House of Cards

April 12, 2015

CardHouse

Tell the truth. This is the advice your parents gave you when you were five. They insisted on it or there were consequences. It’s a good idea, regardless of your age, because it has everything to do with progress. It does, however, require courage.

Like temperature is to fever, truth is to organizational health.  We see this all the time  where people gather in organizations and communities. Safe space for truth is “permitted” by powerful people and the routine level of tolerance becomes a norm.

Skillful leaders interrogate reality and engage multiple opinions, they value insights beyond or different from their own. They recognize arguments by detractors, minority opinions and others’ experience. They know these are all vital to informed decisions and learning. They are aware of their own blind spots. Many people in key jobs don’t proceed this way. They require loyalty, no matter how foolish or nonsensical the party line and exclude or otherwise squash any deviance.

Marketing or Reality

The essential problem with this is that experienced people know the variations in the truth fall in two big camps: marketing and reality. The former weighs politics far more than the latter which is aimed at performance. Marketing or the “official truth” is a constructed notion that all is well. It is the party line that ignores the smoldering fires. It only allows heroes and never recognizes wrongs, errors, mischief or corruption. You find out about truth later when there’s a big spill, investigative journalism, a lawsuit or gossip. Marketing doesn’t expect anyone to think.

The common clever ways to manage information for advantage include: withholding, obfuscating, avoiding, reframing or twisting the script. Depending on core values, people cope with this in different ways. It has certain ethical dimensions.  Unfortunately, when people change the story to suit their own purposes there is real cost. Feeding a narrative that’s at odds with the facts has consequence. Research shows when issues get ignored then there is erosion in staff confidence, compliance, productivity, safety and legal concerns, as well as damage to brand, vendor relations, trust and other factors.

In contrast, grounded truth reflects ugly reality, unpleasant news and a whole picture that includes flaws, bumps and deficits. Looking at the truth means thinking must happen. When we and others start thinking then we can co-create great efforts to fix what needs a fix.

Messengers & Silent Good People

Very capable, honest people can get hurt in the space between marketing and truth. To deflect substance, dysfunctional organizations take aim at the messenger versus the message. Instead, there ought to be someone asking: What about these serious concerns?

Martin Luther King said: “We will have to repent not merely for our vitriolic words and actions of bad people…but for the appalling silence of good people.” When reality isn’t permitted, then threats and opportunities, and simple information sharing and integration aren’t either. We know it is a foundational error to have inadequate situational analysis. Without it, the rest of your edifice gets shaky. So, if strategy is weak from the get go and trust takes a beating, there’s big trouble. In their absence, you are likely to add bad execution to weak strategy. The net is a virtual house of cards.

You are a lot older than five. So,  tell the truth and welcome it warmly from others.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

A Blinding Blizzard

March 23, 2015

blizzard

Blinded by the data blizzard?

In 2014, this volume of data was produced, each minute:

  • 204 million email messages were sent
  • Google received more than 4 million search queries
  • 2.46 million pieces of content were shared on Facebook
  • 277,000 tweets were sent, along with 48,000 apps downloaded
  • 26,380 reviews were posted on Yelp! and 216,000 photos posted on Instagram
  • 3,472 images were pinned to Pinterest, and
  • 72 hours of new video were uploaded to YouTube

In Digital Destiny, Shawn DuBravac, PhD, reminds us there’s no need to remember these figures. They are obsolete. The quantities are far greater today. However, these facts show something very important: the huge scale and speed of data production.

Data is everywhere in your organization, community, home and life. Managing effectively depends on measuring accurately. The careful use of data sets strategy, creates programs, provides feedback, shows potential for improvement and displays  outcomes.

With increasing frequency, we see metrics, indicators and findings mis-used. To support a conclusion or point of view, some people consciously (and unconsciously) will generate or select data to suit their purpose. It’s a strong way to market any message.

There’s no public or private “regulator” that practically sorts this for you. The volume and quality of data used across many contexts presents tremendous challenges for those with little measurement experience or awareness.

Professionals who handle data routinely know and practice ethical standards for data use. What can you do? Here’s a start: listen to skeptics; trust your intuition; ask hard questions to challenge assumptions, methods and sources; read more about metrics; understand limitations in findings; secure an independent review by an ethical evaluator.

Data can be very powerful in the right hands, heads and hearts. Because of this, every manager-leader needs data literacy.  Sorting out the signals from the noise is a vital skill in demonstrating value, for learning and creating change.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Play To Win

February 27, 2015

accountsign

“It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember I am the Pope.”

This comment by Pope John XXIII makes me chuckle. It also encourages personal growth.

In any organization, performance potential has a lot to do with accountability. It also has a lot to do with individual character and prevailing norms (or organization culture). Accountability is an attitude and it informs behaviors. Successful people and organizations are accountable.

