Posts Tagged ‘progress’

Safe Space

April 6, 2016

nfl-referees.jpg

Have you ever been part of a group that is exhausting?

What about a group that is exhilarating?

In an increasingly complex world, what we know about and how we process work in teams is critical. Over the past 20 years the time spent in collaborative activities has increased by 50 percent or more. It’s common for employees to spend more than 75 percent of their time each day communicating with colleagues.

Groups deliver important  benefits. They accelerate  innovation, catch errors quickly and identify better solutions for vexing challenges. People that work in teams regularly achieve better results and are happier with their jobs. Evidence also suggests that profitability increases when workers collaborate more often.

While “employee performance optimization” is a common concern for any organization, it’s not enough to look only at individual professional development. It’s now vital to thoughtfully construct how people work together.

Stagger or Soar

Tech giant Google considered its  51,000 employees a fertile testing ground for team effectiveness. Not long ago they took on the challenge of learning why some teams stagger and others soar. Research done by sociologists and psychologists pointed them toward group norms. These are the shared values, expected standards and implicit “rules” for functioning when people gather. They vary relative to team composition – even if all operate in the same organization.

Group leaders are important referees and coaches because the “right” norms can raise a group’s intelligence, while the “wrong” norms can disable a group. Two vital factors raise collective intelligence: equal distribution of air time and social sensitivity or empathy towards team mates. Clear goals, reliable interdependence and accountability matter, too.

Feeling Safe

The “big” finding? Whether or not people work together effectively in a team reflects psychological safety. Safety is what Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, defines as “a confidence the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” Effective teams, organizations and communities are safe. Progress and results  depend on it.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. (www.pwkinc.com). She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her via:lwyattknowlton@gmail.com.

In Pursuit of Fearless

May 29, 2015

Rejection can generate resilience. And, resilience is an essential characteristic of effective people.

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In Rejection Proof, Jia Jiang tackles this important issue, the very common fear of rejection. It’s an interesting psycho-social chronicle of his journey to  personal resilience. He distinguishes the vital necessity of allowing a rejection to take aim at ideas or requests but not self-worth. When we experience a setback, the trap we create is to internalize it as a personal failure. The reality is our idea was discarded.

Coping better with “no” requires new literacies in interpreting others. Jiang’s experiment shows it’s possible to shape a request for success; pick the right people and even convert an initial no to a different response. Social science and Jian’s personal journey found that rejection is mostly about the rejecter. The doubts, denial, avoidance, needs, panic and angst of your audience are primarily why most rejection happens. Recognition of and empathy for this can bolster your interpersonal skills.

Fitting In

Think about your teen years. Your peers (or tribe) were the overwhelming influence. Teens will do almost anything to fit in. At that stage, human beings are typically insecure. They lack identity, self-esteem, judgment, perspective and confidence. In error, we assume (because of age and experience) adults have conquered these concerns. The obvious implication is that capable manager-leaders must be self-aware while concurrently supporting others.

Why does inappropriate, unprofessional or rude treatment have such a deep impact? Exclusion or disrespect are a “slap in the face” that is processed by our brains the same as physical assault. The pain of rejection causes a chemical reaction in our brains. So, it comes as no surprise that people fear social rejection. Very often it is the fear of rejection that precludes any risk and deeply inhibits the potential for individual or social change.

Timing

Jiang’s book reminds us that timing matters. Too smart, too soon is the same as being wrong. An important way to think of rejection is simply as delay. George Bernard Shaw said “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” History provides countless examples of people persecuted or rejected for their thinking or actions. Later, we discover that the great ideas of good people faced an uphill climb because too many interests were upset or uncertainty was introduced.

Prevailing culture often resists interesting ideas, new strategies, fresh insights that diverse opinion and wise experience can contribute. Instead, a desperate, vigorous protection of control maintains the status quo. This is why change doesn’t happen. It helps explain why people, organizations and communities fail to make progress. It’s also why resilience is an important muscle to exercise!

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

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

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.

 

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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

Unreasonable Progress

March 25, 2014

kamprad

It’s a well-known brand with great appeal to a broad range of consumers. IKEA is among the world’s most successful mass-market retailers. It sells affordable Scandinavian-style home furnishings and other home goods in 33 countries.

The founder, Ingvar Kamprad, profiles an “unreasonable” man who has generated important progress.

A brilliant strategist, Kamprad realized that a large part of furniture costs were in its assembly. So, he sold unassembled furniture and shipped it cheaply to customers in flat boxes. It was a huge change and a big success. However, his industry peers were furious with this innovation. In retaliation, they launched a boycott of IKEA and the company faced ruin.

