5 Things the Eclipse Taught Us About Building Companies People Love

In the U.S, on August 22nd there was a total eclipse that traversed the country.  It was an event that captured attention, created interest and built excitement.
As I was hearing about it and waiting for our partial view in New England, I was thinking about why this was such a big deal for so many people. Almost everyone I know was, at a minimum, interested in it and many were almost giddy with excitement.  What if we could create this kind of feeling every day in our companies, to build companies people love?
I believe there are 5 things we can learn from the Great Eclipse of 2017 about how to think about building companies people love:
  • The experience is multi-dimensional: People experienced the eclipse through what they saw, the temperature of the air, the sound during the total eclipse, and more. Companies people love aren’t just defined by a vision, mission statement or set of values that are posted on a wall.  That vision, mission and values are experienced in a multi-dimensional way, from what you see in the office design, to what you hear people saying, to the buzz you feel when you walk around.
  • It’s rare or at least unique:  Companies people love provide them an experience that is difficult to replicate. Others often look to these companies to try to recreate the culture.  What they find is that it’s not something you replicate. It is something the company needs to define as uniquely theirs.
  • There is a sense of meaning: The eclipse was meaningful to many people for many different reasons. Some were drawn from a scientific perspective (a group of scientists boarded plane so they could be among the first to experience it). Some were drawn because it was an event they could share with millions of others.  Some viewed it from a spiritual perspective.  Companies people love create a connection with what their employees (and potential employees) find meaningful.
  • It’s a shared experience: Those who work in companies people love have shared experiences that define who the company is. In some, it’s the way they onboard people (I wrote about my brother’s experience at Apple a few years ago). In others it’s the way people are recognized no matter their level.  For some, it’s meeting the patients their therapy impacts. Those shared experiences live on after people in these companies move on to other jobs. You see them in active company alumni networks.  They share common stories. And, they often say working there was one of the best experiences of their work lives.
  • It creates anticipation about what great thing we’ll do next: After the eclipse, many people described it with one word – wow. And, at least in my house, we were talking about when the next one would occur.  When you experience an event that takes you out of the ordinary, as many companies we love do, you want to know what the next great thing is and how you can be a part of it.
At NextBridge Consulting, we help our clients work at becoming companies people love.  We help them define or refine and then operationalize their mission, vision and values.  We help them develop leaders who make people say “I want to be part of this,” even when the company is moving at a dizzying pace. We work with them to develop teams and organizations that create alignment.  How can we help you?

Compelling Clarity 2016

Compelling Clarity 2012Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP of HR, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization. He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months. I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work. He looked at me and with a shrug said “Edith, its insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world. How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked. He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing.

There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount. But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing? ‘and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

      • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
      • Why are we going in that direction?
      • What will we look like a year from now?
      • What top priorities will get us there? 
      • How will we know we’re successful?
      • Why do I want to be part of this? Why should someone else want to be part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact. Without a sense of where they’re going you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision and gauge the reactions. After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith, it’s…”

Crystal Ball

I’m looking into the crystal ball…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the tarot card reader or crystal ball seer to know where our businesses and industries are headed?  What’s the next trend?  What needs will our customers have?  How do we keep our brand, products, and services relevant?

As leaders we are always balancing today and tomorrow — keeping one eye on the demands of today while keeping the other eye on the opportunities and threats of tomorrow.    That said, by just taking a few minutes a day we can keep that future in view, giving us the information and ideas that we can translate it into meaningful actions for our business today.

The following are some common sense ways to keep ourselves thinking about tomorrow while we’re making success happen today.  How many do you do on a regular basis?

  • Take a look at your company news releases on the intranet.
  • Follow an RSS feed, read blogs or trade journal articles about your industry
  • Follow an RSS feed, blog or trade journal about completely different industries than your own.  If you’re in healthcare, follow a high tech guru.  If you’re in biotechnology follow something from the hospitality industry.  You never know where a great idea will come from.  After all, 20 years ago who ever thought we’d listen to music and play games on our phones?
  • Read newspapers from emerging markets.  The internet makes it easy to access English language versions of many publications. You can also listen to the radio or podcasts.  I listen to the BBC a couple of times a week when I’m driving to and from meetings.  I’m always amazed by the completely different topics and regions of the world it covers compared to U.S.-based news.
  • Talk to someone younger than you.  Try to talk to someone a generation younger than you.  Their perspectives and insights, especially related to technology, will amaze you.
  • Go to a meeting where not everyone does what you do.  I always walk away with a much broader perspective when I have been at a meeting with people whose business or profession is completely different from my own.
  • Work through ‘what if’ scenarios about your business. Think of what’s highly probable and what’s less probable. Then develop ideas for how your company or team would address that scenario.  For example, what if someone came into the market who could deliver the same quality product at 1/3 the cost?  What if a new technology allowed people to access your product for free or a very low price?

