Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Maintaining Operational Excellence During Constant Change

“Do you ever coach more than one person in an organization?” the CEO asked me during our morning coaching session. 
“Often,” I responded. “Why do you ask?”
“I have this guy who runs one of our divisions who is really good with the customer, really good with quality but he is old school and not so good with people. 30% turnover is the norm in that division. We need to improve that and get better.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “And then you will have to balance constant change with constant improvement. This will not be easy.”
Years ago, in an early session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, a former agriculture salesman shared a simple truth with me, “the bigger the burger, the bigger the bun.” Right now, the burger, i.e the moment of truth when a customer engages with your products and services, is more important than ever. Therefore, we need to look at the bun, namely the four pillars that support the burger, i.e. people structure, systems and culture.
As we all know, change can come in two basic forms: doing things better or doing things differently. However, the majority of operational excellence is focused on maintaining SOP, which means doing things the same. As leaders, we at times forget that there are a lot of systems and infra-structure engaged in this level of work. We also forget that real change requires real effort. And today in companies all over the globe, most of the effort is focused on maintaining order rather than making things better or different.
Now the common solution to this situation is to generate SMART Goals, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. However from my vantage point, the real solution is to translate SMART Goals into SMART Execution. 
First, there is an assumption related to SMART Goals and operational excellence, namely that all SMART goals are owned and understood by those who are going to do the work rather than imposed by those who manage the work. From what I hear and see, ownership is low right now and imposition by external forces to do better and be more profitable is high and getting higher. For SMART Goals to become SMART Execution, we must have ownership. 
Second, SMART Execution assumes a leader, manager or supervisor is actively involved in monitoring and coaching someone on their progress related to the SMART Goals. Right now there are few good coaches and fewer people who are committed to do it. When time becomes pressurized by operational problem solving, then coaching falls by the wayside. For SMART Execution to take place, coaching is a non-negotiable. Every one must do it and participate in it on a regular basis.
As SMART Execution takes place, we need to realize that other people’s perceptions may take time to change. As we all know, each of us carries preconceived notions of other people and other departments. We are often prejudiced by experience and information. When SMART Execution takes place, we need to understand that changing perceptions takes time and awareness. Often people during constant change are not very aware as much as just coping. 
Furthermore, the more things change, the more things stay the same which is a problem during SMART Execution. Few people plan for distractions, competing goals or the proverbial “once in a lifetime” short-term profit opportunities to appear, but they do show up and it does happen. 
At the same time, few people plan and invest time and energy into the maintenance element of what ever they are seeking to change. Remember the line: If you build it, they will come. From my perspective, go ahead and build it but also remember to have dollars set aside for re-shingling the roof, fixing the toilet and providing three good meals a day. 
For many leaders, the fun is in the building of the SMART Goals. But wise people know that there is more to life than just building new goals. Someone must move from creating the goals to executing them. SMART Execution may not always be glamorous but the discipline of SMART Execution is the foundation to sustainability and excellence.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Strategic Mindset and Operational Excellence

Routinely now, I tell leaders to embrace a strategic mindset, and commit to operational excellence. While this is a challenging action, the first step in this process is to truly comprehend this passage from James Belasco and Ralph Stayer’s book called Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead (Time Warner, 1994). As they write: 
“The primary purpose of strategic planning is not to strategically plan for the future, although that's an important purpose of the exercise.  It is primarily to develop the strategic management mind-set in each and every individual in the organization. The purpose of the process is not only to produce a plan. It is to produce a plan that will be owned and understood by the people who have to execute it.”
Peter Fuda and Richard Badham understood the concept of a strategic mindset when they wrote their article called “Fur, Snowball, Mask, Movie: How Leaders Spark and Sustain Change” in the November 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review. As they explained: “... Leadership transformation is deeply dependent on context. Everyone follows his own path, has her own story. The key for people who are seeking transformation is to identify the common thread in the experience of others who have achieved success and absorb the insights they find.” To do this, leaders need to understand what is the current context and to reflect on the adaptive problems and challenges that are driving context inside and outside of their organization. Furthermore, they need to understand the technical problems that are impacting SOP if they are to commit to operational excellence.
In essence, to embrace both elements of the above, we need to realize that the most effective leaders are able to tolerate and then utilize to their advantage the “genius of the and,” a concept first put forth by Jim Collins and Jerry Poras in their book, Built To Last.  When they do this, they develop an awareness and understanding of how the two concepts, strategic mind set and operational excellence, dynamically interact, recognizing that this level of understanding and clarity builds ownership for change. They know that ownership is growing in their organization when there is clarity about the why? factor and the why now? factor.
Still, people often ask me what is operational excellence. I always refer them back to the work of Tom Peters. He views operational excellence as a workplace philosophy where problem solving, teamwork and leadership result in on-going improvements or continuos improvements in the organization. In particular, this means all involved focus on meeting customer needs, continual evaluation and optimization of current work place activities, and the development of an engaged work force, i.e. positive and empowered.  
This week, I encourage you to ponder how well you are monitoring context and excellence in your organization. Both are critical to your short and long term success.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, May 14, 2012