Undaunted, Kamprad looked across the Baltic Sea to Poland which had far cheaper labor and plenty of wood. Although Poland was in Communist chaos in the 1960s, he made connections and tenaciously developed the infrastructure necessary to manufacture. Despite being labeled a “traitor,” he persevered.

Considered a renegade, time has proven his vision and principles have game-changing results. IKEA’s net profits in 2012-13 were $4.5 billion. Kamprad was open to imagining new approaches and he was able to challenge common preconceptions. He was “disagreeable” – meaning he was willing to take social risks to do things that others might disapprove. He also had the discipline and persistence to implement his ideas. Kamprad was both an innovator and a revolutionary.

George Bernard Shaw captures the character of change-leaders like Kamprad well: “The reasonable person adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable person.”

Want to get farther faster? Consider the risk and return for being “unreasonable.”

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

 

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

Five Growth Factors

November 12, 2012

In Pablo Casals’ later years, a young reporter asked: “Mr. Casals, you’re 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours every day?” Casals replied: “Because I think I’m making progress.”

Intentional efforts to develop our own potential are important precursors to success. Capable, mature leaders are reflective, self aware and intentional about their own preparation. Consider what these five c-words mean for your growth:

Character. Over the long haul, people inevitably fail when integrity wavers. Ethics in leadership are an essential basic. For nearly 30 years, researchers have surveyed over 75,000 people on 6 continents to determine what they admire in leaders. The overwhelming attribute that always matters most? Honesty. Effective people are clear about principles. They’re integral to great potential. Character is ambition with internal guidance. Stand rock-strong on values.

Consistency. Choosing constructive routines requires self discipline. Good habits assure productive activity and are part of both efficiency and effectiveness. Small, smart choices are consistent bits of progress. In our office, we often say “DIN” and “Eat the frog.” DIN translates to “do it now.” And, “eat the frog” signals that we ought to tackle the least desirable work first. Once we get past the “hard part,” everything else feels easy. Both maxims support a habit of urgency which helps us accomplish lots each day. Build great habits.

Challenge. Rubber bands, like people, fulfill their potential when stretched. While choices to pursue challenges can be uncomfortable they are essential to growth. Renowned pastor Robert Schuller asked: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Discovering your capabilities requires risk and change. Choose stretch goals.

Curiosity. People who spend lots of energy learning – ask questions – both  direct and rhetorical. A passionate, abundant curiosity fuels growth and development. This means you are willing to be vulnerable. Be sure to welcome questions from others, too. Exploration, imagination and discovery all require curiosity. Ask “why?” often.

Contribution. John Maxwell, a leadership coach and author says, “Be a river.” He explains that a river flows…what it receives it gives away. This perspective means you must give time, expertise, and resources to others without expectation of anything in return. The attitudes and actions of a contributor are generous. Be other-centered; foster the development of people through creating opportunities, your example, coaching, and feedback. If you are a leader, your actions impact others. Helping others grow should be part of your plan. Live usefully.

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.

The Leadership Olympics: A Gold Medal Model

September 24, 2012

 

 

 

Do you know who taught U.S. Senator John  McCain “a thing or two about courage?”

A woman, who last week, was the most recent recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal.

In the misty vapors of big politics, the Medal is an undeniable signal of approval.

Manage Fear

McCain, who spent six horrible years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, quoted Aung San Suu Kyi’s famous dictum in an emotional tribute to her:” It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Since the American Revolution, our Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions that will endure long past the achievement.The Medal requires an Act of Congress. It honors an individual – although not necessarily a US citizen.

Price Tag

The Gold Medal has often been awarded to those who serve the common good. Past winners include Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Jonas Salk and Rosa Parks. Notably, selfless heroism reflects the pinnacle of leadership but it always has a price tag.

In 1988, the brutal rule of a strongman who murdered protesters launched Myanmar’s difficult struggle for freedom. A remarkable woman, Suu Kyi committed more than two decades to challenging a repressive regime. She endured 15 years of house arrest in a shunning which completely restricted her speech and physical mobility. Although offered freedom in exchange for exile, she would not leave her people and their dreams of democracy.

Growth & Sustainability

In organizations and in communities, deficits in leadership affect sustainability.  First, because of intricate and growing interdependencies, weak or corrupt leaders have intolerable implications beyond their own sphere of influence. Second, because none of us has a grip on the macro trends that will deliver challenges we don’t anticipate. What is sure? The costs of poor leadership are failure, implosion, and decay while others, in a competitive world, make progress.

