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John Bernard

John Bernard ‘s work in redefining the fundamental drivers of business performance improvement has led to national recognition as a thought leader in employee engagement. As an equally experienced executive and consultant, his effective articulation of new ways of thinking about management and management systems has led to his forthcoming book, Engage to Win, The Surprising Secret to Extraordinary Employee Engagement. John is managing partner of Portland, Oregon based Mass Ingenuity at Check out John's book at

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Managing in the NOW, It’s Serious Stuff

Two-and-half weeks following the August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the city of New Orleans, federal officials did something unbelievable. According to a CNN article about Chalmette Medical Center, “Doctors eager to help sick and injured evacuees were handed mops by federal officials who expressed concern about legal liability… And so they mopped, while people died around them.” Many similar stories of chaos and mismanagement provide a sad checklist of what not to do when you’re managing a disaster.

That paragraph is an excerpt from chapter five. More than any other research I have done for the book, MANAGING IN THE NOW, the stories about the Katrina disaster were the most appalling examples of the complete absence of process thinking.

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Know Your Mission!

In chapter five walk through an example of a company building out its NOW Fundamentals Map, foundation to the shift from THEN thinking to NOW thinking.

Here’s what I write about its use:

“Over the past twenty years the NOW Fundamentals Mapsm that evolved from that sketch for the bank’s leaders has benefited nearly 100 diverse organizations, including a high school, a university level nursing school, a high-end customer window-covering manufacturer, a large financial services business, several medical equipment and device companies, wood products companies, a global supply chain company, multiple software and technology companies, a family restaurant & pub, the executive branch of a state government, a corrections system, and a Christian missionary organization.”

President John F. Kennedy articulated one of most inspiring visions of modern times when he said in speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on May 25, 1961, “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” His challenge set in motion an unparalleled period of collaboration and U.S. technological innovation.

On July 16, 1969 astronaut Neil Armstrong fulfilled that vision when he set foot on the moon and uttered the immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Organizations need to know why they exist and what they are trying to accomplish. Kennedy’s speech made the mission clear in a way that inspired commitment and action to reaching a clearly defined goal. However extraordinary or mundane a mission you set for your own organization, you need to do what Kennedy did because that will lay the basic foundation upon which your people will build success

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System Thinking is a Must Do

I recently reconnected with Megan Clubb through LinkedIn, the CEO of Baker Boyer Bank which even through the recession continues to be one of the best regional banks in the country. We had some great fun working together in the early 1990s and my consulting career was just getting started and Megan was on the path to become CEO of the bank. I mention her bank because she faced a problem common to many organizations. Here’s what I write in the book:

In 1990 Baker Boyer Bank, a well-run regional operation based in Walla Walla, Washington, embarked on an initiative to enhance quality by mapping every single process in the organization. In this way, management treated all processes (and their problems) as equal. To paraphrase George Orwell, “All problems are equal, but some problems are more equal than others.” You will not reap a decent return on investment if you try to map all of an organization’s processes in one fell swoop. So what should you do? First, stop thinking in terms of processes and start thinking in terms of the overall system. Then you can more easily separate the got-to-have breakthroughs from the nice-to-have improvements. Only the former will get you a big return on your investment to sustain such efforts.

To help Baker Boyer Bank, we showed the bank’s leaders how to see their organization as a system. That involved sketching on a single sheet of paper all the critical elements the leaders needed to manage in order to achieve their goals. The satellite’s-eye overview of the system would help them identify their major constraints focus their effort where it would yield the greatest return. While most small regional banks have merged into bigger national chains, Baker Boyer Bank remains a thriving and highly respected independent player in its market.

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Forget Your Budget Performance

Virtually all organizations use how they are doing versus their budget as a key measure of performance. While you must manage your dollars, this measure is necessary but borders on useless in terms or focus. You might enjoy this from the book:

THEN companies tend to use few measures, and the ones they do use often fail to keep the right scores. Take “performance against budget”, for instance. This “most used and least useful” measure tells you nothing except whether or not you spent the money you thought you would spend.  But what does it tell you about whether or not you are making satisfactory progress toward your business goals? NOW company leaders want to know about that progress. They use scorekeeping to create the right context for action. The right context gives employees the maximum freedom to act in service of the customer. The right measures create the right context by clearly communicating what you expect your people to accomplish. Every good management system relies on them. They remind everyone,   “I keep score to maintain focus.”

