Strategy

5 Ways We Do Strategy Differently

How do you build and execute strategy successfully in the context of how we work today?  I think that’s a big question for any company – large or small – because the landscape is changing so quickly.

Traditionally, strategy was built by a relatively small number of senior executives and then cascaded down through the ranks to be executed.  Roles were clear.  Executives developed and monitored. Middle managers made sure work was aligned. Everyone else executed.

In this approach, those senior executives had the best vantage point to know what the strategy should be.  Markets and competition were relatively stable. The executives had often spent years in the industry and often grew up in the firm.

Fast forward to markets that change rapidly, competitors who enter quickly and at times disruptively, and organizations where few people spend their entire career.  The traditional strategy development model doesn’t work.

In our opinion, there needs to be a very different approach. Here are five ways we need to approach strategy development and execution differently:

  • Strategy development needs to involve more than just the most senior executives. Strategy is becoming more fluid and iterative. There is information, data, and people throughout the organization that need to be included. Leaders at highest levels of the organization with years of experience don’t have enough expertise because what created today’s success may or may not create tomorrow’s.
  • Mid-level roles – whether it be mid-level leaders or high-expertise individual contributors – need to be redefined. These roles are no longer just about executing strategy but about shaping and influencing it. They have information and perspective that the organization needs to compete.
  • Strategic-thinking needs to be a capability that is viewed as necessary at all levels in the organization. The behaviors will look different but it can’t only be valued and assessed at the most senior levels.
  • Communication and alignment around the strategy need to be continual. Agility in an organization allows people to be proactive when opportunities arise. Alignment ensures that resources are put behind the right opportunities. Discussions about strategy and opportunities needs to be part of the ongoing conversation at all levels in the organization.
  • Risk needs to be part of the plan. Organizations cannot seek perfection at the expense of good. Failure will occur as new opportunities are pursued. For many organizations, this is a real culture shift and one that will need to be approached intentionally and purposefully.

The benefits of rethinking strategy in this way?  Increased speed and innovation. A more responsive organization. Improved execution. Higher engagement levels. However, getting there won’t happen overnight. You need a plan.

We’ve worked for over 20 years helping organizations clarify and execute their strategy. We also know how to help you thrive during change. How can we help you?

Collaborate The Right Way and Free Up 20% More Time

Collaboration is a great thing. It brings together diverse perspectives and experiences, helps us generate new ideas and can create breakthrough results. In highly matrixed organizations it seems to be just about the only way to get things done. As a matter of fact, research says collaboration has increased by more than 50% over the past 20 years.

Great, right? Actually, it’s not so great. Too many of us are collaborating too much and in the wrong ways. We see 5 key risks from too much collaboration.  Which of these are familiar to you?

  • Time sinks: Highly collaborative environments create a lot of extra meetings, phone calls and emails – which eat up a lot of time. One HBR article says that we’re spending about 80% of our time on these three activities.
  • Burn out: The good news is your highest collaborators – your uber-collaborators – can drive team performance more than all other team members combined. The bad news is people seen as the best sources of information and in the highest demand as collaborators have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores. They are at higher risk to leave, taking valuable knowledge and experience with them.
  • Bottlenecks: Uber-collaborators can become seemingly indispensable to different groups or projects. Work just can’t get done and decisions aren’t made without their participation, insights and perspectives. They can then become decision or workflow bottleneck, as well.
  • Poorer work quality and speed. Multiple studies show that both suffer when people over-collaborate. But super high levels of collaboration have become the norm and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees on quality and speed.
  • Too few doing too much. Collaboration isn’t spread around enough. Up to 35% of value added collaboration comes from 5% of employees. 20% of your “star” performers are among your worst collaborators, i.e., they aren’t getting their results by collaborating. Only 50% of your top performers are also top collaborators.
What to do? Our next 3 articles will answer that question and give you new ideas on digging yourself out of these collaboration pitfalls.

How Do I Get to the Next Level?

