Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Interesting Perspective On The Development of Strategy

For many years, I have asked participants in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training to read the book, Leading Change by John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and the cofounder of Kotter International. Given Kotter’s eight step model for organizational transformation, first presented back in the mid-nineties, is the national and international gold standard for successful organizational change, it is always important to keep up with his current thinking. Recently, he wrote the lead article for the November 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review on it’s 90th anniversary called “Accelerate!: How the most innovative companies capitalize on today’s rapid-fire strategic challenges - and still make their numbers. Here is the link: http://hbr.org/2012/11/accelerate/ar/1

The article begins with the following premise: “Although traditional hierarchies and processes - which together form a company’s “operating system” - are optimized for day-to-day business, they can’t handle the challenges of mounting complexity and rapid change.” Therefore, Kotter suggests the development of “a second operating system, devoted to the design and implementation of strategy, that uses an agile networklike structure and a very different set of processes. The new operating system continually assesses the business, the industry, and the organization, and reacts with greater agility, speed, and creativity than the existing one. It complements rather than overburdens the hierarchy, thus freeing the later to do what it’s optimized to do. It actually makes enterprises easier to run and accelerates strategic change.”

According to Kotter in this article, there are three main differences between his original eight-step method for successful large-scale change and the eight “accelerators” for the development of strategy. The first difference is that the eight step method for organizational transformation is sequential while the eight accelerators for the development of strategy are “concurrent and always at work.” The second difference is that the former is “usually driven by a small, powerful core group, whereas the accelerators pull in as many people as possible from throughout the organization to form a volunteer army.”  The third difference is that the former is “designed to function within a traditional hierarchy, whereas the accelerators require the flexibility and agility of a network.” 

The eight accelerators that create this high degree of strategic fitness are similar in many ways to the eight step model, e.g. “create a sense of urgency around a single big opportunity,” “build and maintain a guiding coalition,” etc. However, this complementary system for strategic development, according to Kotter, is based on the following five key principles, namely “many change agents, not just the usual few appointees”, “a want-to and a get-to not just a have-to-mind-set”, “head and heart, not just head”, “much more leadership, not just more management”, and “two systems, one organization.”

First, while I like the idea of dual operating systems as a way to explain how strategy is developed and communicated, I am not entirely sure that Kotter’s new model is all that new. I have seen numerous organizations over the last 20+ years create this dual operating system model without out calling it something new and different. While Kotter’s new model is very specific in how the strategic development operating system should be created, I think many large and small companies can embrace the idea and then modify it in simple ways to meet their needs. 

Second, I do not know if they need to create an entire networklike structure that runs parallel to their traditional hierarchy to formulate and implement strategy. The best companies that I have seen each have a unique system for the on-going development of strategy. However, from my perspective, the critical part to their successful implementation of strategy revolves around the generation of a deep level of clarity, ownership, and understanding of strategy within the entire organization. It is the clarity that makes the strategy effective not simply having an entirely separate structure for the development of strategy.

Third, I also want to note that in the later half of this article Kotter explains that he has only utilized this new method in eight companies, and that it is critical for the strategic development guiding coalition to be in close communication with the more traditional executive management team. Furthermore, according to Kotter, if a company is based on a control-oriented hierarchy, this new model is quite helpful. But, having taught leadership since the eighties and been involved with countless strategic development projects, I find very few companies with control based hierarchies to be successful and strategically agile. Control based methods of working and leading people are typically the main problem for why the company is struggling strategically. From my perspective, if one changes this form of leadership, then many of the problems will fade away related to strategic development and implementation. 

Still, I do encourage everyone to read this article as over the years Kotter’s perspectives always generate considerable discussion and introspection throughout the world of business. And who knows, maybe in twenty years it will become the new gold standard for strategic development. Until then, keep reading and learning!

