Monday, October 31, 2011

Teaching New Behaviors

Margaret J. Wheatley in her delightful book, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), wrote the following:

“Life seeks organization, but it uses messes to get there. Organization is a process, not a structure.”

“If we deny people’s great need for relationships, for systems of support, for work that connects to a larger purpose, they push back.”

“All organizing efforts begin with an intent, a belief that something more is possible now that the group is together.”

When it comes to teaching people new behaviors and with the above in mind, we as leaders first need to recognize that our behavior is influenced by our identity, the information we receive or do not receive, and the health of our relationships. Second, we must accept the fact that we do not see “reality.” Instead, we each create our own interpretation of what is real. As Tom Asacker in his book, Sandbox Wisdom: Revolutionize Your Brand With the Genius of Childhood, Eastside Publishing, 2000, wrote “Perception is truth.” Third, as every living system is free to choose whether it changes, and every systems contains it’s own solutions, we must remember that every person is free to choose whether they change, and every person contains their own solutions.

Ken Blanchard in his book, Leading At a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations, Prentice Hall, 2006, explains that in order to get new behaviors to stick, those involved need to achieve tangible results as quickly as possible. Teresa M. Amabile and Steve J. Kramer in their article called “The Power of Small Wins”, Harvard Business Review, May 2011, summarized a decade of research which included a deep analysis of daily diaries kept by teammates on creative projects. The two authors came up with the Progress Principle, namely “Of all things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.... And the more frequently people experience that sense of

progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” Frederick Herzberg, in a 1968 issue of the Harvard Business Review and author of the article, “One More Time: How do You Motivate Employees?”, wrote “People are most satisfied with their jobs (and therefore most motivated) when those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement.”

Teresa M. Amabile and Steve J. Kramer in the aforementioned article further explain this in the following manner. “The best thing they [managers] can do for their people is provide the catalysts and nourishers that allow projects to move forward while removing the obstacles and toxins that result in setbacks.” Catalysts are actions that support work and nourishers are acts of interpersonal support such as respect, recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, and opportunities for affiliation. Still, we must remember that “The key to motivating performance is supporting progress in meaningful work.”

When I am asked how to teach new behaviors, I often reference the following classic answers:

- hire the right people

- initiate necessary turnover

- be patient and persistent

- show how the change/new behaviors are working and why the old ways did not work

- measure and support the sustained performance

My more recent answer may seem simplistic but it is more powerful, i.e ensure that people in leadership positions will support and model the new behaviors themselves. As Max De Pree reminds us in his book, Leadership is an Art, Dell Publishing, 1990: “The signs of outstanding leadership are found among the followers.”

The first step in this process is to support, notice and validate all new behaviors. Simultaneously, role model them in a disciplined manner. However, remember that behavioral change comes with constraints. Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, explain that there are five major constraints:

- loyalties to people who may not believe you are doing the right thing

- fear of incompetence

- uncertainty about taking the right path

- fear of loss

- not having the stomach for the hard parts of the journey

Understanding these constraints is part of the process of teaching people new behaviors.

Second, Ken Blanchard in his aforementioned book reminds us not to equate behavioral change with cultural change. He explains that culture is an integrated pattern of shared knowledge, beliefs and behaviors translated into a collective commitment toward shared values, goals, and practices/systems. Behavior, on the other hand, is a way an individual or group behaves and responds to it’s environment. As Blanchard explains, until we get the aggregate number of people within a group to change, the culture does not change.

One solution, notes Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their aforementioned book, is to grow your own personal network outside of the system you are trying to change. This happens when we talk regularly with confidants, people outside the environment in which you are trying to lead adaptive change, who are invested in you, not the issues you are addressing. This can satisfy your hungers outside of work, e.g. support or perspective, so your opponents cannot use them to take you out of the game. When we anchor ourself in multiple communities, we continue to gain perspective.

In short, teaching behaviors is important and complex. Always start with yourself first.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It Is Time To Do Some Good Reading - Great By Choice

My father’s father was an early supporter of scouting. My father was an Eagle Scout and later the Scout Master of our local Boy Scout troop. My older brother was an Eagle Scout. So, when I came of age, it was no surprise that I would enter the Boy Scouts and that eventually I would become an Eagle Scout.

