Ericsson and Leadership 2.0

I spent 3 years at Ericsson as they tried to implement their Networked Society strategy and I saw a company that was desperately trying to re-invent themselves but struggling through the process. I was impressed with the strategy, I admired the people at Ericsson and I was filled with equal measures of hope and despair when I worked there. For every person that was inspiring and brave in trying to advance the company strategy, I witnessed others whose fear of the unknown or whose self-preservation instincts served to offset the progress of others.
One moment served to anchor the paradox in my mind. It was the SDP review of an Analytics deal. Analytics was, at that time, regarded as a strategic and new product area for Ericsson. SDP stands for sales delivery point and is the review process for all sales deals. This particular deal was worth $5m and was to be our first major data analytics deal, following extensive pre-sales and some small paid consulting work. The local CEO joined the review and I recall there being close to 25 people in the room. This was great, more interest in a $5m deal than a $300m network deal – proof that the strategy was working!
I also recall our newly appointed Head of ICT Engagement, like myself an Amdocs import to the Ericsson process, writing down the names of everyone attending, counting the number and commenting to the account manager beside her, “do we really need this number of people to review whether we present a proposal or not?”
To me it characterised the situation, lots of hope and interest in the future tempered with a predominant desire to review, support and manage from afar. Classic Teddy Roosevelt “Man in the Arena” symptoms.
For a period I was lucky enough to be part of a small movement that seemed to be running perpendicular to the main business thrust. It was an internal transformation support group designed to support the strategic direction through internal change. It was started by a colleague who had great insight into how things ran within Ericsson. Hence he understood the barriers to change that needed to be overcome and he was a valuable asset to the organization in navigating the change. He skilfully engaged the global organisation, the regional organisation and a multitude of stakeholders in the local organisation. However, he was let go with a redundancy package in the midst of the transformation.
So, what has this got to do with Leadership 2.0?
During my journey through Ericsson I was privileged to meet many with innovative ideas, with great customer skills, with vision and with passion, and with an ability to inspire and lead others. There was no shortage of the raw material that traditionally defines leadership.
However I believe that Leadership 2.0* is about more than the skills that got us to here. It is about the mindset and skills that will “take us there”. The ability to nurture change at the same time as maximising the returns from the existing business model. I believe it is the skills required for developing and growing an ambidextrous organisation, and the ability to connect with the people who are undergoing change on behalf of the organization.
Some of the behaviours I have seen that I believe are incompatible with Leadership 2.0 are:
Hoarding Information – a traditional tool of managers everywhere. Often managers do not even realise they are doing it, thinking instead they are being responsible with their teams, for the good of the organisation. However, as information moves much quicker through the use of technology, leaders do need to react faster and become more transparent to their people. This means they have to work harder to enable a free flow of information, and eliminate mis-information.
Prioritising My Team – often seen as an admirable trait in an up and coming manager. The team will support their leader, saying “he/she sticks up for us, we admire our bosses loyalty to us”. Whilst this behaviour works well in a growing and internally competitive environment, this is a behaviour that limits lateral and creative thinking within the organization and limits the ability to build cross-functional teams in a dynamic environment. The ability to think big picture and harness the cross-functional capabilities of the organization will minimize the sub-optimization that often happens.
Prove It Thinking – this is a bastion of management thinking from the 20th century. Essentially the analysis of any new and daring proposal received a response somewhat like this: “I am not sure your proposal will work, can you prove it?” This worked perfectly in a predictable and slowly changing world. It does not work so well in an environment that is changing faster that ever and where the tools to prototype or trial any new digital business are far more accessible than ever before.
Playing the Blame Game –  often the subtle blame is more insidious and damaging to the organization. The manager that led a bold initiative which failed and then gets moved sideways, without a word being said. Rather than being praised for the bold initiative or providing sympathy for the lack of organisational support or better still analyzing what worked and what didn’t the stunning silence that greets the failed initiative is the beginning of a grim demise.
Defining Value through Job Role – one of the common traits I have seen in organizations is where someone will say, “I am Head of xxx therefore I need to be responsible for these activities.” On one level this is exactly the behavior we want to engender through the organization structure and should be admired. However it often allows customer value to be obscured within the organization. As Peter Drucker famously said, “the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” Hence the right question to ask is how each and every activity adds value to the customer and who is the best person to carry them out and deliver the maximum value. It may well be the Head of xxx but it may not.
I chose the behaviors above, not as an exhaustive list, as they appear to me to be some of the cornerstones of what has changed and is currently changing in leadership thinking. I expect there will be disagreement and I expect others to add their thoughts. I welcome the discussion.
As a final word I think Ericsson has a lot of value to provide to its customers and, as the world becomes increasingly network and connection centric, there need to be leaders who will realize the Networked Society vision. I hope that Ericsson is one of the leaders.
* There are books and magazine articles that discuss Leadership 2.0 in circulation. This blog post is not an attempt to define the topic and I will defer to the experts on what really defines the topic. My objective is merely to highlight some common issues I have seen that inhibit leadership progress.
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