A favorite author, Susan Scott, defines accountability as “a desire to take responsibility for results; a bias towards solution, action.” She writes it is “a personal, private nonnegotiable decision about how to live one’s life.”

In Fierce Leadership, Scott lists some signs accountability may be a challenge for you or your workplace.

  • People play to avoid loss.
  • Productivity and morale are poor.
  • Lack of clarity, lots of confusion, tunnel vision.
  • Nasty surprises and cultural frustration.
  • Bitterness toward coworkers, partners, and failed relationships.
  • Difficulty leading.
  • Rule-driven, dependency and justified victims.
  • Stalled strategies, initiatives, progress.

When people complain they want their organization to be authentic, focused, engaged, on the right issues…but explain it isn’t, then whatever “reason” is offered is an excuse. That person is articulating a belief and acting on it. They may signal earnestness and other manners of a gracious person but they are not a leader.

Accountability is a leadership attitude. It begins with individuals – regardless of title or position. It starts right now  with each of us. It’s not finger pointing at leadership because you are the leader. Leadership has a cost. It’s price is relative but always more than simple self interest. When people “hurt” their self interest to be accountable, you know someone is leading.

Scott points out a sophisticated and too-common version of finger pointing happens. People in “high places” often say, “I acknowledge mistakes were made here.” She says this technique is popular because the passive voice avoids accountability. The trite comment removes any actor. Mistakes are made by individuals – they don’t emerge from thin air. One of the important things about learning is the necessity of noting errors so they can be corrected.

So, this next week, skip the automatic responses like: run, hide, huddle and cover. That’s what animals do when fearful. Choose to build an essential habit. In effective organizations, accountability is a bedrock, pervasive value lived daily by every member.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Culture and the Curia

January 3, 2015

Francis

The famed management advisor Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And, Pope Francis concurs.

In his recent Christmas greeting to Catholic Church management (the Curia), Pope Francis sent some clear messages. The administrators responsible for delivering on the church’s mission didn’t get a warm fuzzy or glowing cover-up memo. The Pope took a big step forward on his prior, early signals to overhaul and upend a dysfunctional culture. His specificity (complete with footnotes & Biblical references) challenges the use of power – a significant issue in many organizations and communities.

Pope Francis’ 15-point critique cites a “catalog of illnesses,” including hypocrisy, careerism, unaccountability and cliques that “enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens…and leads to friendly fire.” When he named Cardinals early in 2014, he warned them to avoid temptation, power lust, ladder-climbing and dismissed attitudes of “royalty.”

The Pope’s message is timely, simple and strong. His transparency reflects an iron will that demands improvement and growth so that the Church can fully realize its mission. It’s a lesson any leader can imitate. While the managers were left “clearly uncomfortable,” this tension is an essential step in change.

As the new year starts, what does your list of organization ailments include? What actions will build on strengths? How will you (and others) heal culture? What will you insist on?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Brand Repair

November 26, 2014

redbrand

Some organizations have reputation troubles. It’s likely they earned them.

A tarnished brand is something we’ve all seen and don’t want. An advising peer recently shares this case: “We are hand-cuffed in a very important assignment. The client organization is full of ego, fear, dysfunction and paralysis. Regrettably, standard, constructive practices that could inform our tasks were suspended – all because of reputation worries. The senior management knows their brand is in a tattered state.”

A tragic management response is in play: close ranks, worry, more clauses in the standard contract, gag orders, commands, declarations, defense, denial and other control tactics. These choices build fear, disables staff and sends distress signals. It jacks up anxiety. Moreover, these actions can become a negative loop that cause more injuries (inside and out).

A viable alternative ? Carefully identify the wrong values, attitudes and behavior that created the reputation challenges because they inform what must be different going forward. Then, step away from the “war” and demonstrate some vulnerability. Act swiftly and consistently to promote great experiences.

Try this brand ambassador recipe:

(1) Listen. Calmly and patiently hear what the aggrieved party says and what it means.

(2) Apologize. Indicate authentic concern for a failure or inadequate experience.

(3)  Fix it. Take action to remedy the mis-step. While this isn’t always possible, if it is, do it, promptly.

Make these actions automatic for everyone in your organization. From top to bottom, staff should know these three steps. Soon, the volume of good and great recent experiences will replace the stain of history. Concurrently, take big inside actions to attend culture, and make plans along with specific communications that support internal process and structural improvements.

Learning how your organization is understood by others requires gathering both random and routine feedback. This knowledge can serve organization effectiveness. Reputation is earned from the experiences people have inside and outside your building by phone, email, in meetings and other routine interactions. Part of building great brand as well as organization performance is this paradox: take off the armor to build strength.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Seize Opportunity

October 29, 2014

Oppty

What leaders know is that  justice and fairness exist only when we and our colleagues work very hard to make it happen.

