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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 only constant is change.” – Unknown

change is the only constant

 

Over the past several years this saying and many others about change have become rather trite. “Change is everywhere and to be successful you must embrace it.” “Change is the new normal.” “Champions eat change for breakfast.” Yeah, we’ve heard it all before.

What is somewhat new about change is the sheer pace of it. With the advent of breakneck technology advances, change is not only constant but accelerating. Every few months there is a new social media outlet that can help you reach your customers while you’re still trying to figure out Twitter. Some businesses are wondering if they should create an app for their services. Messages can travel around your company, not to mention the world, in nanoseconds. And there are still the usual changes like new product introductions, reorganizations, and new workflows.

– How should you take a leadership position around change in the 2015 workplace?

– Answer the big question, “WHY?” People yearn for context. They want to understand why things happen and how they fit into that equation. As things move ever more quickly, we often forget to answer this simple question in our haste to “just get it done.”

– Listen to the reactions. Sometimes we think that in order to lead change, we need to be the cheerleader, playing down the realities that change is hard and that there will be bumps along the way. Take the time to listen and to respond in a realistic way to the reactions people have — the good, the bad and the ugly. In some situations it’s okay to say, “Yes, this stinks and at times it is going to be difficult. When we get through this, here is how we will be in a better place…”

Know that some people will be more ready to change than you. When it comes to introducing technological change, there are people in your organization who will be asking why the company isn’t moving more quickly. We have a whole generation who have grown up with IM, texting, Facebook and other forms of social media. Harness their enthusiasm to learn all you can about the benefits and the drawbacks of various technologies. Engage them in understanding how it could be used in your business or why your business isn’t ready for it.

Be a storyteller. Think back to your childhood. I could probably mention a story that you haven’t heard in 30 years and you could tell it to me. If I asked you to explain Freshman Algebra concepts to me, that would probably not be so easy for most of us. We are wired to remember stories. They help us put ourselves in situations and to remember information. Tell stories about the successes of previous changes where people first had doubts. Tell stories about how a team worked together to make it happen. Tell stories that help people paint a picture and understand how to move forward.

-Use social media. More and more of our organizations are using social media as way for people within the company to communicate with each other. Use social media yourself to ask questions, share updates, talk about successes, and ask for ideas. Again, if you need help in this area, there are people in your organization who are social media savvy. Encourage your team to use it as a way to have a productive conversation about the changes that are occurring. Soon you’ll see leaders emerge on your team, taking the reins of championing change.

Strategy & Choice

door-knocker-sm

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. — @MichaelEPorter

 

 

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 some things and no to others.

It’s 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 markets 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.

For 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?

 

 

 

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a recognized organizational and leadership development expert.  She works with Fortune 500 firms, growing companies, and universities to design their organizations, develop their leaders and continually elevate performance.  She has been quoted in The New York Times, Human Resource Executive, CNN.com and the author of the newly released book “Getting Real:  Strategies for Leadership in Today’s Innovation-Hungry, Time-Strapped, Multi-Tasking World of Work”

 

Why Change Kills Engagement


A big concern for manager during times of change is how to keep their people engaged. We all know that change is hard. Just because it’s become a regular part of our work life doesn’t make it any easier. As a matter of fact, because we are continually changing and adapting, keeping people engaged when we announce the fifth major change in the past two years is harder than keeping them engaged for the first one.

Why is that? In large part it’s the nature of change but it’s also because of how our organizations manage or mismanage change.

Long term, real engagement comes from four factors — having a sense that what you’re doing is meaningful, the ability to make progress, feeling competent and having a say in how you do your work or a sense of autonomy. Too often, our change efforts fly in the face of these four factors. For example:

    • Change that seems to be done for the sake of change. Too often why change is happening isn’t communicated well. It may not be apparent why this change is meaningful. If someone understand why it’s happening, he’s more likely to make the connection. When communicating about change, make sure you talk about why it’s happening and how it connects to what’s important to each individual. 
       
    • The change effort never makes it to the goal. Too often, change efforts are stopped before they ever reach the stated goal. And then, we introduce another one. People are never going to feel like they’re making progress if half way into every change initiative, we stop that effort and introduce the next one. Before deep sixing a change, step back and ask if you’ve really given it the time to work. 
       
    • “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Change creates uncertainty. Roles can become unclear. People are sure what the expectations are. Individuals may not be sure how to accomplish the task in the new organization. It’s difficult to feel competent when you don’t know what you’re doing and no one will give you direction. Make sure you are helping people understand their roles and responsibilities. They need to hear it multiple times in multiple ways. Don’t assume that because you’ve told them once, it’s all clear. 
       
    • Changing the processes so that there is no room for inconsistency. Some change is about improving service or quality by creating immutable standards. Templates and procedures and operating principles are created to make the achievement of these standards easier. However, when these templates, procedures and operating principles are implemented so that there is no room for personal adaptation or creativity, you’ve lost people. As someone once said, “you could have a monkey do this job. What do you need me for?” Yes, sometimes templates and procedures add value but ask yourself if your approach to implementing them is also killing personal autonomy.

