by Dr. Donald N. Sweet
Leadership is responsible for the mega issues surrounding an organization’s vision, communication of that vision, motivation, providing resources, results, organizational health and balancing stakeholder conflicting interests. That sounds like some sort of text book statement, doesn’t it? Be that as it may, leadership is responsible for all of those items. How does leadership ensure they are effectively accomplished?
In our view the individual leader, alone at the top of the organization, is at a distinct disadvantage with this responsibility. We believe there is a compelling need for a team to effectively guide the organization. Therefore one of the most important responsibilities of top management is ensuring that the entire management team is comprised of good leaders. The Gazelles suggest asking CEOs the following question of their leaders, “Would you enthusiastically rehire everyone on your team?”
The two important activities that we believe provide a CEO with the most leverage are a strong management/leadership team and a healthy organizational culture. Top on the list is recruiting, motivating, and retaining a highly functioning management/leadership team. We are not suggesting a leader should focus on finding the best functional experts. We actually prefer leadership teammates that have had multiple functional management roles and have a track record of putting the team ahead of their functional area. Our belief is that team players trump functional whizzes in an organization.
For leadership teams to be effective they must be comprised of people that both trust one another and can accept ideas that are better than their own. They must be able to argue the merits of issues passionately and then commit to the final decision. They have to be ready to be held accountable by others on the team and in turn to hold teammates accountable when appropriate. Finally, they must all put the team results above their own functional area of responsibility. For more information about building high functioning teams see Pat Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
We believe your corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage your organization can create. Everything else from products to processes to technology can be copied. Your culture can be imitated but it can’t be copied. It remains uniquely yours. Culture is what draws and keeps the right people on your team. It is also the lubrication that keeps the organizational machine running smoothly.
Central to culture are core values and purpose. Core values form the basis of the social contract team members have with each other and the organization. They are the straightforward rules of engagement both internally and externally. Purpose is the reason the organization exists at a higher level than just making profits. Don’t misunderstand, profits are important but not the higher purpose that unites the organization.
Companies that solely focus on profits usually attract employees that are only focused on a paycheck. That is not enough for any of us to be truly dedicated. Consider how much of our time and energy is spent at the job. If there is not a higher level commitment, we won’t give our all because the work is not truly fulfilling.
Building a strong culture and a management team are at the highest levels of a leader’s responsibility. Sure it’s important to get the everyday tasks done. However a well-functioning team should have that responsibility. The leader must champion these more important items, allocate resources to debate and codify them, then continuously reinforce them with the organization. These activities will enable the organization to be ever more effective in the marketplace.
See here for the article that appeared in the March 22nd 2013 edition of New Hampshire Business Review.
by Dr. Donald N. Sweet
You probably found yourself saying, “of course”, when you read the title of this blog. But stop for a moment and ask yourself how many organizations you’ve been in have values that are alive and well and clarity that is crystal. We have written before about the pivotal role core values play in a business. In this blog I’m going to expand on that and discuss the all important aspect of clarity.
Done right, core values are the social contract between the individual and the organization. They communicate what to expect and how to act. Our clients often use their core values as guideposts in making decisions. It’s common for them to ask the, “what do our core values say about this” question. One client says, “If you stay true to your core values it’s hard to go wrong.”
The enterprise and everyone in it benefits from having a set of living values. Difficult conversations can often profit from the “what do our core values say” question. When those challenging dialogues are with team members, addressing them in relation to a core value keeps the discussion from becoming personal.
Core values not only apply to employees and the hiring process. They can also be pertinent to discussions and decisions about vendors, prospects and customers. Sometimes we see those disconnects between our values and those of prospects. When we do, we know the fit will not be good. We also have clients who have decided to “fire” a customer because there was a major mismatch in values.
Clarity means that in addition to understanding the core values, the entire team is also clear about 1) the organization’s strategy, 2) the core customer, 3) the brand promise, 4) the long term goal, 5) the top three quarterly priorities and 6) what specifically is required of them to be successful. When the entire team has this type of clarity they become a formidable force in the marketplace.
