Thursday, July 31, 2014

To Enhance Productivity, Stop Doing Something!

Guest post from Willy Steiner:
It was recently announced that the national unemployment rate went down to 6.1%. I was an Economics minor in college, many moons ago, and full employment was considered to be around 6%. By the time the Dot-com boom hit its peak in 2000, full employment was thought to be closer to 4%. I never got the memo as to when they made that change but it seemed to make sense given the hubris of the times and how wealthy many Internet startups made their founders.
Economists today say the full employment number is between 5 and 5.5%. Again, I missed the memo but the reason I bring this up is that we may be approaching a real tightness in the labor markets and finding ways to retain our employees will be critical to our future success.

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” - Lin Yutang

Companies must continue to find ways to improve their productivity and during the last several years there have been significant investments in software and systems to assist in that. But what’s missing is an ongoing reevaluation of all the work that’s being done.

Who gives someone permission to stop doing something that is no longer needed? In today’s environment, it appears employees are fearful of speaking up about that. So I would encourage all managers to find a way to stop doing at least 5% of what’s currently being done to enhance productivity.

In a 40 hour work week, that means you’ll be finding two hours per week per employee to do things that are more important, to stay more organized, or to plan and prepare for new opportunities.
Here is a model for doing just that:

·        Announce that you are asking everyone to eliminate the bottom 5% of their tasks so they can focus on more important things.
·        Ask everyone to identify three tasks to eliminate, put it in writing, and bring it to a meeting to discuss it with the whole team. If your team is too large, you may have to break it up into groups but it will be important that everyone hear other ideas about what can be eliminated. It may encourage different or new thinking on the part of others when they hear these ideas. That’s called “piggybacking”.

·        Have each member of the team review their list out loud. Others may ask for them to clarify the task they have identified, but they are not allowed to argue with them about whether or not it can be eliminated at this point. Have each member of the team identify which of those three tasks they feel strongest about and would commit to. Do Not Debate – just get things on the table.

·        Now have each member of the team repeat the key task they want to eliminate and have the group rate it as follows:
o   “Duh!!!” - Of course we should stop doing that.
o   Probably no problem, but there may be a couple things to check on first.
o   Since there have been some concerns raised, let’s put that on the “to be considered list” for later.
o   NO, we can’t stop that - and here’s Why…
·        If a team member has a suggested task rejected based upon the collective wisdom of the team, have them go to the next task on their list.
·        Combine the list of the “Duhs” and “Probably no problem…” tasks and send that list to the entire team. Make a separate list of the “To be considered” tasks for later review. At this point everyone has committed to trying to eliminate the task they have identified.

·        The manager must reinforce that if anyone runs into a problem or an unintended consequence of stopping to do a certain task, they should inform the manager as soon as practical.

·        Have a brief meeting at the two-week mark to report in on any things that have been learned about stopping these tasks. Talk about the time that’s been freed up and any concerns that may exist.

·        At the one-month mark, review the status of each task that has been stopped and see if any adjustments may need to be made. Ask each member of the team what lessons have been learned from the exercise and record this.

Saving everybody two hours a week is a reasonable and modest effort that should free up time for more important tasks. It may also identify other process bottlenecks that exist and require further study. Once you feel this exercise has been productive, repeat as needed, but commit to doing so at least once a year.

Ask yourself:

1.     Do I really need anyone’s permission to do this with my team?
2.     Am I willing to follow-through on things once we’ve started?
3.     Can I get members of my team to help track progress?

I look forward to your suggestions and comments. 

About the author:
Willy Steiner is the President of Executive Coaching Concepts, an executive leadership firm dedicated to assisting senior executives in taking their individual and organizational performance "TO THE NEXT LEVEL". He has provided valuable counsel to executives and teams throughout his career with General Electric, RCA Corp., Galileo International and for hundreds of other clients in a wide variety of industries in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to Reach a Consensus Decision and Not Go Around in Circles Forever

Consensus building is hard work for a leader – it takes a willingness to “roll the dice” and be open to any alternative. Big egos need to be set aside. However, the time and work invested will yield not only higher quality decisions, but implementation will be faster and smoother because everyone will be committed to the outcome.

Read my recent post over at Management and Leadership to find out how to involve others in a consensus decision and not have it go around in circles forever.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

10 Magic Phrases That Will Make You a Better Leader

This post was recently appeared at SmartBlog on Leadership:
Want to be a better leader? Then try improving your vocabulary. No, I’m not talking adding the latest management and leadership buzzwords or jargon to your repertoire. If that’s what you’re looking for, try the Wall Street Journal’s Business Buzzwords Generator. You’ll be able to walk around uttering leadership gibberish such as Moving forward, it's time to act with strategic vector and transform our team bandwidth”, and “Looking forward to 2014, ideation will be key to our ability to impact the solutions holistically.”
I’m talking about adding some powerful phrases to your vocabulary that will engage and motivate, encourage people to come up with ideas, and inspire commitment.

