Monday, January 31, 2011

Key People: Unlocking the Mysteries - part #3

Every company I know wants to retain it’s key people and multiple their potential. The best CEOs recognize that these individuals are valuable and critical to short and long term success. But when I visit with key young people, as I often do, they privately will ask me a very good question, “Why should I grow old with this company?”

Now, there are certain generations who have assumed that once you get a “good job” you are done. You become a company man or woman and follow the company line. Key people do not always walk this path. They seek challenge and transformation. Ruts do not suit them at all.

What I have come to realize from my meetings with these individuals is that they seek out excellent coaching but they also seek out superb mentors. Their coaches help them with their work based performance. Their mentors help them with their life and career management.

Next, key people do not want to be cuddled or babied. They want sound and thoughtful feedback. They want to know where to get better and do not flinch from honest appraisal.

I met one for lunch recently. It was a three way meeting between them, their boss and myself. Once we were seated, I wanted to reach across the table and give this young person the proverbial 1950’s dope slap across the back of the head. First, they were chewing gum and, second, they did not bring paper to take notes. This individual has lots of potential but was still a bit rough around the edges when it comes to such a meeting.

Afterwards, I took them aside and pointed out how their lack of awareness could have sent the wrong message. They thanked me and got the point instantly. Since then, they have done much better in being prepared. It was a small thing but for key people this level of feedback is a valuable thing. Loyalty to a company begins with thoughtful support, encouragement and respect from a supervisor.

This week, I encourage all senior executive to answer the question, “Why grow old with this company?” Career management with key people is just as important as job performance. Mentoring the best takes time, but the ROI is time well spent.

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

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Interesting Experience

There were three of us in the meeting that morning. The young woman executive in her early thirties, who had invited her second in command in his mid-20’s, and myself, white haired and nearly mid-50. We were all sitting around her desk, working on the agenda for an upcoming retreat which was being displayed on her computer screen. Earlier in the meeting, I had commented that the opening remarks for the upcoming retreat needed to be more specific, particularly about why we were gathering and why it was worth the time to do this. After a brief discussion, the remarks were improved and made much better.

Then, we came to the next part of the retreat which was a discussion about the goals for the rest of this fiscal year and the possible goals for the coming fiscal year. I remarked that they were not really SMART goals and thus needed to be sharper in focus in order to be more actionable. The woman executive then turned to her #2 and discussed one of the goals in question. Listening carefully, I inquired about one specific aspect of this goal.

Her response to my question was “I’m not certain. Let me check.”

This is a normal response, and her action for checking was to start typing on her computer. Nothing unusual about this. Given we were all looking at her computer screen, I watched as she sought the answer about a company related goal. And here is when it got interesting!

Step #1 - log in to her personal Facebook account.

Step #2 - search Facebook for the company Facebook page.

Step #3 - scroll through the company Facebook page, comment on how few friends it has and discuss this with her #2 person, and then find the information.

Step #4 - log out of Facebook and input the correct information into the goal setting section of the agenda.

As this all transpired, I noted that there was no attempt to use the company intra-net, Google, Bing, Yahoo or any other search engine. Facebook was the preferred method for finding the correct information.

My internal response was WOW! That was interesting.

Not too may years ago, during a session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I observed a young person solve a team based, problem solving exercise by using his smart phone to Google the answer rather than interact with the team. At that time, my internal response was the same - WOW! That was interesting.

Now, using a Blackberry, iPhone, Android, etc. to solve a problem during a meeting is normal. A matter of fact I would be surprised if someone did not use their phone during a meeting. Please note that I hope they are not just reading their e-mail or playing a game.

Still, to witness a young executive use Facebook as the preferred way to solve a problem was very interesting and very thought-provoking. If this is the upcoming new normal, then many people are going to experience a lot of change. For example, the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Marketing Officer could be sitting around the senior management table with the Chief Facebook Officer. Next, there could be a dedicated team of people to monitor, respond and update the company Facebook page, and maybe even do the same for the Facebook pages of senior management. The historical line between what is work and what is home may never be the same again.

As for now, it sure was an interesting experience and something worth thinking about over the the coming weeks and months.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, January 24, 2011

Key People: Unlocking the Mysteries - part #2

Project management sounds simple. Develop a strategy. Agree on a goal. Create a plan. Define roles, dates, metrics and responsibilities. Then, execute the plan, and review progress on a regular basis. Once completed, evaluate the plan and define the lessons learned.