Expectation Busters

What kind of expectations do you set for your team? Most people I speak with believe they set clear, concise goals that help their people focus on what’s important. For some people, that is probably true. For others, setting expectations does not seem to be working as well.

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

    • Goals are set and within two to three months most of the goals are completely irrelevant or have been re-prioritized to the bottom of the list. Business priorities change. That’s a given. However, if this is a regular occurrence in your organization it sends the message that leadership really isn’t sure where things are going or can’t make up its mind. The result is an attitude of “I don’t really need to put a lot of effort into whatever the stated goals are because they’re just going to change anyways.”
       
    • Once a goal or expectation is set, it’s never discussed again. If I’m given a goal and we never discuss progress against the goal, I will assume it’s not a very important. I’ll assume you are really interested in other things. 
       
    • Objectives are set but rewards and recognition are given for things completely unrelated to achieving them. Remember the adage what gets measured, gets done. Well, when an expectation is set I assume it has some relevance to my performance and, in turn, my salary increase, promotion consideration, and general recognition. Nothing busts expectations like seeing people rewarded for things that have nothing to do with meeting expectations and achieving results.
       
    • There is no differentiation in recognition when expectations are achieved. This is a corollary to rewarding things that are unrelated to achieving goals and objectives. If people who meet expectations and those who exceed expectations and those who do not meet expectations are not recognized and rewarded in distinctly different ways, a high performer will become disengaged quickly and you’ll see overall performance migrate to mediocrity.

Setting expectations is not a onetime event. The relevance of those expectations is established on a regular basis. How you integrate those expectations into your leadership approach will mean the difference between achieving expectations and moving towards excellence and mediocrity.

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.

Why Are You A Leader?

Why Are You A Leader?

 
I recently receive the following as part of a longer post from the Human Capital Institute and it instantly caught my attention:

 

“In the context of an organization where people ideally share purpose, the power of knowing “why” each of us chooses our role helps us be more productive. “It’s often difficult to do something well if we don’t know the reasons we’re doing it to begin with,” says Dan Pink, adding, “People at work are thirsting for context.” As a leader one of the most powerful things you can do is provide that context; instead of monitoring what, where, when and how, encourage people to consider why they’re in their roles-every day, and listen to what they have to say.”

I’ve referred to our Leadership in the Next Decade research quite a bit lately. When I read this, it reinforced the wisdom that our respondents shared with us about where leaders need to focus to build success and business results in the coming years. One of the top leadership abilities respondents identified as critical was ‘creating a compelling vision and strategy’, in other words providing context, helping people understand why. Pink’s quote brings home the other side of the equation — listening to why others are in their roles. By listening to what people throughout the organization have to say, we will be able to understand why they have chosen to be part of this larger organization and to build alignment of purpose for an ever larger part of our organizations.

As leaders can you answer these questions:

    • Why am I in this role? What makes you get up in the morning and come to work? Have you shared that story with others in your organization? 
       
    • Why are other people in their roles? Do you have any idea why the people on your team choose to be there? What about your peers? Your boss?
       
    • Why does our organization exist? What is our compelling purpose? I would argue that if you can only come up with “to provide shareholder value” you are going to come up short in the eyes of many people. Many people don’t think that the main reason they come to work is to drive up stock prices for investors. That may be an outcome of the work that is done and the value the organization creates but it’s not really the context people are thirsting for.
       
    • How do these 3 whys align? We may have different reasons for being in our roles and still be aligned around a common purpose. How does our collection of why’s build the tapestry that delivers value to our customers, shareholders, employees, and communities?

 

Re-recruit Your Top Talent

Re-recruit Top Talent

 

The recent job numbers show that hiring is on the rise, which means that some of your best people may be starting to look for their next big opportunity. Now is a good time to think about re-recruiting your top talent.  When it comes to your top performers how recently have you:

 

  •  Explained your vision for your company/group/department and told them what role they play in achieving that vision?
  • Told them that they are a valued part of the organizationand why they are valuable?  I’m not talking platitudes here.  I’m talking about genuine respect for the talents and contributions they bring. 
  • Asked them what they find interesting or engaging about their work?
  • Asked them what concerns they have about their current work or career?
  • Discussed where they want to take their career in the next few years?
  • Engaged them in solving a significant business issue?
  • Given them the opportunity to take on additional responsibility? NOTE:  This does not mean that you’ve heaped more and more work on them simply because you know they’ll get it done.  Is it the opportunity to take on additional, meaningful responsibilities?
  • Given them a break if they need one.   It’s possible they’ve carried a heavier load than others because of their talents.  Do they need the opportunity to have a slightly lighter load for a while?   
  •  Done a pulse check on their engagement level?  Is it waning?  Are they as energized as ever or feeling beat up by the work environment of the past couple of years?
  • Told them why this is still a great place to work?  You want to do this with a heavy dose of realism in it.  Nothing sends them running for the doors more than a manager who seems to have no sense of reality and who is cheering a little too loudly.

If it’s been too long since you’ve asked at least some of these questions or said some of these things, you should consider having or scheduling this conversation today.  Don’t just save it for your top performers.  Soon after they start leaving, others will take the cue and you could see more people walking out the door than you’d like.