Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Key Concepts to Being a Visionary Company

Recently, I wrote how this summer I have been rereading the book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras. The foundation of the book revolves around four key concepts:

1. Be a clock builder -an architect- not a time teller.

2. Embrace the “Genius of the AND”

3. Preserve the core/stimulate progress.

4. Seek consistent alignment.

Back in 1994 when this was published, these were progressive concepts and they had everyone in executive offices thinking and talking. Furthermore, most of the same leaders were still processing the key material in the books, In Search of Excellence and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It was an exciting time for all involved.

Now in the summer of 2011, the above four concepts seem pretty simplistic, if not old news. Nevertheless, upon further inspection and further reading in the book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't, HarperBusiness, 2001, Collins states something that is very important and often missed. As he writes, “When I consider the enduring great companies from Built To Last, I now see substantial evidence that their early leaders followed the good-to-great framework. The only real difference is that they did so as entrepreneurs in small, early-stage enterprises trying to get off the ground, rather than as CEOs trying to transform established companies from good to great. In an ironic twist, I now see Good to Great not as a sequel to Built to Last, but as a prequel. Apply the findings in this book [Good to Great] to create sustained great results, as a start-up or an established organization, and then apply the findings in Built to Last to go from great results to an enduring great company.”

For many leaders in many different companies, the good-to-great framework is being put in place in a careful and thoughtful manner. Concepts like “who before what,” “confront the brutal facts,” and “ the flywheel vs. the doom loop” are all being explored and implemented. But from my perspective, more executives need to reread Built to Last because once the great results start happening and once there are regular short term wins, then all executives need to implement the above four key concepts from Built to Last in order to make the results consistent over time.

Our challenge this summer is to think beyond today and tomorrow. We need to think long term and study the above four concepts and then rigorously apply them throughout our organizations. Given the current economy, we need more people and companies positioning themselves for becoming an “enduring great company.” Now is the time to learn so we can constantly improve in the future.

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Preparing For Change

Change is in the air this summer. Large and small organizations across the country are restructuring their org charts, redesigning operational systems to be more efficient, planning for the future, and actively considering a variety of mergers and acquisitions. All with the hope that these actions will give them a competitive advantage.

Initiating major organizational change at these levels is a big deal. It should not be done on a whim or a lark. It should not be ego driven. Hopefully, it has been well thought through and connected to the organization’s strategic nexus.

Before one undertakes strategic level actions, I often encourage leaders to undertake some initial work as recommended by Dan S. Cohen in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading Change in Your Organization. Harvard Business School Press, 2005. He recommends the following steps be taken.

First “take the temperature.... You cannot start real change without a realistic picture of the internal climate of the organization.” Too many times, I have seen leaders skip this stage and end up having to back track on what they want to do. In our rush to make change, we often forget that the capacity to plan does not always equal the capacity to execute.

Second, “identify the hurdles.... cultural barriers to change should be identified and addressed early in the change process.” If there is one thing that more and more leaders will miss this summer is the understanding that culture is the source of the magic and the mojo in their organization. It can make or break change in a heart beat. If not managed well, culture can shut down and/or stifle creativity. Status quo does not tolerate fools.

Third, “talk to the people in the trenches.... the rank and file often know more than their bosses about the real needs, real problems, and the potential solutions because they live and breathe them every day.” Strategic dialogues this summer are vital to organizational success. We, as leaders, need to listen carefully to employee’s concerns, needs, fears and worries. If our answer to their concerns is that “if you do not like working here, you can go work for the competition,” then the best people will leave and the front line employees will only do the minimal level of work rather than their best.

From my vantage point, the first steps to successful change this summer begins with doing an in-depth strategic analysis, knowing your own gut and defining what is and what is not negotiable. Furthermore, it involves having the courage to ask both employees and customers for feedback about quality and service delivery, and then having the fortitude to listen even if it is not positive.

This summer many organizations will make mistakes. Hopefully, how they start strategic level change will not be one of them.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rereading a Classic

In 1994, Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California, wrote the following advance praise for a newly published book called Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business, 1994) by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras:

“In Built To Last, which will attain classic status in no time, Collins and Porras present a brilliant and lucid analysis and yes, a blueprint for organizational excellence. It should be required reading for all managers and leaders, corporate, government, not-for-profits.”

