Monday, October 31, 2016

How do leaders create an understanding of a problem and buy-in for the solution? - part #2

One of the biggest challenges to creating buy-in for the solution to a problem starts with creating the environment for understanding and ultimately ownership of the problem. This means we have to help employees feel that they are technically competent to deal with the problem but also committed and motivated to deal with it. This is why more leaders need to read or routinely review the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees), Jossey-Bass 2007. This is a great resource for building the right environment for ownership.

Second, John P.  Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead in their book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down, Harvard Business Review Press, 2010, write that the elements that work together to achieve buy-in happen when we capture peoples’ attention, and then “with people paying attention, winning over the minds and their hearts.” From my experience and observations, people only do this when they feel safe and cared for by their managers and supervisors.

Finally, while this may seem immensely simplistic, the best leaders at helping people buy-in to a solution show how the solution and it’s related new behaviors and practices will lead to improved results. While this may not be a latest and greatest, hot-off-the-press, best-seller, new idea, it is nevertheless a practical one. When people see improved results, they support and advocate for the solution to continue.

This week, keep building the right environment for ownership, and keep helping people to see improved results. It will make a world of difference for all involved.

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

How do leaders create an understanding of a problem and buy-in for the solution?- part #1

In some companies, preparing for strategic planning involves numerous power point presentations to middle management. Recently, I was with one company, sitting in the audience of middle managers in a darkened room, when the VP came up and started to talk about their upcoming strategic planning sessions. When he finished early and there were no questions, I was asked if I had any comments to make. I came to the front of the room and asked the VP to return to the second slide in his power point presentation. It was about creating an improved value proposition for the customer. I turned to the large group of middle managers and asked the question: “What is the difference between a customer and a partner?” The room erupted into a very active strategic level dialogue with great debate about what the words “customer” and “partner” meant. No one agreed and people did not understand the definition of "value proposition" either. 

Weeks later, it happened again with a different company. This time a VP gave a power point presentation related to the upcoming roll-out of a new performance management system. Again, they ended early and asked me to comment. Again, I went to the front of the room and asked if we could go back in the slides to the one that talked about cascading goals. Then I turned to the room of managers and asked the question: “What is the difference between a goal and an expectation?” The response was similar and intense dialogue with little agreement followed.

Right now, we are getting so busy as leaders, dealing with details and participating in endless meetings, that we have forgotten to be architects of meaning. An architect of meaning focuses on building clarity about the strategic nexus and focuses on explaining why this work is meaningful. At the same time, the leaders needs to be a translator who focuses on building clarity about context outside of the organization. It is the combination of the two, architect and translator, that sets the stage for employees at all levels of the organization to understand the problems and challenges before the organization, be they operational or strategic.

Along this same line of thinking, we as leaders often forget that understanding a problem can be a complicated process. While the most common cause of failure related to dealing with problems, as noted by Ron Heifetz, Ronald, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, is treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems. Furthermore, we as leader often forget that most problems do not come neatly packaged as either “technical” or “adaptive.” Often, for example, adaptive challenges can have significant technical aspects.

This week, remember to be an architect of meaning and a translator for your organization. This will help all involved understand better what are our problems and our challenges.

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Understanding What Is Normal

There is nothing finer than helping a struggling group of people understand what is normal. Whether they are bogged down in complicated systems change, or frustrated that the brilliant, recently created strategic plan is not translating into performance improvements during the first 90 days post roll-out, I have observed excellent leaders rise to the challenge and state the obvious, “That’s normal.”

And their people respond, “Really? What a relief. I thought we had done it all wrong.”

The challenge for most leaders, who are trying to improve their organization or transform it, is that they do not know what is normal. They just keep doing what they have always been doing and hoping this time it works. The result is that insanity rules, people burnout, and someone remains convinced that effort alone should simply make it all happen.

While I fully endorse the importance of focus, endurance and commitment, the key to leading people is to know what is, and what is not normal. And then plan and execute the plan accordingly.

However, the solution to understanding what is normal requires a unique step. First, we must learn about the world of leadership and organizational change or transformation. This learning journey will build a common understanding and common language throughout the group of people who are involved. Second, we must utilize this knowledge in planning and executing. Finally, we must hold people accountable to the learning and make sure they utilize it in all that they do. Nevertheless, the first step is to learn together.

If making change happen inside your organization has become a daily struggle, then now is the time to sign up yourself and your key leaders for the 2017 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 lead people to generate short and long term success.

For more information on this in-depth training and how to register for the 2017 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Understanding what is normal is not always easy, but once learned it can be transformative. Success begins by being better prepared for the normal problems. Now is the time to sign up for the 2017 From Vision to Action Leadership Training so you and your organization can be better prepared for the future.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

How do leaders know if they have the “right people on the right seats of the bus”? - part #2

Having the wrong people on the wrong seats on the bus can cause many problems. These individuals often look out the metaphorical office window and blame others for the problems within the world and the company, rather than looking into the mirror and asking the important question: “What do I need to change about myself in order to make this better?”

From my observations of working with people for over 30 years in the areas of leadership and organizational change, I have noticed that the right leaders "fit" with the company values. They personally fit with the values because they are similar to their own values. But they also fit strategically with the values. By this I mean, they can role model the values and can teach the values to others. They also know what to do and how to do it when there is a misalignment that occurs with the organization’s core values.

Right now, one major problem I am seeing is in the teaching of the values. It is not the repeating of them, and it is not about knowing them as in where they are on the wall. The critical difference, I have observed, is that the right leaders can create an environment where people want to embrace them. In essence, people feel safe enough to embrace the values, and try them “on for size.” The outcome over time is that they will own and internalize them.

