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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 – 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.


Cutting Won’t Fix Oregon, But There is a Solution

Oregon is broken, and if we don’t fix it, Oregon will be broke.

We cannot “cut” our way out of this. Yes, cuts are required, but cuts don’t solve the underlying problems we face and they only pretend to ward off the inevitable collapse. To solve the problem we must face three realities and address them—simultaneously and immediately.

REALITY ONE: Our legislative process does not work. Last session Oregon’s Legislature passed and the Governor signed 844 new laws. This added in excess of 25,000 pages of documents rained down on the state’s agencies to administer. Few of these laws eliminated or rationalized laws passed in previous sessions so the pile of regulations builds. No wonder the budget grows and the number of state employees has mushroomed.

REALITY TWO: Governmental agencies are full of waste, in no small part because of Reality One. There is no formal accountability to the citizens of this state other than the occasional dramatic and extremely absurd examples that end up on the front page of The Oregonian. What measures do the state use as a meaningful report card to its citizens.

REALITY THREE: Oregon does not serve its citizens, it serves special interest groups. In Salem it is commonly said among bureaucrats that it is far more dangerous to your career to anger the special interest groups than it is to anger your boss, the Governor.

Let me expose my biases before I share what I believe are the solutions. My company has begun in recent months working with two state agencies (Department of Administrative Services and the Oregon Youth Authority). We improve performance through the implementation of an integrated system of management. We change the focus and rules to help both public and private sector organizations speed fixing their problems. Typically we see gains in the 20-30 percent range within two to three years.

I am also a third generation Oregonian, married and have five children. I’m hoping this next generation will have a viable place to work and live, the undeniable beauty of Oregon aside.

So, what is the answer?

It begins with getting back to a state that is citizen focused and driven, not one driven by those organized better to demand attention. Leadership must step up and step in and clearly articulate and validate the needs of Oregonians, such obvious things as a good education, public safety, and care for the elderly and the disadvantaged. Once the focus in clear, the work beings:

  1. Each agency needs clear goals directly tied to what citizens need and expect from their state government.
  2. Agency goals must be translated into clear measures, with performance targets set, so government is accountable. Among these measures must be both the benefit to Oregonians and the costs associated with each goal.
  3. Performance on measures must be transparent and posted on line and in the media, so citizens can monitor them (at least quarterly) and give feedback on progress.
  4. Agency leaders must be then held publicly accountable for progress toward the targets. If they fail to move their agencies, leadership must be changed swiftly.
  5. State agencies must make clear what help they need from the Legislature to achieve the goals they have been given. They must understand their challenges and guide the legislation needed for a focused, clean and cost-effective delivery of changes needed to aggressively move toward our goals.
  6. Citizens must hold their legislators accountable to work with agency leadership to pass laws that help the state cost effectively achieve its goals and drive performance toward targets. Legislators must help to simplify the state’s laws and work collaboratively to reduce the incredible red tape caused by an unfocused, unaccountable Legislature which drives an unfocused, unaccountable state government.
  7. Special interest groups must be held in check to make sure their advocacy supports what Oregonians need from their government. In practical terms the clear goals of the state must trump the needs of any and all special interest groups.

Oregon has tried in the past what may appear to be some of these steps. Oregon Benchmarks look a lot like items 2 and 3. Unfortunately the accountability was disconnected from the agency structure. This didn’t and won’t work because accountability must be connected to authority for action, otherwise all people can do is point fingers.

I believe the key to all of this is that citizens NEEDS must trump all other needs.

Before I started working with the leadership teams of Department of Administrative Services and Oregon Youth Authority it was easy for me to fall in the trap of believing that bureaucrats care more about preserving their jobs than they do about Oregonians. I will tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Sure they are challenged as managers in these bizarrely complex and fast-paced times. But so is the private sector. But what’s unique about the agencies of state government is they get squeezed between a myopic legislative process and self-serving interest groups; it’s a debilitating combination. Until we break the cycle, state government will continue to need bigger budgets and more staff to deal more laws and more interests. Under the current system the needs of Oregonians are a distant third.

Our system of state government as it operates today is broken. Cutting won’t solve the root cause of a failing system. We have to put our house in order to get on a viable path to survivability.


Why Are Your Employees So Disengaged?

It may strike you as odd that the one resource we all talk about as being our most valued is the one we seem least able to use effectively–our people. Long called the most valuable asset, our workforce remains shockingly disengaged, according to research by The Gallup Organization. Why when asked do 69 percent of workers in this country categorize themselves as disengaged—which we could easily expand into disinterested and perhaps disheartened?  And of those disenfranchised workers, according to Gallup, what is even more unnerving is 29 percent go further and are actually categorized as “actively disengaged.” That means they cause trouble.

So, let me slow down a minute.

An engaged worker is an employee who takes initiative without being asked to help, initiative that helps advance the organization toward its goals. Sounds like a good thing, right? That’s an understatement! According to Gallup, organizations with high levels of engagement out-earn their competitive peers by as much as 30 percent.

So why are these engaged characters so rare? And, where do we get ‘em?

Is it just human nature for people to go to work and not care about their organization’s success, or is there something else going on? If you believe, as do I, that it IS human nature to want to make a difference, to want to be part of something bigger than we are, to be creative and clever and helpful, then you know blaming the people who work for us is pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Our people come to work excited by the possibilities and slowly but surely they disengage. We all know the optimism that fuels our energy in a new job; we think, “this could be the thing I have been looking for, a job where I can make a difference.”

