Thursday, January 30, 2014

Managing for the Unexpected –Understanding Emergence Theory In Business

Guest post by James M. Kerr:

Driving the types of significant changes that truly transform an organization is tricky business.  Contrary to popular belief, if you’re too conservative, you can end up with some unexpected consequences – that’s the theory of emergence at work. 
At the heart of emergence theory, prominent in such fields of study as artificial intelligence, climate modeling and smart grid energy distribution, lies the thought that complex behavior can emerge from the congregation of elements that are not found in the individual elements themselves – meaning any subtle change can bring about an unanticipated outcome from ghosts in the machine. 

The implications of the theory are far reaching, in that, it suggests that fixed deterministic models are not enough to make sense of the complexity that confronts us when implementing dynamic change within an enterprise.  So, as suggested in my most recent book, The Executive Checklist (Palgrave-Macmillan, January 2014), pursuing improvement for the sake of improvement is not a wise move.  Incremental change is too susceptible to the effects of emergence theory.
Rather, we should renovate only in order to strategically differentiate our enterprises from the competition.  This distinction is an important one to make because it serves to inform the decisions about which types of changes and improvements we should pursue.

To be the organization of choice, for example, suggests that we offer the right products, at the right price, through the right distribution channels while providing the right customer experience.  It does not automatically imply that we offer the lowest price or the best product in order to be "of choice". Quite the opposite, in fact, it proposes that we possess the optimum combination of elements to make our enterprise stand out within the markets in which we compete.
That's why understanding the reason for business renovation is so important.  For business renovation efforts aimed at simply becoming the least expensive provider or forming the most sophisticated product portfolio may be ill-advised.  A more appropriate approach may be to aim business transformation efforts at initiatives that yield the right combination of product, price and service.

The same can be said for differentiation initiatives derived through employer and investment of choice objectives as well. It follows that a subset of the renovation program attends to establishing the right work setting, with the right culture, and the right compensation models to attract the best employees and leading the organization in a way that delivers sector-leading financial performance to its stakeholders.
By making strategic differentiation the goal of all business renovation activities, organizations will begin to push for the right kinds of changes in the way work is performed and in the way the enterprise is run. In fact, when a business transformation program is designed with “of Choice” goals in mind, improvements in virtually all areas of an organization will result.

With that said, rethinking the whole process is the only means to get the edge needed to become and remain “of Choice” and be positioned to deal with any emergence issues that result as a by-product of the institutionalization of needed changes.  Here are some things to consider when approaching business transformation a whole process at a time:

ü  Processes will need to be reviewed and redefined, independent of current organizational boundaries.  Emphasis will need to be placed on performing the “whole job” instead of only specific pieces.  Artificial boundaries that promote a “silo” mentality (see next section for more complete definition) need to be eliminated.
ü  Jobs will be redefined.  All attendant responsibilities and commitments related to performing the “whole job” will need to be folded into job specifications.
ü  Managers will need education on how to manage the process to optimize results rather than managing the activities of people performing the work.  The game is won by gaining the expected results, not by micro managing the work of each employee.
ü  Projects aimed at reengineering selected business processes will be necessary to ensure that “best practices” and other quality standards are designed into new processes.
ü  Business Re-Design strategies will need to be adopted to continue the improvement effort on an ongoing basis.
ü  Educating employees about new organization designs, process definition and job responsibilities is essential in gaining buy-in and reducing feelings of friction or alienation that often come with change.

To close, it is imperative that we tackle the whole process when endeavoring to transform our organizations.  Incremental improvements will never lead to the sweeping changes required to enable the level of breakthrough thinking and strategy formulation required to stay competitive for years to come.
Indeed, incremental change is far more exposed to the effects of emergence theory than across-the-board redesign because wholesale redesign dashes what was there before and replaces it with a complete new system of operation.  That’s not to say that the unexpected may result, but, if it does it is more likely to be due to faulty design or implementation than the emergence of behaviors ruminating from ghosts in the machine.

About The Author:
James M. Kerr is a Partner at Blum Shapiro Consulting located in West Hartford, CT where he heads the strategic planning and organizational behavior practice. He is a recognized authority in corporate transformation, strategy formulation and business process redesign.
The Executive Checklist (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) is Jim's fourth business strategy book.  It demystifies all of the elements needed for flawless execution and presents them in the form of content-rich checklists that are easy to understand and use.  The book is intended to be a comprehensive guide for setting direction and managing change.