The other thing I have discovered about these unique leaders is that they understand the difference between operational leadership and strategic leadership. They also are competent in both skill sets. As Joel Kurtzman wrote in his book, Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve The Extraordinary, Jossey-Bass 2010: “Strategic leaders are people within organizations who plot the course... Strategic leaders generally can think far into the future...The best of these people understand where the future is going and how to get there.

“The role of operational leaders is quite different from those of strategic leaders. Operational leaders make certain the trains run on time, the manufacturing processes are adequate, the logistics systems work, the technicians are well trained, and the the trucks are where they are supposed to be.... like strategic leaders, operational leaders are vital to an organization’s success.”

Finally, these exceptional leaders display a level of maturity. Maturity comes from two things, namely respect and humbleness. The right leaders have respect for people, their effort, and for what they are doing. And they have humbleness to recognize that we always have more to learn about respect. 

This week, if you have not done so already, I recommend you read the following: Lencioni, Patrick. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize And Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues, Jossey-Bass, 2016. It will help you plan better for 2017 and help you make sure you have the right people on the right seats on the bus.

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

How do leaders know if they have the “right people on the right seats of the bus”? - part #1

I met him at a leadership seminar put on by a large and growing for-profit company. My first impression was that he was going to be the class clown in combination with a touch of arrogance. He was sure that he had leadership all figured out. During the seminar, he was seated next to the CEO, who, after one of his answers, I thought was going to give him the proverbial dope slap based on how poor his answer was to the question.

Over the years, our paths crossed and this individual realized that he had lots to learn, and that I had lots to teach him. He listened more and spoke less. His answers improved. Meanwhile, the company grew rapidly and he entered into a more senior position 

About one year after he entered the next level where he had greater responsibility and impact, the CEO contacted me for lunch. We often talked strategy and capacity over lunch, but rarely about specific people. This was the CEO’s think-out-loud time and a safe place to explore and reflect about key ideas.

At the appointed hour, we meet at the restaurant for lunch. The CEO did not even look at the menu. We went deep and fast into a "very big problem.” This particular person had become a major source of many different problems. As the CEO stated, "he is not the right person for that seat on the bus.”

For the last nine months, CEOs, EDs, COOs, EVPs, and Regional VPs have all talked with me in private about the importance of having the right people in the right seats on the bus. For them, it has become mission critical to success. This is not a one time comment and is a serious statement reflecting hours of thought and reflection.

For us here today, this phrase about the “right people on the right seats on the bus” comes from the book Good to Great. Before then, there were no seats and no bus, just people issues. Still, it is a great metaphor .

Early on there was little clarification of the concept, then the book, How The Mighty Fall, was published and Jim Collins gave us more details to the concept. As he wrote: “What makes for the “Right People” in key seats?
- the right people fit with the company’s core values.
- the right people don’t need to be tightly managed.
- the right people understand that they do not have “jobs”; they have responsibilities.
- the right people fulfill their commitments.
- the right people are passionate about the company and its work.
- the right people display “window and mirror” maturity.

This week, reflect on the above list and ask yourself the question: Do I have the right people on the right seats on the bus?  It is worth the time and energy to think about the answer to this important question.

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

How do leaders transform day to day operations? - part #2

Given what I shared last week, today I want to dive deeply into how to successfully transform day to day operations.

First, leaders transform the internal architecture and culture of the company. As General Stanley McChrystal, with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell wrote in their book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World, Portfolio/Penguin, 2015: “To win we had to change. Surprisingly, that change was less about tactics or new technology than it was about internal architecture and culture of our force - in other words, our approach to management.” 

We need to recognize as leaders that if you want to transform day to day operations then you need to have developed a transformative strategy based on an understanding that status quo, i.e. the current business model, is dangerous. As part of this work, we need to examine whether the organizational chart is designed for growth and transformation. Many times the organizational chart is the source of the problem rather than the strategy.  I am seeing more and more companies organization around the following categories: mission fulfillment, mission support, mission innovation, and mission advancement & advocacy. 

As I write the above, I hear John Kotter’s voice from his book, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility For A Faster-Moving World, Harvard Business Review Press, 2014. As he wrote, “Great urgency that drives people in a dozen different directions achieves nothing. The energy that is at the core of accelerated action and dual operating systems is an aligned energy.” I believe aligned energy begins with personal alignment, i.e. our thoughts, words and deeds all line up. Once this is happening, then we can focus on alignment at the  organizational level, i.e. systems and process that create personal clarity, cultural clarity, and community connections.

Second, develop a shared mindset on your team. The first prerequisite to doing this level of work is to put people in leadership positions who have the capacity, i.e. mindset and skill set, to transform the organization. Furthermore, we need to remember that management is not leadership. As Kotter continues in the aforementioned book, “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.”

The second prerequisite to building a shared mindset on a team is to put people in leadership positions with relational skill sets who can truly join a team. Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson explore this in their article called “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams” by Harvard Business Review, November 2007. As they explain, good team leaders and team players can invest time and energy into building and maintaining social relationships throughout the organization,  model collaborative behavior, and coach people about why establishing and maintaining healthy relationships is important.

Third, create and maintain a gardener’s approach. Back to General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World, Portfolio/Penguin, 2015 where they wrote: “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing…. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.”

Since the early 90’s, I have taught and coached executives that the best leaders are “Gardeners Of Trust.” They recognize and understand that the followers place their trust in us when we seek to improve or transform an organization. Remember that there are three levels to trust as outlined by  Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau in their article called "The Enemies of Trust" by, Harvard Business Review, February 2003. Here is a quick review:

-  organizational trust where people trust not any individual but in the company itself.

- strategic trust where people trust the team that is running the show to make the right strategic decisions.

- personal trust where people trust their managers to make the right decisions.

This week review the internal architecture and culture of the company to see what may need to be realigned, and then begin the process of building a shared mindset on your team.

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