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

How Successful Managers Help People Achieve Their Goals - part #2

One unique way successful managers help people achieve their goals is to help them reconcile cognitive dissonance, i.e. the disconnect between what they believe and what they experience or see in reality. Right now, many people in the work place are experiencing cognitive dissonance. This is especially true, notes Marshall Goldsmith in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, because the more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong. As he explains, “people will do something - including changing their behaviors - only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

One way successful managers do the above is to help people close the gap between understanding and doing. From my vantage point, I have seen this happen when managers do not tell you what to do or think, but instead help you to learn how to think through your own challenges and problems. As has been noted many times in this blog, people and organizations have very specific needs when they are outside their comfort zone, especially when working on stretch goals. We, as leaders and managers, can help them by making sure the following things are in place, i.e the support of a team, a clear strategic perspective, and a psychological safety zone for strategic dialogue. When this is consistently generated over time, then people do a better job of achieving their goals.

For those of you who are seeking a big picture perspective on how to manage through chaos, you may find the following article helpful: “Secrets of the Flux Leader: How brilliantly managed chaos sparks success inside Nike, Cisco, Foursquare, Intuit and more” by Robert Safian in the November 2012 issue of Fast Company Magazine. Here is the link: http://www.fastcompany.com/3001734/secrets-generation-flux It is an article that will make you think given it explores some of the core ideas of Margaret Wheatly, a person whose work we have explored in the From Vision to Action Leadership Trainings and in numerous From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables. This article may not be one that leads you to taking specific leadership actions at the end of reading it, but opening your mind to new perspectives is always worth the time and energy. In particular, I did enjoy the section of the article called “The End of Coddling” which focuses on the leadership of Angela Blanchard, CEO of Neighborhood Centers, a large non-profit based in Huston that delivers $ 280 million of services each year to 340,000 needy people along the Gulf Coast. I just loved her explanation of “FIO jobs”, i.e “Figure it out. That is the job.” Overall, a good article which will make you reflect and think. Happy reading!

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

How Successful Managers Help People Achieve Their Goals - part #1

In the beginning, let us remember the following:

- business is personal.

- people commit to people first, not just plans, goals or objectives.

- on-line communication and collaboration works better once there has been extensive face-to-face communications.

- small leadership actions send big signals, especially when they relate to core principles and values.

One problem I see right now is that too many people are forgetting the above fundamentals when it comes to helping people achieve their goals. We must remember that successful managers recognize that real achievements require real effort. The question for many this fall is the following: Where does this effort come from? 

First, we all know we can not change people. Instead, we can only change the environment around people, and then they change themselves. The key from my vantage point is that the best and most successful managers help people achieve their goals by creating safety. In specific, successful managers create psychological safety. Then real effort follows.

Psychological safety begins when managers ensure “that no one is penalized if they ask for help or admit a mistake,” notes Amy C. Edmondson in her article called “The Competitive Imperative of Learning,”July-August 2008, Harvard Business Review. As she continues, “Psychological safety is crucial, especially in organizations where knowledge constantly changes, where workers need to collaborate, and where those workers must make wise decisions without management intervention.... It is built on the premise that no one can perform perfectly in every situation when knowledge and best practice are moving targets.”

She further explains that “Psychological safety is not about being nice - or about lowering performance standards. Quite the opposite: It’s about recognizing that high performance requires the openness, flexibility, and interdependence that can only develop in a psychologically safe environment, especially when the situation is changing or complex.... Psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations - which demand trust and respect - without the need to tiptoe around the truth.”

Yet many managers wonder how to actually create this level of safety. As Edmondson explains successful managers do two specific things. First, they “explicitly acknowledge the lack of answers to the tough problems groups face.” Second, they “ask questions - real questions, not leading or rhetorical ones.”

For us here today, the key is to be more aware of the importance of psychological safety and to create work environments where safety and trust are the foundation for all we do.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Successful Companies Work - part #2

When you visit or work in a successful company, they all have a special feel to them. It is unique and very noticeable. One element that makes this take place, from my perspective, is that successful companies institutionalize their culture without bureaucratizing it.

Struggling companies always have a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape and proliferation. They lack flexibility and initiative due to excessive adherence to regulations. This is particularly visible in the behavior of those in management and leadership positions, and how they interact with key systems.

Patrick Lencioni in his delightful book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Jossey-Bass, 2012, writes “Human systems are tools for reinforcement of clarity. They give an organization a structure for tying its operations, culture, and management together, even when leaders aren’t around to remind people.” Lencioni notes that this level of clarity takes place when leaders engage in the following activities:
- creating collective focus and clarity through out the organization
- cascading clarity 
- reinforcing clarity through human systems, i.e. performance management
- developing cultural consistency

As to performance management, he explains it this way: “Essentially performance management is the series of activities that ensures that managers provide employees with clarity about what is expected of them, as well as regular feedback about whether or not they are adequately meeting those expectations.”

