Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Do Leaders Improve The Cascading Of Key Information? Part #1

Recently during a senior team meeting where we were discussing problems related to getting information cascaded in a clear and consistent manner, I was asked the following question: “Is this a people issue or a communication issue?”

My response was “Yes.”

Any time I hear issues related to cascading, I think back to the book that caused this word to enter into the lexicon of  business leaders across the country, namely Patrick Lecioni’s The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable, (Jossey-Bass, 2000). To review the four disciplines, they are the following:

1. Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team.
2. Create organizational clarity.
3. Over-communicate organizational clarity.
4. Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems.

The concept of cascading is part of discipline #3, namely “Over-communicate organizational clarity.” Here the author focuses on four key points to make this happen:

- repetition
- simplicity
- multiple mediums
- cascading messages

What many leaders forget is that cascading begins with clarity. What we are cascading starts with what we are over-communicating. And over-communicating starts with clarity about identity and direction. Cascading is a people and a communication problem but most of all it is a clarity issue. If you are having problems with cascading, you have to realize that you are actually having problems with clarity.

This week, ask yourself the following two questions:

- Does my leadership team agree on our identity and direction?

- Are they able to communicate this information in a clear and concise manner?

Answering these two questions is the precursor to over-communicating organizational clarity.

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

How Do Leaders Increase Effective Collaboration? Part #2

Collaboration happens when there is the right kind of work environment in place.  The question leaders often ask me in executive coaching sessions is the following: “What is the right kind of environment to be in place to support more effective collaboration?”

A classic Lencioni answer would be when managers really know their people, these same people employed know who their work impacts and how, and finally those employed know how to assess their own progress or success. But a more in-depth answer is needed to fully understand the question. 

For the above to take place, performance management needs to assist managers and employees in becoming better. This system should provide  clarity about what is expected along with goals, roles, responsibilities and core values. An effective manager should take the above information and provide routine feedback about whether or not the employee is adequately meeting those expectations.

But let’s zoom out and look at the bigger picture related to collaboration and partnerships. Ron Adner in his book, The Wide Lens: A New Strategy For Innovation (Portfolio/Penguin, 2012) notes that “Success in a connected world requires that you manage your dependence.” And for these strategies to succeed, it is no longer enough to manage your innovation. Now you must manage your innovation ecosystem which means collaborating or partnering with more people outside the organization than just inside the company people.

The risks of this level of collaboration are many. The first, the above author points out, is Execution Risk, i.e. the challenges you face in bringing about your innovation to the required specifications within the required time. The second is Co-innovation Risk, i.e. the extent to which the successful commercialization of your innovation depends on the successful commercialization of other innovations. The third is Adoption Chain Risk, i.e. the extent to which partners will need to adopt your innovation before end consumers have a chance to assess the full value proposition. The reason I bring this all up is to remind us that not all partnerships are internal and there is a high potential for Co-innovation Risks and Adoption Chain Risks that could take place during the next six to nine months. Therefore, be very mindful of where, and when you are seeking collaboration because there are operational and strategic risks in play around the whole affair.

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

How Do Leaders Increase Effective Collaboration? Part #1

This spring companies from coast to coast are continuing to centralize and standardize many different systems and processes.  As a result, lots and lots of people are having to collaborate to solve problems. Some are even calling these new people “their partners.”

First, what is collaboration? According to the dictionary, it means “to work with another person to achieve or do something.” But from experience, I think of collaboration first as a mindset, i.e. a way of thinking. If it is a mindset, then we need to know WHY we need to collaborate. What are the risks of collaboration vs. not collaborating? 

Next, if it is a mindset, then we need to know WHAT to do.This would assume that there is an end goal and that there is some way to measure progress toward this end goal. 

Furthermore, if it is a mindset, then we also need to know HOW to do it. This, to a degree, assumes we are competent is doing the behaviors related to collaboration. Yet underneath all of this collaboration is a recognition that being collaborative means you have to give up control. In specific, you may not be able to control all the details, other people, and even the outcome in certain situations.

Second, collaboration is a set of behaviors, i.e. a way of working with others. Here are the behaviors that make up collaboration: 

- teamwork behaviors as in people who work well together. The key element is to build personal and strategic trust.

- communication behaviors as in people who can communicate clearly and create clarity. The key element is to have have clarity first before communicating.

- problem solving behaviors as in people who can diagnosis the problem and then solve it. The key element is to know the difference between technical, adaptive and crisis based problems.

- decision-making behaviors as in people who can think through impact and precedent. The key element is to not suffer from either strategic or contextual blindness.

- goal setting behaviors as in people who can create SMART goals. The key element here is to understand alignment with the strategic nexus.

- working with data or metrics to monitor progress as in people who can measure their progress. The key element is to understand the difference between operational excellence and organizational success.