Jim can be reached at or by calling him at (860) 231-6635

Monday, January 27, 2014

How Do You Differentiate and Develop Talent Without Leaving Others Behind?

This post was first published in SmartBlog on Leadership January 23, 2014.

I recently asked readers to submit their burning leadership development questions. Those that get picked for a post will receive a free copy of my eBook.
This one from Susan Broussard (permission to use full name):

“We have started a leadership development program among the top performers in our company. We are working on development and succession so that we are better prepared for the coming retirements.  The program is not a secret, and we have talked openly about it to all employees. My challenge is the grumbling and engagement among those not in the group.  How do I differentiate and develop talent without leaving others behind?”
Susan, your question is one that talent management professionals have been struggling with since the early cave people selected their high potentials to be the next tribe leaders.

Whenever you differentiate based on performance (or perceived potential), and make the results public, it’s inevitable that there will be resentment from those that did not come out on top towards those that did.

Some would argue that with the influx of the “everyone gets a trophy” generation, it’s going to be even more of a challenge to differentiate.
Yet when it comes to high potential programs, many of the experts are telling us that the benefits of transparency outweigh the potential backlash.

According to research conducted by the Center for Creative Research (CCL), 77% of high-potential leaders surveyed reported that being formally identified as a "high potential" was highly important to them.

Furthermore, knowing one’s status as a high potential has a significant impact on retention. Of those formally identified, only 14% were currently seeking other employment compared to 33% who were not formally informed by their organizations.
So – while transparency is good for your high performers and high potentials, what about the rest of your employees? There are some things you can do to minimize the backlash, or feeling of being left behind.

1. Be as clear and transparent as possible as to how participants are selected.
Letting people know the selection criteria helps clear up some of the mystery behind why someone was selected and why others were not. It also helps provide developmental targets to those not selected.

2. Use a comprehensive selection process.
Some organizations allow employees to submit an application for leadership development programs, along with minimum requirements. Their managers can approve or disapprove, and then a selection committee makes the final decisions. This at least gives everyone a chance, casts a wide net, and provides feedback to those not selected as to why not. Others use formal assessment centers or tools to assess potential to attempt to be more objective.

3. Train managers how to give feedback.
Managers need to learn how to have candid conversations with their employees about their performance and potential. If they are not being honest, then employees won’t understand why they were not selected. With regular and candid feedback, there should be no surprises and each individual gets development that's appropriate for their unique development needs.

4. Provide development for ALL employees.
A high potential program is just ONE type of program. Every employee, no matter where you fall on a 9 box matrix, deserves some kind of development. It’s just a different kind of development. See Nine Leadership Development Strategies for a Performance and Potential Matrix for a complete list for all nine boxes.

BTW, there’s potential adverse behavioral side effects for those that do get selected for the program too!
It’s important to let people know that being selected is no guarantee of a promotion. It’s a developmental opportunity, and it’s up to them to make the most of it. It's not a life-time membership; it's only a point-in-time designation. Be very clear as to what it means to be a high potential and what it doesn’t mean.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Great Leadership Comes with a Counterintuitive Approach

Guest post from Shaun Spearmon:

People often say that great leaders are born that way (i.e Lady GaGa), with the implication that leadership is an intuitive skill. I wholeheartedly disagree. Great leadership is certainly associated with strong instincts and intuition, but intuition and instincts are shaped by training and more importantly, greatly augmented through experience.  Experience enables great leaders to determine when the best course of action is counterintuitive. Moreover, experience provides leaders with the confidence to employ counterintuitive decisions and tune out the chorus of people thinking and/or saying, “what the hell is s/he thinking?”

Speed – Not Always the Answer

In a global environment of rapid change, “better and faster” dominates the agenda in the boardroom. Faced with new business challenges, senior leaders are often quick to assemble steering committees or task forces at a moment’s notice to put plans into action. For the sake of speed, they assemble the “usual suspects” or the department’s “high potentials”. These individuals probably have some history of working together but they also operate with the same obstructed viewpoint.

A homogenous team can get moving quickly but huge benefits are frequently sacrificed as a consequence. Therefore, organizations are increasingly looking to cross-functional teams to address seemingly intractable problems within the organization. These teams, bringing together diverse opinions and the institutional knowledge of multiple departments, are the ones that solve the big problems and seize the Big Opportunities. However, there is a significant cost associated with the impact these teams can provide – time.