For most senior executives, project management is like the instructions on a shampoo bottle, namely “wash, rinse, repeat.” They do it every day with multiple projects. After a while, it becomes an unconscious habit.

But key people do something that is most unique and often missed or misunderstood by average or mediocre players in the midst of project management. The key players know how to delegate well. The others do not.

When it comes to delegation, we need to remember that it is the transferring of authority and responsibility from one person to another in order to carry out a specific activity. Furthermore, the best understand that there are three levels to delegation when they do it. Level-One Delegation allows direct control to do whatever needs to be done as long as it is in full alignment with the strategic nexus of the organization. Level-Two Delegation includes the ability to change certain factors to achieve the desired results but the individual or team has limited choices which have been discussed at the time of delegation. In essence, Level Two is delegation with defined parameters to action. Finally, Level-Three Delegation includes the opportunity to generate ideas about how to achieve the desired results but no control over how the work gets done.

Key people recognize and understand these differences but what sets them apart is that they regularly help those who have received the responsibility to achieve these goals by taking very specific steps. First, they make sure those who are being delegated to understand the problem that needs to be solved. This sounds simple but it is not. Key people remember that awareness is not understanding.

Second, key people know what needs to get done, i.e. the desired outcome, and can often state it in a concise and specific manner, usually in 35 words or less.

Third, key people check to make sure those who will do the work have the authority to do it successfully. They know that commitment without understanding is a problem. They also know that responsibility without choice is still a problem.

Fourth, key people check to make sure that all involved have the knowledge and skills to be successful. As Ken Blanchard shared years ago, it is not worth training a fish to climb a tree and act like a squirrel or to train a squirrel to swim and act like a fish. Having the right knowledge and skills make a huge difference.

Fifth, key people also make sure all involved know how to measure progress and/or success. Key people recognize that being able to gauge your progress builds confidence amongst the followers and the leaders.

Sixth, key people help all involved realize the difference a project will make once it is completed and completed well. Knowing how our work will impact others makes us feel needed and in this economy it is good to know our work matters to someone else.

Project management is a daily process. But for key people, it is a thoughtful one done with great care and discernment. This week pay attention to delegation. Strive to do it better than ever before.

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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The New Fundamentals

Reading, writing and arithmetic, the traditional three R’s, are considered the foundation of education. Some believe that if we improve these three skill sets, we can transform what is happening in our schools today. The result of which will be to close the achievement gap, ensure more students can graduate, and have more students ready for college and/or the workplace. If mastery of the three R’s takes place, then truly no child will be left behind.

Yet, in the world of business, I wish we could say there are just three skill sets to master and then all will be well. I wish we could focus on three things and assure a greater degree of success in a time period of complexity and economic uncertainty. Since the new year started, I have been thinking about what are the fundamentals to success in business in 2011. Based on a lot of listening and visiting with people, I believe we need to focus on the following four R’s: respect, responsibility, relationships, and reflection.

First, we need to build a work environment where all involved show more respect. Personal trust, i.e. the trust employees have in their own managers, and strategic trust, i.e. the trust employees have in the people running the show to make the right strategic decisions, begins and ends with respect. Be it when we speak or listen, respect is the foundation of trust.

Second, we must take more responsibility for our own words and actions. Having the ability to respond based on thoughtful reflection means more meaningful dialogue. It will help us to remember that we can choose to be the problem or the solution in any given situation. The key is being clear about our choices and making sure we respond from clarity rather than fear or reaction.

Third, we need to develop and maintain our relationships with others. Years ago, Stephen Covey wrote, “No gardener; no garden.” If we want the benefits of the garden, i.e. beauty, flowers, color, etc., then someone needs to be the gardener, the one who cares for the plants and the soil. But every day now, I see more and more people at work frustrated with dysfunctional team relationships. When I ask how they are developing and maintaining them, they report that they “show up to meetings on time with these people.” I often shake my head and reply, “that is like building a marriage based on showing up for dinner on time.” A relationship is more than mere attendance at a meeting. It needs care and feeding, meaningful interaction and thoughtful dialogue, time and energy, so that it can grow and mature over the course of normal organizational change and evolution.

