The Moment You Can't Ignore by Mal O'Connor and Barry Dornfeld 2014 Strategy + Business Best Business Book

Leaders today face four fundamental questions:

Who are we?

Who's in charge?

How do I lead?

What is our future?

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About the Book

Culture is the key to success in a 21st century organization—not simply because it affects how we think and behave, but because it’s the set of agreements and behaviors that drive how we act in groups and the decisions we collectively make. But every organization now faces the moment it can’t ignore as new forms of work, communication and technology wreak havoc on “the way we do things around here.” When a traditional structure can morph into a culturally-attuned and culturally-aligned organization, it can become superconducting: everything works better, more smoothly, faster.

In The Moment You Can’t Ignore, Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfeld provide powerful insights on how to confront the clash of old and new so that the people and businesses can successfully meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. They show how to ask the big questions that point the way to renewing a culture:

Who are we? What do we stand for, and what’s the connection between our identity and the strategic commitments we make?” When people in a company are uncertain of its identity, they have a hard time executing on any strategy with real passion or commitment.

Who’s in charge? In many organizations it’s unclear who’s in charge of any given initiative at any given time. The person with the title may need to cede authority to the person with greater expertise. Or the maverick leader of an innovative project team may actually have more sway than the boss. When people don’t know how to determine who’s in charge, or when and how to shift authority from one person to another, the uncertainty can be paralyzing.

How do I lead? Senior leaders may have positional and formal authority, but find they have a difficult time attracting followers. To get people on board with their ideas and initiatives, they can no longer simply order people to follow them. Even leaders in traditional command-and-control hierarchies sense they have to move to a different leadership style, but can’t fully adjust to a world of command and collaboration.

What’s our future? When people don’t know who’s in charge, are unsure of what their company identity is, and can’t get behind their leaders, they rarely have the ability or will to innovate. Old ideas get rehashed. New ideas get squashed or lost. Initiatives that are designed to create an “innovation culture” or spur creativity go nowhere.

Malachi O'Connor
Mal O'Connor

Malachi O’Connor is Vice President and Principal at CFAR, Inc, a management consulting firm specializing in strategy and organizational development. He holds a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. Building on his training as an ethnographer, he helped CFAR develop the firm’s ‘Campaign' approach to leading and managing change, a method that helps organizations leverage culture and change behavior in service of new strategic imperatives. An experienced speaker and meeting facilitator, Mal has spoken about leading change to chief executive audiences worldwide. He is a member of the American Folklore Society and the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations. He is also an avid scuba diver.

Connect with Mal on LinkedIn  »

Barry Dornfeld
Barry Dornfeld

Barry Dornfeld, a Principal at CFAR, Inc., is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker with a PhD in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania. He is an expert on organizational change, collaboration and communication. Barry leads workshops for chief executives on negotiation, influence and persuasion, and organizational change in the U.S. and internationally, including Wharton’s Executive Education division. In addition to his academic positions, Barry has published numerous articles and a book about social capital, digital media and public television. Previously he was a faculty member at New York University and chair of the Communication Program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. His documentary film about Philadelphia-based Klezmer musicians, Eatala, was broadcast on WHYY/PBS in 2012.

Connect with Barry on LinkedIn  »

What was your “Unignorable Moment”?

What is an "unignorable moment"? It is one of those crunch points—a matter of a minute or a period of months—when something happens that is so dramatic and disruptive that it demands the attention of the entire organization. What happened? Why? What does it mean? The unignorable moment often signals a profound cultural shift, when the traditional ways of doing things are crashing into the requirements of a new strategy. The result can be organizational paralysis or a release of incredible and productive energy—depending on how the moment is managed.

Bob Phillips

Hindsight allows me to recognize an unignorable moment in which did not give sufficient authority to a staff member who needed it in order to grow as a supervisor. This was a set up for her failure and fueled a frustration that became untenable. On the other hand, I have always been a fan of found experiments and fanning them like one does an ember in order that they might catch fire. I'm also a huge fan of friendly skeptics--having someone in the room who appreciates your aims but who can explain how they might be received (or rejected) by important stakeholders. I value them even more if they can help me identify painful milestones that identify passage through a transition and the need to continue when the temptation is to reverse course. This is a very well-done, and practical book that is important for learning organizations. Interestingly it also offers lessons, if not metrics, for testing an organization if you're thinking of joining.

Timothy Healey

As I reflect on my career, I have come to know that profound and unignorable moments occur all the time. Establishing a people focused, winning culture can be achieved by paying attention and acting on what might be perceived as the “little things”. These little things can bring about incredible and positive change. An example of one such “little thing” comes to mind of a time some years ago when I was traveling on a charter bus with our commercial organization. It was our national sales meeting and we were all returning to our hotel from an offsite event. I happened to be sitting next to a women in our account management group. As I typically do, I asked her how things were going and importantly, what could we be doing better? Because I had fostered a reputation of welcoming frank feedback she went on to share with me some frustrations the account management team was experiencing due to a sensitive organizational structure/alignment issue. When pressed, she offered a suggestion on a solution to improve the situation. Was this an unignorable moment? You bet. Failure to at least investigate the matter and follow-up with her would reinforce a common perception of management as disconnected. My charge was to look into the situation and, if appropriate, take action. In this case, I largely implemented her recommendations which enhanced the morale and performance of the account group. Importantly, the individual who brought the matter to my attention felt that her voice had been heard. When leaders make it their habit to pay attention to these “little things” their teams become more engaged, creative and committed to excellence.

About CFAR

CFAR, Inc. is a management consulting firm that began as a research center inside the Wharton School. The firm serves a broad range of mission-driven organizations from offices in Philadelphia and Boston. CFAR’s consultants combine their academic expertise in diverse disciplines including strategy, finance and the social sciences with pragmatic ways to help leaders solve stubborn organizational problems and put strategy into action quickly.

Learn more about CFAR

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