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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.

 

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?

Issues 2012: Retention and Engagement

Workers in America are an unhappy lot. In 2010 The Conference Board reported that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their work, continuing a two-decade trend of increasing dissatisfaction. Think about that. Nearly six out of ten people in our organizations are not bringing anywhere near their best to work.

This statistic tells me that our #1 leadership issue in 2012 needs to be retention and engagement.

Wait a minute. You’re thinking, “In this economy, no one is going anywhere.” Maybe not in the current situation, but it’s beginning to turn around and soon resumes will be hitting the streets. What you do now will impact how many resumes from your team will be in the mix.

What we know about people who are dissatisfied in their jobs is that they will leave — either physically or sometimes worse, mentally. Usually, our best performers are the first to go when they are dissatisfied. They are highly marketable and they know it. On the other end of the spectrum, our poor performers will often not leave but simply continue to be dissatisfied. The bulk of our workforce won’t be the first out the door but will begin mentally shutting down. They will begin to only do what absolutely needs to be done or only what will impact their merit increase. They will come in at 8:00 and walk out precisely at 5:00. And once they see top performers leaving, they too will begin to look toward the door.

As a leader, your new year’s resolution should be to retain and engage the performers on your team. Here are some things to think about: 

      • Look at your team. Who’s a flight risk? Whose departure would significantly impact the business or the team? Who’s not going anywhere but at the same time not as fully engaged as they once were? Create re-engagement strategies and contingency plans if a performer leaves.
         
      • On the chance that a poor performer leaves, how attractive is it for a strong performer to join your team?
         
      • Look at yourself. How satisfied are you? As a leader, your team takes direction from you.
         
      • What vision have you developed and communicated for your organization? Does it make people say “I want to be part of this?”
         
      • People are satisfied when they perceive they are doing something meaningful, have a choice in their work activities, feel they are performing competently, and are making progress. As you set 2012 goals with your team, how meaningful are they? Will the person have a sense of progress?
         
      • Are you giving people a choice in how they run their business or manage their work?
         
      • Do they have the skills and knowledge to perform competently? Are they able to use their strengths? Are you helping them build their capacity through coaching?
         
      • Have you spoken with people about how they perceive their current work and working environment. What interests them about it? What frustrates them? Have a conversation and create a plan together to build on what’s good and address what can be changed.
         
      • Finally, don’t throw money at it, unless that is the real issue. Money will only work in the short term. Meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress will motivate people in the long term.

Leadership and Market Performance

The Institute for Corporate Performance (i4cp) just released a study correlating leadership competencies and market performance.  These findings are among the first that I know of that show which leadership competencies make a real difference in business performance.

Interestingly, these findings support both my Leadership in the Next Decade findings and the focus of a new leadership development program I am offering through my partnership with Michael Maccoby and Personal Strengths Publishing, Becoming a Leader We Need with Strategic Intelligence.

Key findings from i4cp’s research are:

  • Only 23% of those surveyed describe their companies as being strong at developing future leaders.
  • The most popular competencies used are not correlated with market performance.   Among business competencies, only “strategy execution” was both popular and correlated to market performance.
  • The top business competencies correlated with market performance are:

o   Strategy development
o   Having a global mindset
o   Decision-making from a synthesis of internal and external
     influences
o   Organizational development
o   Strategy execution

  • The top relationship/communication competencies correlated with market performance:

o   Verbal communication skills
o   Collaboration
o   Building relationships outside the organization
o   Building organizational capacity

Becoming a Leader We Need with Strategic Intelligence focuses those in Director and above positions on building these key competencies.  For more information about or a more detailed overview of the program, call me at 978.475.8424

A Case for Innovation: Microsoft vs Apple

A Case for Innovation:  Microsoft vs AppleI believe strongly that the ability to lead innovation will be incredibly important in the coming decade.  This belief was reinforced by a brief piece I heard on the radio last week about Microsoft.  It was about Microsoft’s ability to stay competitive. It got me thinking about the impact innovation leadership can have on a company.

So, I did a little comparison between Microsoft and Apple.  From a pure numbers perspective, back in 2001 Microsoft was the 800 pound gorilla. In many of its product categories it owned 90% of the market.  Today, Windows just dropped below 90%. In 2001, Apple owned just fewer than 3% of the computer market and the markets it currently leads in didn’t exist.

Over the next decade, Microsoft introduced Windows XP and Vista, new Office suites, and other software solutions — none of which were a grand departure from the previous.  It entered gaming with Xbox and Xbox 360.  It tried to enter the MP3 player market with an unsuccessful Zune and reports are it is having great difficult entering the tablet market.  In early 2001, its stock was trading at 30.53.  As I write this it is trading at 27.16.

