the leader is doing, to position play where the leader has made clear what the organization is counting on from each player and sets about helping each to be successful (Get Clear).

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

DiGiammarino: No particular question comes to mind. You have done a great job with the questions asked. Thank you for the opportunity to answer them!

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To read Part 1, please click here.

Peter cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

www.intelliven.com (my web site that features a blog of tips and tools for getting organizations on track to fulfill their potential to perform and grow; subscribe to receive 2-3 short posts per month at no cost)

www.skills2lead.com/Leadership-Skills-blog.html (sample vision, mission, values)

www.harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu (HBR: strategy & change)

www.leadership.wharton.upenn.edu (strategy & leading change)

www.theheartofchange.com (leading change)

www.wiley.com/nonprofit (management books for non-profits)

www.itulip.com (current assessment of national financial activity)

www.businessbecause.com (international site connecting MBAs and aspiring MBAs with key topics and each other)

www.boardsource.com (for nonprofits)

www.grove.com (graphic tools for strategy, change, et al)

www.ai.cwru.edu (appreciative inquiry)

www.balancedscorecard.org (evaluation and measurement)

www.eq.org (emotional intelligence)

www.thevaluescenter.com (cultural transformation/values)

www.mindtools.com (wheel of life, development tools for people and organizations)

www.ceoexchange.com (books and other resources for CEOs)

TWITTER accounts to consider following:

@IntelliVen

@BusinessBecause

@fastcompany

@harvardbiz

@brazencareerist

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