But long before I joined the world of scouting, my father taught me one important truth, “Always be prepared.” If you are going on a day hike, bring rain gear, a first aid kit and extra food. If you are going on a trip in the car, have the tools to fix the tire, a first aid kit, extra clothes and extra food. In short, if you are planning for anything, always think through the possible problems that might occur and “always be prepared.” I just thought this was a Dad thing until I entered the world of scouting and learned that is was the Boy Scout motto. This in combination with the Boy Scout slogan, “Do a good turn daily”, were the foundation of my growing up years.

Thus, when I started reading Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen’s latest book called Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011, I was not surprised by their comments that instability is chronic in our society, uncertainty is permanent, change is accelerating, and disruption is common. Furthermore, I loved the foundational question of their book, namely “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?” As one who was raised to always be prepared, I was tremendously curious to learn what the two of them had discovered.

Working over a nine year period with a team of more than twenty researchers, Collins and Hansen studied companies that rose to greatness - beating their industry indexes by a minimum of ten times over fifteen years - in environments characterized by big forces and rapid shifts that leaders could not predict or control. Like his previous research, this team then contrasted these “10X companies” to a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to achieve greatness in similarly extreme environments.

As per usual, the study resulted in all sorts of provocative surprises and unexpected findings. For example, “the best leaders we studied did not have a visionary ability to predict the future. They observed what worked, figured out why it worked, and built upon proven foundations. They were not more risk taking, more bold, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons. They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.” Furthermore, “Innovation by itself turns out not to be the trump card we expected; more important is the ability to scale innovation, to blend creativity with discipline.” At the same time, their research showed that “the idea that leading in a “fast world” always requires “fast decisions” and “fast action” - and that we should embrace an overall ethos of “Fast! Fast! Fast!” - is a good way to get killed. 10X leaders figure out when to go fast, and when not to.” Finally, the 10X companies “changed less in reaction to their changing world than the comparison cases. Just because your environment is rocked by dramatic change does not mean that you should inflict radical change upon yourself.”

For those of you who have read previous material by Jim Collins such as his books, Built To Last, Good To Great, or How The Mighty Fall, you know that his latest book with Morten Hansen will challenge conventional wisdom and deliver some very nice practical concepts. For me, I was particularly impressed with the following three concepts:

- 20 Mile March: “To 20 Mile March requires hitting specified performance markers with great consistency over a long period of time. It requires two distinct types of discomfort, delivering high performance in difficult times and holding back in good times.”

- Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs: “A bullet is a low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction test or experiment. 10Xers use bullets to empirically validate what will actually work. Based on that empirical validation, they then concentrate their resource to fire a cannonball, enabling large returns from concentrated bets.”

- Zoom Out, Zoom In: “10Xers zoom out, then zoom in..... When they sense danger, they immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives.”

There are numerous other key concepts in the book which are immensely practical at this time period given all that is happening the world and in this economy. However, the above three, in my opinion, need to be integrated into strategic planning during the next 90 days so more companies will be better prepared for 2012. As Collins and Hansen explain, “... greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstances; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” As they continue, “... it’s what you do before the storm comes that most determines how well you’ll do when the storm comes. Those who fail to plan and prepare for instability, disruption, and chaos in advance tend to suffer more when their environments shift from stability to turbulence.”

As my father always said, “be prepared.” With the rise of complexity, globalization, and technology, all of which are accelerating change and increase volatility, it is time for leaders and executives to go out and purchase a copy of this book, and then read and discuss it with their senior management teams. Being prepared is no longer a choice; it is a prerequisite to success.

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Developing Role Clarity

It was a wonderfully sunny day as we sat down to lunch in a very nice restaurant. The CEO had invited me and one of the senior vice presidents to sit down with him to discuss the future. Once the meal was ordered, the CEO said to the SVP, “I think you should work with Geery on a regular basis for a while as we plan for the future.” The SVP then turned to me and asked me for a list of names of the companies I had worked with before he would commit to the process. I just smiled and mentioned that I did not play the name dropping game. However, I would be willing to give him a list of executives he could personally call and talk to about my work. Then, the SVP looked at the CEO who shook his head and said, “No; don’t go there.”

