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How to Get the C-suite on Board?

Now is the time to invest in leadership development

Cost control efforts, including layoffs, are increasing across multiple industries. Leadership development initiatives can be an easy target. However, this is often the best time to invest in your organization’s leaders, when even more is going to be asked of them. So, how do you get the c-suite on board?

Some of your CEO’s top areas of focus for 2024 are likely to be: attracting and retaining top talent, continue with digital transformation and drive growth – and, you guessed  – reduce costs at the same time (source:  Conference Board 2024 CEO Outlook Report). And, they need leaders who can support these priorities. 

This opens the door for you to guide the c-suite on how to invest limited resources in leadership development that will be most impactful. How do you get the  C-suite’s crucial support for leadership development?

Frame it up: 2 Questions to ask yourself

Start by framing your conversation to address their biggest concern – positively impacting business results.

What is the business case for your organization?  Thinking like a CEO is critical to winning their support.

  • What are executives most concerned about in 2024?In a nutshell, it’s Growth, Technology, and Talent. If you want to dig deeper, take a look at the 2024 CEO Outlook survey from the Conference Board, and the most recent Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey Insights

  •  Find out not only what is most critical to your c-suite, but how they are talking about it. Be conversant in your company’s mission, business strategy, KPI’s / OKR’s and financial performance. Have direct discussions with senior leaders about what’s critical to them. Be prepared to provide relevant data (employee engagement, client satisfaction, attrition and talent acquisition, absenteeism, etc.). Business strategy documents, annual reports, and formal communications to leaders and employees are also good sources to prepare for discussions.
  • Create a direct link between your organization’s pain pointsand how the leadership development will help ease it. See more below.

What is the ROI / Impact?  If you have been able to demonstrate a strong ROI of past leadership development initiatives at your organization, that’s gold. If you don’t have that data, you can point to studies from reputable organizations that show a link between leadership development and business performance. Use this kind of data sparingly and targeted to your C-suite’s biggest concerns. This graphic from joshbersin.com provides compelling high-level support:

A diagram of a company Description automatically generated

Or some of these statistics could pique their interest:

Talking with the C-suite

In addition to data and framing it up, positioning your business case is critical. Here are some ways to talk with your c-suite about leadership development.

Alignment:“We need to improve our leaders’ ability to align with the organization on business strategy, goals, and culture.”

  • Alignment needs to be regularly reinforced at all levels of the organization, from the most senior leaders to the most junior employees. For example, innovation is one of our core business imperatives. Leaders at all levels need to create environments on their teams where people will share new ideas and step out of old ways of thinking, Strong leadership development can show them how to do this and apply it in their real work.
  • Better aligned leaders make better decisions. They are also faster at adopting new technology.Our business’s innovative strength will be a direct byproduct of helping our leaders and their teams to better align with our business strategy and goals.
  • Leadership development is best when customizedso that critical skills are taught and practiced in ways that reflect our strategy and values. And I will ensure any development program does that.

Engagement:“We know from our engagement surveys, leaders and managers want the organization to invest in them” (if you don’t have engagement surveys, use some of the statistics discussed above). Opportunity for development is one of the top motivating factors listed in virtually all studies and surveys on engagement.

  • The bottom line for better engaged managers and employees is better performance. Teams that are engaged work more productively; they’re more likely to got the extra mile to achieve organizational goals, and they collaborate across teams more willingly.
  • In our continually changing business environment, leaders are desperately looking to boost their ability to stay on top of their people challenges.
  • Developing our leaders has a trickle-down effect on the teams and employees. They will be better led and therefore more engaged themselves. That results in better retention, lower hiring costs, and increased productivity.
  • Showing our leaders how to build empathy and trustwith their team members builds connection and embeds engagement more deeply in the organization.

Performance:  “When our leaders have their teams better aligned and better engaged, they will perform better.”