I woke up the other morning and the calendar said it was December.  December!
How can it already by the end of the year? This realization made me think about the goals I had set at the beginning of the year and where I stood against those goals. I asked myself, ‘How can I take my performance to the next level?” At this time of year, especially in companies that have end-year check-ins as part of their performance management process, you and your people may have this same question.

What do I need to do to get to the next level?

When our people ask this question, they are usually looking for us to help them navigate the performance of career development waters and give them the answer for where they should be taking their performance or career. When asked this question, use the GOAL Development Conversation Framework to guide the conversation.

First, determine the individual’s Goals. Review where the individual is in his or her current role. Are they ready for a move? What are the individual’s personal and career goals?

Second, gain the individual’s Observations on what he or she does well, areas of interest and development needs. Ask for examples.

Third, add your Assessment and the assessment of others, if you know them for a fact. If your team member is interested in moving to another role, what skills and competencies does someone need to be successful in that role? How does this person compare to that profile right now? What do they need to develop? How does it align (or not align) with their interests?

Finally, create a Learning plan. What more do you or your team member need to learn about the role in which he or she is interested? What skills or competencies do they need to develop? How do they need to better showcase strengths?

Expectations-busters

leaderpilots

What kind of expectations do you set for your team? Most people I speak with believe they set clear, concise goals that help their people focus on what’s important. Once the goal communication is done, they believe everyone has their marching orders and will carry on until the goals are achieved.

Setting expectations is about more than just setting goals or objectives at a point in time. Your expectations of others are set and reinforced every day by your actions and reactions to situations that arise. When that reinforcement doesn’t happen, you have what I often call “expectations-busters.” Have you ever experienced one of the following expectation-busters?

Goals are set and within two to three months most of the goals are completely irrelevant or have been re-prioritized to the bottom of the list. Business priorities change. That’s a given. However, if rapid goal obsolescence is a regular occurrence in your organization, it sends the message that leadership really isn’t sure where things are going or can’t make up its mind. The result is an attitude of “I don’t really need to put a lot of effort into whatever the stated goals are because they’re just going to change anyway.”

Once a goal or expectation is set, it’s never discussed again. If you give someone a goal, but the two of you never discuss progress against the goal, that person will assume it’s not a very important goal. He’ll assume you are really interested in other things.

Goals or expectations are set but rewards and recognition are given for things completely unrelated to achieving them. Remember the adage “what gets measured, gets done”? Well, when an expectation is set, the person assumes it has some relevance to his performance and in turn his salary increase, promotion consideration, and general recognition. Nothing busts expectations like seeing people rewarded for things that have nothing to do with meeting expectations and achieving results.

There is no differentiation in recognition when expectations are achieved, exceeded or not achieved. This is a corollary to rewarding things that are unrelated to achieving goals and objectives. If people who meet expectations and those who exceed expectations and those who do not meet expectations are not recognized and rewarded in any distinctly different ways, a high performer will become disengaged quickly and you’ll see overall performance migrate to mediocrity.

Setting expectations is not a one-time event. The relevance of those expectations is established on a regular basis. How you integrate setting and reinforcing expectations into your leadership approach will mean the difference between achieving expectations and moving towards excellence versus simply being mediocre.

Which expectations-busters have you been guilty of committing?

How can you get rid of expectations-busters in your organization?

Re-frame Your Feedback

I have a leadership challenge for you. You will need to execute this challenge at the most foundational level of the leadership experience — in the one-on-one relationships you have with individuals on your team or in the company. The challenge relates to feedback.

I’ve found over the years that giving feedback is often not the favorite part of the leadership conversation. I believe this is true because for many of us feedback means hearing something negative. We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well or about a mistake that person made or about what that person needs to do to improve. For the next week, my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things research has proven over and over again. but hasn’t seemed to make it into leaders’ thinking is the power of positive feedback. Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of one-hundred-plus performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction. Positive feedback was one of seven practices that had significant impact on both results and satisfaction, and the impact was far greater than feedback that was focused on the negative. The ratio of positive feedback and developmental feedback that seems to have the biggest impact is about 4:1 (i.e., 4 positive, 1 negative).