“Just get started,” he explained to the SVP, “I have worked with Geery and he will ask you the tough questions that need to be asked. It will not be easy, but it will be valuable.”

The SVP replied to both of us that he wanted to work on performance management, turnover, and profitability plus team development at the divisional level, too.

I smiled and asked the first question. “With that in mind, what is your role at this organization?”

The CEO smiled. The SVP struggled with his answer. And thus the journey began.

From my vantage point this fall, I am seeing more and more problems based on a lack of role clarity at the senior team level. Gallup notes that role clarity is more important than task clarity. I would add that I believe role and goal clarity are more important than task clarity, too. When it comes to role clarity for the CEO, I always recommend people review the following article: Lafley, A.G., “What Only the CEO Can Do,”, May 2009, Harvard Business Review:

Furthermore, I believe all members of the senior team also need help in this area. First, senior managers need to be an architect and builder of strategy, They also need to recognize that the infrastructure for success needs to be built and monitored, not just the development of goals. Second, they must be a watchman for constant alignment between mission, vision and core values and the execution of the strategic plan. Accountability to goals, the shaping of values and standards, and the defining of goals and expectations need to be constantly monitored. Next, they must be a “genius of the and,” referencing the work of Jim Collins and Jerry Porass in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperBusiness, 1994. Finally, members of the senior team must be professors and coaches who manage and groom the talent in their area of responsibility.

While the work of role clarity is never easy, it is important. Asking the question is always the first step in the journey.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Improving Middle Management Effectiveness - Part #2

Picking up where I left off last Monday, the role of the middle manager is mission critical to more and more organizations. Yet, rather than take them for granted, more and more companies seek to improve the performance of the these key people. Last week, I explained the importance of teaching them active listening skills. This week I want to focus on a few more ideas.

First, help middle managers understand that it is important to welcome new ideas and perspectives. Too often, I have witnessed middle managers and even senior managers working with middle managers shut down different perspectives when they are not their own. This destroys personal trust at the team and the individual level but also can damage strategic level trust. The key is to welcome new ideas and be open to listening to them. Too many times, we manage by ego rather than by utilizing the strategic nexus.

Second, invite feedback but clarify the non-negotiable issues and the process of decision-making. Too many times, people use feedback and constructive criticism in the same sentence. Some are even calling it constructive feedback. While I prefer feedback and others prefer constructive criticism, the keys to giving feedback begins when we realize that relationships matter. Speaking and listening respectfully plus sharing observations rather than judgements makes a huge difference.

Next, it is important to review expectations and assumptions on a regular basis. Think Q1 in the Q12 from the book, First, Break All Rules and realize that many people do not understand what is expected of them. Finally, when giving feedback, be prepared and organized in your thoughts; this yields clarity rather than reactionary actions. When we as managers and leaders check our own intentions when asking for feedback and check our own intentions before giving it, we do a much better job of it.

Third, remember clarity and ambiguity do not co-exist peacefully. Right now, many organizations and many mid-level managers are suffering from constant change, economic uncertainty, and strategic ambiguity. We forget some days that mid-level managers want black and white answers to their questions, and right now the common response to their questions is the words, “it depends” This answer results in tremendous frustration and anxiety for middle managers.

Therefore, we as senior leaders need to eliminate strategic blindness and context blindness. Remember strategic blindness happens when we do not see our strategy as a whole organization, and instead only execute the parts of the strategic plan that we like. Context blindness happens because we can see the whole organization but we can not see the environmental context within which the whole organization is working and moving through. These are normal problems that mid-level managers have and with regular coaching and feedback can be corrected.

Finally, we need to continue to explore and clarify decision-making. Too many senior leaders and too many mid-level managers do not comprehend the difference between operational decision-making and strategic decision-making. Most think it is the same thing. While the mission, vision and core values may be the same, the critical elements that are considered are different in strategic and operational decision-making.

