Posts Tagged ‘action’

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

Grow Taller and Bolder

March 26, 2012

In a study of 20,000 people, German scientists found a correlation between height and backbone. When it comes to risk, taller people are bolder.

Every day we encourage people to “stand tall” regardless of their vertical measure. Risks are a normal part of work and life. The tough question is: what risk and when. Inevitably, the associated fears and transition are part of leading change.

Very Tall

In 2011, plenty of CEOs and senior managers took risks and will ride out the implications. For example:

  • Microsoft spent $8B to buy Skype
  • Kraft split in two
  • AOL  bet $315M to acquire the Huffington Post
  • Walmart raised prices and added “mini-stores”

In the nonprofit sector, well managed organizations take risks and cite specific results. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) is one example. They have 12 goal-level indicators against a five year strategy. By noting them publicly, the staff and governance take considerable risk, provide transparency and display accountability. Not long ago, United Way of America publicly named specific social benefit targets with a deadline, e.g., fewer high school drop outs. 

Risk & Perspective

Risk is relative. So, a financial adviser has some, but it’s different than a construction worker, soldier or commercial fisherman. Everyone can name a job that they think is riskier than their own. This is good because it provides perspective.

David Ropeik is a Harvard instructor and author of How Risky Is It, Really? He writes about the brain and risk assessment. According to Ropeik just 22 milliseconds after you have “registered” trouble your cortex starts reasoning through the situation. Then, other regions of the brain send signals that begin determining solutions. Activity in emotional centers means a greater willingness for risk, while activity in cognitive reasoning yields more conservative decisions. This is good evidence for employing far more than an emotional response when facing an important decision.  

Inaction Has Cost

When tackling risk, cite your challenge and its remedy. Then, list your upside gains and the potential losses. It is important to be concrete and clear. It’s even better to discuss your thinking with others to check for blind spots and bias. Be sure to profile the opportunity cost – it’s the “price” of inaction.

While some choices have incremental influence, others can reset your organization’s entire trajectory.Although people didn’t buy much during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1933, refrigerator sales went up 30%. Refrigerators were a highly innovative product. The industry was willing to hire people, invest in research, development and marketing. This savvy (and risky) move was a game-changer.

How tall are you?

No matter your height you do have a backbone. Remember, not taking action can be very risky. Nothing ventured is almost always nothing gained.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems 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

Tackling Persistent Myths

March 17, 2012

Our minds create associations very quickly. Great communicators, especially marketers, exploit this to anchor or promote an idea that may or may not be true.

So, beer and car commercials make heavy use of culturally attractive females to help male viewers link “hot” women with cold drinks or costly cars. The sequence in these promotions goes like this: if you buy this beer or car, then you will attract more, better women.

Common Pairs

In our workplace and communities other myths are in play. They can be obstacles for progress. Sometimes it is a matter of intentional marketing and other times it is the big leap to a faulty conclusion. I’ve listed several common myth combinations here:

Access   = Use

Spoken   = Understood

Information = Answers

Busy = Results

Taught = Learned

Bigger = Better

Articulate = Capable

Logical = Practical

Proven = Strategic 

Untangling Myths

Are any of these myths evident in your workplace?

In the list of above, the first and last pairs are ones we hear frequently. However, access use and proven strategic. For example:

When you purchase an office suite of software you get a bundle of programs – many that are never (or rarely) used. At the new year start, when we resolve to get “fit,” we join a gym. But this doesn’t guarantee participation in classes and use of the pool or equipment. In both cases, after access, there are many steps that must happen before use occurs. There is a mental leap from access to use.

Consider the “proven equals strategic” myth. We know a second language is a good idea for children. In fact, second language acquisition is proven to have influence in other cognitive achievements.  However, it may not be the most strategic choice in the context of child well being. Perhaps immunizations, nutritional support or preschool are inaccessible, more valuable and thus more strategic. The point: anything effective isn’t always the best action.