From my vantage point as a consultant and executive coach, I observe that successful companies practice what they preach. They also constantly reinforce it on a day-to-day basis. For them, the brand promise is a set of core behaviors rather than just words. While we all recognize that the culture is the strategy in successful companies, the key this fall is to not let the dark side of bureaucracy to slip in and take over, thus neutralizing the strategic advantage of a clear and focused culture.

For those of you who are seeking more information on how to change your organizational culture and avoid a growth in bureaucracy, then I would encourage you to read a recent blog post called “The Key to Changing Organizational Culture” by John Kotter, Forbes - 9/27/12. Here, Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, explains that “virtually no one clearly defines what they mean by “culture”.” Of course, as per normal for John Kotter, he explains what it means, i.e. “culture consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place.” Next, he explores where culture comes from and how it changes. While it is a short blog post, it also is a thought-provoking one. Here is the link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2012/09/27/the-key-to-changing-organizational-culture/?utm_source=web&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=blog

While you are reading Kotter’s ideas on cultural change, I also encourage you to read his Forbes, 7/12/2011 blog post called “Change Management vs. Change Leadership -- What’s the Difference?”. As Kotter points out, there is a big difference between change management and change leadership. The former focuses on minimizing “the distractions and impacts of change” while the latter focuses on “the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale transformation.” Again, it a short blog post but one worth reading. Here is the link for your reading enjoyment: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2011/07/12/change-management-vs-change-leadership-whats-the-difference/

In summary, successful companies stay focused on their strategic nexus, the union of their mission, vision and values plus their strategic plan.  This depth of clarity and attention allows them to handle the normal internal and external challenges that surface in any business without having to resort to developing a bureaucracy that tramples creativity, commitment and effectiveness. 

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Walking the Labyrinth of Renewal

Complexity, pressure and challenges abound. Many senior executives are working at full capacity to meet the needs of their staff, their customers, the Board and their stockholders or other stakeholders. With time frames tightening, nothing less than perfect is the new expectation.

The result of this work environment is that more and more leaders are running on empty.  They are exhausted, emotionally and physically, from the pace. They are worn from the number of mixed signals and constant inputs, and they are all worried about the future. Suffering from burnout and a loss of passion, many of them are seeking new ways to rediscover hope, optimism and purpose within today’s complex and ever-challenging work environment.  

As many of you know, it is rare for me when I am traveling to eat a meal alone. Given I was going to be in her area, she called me and lined up an early morning, breakfast meeting. Now it was not like the Oklahoma banking executive who many years ago invited me to have grits, gravy, coffee, and bacon with him at 5:30 am. He was a very nice man, but it was a hard to eat breakfast at such an early hour.

However, this day was different. She picked me up right on time and apologized for the condition of her car in the middle of winter. It was covered with slush, road salt and sand, but I felt right at home given I live in a rural part of the midwest.

“I’m taking you to a favorite place of mine,” she shared. “It is where all the locals go.”

We parked downtown and walked around the block to a small nondescript door, and stepped into complete darkness. Then she parted the black curtains on the inside and we walked into a very small restaurant with maybe 20 tables at most. After surveying the room, we found an open table and sat down. A young man came over and shortly we ordered off the menu.

First, the food was spectacular! It was some of the best and freshest food I had eaten on the road in quite some time. I had a great farm fresh 3 egg omelet with very good cheese, sauteed mushrooms, peppers and onions and home-made salsa plus a  delicious blueberry pancake and a very fresh bowl of fruit.

The conversation was quite lively, too. We explored a couple of performance management issues related to her staff. It was clear that one person needed to be coached out. We also reviewed the status of her strategic goals. I encouraged her to more clearly define their metrics as the information she shared with me related to her goals and their progress was not accurately reflected in her metrics.

Then, she asked me an important question. “I’m overwhelmed most of the time. I have great dreams and visions for the future. But the work load is so time consuming. I can
barely keep my head above water. How do people manage to keep up with all of it?”