Finally, we need to commit to reflection time. The faster we go (and we are beginning to move at warp speed in some sectors now) the more we need to pause and reflect on all that is happening. Strategic review and reflection are mission critical during the coming weeks and months. Furthermore, it is time for us to think new visions and bigger strategic ideas. It is time for us to commit to a higher level of performance.

For many in the work place right now, there are three questions they ask every day, namely What’s wrong? Who did it? Who’s going to fix it? From my perspective, these questions create a work environment of blame, shame and excuses. And as a result, we end up battling over the minutia and not focused on the strategic direction of the organization. As someone once reminded me back in the 80’s, anyone can climb the corporate ladder of success to the top; the best make sure it is first leaning against the right wall.

For me, there are three new questions we need to be focused on in 2011. They are: Do you care about what you are doing right now? Do you think something better is possible? What kind of person are you going to be? Reflection based on these three questions generates personal clarity and personal commitment which is the foundation for collective clarity and collective commitment.

While I wish we could have three fundamental skill sets like reading, writing and arithmetic in the world of business, I do believe that in 2011 we need to focus on the new fundamentals of respect, responsibility, relationships, and reflection. With time and patience, these key elements can transform our workplace into being more successful and more sustainable given the challenges before us.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Reminder

Difficulties abound this winter. The weather, the economy, state funding, federal regulation. You name it and some one is struggling with it. Thus, many executives are feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

Still, there are some who are quite hopeful and looking forward to 2011. They see potential and possibilities. They see recovery and important strategic decisions to be made.

Whatever the pathway before you, we all know that the first six months of 2011 involve major strategic choices. We also know that in a rapidly evolving strategic environment two heads are better than one - that is two or more people coming to a decision is always better than just an individual decision. Therefore, dialogue and partnership are mission critical. When difficulties abound, isolation is not the solution.

To help you and your team with the challenges of 2011, I want to remind you of the early bird special for the 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable which ends on Friday, January 28,

If you sign up between now and then, and submit payment, if possible, before 1/28/11, the price will be $ 275.00 for the two days and $ 175.00 for a single day. Here is the link to the registration form:

After 1/28/11, the registration price will be $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day.

Here is the key details for your review.

Date: April 14 -15, 2011

Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa


Thursday: April 14, 2011

- 8:30 am - Registration

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - The Four Leadership Mistakes We Keep Making

- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Positioning For the Future Growth

- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - Breaking Down Silos & Building Bridges

- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - Consensus and Decision-making

- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Friday: April 15, 2011

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - The Problem With Corporate Success

- 10:15 am - 10:45 am - Break and Hotel Check-out

- 10:45 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

I know for many these days are quite challenging and complex. I also know that in-depth dialogue with extremely talented people can make a world difference.

I look forward to hearing from you today and to your participation in the 2011 Spring From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, January 17, 2011

Key People: Unlocking the Mysteries - part #1

Within every organization, there are important people and key people. Those who are important make many things happen. Yet, it is the key people who are foundational to the overall success of the company. As I have mentioned earlier this month, we need to be retaining and recruiting both groups.

For the coming weeks, let’s focus on the key people. I use the term “key people” and think instantly of the term “keystone.” As the Merriam-Webster Dictionary explains, a keystone is “the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place.” Over the course of my career, I have met these people and I have worked with these people. Position is not as important to them as much as purpose and passion. They are phenomenal and impressive. They make things happen like many others do within the company but what sets them apart is that they also are a catalyst for strategic action. While some would call them rainmakers, I like to think of them as key players because they help lock strategy and people into place.

First, we need to realize that these people can move to a new organization in a heart beat even in the midst of these wacky economic times. I have seen them do it during the last three years. Second, jobs and opportunities find them more than they go looking for them. Third, when they begin to move, others want to follow them to their new place of employment. The arch does not just collapse; it is collapses and then is quickly rebuilt because this individual is such a keystone.

This makes coaching key people a very delicate and thoughtful process. Here are a couple of tips from years of experience and observation. First, review the core material in the following book: Buckingham, Marcus & Curt Coffman, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. (Simon & Schuster, 1999). You will need to understand it because talented people need great management. As Buckingham and Coffman point out, “How long he stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.” Whether they are a man or a woman, the supervisory relationship is mission critical.

