What are you focusing on now? After a successful launch, entrepreneurs have a choice. They can sit back and continue to do what they have done so far or they can recognize the need to prepare for what comes next. Too often entrepreneurs make the wrong choice to stay the course using the logic “why mess with success.” However there is good reason to refocus based on changing realities. Mark Twain’s comment that even if you are on the right track you will get run over if you just sit there. And we know that 50% of new businesses fail. To ensure sustained success, leaders must adopt a strategic perspective based on industry trends and their organization’s life cycle. Everyone knows the value of using the product or project life cycle and overlook the impact of the organization’s cycle. Learn how to leverage the six organizational stages to seize new opportunities and avoid pitfalls. Here’s my recent Interview on this important topic, as conducted by Marcia Zidle, host of The Business Edge:
By Mary Lippitt | September 21, 2016
Perception: Disconnects, Distortions and Deficiencies
We often hear that seeing is believing, but should we always believe what we see? Our distorted perceptions can be superficial and unduly influenced by past experiences. Architects, IT professionals and security personnel can “see” the same office, but what registers and remains with them varies significantly. We see through our filters. We select a narrow slice of reality under the guise that we already “know” what is key. Even if we collect a broad scan, we typically retain only 90% of what we see.
To compound our distorted perceptions problem, what we do retain is not always accurate. These perceptional deficiencies can be addressed in several ways:
- We have a perception deficiency that is best addressed by asking others what they see. Visual allusions, like the one below, illustrate that there are multiple correct views of see the same reality. Some may focus on the vase, while others see two profiles. Accepting that there is another point of view increases our ability to understand current realities.
- We can overcome perceptual distortions by avoiding stereotypes. Generalized judgments gloss over distinctions and offer the false illusion of uniformity. Stereotypes also encourage simplistic thinking and undue confidence that things are under control. Stereotypical labels also reduce the potential for respect. Kierkegaard captured this reality when he stated: “Once you label me, you negate me.” Labels transform the other person into one of “THEM,” which is an impersonal abstraction. Stereotypes blind us.
Perception disconnect are also based on fixed perceptions. Our world is becoming more complex, integrated and agile, and that fixed perceptions limit our ability to collect information and recognize interactions. Holding a fixed or narrow view means that we misapply our perceived knowledge. Convinced that our perceived knowledge we refuse to pivot or adjust our views. Instead of listening we merely seek agreement. When others recognize our stubborn view, they fail to introduce new perspectives since it seems wise not to not “rock the boat.” Fixed views produce overlooked opportunities and alternatives.
We get our eyes examined to ensure that we see clearly. We must also test our perceptions. For as Thoreau noted: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” We must continually test our perception before we accept what we see at first glance is all that there is to see. To paraphrase Pogo: we have met the enemy and he is us.
By Mary Lippitt | July 26, 2016
I decided on my doctoral thesis topic after reading Steven Kerr’s 1975 article, The Folly of Rewarding A When Hoping for B, in the Academy of Management Journal (volume 18, pps.769-782). In the decades since this published, one might assume that organizations revised their reward systems to match their current strategy. Unfortunately, many have not.
In my consulting work, I still see organizations holding on to outdated metrics and systems. Many still promote individual stars despite needing teamwork. These organizations focus on short-term measures overlooking long-term impact. Despite a desire for openness and transparency, in some organizations providing honest feedback results in your being labeled a “non-team player.” Just as offering innovative ideas in response to requests can either advance or hinder a career. So it should come as no surprise that employees monitor and value actions more than pronouncements.
Check how well your organization’s recognition practices encourage desired outcome to meet current goals by asking the following:
- Are promotions given to those who have clearly contributed to current strategies? Did a promotion announcement accurately depict the person’s accomplishments?
- Is there an effective balance between individual and team measures?
- Have strategic goals been translated from vague terminology into specific outcomes? Are performance metrics tied to today’s desired outcomes?
