Leadership

Employee Jobs Should Address Strategy and Culture

Tom Peters, in his new book, The Excellence Dividend,  which is a follow-up to the classic,  In Search of Excellence, he shares two quotes which make an important point which leadders should heed: we all need to address culture!

In 1990, Lou Gerstner, took the helm of IBM, which was failing to adapt to the changing computer landscape. Many people thought it could only survive if major changes took place. Mr. Gerstner previously was CEO of RJR Nabisco – a consumer products company – with little expertise in technology. He was a “strategist’s strategist; he believed that if you “get the strategy right and you’re three quarters of the way down the road.” Yet, he took the time to truly understand the company and do what was needed to turn it around.”

In his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: Inside IBM’s Hstoric Turnaround, he shares an important perspective:  “ If I could have chosen not to tackle the IBM culture head-on, I probably wouldn’t have. My bias coming in was toward strategy, analysis and measurement. In comparsion, changing the attitude and behavior of hundreds of thousands of people is very, very hard. Yet, I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it IS the game”

Similarly, Parick Lencioni, in his book, The Advantage: why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, recounts a story consistent with this issue. “As I sat at the conference listening to one presentation after another highlighting the remarkable and unorthodox activities (people-first dogman, leadership stule, communal culture etc.) that have made this organization so healthy, I leaned over and asked the CEO a semi-rhetorical question: Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this? After a few seconds, he whispered, almost sadly, ‘You know, I honestly believe they think it’s beneath them.”

Leaders heed the advice: address culture and strategy if you truly want a more successful company. As our  Eval2Win system advocates, in a Continuous Improvement Learning Organization (CILO) each person is accountable for specific job responsibilites that fulfill the company’s cultural values and his/her component of its strategic mission. This allows you to hire, develop and promote people to new positions over time while always maintaining an aligned situation in which as employees win, the company also wins.

The Challenge of Innovation Inertia

People love talking about innovation because it generally makes life better. Yet institutions generally resist the efforts needed to generate innovations.

The Law of Inertia says that an object at rest or in motion tends to stay in that state unless acted upon. Companies spend enormous amounts of time, energy and capital to build “strategic systems” to develop effective systems for all aspects of the company – leadership, operations, finance, marketing, sales, etc. Mike Shipulski notes in the HOW and WHY of Innovation that any innovation, especially disruptive innovation, for such companies is “more difficult because it requires an admission that the way you’ve done things are no longer viable.”  As a result, when things don’t work as well as they should senior management gage in incremental innovation – smaller steps to improve things. Only when the hurdle of admission is crossed, can significant innovation efforts occur.

So how do companies that are committed to keeping their industry leadership roles overcome inertia? They accept the challenge and build systems outside the normal business process to address it. Some companies hire inside Strategists whose mandate is to challenge assumptions, by listening to innovative ideas proposed by staff not wedded to existing system and explore them. If a disruptive system makes sense, a proposal is made to a group of senior leaders committed to improving situations, not just the head of that department. Other firms create events each year encouraging people to try new things (e.g., hackathons) to use the special forum to open itself to new ideas. Still others create a culture in which people are encouraged to try new things, advocate for them and discover if they work before someone shoots down the idea.  For instance, companies like Google and 3M give employees free time to pursue ideas in their own (15-20%) time.

Given the challenge of Innovation Inertia, what is your company doing to harness the creativity of your employees and create, when possible, significant, even disruptive innovations. Share the system with us, so we can share with others!

 

Why You Need Succession Planning..At All Levels

Whether you build a company or form a government, the goal usually is to make it sustainable not just for the time you’re in office, but afterwards.  Most leaders focus on what all the strategic components of running a coompany – leadership, strategy, talent management, operations, finance, sales/marketing, etc. Succession planning at all levels – makign sure you have the right people in place with the leadership and technical skills to continue the process – often is often until someoone is ready to  leave or is not ready able to continue in the function – and that can undermine the future of the enterprise.

Three different situations drove home this key point.

