Monday, August 23, 2010

ILTA Keynote--Jason Jennings on Values of the Best Companies

The keynote session opened with a slick montage, a palindromic flow of phrases that was pessimistic going forward but optimistic (for legal technologists) going backwards.

Randy Mayes and then Meredith Williams and Maureen Babcock kicked off the formal sessions at ILTA.

The theme is "Strategic Unity"--aligning legal practice and technology, and bringing together lawyers and IT to meet the new challenges of this economy. Connectivity is the most valuable return from conference. We should return with "ideas, answers, and connections."

Jason Jennings was the keynote speaker. He described the "five traits shared by the world’s most successful people and businesses to embrace change, get everyone on the same page and make things happen." While his presentation had some consultant-speak, he also touched on aligning personal ethics and the business work we do in a way that ultimately was quite effective.

He asks three questions of most people he interviews:

1. Story of Your Firm
2. Your story (home town, family, etc.)
3. What is keeping you awake at night? What could keep your organization from succeeding?

Key problems consistently uncovered by his interviews with ILTA people are:
  • Getting people on the same page
  • Changing practices
  • Downward Pricing pressure
  • Getting faster
  • Coping with sheer volume of data
His first book addressed, what makes a company fast? His second, what makes a company productive? His third, what makes companies grow year after year after year. They've also looked at CEOs and screened in total more than 120,000 companies.

World's best organizations include:

  • Ikea
  • Smucker's
  • Office Depot
  • Koch Industries
  • Newcorp Steel

He said that these "best" (by the metrics) companies shared five key attributes.

  • Everyone Shares a Common Noble Purpose
  • Letting Go
  • Everyone Knows Strategy
  • Think & Act Like an Owner
  • Led by Stewards

Noble Purpose

What it is

It is not a "mission statement" or "vision statement." It is big and bold like Microsoft's "put a computer with Microsoft operating system on every desk in the world."
It is inclusive. It is a *non-financial* reason for doing what you do. Steve Knight of Nike got mad at him for asking what it was like to be worth $5 billion when it was all about "competing, winning and being better than anybody else."

It fixes what's wrong, like Walmart's credo of "getting average people to buy the same things as rich people."

It gives meaning to people's lives.


Provides direction, fuels passion, drives momentum

2. Letting Go

Most organizations Cannot Let Go Of:

  • Yesterday’s breadwinners
  • Ego
  • Same-old, same-old
  • Conventional Wisdom

The best example he gave was Jack Welch and GE Capital’s decisions to continue to pour $2 billion into Montgomery Ward seeking to protect their initial investment of $100 million.


Organizations that can let go are better able to deal with change. They are more focused than their rivals and find it easier to innovate.

3. Everyone Knows Strategy

At Smuckers, all vendors and new employees spend a few weeks learning strategy of the organization. There's a book outlining what it is every year that they willingly share with all of these stakeholders and (apparently) with their competitors.


If people don’t know the strategy, they don’t know why they are coming to work and won’t get emotionally attached. There is no accountability under a regime of secret strategies.

4. Think & Act Like an Owner

Jennings spent four days talking to people at Koch Industries, then a last day with Charles Koch. Koch claimed that his company was superior because everyone there (99.9%) felt and acted like an owner of the business.

People want to improve, get better, and get "scores." People will act more like owners if they know how what they do create economic value, and are rewarded based on the economic value they create. (There was an unfortunate lack of concrete examples of how one can get a company to act like a Koch Industries--an evidently extremely rare alignment of the perceived needs of the people who work there and the needs of the business).

5. Led by Stewards

The best leaders in business see their role as being good stewards.

Stewardship values service over short-term self-interest. Does not embrace power over others. It preserves natural and human resources. It is nurturing and supportive.

Stewards share information. Knowledge is not power—it’s execution. All information is shared with the employees.

Stewards are accessible. They keep their hands dirty and get out their with their customers or clients. Stewards don’t simply keep things the same, they make things better.

Jennings closed by asking, "Why do you *really* do what you do?"

He said that the reason in most of these organizations is to make sure that the same opportunities for personal and financial growth and fulfillment will exist for others later on in the same organization.


I really appreciated Jennings' discussion of stewardship. It really touched a chord in me, and also reflects some of the values of the knowledge management movement. Saying and affirming that sharing information and knowledge is a good and valuable thing, part of leadership and stewardship, is powerful, and an important lesson for organizational leaders of all kinds.

It clearly also hit the right notes with the audience of members at ILTA, I suspect because his description of the necessity for service, stewardship, and support of others is completely in line with the values of that organization.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The palindrome is now viewable at