 Obstacles and Progress

Intentionally and unintentionally we pair up concepts that seem to be useful – but are not necessarily true. It’s vital we’re on guard for these pairings. They need to be challenged for validity. Unless your organization (or town) is perfect – myths exist.  Myths can be part of culture which props up the status quo. They can also generate limiting beliefs that get in the way of results.

Dig  a little deeper when you hear (or think) simple, glib associations. To create change we all need to be myth-busters.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems 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

Looking at Leadership

November 13, 2011

 

It’s not always easy to quickly and clearly distinguish managing from leading. They are different, but talented people can do both. A conscious commitment to work on specific competencies can yield growth.

While there’s some overlap, there are unique factors, too. Management nearly always references a supervising role with organizational accountabilities. Leadership is far broader in its application and is independent of a job title.

Leadership is the ability to influence others. It can reflect multiple dimensions. Someone holding a management position should, but may not exhibit leadership. In many organizations, this is often the case. When leadership is absent the opportunity cost is large for several reasons: lackluster results and a poor example that gets imitated. Organizations perform better when key staff can both manage and lead.

INSEAD’s 12 Factors

If you’re intentional about leadership development, here’s just one valid way to think about skills and knowledge. INSEAD, a highly regarded and leading educator, created the GELI (Global Executive Leadership Inventory). GELI relies on a 360-degree assessment from others. It has twelve factors:

 1. Envisioning. Articulates a compelling vision, mission, strategy.

2. Empowering. Enables others via delegation and sharing the right information well.

3. Energizing. Supports and motivates others.

4. Design & Aligning. Can “see” parameters and points of intersection for action.

5. Feedback. Can advise in the development of others.

6.Team Building. Guides others, shows courage, offers counsel to cooperative efforts.

7. Outside Orientation. Reads and interprets external data for internal application.

8. Global Mindset. Liaisons across cultures, assists parts with the whole.

9. Tenacity. Takes risks and shows consistent courage.

10. Emotional Intelligence. Fosters trust through example. Demonstrates self-awareness, respect, understanding.

11. Life Balance. Pursues multiple interests and passions beyond work.

12. Resilience. Seeks challenge and accountability, handles stress and pressure.

If your colleagues and “customers” completed a survey instrument – How would you rate? Where are your strengths and weaknesses? We can often learn a great deal by looking in the mirror, first.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Great Questions – Better Strategy

September 18, 2011

Asking great questions is a powerful technique for many reasons.

Because strategy is a fundamental issue in any organization’s performance – asking the right questions can be critical in assessing strengths, confusion and inefficiencies.

Seven Strategy Questions

Harvard professor Charles Williams wrote Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution. Here, I’ve adapted his questions to address multiple sectors.

 1. Who is your organization’s target audience – the primary beneficiary of the value you seek to create?

2. How do organization values influence prioritization of stakeholders?

3. Which performance variables are most influential and are they carefully monitored?

4. What do you signal is in or out with the choices you make?

5. How are you ensuring connections inside your organization with external realities?

6. Is employee commitment to help each other robust?

7. What difficult uncertainties cause persistent, sleepless anxiety for leadership?

Application

If you and others answer these questions – the same – your strategy will be better and shared. Ask them often, as needed, change the answers. Williams has advice about how to ask questions. He suggests questions are:

Posed face-to-face to encourage authentic engagement.

Asked throughout the organization, not just at the top.

Essential tools for functional leaders since they are central to performance.

A vital way to debate what is right, not who is right.

A prompt for new actions.

Question  Avoidance

When it’s not safe or appropriate to ask questions openly, performance suffers. Symptoms can include poor coordination, confusion, redundancy, and low achievement. Communities, organizations and people unwilling or unable to ask questions pose special challenges. This often indicates a lack of accountability. Performance doesn’t matter enough.

We spend lots of time generating questions, thinking about them, seeking answers to them with and for others. They’re central to our enterprise. Questions about strategy are an important feature of a high-performance culture. They can provoke thinking, decisions and action. Welcome them. Learn from them.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and  W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more, see : www.pwkinc.com


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