I paused and said: “Welcome to world of leadership. For some, it will be a maze and others a labyrinth.”

The word maze is often used as a synonym for labyrinth, but they are not the same. Mazes are multicursal in design; the user has to make choices at many points along the path. Mazes often have more than one entrance, and usually contain many wrong turns and dead ends.

A labyrinth is unicursal, which means that it has only one entrance and leads in only one direction. A labyrinth's walkway is arranged in such a way that the participant moves back and forth across the circular form through a series of curves, ending at the labyrinths's heart or center. 

The unicursal designs associated with labyrinths are thought to predate constructed labyrinths. Pottery estimated to be 15,000 years old painted with labyrinthine patterns has been discovered in the Ukraine. The oldest known constructed labyrinths were built in ancient Egypt and Etruria (central Italy) around 4500 B.C., perhaps to prevent evil spirits from entering tombs. 

The best-known labyrinths in the West, however, are those dating from the Middle Ages. They were built as substitutes for going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a journey that was physically or economically impossible for most Christians in Western Europe during this period. Cathedrals were designated as pilgrimage shrines, and labyrinths were embedded in the stone floors of the cathedrals as part of the shrine's design. 

For example, the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France was installed around A.D. 1200. Tracing the path through the labyrinth, often on the knees, was for many pilgrims the final act of devotion on the pilgrimage. The circuitous journey to the center of the labyrinth represented the many turnings in the journey of life, a journey that required the Church's guidance and support. Medieval labyrinths were circular in shape, the circle being a universal symbol of wholeness, completion, and unity.

On this particular morning we discussed the difference between stress management, i.e. the act(s) of managing physical, mental, or emotional factors that cause bodily or mental tension or even certain diseases, and renewal, i.e. the act(s) of restoring wholeness and unity to one’s life.

The labyrinth of renewal is a journey of transformation, namely the action of going beyond one’s current way of working and living. In this process of transformation, there are three stages. The first stage is separation. Here is where we experience loss, divorce or death because our world is disrupted and at times our ego is shattered by change. We are separated from all that was and can even feel deprived of familiar frameworks for thinking, working and living. In short, at separation we experience fear and chaos

At the second stage, we dwell at the threshold and surrender to the unknown. Victor Turner, the late anthropologist, who Identified these these three stages, calls the second stage as “the time between no longer and not yet.” Here we have died to who we were and are not yet reborn into who we might become. We are at the doorway, the threshold of new potential where we let go of old beliefs and old habits that limit us. It is the time of the great unknown.

In the third stage, we experience the return, a time of transformation and rebirth. For example, a caterpillar, having dwelled at the threshold during the chrysalis stage, now is reborn and transformed into the butterfly. The dying of the old self is reborn into a new level of truth. The strengths discovered in the second phase becomes utilized and shared during the third phase. One can explore these three stages in greater detail by reading the following book, Saying Yes to Change: Essential Wisdom for Your Journey by Joan Borysenko and Gordon Dveirin.

From my personal journey, I have learned the following four lessons about renewal.

Lesson #1: There will always be darkness before light. 

As Joseph Campbell taught us, “One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation.  The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.” The challenge is to patiently wait for the light. The challenge also is to embrace one’s challenges and feel the freedom that comes with that embrace.

Lesson #2: Birth and rebirth always begins with the transformation of the self to the service of another.

Letting go of being self-centered and committing instead to being dedicated to another is difficult for many people. But the real challenge of moving from vision to action is to give of yourself to something larger than yourself. This transformation begins with clarity of purpose and service.

Lesson #3: At the end of the journey inward, you will discover that you are not alone, but are in reality surrounded by a community of faithful people, seeking greater meaning, courage and hope.

Again, as Joseph Campbell pointed out, “Furthermore, we have not to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.  Where we had thought to travel outward, we come to the center of our own existence. And where we thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.” 

Lesson #4: We must embrace cathedral thinking.

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy captured this idea best when he wrote the following: “I recently visited Norte Dame in Paris with my granddaughter. It took 104 years - three generations - to build. The architect who designed it never saw it finished. The stone masons never saw the stained glass windows. They had to have the commitment and faith to dedicate their passion and their life to it. I call that “cathedral thinking.” 

