Monday, September 28, 2015

Building a Unified Whole - part #1

During our dinner discussion about the future of the company, the two of us positioned the salt shaker, ketchup bottle, sugar packets, etc. all over the table in order to form a new organizational chart. We agreed that within his industry, and for that matter many others, a successful company is going to have to be nimble, i.e. be able to learn and understand things quickly and easily, be agile, i.e. move quickly and easily when the time is right, and be flexible, i.e. be willing to change and try new things. This was going to be the new normal. 

In the midst of the discussion on how to reorganize the company, he pointed out that one team in particular was engaged in a “treadmill exercise,” namely working hard but going no where. Right now a lot of people are participating in a treadmill exercise. They are also working on treadmill teams and interacting with other treadmill people. And in the end, they are exhausted and frustrated.

Simultaneously a lot of people are struggling with issues related to language and performance. With accountability on the rise, people need better goals, objectives, performance metrics, and sound project management. Furthermore, this depth of clarity should be cascaded down into the organization in a timely and accurate manner. The difficulty is that a large percentage of people working right now do not have a common language. It feels like people are participating in a treadmill exercise within the Tower of Babel.

One solution at this time period is for leaders to teach Whole -> Parts -> Whole thinking. We know that in successful companies all the parts have to work together. Furthermore, it is the experience of all the parts working together that impacts the long term viability of the parts and the whole. In short, working at a company is a cumulative and inter-connected experience for those serving and those served.

As Rosabeth Moss Kanter in her January 2008, Harvard Business Review article called “Transforming Giants” explains: “In the most influential corporations today, a foundation of values and standards provides a well-understood, widely communicated guidance system that ensures effective operations while enabling people to make decisions appropriate to local situations.” This guidance system creates a “globally integrated enterprise” which is based on  standardized processes and widely shared values and standards. The combination has a mutually reinforcing effect and results in better and more consistent decisions.

The first step in teaching Whole -> Parts -> Whole thinking is to learn to “zoom out before zooming in,” referencing the work of Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen from their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011. The process of zooming out, then zooming in, begins by remaining hyper-vigilant to the changing conditions, internally and externally to the company, and to respond effectively once a change in noted.

As Collins and Hansen note, “10Xers understand that they cannot reliably and consistently predict future events, so they prepare obsessively - ahead of time, all the time - for what they cannot possibly predict. They assume that a series of bad events can wallop them in quick succession, unexpectedly and at any time…. 10Xers zoom out, then zoom in. They focus on their objectives and sense changes in their environment; they push for perfect execution and adjust to changing conditions. When they sense danger, they immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives.” 
In short, Whole -> Parts -> Whole thinking is based on rigorous decision making and superb execution.

This week practice zooming out before you zoom in on goals and objectives. It will be the first step in becoming nimble, agile and flexible. 

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Power of Old School Learning

When I am called to give a presentation or to do a training, people routinely ask me what kinds of technology I will need to do my work. They assure me that they have special computers dedicated to the training room with technicians available round the clock to help, plus fancy projectors, super big screens, etc. I always smile as they also tell me about the fiber optic cables and the dedicated broad band to make the training work.

When I first started teaching high school history, my classroom had a black board in the room. It actually was a sheet of plywood painted black. I used chalk rather than markers and it faded quickly on the wood. Then, I was upgraded to an actual slate board as my chalk board. Clapping erasers after class was a regular part of my day back then.

White boards and flip chart plus colored markers were marvelous inventions when I first started my career as a trainer. Using an overhead projector with a set of well prepared transparencies was down right mind blowing as a teaching tool. I especially loved that the overhead projector could be easily fixed by changing the lightbulb.

Now, when I am called, I tell people that I will need a podium, a chair, and a glass of water. If the group is big, I will need a microphone and maybe a flip chart and markers. Otherwise, I just stand and deliver. 

I am an analog presenter in a digital world. I know it is old school and I am very low tech. But for many years, it has been highly effective for the simple reason that learning moves away from being a spectator sport via power point presentations, and back into an interactive process where the teacher does not just share information, but engages with the student in a learning journey through the Socratic process of asking questions and seeking answers. 

When it comes to handouts, I provide the agenda, some diagrams and a couple of bullet points. But I have learned after nearly 35 years of teaching that the best part of the handouts is the white space. Here, students take notes. They engage their eyes, their hands and their heads in capturing the ideas and concepts that speak to them. This multi-level process of engagement draws them deep into the learning. They are no longer watching as much as interacting with the teacher and the content. They have to focus, think, engage and respond. 