A Natural Tendency

Studies done at the Yale Mind & Research Lab suggest that most people tend to ignore this because of a rationalizing bias. Whether an atheist or a religious person, a majority of people think life events (like births, deaths, illnesses, love matches) were purposely designed. Even young children show this bias, that things happen to “teach a lesson” or “send a sign.” Yale researchers indicate this is about our powerful drive to reason, make sense and align our external environment with our own goals, intentions or ambitions. Obviously, these attitudes can bring comfort and reassurance. And, those feelings are an important reinforcement for the bias.

But then, how do we explain the very ugly consequences of structural racism, sexism, and other abuses of power? Our world is full of injustice, brutal and unfair behavior that deeply injures individuals, communities and organizations. Intentional actions cause fear, oppression, disappointments, and serious wounds.

Wise Perspective

A sage family friend always softly responded to the common inquiry, “How are you?” with “Better than I deserve.” He embraced gratitude as a primary perspective because he had lived a rough and tumble life but was able to acknowledge chance. Many people don’t get what they deserve.

None of us live in an absolute meritocracy. Yale professor Paul Bloom suggests life is not a fundamentally fair place with goodness rewarded and badness punished. Logic recognizes that we cannot blame those who suffer from disease, victims of crimes and maintain a bias for the status quo. This view requires us to affirm poverty, inequality and oppression are all part of some great big intentional plan. It isn’t.

Michelle Munson, CEO of Aspera, says: “Respecting an opportunity means embracing it and dedicating yourself to making the most of it. I am infuriated by people who waste the opportunity.” Clearly she understands opportunity cost, that is, the implications of missing the obligation to create value and progress. Not surprising, Munson hires staff for two fundamentals: a high degree of competence and character. She defines character as desire, drive, responsibility, honesty and genuineness. Munson exhorts: “Nothing, nothing, nothing replaces being competent in what you’re doing…”

Great Choices

So, what’s the leadership message and mental model? I think it’s opportunity. It is the choice we each have to turn away from self interest and work diligently to create a fair and just society, community or organization. Leaders courageously tackle the status quo. They take responsibility for change and progress. Bloom’s research encourages us to resist the natural urge to cite our good fortune as fate. Prosperity, equality, freedom and hope occur because we purposely construct those conditions

What will you do and how will you guide others in opportunities today?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

More Red Flags for Managing Better – Part 2

October 16, 2014

mgmtdrw

One of management’s most important contributions to enterprise performance is talent development. The example we provide is a powerful influence on others. Our choices in attitude and action matter hugely. To discern who needs your leadership, supervision and related attention, be vigilant about signals others display.

In my last post I described some poor examples. Here, I add six more descriptions to point out too-common misbehaviors. Only through awareness and intervention can we enable better attitudes and actions. In bold face, I note the “red flag.”

1.Won’t or can’t articulate ethical or appropriate behavior. Avoids thoughtful observation and commenting on blunders, mis-steps or errors in judgment. Unwilling to prompt exploration, discovery or provide constructive actions. Red flag: Avoids coaching.

2.Never follows through. Offers empty promises. Consistently deceives and simply fails to show integrity. Red flag: Isn’t trustworthy.

3.No updates, context or guidance sets others up to fail. Clear, communications that sense, interpret and support forward action is vital. Red flag: Expects others to mind read.

4.Rigid, uncompromising, limited perspective, won’t acknowledge other experience or situational context. Red flag: Inflexible.

5.Dulling, oppressive, controlling, overly pessimistic, no big view. Red flag: Cannot inspire.

6.Assassinates, plays “keep-away,” grabs others’ ideas, manipulates and puppeteers. Often this kind culture is created if people lack skill and knowledge or are insecure. Little or no accountability accelerates it. Red flag: Bullying.

For me, items 1, 2 and 6 are weighted. Why? Because feedback, trust and competence are essential building blocks for organization performance.

It’s a challenge for all of us to manage better in both our work and lives. Mature, well-intentioned peers and supervisors must speak up. Many of us know amazing mentors and sponsors who do. A little bit of courage conquers any risk and creates trustful interdependence. Things go better if we can rely on each other!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Red Flags for Managing Better

October 2, 2014

mgmtdrw

Managers lead, supervise, mentor and motivate others. Their skills and knowledge have huge influence in your organization’s effectiveness. Minimizing workplace stress, supporting productivity and high performance in your organization requires capable management.

What does poor management look like? To avoid it, and to support talent development, it’s helpful to recognize misbehavior.

This list of seven  general symptoms below isn’t exhaustive, but can signal when feedback, training, further education or changing staff is necessary. In this post and my next, I  describe behaviors and a  “red flag” in bold face copy.