As we move through the aforementioned stages and contemplate the above four lessons, then we will walk the labyrinth of renewal to a greater sense of purpose, passion and clarity in our lives. The journey begins when we embrace our challenges and move forward.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One Bad Apple

Routinely each week, someone in a leadership position when talking about a difficult employee will say to me, “Remember: one bad apple spoils the entire barrel.” Having picked apples and stored them in large baskets during my younger years, I have seen this take place. It occurs because a rotting apple gives off ethylene, which speeds up the ripening of the other apples. It is a mess once it takes place.

The implication for the world of business is the belief that one toxic employee can cause other employees to become toxic, therefore creating a downward spiral of productivity and effectiveness. Many who follow this line of thinking often share the now classic quote from Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, namely “First who... then what.” 

As an executive coach and consultant, I often respond to these comments with a quote by Kevin Cashman: “Leaders get what they exhibit and what they tolerate.” While this may not endear me to some, it is an important point in the discussion of dealing with difficult employees. While the actions of a troubling employee must not be condoned, those in leadership positions can not be excused from their role in what is taking place either. Each party, the leader and the employee, have a responsibility to make change take place.

When reflecting on this subject, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a recent article by Thomas E. Ricks called “What Ever Happened to Accountability?” in the October 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Author of five books on the American military, Ricks writes about what happens when leaders do not fire underperforming executives. Using the U.S. Army as a case in point, Rick examines the changes in the army during the decades between World War II and Vietnam. Based on his new book, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, Ricks explores in this article how a culture of high standards and accountability can deteriorate. He illuminates the contrast between General George C. Marshall, an unlikely figure of quiet resolve who became a classic transformational leader, and the disastrous generals of the Vietnam era.  As he writes, “the honesty and accountability of Marshall’s system were replaced by deceit and command indiscipline.” Citing the personnel equivalent of Gresham’s Law, Ricks notes “that bad leaders drive out good ones, and mediocrity can quickly become institutionalized.” 

This is a wonderful article which gives a brief but powerful history of the army since World War II. It also holds many important lessons for business leaders about the dangers of micromanagement and the importance of turning short term victories into strategic progress. For those of you who want to read the full article, here is a link: http://hbr.org/2012/10/what-ever-happened-to-accountability/ar/1

Having the right people in the right jobs makes a tremendous difference in performance and profitability. This in combination with excellent leadership and accountability will make a profound difference.  

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On-line is the New Local

During my recent travels, I meet a young person who was buying their first home. This individual explained to me that they had run into some unexpected problems in the process which were deeply frustrating. Given they were buying a house in one part of the country and their bank was located in another part of the country, most of the communication related to this purchase had been done on-line and over the phone. As I listened, they shared how it might have been easier if they had someone local to visit with about this process.

I have reflected quite a bit on this comment. First, I know there are numerous, very fine banking institutions in their local area, all of whom would be more than willing to help them through this complex process. However, based on his comments, switching to a new bank did not appear to be an option. 

Second, I began to think about how this could be clearly a generational difference. I grew up in a world where your community bank was part of your local community and everyone knew their banker on a one to one basis.  All transactions, i.e. deposits and withdraws, were done at the bank and in person.

However, we live in a world now where more and more people rarely ever go to their bank in person. On-line banking and on-line interactions are the norm to working with a financial institution. For some, this is the only form of banking they have ever known. The perception that “there is an app for that” is the new normal. And banking is just one more app in a collection of apps.

Third, I realized, upon reflection, that many young people do not know how to bank locally. They have no experience of it and thus do not know the value of having a face to face relationship with someone in the financial services world.  And with this realization came my mind-blowing insight for the week. For many young people, doing something on-line equals doing something locally.

While I can not be the first to have achieved this level of insight, the implications are dramatic for so many organizations and institutions. Bricks and mortar institutions will continue to exist but the growing edge of the population will only interact with them in person when there are problems and only after they have tried numerous on-line possible solutions. Furthermore, they will assume that those who work within these institutions are totally up to speed with their individual on-line actions so that their problem can be solved in a seamless and timely manner. 