  • Our leadership development will emphasize effective communication and collaboration, which leads to better working relationships and less operational friction. That means fewer misunderstandings, mistakes, and wasted time and resources.
  • We also need to improve team and individual accountability. That includes mutual accountability amongst team members and their leaders. When leaders share more accountably with their teams, it drives engagement and performance.
Growth:  “When our leaders are better aligned with our strategy, and have more engaged and productive teams… they will be better able to help grow the business. Their professional growth helps drives team and organizational growth.”
  • Leadership development hones skills like adaptability and continual learning. That helps create an organization that is agile in the face of constant change.
  • Over time it builds muscle-memory for how to shift gears quickly and effectively from one business imperative to a more urgent or critical one.
  • Well-developed leaders are also better at identifying organizational growth opportunities and mitigating risks that threaten that growth.

Of course, you will find language and examples to make this framework more specific to your organization. That will make it resonate more with your senior leaders.

The value of effective leadership development is that it supports and accelerates the business strategy. It helps create a culture of adaptability and innovation. All of which helps your organization stay competitive in relentlessly changing markets.

All of which makes leadership development a wise investment, and not merely a cost.

Contact us for more information on how we can help you build leaders who enhance connection, performance and growth in your business.

A Better Way to Motivate

Dynamic Alignment works in any performance management process

 

We recommend Dynamic Alignment to leaders at all levels as we train or coach them. It starts quite easily by setting expectations a bit differently. And it relies on engaging with team members in simple, but essential ways — to build a sense of engagement and collaboration. It’s designed for the way we work today, as we face constantly shifting priorities that require ever more agility.

The whole idea behind performance management is to align effort, achieve results, and, at its core, motivate your team members.
 The problem is, the old models aren’t nearly as effective anymore. They don’t work when an organization needs to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances, because many of our performance management processes are built for stability and static alignment. Traditionally, it’s based on the carrot and the stick principle.  Goals are set. Progress is tracked over time. If you perform well, you’re rewarded. If not, rewards are withheld. The tension with a process that rewards alignment when agility is needed, is often demotivating. Goals are not connected to results because of shifting priorities, and people feel their efforts are wasted.

No matter what your formal performance management process, you can still use Dynamic Alignment to get more out of it. 
 The techniques manage the tension between alignment and agility, reducing frustration from wasted effort, which increases motivation – and engagement.

 

4 Ways to Build Dynamic Alignment

  • Dynamic Alignment still starts with setting goals. But the first step to support a motivating process is to ensure that your team members understand the goals are creating clarity, not certainty. From the beginning set the expectation that these are the goals AND they will most likely change in priority, scope, etc. This aligns expectations and builds trust because they aren’t caught off guard or frustrated by priority shifts when they invariably happen. Let your team members know that opportunities and challenges will arise for the business and the team. You may find that a particular path is not taking them where the team needs to go. Encourage your team members to discuss opportunities and challenges they see over time that may indicate a course correction is needed. This gives them the opportunity to be a co-creator in priority shifts. The shifts are done with them, not to them.
  • When priority shifts happen, it’s essential to explain why and check for deeper understanding.  Why is this more important than our previous priority? How will it create bigger, better, or more critical impact? Why is it a good thing for our customers or clients? Explain that it’s not personal. It’s not because the individual is doing a poor job or was focused on the wrong thing. When a person understands the why, it allows them to connect to their personal why, increasing their engagement and motivation.
  • When a project or work deliverable is deprioritized, have a conversation about what can be used from the work that has already been done.  Frustration increases and motivation decreases when we make progress against a goal, only to have it be deprioritized — especially when it happens repeatedly. It’s like rolling the boulder up the hill and having it roll back down. People begin to see less and less value in putting in the effort when they perceive it’s just going to be for nothing. How can it be applied to the new priorities? What did we learn along the way that could have a positive impact on the new priorities? What skills did they hone? Recognize the value that the effort to-date has created.
  • Dynamic Alignment must be horizontal as well. When your team’s priorities are being realigned, demotivation is still a threat if alignment doesn’t exist with the people they need to collaborate with to make things happen. Cross-boundary misalignment often leads to conflict, confusion, and isolation. When left unresolved, collaboration is seen as a punishment, not engaging and valuable.
Motivation, especially amidst continually shifting priorities, is critical to success. Creating dynamic alignment makes it easier for employees to understand why things are changing and how their role is important to making that change happen. Ultimately, you help them recognize how this priority affects their customers’ satisfaction, their team’s accomplishments and their own success.

