Monday, April 29, 2013

The Prerequisites For Organizational Clarity - part #2

One of the biggest challenges this spring is to understand your role as a leader and as a manager when it comes to creating clarity. First, we need to recognize that role clarity helps in creating message clarity. The more we know what is expected of us and where we fit into the organization the better we are at communicating and creating clarity. And as I have pointed out recently in this blog, your message will have to deal with our fears and our needs. 

One key element about a successful message to the organization is that it has an image we can envision or a phrase that we can utilize in multiple settings. The best messages have both. For example Danny Meyer’s wonderful phrase, “constant gentle pressure” and his image of “putting the salt shaker back in the center of the table” is a classic example of a great message and a great image. But it would not work if the people utilizing it did not know their role in the organization.

Next, we as leaders need to define what clarity means to us.  Here are three quick questions to help you think about this subject:

- Does clarity mean that employees only do what you tell them to do?

- Does clarity mean that employees need to live up to your expectations?

- Does clarity mean we all collaborate together based on a common understanding about the purpose and strategy of the company?

While we may not like the questions, we need to reflect on our answers because too many times as a consultant and an executive coach, I have listened to people talk to me about creating organizational clarity and I have realized that all they really want is for people to do what they tell them to do. This barely ever works, and when it does, it does not work very well for very long.

So after writing about the prerequisites for creating organizational clarity, here is a summary of the four key prerequisites for creating organizational clarity:

- A leadership team who role models candor and strategic level trust, and who recognizes that having organizational clarity is a competitive advantage.

- A performance management system and a talent management philosophy and system based on accountability and results as well as the values and behaviors behind those results.

- An explicit definition and articulation of organizational core values or principles, and strategy.

- An investment in continuous learning and improvement to build and continuously update the capacity within the organization to be more effective and in sync with the changing world.

Creating organizational clarity is not a one time show. It needs to happen each and every day. And leaders and managers at all levels of the organization must role model it and focus on it. When this happens, clarity has the potential to be a very powerful flywheel for innovation and effective service delivery.

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Prerequisites For Organizational Clarity - part #1

As I pointed out last Monday, more and more organizations are struggling with developing an adaptive strategy. From my vantage point, they seem to be struggling from two main problems. One is an SDD, a strategic deficit disorder, and the other is OADHD, an operational attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The combination is quite difficult to overcome. 

Right now OADHD seems to be the bigger problem in some organizations. Individual ADHD symptoms are typically described as inattentiveness, i.e. they fail to give close attention to detail, do not seem to listen well, have difficulty organizing, and is easily distracted. These same individuals can also show over-activity, i.e. always on the go, acts as if driven by a motor and talks excessively, plus impulsivity, i.e. interrupts or intrudes on others. These behaviors can describe the actions of many senior leaders right now and many companies’ aggregate operational behaviors. 

When reflecting on the above, I remembered something that I learned a long time ago. First, the sum of organizational change reflects the sum of individual change. Second, the sum of individual change is the result of individual clarity. In short, ideas and thinking do impact behavior

So the big question this week is how do I create organizational clarity once I know I need to create it?

Initially, understand why you want to create it in the first place. When people in leadership positions realize that they need to create clarity and focus in their organization, more likely it is because they feel they have lost control of the focus or lost control of the message. They often realize that day to day operations are trumping strategic level work. Some days they start the change journey from the place of freaking out over something that is “big,” e.g. a drop in performance metrics, loss of a major customer account, an organizational near death experience, etc. However few leaders realize that when they freak out, the organization goes nuclear with anxiety, fear and trepidation, resulting in a downward spiral that picks up steam at an unbelievable rate.

Still, there is a way to break out of this race to the bottom. First, face your fears and name them. Marcus Buckingham in his excellent book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005, says there are five fears:

- the fear of death (our own and our family’s) which results in the need for security.

- the fear of the outsider which results in the need for community.

- the fear of the future which causes the need for clarity.

- the fear of chaos which results in the need for authority.

- the fear of insignificance which causes the need for respect.

Upon more reflection and after reading a good article called “Reclaim Your Creative Confidence” by Tom Kelley and David Kelley in the December 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review, I believe the more realistic leadership fears are the fear of the messy unknown, the fear of judgement, the fear of the first step, and the fear of losing control.

Therefore, our choice as leaders is to acknowledge that fear happens and that we can at times feel like we are loosing control, clarity and focus. If this happens on your watch, you first need to understand which fear is taking place and whether or not you can do anything about it. As Stephen Covey years ago asked, it is within your circle of influence to change it?

Next, you may have to deal with your own fears outside of your relationship with the company. This is the time and place to utilize an experienced executive coach or personal counselor.

In short, change happens. Fear is normal. How you deal with it is your choice. Now is the time to choose wisely.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2014 Training and Roundtable Dates

Good news!  

For those of you who are planning ahead, the dates for the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training and the 2014 From Vision to Action Roundtables have been set. Here they are:

2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training
- March 4 - 5 - 6, 2014
- May 6 - 7 - 8, 2014
- September 9 - 10 - 11, 2014
- November 13 - 14, 2014 

Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa

Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable:
- April 9 - 10, 2014  - Courtyard by Marriott, Des Moines - Clive, Iowa

Fall 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable:
- September 17 - 18, 2014 - Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa

More details will be posted on the website in the near future. However, I wanted you all to have the dates once they had been confirmed on my end.  I am looking forward to 2014 already!