In short, collaboration is a complex set of behaviors. And the best leaders focus people on making sure OUR results do not get trumped by MY results. For in the world of collaboration, WE is more important than I.

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

Monday, May 2, 2016

How Do Leaders Consolidate Initial Improvements And Continue To Produce More Change? Part #2

Last week, we looked at the personal level of work related to this question. This week, I want to look at the organizational level.

First, leaders start making change happen by increasing the level of urgency rather than panic in the organization. However, after the first short term win, they often resort to solving immediate problems. They undersell the urgency factor and as a result people believe “We’ve won” and thus “We’re done.”

To change this situation, leaders must keep showing people why continued urgency is needed. We need to celebrate the short term wins and connect current successes to past decisions that were based on the proposed strategic direction and current strategic plan. Nevertheless, we need to continue to point out why on-going improvements are needed.

Second, we must have the courage and fortitude to confront embedded bureaucratic and political behaviors. This will not be easy and may require all of us to review the book, Crucial Conversations. We know that by doing this level of work we will encounter situations where opinions will vary, stakes will be high and emotions will run strong and deep. Still, we do not have the luxury of avoiding these challenges. Strategic blindness and context blindness are real.

When engaging in this kind of work remember to follow the late Stephen Covey’s advice: “Seek first to understand, second to be understood.” This involves making it safe to share and always monitoring your own behavior. Some days we get so busy solving problems that we do not realize that our behavior is constantly sending a message. 

Finally, do not forget that resistance is a form of feedback. The goal is to be open to feedback. There may be important information within it that will help you and the organization as a whole.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two Interesting Books

Recently, two very interesting books were given to me, and I have enjoyed reading them quite a bit.

The first book was called The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (Penguin, 2014) by Ryan Holiday. It is, in part,based on the following quote by Marcus Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded . . . but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” 

As the author explains, “Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But our responses they elect are the same: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.” Yet, he points out that within every obstacle, trial or problem is “an opportunity to improve out condition.”  

The book revolves around the notion that overcoming an obstacle is a discipline of three critical steps, namely, perception, action and will. 

Perception impacts “how we see and understand what occurs around us - and what we decide those events will mean.” As Holiday explains, there are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try to be objective, to control emotions and keep even keel, to choose to see the good in a situation, to steady our nerves, to ignore what disturbs or limits others, to place things in perspective, to revert to the present moment, and to focus on what can be controlled. In short, we need to learn to be objective, i.e. what happened, instead of solely being subjective, i.e. that which happened is bad.

Action, the second of the three steps, is commonplace but right action is not. As he points out, “We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” Recognizing that “excellence is a matter of steps,” the author quotes the stoic Epictetus who wrote “persist and resist.” As Holiday further explains, “Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.”

The third discipline is Will, which he explains as “our internal power, which can never by affected by the outside world.” As Holiday writes, “If Perception and Action were the disciples of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and the soul.” As he continues, “in every situation we can make the following choices:
- always prepare ourselves for more difficult times.
- always accept what we’re unable to change.
- always manage out expectations.
- always persevere.
- always learn to love our fate and what happens to us.
- always protect our inner self, retreat into ourselves.
- always submit to a greater, larger cause.
- always remind ourselves of our own mortality.”

Whatever the obstacle, Ryan Holiday encourages us to do the following: “First, see clearly. Next, act correctly. Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.”

Upon completing the book and reflecting on all that was contained in it, I believe this book can be quite helpful for leaders who are working at all different levels within an organization. In particular, I believe the book offers a sound framework for dealing with some of the current challenges that are surfacing during one to one coaching or check-in sessions. Given the number of people who are feeling overwhelmed by the pace of change and transformation plus feeling totally scattered by the volume of work that needs to get done, I believe that the book, The Obstacle Is The Way, providers the coach and the person receiving the coaching a framework to move through their challenges in a thoughtful and respectful manner. 

I also believe this book could be a good team read during the next six months. As many of you have recognized, things are not going to slow down this summer. Many have actually reported to me that today’s depth of urgency will be nothing compared to the amount of urgency that will surface between July 1 and the end of September as more and more companies realize that they must make solid progress on their strategic plans if they are going to complete them in a satisfactory manner within the allotted time frame, which currently is somewhere around 2018.  

Therefore, I recommend this book for all who are coaching people during the coming months and for those who are leading leadership teams that are struggling. I think you will find this a very helpful resource for your leadership library.

The second book was called The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change (Scribner, 2014) by Adam Braun. 

Years ago, during a From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, we got into an interesting and in-depth discussion about realistic and effective executive stress management systems. While folks around the table shared a diversity of systems and exercises that they used to cope with executive stress, I was asked what I did. Of course, I shared about gardening, cooking and walking, but I also shared that there are days when I focus less on stress management and more on finding meaning and purpose in my life. For I have discovered over time that I can not always make my life less stressful, but I can make it more meaningful. And it is the sense of purpose and meaning in my life  that helps me make it through the rough patches.