It’s not an exhaustive list – just a collection I’ve picked up over the years – so please feel free to add your own in the comments section.
1. “How can I be a better leader?” Credit goes to Marshall Goldsmith for this one. Variations of the question include “How can I be a better parent”, “How can I be a better spouse”, and “How can I be a better child”. Just make sure to listen and say…..

2. “Thank-you.” Use these two powerful words as a response to constructive feedback (which should be seen as a gift), positive feedback, as a way to express gratitude for going the extra mile or a job well done, or when someone brings bad news or a problem to your attention.
3. “Nice Job.” Variations include “good work” and “way to go”. Giving positive reinforcement becomes even more powerful if when it’s specific, timely, and you can explain why (positive impact), but let’s not over-complicate it too much for now.

4. “What do you think?” Credit goes to Tom Peters for this one. Asking someone for their opinion or ideas is the ultimate demonstration of respect. And when you get those ideas, don’t forget to go back to #2.
5. “How can I help?” Often used as a way to express support during a development discussion, in problem solving, when someone is going through personal difficulties, or when problems or ideas are brought to your attention.

6. “What’s possible?” Credit goes to Jack and Carol Weber for teaching me the importance of “possibility thinking”. Instead of coming up with reasons why something won’t work, ask yourself and others “what’s possible”. And if they do come up with examples of how similar ideas have been tried in the past and have not worked, use the phrase “Up until now.”
7. “I don’t know.” Use this when you truly don’t know the answer to a question or solution to a problem – it demonstrates humility and authenticity. It goes well with “what do you think” as a follow-up.

8. “Why is that important to you?” This question demonstrates that you care, and you’ll learn a lot about the person’s motivation and values.
9. “Help me understand.” A much better way to understand someone’s logic, reasoning, feelings, etc… than “really?!”, or “seriously?!”, or “what the heck are you smoking?!”

10. “I believe in you.” I may have saved the best for last. What a way to express confidence in someone’s ability or potential!

What would you add to the list?

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Reorganize in a Way That Won't Create Cynicism, Anxiety, and Complete Chaos

Reorganizations can be disruptive and fraught with challenges and risks. They should never be taken lightly, and should always have a shelf life of at least a few years.

Read my recent post at Management and Leadership to find out how to have a better chance of achieving your reorganization objectives and minimizing disruption, anxiety, and cynicism.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Leading Change – Lessons for New Leaders from Satya Nadella

Guest post from Randy Ottinger:

Today’s Microsoft is not the same company we saw a year ago when Steve Ballmer was at the helm. Since Ballmer’s successor, Satya Nadella, took over the CEO role in February of this year, change at Microsoft has come swiftly. Executives have been reshuffled, organizational priorities have shifted and the culture at the very top of the company has change. Many of these shifts, and the reasons behind them, are unveiled in Nadella’s recent open strategy memo to staff. While not all the changes are easy –see last week’s announcement the company would cut 18,000 jobs – they are plotting a bold new course for what has traditionally been a more conservative organization.

The question that likely occurs to many observers of the shifts at Microsoft is to ask “What is Nadella’s vision for change?” How can new leaders at organizations large and small help stir things up in a positive way that produces new innovations, generates new energy and engages staff?

While no one formula fits all situations and contexts, I believe that there are a few key steps to achieve impactful change:

Know your destination and plot a clear course

Ambiguity can be a killer when a new leader comes on the scene – if not addressed immediately it can slow momentum, derail progress and lead to disengagement amongst staff. Under Ballmer’s tenure, Microsoft suffered from a lack of direction that, while not hurting the company financially, made the longer term future of the business murky at best. Nadella, by contrast, set a strong direction from day one, clearly laying out a destination in his focus on “mobile-first, cloud-first” technologies. It’s a clear, simple drumbeat that his team can rally around. Now, he’s tackling the second piece of the puzzle with his open memo on Microsoft’s strategy, where Nadella lays out the numerous tactical changes he has in mind to reach that destination.
Get the right team together

In any organization that needs to make a break with the past, the new leader will need to work quickly to ensure the team at the top shares a vision for the organization’s future. While this doesn’t necessarily mean wiping the slate clean, it’s important that the relied-upon employees are rallied around the same cause and focused on the same goals. In many cases, it may be necessary to make a few staffing changes to build the base of support critical to new leaders accomplishing their goals.

In Nadella’s case, within his first few months, in line with the future destination he had plotted for the business and his new focus on certain product classes, he adjusted staff within the marketing team and mixed up the leadership in the device and cloud divisions of the company.

Not just top down, but bottom up too

At the same time, as a new leader, it’s important to ensure your future vision takes into account a diversity of viewpoints, and that your course aligns with the character and capabilities of the organization. Nadella is known as a quiet listener and team player within Microsoft, but it’s this understated leadership style that has allowed him to sound out his ideas with colleagues, and learn from others at all levels within the company.  By seeking engagement from the organization as a whole, it’s possible to get the team, even those contributors at the lowest levels, focused on the destination. Nadella’s focus now on “productivity” rather than more traditional ‘consumer’ or ‘business’ technology segments may be a reflection of what he’s learned in his internal conversations – a departure from past siloed thinking, while still recognizing the character of Microsoft’s leading software and hardware products, which tend to blur the lines between work and consumer technology.

