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Interview with Bob Herbold

Learn more about author, speaker and retired COO of Microsoft Corporation. Learn more about how his keynotes can improve your event.

What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?

The intent with each of my presentations is for people to come away with specific tips about how they themselves as well as their organizations can improve their performance. In virtually all of my presentations, I discuss specific companies that the audience has typically read about in the business press. Some of the cases are about companies or individuals that have gotten into trouble and I analyze why they incurred the difficulties and how they reversed the situation, if they were able to. Others showcase superb examples of leadership and avoidance of the typical business traps.

You get a good sense for the kind of content I focus on by considering the subjects I pursued in the three books that I have written. The first book was the Fiefdom Syndrome and in it I review the kind of turf wars and bureaucracy that companies often experience, and I provide numerous approaches designed to eliminate the problem or to prevent it from ever happening. The second book is titled Seduced by Success and it’s all about various traps that successful organizations often find themselves falling into, and how to get out of/avoid those traps. The most recent book is titled What’s Holding You Back? It’s focused on why managers at virtually all levels have difficulties in making tough decisions, and then it covers ten core principles of courageous leadership.

To get a sense of the content of my presentations, here are the titles of some of the recent talks/keynotes I have given to various organizations:
• Success Traps: How to Avoid Them
• Increasing the Innovative Potential of Your Organization
• Courage: The Key to Leadership
• Strangled By Complexity? Ten Principles that Lead to Operational and Innovative Excellence
• Fiefdoms and Silos: What to Do About Them


How do you prepare for a keynote speech?

Actually I am preparing on an ongoing basis by watching carefully for specific companies who are excelling, or are having problems, and try to understand what is really going on. It’s these specific examples that end up being the majority of the content in my presentations. When it’s time to prepare for a specific presentation, I take into account the specific request of the organization and then put together the materials on how that particular request can best be met.


What kind of experience and knowledge did you gain from your time at Microsoft which you rely on today?

It’s not just Microsoft, it’s also my 26 years at Procter & Gamble. From early 1990’s thru 2001, when I was the COO of Microsoft, the company excelled at keeping itself lean while also providing individuals very focused responsibilities and the authority to get their job done. There was virtually no bureaucracy because the company was growing so fast we were always under-staffed. In retrospect, that leanness was a real blessing. Reality is that most organizations typically hire way too many people, create stifling bureaucracies, and have difficulty making the tough decisions.

Procter & Gamble provided some incredible lessons in thoroughness of understanding your customers; be they internal customers within the company or external customers who are buying your products or services. Secondly, P&G did a great job of developing people. They moved people around a lot to various divisions, giving them totally new experiences which were quite stretching and consequently, that organization is one of the top personnel developers in the world. P&G’s personnel development capabilities are admired by all of industry.


What are some tips for effective leadership?

To me business and leadership are fairly straight forward and all of us need to keep this in mind. Here are the key steps that all leaders should be following at all times. First, given where you are, what is the vision of where you would like to be in a year or two or three? Once you’ve settled on that vision, what are the specific strategies or actions that you need to take and achieve in order for that vision to become reality? Third, re-organize around the strategies so that people know specifically that your intent is to achieve them and put strong performers in the key jobs that will enable you to execute those strategies well. Lastly, have specific measures that clearly indicate whether the vision is being achieved and that indicate the strategies are also making progress toward that vision.

What happens so often in organizations is you attempt to make significant changes with the current organization in its current configuration. In that situation, employees have as their first priority simply carrying out their current responsibilities. The change that you would like to see happen typically ends up being a lower priority. That’s frustrating for everyone.


What type of audience benefits most from your keynotes?

Any organization, be it small or large, can benefit from stepping back occasionally and visiting the basic principles that business success is based on. Those tips I just reviewed in your last question are so fundamental that we often ignore them and simply carry out today’s responsibilities. Taking the time to think through what you are trying to achieve, and hearing about case studies of specific companies, can be enormously helpful in spawning ideas about how to do things better and to improve the impact and effectiveness of your organization. As I mentioned earlier, the hope is that with each presentation, people walk away with specific tips and good insights about how companies can improve and how companies can avoid specific traps that we all face on an ongoing basis.


Read more about Bob Herbold here!

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