Looking back seventeen years later, Bennis was on the mark when he wrote that the book, Built To Last, would be a classic. It has been the foundation for so many other books including Collin’s subsequent books, Good To Great and How The Mighty Fall. Once you begin to explore the key concepts within Built To Last, you will see that numerous other authors have integrated the key concepts into their own work, too.

Given how influential it was to my own consulting practice, to numerous executives I have met over the years, and to many other authors, I decided recently to reread it this summer. So far, it has been an extremely positive experience. I have gone through it the first time and loved every page. I look forward to rereading it a couple of more times as I prepare for the Fall ’11 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on September 22-23 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa.

For all of us here today, I encourage you to join me in rereading Built To Last this summer. The book is the summary of a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Collins and Porras took 18 truly exceptional and long-lasting companies - they have an average age of nearly 100 years and have outperformed the general stock market by a factor of 15 since 1926 and studied each company in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. In short, they asked the question, “What makes truly exceptional companies different from other companies?” and then discovered some very unique answers.

For those of you who are interested in rereading this classic, here is the link to a 1995 Inc. article by Jim Collins called “Building Companies to Last” which captures some of the key concepts: http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/building-companies.html

Happy summer reading and do keep in touch with me about what got you thinking within this book and the above article.

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

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Good Article On Retirement

The Baby Boomers are getting older and many of them during executive coaching sessions are beginning to talk with me about retirement and the necessary transitions that need to talk place within their organization. In particular, they are worried about how to retirement in a thoughtful manner and how to communicate all that they know and do to the next generation of leaders.

Recently, in the June 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, there was a great article by Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss (Business Plus, 2010), called “On Stepping Down Gracefully.” As he notes, “How you handle yourself during your final months and weeks in power will have a big impact on how you are remembered.” While it is a short article, it is a good one, especially if retirement is part of your future. Here is the link and I recommend you read it: http://hbr.org/2011/06/column-on-stepping-down-gracefully/ar/1

Happy summer reading!

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

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Problem With Corporate Success - part #2

When it comes to dealing with the dark side of corporate success, each of us must think carefully about what we want to change in our lives. We need to accept the fact that awareness is not understanding, and as Marshall Goldsmith, in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, notes “there is an enormous disconnect between understanding and doing.” If we are going to do something, then we have to embrace the process, not just the idea. I learned this in an airport many years ago.

I was flying through the Kansas City airport and I knew I was traveling too much when the person at the check-in counter recognized me and greeted me by first name. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was glad to be headed home on my last flight. Once through security, I found my gate and sat down to write up my final notes of the day.

One thing I like to do in airports is to watch people. It is amazing how diverse we are as a species. On that particular afternoon, I was impressed by a young man who came strutting into the airport with a small entourage of people. Dressed to the nines and tens, and carrying a small, silver colored metal brief case which at best could only carry a couple of sheets of paper, it was like the arrival of royalty. After an extended period of saying good bye, getting his ticket and strolling through security, I was surprised to see him walk over to my gate and sit down.

Once the crowd had left, I looked up and noticed he was crying. These was not a couple of tears rolling down the cheek cry but a full blown release of grief. When I noticed him wiping away his tears on his very expensive suit, I got up and gave him my kleenex pack that I was carrying with me. After I returned back to my seat to wait for the plane, it did not feel like such a good idea to people watch any more. In particular, I wanted to respect this man’s private moment of grief.

Next thing, I knew he was sitting next to me and asking if we could talk. “Been a rough day, has it?,” I asked. “Did you loose a major business deal?”

“No,” he replied. “I broke a promise.” The two of us just sat there quietly for a bit and let his words sink in. There are some promises that we make that should never be broken. When they are, it takes a long time before we can recover, heal and be forgiven.

On that Friday afternoon, he shared his story with me. He realized that he had made a profound error in judgement and with it came deep grief and shame. To this day, I do not know what happened next but his words, “I broke a promise” still travel with me. Corporate success can be blinding, addictive and corruptive unless we have a strong sense of personal mission, core values and perspective. It can lead us into compromising situations.

This week and during this spring into summer time period, reaffirm your promises, maintain your sense of personal clarity, and commit to healthy habits that allow you to stay true to who you are.

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