Monday, April 17, 2017

How do leaders position an organization successfully for the future? - part #2

Positioning an organization successfully for the future comes down to three solutions.

First, one needs to remember Packard’s Law. Recognizing that big does not equal great, Packard’s Law states that “no company can consistently grow revenues faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth with excellence.” I first found this in Jim Collins’ book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. 

What we as leaders need to recognize is that we need different networks of people to be successful with different kinds of work. Herminia Ibarra in her book, Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader, Harvard Business Review Press, 2015, recommends we build three kinds of networks for different kinds of perspectives. The first is an operational network which helps us manage our current internal responsibilities. The second is a personal network which boosts our personal development. The last is a strategic network which focuses on new business directions and the stakeholders you must get on board to pursue these directions. As she explains, “… your strategic network is made up of relationships that help you to envision the future, sell your ideas, and get the information and resources you need to exploit these ideas…. A good strategic network gives you connective advantage: the ability to marshal information, support, or other resources from one of your networks to obtain results in another.”

With the right people in place and leaders with the right networks, I am reminded of the research by Nitin Nohria, William Joyce and Bruce Robertson in their July 2003 Harvard Business Review article called “What Really Works”. This group published a five year study that they called “The Evergreen Project”, which “examined more than 200 well-established management practices as they were employed over a ten-year period by 160 companies.” This research enabled the authors to distill which management practices truly produced superior results. Their conclusion is that without exception, companies that outperformed their industry peers excelled at four primary management practices:

- strategy: devise and maintain a clearly stated, focused strategy.

- execution: develop and maintain flawless operation execution.

- culture: develop and maintain a performance-oriented culture.

- structure: build and maintain a fast, flexible, flat organization.

The Evergreen Project concluded that these companies also embraced two of four secondary practices: talent development, innovation, leadership, and mergers and acquisitions.

The second solution is to create clarity around the five most important questions. First captured by Peter Drucker, they are the following:

- What is our mission?
- Who is our customer?
- What does the customer value?
- What are our results?
- What is our plan?

Too many times during the last year, I have encountered leaders and organizations that do not have a clarity when it comes to answering the above questions.

The third solution is to achieve consistent, forward progress. As we all know, consistent forward progress, i.e. growth, makes a profound difference. Typically, the performance markers or KPIs signal this is or is not happening. However, the first step is a commitment to the proposed strategy that will create the consistent progress. In order to check whether or not this is in place, ask your management team if they can successfully answer the following question: What are we committed to achieving during the next 10-15 years whether or not the world is turbulent or not turbulent? Clarity and commitment are interrelated.

This week, remember Packard’s Law, answer the five most important questions and check to see if you have strategic commitment and clarity within your core team. 

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

How do leaders position an organization successfully for the future? - part #1

It had been a good day of training when I walked up to the second floor to sit down with the CEO in his office to share my thoughts. As I explained to him, first, you need to unpack the organization’s mission statement as the majority of people who are currently in leadership positions were not around when it was first created back in the mid-90’s. I know this because they do not reference it in their language when describing what is most important. If they do not use the language of the mission statement, then they are not using the mission statement in their work as a leader.

Second, you need to make sure you are cascading clarity in order to increase focus rather than fear about making mistakes. When I asked those in training what was the definition of success, they replied “making the CEO happy”. Quality customer service was a distant third in the group discussion.

Third, you need to connect coaching with goals and professional development rather than coaching as punishment. Currently, coaching is infrequent and mostly a complaining session.

Fourth, you need to define your brand better. If today’s leaders can not articulate a concise message about what they want the organization to be known for within the communities where they offer services, then today’s problems are just going to get bigger.  As a wise leader once told me, “the past is the prologue.”

He thanked me for my comments and we explored the key words within the mission statement that needed to be leveraged more. Then, he shared an observation and a question with me.

His observation was that “Our culture is not as constant as it should be. Our key leaders are not as strong at building that culture as they should be.” And his question was “How do I change this? Because what I am doing currently is not work very well.”

As we discussed his observation, the following line from Jim Collin’s Good to Great came to mind: “Confront the brutal facts but never lose the faith.”

There are three problems within the business world currently, namely cognitive dissonance, hubris born of success, and chronic inconsistency. Cognitive dissonance is the disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience or see in reality. As Marshall Goldsmith in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, explains: “the more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong.”