Why Should I Follow The Leader?

Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization.  He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months.  I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work.  He looked at me and with a shrug said, “Edith, it’s insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world.  How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked.  He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing. There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but  that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount.  But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing?’and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
  • Why are we going in that direction?
  • What will we look like a year from now?
  • What top priorities will get us there?
  • How will we know we’re successful?
  • Why do I want to be a part of this?  Why would someone else want to be a part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact.  Without a sense of where they’re going, you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision.  Gauge the reactions to it.  After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith it’s…”

 

Performance=14% Leaders, 86% Followers

High PerformanceI’d like to share a couple of great pieces on leadership philosophy from 2011 that remain as important and relevant today as they did then.

The first one is a Harvard Business School research study which shows that 14% of a firm’s performance is dependent on its leaders, 86% on the ‘followers’.  This statistic is in an I4CP report about the 5-domains of high performance.  Click here to download the report. It’s an easy read and reinforces a great deal of what our philosophy has been for years — performance comes from the combination of consistent, clearly communicated strategies, leadership that is talent- oriented and committed to the right talent working in an effective, strong culture with a strong market-focus.

Another great piece from McKinsey is about the importance of organizational health on performance. The author’s  central message is that focusing on organizational health -the ability of your organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster than your competitors can -is just as important as focusing on the traditional drivers of business performance. Organizational health is about adapting to the present and shaping the future faster and better than the competition. Healthy organizations don’t merely learn to adjust themselves to their current context or to challenges that lie just ahead; they create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time.  To read the article in its entirety, click here.

The Future Leader

leadersI saw my in-laws recently and once again, I had a conversation with my father-in-law about how baffling new technology is to him and how he wants nothing to do with it.  Why?  Complexity.  There are too many options, too many things coming at you at one time and it changes too rapidly.

More and more the core of leadership is about the ability to understand and integrate complexity.  Let’s look at the world of work today:

 

  • Economic uncertainty persists. We are slowly moving out of recession but it’s still not clear how this economy is going to grow.
  • Breakneck technological advances. Facebook. Twitter. Ipad.  Need I say more.
  • Generational diversity. Four generations in the workplace with each bringing their own values and constructs about work, its place in our lives, and how it should be done.
  • Multiple work options. Full time. Part time. Contractors. Temporary.  Virtual.  Many working side by side under very different job arrangements.
  • We compete and collaborate globally. Our global economies are intertwined.  Populations in India and China are becoming more educated and wage equity is expected by the middle of this century.

What do leaders need to succeed in the complex world of work?

In this complexity, a leader needs to see the way forward for their organization and create an environment that leverages the opportunities brought by complexity.  As you develop future leaders, consider what our research points to as the five key abilities for successful future senior leaders.

  • The ability to foresee societal, political and industry trends. It’s not enough to know your industry or your business anymore.  Competition and innovation can come from anywhere.  The future leader needs to be a lifelong learner and insatiably curious about what is coming from a wide variety of sectors.
  • The ability to think strategically. The future leader needs to be able to integrate this information and ideas to create strategies that will lay a foundation for growth.
  • The ability to create and communicate a compelling vision and strategy. Compelling is the key word here. Future leaders will need to engage a more diverse and dispersed workforce than ever before.
  • The ability to manage talent. Ideas, innovation, great products and great service will come from the talent in the organization. It is your competitive advantage.  It needs to be identified, developed and built just like any other key asset you have.
  • The ability to create a culture of accountability. People want to be associated with excellence.  They want to know that strong performance is viewed differently than just punching the clock.

 

What Storytellers Can Teach Leaders

StorytellingPicture this scene.  We come into work on Monday morning and everyone is gathered around the coffee station, talking about their weekends.  Several people share the litany of activities they were involved in — ‘we went to Home Depot, watched my daughter play soccer and caught a movie.’  You start to think, “I really need to get to my desk and get to work.”  Then someone says, “Let me tell you what happened at this event I attended Saturday night.  We were all sitting down to dinner when…”. Your ears perk up, you really start listening and that work you needed to get to can wait.  You’re pretty sure you’re about to hear a great story.  Odds are that story will be repeated by everyone in the group to at least one other person.  On the other hand, very few people will remember the trip to Home Depot.

