Monday, March 8, 2010

Doing More With Less

THEME: New Year, More Challenges

FOCUS: Doing More With Less

Monday morning: March 8, 2010

Dear friends,

Since the beginning of the year, I have been in many executive and management team meetings. Nine times out of ten, the CEO or Executive Director will take me aside after the meeting and ask me the same question: “So, what do you think of my team?”

First, when presented with such a question, I remember the research of Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, which stated the importance of “who before what.” As he wrote, “The key point ... is not just the idea of getting the right people on the team. The key point is that "who" questions come before "what" decisions - before vision, before strategy, before organizational structure, before tactics. First who, then what - as a rigorous discipline, consistently applied.”

At the exact same time, I remember a small bit of wisdom shared with me by a Wisconsin executive, namely “you can not fix stupid.” And right now, there are a lot of companies waking up and realizing that they can no longer tolerant “stupid.” Performance management, accountability and the notion that all employees must meet expectations is becoming more and more mission critical as winter slowly moves toward spring.

Nevertheless, when a brief shining light of clarity pierces the darkness of poor performance, some one will trot out one of the most stupidest sayings and expect brilliance to follow. The new mantra of this economic downturn is “it is time to do more with less.” On one hand, this statement is completely correct. On the hand, it is the biggest piece of management gibberish this side of the Mississippi.

While we all know there are less resources at this time period, we must recognize that doing more is only a temporary solution. More effort and more time at work will not yield better results. When money and resources are tight, working smarter is the preferred route to success rather than working harder and working longer. However, working smarter is not the chosen path in many companies because it will require an organization to review and possibly challenge status quo. On the other hand, working harder with less preserves status quo and reduces conflict. What many forget is that doing this over an extended period of time causes increased burnout and disengagement.

Nowadays, people are getting burned out at work at an amazing rate. The result of prolonged economic stress, lack of strategic clarity and more hours at the office is resulting in increased disengagement at work by vast numbers of people. It also is causing your best people to start looking for employment with other companies. Where they once had careers, they now have jobs.

Many organizations do not believe me when I share with them that their best people can leave at the drop of a hat. And for those of us who work with top talent, I regret to inform you this morning that they are now on the move. The good people are looking, applying and seeking better jobs. The best companies are actively courting, recruiting and hiring these people. In short, doing more with less is not a sustainable course of action.

This week, recognize that all organizations need to evaluate and redefine both it’s strategic direction and the key messages that are being sent to it’s employees. Now is the time to work smarter and better not just harder.

Have a successful week,


P.S. Spring is a time period when many organizations hold critical retreats as they plan the later half of this year and begin planning for 2011 - 2013. For those involved in planning these key meetings, I suggest you read the following article: Sull, Donald. “Are You Ready to Rebound? Seven Questions to Ask.” March 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Sull is a professor and faculty director of executive education at the London Business School. Over ten years, he has studied firms that have excelled in some of the world’s fastest-changing markets, such as China and Brazil, and most unforgiving industries like financial services and fast fashion. As he writes, “Through my research, I’ve identified common obstacles that undermine a firm’s ability to execute on their established strategies and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. By asking themselves the seven questions below, managers can quickly assess their companies’ readiness to rebound.”

Here are the seven questions:

1. Do you miss opportunities that others spot?

2. Are your hydraulics broken? “Organizational hydraulics are the mechanisms senior executives use to translate corporate objectives into aligned action by individuals across the organization - that is, processes to set strategic priorities, cascade objectives, and measure employees’ progress in achieving their goals.”

3. Do you reward mediocrity and call it teamwork?

4. Are your core values a joke?

5. Are you talking about the wrong things?

6. Have your Vikings become farmers? “Executives who excel at execution resemble Nordic Vikings, who attacked when they saw an unprotected spot and retreated when they realized they couldn’t win, maneuvering their longboats toward the next opportunity. Once Vikings seized a bit of land, however, they often remained to farm it. Over time, they came to value the security of protecting what they had more than the adventure of pursuing new opportunities. Organizations are susceptible to a similar dynamic.”

7. Do you rely on heroic leadership?

If you are seeking to improve execution within your company during 2010 and beyond, then I suggest you read this article and discuss it with your senior team. Working your way through the seven questions will generate considerable insight and perspective for all involved.

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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