It’s the great mystery of business: how do successful businesspeople marshal their hopes, intentions and objectives and turn them into accomplishments?
Brendan Calder has worked on the solution for 40 years. The Toronto-based entrepreneur and mortgage czar has built and sold several companies, from Canavest House to FirstLine Trust (now CIBC Mortgages Inc.), all of them managed according to his evolving philosophy of focusing on results. He has turned that experience into an MBA course at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management called Getting It Done.
Armed with only a math degree from the University of Waterloo, Calder joined Rotman as entrepreneur-in-residence, but was recently promoted to “effective executive in residence.” Why not? His course in organizational effectiveness attracts some of Rotman’s best. And he promotes it by paraphrasing Ernest Shackleton’s famous advertisement for Antarctic adventurers: “MBAs wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful.”
Calder is only partly kidding. The crucial trait of an effective executive, he says, is courage: the bravery to buck existing systems by insisting on results, and the guts to be judged by them. “Courage is a necessary condition,” he insists. “Courage plus passion plus process equals results.”
As Calder embarked on a new class last month, I asked him to explain what makes for an effective executive. It’s difficult, but there’s a shortcut for you at the end of this story.
Organizational effectiveness begins with Peter Drucker, the late, great management strategist. Drucker bemoaned the recent emphasis on leadership; he believed businesses must focus on results. He popularized “management by objectives” as a way to get managers to stop focusing on mere activities, and instead seek out actions that move the entire organization forward. (Calder says the concept may have started with the Jesuits. “If you were building a mission in the wilderness,” he says, “the Jesuits would tell you to come back in a year and report on how it turned out.” They demanded results.)
Calder’s course emphasizes four of Drucker’s key points: focusing on results, managing by objectives, making effective decisions and prioritizing top management tasks. Sadly, not all of us are as disciplined as the Jesuits. In most companies, says Calder, “Management doesn’t know what the top management tasks are. They think they have to do everything, but they can’t.” It’s all about role clarity, he says. The hardest andmost courageous step is to “focus on contribution” — the key difference you can make — and then insist on measuring the results of your efforts and on being compensated for them.
Getting It Done also draws on the work of Michael Kami, a Florida-based business consultant who served as chief planner for IBM and Xerox in the 1950s and ’60s. In the ’60s, Kami coined the phrase “the speed of change” and urged organizations to become “fast, fluid and flexible.” He called for better, faster strategic planning by continually reviewing your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), adjusting your goals and paying constant attention to market feedback.
But there’s one more side to effectiveness: understanding your personal management style. What creates results for Donald Trump may not work for you. So, Calder’s formula includes the 3-D Theory of William J. Reddin, a British-born, New Brunswick-based management expert of the 1970s. Reddin noted that most people tend to be relationship-oriented or task-oriented, and that both styles are appropriate in different situations. By applying an “effectiveness filter” to individual style, Reddin gave managers the awareness (and permission) to adapt their personal styles to the context. “If you want to get things done,” sums up Calder, “you have to learn to flex your style.”
Fittingly, most of the work in Calder’s class goes on outside the classroom. The 25 students spend much of their time observing Calder’s principles in action at one of several local organizations, such as FirstLine and the Toronto International Film Festival, that have embraced all or most of Calder’s effectiveness formula.
Anthony Pittiglio, a 2007 Rotman grad who now works as an internal consultant with RBC Financial in Toronto, says the key concept he took from Calder’s course is “alignment at all levels”: without alignment, there can be no shared objectives and no results. At first, he resisted Calder’s contention that seeming intangibles such as customer satisfaction can be quantified. But now, he says, he understands that “when you find the key activities that can be measured, that’s how you get a truly output-focused organization.”
Since Calder’s course can hardly be summarized in 800 words, I asked him to reveal his top three tips for PROFIT readers. He responded by tossing a book at me: The Effective Executive in Action, a vinyl-bound workbook that prompts you to take notes and generate your own effectiveness manifesto by following the Drucker framework. Calder’s three tips: “Buy it. Read it. Do it.”
From the March 2008 issue of PROFIT magazine