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

 

 

Smart Measurement

August 4, 2014

If data told you where to improve and whether you’re successful or off-course, would you want it? Would you use it? When talk turns to metrics –people often shut down. Mostly, it’s because relevance and utility are absent. Sometimes it’s because people prefer to avoid accountability.

The sticky and too-common problem: people collect and report a vast range of items that are easy to measure instead of deeply understanding and choosing a vital few metrics.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be vital navigation gauges to understand where your work stands compared to planned results. The right data is used to improve both processes and impact. In your selection, make sure data is both  relevant and actionable.

One way to organize indicators is to see your organization in several big parts. A simple four-piece dashboard common to the private sector includes: customers (or participants), financial performance (outcomes), internal processes, and talent. Those noted in parentheses are a social sector comparable.

What do you need to know about each to make decisions?

1.Customers or Participants It makes sense to have information about your customers or participants…without them, the enterprise quickly fails. For both exempt and for-profit organizations, you might want to know what is your participant retention rate? You also might want to know about “reach,” which is closely associated with the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. How well do you translate inquiries, invitations, presentations, web views into new participants? This is a “conversion rate.” To determine growth, the size of your slice of the pie, compared to others in the same market is important to know, too. This is relative market share.

2.Financial Performance or Outcomes The private sector identifies a revenue growth rate or net profit margin. In this context, it’s also relatively simple to calculate return on investment. Although more complex, the social sector can describe outcomes, too. Results often come in the form of reductions or gains, e.g., fewer teens in the criminal justice system or better science scores by 9th grade. It’s important to be able to describe short-, intermediate and long-term outcomes. Specifying those outcome chains in a time sequence  informs smart plans, adaptation and progress. It’s essential to know where you are …to get where you’re going. A social service agency or foundation cites the aggregate of their effort across multiple programs or grantees. For example, Pew Trusts delivers public value from environmental partnerships in several selected priorities.

3.Internal Processes The cost and quality of internal processes are ripe areas for review because these can be directly influenced by capable managers. We know the overall enterprise performance is deeply connected with routine functions. The maturation or relative sophistication in processes is an important measure. So, for example, in planning: Does rigor, discipline and evidence occur in a standard process and cycle? In addition, capacity as well as productivity are areas to assess against standards, as is the value on-going projects contribute to operations.

4.Talent High performing organizations rely on great talent. Organizational leadership as well as human resource practices vary in quality. Both significantly influence workforce and the workplace. “Best in class” human resource practices focus on talent identification, selection, development and retention. The talent domain raises these and many more questions: What competencies and attributes matter most in our staff? Do we have the right people? Will staff recommend their employer as a great place to work? Do staff attitudes and behaviors contribute to the enterprise goals? How do staff rate each other, themselves, their supervisors? What’s the depth of the management bench? Is the prevailing culture healthy or toxic?

Einstein said: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Steering your ship requires the right information at the right time to inform choices. It is why skillful management measures carefully.

-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

Constructive Contributions

July 17, 2014

monalisa

The critique or “crit” is a core activity in the Yale School of Art as well as other arts programs nationwide. This process happens in “the pool” if you are a student in the Photography Department and in “the pit” if you are in Painting and Printmaking. These are both spaces below the regular main floor which can exaggerate the emotional sense of an inspection.

Prompt Progress

An art student typically sits for nearly an hour while faculty and other students discuss their work. At the core of this process is intentionally constructive honesty. The objective: help the learner understand the distance between intentions and effect. It is supportive feedback that reframes effort and prompts developmental progress.

The crit provides vital wisdom for several reasons: it offers value from experience the student has not had and it reflects multiple sources. Critiques or feedback can have huge value in advancing our effectiveness if our own fragile egos don’t preclude progress. It works best when we have a learner attitude – regardless of age, stage or title.

Dialogic Review

With senior staff at a huge (multi-billion $) funder, we recently used a similar process. In what we call a “mark up,” models of program plans are the focus of experienced subject matter experts. In a facilitated review, the planned work is presented and considered against a rubric. Participants ask questions and express opinion about assumptions, barriers, facilitators, evidence and the relationship between the selected activities, inputs, and intended results. It is thoughtful and fun. It produces important dialogue as well as vital changes in the material.

Using a “mark up” or “crit” as a regular process can have great yield. Mature professionals welcome multiple perspectives. Then, they sort out what is valid and reliable. Ultimately, what’s produced is far better than the first draft. Constructive comment is a gift in any team or organization. Consider it an important way to adapt and retool your plans.

-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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