Log in
updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

Microsoft leadership changes stir discussions of competition-collaboration workplace issue

Some are seeing the sea change in the leadership styles of the new CEOs of both Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as evidence that even the region's most competition-driven company might be acknowledging that the collaborative focus of workplace millenials could be superseding the competitive trademark of boomers.

Among those sharing that sense of a possible dramatic shift at Microsoft is John Buller, who has spent his life in sports and retail environments where keeping score and winning were the keys to success. But he admits now, as he observes what he perceives as a major workplace shift, that he was always dogged by the sense that somehow collaboration had a place in the success equation.

Anna Liotta

Buller was a top executive at the old Bon Marche retail chain, as well as successful restaurateur, president of Tully's Coffee, and in his collegiate days in the late '60s a Husky basketball star then an assistant coach.

He sees the ascendance of Satya Nadella to the top role at Microsoft and the hiring of Susan Desmond-Hellman as CEO of the Gates Foundation as significant.

So does Anna Liotta, Seattle author and speaker who counsels businesses on unlocking generational codes to enhance workplace effectiveness.

John Buller

"I think it's fundamental for Microsoft, it if is to have exponential growth again, to shift from combative to collaborative in its workplace environment," Liotta said. "Microsoft employees don't now talk with pride about working at Microsoft, and this newest generation will need attitudes and beliefs they share and need to be proud to be where they work and work together in a collaborative environment in order to want to stay."

As a recent article in Puget Sound Business Journal pointed out, "Nadella is a very different man from (Steve) Ballmer. Where Ballmer is bombastic and over the top, Nadella is understated and thoughtful."

Buller makes the point that a similar shift in thinking could have had a role in the selection of Susan Desmond-Hellman, M.D., plucked from her role as chancellor of the University of California San Francisco to be the first non-Microsoft CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Of course Microsoft isn't the only regional company where must-win attitudes have been the key to success. It's merely the major local company whose recent eye-catching changes in command at the corporate and foundation have sparked the opportunity for conversations about what lies ahead in the workplace culture.

It would be difficult to think of many successful companies in the Seattle area for which competitive juices haven't played a ke y role in their success.

Teri Citterman

Thus the thoughts about boomer competitiveness giving way to millennial collaborations inevitably stir conversations where doubt or disagreement are sometimes as much in evidence as agreement.

Buller, in fact, is an interesting persona to be focusing on the transition, which he is doing to the extent of packaging a seminar and producing a blog to help guide corporate executives.

Buller is intimately familier with culture changes since his role as senior team leader for Federated Stores and its The Bon outlets was to engineer one, guiding a shift from "a clerk culture to a sales culture," as he describes the charge.

It was 20 years ago that his Survival Guide for Bureaucratic Warriors was published, with chapters written on first-class flights as he crisscrossed the country to train employees on changing their culture.

"Warriors work for a passion in their lives while soldiers just take orders," Buller said, summing up the premise for the book, and suggesting that "the way to make millenials more passionate and engaged, becoming warriors, is to let them have ownership."

"It's a fallacy to suggest that competition and collaboration are diametrically opposed," Liotta said. "Millenials do love to win, but within that they love to also know their part in the winning, meaning millenials want a lot of feedback on how they are doing," Liotta said of the generation that numbers 76 million in the workplace. That number, incidentally, compares with 80 million boomers.

"A winning attitude is absolutely in line with an attitude of collaboration," she added. "Millenials just don't accept the bankrupt strategy of win at all costs."

Liotta comes by her generational savvy from birth on since she notes in her book Unlocking Generational Codes that "as number 18 in a family of 19 children, I started to experience generational impacts on life at a very early age."

She is CEO of Resultance Inc., where her consulting services and guidance on generational issues have brought her before business organizations around the country.

Another person who has explored workplace issues, but from the CEO's viewpoint, is Teri Citterman, whose recently publishedFrom the CEO's Perspective is a collection of interviews with CEO's from a range of companies on the challenges of leadership.

"A characteristic of millenials is that they expect their ideas will be heard or appreciated, even though they haven't necessarily earned the right to be heard or appreciated," said Citterman, also a GenXer.

"Yes, collaboration is replacing competition as a workplace theme, you can see that everywhere," she said. "competition is a four-letter word."

This discussion is likely to become more pervasive at lunch meetings and cocktail visits, particularly for boomers, or the even older generation tagged Traditionalists, who would have to change the codes of a lifetime to believe companies can win out over competitors without competition being the mantra.

As Buller and I discussed this over coffee for our interview, together we came up with the tagline: "In today's world you will have to learn to collaborate in order to win." 

