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Ron Ashkenas

Entries by Ron Ashkenas

When Failure Is a Good Option

(2) Comments | Posted August 22, 2012 | 10:54 AM

You may remember the line uttered by Ed Harris in the movie Apollo 13: "We've never lost an American in space and we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option."

Many managers use this same expression...

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Thinking Long-Term in a Short-Term Economy

(0) Comments | Posted August 9, 2012 | 3:51 PM

Do you find it odd that when a company announces a profit of $8.4 billion in a single quarter, the performance is reported as "disappointing"? Or $5.7 billion as "dreadful"? Fact is, these were the terms used to describe the results produced by Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell after...

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You Can Prevent Layoffs

(1) Comments | Posted August 7, 2012 | 6:30 PM

When you strip away the fancy jargon, a successful business fundamentally makes more money than it spends. While managers can pull any number of levers to accomplish this, the one they most often choose reads: "Reduce costs!" And perhaps the most common way they cut costs is to...

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Ten Ways to Inhibit Innovation

(4) Comments | Posted July 27, 2012 | 10:44 AM

Every company is looking for the magic formula that will produce breakthrough products and services. But a better starting point is to think about what gets in the way of innovation, especially in firms that already have lots of talented, creative, and motivated people. In other words, by...

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Define What's Optional (and What's Not)

(0) Comments | Posted July 19, 2012 | 1:09 PM

When my children were young and it was past their bedtimes, I used to give them a choice: Either walk to your room, or be carried. While this gave them control over how they would go to bed, it left them no choice about the end result. In other words...

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Bring Back the General Manager

(0) Comments | Posted July 11, 2012 | 2:44 PM

Have you noticed that general managers are scarce these days? These are the executives who run discrete businesses and control all of the resources associated with them. But in many large companies, the only true general manager is the CEO. Everyone else, whether in the C-suite or in...

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Turning a Problem Into an Opportunity

(1) Comments | Posted July 3, 2012 | 5:31 PM

Managers have little choice about facing challenges, whether they come from competitors, economic conditions, or customer demands. However, they can choose whether they treat those challenges as problems or opportunities.

Here's an example of two managers faced with the same challenge -- one approached it as a problem...

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Embracing Risk in Career Decisions

(1) Comments | Posted June 19, 2012 | 4:43 PM

Risk management is critical for business decisions -- but may not be healthy for making decisions about your career. In fact, if you want your career to take off, you may need to do the opposite of what risk managers try to do: Instead of focusing...

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Learned Helplessness in Organizations

(1) Comments | Posted June 7, 2012 | 3:23 PM

Here's a cautionary tale of cultural disempowerment: A number of years ago, one of my colleagues was asked to help reduce bureaucracy and speed up decision-making in GE's former nuclear business -- but was told that nothing could be done because every procedure was based on government regulations....

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Breaking Into a New Company

(0) Comments | Posted May 31, 2012 | 10:33 AM

For most of us, starting at a new company brings up those same anxieties we felt when starting in a new school as a child. All of a sudden you don't have any friends, you're not sure what you're supposed to do, and it's hard to find the...

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It's Time to Rethink Continuous Improvement

(4) Comments | Posted May 22, 2012 | 11:37 AM

Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, and other variations on continuous improvement can be hazardous to your organization's health. While it may be heresy to say this, recent evidence from Japan and elsewhere suggests that it's time to question these methods.

Admittedly, continuous improvement...

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Why Strategies Go Off the Rails

(3) Comments | Posted May 22, 2012 | 9:58 AM

Have you ever been in a situation where everyone seemingly agrees on a particular strategy, but somehow it never happens?

See if you identify with this example: A technology firm -- with a number of different product areas, geographic units, and service functions -- was figuring out how...

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Managers Don't Really Want to Innovate

(1) Comments | Posted May 3, 2012 | 12:42 PM

Innovation may be an organization's life blood, but still its success rate in most companies hovers at just 17 percent. Even innovation leader P&G succeeds less than 50 percent of the time.

What prevents companies from innovating better? One possibility is that managers don't...

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The Paradox of High-Potential Employees

(4) Comments | Posted April 25, 2012 | 5:48 PM

To retain high-potential employees, the conventional wisdom is deceptively simple: identify, develop, and nurture them. By paying special attention to the very best people, they will stay with the firm and eventually emerge as key leaders.

But translating this into action is much more difficult. As...

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Telltale Signs of an Unhealthy Hierarchy

(1) Comments | Posted April 18, 2012 | 5:46 PM

We may talk about eliminating hierarchy, but most organizations still have one. Frankly, it's very hard to mobilize limited resources and diverse skills without someone taking charge. That's why hierarchies have existed for thousands of years -- from the days of the Pharaohs to the modern...

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Great Leaders Use the Power of Dreams

(0) Comments | Posted April 12, 2012 | 5:05 PM

Buying a lottery ticket has an extremely low chance of paying off. Yet many people, at least in countries where it's legal, do it anyway. In the United States alone, it's estimated that almost half the population plays the lottery; and recently Americans spent...

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Rejection Is Critical for Success

(3) Comments | Posted April 6, 2012 | 12:24 PM

There are few experiences more painful than being rejected. We vividly remember the hurt of not being picked for a sports team, not being invited to a social event, or not being accepted to university. Our basic human need to belong causes these incidents to...

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Your Career Needs to Be Horizontal

(0) Comments | Posted April 3, 2012 | 12:39 PM

Like it or not, most of us think about career success in terms of moving up the hierarchy. Let me illustrate with a story:

I once worked with the new CEO of a well-known global firm which was barely breaking even. The CEO's mandate from the board was...

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Firing Someone the Right Way

(2) Comments | Posted March 26, 2012 | 3:53 PM

Perhaps the most difficult part of any manager's job is telling a subordinate that he can no longer stay with the company -- that he's been "fired," "let go," "dismissed" or otherwise taken off the payroll. It's a gut-wrenching conversation, knowing how this simple act affects a person's...

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Is Dodd-Frank Too Complex to Work?

(13) Comments | Posted March 15, 2012 | 11:14 AM

Often when an organizational problem occurs, the typical response is to create regulations to prevent that problem from happening again. For example, in a machine shop where safety gloves often went missing, the company centralized access to new gloves; required request forms for new gloves, with supervisor approval; and had...

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