The results of this old school teaching methods are amazing. The insights are deep, and the “aha” moments are many. At times, it is a single sentence, phrase or realization that transforms the student’s understanding. By hearing it, seeing it, and through stories feeling it, the student and the teacher comprehend and learn together at a deeper and more holistic level.

While vintage clothes and vintage items are all the rage amongst the younger generations, old school teaching, such as slowing the class down to read out loud a paragraph in a book and to discuss what it means as a group still has the ability to transcend the current, obsessive compulsive nature among certain groups of students, who are addicted to seeking out the newest and latest, best seller concept. Given all that is happening in society and business, now is the time to rediscover the wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation. 

I am proud to be an old school teacher. This week, I encourage you to turn off the computer, pick up a book, and remember when learning was more than a spectator sport.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Building Capacity For The Future

One of the biggest challenges for any senior leader is to create more leaders within their organization. With every day being full of meetings and desk work, busy has become the new definition of success. Still, the best leaders know that the execution of an organization’s strategic plan will entirely depend on maintaining and developing people in key leadership positions.

So what is the first step to building capacity?

Realize that an individual’s bandwidth reflects their depth of experience and their learning. If you want to expand their capacity, you need to expand their experience and their learning. With the significant amount of adaptive changes that are present currently within the business world, and with the ones that are coming in the digital and global market places, we need more leaders who are ready, willing and able to solve technical and adaptive problems.

For someone to become a better leader, they need to better tolerate ambiguity, and to a degree chaos. No organization, large or small, can move from one level of performance to a better level of performance without generating moments of confusion, conflict and disorder as they stop doing the old ways of working and embrace a new way of working. Leaders who understand that change is disruptive and difficult, yet normal, are the kind of leaders who can move forward individually and collectively in an effective manner.

So, what is the second step to building capacity?

Sign up your key leaders for the 2016 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Through a challenging, interactive curriculum which blends lectures, selected readings, small and large group discussions, and how to skill-building exercises, participants in this four part leadership training gain critical knowledge and skills which improve their ability to lead people to generate short and long term success.

For more information on this in-depth training and how to register for the 2016 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

The future is coming faster than you think. The more leadership potential you have within your organization the more prepared you will be.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, September 14, 2015

Building Relationship Continuity

As the unemployment rate in the state of Iowa continues to drop and the national one also moves in this direction, I listen to more and more leaders across the country describe that their biggest strategic challenge right now is how to recruit and retain good employees. Many for-profit and non-profit organization are dealing with open positions where they just can not find the right people for the right seats on the bus, referencing an old Jim Collin’s metaphor.

As I participate in these strategic level discussions, I am reminded of the following quote by Roger Herman: "In the future, success will depend on a stable workforce of people who can adapt to rapid change. That's because no matter what else shifts in the market, relationship continuity is increasingly going to be what matters to customers, to suppliers, and to investors.  Even in a fast economy, it's still longevity that counts.” 

What we have to realize this morning is that the future has now arrived and we as leaders need to respond to it in a thoughtful and concerted effort. This problem is not going away and will more likely be compounded as more and more Baby Boomers retire.

Here are three quick recommendations as we all seek to build relationship continuity. First, succession planning is a hot and getting hotter topic during many strategic reviews. This will continue to be an issue, but we also need to realize that in order to build relationship continuity, we need to start focusing more on engagement planning and in particular how to develop better supervisors, managers and leaders who people want to stay and work with through change.

Second, we need to spend more time discussing collaboration within the company and between the company and it suppliers. Collaboration is the sum of a multitude of specific behaviors. Figuring out how to collaborate better will improve the potential for people to stay longer in their jobs and be more effective.

Finally, we need to focus more on the processes and systems that build cultural clarity and operational excellence. These two pieces are intertwined and will make a major difference in recruitment and retention.

This week, pull your team together and begin talking about the importance of relationship continuity. The future has arrived.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, August 24, 2015

Making Sure They Come Back In The Morning

With the national unemployment rate continuing to drop and many company leaders sharing with me about their challenges around recruitment and retention of staff, I am continually reminded of this quote that I read many years ago: "Our intellectual capital walks out the door every night, so the key is make sure they come back." - Aart de Geus, CEO of Synopsys Inc. 