For us as leaders, the phrase, “think global, act local,” now has an all new meaning when the definition of “local” is defined as actions taken on the internet. It is going to stretch many people and how they do customer service. It also is going to require many companies to completely redesign their customer service systems.

For me, I know that I have a tremendous amount of thinking to do before I fully grasp the implication of on-line being the new local. Still, I know today that we are entering a whole new era as more and more young people work and live from this perspective. 

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Prevailing Against Extreme Odds

Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, (HarperCollins, 2011), wrote “... we believe the future will remain unpredictable and the world unstable for the rest of our lives, and we wanted to understand the factors that distinguish great organizations, those that prevail against extreme odds, in such environments.”  As typical to their work, they did extensive research and analysis to answer the question “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”

What interests me this morning is one of their discoveries about leadership. The common myth in corporate America today is that successful leaders in a turbulent world are bold, risk-seeking visionaries. However, Collins and Hansen discovered a contrary finding in their research. As they wrote, “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.”

With so many unpredictable and turbulent causing events happening around the world, our challenge this fall as leaders is to proactively create the future rather than to predict it. One unique pathway to doing this is summed up by John Maxwell’s The Law of Explosive Growth: “To add growth, lead followers - to multiply, lead leaders.” As he writes, “Leaders who develop followers grow their organization only one person at a time. But leaders who develop leaders multiple their growth, because for every leader they develop, they also receive all of that leader's followers.”

If you and your organization want to prevail against extreme odds and create the future, then now is the time to enroll key people in the 2013 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 want to create great results on a consistent basis, then now is the time to become part of the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

For more information on how to register, please click on the following link: http://www.chartyourpath.com/VTA-Leadership-Training.html I look forward to hearing from you during the comings days.

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Successful Companies Work - part #1

I grew up in a world of casseroles. With both my parents working, it was common to have a casserole appear on the table at dinner time. I saw them regularly at church suppers, and once on a family vacation we even stopped and went to a church supper just because there were going to be casseroles and home-made pie.

My question to all of you this morning is the following: “What hot dish is your company bringing to the table?” Inspired by an article by Cynthia A. Montgomery called “Putting Leadership Back into Strategy,” Harvard Business Review, January 2008, I think it is time we ask a series of excellent questions from the article to make us think about how successful companies work:

- What kind of company do you want to be?
- What would the world be like without your organization?
- If your company were shuttered, to whom would it matter and why?
- Which of your customers would miss you and why?
- How long would it take for another firm to step into that void?

As she writes, “Purpose is at the heart of strategy. It should give direction to every part of the firm - from the corporate office to the loading dock - and define the nature of the work that must be done.”

When I reflect on all the different successful organizations I have worked with over many decades, I have come to the conclusion that successful companies have a “living” strategy. This happens because it is a purpose driven strategy. It  is more than a plan; it is a way of life for the organization. Their living strategy defines who they are and what they want to become.

Successful companies create this living strategy by consciously engaging in the following activities: 
- strategic reflection, analysis and review
- strategic decision-making and delegation
- in-depth communication and definition which means communicating context, core philosophy and direction
- proactive listening and dialogue
- coaching and talent development
- implementing routine strategic dialogues which become the platform for real time strategic planning

When it comes to strategic dialogues, successful companies create them by developing a level of intimacy to the process, i.e. the time feels personal and direct rather corporate and impersonal. They also make sure these strategic dialogues are an interactive sharing rather than a time to be talked at. Next, these interactions are inclusive by relinquishing control over content and involving others, and they are intentional because strategy emerges better when there is a cross-organizational conversation.  

Everyone brings a hot dish to the market place. Those who are successful know how to make one that employees are proud to share and customers will enjoy eating. 

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Talent Management

Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of talent management particularly as we seek to grow our organizations into global companies. Recently, when working on a project related to leadership development, I reviewed my notes from the book by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan called The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers, Crown Business, 2010. In this excellent resource, the authors point out that “if businesses managed their money as carelessly as they managed their people, most would be bankrupt.” They further explain that “in the fast-changing global marketplace, the half-life of core competencies grows shorter.... Only one competency lasts. It is the ability to create a steady, self-renewing stream of leaders.”

