Improve Your Global Mindset and Strategic Thinking

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with a Danish company at their annual meeting in Dubai. It reminded me that some of the most instructive client relationships I have (especially the long-term ones) are those that provide me with a global perspective. It also reminded me of this newsletter article I wrote several years ago…

Some of you may have heard the story of the truck stuck under the bridge and the dilemma of how to get it unstuck. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this post.

I thought about that story at a recent professional meeting where the topic was developing a global mindset. All of the speakers had interesting perspectives to share and one in particular made a point that was particularly thought-provoking. His company’s research had shown that experiencing another culture had a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. He further explained that “experiencing” a culture didn’t mean going there on vacation for a week or two.

It is immersive, longer-term experiences like ex pat assignments or managing global teams where you had to travel to work within their culture. The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they change your perspectives on the world, how it is organized and how it functions. These different perspectives allow you to be more nuanced in your thinking about how different parts of a whole interact, the variables that impact it, and the implications.

How, then, can someone stretch their perceptions and perspectives and develop their strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility?

Seek out Projects That Involve Global Teams.  It’s not the same as working overseas, but working on projects with global teams is a great start. It will expose you to different ways of thinking, conversing, and decision-making. Regardless of your role, really listen to others.

Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations folks think differently from researchers. See how someone different from you may be experiencing the same organization, issues, etc.

Interact with those outside your industry.  For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to understand the industry more broadly. The problem is that it is a closed-system approach. Biotechs benchmark other biotechs. Car manufacturers benchmark other car manufacturers. The perspective of someone in a totally different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically. It helps you see the forest for the trees. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he thought about products and perspectives he gained from things like digital animation architecture.

Hire people who are different from you. I hesitate to say hire for diversity because too often that is narrowly defined. In addition to the more commonly referenced and important diversity categories, we can hire for diversity of thought, experiences, and education. Also, the US has new populations from other cultures within the country that can be brought onto teams. So, if working globally isn’t possible, the US still has a rich population of people to choose from. Then, regularly ask those you’ve hired for perspective and input on the business issues you are working to address.

Thinking about your daily business interactions expansively will help you develop the broader perspective needed to think more strategically.

So, the story about the truck stuck under the bridge goes like this…  A truck was stuck under a bridge, backing up traffic. The police, fire and tow truck drivers were trying to figure out how to get it out, but they had no workable solution.  A little boy walked up and asked what was going on. The police officer explained the dilemma. The little boy looked at him and said. “Let the air out of the tires.”

Among other things, the story illustrates how important it is to look for and value unique perspectives, especially those outside your typical orbit. Something a more global perspective can provide us.

Growth by Design

I was having a conversation with a CEO earlier this week. The business is very successful and healthy. But like most CEO’s, he is concerned with growth and what’s next for his company. During our conversation, we talked about taking a step back, what I sometimes call taking in the view from the balcony. This view allows you to see how the different aspects of the business and organization are working together (or against each other) to achieve today’s results. And begs the question… how effectively will our current structure and processes spur that next phase of growth? Taking this view helps you to create growth by design, making it easier to align and integrate purposefully. And it prepares the organization to take that next step.

Growth by Design is our framework for helping clients build an organization that can propel them to the next level. It has three core components.

  • It’s starts with compelling clarity, ensuring alignment of the vision, mission, goals and culture. Every leader and every employee should know at all times exactly what their priorities are and how they fit with the strategy and goals of the organization. A how they both serve the mission.
  • Second, you need to leverage the critical drivers – understanding and instilling the growth imperative, making change agility part of your company’s DNA, and ensuring you have the talent to innovate and execute.
  • Third, the organization needs to build adaptive structures and processes– both business and human resources/talent processes and structures — that meet today’s needs but also prepare the organization for what’s next.

Asking the right questions and finding the best answers will help even the most challenged CEOs and senior teams cut through the fog. Building a compelling strategy for what lies ahead… begins by design.