 

And it can be leveraged within whatever performance management process your organization uses.

Contact us for more information on how we help your leaders apply dynamic alignment and better motivate their teams.

3 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking

You may have heard the story of the truck that was immovably stuck under a bridge and how the solution came from an unlikely source. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this newsletter.

I was thinking about this story when recalling a professional meeting where the topic was developing a global mindset. One of the speakers was talking about their company’s research showing that experiencing another culture has a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. “Experiencing” didn’t mean going there on a vacation. It was an immersive, longer-term experience, like ex pat assignments or managing a global team where you had to travel to work within their culture somewhat regularly.

The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they challenge your perceptions and perspectives of the world. 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 resulting implications. Your competitors are increasingly global, not just national or local. Therefore, such experiences help you to think more like (and outthink) your competitors, to anticipate trends, and to consider solutions and strategies from a broader array of possibilities.

How, then, can you stretch your perspectives to help develop your strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility (or, at least, not yet)?

  • Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations people think differently than researchers. See how someone different from you may experience the same issues or the organization itself.
  • Interact with those outside your industry.  For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to gain some competitive advantage. Benchmarking is often practiced with a closed-system approach. Life science companies benchmark other life science companies. Tech firms benchmark other tech firms. That’s important, but it’s also somewhat limiting, especially in a world where industries and disciplines are bleeding together like never before. The perspective of someone in a different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he included perspectives he gained from things as diverse as digital animation, calligraphy and architecture.

When we hire people who are mostly like ourselves we multiply our strengths… but also our weaknesses and blind spots.

  • Hire people who are different from you. We’re all familiar with research which shows that diverse organizations are generally more successful. In addition to the typical diversity categories we’re used to thinking about (gender, race, age, etc.) we should look for diversity of thought, experience, and education, among many other factors. When we hire people who are mostly like ourselves, we multiply our strengths… but also our weaknesses and blind spots. Make sure to regularly ask those you’ve hired for their 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 for strategic thinking.

So, the story of the truck goes like this. The top of the truck was wedged against the underside of a bridge, and it could go neither forward nor backward. It just wouldn’t budge. Traffic was backed up and police and tow trucks were trying to figure out how to get it out. 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.”

Alignment + Agility = Competitive Advantage

Our previous two articles talked about creating alignment for success in 2021. First, your organization (and your teams) need a clearly articulated North Star and strategic clarity. Second, it is imperative to build a culture that reinforces alignment between how you work and what you aim to achieve. Alignment is essential for success. However, agility – in addition to alignment – will lead to competitive advantage.

Alignment without agility is stagnation.

Agility without alignment is chaos.

Over the past year, rapid response and breakneck adaptation have been watchwords for successful businesses in the COVID environment. The pace of that agile response has left people exhausted and organizations risking burnout among their teams. Some organizations have been changing so quickly that they have prioritized adaptation too highly. They are no longer aligned with or certain about their business strategy. And some feel they no longer recognize their culture. In a deep and dire emergency, business survival trumps culture.  Nevertheless, it has its negative consequences.

On the other hand, some of my clients are already worried that, as we approach a post-pandemic world, the desire for a sense of “normalcy” and decompression will result in a temporary, but dangerous stagnation. It could be very tempting to feed the longing for some stability, and focus too heavily on alignment, deprioritizing agility.