Why do people disengage? Let me know what you think!

If you would like the full text of this article please drop me a note.


One Very Frustrated CEO!

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with a CEO friend of mine. He was very frustrated so I asked him to “just talk” and let me make notes. Here’s the highlights of what he said in his voice:

“It is increasingly difficult to keep up with the competitive demands of the markets we serve and I worry about it constantly. I feel pressure from my competitors, pressure from my customers, pressure from my shareholders and pressure from my employees. They all seem to have an insatiable appetite for my company to do better and it has me constantly on the lookout for solutions. I look for solutions constantly but move cautiously to bring in new programs (yes, we have a lean/six sigma initiative that has been running for a couple of years).

We have started experimenting with social media inside the company and it makes me nervous because any moves I make (anything I say or write about) subject to extreme scrutiny which makes me reluctant; I am confused about how I use this new stuff to strengthen my business. I remain hungry for better ways of doing things and some peace of mind that I am doing everything I can to run the business in a way that it will be successful. Right now I feel like I am at best treading water, and at times I am barely able to keep my head above water.”

What do you think? Ever been there?


Incremental Competitiveness

In modern organizational life, invention is the engine of competitiveness. Multi-year on-going Research by The Gallup Organization and Towers Perrin proves that organizations that effectively engage their employees out-earn their competitive peers by 20-28 percent. Some research has shown the numbers can be even higher. These organizations out- earn their peers because they out -invent them. IT IS THAT SIMPLE.

The employees are creating value by delivering superior products relative to price, and the quality of the product and the cost to deliver it are all driven by micro inventions–little bitty improvements. Therefore, he who drives the most micro improvements wins over time. This seems so obvious. Yet few leaders capitalize on this approach. Why is this the case? Do you agree?


Is It A Winning Combination?!

Beware the shiny object. The appeal of the bright new toy is impossible to resist.

Managers have longed searched for that one thing they need to do that will engage their people, transforming the business and creating the ultimate sustainable competitive advantage. We’ve all read the endless stream of books and through them dreamed of a better way. Who hasn’t tried process improvement, scorecards, lean, six sigma, teamwork, personality styles testing, change management and, of course, the power of the new twist on leadership? Well executed, all of these ideas contribute to better performance. With the plethora of information available, our successes in the world of management and leadership should be clear. Right? Read the rest of this entry »


Such Little Thinking! Such Great Things!

Our natural creative energies as human beings thrive in the world of the incremental. We love making little improvements and our minds are always working on something—something we can do to make our lives a little bit better. We love ideas so much that people with BIG ideas become our heroes. We love invention and we love the people who invent. What would our lives be like without automobiles, canned food, pasteurized milk, beer, refrigerators, zippers, CAT scanners, television, air conditioning, computers, the microwave oven, the dishwasher, the lawnmower, the stapler, Post-It Note, GPS and don’t forget the bar-code! Every one of those had to be invented by someone, and every one of those inventions depended on hundreds if not thousands of previous inventions in order to be possible. Invention is dependent upon a succession of incremental ideas that build and combine into things that transform our world; big inventions are usually only made possible through many, many little inventions. What have you invented lately?


100 Ideas Per Employee Per Year? Impossible!

The vast majority of businesses manage to put to use an incredibly small fraction of the ideas generated by people who work in the business. For most businesses, the number of ideas implemented per employee is terribly low, less than 10 a year, and for many the number is closer to zero. So much for tapping into the natural creativity of the workforce.

Why does this happen? Why would we pass this opportunity up? Why would we let those hundreds of good ideas die on the vine?

Why would we not want to grow our revenue, lower our costs and thrill our customers?

Why would we not selfishly grab every idea that would make our business more successful?

Why would we not want our people to feel respected and creative and successful?

The answer is simple. We do want all those things. But, we cannot see how it is possible to dramatically increase the implementation of ideas – certainly not the level where in excess of 100 ideas are implemented per employee per year.


Managing Without Thinking

Our human bodies have many systems that function without our conscious control—they are autonomic. Our autonomic nervous system supplies impulses to the body’s heart, muscles, and glands which drive much of our underlying functioning as humans without our direct awareness. Our cardio vascular system does its work without our intervention, as does our digestive system and our nervous system. These systems all operate without our direct involvement or conscious knowledge; they are part of the many autonomic systems of the human body.

Mass production management logic is the autonomic management system of our age; we’ve all adopted it without knowing it was optional. We have grown up in this system; its constructs and rules permeate our institutions to their core. And yet, the vast majority of leaders and managers have no idea that beneath what they do and how they think every day lays a foundation poured by Henry Ford 100 years ago. We work this system because it is the system we all grew up in and we have come to see it as the way the world works—not as the artificial construct it really is.


Putting Your Sister-In-Law Out Of Business

The possibility of having a graphic designer in Indonesia and your sister-in-law, who may live down the street from you, in competition for your business is real and its implications are profound. This new reality, enabled by the internet, sets in motion a competitive whirlwind that could easily be seen by any local designer as incredibly unfair, and stirs anger among the traditionalists as to a means to obtain image counsel. While there is certainly merit in the argument, low cost and speed are attractive lures for the consumer. No place for IBM to go for council, but the new realtor opening doors down the street doesn’t need high-end expertise. Read the rest of this entry »