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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…”

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…”

 

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.

 

Strategy & Choice

 

strategy

I was recently having a conversation with someone about strategy. He noted that at the end of the day, strategy is simply about choice. As someone who does a lot of strategy work, I was taken by this elegant definition of strategy. A well-defined strategy should be an articulation of a choice you are making about how you will achieve your vision. It is also the choice of what you will not do to achieve your vision. It is saying yes to somethings and no to others.

It is also a guide for the choices you make about how to implement the strategy.  On a tactical level, it serves as the guidepost for the daily choices and decisions that get made about what to pursue, what products to introduce, who to hire and  promote and where offices should be located.  It can be a touchstone for difficult decisions, providing criteria for weighing your options.

choiceFor the strategy to play its important role in guiding choice, it needs to be widely
communicated and understood. It needs to be discussed on a regular basis so it is top of mind. Too many times I hear Directors or VP’s in large organizations that the strategy is not clear.  If they don’t know it, how can anyone else?

 

Issues 2012: Creating a Culture of Excellence

Back in 1982, Tom Peters went In Search of Excellence and profiled 40+ companies who were examples of excellence. If we look back at that book some of the companies are gone now or are not what we would hold up as examples of excellence. That’s because excellence is not an end state. It’s an organizational state of being that’s characterized by continuous movement in pursuit of ever-higher achievement. In a culture of excellence, you are never done or…you never quite arrive.

The drive for excellence — for continually improving on even our most outstanding achievement — when paired with compelling clarity, sets the stage for achieving or even exceeding the goals defined in the strategy. The question is how do you create a culture of excellence and performance?

Excellence is about self-reflection: Without knowing who and where you are in your journey, it is difficult to continually pursue ever higher levels of personal or organizational achievement. What values are of core importance to me? How do I add value? What values are core to the organization? How do we add value for our customers? Am I clear where I am taking my organization? Am I communicating a standard of excellence?

Excellence is about continual, personal growth: Without professional growth, our performance, and that of our organization, will not be characterized by excellence. Leaders need to be a role model for their teams. They should ask “how can I use my strengths more fully to achieve the results we need to be successful?” It’s equally important to ask yourself and others, “What do I, as a leader, not know and need to learn? What skill do I need to develop and how should I apply them?”

Excellence is about setting the expectation for excellence: In environments that achieve excellence, the standard for it is communicated broadly throughout the organization. The communication isn’t just verbal. It’s communicated in goals and objectives. It’s communicated in everyday actions. It’s communicated in the quality of anything that’s produced, from emails and meeting agendas to products and services. It’s communicated in processes that focus on continual improvement.

Excellence is about creating a culture that looks at behaviors and results: Cultures that only look at results can become toxic. It can be too easy to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior because “hey, he/she gets results.” Leaders need to be as concerned with how people achieve results as with the results they are achieving. How do we meet our customer’s expectations, meet our business goals and behave ethically and with excellence? What behavior do we hold up as the gold standard in the pursuit of results? What behaviors are completely unacceptable?

Excellence is about tapping into each person’s drive for excellence: The neuroscience of excellence tells us that higher and higher performance comes from the need to direct our own lives, to create new things and to improve ourselves and our world. In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about tapping into the third drive — the drive produced from engagement in the task itself when the task allows us to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Too many of our organizations are using what Pink calls the second drive – the carrot and the stick – to try to create higher levels of achievement. What we know is that this only takes achievement to the level of what one needs to do to get a reward and to avoid a negative consequence. It doesn’t lead us to excellence.

Excellence is about improving those around you and managing performance: As the saying goes, the tide lifts all boats. In order to instill a culture of excellence, leaders need to manage performance and development proactively by praising excellence and having the difficult discussions that are needed to improve performance. Too often we short circuit the ability to achieve excellence because we are unable to give the difficult feedback that allows others to build their capacity to contribute. Unfortunately, many of our performance management practices also drive a trend towards mediocrity by relying too much on the carrot and stick.

As Tom Peters did almost 30 years ago, go in search of excellence in your organization. Model it, practice it, celebrate it and watch the impact on performance.

What Is Everyone Else Saying…

I’m on vacation this week so I thought I’d connect you with some great things others have been saying:

Beware the Shiny Objects:  John Gibbons of I4cp discusses some of the glimmers of good news that have been overshadowed by the debt crisis and the importance of keeping your eye on long term strategic imperatives while you deal with more immediate business issues.

Five Great Leadership Lessons You Won’t Want to Learn the Hard Way: A quick read by Jeff Haden about the key leadership lessons he shared when asked to talk to MBA students.

Take Back Your Time: A conversation with Joe Robinson, founder of Work to Live, about the importance of time off for productivity.

Have a terrific week!

What Butler’s Final Four Appearance Can Teach Us About Competition and Leadership

 Anyone who’s watching the NCAA basketball tournament and was watching on Saturday saw Butler pull out a huge win over Florida in overtime to move on the the Final Four.  This isn’t their first trip to the Final Four. Last year they were not only in the Final Four but in the National Championship game.

As someone who went to college and grad school in Indiana, Butler University is a familiar name to me just not as a basketball powerhouse.  They are a school of 4,500 students in Indianapolis.

Florida has 50,000.  Before beating Florida, they knocked out Wisconsin and #1 ranked Pitt, the odds-on favorite for many to win the tourney.
What can Butler teach us about being competitive when others have more people, deeper pockets, more supporters and a legacy of winning?

 They have a clear, burning goal — to win.

  • They believe in their ability to achieve that goal. Butler’s star senior is a guy named Matt Howard.  People say he doesn’t look like a star player.  He’s described as ‘a hell of a basketball player with a weird skill set and surprising strength.’It’s said his teammates say he is quirky.  He’s also describes as someone you always believes they are capable of winning in any situation. And that adamant belief causes other to believe, too.
  • You don’t need a lot of people, you need the right people. They are a school of 4,500 people.  They are not a marquee name in the world of college sports (though I’m sure that’s changing).  Yet, they found and cultivated the group of talented athletes that have made it past teams 10X their size.
  • They persevere. In those four tournament games they’ve won up to this point, they’ve beaten their opponents by only 13 total points.   They overcame an 11 point second half deficit to win against Florida.
  • Strong, strategy-focused leadership adds to competitive advantage. The Butler coach, Brad Stevens, is 34 years old and this is his second trip to the Final Four.  He is measured and balanced in his approach.  He has a strategy for the game and plays to that strategy.
  • They work as a team. Trite, I know.  They are a basketball team after all. But not all team sports revolve around the team.  Look at some players in professional sports teams and it often seems the play is about shining their light the brightest, not shining a bright light on the team.  As Nick Fasulo or Beyond the Arc said when comparing Butler to the last non-BCS team to be in the Final Four, UNLV in the early 90’s Instead, “[Butler] is the embodiment of a overachieving group of athletes dedicated to one single goal, led by one of the brightest and boldest coaches in all of sports.” They are a clear example the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Go Bulldogs!