Leaders can learn a lot from great storytellers.  Leaders need to influence people to move in a particular direction, to buy into a vision, to join you in tackling a challenge.    Great storytellers know how to convey information so that we respond both emotionally and intellectually. In a post from American Economist Olivia Mitchell, she shares tips on how to tell stories like one of the great storytellers, Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point).  She uses examples from a chapter in Gladwell’s book Outliers to illustrate her points.

1.  He starts with one subject

Gladwell’s book explores why certain people are exceptionally successful.
We hear personal stories and detailed statistics – but Gladwell always starts with a story about one particular person.

2.  He paints word-pictures

Before he starts his story, we get a description of the main character. So as Gladwell tells his story, we can visualize the person in our minds.

3.  He gives us detail

He describes in vivid detail the circumstances that the character faced.
He gives examples that bring it to life.

4.  His characters speak

Gladwell doesn’t just narrate a story – he has his subjects tell the story in
their own words:

5.   He makes us curious

Gladwell tells the character’s story without revealing exactly why it’s
important.  He creates a bit of a mystery and promises to unravel it.

6.   He multiplies the story

He uses more than one example.  He uses an example of one person and
then shows how it is a story shared by many, many people.

7.  The clincher

Gladwell adds the clincher to prove his point.

The power of stories is real.  A large part of my work is facilitating teams and groups.  One thing I’ve noticed is the impact of stories on involvement and engagement.   When I start a sentence with “Let me tell you about a time when..” or “let me tell you a the story of…” The heads in the room pop up, people lean forward, IPhones they were looking at under the table are put away.

We all are looking for that emotional connection in the sea of facts and information we’re exposed to at work every day. Stories from leaders make them more human, help people identify with the what and why of a situation and to take action.  How have you used stories today?

Leadership Is A Relationship

Several years ago, I was in a meeting with leadership expert Michael Maccoby when he was asked the difference between leadership and management. He gave very simple, elegant response. “Management,” he said, “is a role. Leadership is a relationship.” Leaders are not leaders without followers. People don’t follow because someone has a title. They follow because a leader has created a connection to something in which they want to participate.

As we know, leaders’ relationships with their people are somewhat strained these days. Trust, a key part of any relationship, has been damaged by the financial crisis, the recession, corporate responses to the recession that were often necessary, but also very difficult. Rebuilding leadership trust and our relationships with those we work with is a critical component of engagement and for moving our companies forward in 2015.

If leadership is a relationship, how do we build real relationships at work? Not transactional relationships where we are focused on the tasks and activities needed to get work done but relationships where we are creating a work environment where the sum is greater than the parts.

In his book, The Trusted Advisor, David Maister discusses the trust equation, a formula for building sustained partnership with others. While he discusses the equation’s importance to business advisors, it describes the elements of trust that are key to real leadership.

The trust equation is:

Trust = C + R + I
        S


C is credibility. Leadership credibility has two components. The first is how much your team believes your words and actions. The second is to what degree you have the know-how, experience or background to know what you are talking about. On the one hand it’s objective — do you have the ‘qualifications’ to be a leader. On the other hand it’s an emotional response. Do I perceive you as being believable? Do your actions reflect truthfulness? Do you have truthful intent? How many experiences have we all had over the past 18 months that made us question the truthfulness of those we considered leaders? What’s the lingering impact on our workplaces?

R is reliability. People need to know they can count on leaders, that the leader will walk the walk and talk the talk. Leaders need to follow- through on promises and follow-up on commitments. There needs to be a sense of predictability and fairness in the way a leader approaches situations and people every single day. Otherwise, the relational bank account that funds trust goes into the red.

In the Trust Equation, I is intimacy or the ability create a personal connection. This does not mean that as a leader you need to share your private life or dwell on the private lives of your people. It means recognizing that work is a personal place and issues like career development, promotions, compensation, reorganizations, hiring and firing are intensely personal. As a leader, the willingness to have emotional honesty about these and other issues in the workplace increases the trust your team has in you and the commitment they have to your agenda.

Credibility, reliability and intimacy’s additive effect is mitigated by how much others perceive a leader is acting primarily out of self-concern. If others believe a leader building a ‘relationship’ primarily to serve his or her own interests — i.e., to advance his or her career, to manipulate a situation for advantage without regard to the goals, needs and struggles of others, to push off responsibility and blame others– trust is destroyed, the relationship is seen as disingenuous and engagement and commitment plummet.

As you look at engagement and commitment in your organizations this year, think about your own trust equation. To what degree have you developed a real relationship with your people?