Posts Tagged ‘performance’

Growing Leaders

November 24, 2013

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We live in a world where leadership is essential but in short supply. And, says Gary Hamel, once named the “world’s most influential business thinker” and a professor at the London Business School,  hierarchies get in the way.Regrettably, organizations and communities are not well served by pyramids. It’s because there is a lot of energy and competition spent managing up rather than collaborating.

Stalls & Lags Are Costly

In our complex world, change is constant and competition is ferocious. But, Hamel says, progress is often belated, infrequent, stalled or convulsive. Structures and cultures that rely on just a few individuals in a hierarchy take a long time to recognize both problems and opportunities. The scale of those problems and opportunities has to become huge before they secure any attention. Unfortunately, too late is often the same as failing. Concentrating lots of authority in a top few is problematic.

Structural Constipation

What minimizes the structural constipation? Build a culture that that supports those who add value, not competition for a “top spot.” In other words, create and incent a culture that rewards merit, competence, and accountability. These are fundamental features of a performance system in contrast to a political system. A performance system seeks progress; a political system seeks control.   Intentionally pushing authority and responsibility down can distribute it more broadly.

Hamel counsels:

  • Give people leadership skills that let them get things done – even when they don’t have formal, positional authority.
  • Train people to make the right kind of choices and hold them accountable for their choices.
  • Shorten the feedback cycle between decisions and rewards.
  • Seek peer-based feedback on what people really know and do.

These actions can grow our leadership capital. As challenges grow and persist, our organizations and communities desperately need more, better leaders – fast.

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

From the Playbook: Watch and Listen

April 8, 2012

 

 

 

 

If you made a list of people to learn from – who would you identify and why?

Besides formal education and experience, observing others can be a huge part of learning. Seasoned author and editor John Byrne (Business Week, Fast Company and Fortune) turned his list of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs into a fascinating book, WorldChangers. His criteria included social and economic impact, world-changing vision, inspirational power, innovation and enterprise performance.

Whether social or business outcomes are your aim, there are some terrific lessons in the profiles Byrne provides. From Byrne’s full list, I’ve picked a few people and their key contributions:

To innovate, Steve Jobs (at Apple) did not use focus groups and market research. He didn’t bother to ask consumers. Instead, he led a company that delivered what consumers wanted, “insanely great” products.

To usher in the personal computer revolution and tackle social challenges, Bill Gates (at Microsoft & his Foundation) is very careful about selecting his staff, business partners, and allies.

To extend logistics and customer reach, Fred Smith (at FedEx) applied his VietNam Marine Corp experiences to integrate operations and ensure proximal support in delivery systems.

To drive new ways for people to purchase goods, Jeff Bezos (at Amazon) quit a good job to launch an e-commerce effort that he is managing for growth and customer service instead of profit, intentionally.

To revive a failing brand, after an 8-year absence, Howard Schultz (at Starbucks) restored financial discipline and focus to a company that had become irrelevant to consumers.

My interpretation of these exemplars identifies important principles for success in managing and leading. In relative order, here’s what I learned:

(1) Deliver what’s needed, it assures  sustainability. (Jobs)

(2) Pick great people (and partners), they matter more than anything else. (Gates)

(3) Get close recon from trusted sources, precise knowledge of context before action is vital. Discard gossip. (Smith)

(4) Take risk and time for retreat, grounded and clear thinking is vital in a complex, highly dynamic workplace. (Bezos)

(5) Consistently challenge, pursue a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. (Schultz)

I emphasized the Gates lesson  because if you don’t get that right –the others have far less influence. These potent messages have the promise to deliver great returns for organizations, big and small.

 –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

Rowing Together

December 16, 2011

For most people, who you work for and how engaged you are at work matters hugely.

Anyone who has ever worked for a mature, skillful manager-leader fondly recalls and longs for that relationship, again. In contrast, people deeply dissatisfied in their jobs frequently report to someone who is simply misplaced, unethical, or vastly inexperienced.

 Collective Commitment

The “right” people in important roles make a vital difference. They can be particularly effective when paired with the unified and concurrent energy of your entire workforce. A thriving organization has robust employee engagement. I don’t mean corporate volunteerism, successful United Way campaigns or authentic celebrations although those can be useful indicators of vitality. I do mean everyone rowing in the same direction to achieve a specified result. We know alignment and integration are important but they require commitment or engagement – first.