So, your challenge is to catch people doing something right this week. Focus on a couple of team members and try to get close to the 4:1 ratio.

When you provide your positive feedback, remember a couple of guidelines:

  • The feedback should be specific and situational. Tell them the specific situation you are talking about.
  • It should focus on behavior. What did they do or say that created a positive result?
  • It should describe the impact of their behavior. What was the positive impact they created? How did it affect you or the team or the company or the customer.
  • Avoid vague feedback like “great job” or “way to go.” One of the reasons to give positive feedback is to help someone replicate the behavior and results in the future. If he’s not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for him to make it happen again.

Creating a Powerhouse Culture

Company CultureThe powerhouse employee is highly capable in the work he does, motivated, and engaged.  Capability is something you can either hire for or develop.  An investment in skill-building is never wasted unless those skills become obsolete very soon after the investment.  Most people come to anew job full of motivation and engagement.  They are ready to go, excited to be there, and committed to success.  The ironic thing is that, after a period of time in the job or with the company, commitment can take a bid dive.

As a leader, spend time this week thinking about where your team’s capability, motivation, and engagement levels are.  How are you increasing them or decreasing them?  As you do this week’s thinking, take money out of the motivation and engagement equation.  Money is the cheap and easy way to try to create commitment and one that really doesn’t work for anything but short bursts.  Over and over again, research shows that long-term motivation and engagement at work come from being able to make progress and feel competent in doing something that is meaningful.  Many things, such as those listed below, can get in the way of generating long-term motivation and engagement.  Have you been guilty of any of these?

  • Assuming that making a profit is motivating enough for anyone to inspire performance
  • Giving someone a project, allowing them to move forward with it, and just before it’s completed telling them priorities have changed.
  • Consistently setting goals that are so much of a stretch they are viewed as unrealistic in any time frame.
  • Shifting priorities again and again and again.
  • Promoting people or moving them into new roles while providing little to no direction regarding your expectations for them.
  • Telling someone they own the project, then advising them in a way that makes them feel yo are controlling every aspect.

Take Action!  Real Change Accelerator

Examine your efforts with your team, then answer this question.
What are you really doing, really putting effort into, that’s building a powerhouse team?

The Leadership Multiplier Effect

A third of all CEO’s surveyed by The Conference Board say the most pressing issue they have is attracting, developing and retaining the right talent. Two of the biggest factors in engagement and retention are trust in senior leadership and the relationship people have with their managers. With 75% of employees in a recent Gallup Organization survey reporting that they are unengaged or actively disengaged at work, leadership is not successfully addressing this issue.

Leadership excellence has a multiplier effect on organizations. Investing in developing leaders, increasing the leadership multiplier effect, is a short-term and long-term strategy that allows your organization to adapt and thrive in various economic circumstances by attracting, retaining and engaging your human capital.

What is the Leadership Multiplier Effect?

Resources spent on leadership development have a cascading effect throughout the organization. The effective leader creates exponential value for the organization through his or her influence on the strategy, people and processes in the organization. One leader’s effective decisions and actions has a ripple effect that can impact dozens or hundreds of employees, positively changing business performance for the entire department or business unit. Likewise, the impact of poor leadership decisions and actions can lead to the decreased ability to attract, develop and retain the right talent.

In addition, effective senior leaders model behaviors and skills for other leaders in the organization. They set the tone for the leadership practices that define the organization and its culture. They demonstrate the business skills that address business issues and create innovation. They define and operationalize high performance through their interactions with each other and the entire organization.

As others mature in their leadership roles, their effectiveness is increased for having been effectively developed and for the role-models presented by senior leadership. A cascade is created. With more effective leadership focused on the right things at all levels in the organization, factors impacting business performance improve. Groups led by effective leaders are more engaged resulting in higher productivity rates, increased willingness to give extra effort, and greater acceptance of change. In other words, effective leadership creates an environment that attracts and retains high quality talent.

