Monday, June 13, 2016

How Do Leaders Prioritize? Part #2

Prioritizing work at the operational level or the strategic level can be very complex and involve balancing lots of factors. The best leaders start this process in a unique way. They understand that every day we can work from our circle of concern, our circle of influence, or our circle of focus, referencing the work of the late Stephen Covey. Working from our circle of focus helps us prioritize.

At the same time, we also need to “distinguish between determinations and concentrations.” As Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill point out in their book, First Things First (Simon & Schuster, 1994), determinations are “things you’re determined to do, no matter what.” As they explain, “When you set a determination, you put your integrity on the line…. This is when it’s vital to follow through, to keep your commitment, to do what you said you were going to do…. The only valid reason for not sticking to a determination would be if you became thoroughly convinced - through conscience and deep self-awareness - that the “best” goal you set had for some reason become only “good. Then, and only then, could you change with integrity.”

Concentrations, on the other hand, are “areas of pursuit you focus your efforts around.” As they note, “When you set a concentration, you identify an area where you desire to focus time and energy…. you don’t risk your integrity…. If you don’t do it, you lose the benefit of the time and energy invested…”

With the above in mind, how does one execute priorities?

First, drawing on the work of Scott Eblin in his book, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011), some days you are the “keeper of what,” and other days you are the “master of how.” I agree with Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan who explained that “execution is a discipline.” The key for us is to recognize that clarity is the foundation of execution and it begins with a combination of what to focus on and when it needs to get done plus how to do it so it is in alignment with the strategic nexus

Second, the best leaders pay attention to their peers, not just who they report to or who reports to them. As we all are realizing, collaboration is more and more mission critical given the emerging adaptive problems. In essence, my success is really based on our success.

Third, effective execution includes regular, in-depth reflection. Constantly going faster and faster does not equal effectiveness. The best leaders understand that action does not equal effectiveness. Regular and in-depth reflection, notes Greg McKeown in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014), makes sure we not just getting things done but instead getting the right things done. 

With this in mind, I am going to take two weeks off from blog writing so I can do my own in-depth reflection work. I will be back in touch with all of you on July 5, 2016.

Enjoy the coming weeks!

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

Monday, June 6, 2016

How Do Leaders Prioritize? Part #1

Last fall, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of young leaders and engage in an extended Q&A session about leadership and organizational change. It was a lively and very thought-provoking afternoon. In the middle of our time together, I got asked the following question: “How do leaders prioritize?”

I replied by asking a clarifying question, “Operational priorities or strategic priorities?”

Their response was “Both!”

My first thought as I pondered the question was a quote by the late Stephen R. Covey: “To set and work toward any goal is an act of courage.”
Here was my initial response. 

“First, I know that defining priorities is not a linear process but instead a more dynamic process with multiple things happening at once. 

Second, discernment, which is the first step to defining priorities, happens when there is a framework that is guiding the organization and the person. 

Third, successful leaders understand that defining a priority is not the same as actually executing a priority. It is the later that makes the former a true priority.”

The hard part about defining priorities is that we, as leaders, need to balance the focus on short term results with the constant pressure to position the company for the future. Understanding the complexity of this balancing act makes a major difference when prioritizing.

Still, the big question is: How do leaders actually do it?

The simple answer is that they have a framework for thinking through what is happening. This framework comes from their understanding of the strategic nexus, their interaction with their boss, and their past experiences. Yet at the core of this framework is a drive for excellence.

At this core of excellence is an innate drive to constantly want to get better. It overrides any measure of mediocrity, complacency, or even failure. It means adjusting to normal changes with technical precision and artful grace so that every client or customer has a mission driven experience. 

Our job as leaders is to teach and reinforce this core of excellence, and to help others distinguish between excellence and non-excellence. I recognize that working from this place is harder in the beginning. It requires dialogue, education, over-communication, coaching and constant reinforcing clarity. At times, “my way or the highway” would be faster but in the end, it is not better.

This week, reflect on whether or not you and your team are working from this core of excellence.  If so, support all people who are moving in the right direction. If not, build it. This foundation is mission critical to prioritizing.

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

How Do Leaders Improve The Cascading Of Key Information? Part #2

Picking up where we left off last Monday, let’s continue exploring the subject of over-communicating key messages and the the cascading of information. 

Most of the time, this subject is defined by the person in a leadership position. They are the sender of the information while the employee is the receiver.  When we shift our focus from sending to receiving, we realize something important. We, as leaders, assume that the receiver can understand the message, internalize the message, and finally embrace the message. This is a huge cognitive leap. If they only hear the message once, it is a miracle that this will happen at all.

However, the receiver will not do any of this if they believe the leader is not “serious, authentic, and committed to what they are saying” according to Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012). Furthermore, communication of this type needs to be a “structured but interpersonal process.” As he points out, there are three keys to cascading communication, namely message consistency from one leader to another, timeliness of delivery, and live, real-time communication.

So where does this message and communication process start?

The simple and yet power answer is at the end of every meeting. When we pause at the end of of every meeting and define what we have committed to, we build a foundation for clarity. Then, we as leaders have to skip e-mail, voice mail, and random chance meetings to ask questions, and instead focus on face to face and live interactions. 

Nevertheless, let us not forget that everything depends on “cohesiveness and clarity at the top.” Without this, communication issues will always be a problem.

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

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