Continue reading
  1599 Hits
  0 Comments
1599 Hits
0 Comments

Buller, Elway tout a future that brings social media to essential role in decisions

John Buller and H. Stuart Elway, long-time players in the old top-down process of decision-making in Seattle and Washington State, are embarked on separate initiatives whose basic message is that things won't work that way in the future.

 

Both hope to spark new forms of civic engagement aimed at broader inclusion in charting the region's next chapter, but that "broader inclusion" may come in fits and starts, and face challenges before broad acceptance.

 

Buller, a business and civic leader for the past 30 years, summarizes it as "The Seattle Way has to be replaced by a recognition that social media has made the world flat rather than top-down so we have to make discussions about our future much more broad-based."

 
 

Or as Elway puts it, :the whole social media thing has the potential to bring us full circle to the original way Democracy got started."

But both would agree that bringing social media integrally into decision making in a manner that doesn't permit a few strident bloggers or vested-interest Internet sites to drown out the crowd ironically requires some strategy and structure.

 
 

 

Elway, whose Elway Research Inc. with its interactive polling and opinion-tracking has been a key initiator in helping shape business, policy and governmental decisions since 1975, is seeking to attract interest in what he refers to as "The Next Northwest," though his focus has really become "The Next Washington."

Buller, a member of the board of the Washington Athletic Club and the incoming chair of Seattle Seafair, is one of the Next 50 Ambassadors, a group of civic leaders seeking to promote a series of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the six-month run of the Seattle World's Fair.

 

But he's carried the idea into an appeal to dramatically embrace social media to gather an array of visions for the region's future, not merely input from established groups.

While Buller is focused specifically on Seattle 50 years hence and Elway's focus is geographically broader, they are both seeking to not just stir interest in discussing the future but in igniting a desire for broad-based involvement in shaping that future.

 

And both agree that social media is the factor that will negate reliance on the old top-down way of making decisions and that, in a sense, a matured social media can represent a return to the way Democracy itself was born - with all having an equal voice in the decisions.

 

Buller is a Nebraska native who came to the University of Washington in 1965 to play basketball, but injuries and illness shortened his career after he led the freshman team in scoring. He wound up as a graduate-assistant coach while he got his MBA.

 

Among his leadership positions, Buller served as senior vice president of marketing at The Bon Marche/Macy's, vice president of alumni relations at UW, head of the local organizing committee for the 1995 NCAA Final Four and CEO at Tully's Coffee.

 

Elway launched his company soon after getting his doctorate in communications from the University of Washington in 1975. His Elway Poll is the only independent, non-partisan, on-going analysis of public opinion trends in Washington state and the Northwest.

 

Buller and Elway have appeared in recent months before various town-hall and organization meetings to tout the need for the region to focus on mapping a plan for the future, each focusing on his ideas for defining the future. But both concede there hasn't been a rush to seize the initiatives they are offering.

 

Both lament the current state of discourse and suggest that the absence of broad involvement in the conversation is a key reason.

 

"We're having this great debate about the role of government and it's being conducted in the most partisan atmosphere imaginable," notes Elway, most of whose research and focus has been on policy matters and government.

 

What he is seeking to achieve with his "Next Northwest" is having a "systematic, statewide conversation about changing expectations for government and institution." Social media would ideally have a large role in those conversations.

 

Buller is even more forceful. "Journalism has turned into spinism. People tend to find the medium that supports their version of the world and they don't need to talk to anyone who disagrees."

 

"We aren't really discussing Seattle's next 50 years," Buller says, suggesting that current debate about the proposed new arena and its possible impact on the Port of Seattle's future are perfect examples of sound-bite decision-making for the near-term without extending to "long-term, do we want to be a global city or a regional city."

 

Buller, has created both a concept document and creative brief to help guide groups, formal or online, wishing to initiate discussions on "The Next 50 - Changing the Way Seattle Looks at the Future."

 

Buller's and Elway's shared vision of the need for a vision, or visions, merits broader attention, particularly in the social-media arena that they understand will be vital to any meaningful discussion.

 

That attention has thus far proved elusive. Or as Elway quipped ruefully, "I can't find the financial support to carry this out so I guess I'll have to win the Powerball to complete it."

Continue reading
  1531 Hits
  0 Comments
1531 Hits
0 Comments

52°F

Seattle

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 63%

Wind: 14 mph

  • 24 Mar 2016 52°F 42°F
  • 25 Mar 2016 54°F 40°F
Banner 468 x 60 px