This is heavy lifting. Most of us don’t naturally do a good job of making sure these items are clear. The leadership team must passionately debate and commit to the first five answers above. Many teams have a difficult time with that, as Pat Lencioni’s business fable, Five Dysfunctions of a Team would indicate. Those items then need to be well communicated to everyone in the business. Then they need to be reinforced, if needed, repeatedly.
Clarity of purpose provides power, leverage, or whatever you call the phenomenon that happens when the entire team is pulling in the same direction. This is where smaller teams with fewer resources can compete effectively with larger competitors. The most natural state seems to be organizations that are dominated by politics instead of values and confusion instead of clarity. Many of us have worked for, and some of us have led, those types of enterprises.
Values and clarity can also improve how the individuals in the enterprise feel about themselves and their work. If we can help people to feel better at work they might take those feelings
Feeling bombarded by lots of issues and options coming at you in your business? If so you’re not alone. How do we effectively wade through all the stuff coming our way? Nineteenth century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto developed the principle we know as the 80/20 rule, or Pareto Principle.
In the principle, Pareto states that usually 80 percent of all benefit is derived from 20 percent of the items. You’ll probably find that 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your customers. Same with profit, although it may not come from the exact same 20 percent as sales does.
Focus on the important few and bypass the trivial many. So many get caught up in all the details that the real benefit gets lost in the weeds. Decide where that 80 per cent is to be found and then go after only those items for details.
It’s hard work to keep from being distracted. Email, texts, phone calls, blogs (like this one), LinkedIn, tweets, etc. constantly bombard us and beckon for our attention with beeps and dings and rings. You get the idea. Sometimes it seems as if a Pavlov disciple is trying to train us. How many times have you been talking with someone, when their phone made a noise, and they stopped listening and grabbed for it?
Then there are the other options that come up and seem more inviting, even alluring. Some blame that on ADD when in fact it can be just plain difficult to stick with a task. Our age is not alone in facing this dilemma. Virgil, Roman writer from the time of Caesar Augustus, wrote about this very issue that his protagonist, Aeneas wrestled with too. He found it hard to stay focused on his goal to found Rome. There are always many distractions.
We believe the way to success is to work with your team to set a long term goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be “found Rome” but it has to beyond your current reach. Next step is to decide on incremental goals and priorities that move you toward the long term.
The team should passionately debate which priorities are most important. We suggest most teams focus on a top three list. Once the three near term priorities are agreed, it is time do a deep dive into the details necessary to implement them effectively. Then assign a responsible person, allocate them resources, determine milestones, deadlines and finally review progress regularly.
Keeping focused on the top three priorities for the next quarter provides the most value. A quarter is short enough so that if conditions change dramatically your business can adapt with new priorities for the next quarter. Remember Pareto’s principle, fight distractions, keep to the plan and success is more likely to be yours.
Pareto was genius, arriving at his view.
Pay attention dear friend, to those important few.
The benefit we get, derives from only them.
Immersion in many, should our leaders condemn.
Stay focused on the goal, beware the decoy.
Like Aeneas whose quest, was to found a new Troy.
He could not succumb, to Dido’s ample charms.
Achieving arete, as Virgil sang of arms.
Don’t get distracted, by gadgets and calls.
They want our attention, our wallets our balls.
Often feels like Pavlov, has been employed to train.
Ringtones beeps vibrations, that stimulate yet drain.
Scaling the next level, in your search for success,
a maniacal focus, on your goal works best.
This is a copy of the article appearing in the Portsmouth Herald 11/26/2012 (see here):
© 2012 Brad Lebo — email@example.com
© 2012 Don Sweet — firstname.lastname@example.org
Founded in 2000, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) is a not-for-profit association that serves 11,500 members in 70 countries. IAPP helps privacy professionals around the world better manage and protect the data that their organizations communicate and store.
More than just a professional association, the IAPP provides a home for privacy professionals to share experiences and enrich their knowledge through training and collaboration.