Coming to a consensus around vision and direction can be time intensive simply because people who don’t interact are likely speaking to each other for the very first time, and frankly don’t trust each other. Recently, one of our clients began their corporate change initiative with a simple but very profound statement: “Trust is the foundation of speed and innovation.” I could not agree more. Trust not only serves as the foundation for the speed organizations require to outperform the competition, but it is also the foundation of any prosperous relationship.

Trust isn’t a switch that you can just turn on. Building a strong cross-functional team is an exercise in patience – to go fast you may have to first go slow. Moreover, to truly maximize the benefits of a cross-functional team, you may have to address another counterintuitive concept first: failure.

Failure – The Foundation of Success

When is the last time you celebrated a success at work? Maybe it was the conclusion of a big project, or a close to the fourth quarter of 2013. Now how about the last time you celebrated a failure? For most of us, the answer to this question is probably never. Yet our failures are a very important part of our eventual successes, so why shouldn’t we celebrate these as well?

In business, there is usually a zero tolerance policy for failure (remember John D. Rockefeller’s attitude toward failure?). And institutions of higher education, specifically MBA programs, often play a role by emphasizing thought and strategy over action. Whether intentional or not, this reinforces a mentality of fear around failure.

In an environment requiring companies to demonstrate ever-greater agility and to innovate incessantly to remain competitive, an organization full of employees well-conditioned to avoid failure can be a liability. Conversely, leaders who create cultures where failure is embraced establish the foundation for game-changing innovation – think Q’s laboratory at the James Bond series headquarters.

Failure is an essential part of the innovation process.  It helps companies learn what doesn’t work and provides opportunities for teaching, and also venues for new inspiration. Here’s a battle-tested tip: the next time you empower a team to find a solution to a complex business issue, encourage them to fail and fail fast. As a reward for your counter-intuitive leadership, you will enable them to act quickly, tap their creativity, better engage their desire to contribute, and unlock the possibility of new revenue streams for your organization – all in one go.

Put it into Practice

It’s not easy to employ the unconventional but I’d encourage you to try it this once. Yes the stakes are high, but for you leaders who are willing to ignore your conditioned leadership instincts, your teams and your culture will be stronger for it. Your organization will have the opportunity to benefit from the best of the diverse opinions within it and your employees will feel empowered to explore creative ways to get the job done better, faster. Who knows? Your next great business success may arise from the ashes of a slow-forming cross-functional team’s creative failure.

About the author:
Shaun Spearmon is an engagement leader at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. He works with clients on leadership competency strategy and has extensive experience leading teams in strategic planning, process improvement, and business development in both the public and private sectors.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Train Reluctant First Level Supervisors

I recently asked readers to submit their burning leadership development questions. Those that get picked for a post will receive a free copy of my eBook.
This question from a Talent Management Vice President, who chose to remain anonymous:

“Our org is committed to providing development activities to a first level supervisor population that has limited cognitive ability, little formal education, and generally lacks motivation to learn in the workplace.  What recommendations do you have around design, delivery, and the transfer environment?
Where I am at Now:
As I think through the situation, I keep on landing around strong change management (to get learners committed to the program, and not compliant) and effective accountability/performance management associated with the results the leadership development is expected to support.  I'm hoping the larger audience can offer additional ideas and perspectives.”

Hmmm…, this is one of those questions that just begs for more information in order to answer it.
I’m also trying my best to not judge the reader – but I have to admit, when I first read the question, phrases like “limited cognitive ability” and “lacks motivation to learn in the workplace” kind off turned me off - it came across as a bit snobby, and stereotypes an entire workforce. Or maybe I’m just being defensive, because it sounds like he’s describing me on a bad Monday. (-:

However, let’s give the reader the benefit of the doubt – I’m quite sure he has good intentions, knows his stuff (I peeked at his LinkedIn profile, he indeed does), and let’s assume his assessment is factual. Actually, I think I really do know where he’s coming from.

