Being of a generation that grew up with vinyl and hi-fi systems, I grieve the loss of all those record shops and the happy hours spent reorganising my collection. But I have recently become something of a convert to music streaming, and can see plenty of advantages. When researching subjects for my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity, I came across the story of Daniel Ek and Spotify, which makes for fascinating reading.
Although Apple, with its iTunes app, had already turned the music industry on its head by selling music in a completely different way, Ek’s vision was to provide music for free. Funded by paid advertising, Spotify aims to offer users the concept of having ‘all the world’s music on their hard drive’, at no cost. If users prefer to listen without ads, they can upgrade to a monthly subscription model. What makes Ek extra special, in my eyes, is that he claims to have known nothing about the music business when he started out. What he had was extraordinary vision and determination, and it has paid off in spades. A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but no knowledge, I believe, can be the secret of success.
In the world of computing, making routers and hardware is not sexy. People are excited by the possibilities opened up by new software. They take the back room stuff for granted. So imagine what a mountain US networking and telecoms giant CISCO had to climb when it decided to rebrand itself as a market leader in The Internet of Things – the futuristic vision of total connectivity that promises to change lives. This made a perfect case study in my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
One of the ways in which CISCO have tackled their ‘image problem’ is to run a series of eye-catching, contemporary ‘advertorials’ in high profile magazines, running to 4 pages and aiming to explain how the Internet of Things (or pretty much everything) will work in practice, and what the advantages will be for both businesses and end users. No surprise, then, that they have attracted the attention of major players Apple, Microsoft and Google, all wanting a piece of the action. Suddenly, CISCO are hot again – but they never had to worry about their business. They just wanted to be loved, too.
‘How are the mighty fallen’ – or so we all thought when news erupted about Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, right at the height of their world domination of the auto industry, spearheaded by their ‘Think Blue’ manifesto (and for ‘Blue’, read ‘Green’). I was so impressed by their commitment to excellence across the board that, pre-scandal, I chose VW as a case study for my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity. So, if it had all gone very wrong, where did that leave my lecture?
A couple of years down the line from the breaking news, VW seem to be doing OK. They have obviously paid out billions in penalties, and top executives have been charged, but they are moving ahead on all fronts and are planning to become the world’s number 1 producer of electric cars. The emissions scandal has become yesterday’s news in a world where news, these days, has the power to knock you sideways. Perhaps, then, some of the messages from their manifesto made a lasting impression with the workforce, who remain loyal and determined to pull the company round. In any event, it makes for an interesting case study.
We’re all familiar with Netflix and the services it provides. From the early (not so long ago) days of supplying DVDs through the post, Netflix has gone on to become a major media streaming service and creator of original material, with huge international reach. What is less familiar is the story behind their company culture – ‘Freedom and Responsibility’ – which I discovered when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
Netflix started an HR revolution when their 128-slide presentation went viral. Music to the ears of employees everywhere, it shifted the responsibility for holidays, hours worked, expenses, share options and more, onto the employee, in the belief that ‘97% of people will behave in a responsible manner, and always do the right thing for the company’. This was radical creative thinking for what has become a very creative company, and it has allowed them to attract the best creative talent in a hugely competitive area. And what of the 3% who fail to make the grade? They get a generous pay off and leave quickly – so it’s a win win situation.
Following the financial crisis of 2008, the banking sector came in for its fair share of criticism. Already disliked in many quarters, the banking fraternity were vilified in the media and very little sympathy was extended to the likes of Lehman Brothers who were allowed to ‘fail’. All the more surprising, then, that Goldman Sachs has not only survived, but now competes with the tech giants in Silicon Valley for the very best graduates from around the world, and is known as a great place to work. How come? I attempted to answer this in my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
Despite its traditional values and some interesting quirks – it operates its staff canteen on a commercial basis, charging increased prices in periods of high demand – Goldman Sachs is surprisingly liberal in its attitude to staff and working conditions. Flexible hours are encouraged, and there are systems in place to encourage return to work after breaks. They have a great record on minority group issues, as well as philanthropy. Most surprisingly, in a tough, competitive environment with plenty of pressure, employees claim that there is ‘an overriding feeling of consensus’. Maybe in this bank, at least, all is not as bad as we think.
I can clearly remember the launch of Twitter, and thinking how odd was the concept of sending a text message restricted to just 140 characters. Of course, I now tweet on a regular basis and follow many fellow tweeters, along with my daily catch-up on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. So, one would expect Twitter to be a runaway success as a business, assured of billions of dollars in future revenues. Not so, I discovered, when researching the company for my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
The business has been dogged by problems with its management team, but most interestingly, it has always struggled to decide exactly what Twitter is. Its founders have consistently maintained that it is not a social networking site. So is it simply a communications tool, or something more? This confused thinking and lack of vision has made investors wary, and has kept away top talent. So what will become of Twitter – everyone’s favourite ‘don’t quite know what’? Answers in 140 characters, please.
Considering why strong leadership is so vital to a company’s success, using a number of case studies to illustrate different management and team-building styles.
Related case studies:
Looking back at some of the changes at the top in recent years at Marks and Spencer and considering the implications for other high street retailers as they face the challenges of competing in an online world.
Looking into leadership in many different spheres, starting with key political leaders both past and present. Discovering what makes a leader successful in times of hardship, political unrest, conflict. How a leader overcomes difficulties and wins support from the majority.
Related case studies:
Taking a detailed look at two business case studies, Cisco Systems and Goldman Sachs, where creative management has influenced and improved both performance and company image.
Looking into different leadership styles, illustrated by Tony Fadell of Nest and Tim Brown at IDEO, to see how contrasting approaches to management can reap huge benefits for both a company’s employees and its shareholders.
Comparing two long-established businesses with very different styles of management, Mars and Lego, where adapting to change has brought its own challenges and demanded a special brand of managerial creativity to keep them at the top.