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Keeping Score

One of the foundational shifts in a NOW organization is the shift to keeping score as a means of maintaining focus. This taps into our human desire to improve and oddly few businesses do this well. I use the following story to illustrate the weaknesses inherent in the annual performance review:

Imagine you’ve taken a job that involves playing basketball 40 hours a week. Five days a week you go to the court and play as well as you can from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You play hard, but no one ever keeps score. At the end of the year your manager sits you down for an annual performance review. What can she tell you but “You showed up and did your best”?   You can hardly improve on that performance. Now suppose the next year she installs a scoreboard on the wall. Now at the end of each hour or day or week or month you and your manager can talk about specific ways in which you might improve your performance. You’ll focus, strive to improve, work on your technique, test new strategies and go to work each day, eager to make improvements.

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Manage the Routine Work of Your Business

In Chapter Five I dig into what it takes to effectively manage the routine work of the business in such a way that it results in it taking fewer and fewer resources to do better and better work. I explore the kind of mindset it takes to this, a mindset that must permeate the organization and the thinking of everyone in it. Among the five mindset shifts most organizations have to make is the shift to process thinking. Here’s a excerpt from that section:

“Mary” always racks up exceptional numbers at the market research firm “EKnowledge”, where her sales volume, customer satisfaction scores and margin greatly exceeded those of her peers. People admire Mary’s “gift of gab” and cannot imagine anyone better suited for the job. If you ask her it, she laughs, “Oh, I’m no Einstein. But I am one thing, and that’s disciplined.”

As she goes on to explain, “I have this process I have fine-tuned over the past couple of years and I have learned what works in each kind of situation I run into. When something doesn’t work, I try something else until I find a way of handling customer concerns that remove their concerns and make it easy to buy our service.”

In other words, Mary viewed her work as a process, a series of interconnected steps she took to satisfy customers. She constantly thought about how she could improve a step in the process and thus enhance the customer experience. She never stopped looking for opportunities; and when she spotted one, she seized it immediately. Sounds like someone working in the NOW, doesn’t it?

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“The Cloud that Refreshes”

In chapter four I examine the issues around cloud computing, titling the section “The Cloud that Refreshes” because of the struggles organizations are having with the world of information technology.  It’s costly, hazardous and rarely lives up to its promise of better, faster and cheaper. The story that follows drives home the point in terms that would make any CEO consider any and all alternatives:

In 2005 Justin King, British retail giant Sainsbury’s new CEO, took a huge hit when he decided to scrap the mammoth Information Technology project he had inherited from his predecessor. That painful but necessary step cost the company a $526 million investment write-off. The new automated supply chain system functioned so poorly that it could not handle the sheer volume of merchandise customers had ordered. So much of that merchandise had gotten stuck in the company’s depots that Sainsbury had to hire 3,000 extra stocking clerks to fill backed-up orders.

A press release from Sainsbury associated with the write-off summed up the calamity: “IT systems have also failed to deliver the anticipated increase in productivity and the costs today are a greater proportion of sales than they were four years ago…. The rollout of future systems and upgrades has been slowed down while focusing on driving benefits from the systems already in place.” Translated into common English, that corporate doublespeak meant “Sainsbury will go back to using some of its old manual processes.”

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Leveraging the Game Changers …

I thoroughly enjoyed the research I did to write chapter four, titled: Leveraging the Game Changers, Gain the Speed You Need. Some of the facts about social media are simply stunning. Here’s a short excerpt from the chapter:

Consider these telltale signs of the impact of social media:

  • “I learned more about my daughters from their Facebook pages than I did from raising them,” claims Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
  • According to Morgan Stanley’s Internet Mobile Report, in July of 2009 the number of monthly social media users surpassed the number of email users.
  • Bank of America now responds to 1,100 tweets per day with their staff of “Twitter Agents.”
  • Facebook adds 700,000 new members and processes 45 million updates every day.
  • Bloggers each and every day of the week post enough content to fill 7000 issues of the New York Times.
  • Wikipedia, launched in 2001, now offers 15 million free articles in 200 languages contributed by a million volunteer authors.
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It’s All About The Conversation

I recently had a fascinating conversation with social media thought leader Brian Solis, author of “ENGAGE! The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web.” A man who practices what he preaches, Brian has built his own brand in no small part because of his access to celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Katie Couric.