1. When asked about a colleague’s new title and responsibilities eyes roll. An unprompted extensive review of a senior executive’s incompetence. Comments on (or participation in) a workplace romance between staff – one supervising the other. Gossip about or sponsorship of an unqualified friend  who “got in” as a new hire. This behavior kills morale and pollutes culture. Red flag: Focused on and feeds politics.

2. Berating, belittling, threatening and irate stream of consciousness comments to subordinates or colleagues. This way of communicating generates interpersonal friction and resentment. Red flag: Abrasive communication.

3. Unwilling to distribute responsibilities and develop others. Controlling all assignments and micro-managing others is  a sure way to demoralize staff. Red flag: Won’t delegate.

4. Grabs credit and blames others. Rarely shows interest or interaction with staff or colleagues but spends nearly all their time with a boss or those at the top of the organization chart. Red flag: Only manages up.

5. Operating one step from disaster and running from fire to fire is exhausting and unnecessary. Priorities, goals, and time management are crucial to guide others. Red flag: Little or no anticipation.

6. Collects informatin but acts paralyzed. The manager won’t take action or own choices. Wishy-washy avoidance earns little or no respect from team members. Red flag: No ownership and indecisive.

7. Hubris and self-absorption are both  unattractive and toxic to learning. They also preclude managing a team or function that involves others. Few or no questions. Red flag:Knows everything.

If any of these signals are present in  your workplace, take corrective action. Consistently provide explicit instructions on the right attitudes and actions. And, most important, model  expectations daily. (See the following post for more common red flags!)

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

 

Strategy: A Two-Step Dance

September 25, 2014

Very little planned change in any organization, community or individual occurs without strategy. It’s a core competence that requires deliberate attention. Far too often, it shows up in  a simplistic process at the annual retreat. Sometimes it is implicit and embedded in conversations about routine functions.

But, great managers know that strategy is the map that provides direction to daily decisions and actions. Once talent and capital are in hand, strategy is job 1. It has  just two steps and both are critical.

 

strat2x2

The matrix above offers a quick way to think about the two steps. Strategy formulation and execution are equally important. One without the other has little value. When both are sound then there’s “a  good chance” of securing intended progress. When one or both are flawed, we can explain deficits in progress and bad results.

Accountability provides the “glue” for any effort that relies on strategy to improve and perform. It makes both steps relevant by specifying individual and shared ownership. In any organization, accountability occurs through relationships and structures that review performance. Formal and informal reviews specify expectations, competencies, attributes and results among participants. Without accountability –  wander, squander, delays, decline and failure are likely. With it, the “dance” can deliver value.

When assessing your program or organization’s progress, look carefully at formulation and execution. Ensure there are explicit high-quality processes for both, along with robust accountability.

(For lots more on strategy, see past tinker posts, like: Ten Good Strategy Questions-July 2010, Avoid Strategy Sabotage-October 2012, Great Plans Adjust-June 2012)

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Supporting Change

August 28, 2014

butterflyGreen bkgrd

In any successful change effort, there are three general stages: (1) design and planning, (2) implementation and (3) review or evaluation. For simplicity, let’s assume the design and planning is strategic and reflects on a clearly framed challenge that’s commonly understood. And, that routine review occurs so feedback for adaptation is assured. Then, let’s point our attention at implementation.

Why does implementation matter? Because the choice to commit resources has significant opportunity cost, and its quality is directly connected to both progress and the ultimate impact. Research indicates that those organizations with strong implementation capabilities are nearly five times more likely to generate successful change. This raises important questions about an organization’s implementation capabilities and practices.

High quality implementation relies on vital practices. They include:

Prioritization & Planning. Strong choices along with great plans are made, widely known and get consistent focus.

Ownership & Commitment. Individuals and teams have cited responsibilities and are passionate about achievement.

Accountability. Results as well as progress are connected to people with both incentives and sanctions. There is urgency – a compelling forward momentum generated by deadlines and other time sensitive pressures.

Effective Program/Project Management. A standard set of actions and attitudes supports work routines. These are integrated with standard cycles and functions of the enterprise.

Sufficient Resources & Capabilities. There are no deficits or limitations in the tools, capital, skills & knowledge essential to responsibilities.

Continuous Improvement. Learning is intentional, improvement is routinely sought and expected.

Sustainability Intent. A long-view, for what serves mission/margin, is present from the start.

Notice  sequence  in the list above. Carefully chosen priorities comes first for a reason. So, getting those clear (and shared) in your organization is job 1. Then, think about building the seven common practices enterprise-wide. Articulate actions that will systematically develop both the discipline and skills to be sure implementation gets attention. It matters.Without it,  changes won’t happen.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

 


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