How To Leverage A Toxic Boss

Virtually everyone has a bad manager story. But what about truly toxic bosses? According to a study by the Employment Law Alliance, nearly 50% of all employees have had a toxic boss at some point in their career. I know I have.

Should you run away from him as fast as you can? It depends (see below).  Skillful management of the situation can actually be a career advantage. Accomplishing results under a difficult boss builds Emotional Intelligence, develops resilience and gets you noticed. Not bad if you can handle it.

Two caveats before we begin:

  • A single toxic behavior doesn’t make for a toxic manager. Like most things, there are degrees of toxicity. Be careful not to generalize. For example, someone may have astronomical performance expectations, but otherwise is a likeable, capable manager. Or another manager may be insensitively blunt, but fair-minded. These managers happen to have huge blind spots that need to be brought to their attention.
  • Not all toxic bosses are alike. Some are bullies who yell and scream. Some are sophisticated manipulators… quiet but tyrannical, with a complete lack of empathy. Check out Roy Lubit’s article for more details on the different types of toxicity.

Typical Approaches

We aren’t going to completely rid ourselves of toxic bosses anytime soon. When you review the literature, you’ll find there are different strategies you can try that can help the situation but each has its drawbacks.

  • Lie Low. Acquiesce to her demands, try to avoid confrontation, hope that it gets better, or one of you leaves the company. This only works when you’re 100% sure she’s not your boss for long. Otherwise it’s demoralizing, creates a victim mentality, and invites further and deeper abuse.
  • Reason With Them. Try to engage, explain how he makes you feel, or try to “work out” your differences in a heat-to heart. Unlikely to work. If this is someone who purposefully or uncontrollably makes your life a living hell, he doesn’t care how you feel.
  • Report Them. You’ve had enough, so you bring it to HR. It’s often the “right” thing to do, and some situations almost demand it. Know that it’s a big risk. HR usually has a high bar to side with you over your manager. And you could win the battle but lose the war. You could get an undeserved reputation as a tattle-tale or a malcontent which could follow you for years. The good news: more organizations and HR functions are clamping down on toxic bosses, particularly around harassment. Get unbiased advice and proceed carefully.
  • Fight Them. Confront them aggressively. Or use passive-aggressive tactics like pretending you didn’t hear them or acting out behind their backs. A Baylor University study clames it’s the most successful approach (which tells you how bad the others are, by comparison). Be extremely cautious. It requires excellent EQ, otherwise solid performance, and not a little luck. And it’s not exactly taking the high road.
  • Leave the Company or the department for another role. This is often an excellent option. But not for everyone, and it can take several months to find a better situation. Also, don’t be surprised if you run into him again. Maybe because of a reorganization. Maybe as a project manager. Or hired to replace your boss at the new company. I’ve seen it happen.

A Better Way: Manage Your Boss

This is not a tongue-in-cheek suggestion. You should think about this like you would a project or a developmental assignment. Approach it with some rigor and discipline. There are three main considerations.

Manage Yourself: This is the most critical element of managing your manager. You must reframe how you think of your boss and your relationship. You will certainly need to make adjustments along the way, but you must fully commit to this new approach.

  •  Make the Decision.  Is this the right approach? If so, attack this as a project, and think about it objectively. Put the focus on you… your performance, your career, and serving your clients’ best interests. While thinking about things like “destroying your boss” might feel good in the moment, the negativity will eat you up, and make it much harder to accomplish your goals.
  • Be Positive and Maintain Your Self-Esteem. Keep focused on the end result. Management usually knows who the difficult bosses are and they’ll be impressed with how you handle yourself in the toughest of situations.
  • Don’t Let Yourself Get Isolated. Continue to build your network. Maintain your visibility. Bounce ideas off trusted peers. Promote yourself discretely.

Be Openly Respectful even if he or she doesn’t always deserve it. Don’t engage in gossip or character assassination. Don’t make your boss look bad. It’s likely other people know at least a little about your toxic boss’ behavior.  They are also looking at you and evaluating how you respond. And wondering, “would he treat me the same way behind my back?”