- When a mistake occurs is the first question: who is responsible or what can we learn? What happens to those who take a risk but miss the target?
- Do problems stay hidden until they become a public nightmare?
- Is communication filtered or massaged before it travels up the chain of command? Are problems and challenges hidden?
- How quickly is teamwork, outstanding service or initiative recognized?
- Is reward system re-alignment a key part of the strategic planning process?
The good news is that some companies recognize disconnects within their recognition systems. Proctor and Gamble revised their reward systems to target what they wanted: product line sales growth.
My neighbor’s dogs explore their backyard but within constrained boundaries. An invisible fence limits them. If they stray beyond the specified area their collar provides either an electrical stimulus or a vibration to restrain them. It only takes a few of these shocking experiences before the dog recognizes how to remain secure. Likewise, leaders or their staffs might restrict themselves to safe areas in their thinking, proposals or initiatives.
Traditional boundaries, existing practices, and known solutions can limit thinking. Certainly adhering to the tried and true protects leaders from unknown external or internal risks, yet this confinement is dangerous when all the rules and expectations are changing.
Leaders can also limit their staff’s thinking. In some environments, innovative thinking becomes a career limiting activity. Keeping your head down, agreeing with the prevailing opinions and, most of all, not rocking the boat, translate too often into unwarranted praise, unearned promotions and a delay in the inevitable.
Executives who truly want innovative and strategic thinking insist on broad analysis, pattern detection, and exploring opportunities. They do this by:
- Discussing their thinking process with others using six mindset buckets to avoid blind spots.
- Avoiding any hint of “scapegoating” by insisting on learning from missteps rather than placing blame.
- Using staff meetings to challenge everyone to address persistent cross-unit issues.
- Specifying that promotions will be given to individuals that demonstrate critical thinking.
- Evaluating current practices by asking what should be done more often or less often as well as what should we start and stop doing.
- Stressing the importance of asking questions including a risk analysis before decisions are finalized
- Appointing a rotating devil’s advocates to ensure that all perspectives have been carefully explored.
- Respecting and recognizing those who are innovative or who encourage innovation in others.
- Encouraging cross-functional and lateral networks.
- Supporting pilot projects and experimentation.
- Allocating time for innovation.
Simply wishing for an innovative culture, or announcing that innovation is a strategic imperative will not change behavior or practices. Consistent actions aligned with support are essential to encourage out-of-the-box thinking. What actions are you taking to encourage strategic and creative thinking? What observable or hidden limits influence your thinking?
Originally published at: http://bizcatalyst360.com/invisible-fences-limiting-constraints/#sthash.wAwP5KXq.dpuf
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgment and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
What I found interesting was that they added the skills of emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility and dropped quality circles and active listening from the list. There was also movement within the ranking. People management, coordinating with others, service orientation and negotiation fell, while critical thinking, creativity, judgment and decision making rose. In my view this reflects a shift to mental prowess, since half the list connects to thinking ability. Complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, judgment and decision making and cognitive flexibility center on mental practices. It raises the question of how a leader or coach can develop this level of thinking dexterity. It certainly cannot be by mandate or by adding it to a job description.
I have worked with leaders who wanted their staff to display strategic thinking or creativity. The request was clear but the mechanics were not. This missing piece might be due to the assumption that thinking and IQ are correlated, and the notion that intelligence is fixed. The TV show Scorpion weekly shows how Walter Obrien with an IQ of 197 cannot deal effectively with many situations.
Decision making tools identify how to analyze the data but they do not help to identify new realities, identify multiple alternatives or influence acceptance. Instead of seeing these activities as inherent, they also follow a checklist using questions from six frames of reference or mindset. Doctors, pilots and lawyers employ checklist to collect all the necessary information. Leaders can use them also to capture what is new, what is changing and what should be done to leverage opportunities. You can see a checklist summary HERE.