I’ve had some tough training audiences over the years, from all kinds of industries and professions, including the kind of target audience I believe the reader is describing. They all come with potential challenges – from the highest ranking executives who lack motivation to learn due to their own success and egos, to the front line foreman who works outside all day and would rather get a root canal than sit in a classroom all day being reminded of bad memories from school.
So what’s the key? I think it comes down to the following basic training principles would apply across the spectrum of learners:

1. Needs assessment.

I truly believe that everyone will be motivated to learn if the content is going to make their lives better in some way. If the target audience is, for example, cable installer supervisors, then I’d suggest that whoever is designing the training to remove the tie and go out and spend 2-3 days riding along, doing interviews and observations with a few cable installer supervisors. Talk to their employees, their bosses, and find out everything you can about their world of work. What are their challenges? What are the pain points? What are they grumbling about the most? What are their hopes?

2. Design.
Design training (knowledge and skills) that is highly relevant to the needs of your target audience. Test it – go back to the same people you learned from and test what you’ve come up with. “Hey, Larry, would it help you meet those installation targets if we could show you how to deal with that slacker installer you told me about and gave you some short-cuts for filling out all of that damn paperwork that the office requires? It would? Well here, take a look at this. What do you think? Would it work? Would it help you and other supervisors?” Talk to some of the top performing supervisors too, some of the informal leaders, to validate what you’ve come up. The key is that it has to be real.
3. Development.

Develop training that is not only relevant, but engaging, highly interactive, fun, with opportunity to practice. I wouldn’t recommend online, job aids, etc… the group described by the reader learns best in an informal social setting. Limit the pre-reading and in-class reading – make it verbal, visual, with lots of discussion, exercises, application, and more discussion. This group will have zero patience for “nice to know”- they will want to know how they can use it back on the job tomorrow.

I would throw a personality assessment, like MBTI or DISC, in there somewhere too. It’s an engaging way for people to understand themselves and the behavior of others.
I think a half day is perfect – no more than that, delivered in weekly sessions, in a familiar environment. The weekly format allows time for practice, follow-up discussion, and continuous reinforcement. It’s also lessons the impact on schedules, productivity, etc…

Bosses should ideally get the same training so that they can reinforce and model whatever their employees are learning. If that’s not doable, then at least provide an overview of the training with coaching and reinforcement tips.

4. The right instructor.
All of the above are important – but the real key to success is selecting the right instructor. It needs to be an instructor that can relate well to this audience – with humility, humor, relevant examples and stories, genuine respect, and authenticity. Someone that understands how to take a new concept and apply it back in the world the participants come from.

The instructor could be a respected peer – or a professional instructor – or a combination of both. There’s trade-offs with all options.
Make sure you carefully interview any potential instructors, and ask to see them in action with a similar group if you can. Pilot the program, and talk to the participants afterwards. Find the instructor that’s the right fit for your audience.

BTW, I hate to say this, but the last person I would allow to design (and deliver) training like this would be my HR person. What you’ll get is a textbook program on how to fix their problems (how to write performance reviews, how to document performance problems, how not to discriminate, etc…). Yes, that stuff is important too, but it should only be a part of the training, not the trail wagging the dog.
Please forgive me if that all sounds like training 101 – and in fact, it is pretty meat and potatoes. The reader has some other good ideas too, i.e., “strong change management, effective accountability/performance management associated with the results”.

Readers, how about you – what would you recommend?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Decide, Change: The Two Essential Risks for Ultimate Success

Guest post from Tom Panaggio:

Risk is everywhere, and while common sense and consultants tell you to minimize risk, I suggest the opposite. I maintain that embracing what I call the "two essential risks" is necessary to achieve your ultimate success in business.
Sure, you hope to avoid liability, investment, and market risks as you pursue your entrepreneurial dream, so you take steps to mitigate exposure. But a business owner must embrace and leverage these two essential risks to achieve ultimate success:

1. Decide: Choose a direction and jump.
2. Change: Make both internal adjustments and external innovations to keep going and growing.

With all the potential risks present in business, how could I narrow it down to two essential risks? In my thirty years of experience, I recognized that successful businesses were always moving forward. As the business environment changed, they adapted. As the competitive landscape became more intense, they decided to meet the challenges head-on rather than defer making a move until later.

Successful leaders have the courage to make decisions and to welcome change. So it was obvious that these two essential risks were necessary to maintain the forward motion for long-term entrepreneurial success. Here is a detailed look at why these two essential risks provide you with an unexpected edge.
Indecision is the mental paralysis in humans that prevents them from moving forward. Is there anything more frustrating than waiting for a dinner companion who just can't decide what he wants even after reading the entire menu, polling everyone at the table, and getting a detailed description of each dish from a clearly frustrated waiter? This is not a life-or-death situation -- it's dinner!