Know Your Manager: The better you understand what makes your boss tick, the better you can avoid, counteract or even leverage their own behaviors to everyone’s advantage. This is a capability that’s useful as you work with even the best of managers.

  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes. Work to understand the challenges and pressures the boss is facing and be empathetic. Like you, she may have overly aggressive goals, too much on their plate, not enough resources, unrealistic timelines, or maybe even a toxic boss themselves.
  • Ask Yourself What Motivates Them? When irritated by someone, most people perceive what motivates themselves in a positive light and routinely question the motivations of others. “He makes my life hell because he’s on a power trip.” Maybe. Could it also be that he is struggling to be a good manager and doesn’t understand that this isn’t how you do it? What have his bosses modeled for him?
  • Learn Your Boss’s Strengths and Weaknesses. Employees and their managers are linked together whether they like it or not. So it is really important for employees to pay close attention to a manager’s work habits, management style, and how they operate on a daily basis. Observe:
  • Likes and dislikes?
  • Emotional intelligence?
  • Personality quirks?
  • What things set off the boss?

There is no substitute for finding out what makes a boss tick and understanding the things that motivate him or her. Failing to do so puts you at a disadvantage when developing strategies to work more effectively with your boss.

Collaborate: Even the worst bosses appreciate employees who help them look good. And, it’s relatively easy to work productively with people you like. Learning to collaborate with even the most difficult people will develops your EQ and boosts your career.  

  • Get Aligned. Do you know and FOCUS on your bosses goals? Have a conversation about goals, responsibilities and tasks.
  • Communicate Their Way. Some people prefer to talk things through while others prefer to think about it first. Some people like long narratives, others prefer a few bullet points. Some want frequent communication, others don’t. Learn what your manager likes. And, don’t be afraid to ask. They will probably appreciate that you are taking their preferences into account.
  • Be a Problem Solver. Never identify a problem or bring a complaint to your boss without having a at least one potential solution in hand that you have thought through. Better yet – provide options. Even bad bosses like employees who solve problems for them.
  • Communicate in Writing as Much as Possible to ensure you’re on the same page and that you’re able to demonstrate your work. Make sure you adapt that writing to your boss’ preferences. After important meetings, send emails to confirm what was agreed upon.
  • Pick Your Battles. This isn’t about subservience. You should still maintain your dignity, and stand up for yourself when necessary. The more you know about your boss, and the more you demonstrate your collaborative behavior, the easier it will be to address your concerns. Don’t do it often. Don’t do it in front of other people.
  • Know When It’s Time to Go. Even if you do all of the above, you may decide that you can’t work in this situation. Decide when and how you’ll move on. Do it with grace and with a focus on maintaining as positive a relationship as you can. Burning bridges doesn’t help anyone. Document truly toxic behavior in case you need to provide it.

Every situation is different. Make a decision with eyes wide open about who you are, what you are willing to tolerate, what the pros and cons are. If you’re lucky, you may never work for a toxic boss. However, managing your boss is good advice no matter the circumstances. It allows you to take control of your performance and gain some control over the relationship with your manager in a way that helps you, your boss, and your organization.

Which Blind Spots are Hurting You? Your Team?

“Knowing yourself is the root of all wisdom.”
– Socrates –

One time when working with a coach to prep for a job interview, I was videotaped.  I was completely unaware of some of the things I was doing.  With the help of the coach I was able to see the behaviors that could interfere with my success.  I was made aware of my blind spots.

The most successful leaders I work with are always looking for ways to continue improving, and that includes uncovering and addressing blind spots… which often change over time.

Blind spots can be feelings and thoughts we have, mental models we employ or behaviors we exhibit that we aren’t fully conscious of.  Or behaviors that we just aren’t aware are producing a negative result.  These could include overestimating your change agility or being too data driven.  Perhaps relying too heavily on your own enthusiasm for a project, or not knowing about a new market disruptor that is about to impact your business.  And we are all familiar with leaders who don’t see how their communication style is impacting others.