  • Developing democracy in Myanmar has been very difficult. It’s taken decades, including many years when Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of democracy and current civilian leader was under house arrest by the miltiary leaders, for democratic practices to begin to be adopted. Making sure that a new generation of leaders would be available to continue the process should have been a priority. Yet the Wall Street Journal reports that the “graying leadership of the nation’s ruling party lacks new blood to inherit power”. When the 71 year old president resigned, a 66 year old Suu Kyi loyalist was picked to replace him. Two thirds of the ruluing Executive Committee is over the age of 66 – the male life expectancy is Myanmar. The government seems to be “recycling the same top leaders”. The author observes that the National League for Democracy “risks losing its struggle with the (military) institution if it fails to groom a new generation of leaders”.  Clearly, encouraging a new generation of democratic leaders in a country still run by the military leaders who took power in 1962 is not easy; but it should be a priority.
  • A CEO who made a decision recently to join Vistage, explained that his main reason was a desire to retire in a few years and build a solid management team that can take over the company. An analysis of the senior team revealed that many were there a long time and not very effective and had not considered devleoping people below to help take over should something happen to them. Turns out not all of the team members were as competent as he thought, and left. So now, the CEO has to postpone the effort to expand the business to make it more valuable to the next owners, and focus on identifying who can take over their divisions (from inside and/or outside) and tain them to be effective leaders. Further, there are some capable people within the company that have not been earmarked for future leadership roles and can be fast-tracked, with supervision, to see what they really can do. All this extra work is draining substantial energy. We now have a race to do a lot within the allotted time period.
  • Age Brilliantly advocates allowing talented people to continue working in companies as long as they want to do so and continue to be productive – regardless of age – either in their jobs or as SharExers where they “share their expertise and experiences” with others to groom new leaders and help innovate processes and products. Recently, a CEO, who runs a company that uses lots of specialty equipment, mentioned having a few employees over the age of 70 that are quite skilled; they haven’t initiated discussions about “retiring” for their jobs, and neither has he. Periodically, we discuss how they’re doing… and raise the question of who will take over when they want to, or need to, leave. It’s been flagged as an issue because no successor exists in the company and no outside search is being initiated. (“Ostrich, keep your head in the sand.”) Recently, the conversation changed…two are thinking of moving on. So now we’re scurring to find ways to “phase their retirement plans” for the good of the company and these valued employees. Stay tune for how the SharEx model gets adopted by this company!

Everyone benefits when we begin succession planning early on.  What are you doing in your company?  Share with us your experiences and solutions.

Do You Explore for Disruption?

In a world where competitors, strategic partners and customers are focused on innovation and how it will improve their lives, it makes sense for leaders to do the same thing in our companies. However, we need to recognize the differences between different types of innovation – and commit not just to the low hanging fruit but also the transformative changes.

Generally, innovation focuses on people, products/services and/or processes. Today’s car-sharing services (e.g., Uber Lyft, etc.) affects all three customers order differently and the drivers operate differently (i.e., their own businesses). The process is involves using an app to have transportation come to you rather than you go out to where cabs travel. The product differs in the quality of the transportation experience, including knowing how much it costs before entering the vehicle. Innovation come in two styles: incremental and disruptive (transformative); ask any yellow-cab owner, and you’ll hear that car-sharing services are transformative.

What’s important to understand is that innovation creates an inevitable tension for company leaders. They are responsible for building and executing a strategy.  Execution means cascading the goals from one level down to the next and creating a supportive culture to enable each member/team to achieve their objectives, especially when the inevitable speed bumps and road blocks get in the way.  If at the same time they want to be innovative, they can’t be disruptive, because that would disrupt the elements that make for success. So leaders resolve to focus on incremental innovations – and put their energies in helping creative an innovative, incremental culture. People’s skills ae upgraded, products improved, processes made efficient and/or effective.

But transformations require disruptive thinking. Henry Ford realized that people wanted faster transportation than was available with existing horse and carriages. Incremental innovations would take the form of lighter carriages, faster wheels, superior horses; a disruptive “horseless” carriage meant an automobile.  The key to such disruptive thought is for leaders to be curious and explore options outside the current frame-of-reference. They know that these innovators cannot be concerned with executing the current business strategy.

Leaders need to be self-aware of the conflict between growing through innovation while maintaining the status quo. It takes a commitment to explore for disruption and develop a structure where they are separated from the day-to-day activities and supervised by someone who nurtures and protect their efforts (often referred to as the “skunk-works” project.)

Are you committed to exploring all your opportunities?  Share how you launch disruptive technologies.

The 4 Most Important Leadership Behaviors

When I work with presentation clients, the starting point is to identify what’s the most important thing the audience needs to know to get them to act in the desired manner (e.g., invest in the company pitching the deal). Reading a McKinsey article, Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters, I realized that as a leadership coach, I face the same dilemma when helping executives become more effective leaders:  identify which of the many leadership qualities are most critical.

The researchers, using their own experience and relevant academic literature came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. They then surveyed 189 people in 81 diverse organizations around the world, and the grouped the sample by quartiles so they could compare the top and bottom in terms of leadership effectiveness. They discovered that 4 of the behaviors explained 895 of the variance between strong and weak organizations!

The four behaviors are:

  • Solving problems effectively: Key is gathering and analyzing the right data, and then considering the right options that can lead to effective decision-making.
  • Operating with a strong results orientation: Creating a vision is only the start, following through to achieve results with efficiency, productivity, and prioritization of highest-value work is key.
  • Seeking different perspectives: In this VUCA world, leaders need to monitor trends, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute meaningful ideas, differentiate important issues from those which aren’t, and give appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Success here involves sound analysis and avoidance of biases which often affect decisions. (Vistage CEOs engage in issue-processing sessions each month which reinforce the importance of this approach. It leads to incredible results (see case studies) and model the behavior in their companies.
  • Supporting others: These leaders understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in others, they build trust and inspire colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote efficiency, allay unwarranted fears and prevent energies from producing internal conflicts.

Obviously, different business situations often require different styles of leadership, but knowing which four behaviors provide a solid foundation will help every leader.  What do you think? What’s your experience with these behaviors?  Share with us!

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