Posts

Creating a Powerhouse Team

Creating a Powerhouse TeamA couple of weeks ago, I defined the Powerhouse Employee as one who’s highly capable and highly committed.  Capability is something you can hire for or develop. An investment in skill-building is never wasted unless those skills become obsolete.  Commitment is something most people come to a new job full of. They are ready to go, excited to be there and committed to success.  The ironic thing is that, after a period of time in the job or with the company, you find commitment takes the big dive.

As a leader, spend time this week thinking about where your team’s capability and commitment levels are.  How are you increasing them or decreasing them?  As you do this, take money out of the commitment equation.  That’s the cheap and easy way to try to create commitment and one that really doesn’t work for anything but short bursts.  What are you really doing, really putting effort into that is making a difference in how people feel about working for you?

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

Changing Feedback

Changing FeedbackRaise your hand if giving feedback is not one of your favorite things to do.  Okay, you can put your hand down now.

Feedback is one of the core skills taught to anyone who goes through leadership training — along with goal setting, coaching, delegating, conflict management and team development.  I have trained hundreds of managers in a very specific formula for giving effective feedback.  The problem with feedback is that we don’t like to give it and for many people, receiving it is not something they look forward to.  It feels judgmental, critical, evaluative.  That’s not to say that knowing how to improve isn’t essential– it is.  It’s that feedback tends to put too much emphasis on what you’ve done in the past that needs to improve rather than on how to improve.

Last week, I was reminded of the power of Marshall Goldsmith’s feedforward process.  I was with a group and we engaged in a feedforward activity that went something like this.  You approach someone you don’t know in the group and describe a behavior you are trying to change or something you need to do better.  You then remain quiet while your partner provides you with suggestions on improvement.  Your job is to listen.  After the other person finishes with his or her suggestions, you don’t evaluate, you don’t critique, you don’t assess.  You simply say, “Thank you”.  We were able to approach three different people with the same issue and receive three perspectives on improving and making change.

The results: I walked away with several terrific ideas about how to make the behavioral change I was interested in making.  When we debriefed this activity as a group, we all had the same response to it.  It was very valuable and it felt good.  It felt productive.  We didn’t have the feeling of being beat down.  We weren’t tense going into the conversation. Why? Because we were focused on building the future rather than focusing a lot of time on the past.

Everyone needs feedback from time to time because we’re not always aware of what we are doing that needs to change or improve.  But once we know, the conversation should focus on feedforward — what ideas can we generate to create the future rather than spending time focused on the past.   An even better idea, rather than starting the conversation by providing your feedback, ask the other individual what he thought went well and what needed to improve in a situation.  You’ll probably be quite surprised by how aware he is and then you can both focus on what’s really important — moving forward.

The Value of Experience

In August 1st’s Boston Globe, Scott Kirsner wrote in his Innovation Economy column about start-ups courting older talent.  Hubspot, a local firm that’s experiencing amazing growth has started a campaign called “Prison Break” to court older talent from large companies.  Dharmesh Shah, Hubspot’s CTO, noted that the challenge in the start-up world is having people who have a lot of ‘flight hours’ and have actually deployed large systems — more than once.  He also notes that by looking at large company talent, they are not competing with other start-ups for the talent already resident in the start-up world.

I think Shah is on to something.  We’ve all heard the statistics about the aging of the boomer workforce and quite honestly the first wave of Gen X is not far behind.  There are a lot of them (okay, us.  I’m officially on the tail end of the boomer generation even though I was only 5 when Woodstock happened).  And they are not the older generation of yesteryear.  Many are looking for the next challenge.  They want to bring their vast experience and have it inform innovations that are going on, not stall the innovations.  They have a richness of experiences that can be integrated into new thinking to create more robust products and better solutions. The economy we are moving to will need people with diverse perspectives that are willing to contribute and work together to come up with what I call the ‘third solution’.  It’s not my solution or your solution but a better solution that answers questions, addresses issues, and allows us to rise to the challenge.

Shah’s perspective should also remind us that real talent comes in many different packages.  Our star performers are not necessarily from one generation or another, from one region or another, from one department or another, etc.  There are diamonds in the rough everywhere and we should not discount someone based on our typical stereotypes.

Many, many years ago when I was searching for a job, I belonged to a networking group of HR professionals.  At the time, one of the ‘older’ job seekers had gone on an interview at a start-up.  When asked what the company needed most, the owner responded, “Adult supervision!”  This owner expressed an understanding that even the brightest new ideas could benefit from having those who have been around the block a couple of times give their perspective on the best way to make it around.

Five Capabilities Mid-Level Leaders Need Now

Mid-Level Leaders — Senior Managers, Directors, Senior Directors — are the linchpin for creating results in most of our organizations.  Their task is to interpret the company’s vision and strategy, create a localized vision and strategy for their organization, and then create the capacity for execution and results.  The role of bridging the strategic and operational, vision and execution, future needs with today’s pressing demands, and the expectations of senior leaders and the front line has always been challenging.  In today’s environment of multi-generational workplaces, rapidly changing technology, increasing competition and an ambiguous economic climate it is even more so.

Our recent research has identified 5 critical capabilities Mid-Level Leaders need to help their organizations forge the future:

  1. Drive collaboration and break down silos. Creating an environment in which collaboration across work groups, departments, time zones and geographies occurs easily is essential for Mid-Level Leaders to succeed. Previous barriers to collaboration are quickly falling away thanks to the collaborative tools and technologies that seem to change daily.   Mid-Level leaders should make creating an culture of collaboration and investments in technologies to facilitate collaboration a priority.
  2. Manage talent. No one has a better view to the young talent in the organization than the Mid-Level Leader.  Mid-Level Leaders should conduct talent reviews to create a broader understanding of the talent in the organization and to develop key talent early in their careers.
  3. Drive performance and create a culture of accountability. In a workplace where more and more people collaborate and where talent is valued, differences in performance expectations come more clearly into focus for everyone.  The Mid-Level Leader needs to establish standards for performance and create accountability for meeting those standards. Nothing destroys the desire to collaborate or the desire for strong performers to make an impact than the knowledge that people aren’t held accountable for their performance or perceptions of favoritism or lack of equity.
  4. Make Effective Decisions. Effective, efficient decision-making is a key role for Mid-Level leader, especially in an environment of collaboration and cross-functional integration.  Mid-Level leaders need to think about how they can establish approaches that allow them to get broad input efficiently, weigh and balance that input, and use it to make decisions that drive the organization forward.
  5. Engage and Retain Talent. Innovation, creativity, and excellence are what will propel success for American companies as global competition increases.  Mid-Level Leaders need to truly embrace the thinking that “people are our greatest asset” and focus on engaging and retaining talent broadly.  More often than not people come to work wanting to perform well and make a contribution.   The more the environment engages their hearts and minds, the better that performance will be.