Ensuring the effectiveness of your leaders is critical whether your business is expanding or contracting. When your business is expanding, bringing on new people, introducing new products, serving new customers, leaders need to integrate and assimilate the growth. They need to plan strategically for growth, effectively develop their teams, establish business practices and maintain the engagement people feel in those initial few months on the job.

When business is contracting, leaders need to manage the change brought on by staff reductions, reduced revenue streams and increased cost constraints. They need to maintain the remaining staff’s focus and morale. Need to maintain customer service levels, identify how to do more with less.

Optimizing the Leadership Multiplier Effect

For the leadership multiplier effect have its maximum impact, leaders must be developed effectively. Effective development includes:

1.  Identifying the core of effective leadership. What makes leaders effective? One way to start thinking about leadership effectiveness is to identify what results you want the leader to achieve and use this to identify behaviors that are effective in achieving those results.

2.   Communicating what is expected of a leader. This communication is not always in words. It’s important to understand that how you select, how you assign resources, what people are held accountable for and how you recognize and reward say a great deal about your expectations of leaders.

3.   Assessing your leaders against your model of effectiveness. If some are less effective than you need, identify a strategy for addressing it. It may be development, assignment changes, or an exit strategy. No matter what strategy seems most appropriate, it should start with a frank conversation with the leader.

4.   Identifying potential leaders within your organization and outside your organization. Do you have the bench strength you need? Also remember that leaders aren’t just those with formal titles but also those in roles that are pivotal to business success.

5.   Developing leadership effectively. Formal learning experiences, business-driven assignments and projects, coaching, mentoring and other leadership development experiences need to align with the business strategy and the expectations you’ve communicated about leadership within your organization. Utilize a suite of development activities that build leaders throughout their careers. Developing leaders is process not an event. You must take a planned approach to leadership development, not one that only addresses obvious flash points that may be ignoring underlying causes.

By taking advantage of the Leadership Multiplier Effect, you will optimize talent and create competitive advantage.

Make Your Team Smarter

Executive Team

Executives  and managers are an action-oriented group. That’s usually one of the characteristics that has made them successful. They see something that needs to be done and make sure it gets done. Unfortunately, when they’re working as a team, that drive for action makes the team do dumb things.

 

The dumb thing they do is jump right into solving the problem — identifying courses of action, recommending solutions, pushing to make a deadline.  But, wait, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?  Well, yes, but there is a better way to do it. You see by just jumping into solution-mode, the team often plunges into conflict because they never agreed on what the issue was they were trying to solve, never spent a few minutes setting up a process, and haven’t really vetted the reasonableness or effectiveness of a solution.  Then, it’s  well into the conflict before they realize that the reason for the conflict is that they are not all on the same page. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of constructive conflict in teams. However, this type of conflict is an unnecessary time waster.

 

The drive for action often makes people feel like they’re ‘wasting time’ by spending time making sure everyone is on the same page about what the issue is, have criteria for successful solutions, and have put at least a small amount of structure around how we’re going to drive to solution. Actually, the exact opposite is true.  By doing some initial level-setting and planning early on, the likelihood that a team will come to the best solution and be able to implement it quickly is greatly increased.

 

Stepping back to move forward leverages everyone’s best thinking.  It makes the team smarter.

Building an Accountability Culture

Building an Accountability CultureOne of the most difficult skills for many leaders to master is to artfully and effectively build accountability into the culture. They need to walk the line between creating a punitive culture, where people are afraid to be innovative, take responsibility or drive change because of the fear of failure and its ramifications. On the other extreme is the leader who wants to create such a feel-good culture that they let things slide and pretty soon people aren’t clear what, if anything is important and they adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s approach to dealing with adversity:  “Tomorrow is another day.”

In an accountability culture, each person takes ownership for achieving results.

Too often we think about accountability only when something goes wrong. Until then, we figure that people know what needs to get done and will do it. It’s what I call a rear view mirror exercise. A more powerful approach is to be mindful of creating a culture of accountability by using the ACAR model.