But this decision-making paralysis affects plenty of people, and when it possesses an entrepreneur, there's trouble with a capital T ahead.
Decision making is a key component of execution, and execution is what transforms a plan into reality. Execution makes a business happen. By deciding to take the leap of faith, you initially embrace this essential risk and your dream becomes reality.

But this is only the first of many decisions you must make throughout your journey. The leader who wants the unexpected edge that comes from embracing risk welcomes the opportunity to make decisions. When no decisions are made, nothing happens, and you don't move forward; you stagnate, and your dream begins to crumble.
The rule is simple: Businesses must progress, and progress requires change. Change, the other essential risk, holds the risk of failure. It is a difficult concept for most people to accept. In the business world, fear of change probably is the single biggest obstacle companies need to overcome to meet the evolving marketplace challenges. What makes embracing change even more difficult is that a business must be willing to simultaneously change internally and externally, to keep progressing and remain competitive. How a business deals with change is reflective of organizational leadership and its ability to minimize the level of fear.

Internal change happens within the business walls, and it is not necessarily customer facing. Internal change can be organizational; there are changes in personnel, management, department, and staff reorganizations. It also refers to processes or systems, changes in attitude, and the business personality. While these three aspects can and do change independently, they also can be linked, thus resulting in dramatic transformation.
External change is always customer facing; it's most noticeable to your customers and competition. Innovation, an external change, brings a new competitive edge to your business by introducing products or services that increase the value of a customer's experience with your organization. Innovation is announced in the marketplace through branding and marketing.

When an entire organization embraces the risk of change, a dynamic transformation occurs: There is a continuous culture of improvement both internally and externally, and the business dynamically evolves to meet competitive challenges. As internal processes are enhanced, the change will ultimately affect the customer-facing components, thus improving the customer experience. And with the proper feedback, this in turn helps to further improve the internal process. Embracing the risk of change creates an environment of perpetual motion FORWARD!
Author Bio
Tom Panaggio,
author of The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur's Unexpected Edge, has enjoyed a thirty-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). For more information please visit

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

3 Ways to Avoid Leadership Roadblocks

Guest post by Great Leadership monthly contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

Several years ago I was working with a business owner who had become stuck because of the way the company structure was set up. As President and part owner, he had two other partners and the company needed to make investments in new product development in order to stay competitive. Yet he could not get his other two partners to commit to making the necessary investment. They were older and had different financial needs. Time ticked away and they started to loose their competitive advantage.  He was stuck and knew he had only one choice, separate himself from the company.

This is the time of year that many of us review our past accomplishments and assess our future. As a leader are you at a point where you need to make a change because you feel stuck? Do you feel like you are just spinning your wheels and not making the progress you want?

Before you make a big change like my client, analyze your current situation. First, list the reasons why you want to make a change. Then define what will keep you engaged and happy in your current position. Ask yourself, what needs to change with your current position? These are the things that demotivate you, decrease your energy level, and disengage you from your work. These are the things that if absent will bring on that feeling of being stuck.  For the client I mentioned, it was the inability to stay competitive and keep up the growth rates he had become accustomed to in the past.

Once you have a list of those needed changes then determine what you can control and what you can’t control in your current position. For instance, if there are things that are part of your job you aren’t enjoying, can these things be delegated to others?


After you have analyzed your current situation, do you still feel that you are at a roadblock?  Have you exhausted all your alternatives? If so, then it is time to determine what are your non-negotiators, those things about a position you are unwilling to compromise on. These are generally the values and drivers that motivate you, the intrinsic motivators. But often, external drivers can be just as important depending on your personal situation. An example would be if you have joint custody of your children and want to stay close to them, then relocating for a new position may be a deal killer. You now have a list of criteria that you can use to rate new opportunities as they come your way.

Frustration can lead to decisions made during a time of high emotions. Make sure that when you do make your decision to leave that you have set aside your emotions and you have your list of non-negotiables.  And during your search for a new position, have questions prepared that will uncover values alignment and style preferences that will be critical to your future success and happiness.

And, for those who want more on finding that perfect job, a new book that can help you in landing your next job is LANDED! Proven Job Search Strategies for Today's Professional by Randy Hain.