Aung San Suu Kyi gave up decades of her life for others. The NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently “few leaders now dare to throw caution and polls to the wind and tell people the truth about anything hard or controversial…Many won’t even give up a news cycle.”  His analysis underscores the patterns of political behavior that are deeply true and relevant: it is the fear of losing power that corrupts. He, like many others, thinks leaders are at their best when they dare to lead without fearing politics.

Courage Wins

So, how do any of us “honor The Lady from Myanmar in a way that really matters?”  Friedman suggests imitation. If you were fearless, what would you do?

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

Break Throughs Take Will and Capacity

June 17, 2012

Yiannis Boutaris, 70, a successful Greek winemaker has been mayor of Thessaloniki for 18 months. Thessaloniki, Greece, is a sprawling city of 800,000 people on the Aegean Sea. It is second in size only to Athens.

Bankrupt & Corrupt

Boutaris inherited a city on the brink of bankruptcy (nearly $130 million in debt), with outdated laws and regulations, corruption, manufacturing decline and few tourists. His predecessor and 17 colleagues have been indicted – accused of stealing about $38 million.

Under these conditions, pundits gave the new mayor little prospect for success. Bloated municipal employment, inadequate basic services, discord with Turkey, and tangled regulations were all accepted as “normal.” However, this wiry septuagenarian who sports a pierced earring and frequently punctuates his point of view with profanity, knows two fundamental factors vital for change: will and capacity.

Will & Capacity

Will is the practical and political determination to persist. Will endures both obstacles and critics. It prevails. Boutaris advises: “When you propose the slightest change, people say no. If you do it all at once, it is a different thing. Something has to break through.” He adds: “You cannot step back, if you step back you lose.”

Capacity is about the strategic management acumen to make smart, hard choices that enable performance. Capacity reflects knowledge, skills, training and experience. Boutaris has made unpopular but effective decisions about budgets, employees, public policy and external relations. He is changing practices with a focus on different and better.

Whether a community, an organization or individual, will and capacity are requisites for change to occur.

Boutaris is undeterred in his reforms. (For more, see NYT Saturday Profile.) To date he has begun recycling programs, resumed relations with Turkey, grown tourism, and instituted unheard of practices at City Hall: job descriptions, goals and evaluations. He has cut city costs by 30%. One man insists on making his hometown a place of progress and growth.

I bet it happens.

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

Understanding & Influencing Choices

July 18, 2011

The Social Animal, a new book by David Brooks, asks: “Who are we? We are like spiritual Grand Central Stations. We are junctures where millions of sensations, emotions and signals interpenetrate every second. We are communications centers, and through some process we are not close to understanding, we have the ability to partially govern this traffic …We become fully ourselves only through the ever-richening interplay of our networks.”

Influences on Choice

Rodin’s thinker represents humanity. We consider ourselves thinking individuals separated from other animals by the power of reason. Choices are a big part of the reasoning we accomplish  each day – all day long. Brooks’ book provides some interesting features of our unconscious abilities.  He posits that our failure to cultivate moral and emotional faculties, our individual character, emotions and intuitions have huge opportunity cost.

Underneath any choice is architecture comprised of a set of structures  that defines  options. Logic consists of “if, then” sequences. For example, if we exercise often and eat well, then we’ll have good health. Your leadership can influence critical elements in choice architecture which will, ultimately, influence team and organization performance. “Priming” is one point of intervention  and “anchoring” is another.

Priming & Anchoring

Research shows that perceptions can influence people and then alters their  actions. This is priming. So, if you tell your staff to about a team that delivered results (“nimble,” innovative” and “successful”) they will perform better than they would without hearing the story. Likewise negative references oppress achievement. There is power in setting a positive tone and pointing out positive examples.

Anchoring is another helpful technique with teams. Because humans process information in context, it is important to be aware of mental patterns of relativity. Defining a commonly held understanding or “anchoring” is vital to integrated processes because it assures everyone has a shared idea of the intended goals or vision. For example, a “rich life” could be understood as holding substantial financial assets. However, some might consider it reflects good health or many intimate relationships (or both). Without an anchor or shared understanding, collective progress may be at great risk. Do you specify ideas, goals or practices in ways that ensure success? Do you intentionally minimize the potential for  multiple interpretations, assumptions and perspectives that interfere?

Other important factors that influence choices include: framing, expectations, inertia, arousal and loss aversion. They are all present and in dynamic play when working with others. These unconscious biases come to work every day.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and 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. See :www.pwkinc.com


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