We all take Google for granted. We expect it to work, and work really well, each time we use it. But imagine the hardware and software that are needed to keep this leviathan operating at such a level with the kind of usage it gets today – mindboggling. And I discovered, when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity, that Google has not always found it easy to keep pace with demand.
Some years ago now, Google’s head of engineering needed to solve the problem of data storage – an ongoing problem – and rather than seeking a technical solution, he chose a creative approach. He formed two teams to work on the problem, each working independently, and stepped back while they set about the task. And when one of the teams came up with a solution – which was implemented – he kept the other team working on the next solution. A kind of rolling contract. It has obviously proved to be a successful model. I’m sure that, like me, you find Google works pretty well, whenever you need it.
Successful product design consultancy IDEO, based in California, have come up with an unusual concept as a cornerstone of their company culture. They believe in ‘collaborative helping’ – essentially, sharing knowledge and ideas, not only with fellow workers but with clients too. To me, when I first came across it when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity, this seemed like the antithesis of good business practice, and I wanted to know how they had managed to make it work.
In my early career, knowledge was king. The best way to protect your own job and keep your company one step ahead was to keep your knowledge to yourself – to make yourself indispensable. Not so these days, it seems. IDEO have found that by encouraging the exchange of ideas and knowledge, employees complete tasks more quickly, grow in confidence, and enjoy a feeling of ‘ownership’ of projects, however peripheral their involvement. And to do this, the company has to build ‘slack’ into the system, to allow time for all this helping, which they claim then leads to greater efficiency overall. Maybe it’s time, then, for all of us to ‘let it go’.
It is possible that you are controlling your home heating system with the help of Nest, the brainchild of ex-Apple engineer Tony Fadell, who sold his 4-year-old start-up company to Google in 2013 for $3.2 billion. Why would a company like Google be interested in a device that regulates people’s central heating? (Oh, and there was also a smart carbon monoxide detector under the Nest banner.) I found the answer when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
Tony Fadell is not just interested in user-friendly heating regulators. He is interested in total connectivity, or The Internet of Everything. And that is something that Google are very interested in. Imagine the sort of data gathering that can be achieved when a company has access to people’s total buying habits – whether it’s their domestic fuel consumption or the contents of their fridge. That equals power, and one amazing revenue stream. Fadell claims that he is not motivated by money – hence the sell-out – as he just wants to get on with making great products. He trusts the team at Google to look after our data. I only wish that I shared his confidence.
Few toy companies win the kind of admiration that is enjoyed by Lego. Universally respected, and loved by generations of children – and many adults – since its first appearance in the mid 1950s, the Lego brick has always been associated with quality, creativity, and learning through play. With the company’s current high profile, courtesy of Lego’s move into film making, there seems to be no stopping them. But this has not always been the case, as I discovered when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity.
In the early years of the new millennium, Lego began to lose its way. Theme parks mushroomed, and the range was extended to include clothes, books and dolls. Lego packs were filled out with pre-formed plastic pieces that had nothing to do with fixing bricks together, and profits plummeted. Enter a new CEO, the first non-family member in Lego’s history, and the company was turned around. How did he do it? By going right back to the brick – the thing that makes Lego unique. And they have been building on that success ever since.
Any chocolate lover will be familiar with the names Marathon, M&Ms, Twix and many more household brands that emanate from the Mars factory. This giant of the confectionery world – the third largest privately owned company in the US – also owns the Pedigree and Whiskas pet food brands, and Wrigley’s chewing gum, and has world-wide distribution. What fascinated me about Mars as a company, when researching my series of lectures on Leadership, Teambuilding and Managerial Creativity, was their extraordinary record on employee satisfaction and loyalty. What makes it such a great place to work?
One of the factors has to be their insistence on quality. None of their products is allowed to get through if it doesn’t meet the company’s exacting standards. And so employees take pride in their work, and they feel appreciated. Staff turnover is very low, and many employees are third generation Mars workers, or ‘Martians’, as they call themselves. Management encourage job-swapping and training, so there is plenty of opportunity for advancement. But maybe most important of all, Mars remains independent, which means no shareholders and no media interference. And that keeps Mars, and its staff, sweet.
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.