Beth Armknecht Miller is CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Beth is a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer. She is a graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School’s OPM program. She is certified in Myers Briggs, Hogan, and Business DNA. And she is a Certified Managerial Coach. Beth’s insight and expertise has made her a sought-after speaker, and she has been featured in numerous industry blogs and publications. To learn more about Beth visit BethArmknechtMiller.comor

Monday, January 13, 2014

10 Tips for Having 1 on 1 Meetings with Your Boss

I recently asked readers to submit their burning leadership development questions. Those that get picked for a post will receive a free copy of my eBook.
This question from Jennifer:

“Can you give us some tips and tricks for 1X1 meetings with your boss, including how to prepare for the meeting and ways to discuss your career and goals?”
Sure can!

I’ve written a post on the same topic for managers: How to Have an Effective 1 on 1. So, I’d suggest starting with reading that in order to get an understanding of what your boss is looking for.
However, let’s assume most bosses haven’t read that post. After you anonymously leave it on their desk, here are some “tips and tricks” written from the employee’s perspective, on how to have an effective one on one meeting with your boss:

1. Request regular one-on-ones with your boss. I’ve only had one boss where I had a hard time nailing him down for regular meetings, but most have readily agreed. You don’t have to sit back and wait. Everyone, at any level, from entry-level to executive, should be having regularly scheduled meetings with their bosses. The frequency, duration, agenda, and style may vary, but it’s a must!
2. Prepare an agenda. Many bosses don’t – they expect you to. They see it as your meeting. And if they are the type of boss that sees it their meeting, with their own agendas, then request to add your agenda items to theirs.
I like to send my boss a copy ahead of time so they have a little time to prepare, even if it’s the same day. But if not, at least bring two copies to the meeting with you. It helps put you in the driver’s seat, and from a practical standpoint, gives your boss something to take notes on, put in your file, and refer to for your next meeting.

3. Keep your boss appropriately informed. By “appropriately”, I mean a very succinct, high level summary of all of the key things you have been working on. This is your boss’s chance to ask questions, coach, and reinforce. This is also a chance to highlight your accomplishments. Hey, if you don’t, no one else will! You can, and should “toot your own horn” in a very humble, matter-of-fact way.
4. Cliché alert…… if you bring a problem, always bring your recommended solution. If you need a decision made, always bring your recommended decision. Yes, it’s getting to be a horrible cliché used by the Pointy Haired Boss in Dilbert, but alas, it’s true. Yes, there may be problems in which you really have no clue where to begin (maybe you’re new in the job), but they really should be the exception.

5. Own up to your mistakes. Read How to be Accountable and Hold Others Accountable. If you screwed up, make sure your boss hears about it first from you. No surprises, no finger pointing, and no excuses!
6. Don’t ask your boss to prioritize your work. If you’re swamped and feeling overwhelmed, it’s OK to let your boss know that (again, but not on a regular basis). However, unless you want to be micromanaged or seen as incapable of managing your own time and priorities, don’t show up with a list of projects and ask your boss to rank them.  Better to rank them yourself, and ask your boss to verify (“I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here as far as my priorities”).

7. Always come and leave with a positive attitude. Yes, some will say it’s your boss’s job to pump you up and keep you motivated – and if you read the post I wrote for bosses, I said it is too. But that doesn’t let you off the hook – bosses – and coworkers – would much rather work with competent and positive people. No one likes a Debbie Downer. As a manager, I’ve had employees that I’ve looked forward to meeting with and those that made me want to hide under my desk.

8. Make sure you include development (including career development) as a regular agenda item. Whether your company or boss requires one or not, ask your boss to help you create an individual development plan (IDP). It’s a chance to ask for feedback (before it’s too late), enlist his/her support in your development, and demonstrate that you are ambitious, self-aware, and have a desire to improve. You create the first draft, and then get your bosses input. Bring it with you to your meetings 3-4 times per year to show progress and keep it updated.
9. Occasionally ask for feedback (read18 Tips for Receiving Feedback first). Sure, again, that should be your boss’s job to give you feedback, but most don’t, and if they do, they find it terribly uncomfortable. However, if you ask them for it, you are opening the door and making it much easier for them. Hey, they may even turn around and ask you for feedback in return! When that starts to happen on a regular basis, you’ve got a really good trusting and supportive relationship.

10. Let your boss know what you need from them in order to be successful. Don’t assume they know. Not all managers are intuitive, sensitive, or can read your mind. And some experts suggest that women don’t ask as often as they should. If you let them know in a constructive way, most will do what they can to support you. After all, your success is their success, and then they get to go home feeling like they did their job as a manager.
If you do 1-7, then you are more likely to establish a foundation to discuss 8-10 and get your own needs met.