“We are trying to take an existing one-to-many approach and adapt it to a Mass Customization world and it just doesn’t work,” believes Brian. In no small part, the fundamental challenge and opportunity centers around the fact that social media is all about the “conversation” and that switches organizational communication from a one-to-many strategy to an opportunity for human touch, an opportunity to create relationships. That touch turns the cold message of the corporation into a human connection and the voice breathes life into every problem and every opportunity.

Brian tells people who shun social media that it is not responsible for the invention of conversation; all it has done is bring out into the open what people are already talking about. But the fear most executives have is that it will expose their cracks for all the world to see. That is certainly true.

An excerpt from the working draft of the book that tells the power of social media to move the world:

In a dark shadow with his voice altered to protect his identity the owner of the Twitter handle @BPGlobalPR told his ABC television interviewer the reason why he had taken on British Petroleum over its handling of the 2010 Deep Horizon Gulf oil spill.

“Well, I did it just as a reaction to the way BP was trying to spin things in the Gulf,” told the man who was spoofing BP and the world by tweeting highlights of crisis management missteps as if he worked for BP.  “I felt they were trying to protect their brand more than they were trying to be proactive and honest about the situation down there.”

Josh Simpson, a 26-year-old Los Angeles comedian, was the man behind the farce that rocked BP and the world. Once the crisis cooled down he felt it was okay to reveal his identity. Gaining some celebrity in the process, Josh plans to continue using the handle but is switching what the BP means from British Petroleum to “Big Polluters.”

Social media is rocking our world.

In Chapter Four I examine the drivers of speed in our modern mass customization-driven economy, social media, cloud computing and the millennial mindset. Researching these topics has been fascinating and fun. Next week I’ll share a millennial story that is right out of the movie Legally Blonde, thanks to Dr. Nicole Lipkin, author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the ‘Me First’ Generation.


MANAGING IN THE NOW – follower’s blog

Welcome to the MANAGING IN THE NOW follower’s blog. I hope you enjoyed the video.

Thanks to my great literary agent Michael Snell we had three publishers interested in publishing the book, and we are thrilled to be working with John Wiley & Sons, publishers of such great books as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, True North by Bill George and David Gergen; and numerous books by the likes of Peter Drucker.

I’ll be writing at the pace of a chapter every two weeks and along the way I intend to share some excerpts to help you understand where the book is going. Here’s a snippet from Chapter One, where I introduce the idea of YESability—how capable are your company’s front-line people at saying “yes” to your customer and prospect’s unique needs? From chapter one:

YES derives its power from the fact that it saves us time, and time, like low tide, waits for no one. We can never buy more of it, it continually slips away, and when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. When we hear a prompt YES, we can happily move on to something else we need to do. When we hear NO, especially after waiting for over an hour to hear it, we feel as if we’ve been robbed of something we can never replace.

“We also value YES because it respects our needs. When an organization, be it an insurance provider or the Department of Motor Vehicles, respects our needs, we feel good. And no one can devise a better definition for customer service than ‘making the customer feel good.’  That feeling lies at the heart of every customer relationship, and yet companies forget that fact all the time when they take loyalty for granted.”

We are in the midst of the largest transformation in a century as we transition from a Mass Production base to one dependent upon Mass Customization, making YESability essential for economic survival. A bit more from chapter one:

“Mass customization, a term Stan Davis popularized in his 1987 book Future Perfect,   aptly describes the internet’s impact on the marketplace. We’ll examine mass customization’s impact on management closely in Chapter Two, but for now just keep in mind this basic definition: ‘the use of computer-aided systems to produce custom output.’  Why does that matter? These systems change the whole game because they combine the low unit cost of mass production with the flexibility of individual customization.  While mass production supplied many identical products produced at a low cost, mass customization offers individually differentiated products manufactured at or near mass production costs.  Mass production once drove the global economy and still plays a major role in emerging economies, but mass customization increasingly defines a new economy, where companies can say YES to customers and give them what they want when they want it. Of course, businesses have always striven to do that, but now they can do it. Three key drivers have conspired to make it all possible.”

I look forward to sharing more of chapter one next week.

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