Not understanding your blind spots can significantly limit your success as a leader.  It limits your team’s performance.  It can even cost your company its market and customers. 

Some leaders don’t understand that they are shutting down innovation or new thinking.  I work with teams all the time where performance is hurt by members who don’t realize, for example, that they’re interrupting too often, or conversely, not vocally contributing enough.

Kodak famously had a blind spot about the impact of digital photography on their market.   They chose to do nothing with the very technology that was invented by one of their own engineers in the mid-1970’s. From the executives’ viewpoint, they were incredibly successful.  They dominated the market.  Why worry?

Other people usually see your blind spots long before you do, so you don’t want to be unaware of them for long.

One of the best way to discover them is through frank feedback from others, coupled with self-reflection.  Here are three approaches to gathering feedback that, when used effectively, will uncover your blind spots:

  • Conversations focused on feedback.  You may be thinking, I’ve asked people to give me feedback and I don’t’ get any.  Don’t discount the fact that you may be getting feedback, but it’s either too subtle or you’re not tuning into it. Remember – it’s a blind spot. And many people are reticent when given general invitations. Can I really give feedback about anything?  It’s more effective to ask for feedback about specific situations or behaviors.  If you’re having trouble with employee feedback, ask a peer you trust.  If it’s a team issue, ask someone who worked with you on another team.  Finally, if you’re known for not asking or for not reacting well to feedback, it’s going to take a while.  Be patient.  Keep at it.
  • Formal 360 feedback.  Handled correctly, this can be a powerful tool for collecting feedback because it is often gathered by someone other than you and then shared with you. This can help people feel safer about sharing what may be unpleasant for you to hear. I use a mixed approach of a survey tool and confidential interviews to help the executives I work with gain a 360 perspective.
  • Validated, reliable self-assessment toolsthat generate in-depth feedback about your personality preferences.  They are predictive of how you typically behave in various situations. I’ve found Insights DiscoveryTMto be one of the best of these tools.  It’s easy to use and utilizes a straightforward framework that generates nuanced, personal results.

Simply becoming more self-aware and identifying your blind spots is not enough.  You can know that you’re coming across as a jerk and still continue to be a jerk.  You need to be purposeful in applying that awareness to your own improvement.  Some people refer to this as mindfulness – being self-aware and acting with intentionality.

Follow up on your new awareness with an intentional approach for development.  It should include:

  • Yourself through coaching or numerous different learning opportunities
  • Your team through conversations focused on how each other’s strengths and blind spots impact the team, as a start
  • Your organization through purposeful development of a culture of self-awareness and intentional action.

There are a number of strategies and techniques you can employ to overcome blind spots.  If you’d like to continue the conversation, please contact me at 978-475-8424 or e.onderick-harvey@NextBridgeConsulting.com.

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?

Over-Collaboration: Solution #3: Designing for Great Collaboration


Our last three blog posts have outlined collaboration challenges and solutions.  In this fourth and concluding post, we’re talking about the role the organization plays in making collaboration work. The way you design your organization — your rules, tools and people practices — has a substantial impact on how effectively you and others collaborate.

Rules
What is the collaboration culture like in your organization?  Are the ‘rules’ about collaboration mostly unspoken or informal? They shouldn’t be.  Organizations that thrive in our fast-moving business environment tend to be intentional about how collaboration takes place.

A good place to start is to look at your decision rights – your framework for the decision-making process in your organization that includes who makes what types of decisions.  Effective decision rights/governance structures include guidance about who and how people collaborate on decision-making. A lot of collaborative effort may not seem to be directly linked to organization-level decision-making. But embedded in the day-to-day collaborative work everyone does are numerous decisions which should follow from and support those higher-level decisions. Being intentional about decision-making clarifies, streamlines, and improves collaboration.

