Monday, November 23, 2015

Leaders and Performance Improvement - part #2

In a world where everything is moving at warp speed and feeling like nothing is ever going to slow down enough for us to catch our breath, we, as leaders, are suppose to make continual performance improvements. Some days we can barely keep up with what is happening today, let alone have time to improve what will be happening in the future. Other days, going to the next level seems like a pipe dream. Still, it is possible to achieve performance improvements but one needs to do two things to make this happen.

First, we need to plan for more short term wins. As John Kotter, noted in his book, Leading Change: “A good short-term win has at least three characteristics:

1. It’s visible; large numbers of people can see for themselves whether the result is real or just hype.

2. It’s unambiguous; there can be little argument over the call.

3. It’s clearly related to the change effort.”

Our challenge as leaders is to produce a series of short term wins in order to energize the change helpers, enlighten the pessimists, defuse the cynics, and build momentum for the effort. As Kotter reminds us, this can not happen if we launch too many projects at once and provide the first win too slowly.

Second, we need to balance the planning around these short term wins with routine weekly check-ins with the people who are doing the actual work. The key is to realize that these check-ins are not an interruption to the work of the leader as much as foundational to the work of the leader. They tear down silos and give us as leaders an opportunity to address the contextual issues at the heart of departmental, team or individual challenges.

This week, sit down with your team and check on whether or not people have planned for a series of short term wins. Then, hold them accountable for these wins during your weekly check-ins.  We can improve performance if we choose to thoughtfully plan our work and then work our plans.

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Leaders and Performance Improvement - part #1

It was an important lunch meeting with all of the major players sitting around the table. Over an excellent meal, we discussed the tremendous growth that was taking place within the company. While the numbers were spectacular and up-lifting, the challenge was to have it be smart growth, not just any kind of growth. What many leaders forget is that the organizations that grow too quickly often fail because their infrastructure can not support their operations.

For me, performance improvement begins with excellent goal setting. First, there needs to be ownership of the goals, clarity for why these are the goals, and alignment between goals and the strategic nexus. Once there is line of sight from the strategic plan to the 90 day plan, a good manager, who wants to see performance improve, asks the following three questions:

- “If you complete this 90 day plan, will it change the results?”

- “If yes, then I will hold you accountable to the changes.”

- “If not, then we need to change the 90 day plan.”

Next, all involved need to realize that there are many different kind of goals. For example, there are process goals to help improve getting to a destination. There are milestone goals along the pathway to a destination, and even destination goals

This week, ask the above three questions with the people on your team and check to make sure they are clear that operational excellence is based on continuous improvement.

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Working At The Speed of People

Right now, many leaders are trying to change their organizations at the speed of software, and it is not working. They assume that more technology and faster technology is the solution to all their problems. They invest a lot of money and time with the hope that this singular act will transform everything. 

What many executives forget is that when moving an organization from one level of performance to a new and better level of performance, they need to change how people think and work, not just what people work with on a daily basis. The focus is on changing behavior and mindset, not simply hardware and software. 

John Kotter shared a very interesting observation about people in his book, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, 2002. As he writes, “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings….The flow of see-feel-change is more powerful than that of analysis-think-change.”

Our challenge as leaders is to help people have a sense of urgency and focus. We want them to not be caught in the trap of complacency. As I often point out during consultations, status quo can be dangerous.

Yet, the best leaders are gifted at making change take place. They understand how people move through the world of change and they understand their role in the process. Right now, we need fewer leaders working at the speed of software and more leaders who understand how to work at the speed of people.

To help you and your organization get better at this level of work, once a year I teach the 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 and their organization through strategic and operational level changes.

 For more information on how to register for the 2016 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Technology, be it hardware or software, is important and vital to the success of a company. But people are the back bone that makes the company successful over time. In 2016, we will need more leaders who can work at the speed of people, not just the speed of software.

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Leaders and Decision-Making - part #2

Too many times leader struggle with decision-making because they think that once they have made a decision they are done with decision-making. This can not be further from the truth. Making a decision is only part of the journey. The real work is getting someone to execute the decision in a timely and accurate manner.

The best leaders know that in order to improve their decision-making, they need to improve the execution of the decision. Therefore, one of the first steps is making sure that the decision we make does not interrupt operational excellence. That means that we as leaders need to think about impact and precedent when making a decision. It also means being able to mobilize resources to support the decision. But the best leaders recognize that for the execution of a decision to take place, it must integrate with operational excellence.

However, few leaders realize that operational excellence is not just the maintaining of status quo. In reality, excellence is based on an understanding that in order to continually be excellent, then one must continually be excelling. In other words, one must continually improve. Furthermore we, as leaders, must communicate what the concept of excellence means, and then why it is important to do excellent work. Then, over time decision-making will improve. 

This week, spend more time helping others understand the importance of  operational excellence, and then focus on making sure all the right resources are deployed to make it happen.