Second, focus them on the desired outcomes, not the steps. If they are good enough to be a key person in your eyes, then they can figure out the right steps and/or know when to check in if they are in new or uncharted territory. Over managing key people can cause them to disengage or worse, disembark from the organization.

Third, they need coaching and value it when it is done well. Having visited with these people over the years, I have learned that they do not tolerate fools or stupidity, especially if they report to them. More times than not, talented people disengage or quit a company because of the lack of quality coaching they receive. As one key person told me last summer, “I left because my boss started every statement with ‘I’ rather than ‘we.’ Too much ego and not enough leadership. It didn’t work for me.” I hear this more and more each day from the best and the brightest.

Fourth, along with thoughtful talent management, key people need real challenges and the support to tackle them with quality players. Take an A player and put them on a B team and one does not instantly have an A team. While we, as leader, might like to think this, in reality it does not happen. As Tom Peters many years ago shared, “Two mating dinosaurs do not produce a gazelle.” Key people can make a difference but they can not change poor performers into top talent overnight. As Buckingham and Coffman pointed out in the aforementioned book, “ People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”

During the first quarter of 2011, we need all the important people and the key people to be firing on all cylinders. We need top performance and sustainable performance. While we often spend hours and hours of our time as leaders on poor performance, do not neglect your key people. They literally can make or break this coming year.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creating Time

It all started at my annual physical last month.

As an executive coach, I routinely ask a client when was their last physical. This one question often startles people at first. But, I explain to them that if we strive to be authentic leaders, then we need to regularly care for ourselves as well as our organizations.

The result of asking this question has been interesting. Time and time again, I have had a client call me back and share about how during their annual physical the doctor solved a recurring health problem or discovered a problem before it got worse. For example, I remember asking a macho executive when was the last time he had a physical. “High school sports” was his reply. I recommended he have one given he was working extra hard, married with children and in his upper 30’s. Weeks later, he called me back with his blood work results. They were very poor and if he had continued with no treatment, the doctor told him he was in line to have a major heart attack. He told me that he knew he should have gotten around to it but was just too busy. Nevertheless when he did, he realized he should have been going to the doctor regularly for years. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

With this in mind, I realized in late November that I had been asking people about their annual physicals and did not remember when I had gone in for my last one. So, I quickly called up the local clinic, made an appointment,t and went in early for my blood work.

On the appointed day, I had my blood pressure checked, height measured, weight checked, etc. Then, in walked my doctor with his usual grin and my paperwork. We have known each other for years, and given we are nearly the same age, we always spend time catching up on children, work, life and, of course, my health.

When we went through my blood work, he told me my cholesterol had gone up eight points. He was not pleased with this and told me I needed to exercise more. It was a kind but pointed speech, “Exercise more, watch your diet and come back in four months. I want your cholesterol to be going down, not up.”

At that point, I knew I was at a crossroads. I am an avid gardener and three seasons out of four I can garden with the best of them. Six hours of yard and garden work is common on weekends. After work in the spring, summer and fall, a half an hour of pruning, clipping and weeding are not uncommon. I like it and find it relaxing. But while this is nice, it is not exercise.

“How much?”, I asked.

“Thirty-five minutes, five days a week,” was his reply.

“Consider it done,” I said.

And just like that I started walking thirty-five minutes every day. No excuses get in the way now. If my doctor said I needed to exercise and walking could fill the bill, then I was going to do it. Period.

From my vantage point as an executive coach, it is common for me to hear that time management is a major issue. “I am swamped,” “Every day is packed,” “I am way to to busy to (fill in the blank),” are phrases I hear on a regular basis. I have even said them myself during certain times.

But I know from experience that good health is a gift. It comes from regular stewardship and attention. I also know that good health takes time and energy. So, with my doctor’s words in my ears, I have walked every day since my physical, only missing four days due to family based travel.

Which leads me back to time. We do not really manage time. We create it. As the only beast on the planet who wears a watch and checks it regularly, and the only beast on the planet who differentiates between 8:59 am and 9:00 am (FYI: a doctor at a seminar years ago told me that 9:00 am on a Monday morning is the most common time for people to have a heart attack), we can try to manage time all we want and most days time wins.