This week and this fall continue to help your mid-level managers and supervisors understand the importance of welcoming new ideas, inviting and giving feedback plus clarifying decision-making. All of this will make a difference when it comes to executing better in 2012.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You are a leader only if someone follows

“A leader,” writes Warren Buffet, “is someone who gets things done through other people.”

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in their book, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, Gallup, 2008, note that followers have four basic needs: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. As they write, “the chances of employees being engaged at work when they do not trust the company’s leaders are just 1 in 12. In stark contrast, the chances of employees being engaged at work are better than 1 in 2 if they trust the organization’s leadership - a more than sixfold increase.” This in combination with compassion, namely leaders who clearly care about each of their employees, and stability, i.e. followers want a leader who will provide a solid foundation, make a big difference. Finally, it appears that followers want stability in the moment and hope for the future. In short, Rath and Conchie note, great leaders “stay true to who they are - and then make sure they have the right people around them.”

As non-profits struggle this fall with issues related to funding and for-profits struggle with issues related to consistent profitability and growth, we all need better leaders who understand the basic needs of the followers and also know how to plan and execute strategic and operational change. There are multiple ways to get things done through others. The best leaders know how to create a strategic focus and culture within their companies so work gets done no matter what happens in the economy.

Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't. HarperBusiness, 2001, reminds us of Packards Law: “No company can grow revenues consistently faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth and still become a great company.” We all need the right people working with the right leaders this fall to overcome the challenges before us.

One way to position your organization for growth and great leadership is to enroll yourself and your key people in the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Meeting once per quarter, this year long course of study focuses on effective leadership, strategic planning and execution plus organizational change. Through an in-depth and integrative curriculum, participants are immersed in current research and real world solutions. For those of you who are seeking great results on a consistent basis, then now is the time to become part of the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

For more information on how to register, please click on the following link: I look forward to hearing from you during the comings days.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Angry People

There sure are a lot of angry people these days. Some are protesting in the streets right now against Wall Street. Others are upset at the government. Some are deeply frustrated with Congress. Many are just fed up with this prolonged period of economic uncertainty and instability.

As one who regularly works with large and small organizations in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, I see this anger and frustration on a regular basis. But what interests me the most right now are the organizations that are not angry or frustrated, the ones who instead continue to improve, make a difference, and actually accomplish their goals.

One element that makes these organizations unique is how they are planning for the future. In particular, they are taking two very unique actions. First, they are actively engaged in deep strategic level dialogues about the customer experience. This is not a passing curiosity with a singular experience but instead a profound and in-depth commitment to understand the total customer experience. From start to finish, they are examining the routine interactions of the customer with the company. They want to know if the experience is one that is in alignment with what they say as a company and what customers expect. They want to know if the experience is generating a greater depth of engagement. They also want to know if it is elegant in the sense of ease of use and practicality. In essence, they want to know if the customer experience with their company is creating value, building brand loyality, or causing more long term problems.

Second, these same companies are willing to examine their core assumptions about the customer, themselves and the future. For example, progressive non-profits are willing to explore a future where Medicaid and Medicare are no longer the major source of their funding. For-profits, on the other hand, are examining a future where bricks and motor office buildings are no longer the foundation of their business. Instead, they are considering what their company would be like if all employees were virtual and all customer service was done through hand held mobile devices. By challenging their core assumptions, these companies are not trapped by the “hubris born of success.” As Jim Collins in his book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, wrote, “Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 [hubris born of success] kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they loose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” With the right questions, we can return to the underlying factors for success rather than the arrogance of assuming we will always be successful.

Given the challenges and deep divisions before our society today, there will continue to be many angry, frustrated and upset people for quite some time. However, as leaders, we have choices to make in the midst of these difficulties. Based on what I am seeing currently, focusing on the total customer experience and proactively challenging our core assumptions through in-depth strategic dialogues are wise actions to take in the midst of these challenging times.