Since 2001, Apple decided to do some different things. Over the decade it created products and markets that we hadn’t really seen before, introducing us to the I-technology suite and lexicon:  Ipod, Itouch, Iphone, Ipad and now Icloud. It entered the retail world and totally changed the technology shopping experience with Apple stores.  In early 2001, its stock was trading at 10.81.  It is currently at 404.76.

The differences between the two companies are many but I think the heart of the matter is the drive to innovate with products and services that are truly different.  Leading innovation is not like leading any kind of growth.  It is about looking forward, integrating seemingly disparate perspectives, creating a truly aspirational vision and engaging everyone’s capability and commitment to make it happen.  I work with many leaders and teams who are working hard to adopt innovation leadership and innovation thinking.  It will be fascinating to see where innovation leaders will take us in the next decade

Awaken the Sleeping Giant

innovation diagram

 

Fareed Zakaria of CNN has a terrific series on innovation where he interviews top innovation thinkers on how to spur creativity.  We can all awaken the sleeping giant in each of our companies by spurring innovation in our own areas of influence.

 

 

 

To lead for creativity and innovation:

  • Hire people with natural curiosity and a desire for continual learning.  Innovation and creativity comes from a desire to do things differently and people who are curious, life-long learners ask questions like “why?” and “why not?”
  • Hire people who execute ideas.  Idea generators are the engine of innovation.  Those who execute are the steering wheel.  Without those who can take the ideas from just ideas to ideas that work, you’ll never get where the innovation has the potential to go.
  • Engage people in interesting business issues. People get creative when there is a tough nut to crack.  The next time your team has a difficult challenge facing them, rather than sitting in your office trying to find the solution, pull together a group of your best talent and ask them to solve the problem.  If you’ve seen Apollo 13, think about the scene where the engineers need to find a solution to an oxygen deletion problem by making a square filter fit in a round hole. They’re given a box of materials that are on the lunar module, told their mission and told to make it happen.
  • Make innovation part of the ongoing conversation. Be careful how you position innovation in the conversation. When you throw around the words ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ most people respond with something like ‘oh, I’m not very creative’ or ‘people like me don’t innovate.  Those are the guys at Google.’  However, if you ask, ‘how can we make things run  more smoothly’ or ‘how can we add more value to our customers’ or ‘what would really make a difference  in how we work’, everyone will have an idea.
  • Create space to develop the best ideas. Give each of your team members the challenge and the space to spend time thinking about their part of the business and where they could take it.  Thinking often takes a back seat to doing in our culture but it is essential to innovation.

Hire the right mix. Engage them in meaty issues. Have a continual dialogue. Give the space to think and act.  Awaken the sleeping giant within.

The Legacy of Steve Jobs

The Legacy of Steve Jobs

Between an earthquake and a hurricane, we heard that Steve Jobs announced he is stepping down as CEO of Apple. Jobs has been the face of Apple and its innovative environment for two decades. Naturally there is commentary on what his departure means and on what it means across media — from The New York Times to BNET to mashable.com.

The questions remains about what Apple will be like without him and only time will tell. Let’s take a look at the lessons we can learn from Jobs and the culture he built at Apple:

 

    • The Think Different mindset. Apple has created products that we didn’t know we needed and done it Apple’s way. They are famous for doing things on their timetable and listening to Apple’s own drummer. While most other companies are looking at the best practices of others to determine what they should do, Apple created best in class. Don’t look to others to tell you how you should move forward. 
    • Bring in thinking from the outside in to inform, not to replicate. This is different from search for best practices. It’s about being curious and looking for good ideas. Jobs noted that being ousted as CEO back in 1985 was one of the best things that could happen to him. He built a little company called Pixar that changed movie making and animation forever. He took those experiences from a company that was not a traditional tech company and infused them in Apple upon his return. 
    • Build an environment where taking risks is expected. Risk taking is hard for many people and is especially hard in a really tough economy. Jobs is a natural risk taker and by infusing that into Apple’s way of working, has changed technology, our expectations of the aesthetics and design of our technology, and quite honestly, has literally changed industries (think about it, car manufacturers changed their designs to include ports for iPods). If Jobs were the only risk taker at Apple, it would not be the company it is today. He took that desire and ability to take risks and built it into the culture.
    • Have a successor.  Steve Job’s departure will be smooth because he has had a successor identified for 7 years. His wake-up call came when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. Because of the time and effort that has gone into grooming his successor, his resignation letter simply had to state that he recommended his successor take over. While I’m sure his resignation was a huge part of the conversations at Apple the next day, there was no doubt that a capable, though different, leader was stepping into the void.

 

As you approach your work, put a little Steve Jobs swagger into what you do and see what results it brings.

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!