Leadership and Communication

Every week, I spend time with leaders discussing communication and communication related problems. Be it in a one to one executive coaching session, or group meeting, I guarantee you that the subject of leadership and communications will surface during our time together. After much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the more we communicate as leaders, the less we understand.
During the first session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I ask the group to read the following article: “The Leader of the Future” by William C. Taylor, Fast Company magazine - June 1999. In it, Ron Heiftz states, “leaders die with their mouths open.” This spring I have seen more leaders with their mouths open and their brains on overload.
Here is an exercise to see whether or not this is happening to you. On one side of a 3x5 card, write down what is most important about your entire company. On the other side, write down what is most important about what you do. 
Many people when confronted with this exercise just sit and stare at the 3x5 card, wondering what to write. Others quickly want a bigger card. Some write paragraphs of information in tiny handwriting. They key is to have an answer that is clear and concise.
After you have done this exercise yourself, then ask the following two questions during your next five coaching sessions:
- What do you do?
- What do you do that matters the most?
Your answers on the 3x5 card and their answers should have some degree of alignment if you hope to be successful during the coming 18-24 months. Otherwise, key information is not understood and not getting passed along to others clearly.
Another thing that is important in the world of leadership and communication is the ability to listen and to understand before being understood. Stephen Covey told us this years ago and some leaders are still practicing it. In order to improve communications this spring, seek input from different people and value different perspectives. Authentic listening is a powerful form of communication.
Next, realize the difference between words and actions. On one hand, words are about talking and the other is about doing. But the difficulty for many young leaders and many people new to the world of leadership, particularly senior leadership, is for them to realize that Words = Actions. Words convey commitments and thus equal actions when you become a leader. Furthermore, actions may only be seen by a few people in a large company, but words are heard and can impact many people in a large company.
This week be more mindful when you are listening and more aware that when you lead, your words are part of your actions.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2013 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Dates

For those of you who are planning ahead and budgeting for the future, I am pleased today to share with you the dates for the 2013 Roundtables.
Spring 2013 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable
Dates: April 11 - 12, 2013  
Location: Courtyard by Marriott, Des Moines/Clive, Iowa
2013 Cost: $ 295.00
2013 One Day Roundtable Attendance Rate: $ 195.00
Fall 2013 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable
Dates: September 19 - 20, 2013 
Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa
2013 Cost: $ 295.00
2013 One Day Roundtable Attendance Rate: $ 195.00
I look forward to seeing you and your team in 2013 at these unique learning opportunities.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, May 7, 2012

Technology and Strategy

More and more people in strategic planning meetings are convinced that the use and application of new technology will save the day. And as I sit through these meetings, I have become discouraged because, having done this work for quite a few decades and with many different companies, I have come to understand that technology solves some problems but also creates new ones.
Here are some of the current problem that surface during strategic planning sessions: time management, productivity and efficiency issues, data management, customer relationship management, customer service, performance management, and better data based decision making. The most common solution currently being proposed to the above problems is to increase our use and reliance on technology.
However as I listen to this answer and think about an increased use of technology I believe we need to remember two key points. First, “In cyber space, there is no distance between two points,” noted Paul Saffo, a Director at the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, CA. With the increased use of technology, we create the speed of “now” which in turns creates the expectation of “now” which in turn creates the impatience with “now.” 
Furthermore, as technology creates a company without boundaries, we as leaders have to rethink our definition of what is a company, i.e. to think of the company as extending across to other companies and deriving strengths and capabilities from others, rather than trying to own it all ourself. Technology will let you do that, but it appears that few are truly willing to embrace such a diversified platform and paradigm.
Second, today’s technology does not just support the execution of strategy, it can help determine the shape of the strategy because of the new opportunities it creates. Furthermore, it may cause companies to move too fast and not to have the infrastructure to support that which they have created. 
Add to this mix, my comments a couple of weeks ago about the big picture and in particular the impact of the Millennial generation, and all of sudden we have a huge challenge before us. As we are learning, Millennials will want to use their technology on the company platform. Furthermore, some view work-balance as their right, face time is an alien concept, and they abhor clocks and fixed schedules. For this generation, work is not a place you go; work is a thing you do. This is the generation that detests nothing as much as drudgery and boredom. For more on Millennials, I suggest you read the following: Alsop, Ron. The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace, Jossey-Bass, 2008.
In short, more technology means more problems. It will gives staff and customers an unprecedented expectation of “more” and “now”. And with this increased use of technology, we are creating a new level of impatience. Many will expect change at the speed of software and demand immediate satisfaction and customization.
While these potential strategic and operational problems can not be solved immediately, leaders need to understand this before they commit to new technology being the strategic silver bullet to solve all problems. Furthermore, we as leaders need to build more adaptable and flexible information technology departments that can better lead, develop and support organizational change. As always, the capacity to plan must be matched by the capacity to execute and support. 
New technology, both hardware and software, is amazing.  We just have to recognize that it will also create new and more unique problems, too. 
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257