  • Align: To create a culture of accountability, you need to start by aligning goals, people and process. The first step is to ensure that individual or team goals are aligned with the larger corporate, group and department goals. People will give more importance to what they are doing when they understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture. Even better, explain the larger goals to them and then engage them in setting their own goals. Second, ask yourself if the work people are doing is aligned with their strengths — their talent– and with the goals you are asking them to achieve? The ability to use our strengths at work makes it much more likely that we will complete tasks and create results. Third, align the goal with what the individual finds motivating. When an individual is able to see how the work they are doing helps fulfill a personal need or aspiration, they will own the work. Finally, do we have enough processes in place for someone to achieve what needs to get done? If not, have you given them the capacity to create it?
  • Communicate Expectations: Do your expectations focus on activity or results? Am I accountable for the activities I engage in or the results they produce? Often it’s both. For example, we may have expectations for how someone works with other members of the team in order to achieve their results. Where accountability falls apart is when we focus solely on one or the other. We’ll reward the person who achieves the best results even though everyone knows their behavior flies in the face of what we say we value, leading to a toxic culture. Other times, we are so focused on people getting the activities right that we will give them an “A for effort”. We lose sight of the ultimate goal because we are so focused on the process that we create a situation where nothing seems to get done. Communicate what your expectations are — both behavior and results.
  • Acknowledge. We usually think of holding people accountable when someone is not making the deadline, when quality isn’t what it should be or when results aren’t achieved. Often, we are looking for where to assign blame. Turn that thinking on its head. Focus on those people who are doing what they are supposed to do and achieving results. Recognize them, point it out to others. Watch the impact it has. People will recognize that achieving results is noticed and makes a difference.
  • Redirect and Re-engage. Even after aligning, communicating and acknowledging, there will still be performance issues from time to time. You’ll still need to have the hard conversations. You will need to tell people that part of their performance is not where it needs to be. You will need to share your disappointment or describe the impact it had on the team. Most importantly, you then need to redirect and re-engage. You need to engage the individual in a conversation about how to improve performance. You need to recheck the alignment, the communication and the acknowledgement. The conversation should build a partnership in which the individual takes ownership of the work that needs to be done.

 

BUILDING THE PERFECT BEAST

organizational behaviorOrganizations are beastly. They can be complicated, unnerving, and overwhelming. Many times they are also ineffective or outdated.

Too often, we go along, adding new tasks, taking on different responsibilities, absorbing new groups into our department, division or territory without stopping to think about how this work should be done. We rarely say ‘can we do this work?” We take it on because saying no could have a negative impact on careers and the potential to be considered when something really exciting comes along.

When we do think about how we should be organized to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, we may have a hard time seeing the opportunities for change that exist. The boxes are arranged a certain way on the paper. Certain people do certain jobs. We’ve always been successful in the past and we’ll continue to be successful just tweaking our organization here or there.

The plain fact is that sometimes, you have to start with a blank sheet of paper. You have to not be constrained by who you have on the team now or what the skill sets are. You need to start by asking ‘should we do this?’ before asking ‘how will we do this?” I recently worked with an executive and her team whose department played an important strategic role. She’d been in her role over 10 years and in that time, the organization had doubled in size, the culture had shifted towards increased speed and innovation and the industry was changing rapidly. In those 10 years, the way their group was organized had not changed in any substantive way. It was the same size with a highly tenured staff that by all accounts did a terrific job. However, the demands placed on it were several times what they once were and it was unsustainable. We had to step back and really look at what they needed to do to move the entire organization forward and what that meant for her group. The answer to how it would all get done could no longer be ‘who wants to take this on?’ We needed to look at what they should be doing, what they should say no to, the roles and structure and decide whether they had what they needed and if not, how to make that happen.

Take a look at your organization. Are you continuing to just ask people to do more? Or, is it time to take a hard look at what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and who’s doing it.