Monday, August 24, 2009

Systems & Evolution

THEME: Transformation in the Midst of 2009

FOCUS: Systems & Evolution

Monday morning: August 24, 2009

Dear friends,

On November 2, 2008, Chris Shipley, a Technology Analyst, presented at Purdue University and was quoted in the New York Times. As he explained, “Our biggest challenge right now is fear. The worst thing a company can do right now is go into hibernation, into duck and cover. If you sit on your backside and wait for things to get better, they’re not going to. They’re going to get better for somebody, but not necessarily for you.”

Over the course of 2008 and 2009, I have encountered for-profits and non-profits companies who have transformed themselves in the midst of these economically challenging times. They did not go into hibernation or sit on their backsides waiting for things to get better. They instead made difficult choices and implemented short and long term strategies in order to be successful. Starting this week, I am going to share with you some observations about what they have done.

I began thinking about this in early July during a phone conversation with Mike Werner, Area Manager for the Bank of The West location in Caledonia, Mn. Mike explained to me that it was “not just one thing” that contributed to their success during this recession. Instead, it was a a process of “constant tinkering” which has allowed them to continue their momentum.

In particular, he outlined three key characteristics. First, it was “who before what”. Referencing the Jim Collins material from the book, Good to Great, Mike shared that having the “right people” on the team was critical. They needed to have the right depth of character, i.e. personal core values in alignment with organizational core values, the appropriate skill set, and a commitment to constant skill development through ongoing reading and training. Second, as bankers, they needed to continue embracing the paradigm of becoming “trusted financial advisors” not just sit and serve bankers. Third, the team needed to be actively involved in their community. This is more than just volunteering but instead to be actively engaged in community leadership positions.

When I reflect on Mike’s observations, I think back to a summer conversation with Toni Smith, Executive Director of The Spectrum Network, an organization in Decorah, Iowa that creates customized solutions for men and women with a broad range of barriers so they can live, work, and participate in community. She shared with me that the key for being successful at this time period is the Spectrum “secret sauce”, namely value added services that distinguish The Spectrum Network and make it special.

Still, as the national unemployment rate continues to grow, many people have become quite worried about the future. Some have become afraid about their jobs, and others are doing a duck and cover action, hoping that they will not loose their jobs due to economic conditions that are beyond their control. Some are realizing that we could have a no job growth recovery.

In the midst of this, it is interesting to note that successful companies are not using job elimination as the key strategy to continue growth and profitability. While I suspect that some companies have used this current economic climate as a way to jettison poor performers for “economic conditions” rather than going through the normal HR process of performance management, the upshot is that on the other side of this recession everyone will be leaner and hopefully not meaner.

Nevertheless, I have visited with many organizations who are hiring during this time period. They all report that they are swamped with very qualified applicants. But the good organizations know that this is only a temporary condition. If good applicants are coming in, they know that their current highly qualified staff can easily be recruited away. The best organizations know that they need to rerecruit their top people and spend extra hours hiring just the right people, individuals who not only fit the company’s core values but also are passionate about the company and its work.

Yet, when I step back and listen to a diversity of executives talk about people, culture, strategy, and success this summer, there is one small but significant common thread that emerges. Somewhere deep in the conversation and after the discussion about paradigms and strategic direction, the successful leaders will talk to me about systems being mission critical. They do not talk much about the building or monitoring of new or old systems. This was work that many had done before the downturn in 2008. Instead, they talk about the content being generated within keys systems and the application of this content to strategic and tactical decision-making.

I remember a conversation this summer with Reno Berg, CEO of Mainstream Living, an organization in central Iowa that provides residential and vocational services designed to enhance opportunities, create success and fulfill dreams. As they moved through these economically challenging times, they devised a paperless quality assurance system with feedback to those who were delivering service. With a fully dedicated group of QA people reading service notes, the key to success was not just having the system but how the content within the system was used to improve service delivery. This group helped staff perform better and to assured that quality was improved consistently rather than episodically.

The same is true for Mike Werner and his team at Bank of the West in Caledonia. He shared about a new system they are piloting in their location this summer. While having the system in place has been important, it is the content that the system is generating that has made them more focused and more timely.

This week, first realize that successful organizations are continuing to transform themselves in spite of the current economic conditions. They were doing it before this all happened. They are doing it now and will continue to do it long afterwards.

Second, recognize that systems are playing a major role in their continued success. Check this week to see if the content being generated from your key systems is being used for improved decision-making. If not, explore why not. And if it is being used, help people to utilize it even better.

Have a great week,


P.S. Thanks to Stephanie Liska, President, BeckAg for the first quote!

News Flash: Please check out our newly revised web site, We have worked on it for many months and I am delighted to share it with all of you.

This Week’s Blog Question:

From your perspective, how are the best companies transforming themselves in the midst of these current economic challenges?

Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change

Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257

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