PCMA Convening Leaders Preview: Politics & People

In depth with two speakers at Convening Leaders 2013.

Thomas Friedman

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

Thomas Friedman In the New York Times columnist’s most recent book, That Used to Be Us , meetings and conferences are a constant presence — and a beautiful new convention center in China offers a wake-up call to a complacent United States.

Thomas Friedman is narrowing his focus. In his 2005 bestseller, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century , the three-time Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist for The New York Times explored globalization with an eye on the leveling effects of the digital revolution. Three years later, in Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America, he added global warming and population growth to the mix, and urged America to take the lead in addressing these potentially world-destabilizing problems.

In his most recent book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Friedman and co-author Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign-policy professor at Johns Hopkins University, zero in on the United States, which they think has lost its way — politically, economically, and even spiritually. They intend That Used to Be Us as “a road map for rising to the challenges and opportunities that will determine whether we remain a country that can continue to pass prosperity from one generation to the next, as we always have, and can continue to play the role of global stabilizer, as we must.”

When Friedman delivers a General Session presentation at Convening Leaders 2013 on Wednesday morning, Jan. 16, he will not be entering a new environment. As this excerpt from That Used to Be Us suggests, he attends a lot of meetings and conferences — and has experienced them as both an incubator of new ideas and an indicator of international competitiveness.

PCMA Convening Leaders 2013 

  • Thomas Friedman will present a General Session at Convening Leaders 2013 next month. For more information, visit conveningleaders.org .
  • Look for an in-depth Convening Leaders Follow-Up interview with Friedman in a future issue of Convene.

Book Excerpt

‘32 Weeks to Build a World-Class Convention Center’

Excerpted from That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back,© 2011 by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, published by Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

In September 2010, Tom [Friedman] attended the World Economic Forum’s summer conference in Tianjin, China. Five years earlier, getting to Tianjin had involved a three-and-a-half-hour car ride from Beijing to a polluted, crowded Chinese version of Detroit, but things had changed. Now, to get to Tianjin, you head to the Beijing South Railway Station — an ultramodern flying saucer of a building with glass walls and an oval roof covered with 3,246 solar panels — buy a ticket from an electronic kiosk offering choices in Chinese and English, and board a world-class high-speed train that goes right to another roomy, modern train station in downtown Tianjin. Said to be the fastest in the world when it began operating in 2008, the Chinese bullet train covers 115 kilometers, or 72 miles, in a mere 29 minutes.

The conference itself took place at the Tianjin Meijiang Convention and Exhibition Center — a massive, beautifully appointed structure, the likes of which exists in few American cities. As if the convention center wasn’t impressive enough, the conference’s co-sponsors in Tianjin gave some facts and figures about it. They noted that it contained a total floor area of 230,000 square meters (almost 2.5 million square feet) and that “construction of the Meijiang Convention Center started on September 15, 2009, and was completed in May, 2010.” Reading that line, Tom started counting on his fingers: Let’s see — September, October, November, December, January…

Eight months.

Returning home to Maryland from that trip, Tom was describing the Tianjin complex and how quickly it was built to Michael [Mandelbaum] and his wife, Anne. At one point Anne asked: “Excuse me, Tom. Have you been to our subway stop lately?” We all live in Bethesda and often use the Washington Metrorail subway to get to work in downtown Washington, D.C. Tom had just been at the Bethesda station and knew exactly what Anne was talking about: The two short escalators had been under repair for nearly six months. While the one being fixed was closed, the other had to be shut off and converted into a two-way staircase. At rush hour, this was creating a huge mess. Everyone trying to get on or off the platform had to squeeze single file up and down one frozen escalator. It sometimes took ten minutes just to get out of the station. A sign on the closed escalator said that its repairs were part of a massive escalator “modernization” project.

What was taking this “modernization” project so long? We investigated. Cathy Asato, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, had told the Maryland Community News (October 20, 2010) that “the repairs were scheduled to take about six months and are on schedule. Mechanics need 10 to 12 weeks to fix each escalator.”

A simple comparison made a startling point: It took China’s Teda Construction Group thirty-two weeks to build a world-class convention center from the ground up — including giant escalators in every corner — and it was taking the Washington Metro crew twenty-four weeks to repair two tiny escalators of twenty-one steps each.