Nevertheless, with a clear set of priorities and goals, e.g drop my cholesterol through regular exercise and a good diet, we can create the time to get something done. If I can create time to garden, bake all our bread by hand, read books on a regular basis and keep up with office work, then I can create time for regular exercise. The choice begins with me.

So here is a question for you: What are your goals and priorities?

Know these and you, too, can create time. It sounds simple and in reality it is once you have clear goals and priorities.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arriving Topsy Turvy

Many companies have entered the new year in a topsy turvy manner. They have rushed through 2010 doing everything they can to just survive another tough year. Then, with little planning other than vague goals and rushed strategic meetings, they have begun this new year in an utter state of disorder and confusion, wishing that it would be better and knowing it could be worse.

Kenneth Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express since 2001, says the role of a leader is to do two things: “Define reality; give hope.” Yet, many executives right now feel like reality bites and hope is futile. They are exhausted and overwhelmed by the magnitude of technical and adaptive problems that are surfacing on a day to day basis. They find few, new solutions and have many questions. They go over and over again in their minds about the mistakes of 2010, wondering if they made the right decisions. In short, they are topsy turvy.

Still, Chenault does offer us wise counsel and perspective about reality and hope. Now is a good time to sit down with your team and sell the problems. Status quo often drags down the best organizations. It also can suck the life out of your best people. So, sit down and explain to them the problems. Point out that doing nothing is more dangerous than doing something.

Second, define the non-negotiables. Too many organizations are forgetting their mission, vision and core values in the hopes of surviving these difficult times. Rather than forgetting this vital part of organizational health, we need to discuss, embrace and utilize these powerful tools.

Third, teach your people. In many organizations, the CEO needs to become the Chief Teaching Officer. For example, teach them about the history of the company and how our decisions in the past have resulted in the reality of today. Point out that the decisions we make in 2011 will determine the reality of 2014.

Finally, if time is of the essence, then enroll your key people in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training. This year long course that meets for a couple of days each quarter and will help those involved become better leaders who can plan for the future and implement those plans in a successful manner. For more information about this unique learning opportunity which starts in March 2011, including cost, dates and location, I encourage you to click on the following link: < >

In a time period where topsy turvy is the new normal, we need betters leaders and better organizations. The first step is to educate them to become better leaders who can define reality and give hope.

There is still time to sign up. I hope you can join us when we start in March 2011.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, January 10, 2011

Competitive Advantage - Part #2

Picking up where we left off last week on competitive advantage, once we start working on retaining the right people, then we need to do something else that is very important, namely sell the problems and strategic variables before the company.

Right now, many organizations are suffering from the disease of under-communication. Realizing that one of the primary roles of a leader is to create organizational clarity and to make sure this clarity is cascaded down into the organization, what I have witnessed during the last quarter of 2010 and now again in 2011 is an amazing amount of disconnectedness within organizations. From my perspective, this is a symptom of under-communication.

In a healthy and competitive company, any employee should have a line of sight from what they are working on today to how this work moves the company forward strategically, how it fulfills the brand promise, and how it supports the company’s competitive advantage. But, what I am seeing over and over this month and last, is that many employees, supervisors and mid-level managers can not connect what they are doing on a day to day basis to the company’s strategy, brand promise or competitive advantage. To them, the work is just stuff to get done. And when we work with a “get ‘er done” mentality, we do not always maintain focus on the right things and instead just focus on getting things completed.

However, if this symptom surfaces in your work place, the goal is not to scold or yell at the employee because they are forgetting the right stuff while they work, The goal is to realize that the manner in which we lead is not working. Too many times, the worker is seen as the problem when in reality it is the management and leadership that they are experiencing that is the problem. As Pogo said many years ago, “We have meet the problem and it is us.”

Under-communication happens because we as executives are so busy we forget to get around to something, namely communicating the bigger picture. We become operational leaders rather than strategic and operational leaders. And once we do communicate the big picture, we assume that those who heard us actually understood it. So many times in my work as an executive coach, I have to remind leaders that just because you said something once or sent the e-mail once does not mean that it was received or understood. This is why I keep asking key leaders what is their theme for a quarter. From experience I have learned that it takes at least 90 days for a message to consistently be cascaded down into an organization so that people actually remember it and reference it when thinking about what to do today or in the future.