The second problem is hubris born of success. Hubris is historically defined as the excessive pride that brings down a hero. “Great enterprises,” notes Jim Collins in his book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, “can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline.” Problems can occur “when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they loose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” I agree with Collins that “many organizations are loosing sight of the true facts that created their success in the first place.”

The third problem right now is chronic inconsistency. Again referencing the work of Jim Collins in his book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011, the big question is the following: “Does your primary flywheel face an editable demise within the next five to ten years due to forces outside your control - will it become impossible for it to remain best in the world with a robust economic engine?” As he explains, “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”

When we zoom out and look at the bigger picture this spring, we continue to operate in a VUCA environment, which is a term borrowed from the US military. It stands for a work environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. As Jim Collins and Morten Hansen pointed out in the aforementioned book: “… instability is chronic, uncertainty is permanent, change is accelerating, disruption is common, and we can neither predict nor govern events. We believe there will be no “new normal.” There will only be a continuous series of “not normal” times.”

At the same time, we continue to struggle balancing continuity and change at the day to day level and at the strategic levels. The challenge for many leaders this spring is to balance continuity and change, plus innovation and transformation.

The upshot of this big picture is that we must continue to execute on our strengths. “Success for our company is not going to take a new strategy or an entirely new business model”, notes Blake Nordstrom. “Instead it’s taking what we already do well and continuing to execute those strengths.”

This week, I encourage you to watch out for cognitive dissonance, hubris born of success, and chronic inconsistency. Now is the time to execute on our strengths. It will make a world of difference in a world that feels chaotic.

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Make Your Bed

I read a spectacular, short (125 pages) book last night by Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired) called Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life …And Maybe The World (Grand Central Publishing, 2017). Admiral McRaven served thirty-seven years as a Navy Seal and commanded at every level. As a Four-Star Admiral, his final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces. Currently, he is Chancellor of the University of Texas System. 

This book is based on his May 21, 2014 address to the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin. During this original speech, which went viral with more than 10 million views, Admiral McRaven shared the ten principles he learned during Navy SEAL training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career, but also through the rest of his life. 

For those who want to change the world and/or your circle of influence, this is an inspiring resource. His core tenets and the subsequent stories are powerful and moving. Therefore, I give it my rare, “run, don’t walk to your local book store and check it out” recommendation. 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 3, 2017

A Time For In-depth Reflection

During the last 30 days, I’ve had a couple of time periods in the office when I have chosen to push back from the piles of work on my desk, and to stare out the window. Looking east, I can see that the warm winds from Kansas are turning the grass to green. I can see the daffodils and tulips pushing up through the fresh layers of mulch I spread on the flower beds a couple of weeks ago. I can see the rhubarb breaking ground and the maple trees flowering. Spring has returned to the midwest, and the land is reawakening to new shapes, sounds, and colors of the season.

I have chosen to take these moments of quiet reflection for a specific reason. With the massive amount of complexity that is taking place in the nation at this time period, I have met with numerous leaders during the last 60 days who are overwhelmed, deeply concerned, and very troubled by the current course of human events. They want to continue to make a difference as a leader and they are equally wanting their organization to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. But, between the pace of change, a rampant case of decision fatigue in the midst of uncertainty, and an overwhelming desire to work on the organization and not to get sucked into the weeds of daily crises and daily reactions to crises, they struggle to get everything done and they struggle to maintain perspective. Some have asked me privately during executive coaching sessions, “What can I do to regain a sense of balance, clarity, and focus?”

Now the typical consultant answer would be to focus on the creation of strategy, talent development, and the maintenance of a healthy senior leadership team. And, in most cases, this would make a major difference in getting the organization back on track. However, I am not always one who gives the typical answers or asks the typical questions. Recently, I have shared the following.

First, remember the famous Tolkien quote: “Those who wander may not be lost.” So, when was the last time you stepped away from your desk and gave yourself permission to wander? 

The response has always been a quizzical look to this idea, and then the asking of another question, “What do you mean?”

As I explain, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, people were encouraged to do MBWA, i.e. management by wandering around. I’ve been around long enough that I can remember this ancient history first introduced by Tom Peters.  It was a hot trend at the time.

In simple terms, we were encouraged to step away from our offices as managers and leaders, and to get out into our organizations. We were encouraged to meet our staff, to catch them doing things right, and to build relationships with them. 