I agree whole heartedly and believe more and more this fall that talent management must move to the front burner in more and more strategic planning meetings. One way to do this is to embrace the core principles in Conaty and Charan’s book. They are the following:

1. An enlightened leadership team, starting with the CEO who really “gets it” and sees talent development as a competitive advantage.

2. A performance-driven meritocracy, a willingness to differentiate talent based on results as well as the values and behaviors behind those results.

3. Explicit definition and articulation of values, citing strong company beliefs and expected behaviors.

4. Candor and trust, leading to better insights into people’s talents and potential, focusing on development needs to accelerate personal growth.

5. Talent assessment/development systems that have as much rigor and repeatability as systems used for finance and operations.

6. Human resource leaders as business partners and trustee of the talent development system with functional expertise equal to the CFO’s.

7. Investment in continuous learning and improvement to build and continuously update the leadership brand in sync with the changing world.

If you are grooming key people in order to expand their leadership potential for 2013 and beyond, then this is an excellent book to read. 

If you are ready to commit to talent management, then now is an excellent time to sign up those key people to participate in the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Here is a link for more information about this unique learning opportunity: http://www.chartyourpath.com/VTA-Leadership-Training.html

If you don’t have time to read the above book, then I encourage you to read the following article by Jay Freeman, Senior Advisor to the Gallup Organization, called “You Don’t Know Where Your Company’s Going” which can be found in their on-line Gallup Business Journal. Here is the link:  http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/157718/don-know-company-going.aspx 

This is a very good, short article for leaders who want to grow and change their company, i.e. improved performance and profitability.  In order to prevent a “destination disconnect,” a symptom of weak cross-organizational communication, the author maps out a series of steps to create better clarity and focus. I particularly enjoyed his comments about metrics.

Talent management, strategic planning, and organizational communication and clarity are all inter-related. Now is the time to keep learning about how to do them better.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Four Emerging Trends and Two Solutions

During a recent dinner meeting, I was asked what are the emerging trends that I  am paying attention to at this time period. Upon reflection, I shared the following.

First, more and more organization are attempting to grow their business but are experiencing the challenges of how to scale up successfully. The desire is present amongst those in leadership and management positions but the capacity to do this in a thoughtful manner is not. I believe the problem is happening because many companies are designed to only serve their current customers in their current markets. There is no room for scaling up in their business because the daily work is trumping the work related to growing the business. Furthermore, the skills sets to serve new customers in new markets is also not present in the work force. In short, status quo is beating strategic thinking and change.

Second, issues related to being more efficient are not going away. In fact, they are becoming more and more important. Companies are wanting more efficient systems so they can be more successful. However, many are learning that their internal operational infrastructure is not designed for growth. Instead, it is dedicated to preserving the way business is offered to the current customer base. I suspect we will continue to see many companies optimize key systems for efficiency but the best companies during the next three to five years will focus on building an infrastructure engineered for greater efficiency, focus, flexibility and growth.

Third, we all know that customers are changing. Look at how much we are changing as leaders. Yet, few companies are proactively researching their customers. Years ago, we often talked about the VOC, the voice of the customer. The question now is how well do we know our customers and are we taking the time to listen effectively. And how well are we monitoring how fast they are changing. During the coming years, sophisticated market intelligence will become more and more important. We will continue to need to hear their voices. We also will need to know how fast they are changing even when they may not know the answer themselves.

Fourth, recruitment and retention has been the focus of HR for decades. Recently, performance management has become vitally important. However, it is time to look at this subject from a broader perspective. Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, wrote that you need two things in order to succeed in a globalized world. First, you need an innovative business model. Second, you need access to pools of talent. The challenge during the next two years is not just to find new or better pools of talent but to engage in proactive talent management. While some companies will redesign their entire talent supply chain, others will recognize that they need to embrace a whole new philosophy of talent management. For some, this will be a systems issue. For others, this will be a people issue. The best will realize it is both.  For now, we need to figure out how to manage talented people better, not just manage their performance. 

As we recognize the challenges of scaling up the business and the importance of a flexible infrastructure, plus the need to improve market intelligence and talent management, all of us know that we will need to create more highly effective strategic plans to make this all happen across the entire business. One place to begin the strategic planning process this fall is to read the following article: “Your Strategy Needs A Strategy” by Martin Reeves, Claire Love and Philipp Tillmanns in the September 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review.  