Engage the organization with quick wins

To fully cement the change you aim to accomplish as a new leader, quick wins are crucial for building momentum. Early successes back up your goals, can help persuade the non-committal within the organization, and encourage those already on board to push for more progress. For instance, Nadella drove home his mobile/cloud and productivity agenda early in his tenure with the release of Office for iPad, the elimination of licensing fees for Windows on smartphones and smaller tablets and the release of hybrid cloud management tools for Azure.

For new leaders, driving organizational change can be challenging at best – you need a team captain and cheerleader rolled into one. But the leaders who set a clear course, rally a team, ask for input and prove their case are the leaders most often successful in rejuvenating stolid organizations and re-energizing tired workforces. I predict this will be true for Nadella.

About the author:

Randy Ottinger is an Executive Vice President at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. He previously spent more than 20 years as a high tech executive for companies like: IBM, McCaw Cellular (Claircom), and Captaris. In addition, Randy is an established author as well as a legacy leadership expert.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Makes Successful Senior Executives Tick?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been spending time with quite a few successful senior executives and have been asking them a lot of questions about what makes them tick.

I’ve noticed they seem to have a lot in common in regards to the way they approach their careers and job.

Read my latest article over at Management and Leadership to find out the 20 Characteristics of Successful Senior Executives.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to “Coach an Employee Out of a Job"

There is an alternative way to address an employee performance problem without having to go through a long, drawn out formal disciplinary process, and avoids the stigma of having been fired from a job.

It’s called “coaching someone out of a job”.

Read my latest article at Management and Leadership to find out how.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Is Your Business's Digital Communication Culture Working?

Guest post from Daniel Patrick Forrester:

Too often leaders of companies fail to recognize the Pavlovian habits of constant connection and the opportunity cost of think time and ingenuity that it creates.
Recently in Davos, Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo  smiled and shared that she checks her mobile device over a hundred and fifty times a day -- as though that many interruptions (within a work day) in her leadership rhythm and ability to focus were some badge of honor. Innovation never comes from chaotic interruption.

As a strategy consultant, I've worked with the top leaders of organizations across the landscape of American life and commerce. Within most organizations, I see a cultural communication hierarchy that is often broken. The dysfunction is directly related to technology and our perceived human need to "respond." Business leaders need to address the hierarchy of communication within their organizations by examining and questioning the culture that exists.

Here are two simple ways to begin to regain control and reflection:

Step 1: Recognize the Relationship Between Immediacy & Reflection

CEOs and Leadership Teams must take the time to consider and debate the institutional relationship between immediacy and reflection. Technology provides us with immediacy. Reflection provides us think time. I would urge leaders to strengthen their company cultures by welcoming time for reflection instead of defaulting to constant connectedness. Creating this distance between immediacy and reflection makes room for ingenuity, creativity, and thoughtful controlled responding. It alleviates burnout, anxiety, and institutionalized communication confusion. Have the debate now and declare a new future and social contract. To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, an unexamined organization is not worth leading.

Step 2: Determine What's Lurking Within Your Digital Culture

Your company already has a digital culture. The most powerful digital tools for most organizations are e-mail and texting. Leaders must study and see trends of usage within e-mail and observe what's happening through instant messaging habits. How much has asynchronous digital conversation subsumed thoughtful dialogue? It's had a greater impact than you can imagine. Rich human dialogues and having difficult conversations are what make businesses unique; email and instant messaging/texting is likely destroying high contact human connection and suppressing the debates that matter the most.

Ultimately, technology provides us with such immediacy that we have become a global generation of humans who "respond" rather than a generation of humans who "think, reflect" and then "respond." Businesses leaders need to look within their organizations and address the need for a new working digital communication culture. A culture that is wildly self-aware and that embraces the power of reflection before responding.

Author Bio:
Daniel Patrick Forrester 
is the Founder and CEO of THRUUE. As an author, strategist, and navigator of organizational and cultural change, Daniel regularly challenges leaders and their boards to be guided by "big ideas" and act purposefully to realize intended impact. The drive and ideas behind THRUUE come directly from his book, Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization, which is informed by decades of reflective thinking and strategy consulting with for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top 2 Myths Leaders Have About Igniting Employee Passion

There is a lot of information out there about employee passion - and some of it's not so good!

Regular guest contributor Beth Armknecht Miller debunks the Top 2 Myths Leaders Have About Igniting Employee Passion over at my Management and Leadership.


Monday, July 14, 2014

10 Models for Leading Change

Change, change and more change. What's a leader to do? Try using a change model to give you a framework for organizational and individual change.

Read my latest article at Management and Leadership for an overview of 10 popular change models.