To build organizational clarity, many leaders need to remember that most workers are simply focused on the day to day and do not understand or even pay attention to the strategic variables or problems that consume an executive’s day to day work experience. We forget that a Bud-lite and a TV remote are common forms of stress management at the end of the day. With the bandwidth of an employee’s mind focused on “get ‘er done” and how much longer to the Bud-lite and the TV remote, competitive advantage is not part of their day to day lexicon or mentality.

Therefore, to improve organizational clarity, we must do the following. First, we need to sell the problems which are getting in the way of us being more competitive. When employees understand that doing nothing is more dangerous than doing something, then they will move through the challenges of change from a different perspective.

Second, we need to sell the company to our own people. We need to explain to our employees why we are the answer to our clients' challenges. We need to point out how what we offer is a solution that will solve not only today’s problems but help them in the future. We need to explain how our strengths as a company assure us the capacity for a sound and profitable future. Otherwise, we are doomed to loosing our best people and loosing our competitive advantage by problems of our own making.

This week and this quarter sell the problems, resell the the company, and focus on making sure clarity is cascaded through out the organization on a consistent and regular basis. If we are to leverage our strengths in an unpredictable economy and to capitalize on short windows of opportunity when they arise, then we need to have everyone focused on the right things at the right times. This demands that we are more connected to the core of what makes our company unique on a daily basis.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Future of Middle Managers & Two Recommended Readings

For years, I have read that the end of middle management is near.

I have seen organizations lay them off and I have seen organization hire them all back. I have listened to senior leaders explain that middle managers are no longer needed. The future is flat, lean, and flexible.

At the exact same time, I have listened to different senior executives explain to me that middle managers are mission critical to their company’s success. They provide crucial leadership and help the company’s strategy get translated into day to day realities. They consider middle management vital to generating short term wins.

One would think that in the midst of all these different voices and actions, there must be a clear answer when it comes to the subject of middle managers.

Recently, Lynda Gatton, professor of management practice at the London Business School, wrote a very interesting short article called “The End of the Middle Manager” in the January-February 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review:

She argues that the “classic job of the middle manager will soon disappear.” As she explains, “Now technology itself has become the great general manager. It can monitor performance closely, provide instant feedback, even create reports. That leaves people with general management skills in a very vulnerable position.” As her research makes clear, “Gen Y workers see no value in reporting to someone who simply keeps track of what they do, when much of that can be done by themselves, their peers, or a machine.” Thus, she advocates that middle managers acquire and build “knowledge or competencies that are valuable and rare” in order to not become invisible. By developing new areas of proficiency and thinking through one’s career, there is less chance of them not becoming obsolete.

From my perspective, her point that middle managers could become invisible or obsolete is valid due to the rise of technology and the skill set that Gen Y workers bring to the workplace. But, in the successful companies that I have observed, the notion of acquiring new knowledge and competencies plus thinking through one’s career is already hardwired into the strategy and the culture. In these organizations, the role of the middle manager is less about monitoring individual performance and providing instant feedback as much as becoming a better leader for operational success. These kinds of middle managers focus on clarifying expectations, achieving short-term results, defining priorities, improving process discipline, and maximizing efficiencies. To do this level of work, they often have to clarify and communication strategic direction, resolve problems, proactively coach, build and maintain teams, and empower people to continue performance improvements. The traditional or classical definition of middle management is long gone in these organizations. Instead, this new breed of middle managers run their area of responsibility like they are CEOs of mini companies.

While the debate over the role of middle management will continue, I think it is important for those in executive positions to continue to clarify and define this position in their organization. If they are wanting it to evolve and continue to be a valuable role, then they need to provide middle management with the time and space to learn and grow in their positions. This may require senior executives to spend more time teaching and coaching which would be a worthwhile investment.

On a different subject, for those of you who are interested in the emerging research into change management and what could be published during the coming years, I would encourage you to check out Robert Sutton’s blog entry called “Scaling Good Behavior” at the Harvard Business Review website: I am curious to read the book he will be writing in 2011 about how to scale up constructive behaviors.

While you are there at the Harvard Business Review website, check out the recent blog entry by Rosabeth Moss Kanter called “Five Lessons from 2010 Worth Repeating - Without Repeating 2010”: Posted yesterday morning, it is filled with exceptionally good insights that could be the foundation for an upcoming senior team meeting or a strategic review.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

2011 Spring Roundtable - Early Bird Special!

With cold winter weather all around, it is time for us to turn our sights on the 2011 Spring Roundtable!

