Monday, October 27, 2014

Unlocking Capacity and Growth

As I noted last week, James  Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in their book, A Leader’s Legacy. Jossey-Bass, 2006, wrote that “... the single best predictor of [an individual’s] career success is the relationship they had with their very first supervisor.” And as I challenged you last week, now is the moment to spend more time making sure these key relationships work well. Often people start this  process by creating role and responsibility clarity. They also help all involved understand how to use accurate and timely measures of progress so people can feel like they are being successful. These actions help but the focus needs to be on the relationship, which is a more qualitative over quantitative approach.

Marcus Buckingham in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005, reminds us that great managing begins by selecting people effectively, setting expectations by defining clearly the outcomes you want, and motivating people by focusing on their strengths.

While all of the above are helpful, I sometimes explore this subject by asking the following the question: 

- What kind of relationship do you want to have with the people who report directly to you?? 

The question causes us to remember that people follow people more than positions or job titles.  Therefore, as Kouzes and Posner remind us, “... if people are going to follow you they need to know more about you than the fact that you’re their boss.” 

This week, share more about you and your journey in the land of leadership and organizational change. Then, spend considerable time learning about your people and their personal journeys through the land of organizational change. Sharing our leadership stories is the start of an important journey.

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Building Change Leaders for A Fast-Moving World

John Kotter in his most recent book, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility For A Faster-Moving World, Harvard Business Review Press, 2014, writes “The world is now changing at a rate at which the basic systems, structures, and cultures built over the past century cannot keep up with the demands being placed on them. Incremental adjustments to how you manage and strategize, no matter how clever, are not up to the job.” 

As he continues, organizations need to accelerate innovation, productivity improvement, integration of acquisitions or global operations, any sort of key strategic change, cultural change and profitable growth. However, he notes that most are stalled by a limited number of change leaders, silo parochialism, rules and procedures, pressures to make quarterly numbers, and complacency or insufficient buy-in.

“Management is not leadership,” explains John Kotter. “Management is a set of well-known processes that help organizations produce reliable, efficient, and predictable results.... Leadership is about setting direction. It’s about creating a vision, empowering and inspiring people to want to achieve the vision, and enabling them to do so with energy and speed through an effective strategy. In its most basic sense, leadership is about mobilizing a group of people to jump into a better future.”

With the current and emerging challenges facing all companies during the next 5 - 6 years, it is vital that we expand the number of change leaders who can set direction, empower people and mobilize them to move forward toward that vision in an efficient and effective manner. The rate and pace of change will not slow down. Therefore, we need to speed up the development of key people. 

One effective way to do this is to enroll yourself and your key people in the 2015 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Through a challenging, interactive curriculum which blends lectures, selected readings, small and large group discussions, and how to skill-building exercises, participants in this four part leadership training gain critical knowledge and skills which improve their ability to be better change leaders.  

For more information on how to register for the 2015 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Bold leadership and effective strategy will be key to success between now and 2020. Learning to be a better change leader is the first step in this journey.

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Growing Capacity All Year Round

When it comes to the subject of how to grow capacity, the standard answer and the one we have explored in great detail during past From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables and in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training is that leaders grow capacity through growing clarity. Given the pace and speed of change in so many organizations this fall, a more in-depth answer is now needed.

As we all know, awareness turns into understanding when someone has a picture inside their head of optimal performance or what the goal looks like once achieved. Next, collaboration, which is critical to growing capacity, begins with the relationship someone has with others and their boss. Finally, commitment  starts when people understand how their job makes a difference and they feel a part of something that is purposeful.

My two recent insights about growing capacity come from rereading James  Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner’s book called A Leader’s Legacy. Jossey-Bass, 2006. As they note, the “single best predictor of career success [for an individual] is the relationship they had with their very first supervisor.” They also note that “... the most important leader is any organization is not the CEO or the head honcho; its the leader we see most often, the one we turn to when we need guidance and support.” As Kouzes and Posner remind us, the foundation for growing capacity start with healthy work relationships. 

This week, pause and evaluate your key relationships at work. It may be time to move them to a new level and depth of interaction.

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

How do leaders change systems? - part #2

Continuing with last week’s subject, some days we forget that there are four understandings when it comes to any system. First, there is the boss’s understanding of how the system works. Next, there is an employee’s understanding of how the system works. Third, there is other peoples’ understanding of how the system works, and finally there is the reality of how the system actually works. Often, these four levels of perception are in conflict and can be the source of why a system is not functioning properly and why it is difficult to change.