And therein lies the conundrum. Organizations that build and maintain competitive advantage create a balance between two competing elements: alignment and agility. It can be convincingly argued that the benefits of agility are only achieved within the context of ongoing alignment with strategy and culture. It is also a fact that change and alignment are, at their core, competing forces that require constant attention.

How can you create alignment and agility within your team?

  • Clearly focus on only a handful of strategic imperatives. And don’t assume clarity. Revisit those imperatives regularly with your team and discuss how the team’s work contributes to them. Use them as your guardrails.
  • Help strategy bubble up from the bottom.  People in the organization who are closer to the customers, operations and technologies often see opportunities and threats more quickly than executives do. In my HBR article, “5 Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change”, I shared these two ideas for building this capability in your team:
    • Make opportunity-seeking part of the regular conversation. Simply asking questions like “What are our customers talking about? What do you think they will want a year or two from now? What new trends do you think will impact us?” sends the message that looking ahead is important. And that you value their input.
    • Advertise successes. Nothing breeds success like success. Tell the stories at company events and recognize team members who are looking ahead and identifying opportunities. Demonstrate that the status quo is not enough anymore.
  • Encourage experimentation and learn from failure:  Too often, traditional organizations’ first response to a risk is to ask, “Why?” Change agility requires leaders to ask “why not?” and to establish opportunities for pilots, prototypes, and experimentation. Experimentation is an integral part of R&D. While an overall strategy informs the researchers’ focus, any R&D scientist will tell you that there are sometimes dozens of experiments that don’t get results and that, without those failures, they wouldn’t have been able to find the successes.
  • Reallocate resources with discipline.  As Sulls’ and Homkes research found, organizations tend to move too slowly or move quickly but lose sight of the strategy. I consulted to an organization a few years ago where moving too quickly without discipline was hampering their ability to achieve results. The CEO had started the company and was the classic early-stage entrepreneur; extremely responsive to market needs, ready and willing to change strategy, and endlessly shifting resources. However, the company was not early stage anymore and this nearly sole focus on agility led to a complete lack of follow-through, very little alignment and was seriously impacting results. The board removed him and named a new CEO who added a new level of discipline to resource allocation through a combination of centralized oversight and distributed decision-making.

Start 2021 with the ideas we’ve discussed in these three articles – defining your North Star, creating strategic clarity, building a strong culture and creating aligned agility – and you will have improved your ability to thrive.

Re-frame Your Feedback

I have a leadership challenge for you. You will need to execute this challenge at the most foundational level of the leadership experience — in the one-on-one relationships you have with individuals on your team or in the company. The challenge relates to feedback.

I’ve found over the years that giving feedback is often not the favorite part of the leadership conversation. I believe this is true because for many of us feedback means hearing something negative. We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well or about a mistake that person made or about what that person needs to do to improve. For the next week, my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things research has proven over and over again. but hasn’t seemed to make it into leaders’ thinking is the power of positive feedback. Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of one-hundred-plus performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction. Positive feedback was one of seven practices that had significant impact on both results and satisfaction, and the impact was far greater than feedback that was focused on the negative. The ratio of positive feedback and developmental feedback that seems to have the biggest impact is about 4:1 (i.e., 4 positive, 1 negative).

So, your challenge is to catch people doing something right this week. Focus on a couple of team members and try to get close to the 4:1 ratio.

When you provide your positive feedback, remember a couple of guidelines:

  • The feedback should be specific and situational. Tell them the specific situation you are talking about.
  • It should focus on behavior. What did they do or say that created a positive result?
  • It should describe the impact of their behavior. What was the positive impact they created? How did it affect you or the team or the company or the customer.
  • Avoid vague feedback like “great job” or “way to go.” One of the reasons to give positive feedback is to help someone replicate the behavior and results in the future. If he’s not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for him to make it happen again.

