Sunday, February 27, 2005

Business Conversations With Lois Whitman And The Guy Who Sees It All

David Silverstein is the CEO of Breakthrough Management Group (BMG), the world's fastest growing Six Sigma* training and consulting firm. BMG clients include Johnson & Johnson, Fidelity Investments, Siemens, Borg-Warner and Qwest Communications.

I have always wanted to do this -- share information that I’ve learned from my many business partners/associates/clients over the last 39 years. But I never had a platform before. Sure, I wrote for business publications and some Internet sites, but I had to fit into their standards.

I get around. I ask questions and touch on topics only close friends would dare to probe.

David was willing to give me the lowdown on corporate America. He visits more companies around the world than most business people. He gets very close to business leaders, hears their woes, and counsels them on business performance and innovations.

He looks like Lance Armstrong, speaks and thinks like Jack Welch, and interrupts business kind of like Jon Stewart does our government.

First sound bite from David: “Most senior executives today are not good strategic planners.” Ouch, do you really mean that? “There is a big difference between being a strategic thinker and a strategic planner. Strategic thinking means, ‘I have great ideas and I can see where to go.’ Strategic planning means, ‘I know how to put them into place to get where I want to go.”

David said most executives are missing core competencies today to be effective. The business landscape is changing so fast because of technology and globalization. Executives, he said, think they are learning every day because they sit in meetings, go to conventions, attend seminars, and read their journals. “That’s information gathering. It is impossible for them to process information they get today based on their education 20 to 30 years ago. They haven’t updated their ability to process the information and develop new skills.”

David’s remedy is to get senior executives back in the classroom. A formal education once in a lifetime is just not enough in today’s world. He feels we all need formal training every 10 years in order to have the skill sets needed to lead. “Fifteen years ago, most of us didn’t have a PC on our desk. Just look how the world has changed.”

In a Jon Stewart ”Moment of Zen,” David chuckles that many leaders still don’t have a PC on their desk and their assistants print out their emails.
For all of you who have never heard of Six Sigma, will never go back to a classroom of any kind, and are happy with the status quo, I got David to tell me eight salient points of business today.

1) Systems Literacy or Systems Thinking -- how to see a business as a complex system where all the parts are intertwined.

2) Processed Thinking

3) Strategic Planning

4) Product and Processed Design

5) Best Practice Discernment -- the ability to discern what is right for you

6) Learn To Think In Terms of Probabilities Versus Certainties

7) Strategic Structural Problem Solving

8) Culture Building By Design, Not Happenstance

I wanted to put David’s jargon to the test. What happened to Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard? Where did she go wrong?

“Carly was a gambler, not a risk taker. As a gambler, Carly played for the upside. It wasn’t her company. What did it really cost her if she failed? There were big financial rewards for her if it all worked out. It could have made her a billionaire. A good risk manager would have seen the imbalances between the upside return the downside risk. In the case of HP buying Compaq, the downside risk was far greater than the upside return. She gambled and lost. The downside was just too overwhelming. Carly was a great strategic thinker, not a great strategic planner. It is all about execution.”

Thanks, David, for your learned thoughts and for sharing them with us for free.

*Six Sigma means something different to every company. For some, Six Sigma is a total management philosophy, for others it is simply a process improvement effort designed to increase productivity and reduce costs. In its most simple sense, Six Sigma is a highly disciplined approach to decision making that helps people focus on improving processes to make them as near perfect as possible. The term “Six Sigma” relates to the number of mathematical defects in a process. Six Sigma practitioners focus on systematically eliminating the defects so they can get as close to “zero defects” as possible. If done properly, Six Sigma ensures that internal processes are running at optimum efficiency.


H Greenberg said...

Lois, that was a very interesting conversation. I got a lot out of it.

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