Many years ago, I worked with an organization that wanted to improve it’s systems. Their goal was to be a High Reliability Organization or HRO. An HRO is an organization that has succeeded in avoiding catastrophes in an environment where normal accidents can be expected due to risk factors and complexity.

The best resource on this subject is the work of Karl Weick , and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe in their book,  Managing The Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2007. As the authors write, “Our basic message is that expectations can get you in trouble unless you create a mindful infrastructure that continually does all of the following: tracks small failures, resists oversimplification, remains sensitive to operations, maintains capabilities for resilience, and takes advantage of shifting locations of expertise.”  As they continue, “Moving toward a mindful infrastructure is harder than it looks because it means that people have to forgo the “pleasures” of attending to success, simplicities, strategy, planning, and superiors.... The ability to deal with a crisis situation is largely dependent on the structures that have been developed before chaos arrives.”

There are five key HRO principles as outlined in the aforementioned book. They are as follows:

- # 1: Preoccupation with Failure. HROs are distinctive because they are preoccupied with failure. They treat any lapse as a symptom that something may be wrong with the system, something that could have severe consequences.

- # 2: Reluctance to Simplify. Another way HROs manage for the unexpected is by being reluctant to accept simplifications. It is certainly true that success in any coordinated activity requires that people simplify in order to stay focused on a handful of key issues and key indicators. Knowing that the world is complex, unstable, unknowable, and unpredictable, HROs position themselves to see as much as possible. 

- # 3: Sensitivity to Operations. HROs are sensitive to operations. They are attentive to the front line, where the real work gets done. The “big picture” in HROs is less strategic and more situational than is true of most organizations. When people have well-developed situational awareness, they can make the continuous adjustments that prevent errors from accumulating and enlarging.

- #4: Commitment to Resilience. No system is perfect. The essence of resilience is therefore the intrinsic ability of an organization or system to maintain or regain a dynamically stable state, which allows it to continue operations after a major mishap and/or in the presence of a continuous stress. The hallmark of an HRO is not that it is error-free but that errors don’t disable it. Resilience is a combination of keeping errors small and of improving workarounds that allow the system to keep functioning. They image worst-case conditions and practice their own equivalent of fire drills. 

- # 5: Deference to Expertise. HROs cultivate diversity, not just because it helps them notice more in complex environments, but also because it helps them do more with the complexities they do spot. Rigid hierarchies have their own special vulnerability to error. Errors at higher levels tend to pick-up and combine with errors at lower levels, thereby making the resulting problem bigger, harder to comprehend, and more prone to escalation. To prevent this deadly scenario, HRO’s push decision making down and around. Decisions are made on the front line and authority migrates to the people with the most expertise, regardless of rank. 

When seeking to become an HRO, there are three critical questions according to the previously mentioned authors. First is the “hands on” question: What activities involve the most direct human contact with the system and thus offer the greatest opportunity for human decisions or actions to have an immediate, direct, adverse effect upon the system? Second is the “criticality” question: What activities, if performed less than adequately, pose the greatest risks to the well-being of the system? Third is the “frequency” question: How often are these activities performed in the day-to-day operation of the system as a whole?

This week, think about becoming an HRO and consider reading Karl Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe’s book,  Managing The Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2007. It is full of good insights.

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

How do leaders change systems? - part #1

Recently, over a long lunch meeting, those gathered began discussing how leaders change systems. We agreed that most systems are designed for predictability and consistent outcomes. They also are designed to solve problems that may only be clear from a historical perspective rather than a current perspective.

Often when discussing this topic with executives, I point out that many people and even organizations suffer from a normal problem, namely spatial blindness. Barry Oshry in his book, Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, Berrett-Koehler, 1995, defined spatial blindness as seeing the “parts of the system but not the whole system.” The problem is that the skills of perceiving and analyzing the world in terms of systems to many of us. They must be learned, because, for the most part, we are born blind to systems. Rarely can we clearly perceive ourselves in space, time or relationship to what appear to be remote objects, forces, people and events.

Furthermore, spatial blindness is a failure to grasp "big picture" connections. For example, many of us are almost totally unaware of what is happening elsewhere that can indirectly but powerfully affect our lives. Like the legendary blind group of people describing an elephant as they each grasp a different part of its anatomy, we routinely mistake the parts for the whole. In short, we lose perspective and miss the context in which seemingly isolated events occur. 

One unique aspect of spatial blindness is scale blindness. Since it is easy to miss the big picture when concentrating on details, it also is difficult to up-scale or down-scale a set of conditions by linear extrapolation. It can be a recipe for serious error. Yet with improved understanding and perspective, we can begin to overcome scale blindness.

This week keep your eyes open for spatial blindness and scale blindness. It is rampant in the work place.

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