In 2000, current CEO, Trevor Hughes, was the sole employee at a small office in York Harbor, Maine. IAPP now is 60 people strong and located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at the Pease International Tradeport.
By all accounts, IAPP has a thriving culture, characterized by passionate professionals dedicated to the organization’s mission of improving the practice of protecting data.
We can see the roots of IAPP’s current culture in the values that shaped Mr. Hughes’ decisions when he was just starting out. For example, there were times when he needed to leave the office to attend one of his son’s school events or to take one of his children to a doctor’s appointment. He recognized that as long as he delivered excellence at the end of the day, the hours of eight to five weren’t sacred. It was clear to him that in order to live a full and balanced life, the workday would have to be both flexible and accommodating.
Values are the foundation on which an organization builds its rationale for making decisions. Probably the most critical decisions an organization makes are hiring choices. Values inform whom the “right” people are: what excites them, what effort they bring to the cause and how they conduct themselves while at work.
These values remain the same through changes in the organization management, personnel, politics, technology, etc. They are at the core of the organization and they underlie the way an organization operates.
These “core values” also articulate what the organization stands for, explaining why they do business the way they do. They guide other decisions such as how to orient or teach new hires, what constitutes outstanding effort and performance, and when to fire.
IAPP’s core values and savvy management have helped fuel and guide its rapid growth. They are catchy, as you’ll see below. And, they are supported by an explanation so there is no confusion about what they mean.
When visitors enter the IAPP office, they cannot help but notice IAPP’s values. Poster sized pictures of employees exemplifying each highlighted value, make it impossible to ignore what IAPP thinks is important. IAPP’s core values are:
Smart, Fun, Get-Stuff-Done – We are curious, we grow personally and professionally, we like diverse and interesting employees. Fun matters, so we take time for it. We pitch in beyond our roles; adaptability matters.
Whole People – We are whole people and balance in our lives makes the IAPP better. We give and expect flexibility. We deliver excellence at the end of the day.
Nice Matters – We communicate a ton. We try to demonstrate humility. We expect friction and use trust and respect to move forward.
Okay is Not Okay – We do the big stuff exceedingly well, then exceed expectations on the details. We listen to our members and customers. We test and learn. We expect, and learn from, mistakes.
No Margin, No Mission – We are a “nice hybrid”: a non-profit with a strong entrepreneurial/start-up attitude. Growth is vital to our success. We do more and better each year. We expect and drive change.
When taken seriously, core values provide a foundation for making decisions and, over time, become the bedrock of an organization’s culture. A culture based on strong values is a competitive advantage and is the only sustainable competitive advantage an organization can hope to achieve. Everything else can be relatively easily copied.
There is one other interesting aspect of IAPP’s culture that is allowed by their core values. They are extremely dog friendly. When you visit their facilities it’s common to see several dogs in the offices. We believe this is a subtle selection mechanism. People who appreciate dogs are attached to the organization whereas folks who don’t like canines self-select out.
In October of 2012 IAPP was recognized as the “Coolest Mid-Sized Company for Young Professionals” by Business NH Magazine. In accepting the award, Mr. Hughes said, “We are smart, fun and we get stuff done. That’s our phrase (and a core value) and we really mean it. We hire people in that image.”
IAPP is poised for continued growth as privacy issues become ever more important in a world dominated by electronic communications. With their firm foundation of core values, we are convinced they will continue to attract employees, partners and clients who buy into their values.
This is a copy of the article appearing in the New Hampshire Business Review 11/16/2012 (see here):
© 2012 Brad Lebo — email@example.com
Most business people know the meaning of the phrase, “two minds are better than one.” There is an implicit understanding among leaders in business that the idea sharing and challenging that occur in a well-run team beats anything that individuals working alone can achieve.
But most teams struggle to sustain the benefits of teamwork. They watch the few golden moments be overshadowed by complaining, back-stabbing, passive-aggressive behavior and other common ills of teams at work. Managers and organizational leaders put up with the dysfunction of their team because they think it is the price they have to pay for those intermittent golden moments.