Follow all 10 tips and you might even help turn your average boss into a great one!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Leading in a World of Change: Lessons from Downton Abbey

Guest post from Hay Group’s Rick Lash:

I confess it: I love Downton Abbey.
Part of the attraction for me is the weekly escape to an unfamiliar world – a time, a
place and a culture that seem light-years away from the daily challenges I face consulting with businesses on leadership issues.

But it’s not easy to turn off my daytime mind – and I recently realized that my business clients can learn important and very relevant lessons, even from that distant world.
A world in flux, then: Downton Abbey is set in the twilight of the great age of English estates. Throughout that era, aristocratic families held vast tracts of land that generated enormous wealth, both from the sale of crops and from rents paid by the people who farmed the land.

These noble families also held positions of power in the English political system, from which they were able to pass laws that protected their privileges and claims. It was a system that remained essentially unchanged for centuries, and it assured these families a continuous flow of income to maintain their wealth across generations.
When Downtown Abbey takes place, however, the curtain was coming down on that way of life. Global trade had driven down agricultural prices, eroding the traditional sources of wealth for the great estates and gradually starving the aristocracy of income.
At the same time, the advent of new ground breaking technologies such as electricity and motorization – today we would call them disruptive – allowed the estates to operate with significantly less staff. As a result, rural families who had looked to their wealthy patrons to provide a secure means of living were also being displaced. The fundamental business model that had sustained the great estates for hundreds of years was unraveling.

It makes for a great dramatic series, but when it happens to the organization that you’re a part of, it’s much less entertaining.

A world in flux, now: And it is happening, right now, to businesses in almost every industry, everywhere in the world. The business models of the past are transforming at a breathtaking pace. Accelerating globalization, technology convergence, volatile world financial markets and demands for ethical, environmentally responsible business practices are presenting organizations and their leaders with unprecedented challenges.

In this rapidly changing business environment, leaders can’t take halfway measures or hang on and hope for a wealthy corporate suitor to rescue the enterprise. If you don’t want to end up in the business equivalent of a decaying old mansion with scores of empty rooms, here are three crucial mistakes from the world of Downton Abbey to avoid:

1.     Don’t hang on to yesterday’s success. Organizations today can no longer afford to reinvent themselves every seven or ten years and then return to a steady state. Today, leaders must continuously transform their businesses, while ensuring day-to-day operations are executed with discipline and efficiency. You can read more on mastering this difficult balancing act in the Hay Group 2013 Best Companies for Leadership study.

2.     Don’t try to resist technology in the workplace. You don’t have to learn to love new communication and networking technologies, but you do have to learn how to use them. They allow you to cast a worldwide net to gather ideas, connect to sources of knowledge and experience, and build consensus throughout your organization, no matter how large it is. And they’re the only way to keep ahead of the changes that are affecting your markets and your success around the world.

3.     Don’t wait to act. As a business leader today, you have to be alert for weak signals. Every competitive advantage in every marketplace is potentially subject to unexpected disruption. You have to be vigilant in looking for signs that one of your markets is about to be affected. Separating the signal from the constant noise streaming in to your office isn’t easy; it requires focus and clarity – and great intel from sources you trust (see No. 2 above).
In Downton Abbey, resistance to change nearly cost the Grantham family their estate. Today, the world is changing exponentially faster than it was back then.  It's up to modern leaders to adapt to and embrace change, rather than fight it.  
What mistakes would you say today's leaders must avoid?

About the author:
Rick Lash, Director of Hay Group’s Leadership & Talent Practice in Canada and co-leader of the annual Hay Group Best Companies for Leadership study. Rick works with executives to build the leadership capabilities needed to execute their organizational strategy. He specializes in organizational change, succession planning and leadership development; working with leaders and senior teams to refine their capabilities and create lasting change and improved performance.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Making Succession Planning “Real”

I recently asked readers to submit their burning leadership development questions. Those that get picked for a post will receive a free copy of my eBook.
This question from Jen:

“How do you make succession planning a ‘real thing’? We use Lominger’s competency modeling and their Learning Agility tools in some robust ways.  We ‘9 box’ folks and we have depth charts where names are slotted in to ‘Red (ready in 3-5 years), Yellow (ready in 1-2 years) or Green (ready now)’ slots.  But I can’t get those charts to be seen as real.  Names are plugged in but I don’t see people advancing from Red to Yellow and from Yellow to Green and then being selected to fill an empty position if they are in the green.  We’ve begun a focus on Individual Development Planning – and it is my main cause in life to move names on the chart.  And not just to move them but to ensure they are really ready.  How do I get the leadership team to see this as important?  When an open position comes they don’t look at the depth chart, they talk about people and then sometimes hire outside the company. 