More Resources

For more information about Thomas Friedman and That Used to Be Us, visit thomaslfriedman.com


David Novak

by Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief

The chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands and authors of Taking People With You on cultivating a performance-driven culture.

David Novak knows a thing or two about people — what they want as consumers, and how to help them give their best as employees. He’s chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands Inc., the world’s largest restaurant company — with more than 36,000 KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell locations in more than 12 countries and territories. And he’s been recognized as one of the world’s “30 Best CEOs” by Barron’s, one of the “Top People in Business” by Fortune, and one of the “100 Best-Performing CEOs in the World” by Harvard Business Review.

How has Novak achieved such distinction? By leading more than one million Yum! associates around the globe in a way, he said, that gets them “aligned, enthusiastic, and focused relentlessly on the mission.” In his bestselling book, Taking People With You: The Only Way to Make BIG Things Happen, Novak shares the leadership program he’s developed during his 15 years at Yum!’s helm — and he’ll be serving up generous portions when he presents the Closing General Session at Convening Leaders 2013 on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

Recently Novak gave Convene a taste of what will be on the menu for attendees.

You talk in your book about “reframing” — positioning your product in a way that is relevant to whomever you’re trying to influence. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Knowing how people think gives you the insight needed to reframe your product in a way that gets people on your side. Successful marketers enjoy the challenge of uncovering unmet consumer needs, then using those insights in a way that cuts through the clutter to achieve breakthrough results. One of the things I do as CEO is to ask what perceptions, habits, or beliefs do you need to build, change, or reinforce to grow the business? Answering that question ultimately leads to success.

How do you define leadership? How might a meeting planner think of himself or herself as a leader by your definition if they may not necessarily supervise a staff but need to “take people with them” — such as supplier partners, colleagues, attendees, speakers, etc.?

Good leaders motivate and engage others, cultivate people at all levels, and create a performance-driven culture that celebrates success in order to achieve big results. Everyone should think about how they can take people with them to achieve big goals. It’s important to explain the “why” behind your idea in order to engage people. It’s also effective to ask for input and get people involved, or they will never be truly committed to the goal.

You mention in your book about preparing for your annual, end-of-year investors meeting in New York. Why is that meeting so critical to the performance and outlook for Yum! Brands?

Our vision is to be the defining global company that feeds the world, and the meeting is a forum to share why Yum! is a good investment. We demonstrate progress against our goals and reinforce our track record of consistent results. YUM has generated at least 13-percent earnings-per-share growth for each of the last 10 years. We’re the leading retail developer in China and the largest and fastest-growing restaurant company in emerging markets. We also take the opportunity to outline our future growth plans. This gives us credibility and gives investors a basis to believe that we will do what we say.

What kind of value do you and your corporation place on face-to-face meetings? How are in-person meetings accomplished with employees all around the world?

We’re a highly connected organization with a high-impact culture that is constantly seeking and sharing information and global best practices. Our belief is that the more you know, the more you care. Although we span more than 120 countries, our goal is to make a big company feel small. We have face-to-face meetings, and also leverage technology, such as our internal iChing social-media plat-form that is designed for employees to share global learnings that drive the business. We use a variety of formats to continually share know-how, from webcasts to conference calls to town-hall meetings at all of our Restaurant Support Centers around the globe, so employees can ask questions or voice their opinions about what’s going on in our company.

Can you take one of the tools in the Taking People With You leadership program — perhaps Step-Change — and explain it, and what that might mean for setting big goals for a conference?

Setting the right goal is the key to achieving success, and leaders often fall short in this area by not aiming high enough. Aiming for small improvements to the way you already do something is not going to change the way you think, and therefore will not open up your mind to new possibilities. I use the Step-Change tool to help ensure that I’m thinking big when setting goals for myself and my team. For example, think about a current target, and then double it. Think about a current timeline, and then cut it in half. What ideas spring to mind about what you would have to do to double your target? What could you do to halve the timeline? When you picture Step-Change, you are forced to come up with new methods with more potential.

What do you hope PCMA Convening Leaders attendees will take away from your presentation?