What if team dysfunction could be eliminated or significantly reduced? Would that improve the productivity, creativity and success of your organization? At a medium-sized company we recently worked with, that’s exactly what happened.
At this company, the owner/CEO expected people to do their jobs and leave him alone to do his. He knew there was a great deal of resource sharing and problem solving that ideally would be take place among team members. For as long as possible, he would ignore the fact that key team members would stop talking to each other. Then he would explode emotionally and demand collaboration while watching every move. As is typical, the team was not working consistently as a team and needed a sledge hammer wielded by the boss to force cooperation—a tremendous waste of time and energy.
This was a dysfunctional and below-average team, judging by its performance. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that there are three types of teams. Those that are dysfunctional and perform less work than they would if they never met as a team. These teams are below average and they have these characteristics: 1) team members spend a lot of time blaming others, usually outside the team meetings, for problems or failing to achieve goals. 2) There is little cooperation between team members and little, if any, joint problem solving. 3) Team meetings include reporting on progress but there is more empty talk about doing things than things actually happening. 4) And most team members accurately feel meetings are a waste of time and that they could get more done if they just were allowed to do their jobs alone.
Contrast this with a high-performing team characterized by: 1) Team members trust the efforts of everyone involved and “pick each other up” before there are missed deadlines and goals. 2) Problems are shared by the team and there is lots of collaboration, cooperation and joint problem solving. 3) Meetings involve reporting on progress. People are held accountable for their statements and given support by other team members to increase the probability of successfully reaching their goals. 4) And most team members look forward to meetings, appreciate the power of multiple minds in helping them meet challenges and appreciate the synergy of working together—producing outcomes that exceed their individual contributions.
An average team has most of the characteristics of a below-average team but sometimes functions as a high performing one. In other words, an average team muddles along and sometimes, every once in a while, flirts with functioning well. The trouble is, an average team cannot sustain itself at the high-performance level and does not know what actions it should take to keep itself functioning at a peak level.
Indeed, part of the problem with such a group is that there are no widely known and soundly researched remedies for team dysfunction. Like a chronic medical problem, it’s something organizations learn to live with.
The good news is: there is a soundly researched—albeit relatively little known—approach to remedying team dysfunction. Thanks to the work of Professor Vanessa Druskat, PhD and Steven Wolff, D.B.A., there is now a systematic way to assess the key attributes that make for peak team performance. This assessment identifies qualities that need improvement and provides a roadmap for improving team performance with specific steps.
Dr. Druskat, of the Whittemore School at the University of New Hampshire, and Dr. Wolff, a Principal of GEI Partners, have been studying team performance for over 20 years. They can be said to have extended the concepts of individual emotional intelligence to the team level. They also have conducted groundbreaking research into the emotional intelligence of teams and its meaning for team performance.
Their assessment tool, the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey, has been used to improve team performance around the world. Studies have consistently shown a relationship between improved team emotional intelligence and improved team performance: viewed both from the perspective of individual team members and from the perspective of individuals who are external to the team and benefit from that improved performance. Indeed, team emotional intelligence has been shown to account for 25 percent of the difference between average- and high-performing teams.
Back to our example company. Two of the key attributes measured by the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey are Interpersonal Understanding and Proactive Problem Solving. Through a series of interventions, we were able to improve both of these attributes and watch as the organization processed more orders (and the related work) than it ever had before or than the leaders thought possible. Admittedly, these were subjective reports of improved performance, but they were backed by new levels of both gross revenue and net income without an increase in the number of employees.
The other key attributes measured by the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey are: the ability to effectively address counterproductive (problematic) behavior; caring behavior toward members (one component of establishing trust among team members); the team being able to evaluate how it is doing, itself (“going to the balcony” to observe itself, as one of the co-authors describes it); developing the emotional resources to process difficult issues and the feelings attendant to them; the ability to create a sustained “can do” attitude; an understanding of the team’s role in the organization; and the ability to build relationships with external stakeholders that can aid or benefit from the team’s performance.
