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

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