One of the privileges of leadership is to be able to share with others what you’ve learned. For the past 15 years, I’ve taught my Taking People With You leadership program to 4,000 managers and franchisees around the world. I wrote Taking People With You in order to scale the program and reach a much broader audience. It captures everything I’ve learned about how to build and align teams to get results, and gleans the best know-how in the world from what I’ve learned from top change experts, coaches, and CEOs. I hope attendees will walk away wanting to apply these lessons that will help them become not just better leaders, but also make them more self-aware and show them how to build up others in their organizations.

Book Excerpt

‘Nothing Gets in the Way of a Good Idea’

Excerpted from
Taking People With You: The Only Way to Make BIG Things Happen, © 2012, by David Novak, published by Portfolio/Penguin.

When people ask me what I look for when hiring someone, an avid learner tops the list. People who are avid learners love what they do and seek out know-how wherever they can … which makes them a whole lot smarter and their results a whole lot better. … Our companywide commitment [is] to always be learning, to being “know-how junkies.”

Four Tactics for Being a Better Know-How Junkie

Eliminate “not invented here”
: The phrase not invented here refers to an unwillingness to adopt something because it didn’t originate with you. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure that nothing gets in the way of a good idea, no matter where it comes from.

Act like you own the place
: If you owned the company where you work, you’d be concerned with all aspects of it. You wouldn’t just think about your own role or your department; you’d think about the total picture. Adopting this attitude will force you to look at and learn about more aspects of the business, which will give you a broader perspective. It will also demonstrate to others your potential for taking on more responsibility.

Keep your big goal top of mind
: In the information age, knowledge is everywhere, so you have to be strategic about it. Have you ever noticed that when you decide which car you want to buy, you suddenly see that car everywhere you go? Well, that’s not because everyone has the same car; it’s because identifying what you want gives your brain a focus and a filter. You have to do the same for your Big Goal. Keep your antennae up … and you will suddenly see ideas for how to reach it everywhere you look.

Seek out knowledge holders and sources
: Be proactive about gaining knowledge by searching for expertise. Who knows something about what you’re working on? Go talk to those people. You’d be amazed how many doors you can open just by telling people you’d like to learn from them. In addition, where can you find information about what you’re working on? Go look up those sources, whether they are case studies, books, business magazines, or what have you.

Tactics for Wiping Out ‘Not Invented Here’
If you want to take people with you and reach your goals more efficiently and effectively, you need to learn to see every person and every experience as an opportunity to expand your knowledge base. The tactics below will help you ensure that you are truly wiping out “not invented here”:

Model the behavior by being a know-how junkie yourself:
When I was in marketing, I read Ad Age every week cover to cover. In fact, anything that had anything at all to do with marketing, I was all over it. … If you want your people to be learners, you have to show them that you have a passion for learning.

Actively listen to and learn from others
: One of the best things I do every year is attend meetings of the American Society of Corporate Executives. This is a group of about 30 active CEOs who get together periodically. The price of admission is that each person has to give a 10-minute presentation on something they’ve learned in the last six months, followed by a Q&A with the other CEOs. This is a group of very smart and very accomplished people, but it’s amazing how much we can all still learn. I’m always surprised by how much knowledge I gain by just listening closely to a group of smart people talk for a few hours.

Create a culture of healthy debate/healthy decision
: This means you have to establish a safe environment where people can share and disagree without fear. We had a board meeting once where Javier Benito, the chief marketing officer of KFC, came in to talk about our new Krusher frozen beverages. He was touting the new U.S. formula, which is different from the one that had been successful internationally. I didn’t think the U.S. version was half as good, and I told Javier so at the meeting. He then told me all the reasons why he thought I was wrong. We went back and forth like that for a while in front of the board of directors, who are my bosses. After the meeting, I went straight to Javier’s office and told him how much I appreciated that he had expressed his point of view [and] that he had displayed the courage of his conviction and the kind of behavior we want in our company.

Celebrate using someone else’s idea
: There is no idea people love more than their own, but the higher up you get, the more important it is to celebrate other people’s ideas more. Doing so will create an environment where people will want to come to you with their ideas.

Share what you know
: I visit Warren Buffett every year, and when people in my organization hear this, they’re always curious. … So after each visit, I share his wisdom with my team. I’ve even started picking one of our top leaders to bring with me to our lunch every year as a reward for superior performance.

More Resources
For more information about David Novak and Taking People With You, visit takingpeoplewithyou.com

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.