On April 14 -15, we will gather at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa for the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

Here is the initial agenda for your review.

Thursday: April 14, 2011

- 8:30 am - Registration

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - The Four Leadership Mistakes We Keep Making

- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Positioning For the Future Growth

- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - Breaking Down Silos & Building Bridges

- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - Consensus and Decision-making

- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Friday: April 15, 2011

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - The Problem With Corporate Success

- 10:15 am - 10:45 am - Break and Hotel Check-out

- 10:45 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Starting today through Friday, January 28, I am offering an “early bird” registration price for the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

If you sign up during this time period, and submit payment before 1/28/11, the price will be $ 275.00 for the two days and $ 175.00 for a single day. Here is the link to the registration form:

After 1/28/11, the registration price will be $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day.

I hope you will reserve April 14 - 15 on your calendar, and e-mail me today about whether or not you are coming. Then, in April when the daffodils and early tulips are blooming all we have to do is meet at the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable in Coralville.

Thinking ahead and looking forward to seeing you in April,


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, January 3, 2011

Competitive Advantage - Part #1

As we enter this New Year at work, strategic choices are plentiful, and overcoming operational difficulties is mission critical. Having a clear competitive advantage is also more important than ever.

For many companies this winter, the economy’s pendulum swinging between a few good months and numerous poor months is very frustrating. At times, executives feel dammed if they do something and dammed if they do not. The result of such economic uncertainty is more meetings. The book, Death by Meeting: a Leadership Fable . . .About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2004), by Patrick Lencioni could become a best seller again in the next six weeks given how many groups are gathering to figure out the future.

As one who sat through many such meetings in December of 2010, I love listening to the language used as the different strategic choices are explored. I can guarantee you that someone is going to voice the idea during an upcoming meeting that “our people are our competitive advantage.” Then, the more educated leaders and managers in the room will add that “having the right people is our competitive advantage.” And finally, some one, with almost gospel level reverence, will state that “having the right people on the right seats on the bus” is the most critical thing to do in the first quarter of 2011. While I whole heartedly agree with this idea from Jim Collin’s research in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't, HarperBusiness, 2001, few people realize that having the right people in 2011 also means keeping the right people.

In theory, we always hire the best candidate and then we do our best to orient them to their new job and the company as a whole. CEOs regularly lead classes to assure that new hires know the the company’s history, mission and core values. Alignment and perspective are critical first steps to the on-boarding process.

But at some point, the early romance of recruitment and the honeymoon of orientation stops and the actual work starts. Then, the e-mails flood their in-box, the paper work stacks up like planes circling Chicago before a winter storm, and meetings fill their calendar. Numb from hours of worthless meetings and overwhelmed by problems that have no quick or simple solution, these new and old “right people” turn to the one person who can make or break their day, namely their supervisor. And if this individual wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, has a bad hair day, misses their morning cup of coffee, and is generally irritable over factors they have no control over, e.g a pendulum swinging economy, this critical interaction can end up being a disaster just when it needs to be most helpful.

During the last 90 days, I have listened to more and more of these key or “right” people share how deeply frustrated they are with their supervisor and thus their company. They want to do good and they want to solve problems. They want to be successful and they also want the company to be successful. But when they report to and interact on a daily basis with some one who is not clear about their expectations, can not communicate and solve problems in a healthy manner, and does not role model the organization’s mission, vision or core values that were talked about during orientation, then these “right people” go back to their desk, dust off their resumes, and seek new opportunities for more productive work and life experiences.

I am convinced from what I have seen and heard in the last 90 days that more and more companies are suffering from a loss of competitive advantage due to poor supervision, management, and leadership than from economic factors over which they have no control. I am also convinced that many companies do have appropriate strategy and sound operational systems in place, but what they lack is the realization that having the right people on the right seats on the bus is only as good as having the right relationships between those people on the bus.

This week and this winter, spend more time making sure you do not loose your competitive advantage by loosing your best people. We can not afford to have them leave due to poor leadership, management or supervision. Things are hard enough as they are without adding this element into the mix.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257