I’ve run into many organizations over the years who, when I ask them to describe their culture, use the word collaborative as one of the first descriptors. What that means need to change as your organization grows. Small start-ups often thrive in a culture where everyone is involved in everything. Different perspectives and viewpoints create energy and momentum. However, as the organization grows, continuing to live by the ‘involve everyone’ mantra actually slows momentum, delays decisions and creates roadblocks. You need to establish and adapt your culture’s norms around collaboration.  The more complex your business, the more you need formal decision rights.

Some questions for further thought…  Is your organization structure designed to facilitate the right level of collaboration and drive effective, timely decisions? Are your senior leaders all explicitly on the same page and do all your leaders have the right knowledge and skills to leverage decision rights?

Tools
There is no shortage of technology tools designed to facilitate collaboration, with more on the way. And with good reason.  Used effectively, such tools can improve collaboration, enhance productivity, and accelerate innovation, among other things.  We’re not experts on specific tools, so we’ll leave questions like functionality, platform and scalability to others. However, there are significant ramifications for what you choose, and some consideration for how you do it.

(1) How does your choice align with your business strategy?  Are you looking to acquire businesses over the next few years?  Are you looking to rapidly expand globally?  Are you about to take on new products and services that impact what types of projects you run or the talent you hire?  Make decisions based not just on your current challenges, but on your future ones.

(2) What problem(s) are you trying to solve?  Or put another way, what are you trying to accomplish?  More effective sharing of resources?  Better decision-making?  Improved communication?  It’s easy to say “all of the above,” but what specifically does that mean?  This should be one of the first questions you ask, and then dig deep on the answers.

(3) How will your choice impact users?  Is the tool great for one group, but not another?  What will the transition to the tool require of users?  What do they lose in the changeover and how will it impact their work?  Does the new tool fully compensate?

(4)  How important is it to standardize your tool set?  Issues arise when the organization allows every group or business unit to determine what its tool of choice is.  Then you have certain groups that can easily collaborate while others either have to spend time learning multiple tools or work around tools which don’t integrate effectively. Even organizations that don’t want to mandate tools and technology will benefit by standardizing or integrating their collaboration tools.

People Practices
Not only are high-performing organizations clear about decision rights and what that means for who and how people collaborate structurally, they tend to be clear about what it looks like behaviorally.

When you consider all the practices that we could discuss here there’s enough fodder for multiple pages.  Boiled down, here’s my mantra… Define it. Communicate it. Integrate it.

Define it.  The most important consideration is this: what does good collaboration look like?  What does a good collaborator do and say?  We covered some basics in our “Solution #2” blog post.  But what does it look like in your business, specifically?  Identify role models.  Break it down to finite behaviors that can be easily understood and replicated.

Communicate it. Starting at the top, let people know what’s expected of them. “Here’s what our company believes in and expects when it comes to collaboration.” Make it a formal part of things like project charters, personal goals and feedback discussions.

Integrate it.  From competency development and selection to performance management and training, ensure that the organization places the appropriate priority on collaboration.  Furthermore, it’s critical not to send mixed messages across practices.  In high-collaboration cultures, it’s not uncommon for goal-setting, development activities and formal recognition programs to reinforce collaboration. And yet, performance management and compensation practices don’t always support it. Research shows that about 20% of an organization’s “stars” don’t collaborate. They hit their numbers (and receive kudos and raises for it) but don’t do anything to amplify the success of their colleagues.  That hurts the business in the long run.

In a world where collaboration is increasingly essential for business success, how you collaborate can create competitive advantage. If you’re mired in slow decision-making, faced with abundant project bottlenecks or losing good talent because of “collaboration burnout,” then you’re not staying ahead of the curve.

Properly leveraging rules, tools and people practices makes a huge difference in how well you collaborate and how smoothly your business functions.

To read the other blog posts in this series go to:
Collaborate The Right Way and Free Up 20% More Time
Solution #1: Over-Collaboration:  Be More Intentional About Meetings
Solution #2:  Over-Collaboration:  Better Skills and Behaviors