HBR: Why You Should Question Your Culture – Three Simple Questions

Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out has an article in the HBR Blog Network on Why you should question your culture. Excerpts below:

I often hear executives reassure me that projects will get done because “we have an execution culture,” or that customers will be well taken care of because “we have a culture where the customer comes first.”
At the same time, culture is also one of the great rationalizations for
managerial shortcomings. Many times I’ve heard that a project was
delayed because “we don’t make quick decisions around here,” which is
the managerial equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

But the problem with all of these statements — both positive and
negative — is that they don’t really mean anything. Worse yet, they
can’t be translated into any kind of action. At best these declarations
are vague generalizations; and at worst they are misleading stereotypes.

Any management team can assess its culture by asking these kinds of simple questions across a range of organizational behaviors.
For example: To what extent do we reward individual vs. team results?
To what extent do we share information broadly or parcel it out
narrowly? To what extent do we encourage or discourage risk?

Asking these kinds of questions can smoke out the differences in
expectations that people have about the organization. Not everyone
experiences culture the same way, so a structured way to discuss those
differences can increase alignment and the ability to take collective
action. In practical terms, culture is not an intangible cloud that
hangs over a company, but an outcome of the way people behave on
multiple dimensions. Better understanding of these behavioral patterns —
and how each person experiences them — makes it possible to decide
whether to continue them or not.

Read in full here.

The three simple questions sound like great questions to ask if you’re inside the State Department in general, and the U.S. Foreign Service in particular. Great questions, not sure you’ll find your answers.


US Embassy Madrid: Spain’s Direct Investment to U.S. Supports an Estimated 69,000 Jobs

Ambassador Alan D. SolomontImage via WikipediaAmbassador Alan D. Solomont, our U.S. ambassador to Spain has taken to the Huffington Post to tout our economic relationship with Spain writing that “Unbeknownst to many, Spain is the second fastest growing source of foreign direct investment in our country, second only to Singapore.” He also took pains to point out that Spanish direct investments in the U.S. supports an estimated 69,000 American jobs.

Among the most important connection between the United States and Spain is our economic relationship. Spain is the sixth largest economy in Europe, with 12% of Europe’s GDP, and also the 11th largest investor in the U.S. Unbeknownst to many, Spain is the second fastest growing source of foreign direct investment in our country, second only to Singapore.

Over the last three years, direct investment by Spanish companies in the United States increased from $12,000 million to $47,500 million supporting an estimated 69,000 jobs and that number has only increased. But that is only a drop in the bucket compared to 2.3 million Spanish-speaking-owned businesses that generated almost $350,000 million in sales last year and employed a quarter of a million workers. These businesses represent a potential bridge into the U.S. market, but the biggest Spanish-speaking companies in the U.S. produce and export goods only to Latin America. I would like to see them turn their eyes to Spain, both as a market and potential partner for expansion.

The United States business presence in Spain is strong as well. Over 650 U. S. firms in Spain employ more than 300,000 workers, and these firms alone represent seven percent of Spain’s GDP. But I think we can use our historical ties to leverage the Spanish-speaking community in the United States to do even better.

Continue reading, Historic Ties and Tools for the Future.

"Hamsters on the Titanic" Now Showing "It’s Always Sunny in Kabul"

I absolutely adore the blog, Hamsters on the Titanic, Dan in the ‘Stan’s blog out of Afghanistan. He’s like the sage of Kabul with a strong dash of Stephen Colbert.  Now due to the multitude of sunny news coming out of Kabul, I can understand why the author has now changed the blog name to “It’s Always Sunny in Kabul.” Makes sense, right, since the worst problem they have over in Kabul is traffic.

Yesterday, he wrote about Afghanistan’s new shiny toys, the special ones that kill and not because of bad paint from China:

According to General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Defense Minister: Finally, a ray of hope.

He however noted that for foiling the foreign invasions we need
war planes, bombers, and air defense systems. He stressed that the only
way for ensuring long-term security in Afghanistan is empowering the
Afghan forces and there is no other alternative way that the territorial
integrity and national sovereignty and national values of the country
are defended.

In just two years, LTG Caldwell’s NTM-A has overcome illiteracy, massive desertions, killing US mentors, and alleged massacres by
a favorite Border Police General and put together a fighting force
that’s ready to move up to advanced military aircraft. That has got
capable, affordable and sustainable written all over it.

Frankly, that worries me.  General Wardak want all these new shiny toys and I don’t know which uncle will write the check. Please, don’t let it be Uncle Sam.

Previously, the blogger also castigated the NYT reporter for being a “killjoy” and casting some “doubts about the ability of the Afghan National Army
(ANA) to fully sustain itself and the new equipment it’s being issued.” He writes:

LTG Caldwell was just recently a guest at the weekly ISAF press briefing,
and I feel the need to share some of his quotes so the readers of Mr.
Healy’s rainy day nonsense can really understand what’s going on here in

“Over the last two years, we have been able to put in place
schools, get the required trainers and actually train over 50,000
officers and noncommissioned officers that are now, today, in the Afghan
Police, Army and Air Force,” said Caldwell.

See? NTM-A has put the required trainers into place. There
is absolutely no requirement that there be trainees, as well. To expect
that sort of unrealistic level of trainer/trainee ratio after the fact
is just pointless, really. Obviously, too, the IG team wasn’t there on a
training day. Otherwise, if 44% of sites weren’t doing any training at
all, it would be really hard…even impossible…to actually train 50,000
people in the timeframe that LTG Caldwell is reporting. And, since I’ve
come to realize that LTG Caldwell and the NTM-A are always right about
what’s really happening here, well, I’d suggest the IG go back and count
again. As to being “largely uneducated,” well sir:

During the last year and a half, 134,000 recruits have completed
the mandatory literacy training that has been incorporated into their
basic training requirements, Caldwell added.

As is well known among those that really care about the ANSF, they are absolutely required to be able to read at a first grade level.
I don’t understand the concern: if that ANA soldier can now read at a
first grade level, there should be no reason why he can’t understand
training that a high school graduate in the United States would be able
to comprehend.

“Must read” sections of the blog include the “Afghanistan Users Manual“, “Bacon Wrapped Pork Chop“, Tweet of the Day and Pic of the Day where he admitted exasperation over ISAF’s photostream without captions (sounds familiar?) and recently reported the threat of teddy bears to Afghan toddlers:

From It’s Always Sunny in Kabul
ISAF’s Flickr stream doesn’t put any kind of descriptions on the photos
is posts,
I’m forced to come up with my own. The point of pictures is
to put up a caption
so we can have some context whereby we can know
what’s happening. Otherwise, I’m going to be forced
to report on the
threat of teddy bears to Afghan toddlers.

Check out his blog here.