As the authors explain, “Companies that correctly match their strategy-making processes to their competitive circumstances perform better than those that don’t. But too many use approaches appropriate only to predictable environments - even in highly volatile situations. What executives in these cases need is a strategy for setting strategy.” 

The authors of this article present a framework for choosing the right strategy-making process by asking two questions: How unpredictable is your environment? and How much power do you or others have to change that environment?” Based on the answers to these two questions, the authors explain that there are four broad strategic styles to choose from and each one is particularly suited to a distinct environment. They are as follows:

- Classical Strategy: the one learned in every business school, namely a SWOT analysis, works well for companies operating in predictable and immutable/unchanging environments.

- Shaping Strategy: best in unpredictable environments that you have the power to change.

- Visionary Strategy: the “if you build it and they will come” approach, which is appropriate in predictable environments that you have the power to change.

- Adaptive Strategy: this one works best in unpredictable environments that you can not influence; it focuses on the development of a more flexible and experimental strategic plan. 

This is a good article and for those who are thinking about the future and growth, it will be most helpful. Here is a link for those of you who want to read it on-line: http://hbr.org/2012/09/your-strategy-needs-a-strategy/ar/1

Once we are clear about key choices related to strategic planning, then I suggest you read “Are You Solving The Right Problem? by Dwayne Spradlin which also is in the September 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review. As this author explains, “The rigor with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a good solution. Many organizations, however, are not proficient at articulating their problems and identifying which ones are crucial to their strategies. They may even be trying to solve the wrong problems - missing opportunities and wasting resources in the process.” To solve this situation, the author proposes a four step process of asking questions and using the answers to create a problem statement. With a clear problem statement, the solutions are easier to find.  

I found the article particularly thought-provoking because the questions are carefully thought through and most insightful.  While I may not embrace the entire four step process, having a better set of questions to ask when problems surface will be most helpful to people in leadership positions. I would urge leaders to read this article so that they discover new questions and so they can educate others on how to solve problems through asking better questions.  Here is a link for those of you who are interested: http://hbr.org/2012/09/are-you-solving-the-right-problem/ar/1

In world which continues to move at the speed of software, and where challenges related to strategic development and problem solving will only get more complex, it is good to know that there are helpful perspectives and articles to guide us through the maze of opportunities and difficulties. Happy reading!

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

Monday, October 1, 2012

How Successful Leaders Think - part #2

Last week, I explored how successful leaders think and ended my thoughts on how leaders make a decision. Today, I would like to pick-up where I left off.

First, decisions do not matter if nothing happens afterwards. Many leaders think that once they have made a decision they have solved a problem. But as an executive coach, I have to continually remind them that decisions are not action. Decisions do not equal implementation. Decisions are not the mobilization of resources. Decisions do not equal execution. Decisions are empty without action that follows.

Second, successful leaders understand that effective decisions begin long before the actual call. It starts with the ability of a leader to sense there is a problem within the context of service delivery or the context of the service environment. “Sensing and framing, a term defined by Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis in their great article, “Making Judgement Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, October 2007, is critical to decision-making as it gives the decision a foundation or reason “why.”

Still, many executives forget that there is an important next step after they make a decision. What I have observed is that successful leaders focus on mobilizing resources, e.g. people, information, technology, etc., to support the decision and to make it actually happen. The key is that successful leaders also stay involved during the execution phase post the decision by helping to define clear milestones or short term wins so people can clarify their progress and be successful.

Third, successful leaders understand that relationships are not linear, especially when it comes to the successful implementation of important decisions. In a linear relationship, a positional leader will approach it from the point of view that more of variable A will produce more of variable B. Successful leaders do not approach people like they are flow charts but instead recognize that the health and effectiveness of the relationship is based on clarity through dialogue. If this level of work is done in advance of the actual decision, the usual challenges with organizational change, e.g. resistance, is reduced and the forward momentum of the organization can proceed without major complications. However, the key is to build healthy work relationships on an on-going basis, not at an episodic level.

In short, when we step back and reflect on how successful leaders think, we realize that they spend significant time and energy teaching others how to think rather than simply telling them what to do. And this is one of the main reasons why they are successful.

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