Furthermore, we were suppose to have open doors and to walk through them to where the real action was taking place, namely the interaction between the person served and the person serving. We were to get our feet on the ground and to see if the mission was being lived daily, or to discover if it was just another document hung on the walls and laminated in plastic.

Now I know that time is a major issue these days for most people in management and leadership positions. People are feeling pressed to get everything done. And e-mail surely has not made things easier. The promise of the 30 hour work week has not materialized. Instead, we are swamped by being copied on every little thing, and overwhelmed by massive amounts of trivia.

But this morning, I think we need to step away from the computers and to quit trying to lead and live at the speed of software. Instead, we need to embrace the perspective that Michelangelo had, namely that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue. 

At times like these, our jobs as leaders is to step away and go to where the mission is real.

We need to wander again with a purpose.

We need to contemplate the un-carved block. 

We need to seek the beautiful statue within the stone.

We need to witness the organization’s core purpose in action.  

We need to sit and stare out the window, reflecting on all that is happening.

We need to rediscover silence.

We need to embrace possibility in the midst of change.

We need to find our hearts, our passion, and our original love for the work we do.

And then we need to give ourselves permission to rekindle this fire.

We need to rediscover burning brightly rather than just burning out.

We need to return to carving the statue rather than simply sweeping up the dust and shavings.

We need to become purpose driven rather than simply driven.

We need to become better people committed to serving other people.

We need to find the meaning within the work and not just find more work.

This week, I encourage all of us to carve out some uninterrupted time for in-depth reflection. It is time to rekindle hope, perspective and new possibilities.

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

How Successful People Make Commitments

Successful people manage challenging people by only making commitments with others that they know they can keep. While this may seem elementary, I have witnessed it many times and have realized that it is a critical differentiator in many situations. In particular, what successful people understand is that there are two great challenges to being a leader. The first is impact awareness and the second is precedent awareness. As stated in The Law of the Whole, i.e. change in one part changes and influences all other parts, the difficulty when dealing with challenging people is to recognize that our actions with these individuals can impact more than just them and can set a precedence for future situations. Therefore, the key is to only make commitments you can keep and not set a precedence in the process.

Furthermore, successful people respect other people’s time, and others respect their time. Time management is a huge issue for people in leadership positions. When dealing with challenging individuals, it can be even more difficult, especially because challenging people can become the source of constant interruptions to a well planned day. 

Successful people recognize that time management and information management are interconnected. Challenging people may not fully comprehend how important the flow of information is within the organization, how much people do or do not know about a certain subject, or make assumptions about what is or is not important. Clarifying the expectations around the flow of information is important and one way to do this is during regular coaching sessions

However, we need to help those who participate in coaching to understand that coaching is a structured dialogue about development, purpose and strategy. It involves questions, analysis, action planning and follow through. In coaching, we may not always be able as coaches to solve the problem. Instead we have emphasize the choices. 

Dealing with difficult people is normal. The key is to clarify our commitments, and respect the interconnection between time and information management. When we do this, it will make a major difference in what gets done each day.

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

How Successful Managers Reconcile Cognitive Dissonance

One unique way successful managers help people achieve their goals is to help them reconcile cognitive dissonance, i.e. the disconnect between what they believe and what they experience or see in reality. Right now, many people in the work place are experiencing cognitive dissonance. This is especially true, notes Marshall Goldsmith in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, because the more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong. As he explains, “people will do something - including changing their behaviors - only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

One way successful managers deal with the above is to help people close the gap between understanding and doing. From my vantage point, I have seen this happen when managers do not tell you what to do or think, but instead help you to learn how to think through your own challenges and problems. As we all recognize, people and organizations have very specific needs when they are outside their comfort zone, especially when working on stretch goals. We, as leaders and managers, can help them by making sure that the following things are in place, i.e the support of a team, a clear strategic perspective, and a psychological safety zone for strategic dialogue. When this is consistently generated over time, then people do a better job of achieving their goals.

However, there are days when we as leaders and manager have to work with extremely challenging people. Years ago, in the middle of an executive coaching session over the phone, a young woman told me her boss was drunk on power. Every day, there were multiple missed communication opportunities with her boss, and many work-arounds given her boss’s behavior. Her boss often was a micro manager and got “way down into the weeds.” Furthermore, she reported that every one was trying to get on the boss’s good side. When she visited with an outside consultant, he told her that her boss just churns and burns people out. As he explained to her, “learn to live with it or move on.” 