 Glue & Grease

If you want your enterprise (or community) to thrive, new research by Doug Ready and his colleagues at the University of NC describes something they call “collective ambition.” Ready says two priorities are essential in generating collective ambition: the “glue” or collaborative engagement and the “grease” which is disciplined execution. Glue provides the culture and grease ensures positive change occurs.

Collective ambition has seven elements

  1. Purpose
  2. Vision
  3. Targets and  Milestones
  4. Strategic and Operational Priorities
  5. Brand Promise
  6. Core Values
  7. Leader Behaviors

It’s important that these are carefully integrated. In a circle, Ready puts purpose at the center and leadership behaviors on the outside “rim” to guide progress. The others occupy, equally, the space between purpose and the rim with relative targets and milestones for each.

Why should people come to work at your organization?

How can people pull forward – together – to build a future?

Answers to these questions inform collective ambition. They describe a compelling story of the organization’s future and the processes to build capabilities to achieve it. They ensure engagement translates the organization purpose as a personal agenda for your employees. A collective ambition forms the umbrella which allows individuals to fully participate.

 Make Like Montana

There’s no question that contributions of functional areas in any enterprise are meaningful and most potent when everyone sees and acts with the perfect power of synergy. A talented wood artist recently gave me a great example of the shared urgency and focus collective ambition can yield. He was describing the culture he appreciates in Wyoming and Montana. “Everyone there, he said, “runs towards the fire – to help their neighbor – and put it out.”

Employee engagement is a responsibility of capable managers who lead well. So, “Make like Montana,” it can ensure your organization soars in its performance.

 –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. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

“Tiger Teams” Win Consistently

October 30, 2011

Any “recipe” for high-performance requires a conscious adaptation to context. Coaching in team sports offer wonderful metaphors that transfer to the challenges found with improving performance across the private, government and charitable sectors. Sometimes great examples come from unexpected sources…

Consider Battle Creek’s tiny St Philips Central Catholic High School. Their school mascot is the tiger. It has about 150 kids – in the entire school. It’s small but it’s strong. The coach and students deliver a Class D volleyball state championship team year after year. In fact, five years running. Their example – if you look closely – offers some terrific lessons from the volleyball court that could be useful for managing and leading more effectively.

The Tiger recipe has four big pieces.

1. Team First. Nothing comes before the team. While some “star players” pass through – it’s the whole that gets the most attention. It’s the vital force of cooperative, coordinated play that scores points. While each athlete has a function in their relative position – the entire team, on the court and the bench, wins or loses. To underscore team – two critical, interactive areas are emphasized: practice and culture.

Practice ensures players master the basics. Practice also develops skills and intentional, strategic routines. It ensures interdependence, commitment and encourages trust. Practice takes lots of time. Through practice synchronicity emerges naturally. Culture gets built piece by piece through special traditions. Vital details like an encouraging quote before games, shared meals, common hair ribbons and planned celebrations for a service ace or point-winning block contribute to norms. Discipline is consistent. Late to practice and other mishaps have the same penalty regardless of a player’s proficiency on the court. Negative attitudes and other issues are addressed promptly.

2. Build The Bench. Many students spend loads of time watching, practicing with and cheering on their teammates. In any given season – nearly half a team warms the bench. The team carries extra players to be sure it has deep strength in each position. The coach has an intentional development plan. She isn’t lining up just this year’s win but the next several. All players earn a spot on the court through practice effort and, ultimately, performance. A bench means there’s always a “plan B” if someone moves, gets an attitude or is injured.

3. Test Against The Best. The St. Phil coach seeks a tough game schedule during the regular season. She enters her team in tournaments with far larger, taller, stronger teams from Class A, B and C schools. Some have thousands of students with significant athletic programs.  The Tigers are expected to play well and win often. They intentionally sharpen their game against very tough competition. While consistently smaller in size – the quality of the team play, their nimble synergy and sheer will translates to frequent upset wins. At long odds, the integrated and cohesive whole out-plays other teams.

4. Relentless Positive Focus (RPF). All along the journey of pre-season, the game schedule and into play-offs there is a “relentless positive focus.” When a playing error occurs – teammates are quick to pat a bottom, slap a hand and encourage attention to the next move. There is joyful energy and intensity about the “work” and there’s a shared commitment to the results. The coach’s attitude challenges and encourages the players. She asks for a big appetite. A RPF aims the players at the one reason they play: to win. It translates to a stellar win-loss record of serial state championships.

However, a RPF and the rest of the recipe have many other critical outcomes for these young women. They provide valuable lessons in commitment, equity, interdependence, focus and accountability. These principles are also ones “coaches” in every organization can encourage for consistent wins.

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. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is 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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