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

Monday, April 15, 2013

Some of the Major Problems in Creating Organizational Clarity

Currently the greatest external challenge to most companies is the high degree of strategic ambiguity. More and more organizations are doing a PESTEL analysis, i.e. the study of political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal trends, and finding too many variables and uncertainties within the service delivery environment. Furthermore, these same companies are finding a lack of strategic clarity within the organization and a lack of strategic flexibility in systems and people also within the company. In short, many companies have discovered that they lack clear systems for managing or creating strategic adaptability. Overwhelmed by the complexity, they also are not proactively creating a system for building and maintaining an adaptive strategy.

From my vantage point, the underlying causes for organizations not being able to build and maintain an adaptive strategy starts first at the senior team level.  More and more of these teams are becoming dysfunctional. Rather than acting like teams, they often default to being senior leader work groups. Built around status and ego with a dash of artificial harmony, these so called teams avoid accountability and show little commitment for holistic strategic success. Furthermore, most are afraid of conflict and only talk about commitment, but show little behaviors related to it.

Second, most of these same organizations and their leaders are showing the hubris born of success, a problem first identified in Jim Collin’s book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. As he writes, “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 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.” By neglecting their primary flywheel for success, these leaders allow “what” to replace “why”, not realizing that when the rhetoric of success replaces an understanding of why, there will be a decline in the learning orientation of successful people and the entire company.

Third, these same leaders also lack a clear understanding of the relationship between culture and strategy, resulting in a lack of “institutionalizing” a clear definition of their culture and not leveraging their organizational core values to their competitive advantage. The result is that the company and in particular the senior team tolerate people in management and leadership positions whose behavior is out of alignment with the stated culture, core values and strategy.

While the above is taking place at the senior team and cultural levels, the next challenge for many leaders and their companies is how to successfully capitalize on expansion and growth opportunities. Most think of it as an effort problem when the vast number of problems actually fall into the area of strategic infrastructure to support expansion and growth opportunities. 

As we all know, new innovations compete for company resources, i.e. time, talent, and management attention, with the cash generating projects during any fiscal year. When all of the company’s budget, reporting and management processes are focused on the current fiscal year, they also define the compensation and incentives systems and thus focus everyone on accountability to the current fiscal year’s goals. If people do look ahead during the current fiscal year, they look to R&D and their long range strategic options by reviewing research, data and trends. The result is that any new innovations fall into a Bermuda Triangle where they are considered to a degree strategic but not yet fully implementable because the resources of time, talent and management attention are not fully given to them. In this no man’s land, the “new projects” here fail to be embraced because they can not deliver like the current fiscal year goals and systems. And because they can not show a fast ROI like current fiscal year products and services, they also are then hampered by lack of full operational support. Therefore, the new innovations become “demo bait” for selling more of the current fiscal year projects and services. 

Finally, there is one other problem that is causing many organizations to struggle at this time period. They do not understand the real challenge of talent management and performance management. They consider them to be something different but do not recognize that they are also interconnected. For example, many leaders do not recognize that talent management and development is about preparing an individual for future positions within the company, i.e. building bench strength, while performance management is about managing their current performance as it relates to agreed upon annual goals and 90 day plans. 

Given the aggregate of the aforementioned issues, many organizations need a clear strategic infrastructure which helps them to adapt strategically, manage talent and performance, and prepare for and implement strategic innovation. The sum of the above problems are hampering many organizations who are seeking a better future.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

Two Final Keys to Being a Successful Manager

When I was young, I was often told “do not sweat the small stuff.” When I got older, I was often told “it’s the small stuff that makes the big difference.” I have come to the conclusion that both perspectives are correct. 

Some days we do “pole vault over mouse droppings”. Oon other days, very small actions can make a major difference. The key is to know what are the small things that we need to pay attention to during a busy day.  Here are two that I often have to coach people on when they get busy in management positions.

First, welcome new ideas and perspectives; do not shut them down when they are not yours. The challenge is to be constantly ready and open to listening to new ideas. Marshall Goldsmith in his delightful book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, reminds us that many people in management and leadership positions often get caught “adding too much value:, i.e. having the overwhelming desire to add their our two cents to every discussion, plus starting every response to a new idea with with “no”, “but”, or “however.” When we overuse negative qualifiers, we are secretly saying to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.” This does not help you or the organization move forward.

Second, learn to invite feedback, but always clarify non-negotiable issues and the decision-making process. Feedback and constructive criticism are often interchangeable in the literature. I prefer feedback and others prefer constructive criticism. The key when inviting feedback and/or when giving it is to realize that relationships matter. Therefore, speak and listen respectfully. Always share observations rather than judgements. Next consistently review expectations and assumptions. Be prepared and organized in your thoughts, and realize that reactionary comments rarely yield clarity. Finally, check your own intentions for asking for feedback and check your own intentions before giving it. 

These two little things do matter. Being conscious of them helps you not loose perspective when the world gets busy and complex. 

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Art of Active Listening

Every day people come to their leader, manager or supervisor and share problems. Some are big and some are small. Some are even complex. All are meaningful in the eyes of those who are sharing them. From my experience and observation, the best managers and leaders I know practice the art of active listening when this happens. 

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 by focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one's own frame of reference as a manager or leader and suspending judgment plus avoiding other internal mental activities are an important part of this process. As the best managers and leaders know, 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. Comprehending means finding shared meaning between the listener and the speaker. It includes determining the context of what is being shared and reducing distractions to improve retention. 
Retaining involves paying attention to key information for retention purposes while responding involves looking for verbal and non-verbal messages.

Active listening also includes the ability to repeat key messages using exactly the same words as the speaker. This includes paraphrasing which means rendering the message using similar words and similar phrase arrangements to the ones used by the speaker, and finally reflecting which includes rendering the message using your own words and sentence structure.

When good managers want to become great managers, they need to learn active listening and practice active listening. It takes time and energy to do this but once they are successful it will transform their capacity to match talented people with unique opportunities.

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