First published at: http://bizcatalyst360.com/top-ten-leadership-skills-for-2020/
Many of us have heard the story about six blind men who were asked to describe an elephant. After one man touching the tail describes a rope, the man touching the trunk disagreed and said it was like a snake. The man touching the ear explained they were both wrong since it was a fan and the man touching the side announced it was like a solid wall. Disagreement mounted as the man touching the tusk compared the elephant to a spear while the man touching a leg insisted it was a pillar. An argument ensued. In some versions, the men stop talking to each other; while in others, they start listening to each other and recognized their perceptions were incomplete. Personal experience had led them astray. We can learn a valuable lesson from this story about six blind men.
The following lines are attributed to the Buddha:
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
The ending to some versions comes when a sighted man comes by and sees the whole elephant. Recognizing how each held a partial truth while ignorant of the larger picture is a lesson that today’s leaders need to contemplate. One point of view cannot capture reality and being blinded by a firm but incomplete conclusion distorts thinking and planning.
The next question that arises is how does a leader grasp the full reality? We frequently rely on teams in the hope that they possess a diversity of experience. However, this fails to be true. Groups are not always diverse and peer pressure can squelch new perspectives. To ensure a complete and accurate grasp of current reality, questions from six mindsets need to be asked and data collected before jumping to a conclusion, decision or action.
- How can we take our existing products/services to a new level?
- How can we leverage technology?
- What will keep us unique?
- What is the competition doing?
- What will grow our share of the market?
- Are we learning from and retaining our key customers?
- What will ensure smooth execution?
- What will improve our monitoring effectiveness?
- What will improve teamwork?
- What is the cost/benefit analysis?
- How can we reduce costs or improve cycle time?
- How can we boost quality and safety?
- Do we have the skills/staff we need?
- Are rewards/recognition aligned and used effectively?
- Are we developing our talent/bench strength to match our strategy?
- What emerging customer trends need to be addressed?
- Are our assumptions valid?
- How can alliances or partnerships help us?
Getting things right isn’t a matter of IQ, style or charisma. When faced with complexity, ambiguity and change, we must explore the total picture or we will end up arguing from our limited perspective, wasting time, energy and opportunity.
Organizations often respond to accelerating change with slower decision making. CEB’s study of 3,000 business leaders found that 63% of executive felt decision making was too slow. Making the right decision is not guaranteed by slow decision making practices.
Certainly the increased complexity decisions complexity leaders begs for careful analysis, however, this research study found that slow decision making was not related to in-depth analysis. Instead, the lack of speed was attributed to:
- Inattention to hand-offs between groups,
- Escalating low value decisions up the chain of command,
- Overly complex processes,
- Unbalanced metrics, and
- Faulty decision making delegation.
While this list looks daunting, there are two highly achievable solutions. First, a leader needs to evaluate what decisions should be made and at what level based on clear criteria or guardrails. Some questions that need to be asked include:
- Is it really necessary to have the upper management to approve all decisions?
- Can front line staff resolve issues within specified parameters?
- Is an agile and entrepreneurial culture consistent with a tedious decision review?
In many organizations the temptation to pass the buck up the chain of command thrives. While we espouse delegating to lower levels, delegating up the chain still flourishes. In one organization the CEO made decisions on hiring security guards extending the approval cycle to several months. By the time the hiring decision was made, the applicant had accepted another position. While this is an extreme example, it is smart to evaluate whether your organization employs a wise decision authorization practices.
Too often staff successfully delegates up the chain to their managers as a safety precaution absolving them of the responsibility for making a difficult decision. To stop the process, leaders can refuse to accept the role thrust on them by insisting any decision comes with a final recommendation backed by thoughtful analysis.
In addition, some mid-level managers expect to be consulted on every decision fearing that a risky precedent be set. Unfortunately, this means they are swamped with minor issues prohibiting them for handling significant concerns. The ability to set guidelines for common decisions not only frees up their time but also empowers their staff. Decision documentation by staff can quickly clarify the decision parameters enabling timely action. Decisions need to be made as close to the individuals impacted as possible.