Right now we need everyone to come back in the morning, ready, willing and able to embrace today’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges. We want them to bring their depth of commitment, clarity and connections so that they can generate effective new solutions.

However, David Dell, research director of The Conference Board's Capabilities Management and Human Resources Strategies area, offers a unique perspective to this situation: "The challenge to employers is to not only make potential employees aware of the company as a good place to work and bring the best applicants successfully through the recruitment and hiring process, but also to retain them and ensure their understanding of the company's goals and commitment to them." 

The moment of commitment that I discussed last week in this blog begins by creating clarity about the company’s strategic nexus, i.e. the sum of the mission, vision and core values plus the company’s goals. Yet, from my experience, there is a subtle but important difference in the best companies I have seen handle this current situation. These companies understand that their strategic nexus has to become cultural, namely it needs to translate into a specific way of working. When the nexus is no longer just ideas but also a distinct set of behaviors of how we work together, solve problems together and deliver services together, then the company becomes a magnet for recruitment and retention.

This week transform your strategic nexus into a culture that permeates the whole company. Then, when people go home at the end of the day, we know they will be back in the morning.

FYI: Due to the complications of my schedule, I am not going to post anything on this blog for the next two Mondays. I will be back on Monday, 9/14/15.  Feel free to read past blog posts in the meantime.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Power of Good Feedback

In the late 80’s, I started teaching people about feedback. It was an important skill in learning how to be a good leader. Given the response and interest, this subject became a routine part of my work for many years.

Recently, when reading another book, I became aware of the following book: Stone, Douglas. and Sheila Heen. Thanks For The Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, Penguin Books, 2014. I was intrigued if this new book was going to be helpful in educating leaders. After the first chapter of Thanks for the Feedback, I realized that I had stumbled upon a master class in communication and feedback. Very well written and extremely practical, the book outlined many key concepts that I found most helpful in my work as a consultant and an executive coach.

As the authors explain in the introduction, “When we give feedback, we notice that the receiver isn’t good at receiving it. When we receive feedback, we notice that the giver isn’t good at giving it.” The key player from the authors’ perspective is the receiver, not the giver. As they continue, “Receiving feedback sits at the intersection of these two needs - our drive to learn and our longing for acceptance…. Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean you always have to take the feedback.” 

Stone and Heen point out there are three different kinds of feedback, each with a different purpose. They are as follows:

- Appreciation which motivates and encourages.

- Coaching which helps increase knowledge, skill, capability, growth, or raises feelings in the relationship.

- Evaluation which tells you where you stand, aligns expectations, and informs decision making

As they note, we need all three, but often talk at cross-purposes because we are not sure which kind of feedback we are giving and which kind we are receiving. Overall, I was impressed with this book because it not only helped me in understanding how to receive feedback but also how to give it. 

Given all of the reading I have been doing this summer, I have found this to be an excellent resource for people in leadership positions. It will help you in your work and it will help you when you are coaching others. So, when you have the time, add this one to your reading list and enjoy participating in a master class on communication and feedback.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Moment of Commitment

Right now, many people have been pushed outside their comfort zone. There is no more ease, familiarity, or predictability in their world. Change is not the constant now. Transformation is the constant. And as a result, more and more people are experiencing massive amounts of uncomfortable chaos.

When we go to the dictionary and look up the definition of the word “chaos,” we discover a great answer. Chaos is defined as “the unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct forms.” But as one reads further, there is another definition, namely “the state of utter confusion.” This is the challenge right now for so many leaders. There is a high degree of ambiguity plus a phenomenal lack of clarity. It feels like everything is confusing and unorganized on too many levels.

So, the first step in situations of this nature is to create clarity. This starts when we as leaders define what is and is not over. We need to show that there is a line of continuity through the unorganized state of primordial matter. Effective leaders turn to the mission, vision and core values of their organization to find this line of clarity through the current and emerging challenges.

Second, we as leaders need to build commitment. This happens when we explain what are the internal and external drivers of change and transformation in our industry and our organization. Creating this depth of understanding takes time and consistent communication but the return of this investment is solid and helpful.

Third, we as leaders have to commit to moving forward in spite of all that is happening. As the German writer and statesmen Goethe wrote: “Until one is committed there is always hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising to one’s favor all manner of unforeseen accidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way.  

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. “

This week I hope you can rediscover the moment of commitment and then move forward with clarity and confidence.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257