One thing I did share that morning was that I like to read books about people who inspire me. And when I picked up the book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, I discovered another resource in this category. 

Adam Braun was a young and successful person on the path to a successful Wall Street career. However, while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request changed Braun’s world view and eventually led him to leave his prestigious job to found Pencils of Promise which has built more than 250 schools across Africa, Asia and Latin American.  

If you are seeking fresh perspective about whether or not a single person can make a difference, then reading this book needs to be a part of your journey. If you are seeking lessons learned along that path, then, again, reading this book is a must. As Howard Thurman noted, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This book is one place which will inspire you to become more alive.

Happy reading!

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

How Do Leaders Consolidate Initial Improvements And Continue To Produce More Change? Part #1

Many companies right now want to create positive and sustainable, forward momentum. They want to have a regular string of short term wins that are always producing more positive changes. However, after the first or second short term win, many start to fade and loose momentum. 

John P. Kotter in his book, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations (Harvard Business School Press, 2002) reminds us that after a short term win, effective leaders do the following:

- use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision.

- hire, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision.

- reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and change agents.

But when we dig deeper into his writing, we discover some important clues about how to continue moving forward. First, reinvigorating the process means reinvigorating the leaders involved in the process. We forget that the credibility of the leaders during change is interconnected with the credibility of the process. They are interrelated and symbiotic. Each one helps the other. Yet some times after the initial short term win, leaders burn out and then push in unproductive ways to get things done. They default to “poor behavior,” e.g. command and control with the emphasis on control.

Therefore, we must separate role from self. We need to not work so hard that we physically and emotionally collapse, or sacrifice your off-the-job life. Instead, we need to focus on only doing what we can do best, and aggressively rid ourself of work that wears us down. For example, tasks that were relevant in the past may not be now. Therefore, we need to focus on what you can delegate so you can focus on what you do best. 

Second, we need to understand that with the “power of the chair” needs to come an awareness of the importance of “respecting for the chair.” Quoting the Spider Man movie with great power comes great responsibility, we need to remember the difference between executive power and legislative power. With the former comes positional power but at times we also need to use the later, i.e. build a collation of people to move a solution forward. But there is a deeper understanding to this concept that highly effective leaders and experienced leaders understand and demonstrate.

First, in the world of leadership, there is the acquisition of knowledge to do one’s job. Here, the learning focuses on the gaining of knowledge, facts, material, content and meaning. This learning can be seen as a “possession,” i.e. knowledge as property. For many leaders, being in their positions means that they have control over doing something. Therefore, their learning has a clear end point and their competency is based on being able to repeat something.

Nevertheless, there is a second level of leadership which relates to the execution of knowledge. The critical depth of this learning comes through participation. Here the focus is on the learning to become something, i.e. a member of the community of those in the position, profession and/or practice. With it comes an understanding that we as leaders are part of a larger community of leaders. In this circle, competency is relational rather than intellectual. In short, we become part of the “community” with other leaders.

This is why respecting the chair becomes so important. You and your chair are part of a community of chairs. You do not own it. You are a care taker of it. And you will pass it on to another in due time.  

This week, ask yourself the following two questions: 

- What do you want to be known for as a leader?

- What do you want the position to be known for?

These answers will help you personally move forward and produce sustainable changes.

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

How Do Leaders Successfully Scale Up For Growth?

I have been asked this question often during the last six to nine month in many senior team meetings and executive coaching sessions. My answer recently has focused on three key points from a delightful book on this subject called Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014) by Robert I Sutton and Huggy Rao.

First as the above authors explain, successful companies who scale up “spread a mindset, not just a footprint.” I like this answer because we often underestimate the importance of mindset and instead focus on footprint. In particular, this mindset needs to include two elements, namely clarity about strategic direction and clarity about operational excellence. Strategic direction clarity is built around why we need to move forward with a degree of urgency related to change and/or transform. Operational clarity is built on a deep understanding of the current and changing needs of the client/customer. The mindset has to be both strategic and operational. 
Second, the above authors remind us to “find your bell cows and take care of them.” Bell cows are members of the herd that other cows always follow. They may be positional leaders and non-positional leaders. What ever the case, we need both in order to be successful.

Third, Sutton and Rao remind us to “fix the plumbing before the poetry.” Every organization has mission critical systems that must work well for the whole company to work well. From my perspective, the top four we need to focus on right now are hiring, managing performance, rewards and recognition, and employee dismissal. If these are not working well, all the poetry in the world will not help the company.

Finally, there is some common sense we must remember when scaling up some growth. It is as follows: “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Regularly review the mission, vision and core values plus the strategic plan. Here you will find the answers to many of the organizations persistent problems.

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