Second, reassess and streamline current decision making practices. Is it best for decisions to be reviewed sequentially by level instead or can it be open for concurrent review? Would establishing a response timeline expedite decisions instead of letting something sit on a vacationing person’s desk? Can key players get involved in the process early so that their input is included from the start? Is there clear evidence that the current review process adds value? Layers of unnecessary protocol accumulate over time and must be updated or the organization will drown in bureaucracy.
While an actual decision merits the most attention, the decision making process must also be examined to ensure smart and timely decisions. Getting it right late may mean a lost opportunity, an incurred risk or a tarnished brand.
Key Words: Decision-making, Organization Change, Leadership, Communication
Advertisers use sound bites to capture attention and promote interest. Recently our leaders both political and non-political adopted the use of clever snippets that might be witty but they are not clear. In fact, they often produce confusion, rather than dispel it. A catchy phrase may entertain, but it rarely enlightens. As we all know from misreading email messages, words have multiple meanings that obscure intentions and plans.
Improve your Communication Skills
Every leader aspires to be a great communicator who gains acceptance, builds commitment and ensures stellar outcomes. To achieve this goal, however, leaders need to avoid seven derailing fallacies.
- Communication and promotion are not the same. Promotion’s goal is to excite emotion in the short term. Communications goal is to establish common ground and connect for the long-term.
- Information sharing is not communication. Communication ensures that the message both spoken and unspoken is understood, trusted, accepted and acted upon. Information consists of data which may or may not be accepted or utilized.
- Holding your cards close to the vest is great for poker, but not for building trust and gaining committed to achieve desired goals. Withholding information produces bewilderment and leads to passivity. It may also indicate a lack conviction and a need for confirmation before committing to a decision or action plan.
- Communication should be consistent and complete. It should not be tailored by staff level. Assuming that senior staff deserves and can handle full disclosure while front line staff wants only a limited positive spin has been disproven time and again. This assumption, often referred to the “I’ll steer and you just pedal” philosophy, was discarded years ago when quality circles, process improvement and safety ideas illustrated that entry personnel can master complexity and ambiguity.
- Communication cannot gloss over errors or mistakes. Even the emperor with no clothes eventually admitted to reality. Deception, obfuscation, and omission reduce respect and create divisions. It only amplifies uncertainty. Owning up to what went wrong is the first step to making things right.
- Communication must not be mind-boggling. It must be tested for clarity. Napoleon stationed a private outside his tent and asked the private to read his communiqués. If the private could not understand a portion, he rewrote it. Even an Emperor knew he needed clarity and uniform understanding of proposed plans to be successful.
- Repeating a message using different venues (large group and informal settings), formats (presentation and Q&A) and media (verbal, written and digital) improves not only understanding, but also acceptance.
Will following these guidelines really pay-off? It has for many leaders. Organizations with highly effective communicators produce almost 50% higher returns to shareholders over a five year period. This improved results from reduced rework, key talent retention, less conflict, greater productivity and better resource utilization. Improve your communication effectiveness by retiring the sound bite and applying sound communication practices.
Keywords: Communication, Influence, Leadership
Originally published: http://bizcatalyst360.com/sound-bites-can-bite/
Stick to your knitting guidance offers many benefits, but also snares many into stagnate thinking. Developing a strong core is vital to both your in business and personal health. However, strict adherence to a core-only mentality often leads to narrow thinking, which can result in undue reinforcement of existing patterns, squelching innovation and avoiding diversification.
Organizations face a dynamic and complex environment so steadfastly following past success recipes can thwart organizational reinvention, obstruct the exploration of new opportunities and stifle innovative thinking. While the quests for increased market share and organizational expansion remain universally accepted practices, they cannot guarantee sustainability. It merely increases the wager on current practices when the chances for continuous stability are extremely low. As Mark Twain quipped;
“even if you are on the right track, if you sit there you will get run over.”