If you buy into the idea that two or more minds are better than one but you are frustrated by your team’s functioning level, there is a way forward. Use the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey to identify your team’s areas in need of improvement and take action to correct them. Like the example company, you will be glad you did.
This is a copy of the article appearing in the Portsmouth Herald 11/5/2012 (see here):
© 2012 Brad Lebo — firstname.lastname@example.org
The first three installments of this series on leadership introduced the seven insights of great leaders and discussed the first through fifth insights at greater length: knowing how to quiet doubt and worry; knowing how to care for the interests of self; knowing how to care for the interests of others; knowing how to navigate competing interests; and knowing how to benefit from feedback from a partner or team.
These insights are for leaders who want to lead long-term. They are also for leaders who wish to be at the “philosopher king” end of the leadership range (that has tyrant at one extreme and philosopher king at the other).
The remaining two insights are: knowing how to hold self and others accountable; and having the courage to imagine and act on a vision.
Knowing how to hold self and others accountable is a major challenge for most. One trap to avoid is the hypocrisy of, “do as I say, not as I do.” Effective leaders do not ask others to do what they cannot do themselves.
Indeed, they take the lessons learned from the challenge of holding themselves accountable and teach others how they might apply the same skills. This improves the chances of others not needing much outside help with accountability.
A core capability for holding oneself accountable is discipline. There are many supporting characteristics like integrity and responsibility, but at the end of the day, someone who does what he says he will, has to exercise discipline. If it were not this way, everyone would meet their commitments and be accountable all the time. This is not the case, of course.
With discipline as the foundation, there are a couple of proven strategies for improving the chances that you will meet a commitment you make. These strategies include: announcing the commitment to others (making it public); writing the commitment down; and giving permission to someone else (a coach or assistant) to hold you accountable.
Another strategy for holding both oneself and others accountable is being very clear about what is expected. This includes “seeing below the surface” if the expectation is more like an iceberg than a mountain (icebergs have hidden complications and resource demands while mountains are seen for what they are). Many missed commitments happen because someone underestimated what meeting the commitment would take.
A key skill for holding others accountable is being able to confront people when they fall short of meeting their commitments. Great leaders are able to do this while preserving the motivation and self-worth of their followers.
This feat is accomplished by avoiding an attack, public or private, that belittles the person and makes them feel bad. Preserving someone’s feelings is not the goal but rather a secondary benefit of viewing someone’s failure to meet a commitment as a joint problem that requires joint problem solving. After all, there are only three possible reasons that commitments are not met: the leader misjudged the capacity of the person whom she made accountable, the leader was not clear enough in setting the expectations, or the leader and the follower together misjudged the resources required to meet the expectation. The leader shares primary or joint responsibility in all three of these reasons.
A final note before moving on: everyone has failed to meet at least one commitment in his or her life. Great leaders know this and do not pretend otherwise.
The courage to imagine and act on a vision is at the core of what leaders do. The stuff about taking into account the interests of others and being able to quiet doubt, for example, aren’t what most people think of when they think of a leader. For example, there is no disputing that Steve Jobs led people to great achievements. My educated guess is that most people would agree he was a leader. It is an open question, at least in my mind, as to whether or not he was a great leader.
Great leadership takes something more than getting others to do what you want them to do. It takes something more than having the authority of position or rank. Being great takes all the insights presented in this series. This includes the last insight: having the courage to imagine and act on a vision.
It is easier to see how it takes courage to act on a vision than how it takes courage to create it. Acting on a vision introduces the possibility of failure and it takes fortitude to look failure straight in the face. But creating a vision means standing up to the status quo. It means daring to think in a different way. Leaders do this—they imagine a different path and dare to think it might be better. That takes courage, too.
Please note: leaders do not have to be the originator of the idea or ideas that shape their vision. They do have to create a plan they can execute, however, and this plan becomes their vision.