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Leaders and Decision-Making - part #1

I was meeting with a young mid-level manager when he shared his desire to teach problem solving to his key supervisors. Over time, he had realized many of the phone calls he was getting were from front line supervisors about problems they were having. As he explained, “I realized we were really dealing with issues related to decision-making on a daily basis. While I have helped them to learn the difference between technical and adaptive problems, many of the callers have framed up the problem before them as neither technical nor adaptive. For them, this is a crisis. What do I do?”

One of the first things we need to remember is that people, strategy and crises are the three most important areas that leaders make decisions. And when we as leaders make the right decisions, they will yield good outcomes. However, the big question for many leaders right now is this: What are the good outcomes or results we are seeking?

First, a lack of clarity around the desired outcomes or results is part of the current challenges we are facing. When we expect leaders to be competent in driving results through others, we also expect them to be able to articulate the desired results, and why these are the desired results.

Second, we as leaders at times forget that effective decision-making includes a “redo loop.” This typically happens when we discover that we can not, or did not mobilize and align key stakeholders. If this happens, then we need to go back and reset the context, i.e. the why, for change.

Third, we need to remember that there are four stages to decision-making, namely preparation, the actual decision, execution and evaluation. Leaders who improve their decision-making and the decision-making of others do this by improving the preparation stage. Here, the best leaders help all involved focus on the salient factors. Kevin Cashman in his book, Leadership From The Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life, Berrett-Koehler, 2008 calls it the CIA Model of decision-making. He suggests we focus on the following three things:

- What can we control?
- What can we influence?
- What must we accept?

By having a framework to prepare to make a decision, we empower all involved to think through the decision rather than simply react to the situation before them This, in essence, gives them a decision architecture for today and in the future.

This week, review with your direct reports the decision architecture for your office or organization. This will be a powerful first step in helping people improve their decision making.

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Role of the Leader - part #3

Along with being a Scout, I believe we as leaders need to get better at being a Translator, namely one who can explain something in a way that is easy to understand. While an Architect of Meaning focuses on building clarity about the strategic nexus and why the work we are doing within an organization is important, the Translator focuses on building clarity about the outside context. 

When acting as a Translator, we need to remember that experiences create beliefs and that beliefs can create experiences. In the end, however, I have learned that beliefs, nine times out of ten, impact actions, personally and collectively. This is so important because a big part of leadership is about driving results through others. This means we as leaders need to use systematic and symbol communication. Sometimes we have to systematically communicate what is happening outside the organization to the inside of the organization, other times we have to do it symbolically.

Yet, in order to be effective in our communication, we must teach whole -> parts -> whole thinking. By teaching others to zoom out before zooming in as a disciplined approach to thinking, communicating or problem solving, we create a framework for people to process all that the leader is translating for them. Over time and when done well, this leadership act of translation will play a critical role in shaping values and standard by which people focus, work and collaborate well with others.

This week make sure you are building clarity about the strategic nexus and  clarity about the external context for change. This combination will be a powerful force multiplier.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Role of the Leader - part #2

While many leaders need to be better Architects of Meaning within their organization, I think there are two new roles that they need to embrace at this time, too. The first I will explore this Monday and the other I will explore next Monday.

I believe the leader needs to be a Scout, i.e. one who explores an area or idea to obtain key information or perspectives. During the Spring 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, I noted that the higher you go in an organization, the more you need to do the thinking rather than simply doing the doing. Thus the concept of being a Scout is not to focus on the physical act of scouting as much as the cognitive act of scouting, namely guiding a process whereby the company "explores" a strategic idea or concept in order to learn key information about how people are thinking and perceiving what is going on currently, or possibly in the near future. 

One way to do this was written about by Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne in their May 2015 Harvard Business Review article called “Outsmart Your Own Biases.” As they note, there are premortems and postmortems. In a postmortem, or after action report, the goal is to understand the cause of a past failure or success and to discover the lessons learned. “In a premortem, you imagine a future failure and then explain the cause.” This technique, also called prospective hindsight, helps you identify potential problems that ordinary foresight won’t bring to mind.” I have also heard this called scenario based planning

Here are two examples. 

- Let’s assume it 2018, and our midwest banking branch offices have lost money every year since 2015. Why has that happened?

- Let’s assume it is 2018 and our current retention rate in 2015, i.e. 1 out of 3 newly hired people stay past 90 days, has continued. Why has this happened?

As the aforementioned authors note, a premortem tempers optimism, encourages a more realistic assessment of risk, helps prepare back-up plans and exit strategies, and highlight factors that influence success or failure which may increase your ability to control the results.

When I think of the leader as a Scout, I feel it acknowledges what Marshall Goldsmith and Kelly Goldsmith wrote about in their article called “Helping People Achieve Their Goals,” Leader to Leader, No. 391, Winter 2006. As they wrote, “real change requires real effort…. we tend to over-estimate the benefits and under-estimate the effort needed.”

This week spend more time scouting out the future, and conduct more premortems. It is time to be better prepared.

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