Recent research by Geoffrey West in his article on The Mortality of Companies (J. R. Soc. Interface 2015 12 20150120; DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2015.0120. April 2015) found that current organizational life span is 18 years. After that most succumb to acquisition, merger or collapse. Compare West’s finding with that of Arie deGeus’ (The Living Company, 1997) who found that an organization’s life span was 40 – 50 years. The new research reflects a significant drop. West concluded that embracing core competencies and strategies exclusively equated to voluntarily wearing a straightjacket and blinders. Companies like Tandem, Wang, and Compaq illustrate the cost of becoming wedded to a once promising core.
Leaders must embrace continuous renewal, support cross-functional thinking encourage strategic thinking and develop mechanisms for growth to survive. They must rethink their hiring and reward practices. Simply trying to clone the current workforce may appear safe but it a precarious recipe that encourages hazardous group think. Reward practices that merely target meeting current performance metrics squash critical thinking and creativity. Leadership training that replicates existing competency models chain an organization to its past rather than a launching it toward the future.
Royal Dutch Shell is 300 years old and is just one of the 5,586 firms worldwide that the Bank of Korea identified as having a history of 200 years or more. Its interesting that the vast majority of these (3,146) are in Japan. The remaining firms are in German (837), the Netherlands (222) and France (196). Just as fascinating is that the vast majority of these long-lived firms had fewer than 300 employees This historic perspective runs counter to the contemporary behemoth strategy employed by many firms.
Competencies, strategies and leadership must evolve and encourage dynamic responses. The assumption that size and market dominance ensures longevity needs rethinking as does the unwavering allegiance that many firms have on their core. As the financial industry asserts “past success is no guarantee of future outcomes.”
Sustainability stems from organizational renewal, reasonable risk taking and innovative thinking. Leaders must continue to learn and grow rather than blindly perpetuating outdated formulas and strategies. What if our allegiance to our core is our central problem? This concept deserves fuller examination.
Key words: Strategic thinking, Organization change, leadership
Originally published: http://bizcatalyst360.com/is-your-core-problem-your-core-issue/
First let me clarify that I am not a great bridge player. I will never strive to play duplicate bridge or play with Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. Nevertheless, I like the games’ challenge and its practical leadership lessons. While finite with the number of cards, players and rules, it is also dynamic and complex. Here are six lessons to help leaders win more rounds.
- One solution or strategy does work for every hand that you are dealt. You have to adjust to what you have, rather than rely on a single approach. Your bidding has to be based on what you hold.
- The best plan shifts as the play progresses. Certainly you can plan your lead, but the unknowns mean that you must alter your plan in the face of reality.
- Sound bidding or planning requires collaboration. Even if you have a fantastic hand or idea, you need to collect data before you fully commit.
- You must master the rules and also learn the strategies used by your partner and other players. Knowing that some use a bold strategy and others rely on caution is as important as knowing who might bluff and intimidate. Noting actual behavior during the game provides beneficial insights.
- Watching and remembering cards played may not ensure a win but it avoids flagrant errors. Leaders who only look to the future run the risk of failing to correctly gauging what is real.
- Mistakes happen so we need to learn from them. We cannot win every round. The game encourages us to accept and learn from our mistakes. The game reminds us to remain humble.
Leadership, like bridge, is fluid and multifaceted. Leaders must set goals based on current reality, influence and motivate others, establish systems and protocols, recognize opportunity and risk, demonstrate resilience and get results. Shifting from a static view of leadership, leaders face a more complicated and intricate challenge to balance demands, set priorities and align energies. How are you doing in the dynamic leadership game?
Key words: Leadership, strategy, strategic thinking, agility
Originally published: http://bizcatalyst360.com/what-bridge-taught-me-about-leadership/
This is a terrific book. It is both thoughtful and extremely practical. It helps leaders become better strategists, decision makers and influencers by showing them how six Mindsets are key to business success. Using Lippitt's paradigm, leaders can become more agile and resilient.
Jay Jamrog, Senior VP of Research, i4cp