Leaders do have to bring some level of passion to their vision. This passion can be quiet or boisterous but it must be present to help them overcome the inevitable challenges. This passion also helps motivate others and may be more important at recruiting followers than anything else mentioned.
In closing, this series is one more drop in the ocean of material on leaders and leadership. It is framed by the notion of insights or a deep understanding of the qualities that make for great leadership in any situation—at least, any long-term situation.
If you are looking to improve your skills as a leader, you would do well to develop the skill described in each of the seven insights. Work on all seven at once or one at a time. Remember that leaders exist at all levels of an organization and in society. Be a leader who acts on all the insights and not just the few that come easily to you.
by Dr. Donald N. Sweet
Strategy is just one piece of the business puzzle, although an important one for sure. Strategy, we believe, drives the top line of your organization. If you’re not happy with the growth of your top line it is usually a strategy issue.
When looking for a strategy consultant several important items to consider are:
1) What kind of broad business experience does the person have?
2) Do they come only with a specific industry background?
3) Do they have an integrated framework to assist you in strategy development?
4) Where have they been successful in strategy development previously?
While specific industry knowledge can have some benefits, often times what a company really needs are thoughts and questions from outside of their industry. It’s hard to get a new perspective when everyone “knows” how the industry behaves. There is no one to thoughtfully question long held beliefs. People with experience in a number of different industries bring a broader perspective to the planning table.
Strategy has a number of integrated components that have to fit well for the strategy to be effective. Just because someone has participated in developing any number of strategies in the past doesn’t mean they know all the components and how they interlock. If you’re not happy with your top line, then you probably don’t want to follow the same process you’ve used in the past either.
Too many of us have been in businesses, even led businesses, which followed the same strategy format year after year even when we weren’t happy with the results. Often times it was really just an annual budgeting exercise with a slim slice of real strategy bolted on. That’s what many consultants have experience with, too.
Ask your prospective consultant to show you their integrated framework before retaining them to help you with your strategy. We find tools that are simple but effective to be the best. At the end of the day, your strategy is only as effective as its execution. Complex strategic tools result in complex strategies and complex strategies are less likely to be implemented well. Early in my career, one of my mentor Presidents told me he would take an average plan well implemented over a superior plan with only average implementation. Complexity is as costly as incompleteness.
Your business strategy needs to be both comprehensive and straightforward. As many of you begin thinking about your strategy for 2013, we hope you’ll find these past two posts helpful. The right outside perspective is invaluable when building your plan for future growth. Good luck in 2013!
by Dr. Donald N. Sweet
Lots of consultants claim to be able to help you with your strategy, don’t they? Why do you think that is? It probably has to do with their belief that they have been involved in enough strategy sessions to be able to help business owners. Experience is certainly important, as are perspectives from outside of the organization.
Furthermore, marketing consultants will say they want to know about the company’s strategy. While this is usually to align marketing with overall strategy, they also take a view with a marketing slant on that overall strategy. The CFO type consultants weigh in too, with good solid thoughts, but from a financial bias. IT consultants also want to understand the client’s strategy to offer the most appropriate solutions. Having them help develop strategy, while of some value, also comes with IT partiality.
You know the story, everyone has their view on the business world. It reminds me of what Maslow once said, something like, “If your tool is a hammer you only see problems as nails.” Don’t you think that probably goes for most tools? We tend to see solutions from our dominant perspective.
Now wait a minute, a good marketing or CFO or IT consultant says, I have broader experience than that. While they most likely do, many specialists still see the world in light of their main “tool”. Is that really the view that serves the business best?
Finally, many specialized consultants don’t have a cohesive structure to help business owners consider the major components of strategy. Strategy drives the top line in a business. If you’re not happy with your top line, your strategy needs to be modified. It is a holistic business issue and must incorporate thoughtful People, Execution and Cash considerations along with the usual product/service, market, customer, technology, etc. issues.
Ask yourself whether your consultant has all the right tools to help you develop a cohesive and effective strategy.