A View From INSEAD

From Values to Value Creation

D. Charles Galunic

Professor of Organisational Behaviour
The Aviva Chaired Professor of Leadership and Responsibility

Professor Charles Galunic – Professor of Organisational Behaviour, The Aviva Chaired Professor of Leadership and Responsibility, Co-Director of the Transition to General Management programme – reveals some of his latest research findings about networking, organisational culture, values... and value.

What are your research interests?

A part of my recent research looks at managers in transition. So I have a special interest in the move into general management. I believe it is quite different than any other career transition.

Why is the transition to general management so different?

Mainly because you cannot master it through apprenticeship. There is just too much to learn on the job. You have to acquire multiple languages all at once in order to orchestrate different business functions to create value. And it is not just about gaining new technical skills. It is about holding up a mirror and seeing yourself and your leadership style through other people's eyes. This is what we try to achieve on the programme.

How do you go about teaching someone to be a leader?

The programme approaches leadership from both a conceptual and personal standpoint: classes and coaching. We provide theory, applied research, 360-degree instruments, examples and case studies. But perhaps most importantly of all we get participants to turn themselves into their own case study through a highly structured coaching process that INSEAD does particularly well and with ongoing innovation.

What are the main challenges of leadership for new general managers?

I think there are three overarching challenges. The first is humility: you have to realize how much you rely on others. The second is to depend less on your technical mastery: your job is to make those around you better at their jobs. The third is to learn the basics of other disciplines: you have to know enough to recognize whether your people are competent or not. The Transition to General Management programme is designed to address all three. It helps you to let go of what you know so well and enables you to build a more inclusive picture of value and its creation. We help you transition into a new "role" or identity. And this can be a big shock to many new general managers.

Is managing up a challenge too?

Yes, it is a major challenge. General managers are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they have to understand politics, strategy, regulation and the media- and network with the top. On the other hand, they have to execute and understand the people through whom they are getting the work done. In short, the general manager is the bridge from the C-suite to the troops. And bridges, by definition, get treaded upon.

Is the transition to general management harder for some functions than others?

If you come from the technical core of your business, in theory, it should be easier to make the step up into general management than if you come from a support function. As an expert on the core business, you have more legitimacy. But there is also a danger that you find it hard to let go of your technical expertise, whereas leaders who emerge from the support functions may already have developed the broad overview of the business that general managers need.

Can you offer any research insights that can make general managers more effective as leaders?

I have worked on the benefits of social networks within companies. We often think of those benefits as only applying "selfishly", for the benefit of the person who has that network. But it turns out that there are spillover effects. That is, the subordinates of a well networked leader (someone whose network has, essentially, reach and non-redundancy) are more likely to add value within the company. In other words, leadership is not just about your "charisma". If you want to contribute to the effectiveness of your subordinates, you have to think about building smarter networks.

General managers must also lead the strategy for their business units. Has your research uncovered insights into how this is best done?

One recent project of mine was to study how a strategy becomes best embedded in an organisation. We asked the question: Why do some employees accept and understand their business units strategy and others don't? It turns out that, contrary to popular belief, "cascading" strategy down through the hierarchy is not so effective. We looked at many factors, including the role of middle managers (those who should parrot the top general management team). By far the most powerful factor were top team managers who were broadly engaged with employees. The lesson for general managers is that they should communicate their strategy directly, and not count on cascades.

Culture is one of those fuzzy business topics that people don't know how to take seriously. Should general managers be particularly interested in culture?

Absolutely. This is another of my research interests, but it is a complex and subtle topic. Whether we like it or not, every organisation has a culture. The trouble is that no one feels particularly responsible for it. But I believe good general managers take responsibility. They think more deeply about their world than just the colour of their income statement sums. For example, they assess carefully if the promise of their brand is consistent with the habits of their organisations. And these habits have their sources in things cultural. In a way, I think effective general managers are partly sociologists and psychologists.

What role do general managers play in defining organisational culture?

General managers are guardians of the faith, stewards of the values. When it comes to shaping culture, they are critical because they combine (high) authority with proximity (which CEO's may lack). New general managers therefore have to learn, first, how to "see" or diagnose the culture. You cannot really impact something successfully if you don't understand it (although you may get lucky sometimes). To understand culture you have to do some detective work and inference. General managers also have to, from time to time, adjust and move the organisational culture. This is not easy work, but there are methods, and something the TGM can help our participants to learn.

To make your own Transition to General Management, consider enrolling on the programme co-directed by Professor Galunic.

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