Why Engagement Isn’t Just About Soft Stuff

Employee Engagement

If you’re serious about improving performance and driving growth, focus on how happy and engaged your people are. That may seem mamby pamby, but there is growing evidence that it’s not such soft stuff.

Here are a couple of Gallup statistics to consider:

  • Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line.  Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.
  • Engaged work groups show higher productivity, fewer safety incidents, lower absenteeism and are more profitable than disengaged work groups.  Their research shows that engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in the same industry. (Gallop statistics)

Now the question is. “What really drives engagement?” Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, and Steven Kramer researched that question. What they determined is that of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important is simply making progress doing meaningful work. In a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, Amabile and Kramer note, “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about work.” Interestingly, this positive “’inner work life“ (as the researchers call it) has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment, and collegiality.

The leader’s role, then, is to help people make progress — remove obstacles, provide support, recognize progress, and provide feedback on what’s not working. Unfortunately, almost all managers don’t see making progress as a compelling motivator. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the world to rank five employee motivators, they ranked “supporting progress” dead last. Ninety-five percent of these leaders failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is a far more important motivator than raises and bonuses.

When was the last time you talked about any of this with your people? Probably not recently. Conversations with our teams are usually about financial results, how many deals are about to close, or where someone is in a project.

Next time you are trying to create motivating environment, don’t automatically think about traditional rewards. Think about whether your people feel like they are moving up the trail or if they feel like their pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down on them.

Then ask yourself how you can bring more of of a sense of progress to the work and the workplace.

Make Your Team Smarter

Executive Team

Executives  and managers are an action-oriented group. That’s usually one of the characteristics that has made them successful. They see something that needs to be done and make sure it gets done. Unfortunately, when they’re working as a team, that drive for action makes the team do dumb things.

 

The dumb thing they do is jump right into solving the problem — identifying courses of action, recommending solutions, pushing to make a deadline.  But, wait, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?  Well, yes, but there is a better way to do it. You see by just jumping into solution-mode, the team often plunges into conflict because they never agreed on what the issue was they were trying to solve, never spent a few minutes setting up a process, and haven’t really vetted the reasonableness or effectiveness of a solution.  Then, it’s  well into the conflict before they realize that the reason for the conflict is that they are not all on the same page. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of constructive conflict in teams. However, this type of conflict is an unnecessary time waster.

 

The drive for action often makes people feel like they’re ‘wasting time’ by spending time making sure everyone is on the same page about what the issue is, have criteria for successful solutions, and have put at least a small amount of structure around how we’re going to drive to solution. Actually, the exact opposite is true.  By doing some initial level-setting and planning early on, the likelihood that a team will come to the best solution and be able to implement it quickly is greatly increased.

 

Stepping back to move forward leverages everyone’s best thinking.  It makes the team smarter.

Push and Pull

Push and Pull

Over the past year, I’ve been working with an amazing business coach who has been helping me take my thinking to the next level. One of the biggest take-aways for me has been thinking about the balance of push and pull energy.

Push energy is what you do when you are advocating, telling, putting your opinion or expertise out there first. Pull energy is about asking, inquiring, allowing the other person to bring what they need to into the conversation.

Often, the leaders I work with struggle with this balance. Too often, they rely on push energy — focusing on telling others what needs to be done, building and selling a business case, pushing to get a change accepted. Don’t get me wrong. These are things that all need to be done and should be a part of what leaders do. It’s what people look for at certain times from their leaders. But, when we rely too heavily on the push, we are often met with indifference, resistance and compliance rather than engagement, enthusiasm and interest. When we rely too heavily on pull, people can sometimes feel like they don’t get our input or perspective. They are sometimes thinking, ‘just tell me what you want!’

Over the next several days, notice how often you are relying on your push energy to get things done and how often you are using pull energy. Take notice of the balance. If the balance is too much in one direction or the other, how can you shift your behavior to reset the balance?