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

Improving Middle Management Effectiveness - Part #1

John C. Maxwell in his wonderful book, Winning With People: Discover The People Principles That Work For You Every Time, Nelson Books, 2004, wrote about “The Hammer Principle,” namely “Never use a hammer to swat a fly off someone's head.” Too many times this past summer and fall, I have witnessed this take place between a senior executive and a mid-level manager. It always ends up being a loss for all involved.

Today, the role of the middle manager is very important. We need excellent people to fulfill these roles and they need to have the capacity to do four specific things very well. First, they need to understand the conceptual framework of the company in order to routinely bring clarity and order to confusion and chaos. Second, they need to be deeply immersed in the day to day, tactical operations of the company in order to solve problems better, and work on alignment related issues. Third, they need to oversee multiple projects in multiple stages and maintain a vast network of people and resources in order to manage all of the projects to a successful conclusion or result. Fourth, they need to utilize a diverse set of assessment tools in order to routinely deliver improved performance at the individual and department levels. Today, more and more managers are coaching people who directly impact front line service and product delivery. Their action or inaction is directly impacting the bottom line of the company.

In order to improve their effectiveness, the first thing we need to do as leaders is to teach them to practice the art of active listening. While this seems such a simple concept, I have come to realize that many young mid-level managers were never taught this skill.

Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what (s)he hears. Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others, focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one's own frame of reference and suspending judgment along with avoiding other internal or external mental activities are important. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.

There are three primary elements that comprise active listening, namely comprehending, retaining, and responding. In comprehending, the listener seeks shared meaning through an understanding of the context of what is being shared, and focuses on reducing distractions to improve retention. In the retaining part, the listener seeks out and pays attention to key information for retention purposes. Finally, in the responding part of active listening, the listener looks for verbal and non-verbal messages and adjust their communication style to meet the needs of the people involved.

The typical ways to do active listening involve repeating, paraphrasing and reflecting. For example, the listener might repeat the message using exactly the same words as the speaker. With paraphrasing, the listener might simplify the message using similar words and similar phrase arrangements to the ones used by the speaker. Finally during the reflection phase, they might restate the message using their own words and sentence structure.

While I recognize that active listening might seem extremely simplistic, spend time this week in meetings with mid-level managers and analyze how many of them actually do active listening. It will surprise you when you discover it is not a common practice these days.

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

Aligning Culture and Strategy - Part #2

In the From Vision to Action booklet called Developing A New Organizational Culture (, I explained that there are four main characteristics to a successful organizational culture. They are as follows:

- All are involved in building something, namely taking a vision or BHAG, i.e.Big Hairy Audacious Goal, and making it become real rather than abstract.

- All have a core philosophy about how things are done and what is most important.

- All have an internal drive for progress and are constantly seeking new ways to improve.

- All have and monitor systems to preserve the core philosophy and stimulate progress within the organization.

With this in mind, there are three key ways this fall to better align culture and strategy. First, while this may sound simplistic, it is critical to teach people what is the difference between strategy and tactics. Then, instruct them on what is culture. If they can not understand these concepts, then they will not grasp the concept of alignment between strategy and culture.

Second, help all involved recognize that alignment is based on clarity about the following three questions: Why? How? What? As Simon Sinek reminds us, “People do not buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” When answering these three simple but powerful questions, we need to reread John Kotter’s book, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, 2002. As he writes, “The single most important message in this book is very simple. People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings. The flow of see-feel-change is more powerful than that of analysis-think-change.”

Third, we as leaders need to proactively role model and make decisions with alignment in mind. Joel Kurtzman in his book, Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve The Extraordinary, Jossey-Bass 2010, reminds us that people watch their leaders in a microscopic detail. Furthermore, individuals working within a firm tend to copy their leaders’ style. The hard part for us to accept is that others copy our worst characteristics along with our best traits. Therefore, we as leaders must be disciplined to make certain that we exhibit only the types of behavior that we want others in the company to share.

This week, discuss with your team what is unique about your organization’s culture and it’s strategy, and continue exploring the subject of alignment. As Tony Hsieh in his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Business Plus, 2010, writes “For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”

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