As she shared about working with such a challenging person, I thought of the following line from Jim Collin’s book,  How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, where he shared the first line of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

Everyday, we meet challenging people. In the beginning we need to remember that people at work need to cooperate with each other, be reliable,  accountable, honest and effective. What successful people realize is that in order to be all of these elements at work we must have healthy levels of collaboration, respect and understanding with each other. We also need to remember that we are not going to change our basic personality structure or that of the person who is challenging. Awareness of this can make a world of difference.

First, after significant amount of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that successful people understand how others learn. While no one has a better learning style than anyone else, there are three basic types of learning, namely analyzing learners, doing learners and watching learners. Knowing this basic information helps tremendously when dealing with difficult people. Often they are difficult because they are just different than our preferred manner of learning. As one young supervisor shared with me recently, “I realized that I am a doer leading a group of analyzers. No wonder they have been so difficult to work with.” Another supervisor in this same training event shared with me that “I realized that I am a watcher leading a batch of doers.”

For those struggling with their boss, Peter Drucker reminded us to divide bosses into “listeners” and “readers.” The later likes to read before they discuss. The former likes to discuss and ask questions before they read the full report. In short, knowing how people learn and process information is critical to dealing with them effectively.

Second, successful people understand the difference between what others need to know, and what they do know. Successful people understand that their boss or any other challenging person is constantly dealing with stakeholders who have differing agendas and opinions. We, at times, forget that politics are normal in the work place. However, successful people recognize that their boss and others who are difficult to deal with are often managing at the edge of chaos. Successful people know that challenging people can only tolerate so much chaos before they try to shut it or someone down.

The key is to understand the context of the challenging person’s work experience. They may just be coping with things that are not on your radar screen. Furthermore, your assumptions often are the one source of why the person you are working with is challenging. In a world of such economic and political turbulence, we must understand that the boss does not just represent themselves in the community but often are an integral part of the brand identity for many stakeholders. With this in mind, I have come to the conclusion that when dealing with challenging people we need to see the world through their eyes in order to better understand why they are speaking and acting in the manner they are.  As Stephen Covey taught us so many years ago, seek first to understand, second to be understood. It is still applicable today when dealing with difficult people.

This week, remember that cognitive dissonance happens and that challenging people are often challenging because they do not learn and work like you. Therefore, work on the one person you can change, namely yourself. The rest will follow.

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Importance of Deep Work

Every once in a while a book shows up that, using an old Quaker phrase, speaks to your condition. This month, I have been doing a lot of thinking about all of the different leaders and organizations that I get to meet on a regular basis. In particular, I have been interested in why some thrive and others do not during the challenging times that we are living through right now. Having read this book, I discovered a new perspective.

In his book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World, Grand Central Publishing, 2016, author Cal Newport describes deep work in the following manner: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” Newport notes that “… if you study the lives of … influential figures from both distant and recent history, you’ll find that a commitment to deep work is a common theme.” From my recent reflections and work with a diversity of leaders, I realized that some of the best leaders I know have a regular thinking space clearly defined in their life, where they can step back and look at the bigger picture and work on the organization rather than in it.

In Deep Work, the author explains the following: “The reason knowledge workers are losing their familiarity with deep work is well established: network tools…. In aggregate, the rise of these tools, combined with ubiquitous access to them through smart phones and networked office computers, has fragmented most knowledge workers’ attention into slivers.” As he continues, “A 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of a workers’ time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.”

This lack of deep work generates “shallow work” which Newport defines in the following manner: “Non cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

Now before we go any further on this subject, I agree with Cal Newport when he wrote, “Deep work is not some nostalgic affection of writers and early-twentieth-century philosophers. It’s instead a skill that has great value today.” As he further explains, “the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

In this book, the author notes that “Current economic thinking … argues that the unprecedented growth and impact of technology is creating a massive restructuring of our economy. In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.” Therefore , the two core abilities for thriving in the new economy are the following:

“1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.”

As he concludes, “If you want to become a superstar, mastering the relevant skills is necessary, but not sufficient. You must then transform that latent potential into tangible results that people value…. The two core abilities just described depend on your ability to perform deep work.”

There are many more insights and good information in this book. I hope the above provides you with enough information so you are interested to go and check out this new excellent resource. I found it very helpful and highly recommend it to others who are wanting to guide their team and their organization through the patterns of uncertainty, change and turbulence. Happy Reading!

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