Building an Accountability Culture

Building an Accountability CultureOne of the most difficult skills for many leaders to master is to artfully and effectively build accountability into the culture. They need to walk the line between creating a punitive culture, where people are afraid to be innovative, take responsibility or drive change because of the fear of failure and its ramifications. On the other extreme is the leader who wants to create such a feel-good culture that they let things slide and pretty soon people aren’t clear what, if anything is important and they adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s approach to dealing with adversity:  “Tomorrow is another day.”

In an accountability culture, each person takes ownership for achieving results.

Too often we think about accountability only when something goes wrong. Until then, we figure that people know what needs to get done and will do it. It’s what I call a rear view mirror exercise. A more powerful approach is to be mindful of creating a culture of accountability by using the ACAR model.

  • Align: To create a culture of accountability, you need to start by aligning goals, people and process. The first step is to ensure that individual or team goals are aligned with the larger corporate, group and department goals. People will give more importance to what they are doing when they understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture. Even better, explain the larger goals to them and then engage them in setting their own goals. Second, ask yourself if the work people are doing is aligned with their strengths — their talent– and with the goals you are asking them to achieve? The ability to use our strengths at work makes it much more likely that we will complete tasks and create results. Third, align the goal with what the individual finds motivating. When an individual is able to see how the work they are doing helps fulfill a personal need or aspiration, they will own the work. Finally, do we have enough processes in place for someone to achieve what needs to get done? If not, have you given them the capacity to create it?
  • Communicate Expectations: Do your expectations focus on activity or results? Am I accountable for the activities I engage in or the results they produce? Often it’s both. For example, we may have expectations for how someone works with other members of the team in order to achieve their results. Where accountability falls apart is when we focus solely on one or the other. We’ll reward the person who achieves the best results even though everyone knows their behavior flies in the face of what we say we value, leading to a toxic culture. Other times, we are so focused on people getting the activities right that we will give them an “A for effort”. We lose sight of the ultimate goal because we are so focused on the process that we create a situation where nothing seems to get done. Communicate what your expectations are — both behavior and results.
  • Acknowledge. We usually think of holding people accountable when someone is not making the deadline, when quality isn’t what it should be or when results aren’t achieved. Often, we are looking for where to assign blame. Turn that thinking on its head. Focus on those people who are doing what they are supposed to do and achieving results. Recognize them, point it out to others. Watch the impact it has. People will recognize that achieving results is noticed and makes a difference.
  • Redirect and Re-engage. Even after aligning, communicating and acknowledging, there will still be performance issues from time to time. You’ll still need to have the hard conversations. You will need to tell people that part of their performance is not where it needs to be. You will need to share your disappointment or describe the impact it had on the team. Most importantly, you then need to redirect and re-engage. You need to engage the individual in a conversation about how to improve performance. You need to recheck the alignment, the communication and the acknowledgement. The conversation should build a partnership in which the individual takes ownership of the work that needs to be done.

 

What Makes a Great Leader?

great leadersTwo different and interesting takes on leadership jumped out at me recently. They provide completely different views on effective leaderships.

In Praise of the SOB Leader: In this article, Marc Effron discusses research that looks at the impact of execution-related capabilities and people-related capabilities on performance. The execution-related capabilities — things like being persistent, organized, proactive, setting high standards and holding people accountable — have a positive impact. People-related skills like teamwork, listening, etc. do not. My question is, does focusing on the execution-related capabilities really mean that you have to be an SOB or can you display those capabilities in a way that honors the other person.

9 Surprising Traits of Truly Phenomenal Bosses: Inc.’s Jeff Haden shares 9 traits that your boss has that aren’t obvious because of what they do but because of what they don’t do. t’s these traits that he argues are what differentiates a truly terrific boss. The traits include things like forgiving and, more importantly, forgetting and allowing people to learn their own lessons.

Take a look at the articles. think you’ll find a couple of really good nuggets in both of them.