Any guidance or best practices around making succession planning real would be very helpful.”

Another GREAT question, and what a way real scenario!
The good news is, it sounds like Jen really knows what she’s doing. She’s using good processes, tools, best practices, and is committed to the development of her company’s leaders.

I also think she’s hit the nail right on the head when it comes to seeing the need to begin emphasizing development, in addition to replacement charts.

Succession planning without development is only a hypothetical exercise. Then, of course, you need to make sure your development plans are seen as real, but that's the topic of another post.

Development will get those individuals ready when the opportunity opens up!

It’s also possible that her company’s CEO and senior leaders may only be paying it lip service at best. They may be chickens (involved), but they’re not pigs (committed).
Senior and middle managers are REALLY good at figuring out what’s “real” and what’s not. They have to be! They have so many competing priorities to deal with; they would drown if they didn’t get good at sorting them out.

They know something must be real when:
1. Their boss is always hammering, er…, asking them about it. They didn’t just get a formal letter/email (probably ghost written by someone else) telling them how important it is, they repeatedly hear it from the big dog.

2. It’s not just an annual formal thing – it’s operationalized in their day-to-day, month-to-month work. Most senior teams have Monthly Operation Reviews (MORs) – the real stuff is on that agenda, and the rest is all noise.

3. Bad things happen to them if they ignore it or don’t take it seriously. Pity the manager who keeps showing up with unprepared and can’t get on board; it’s not a pretty sight.
4. Good things (rewards, kudos, promotions and positive results) happen when they take it seriously and do it well. Word spreads, and everyone wants to pick their brains to see how they are doing it. They get awards and asked to make presentations.

5. It’s a part of their performance metrics and compensation. Key activities and results are tracked, reported, evaluated, and it has an impact on variable compensation.
If these 5 things are not happening, then you’ll hear them say things like “just keep your head down and this too shall pass”. You get resistance or compliance at best.

Succession planning usually becomes real when the CEO or Board of Directors begins to lose sleep over a lack of talent to fill key roles. They have begun to feel the pain of costly external mis-hires and long external searches while positions sit vacant and opportunities are lost.
Succession planning is strategic and a long-term priority – you can’t see and feel it on a quarter-to-quarter basis, so it often gets overlooked until it’s too late. Performance results are a lagging indicator of good or poor talent management, and it’s often up to HR leaders to connect the dots.

I’ve written about the importance of CEO commitment before. To me, it’s the single most important differentiator when it comes to succession planning and leadership development.
So what do you do if you don’t have the commitment of the CEO? Well, you could build a business case. However, the case has to be real – not just “because it’s the right thing to do and everyone else does it”. And if you can’t build a compelling case, maybe succession planning just isn’t a priority.

Once a CEO is on board – and truly committed – the rest is relatively easy. All of the best practices you have in place all of a sudden become important – and real.
What if you work for an organization where the CEO isn’t committed, or perhaps only somewhat committed, even after you’ve given it your best shot?

You can still move the needle, even if it’s at the individual level. Read the Starfish story, and keep it in front of you. It’s good to have a cause in life, and the development of leaders sure is a good one to have.

How about if we hear from others? How do you make succession planning real?

Monday, January 6, 2014

The January Leadership Development Carnival: Best of 2013 Edition

The January Leadership Development Carnival: Best of 2013 Edition is up and running!

Thanks for this month's host Randy Conley, from Leading Trust, for pulling it together and doing the hosting.

You can find it right here.


Friday, January 3, 2014

How to Make Leadership Development a Grassroots Movement

Guest post from William Seidman and Richard Grbavac:

Have you ever heard (or said): “I just wish I could clone that person.” Being able to clone the best people in an organization would have tremendous value for any organization.
Though actually cloning people may not be a scientific reality just yet, we do believe that everyone can be transformed into a top performer. In our forthcoming book, The Star Factor: Discover What Your TopPerformers Do Differently--and Inspire a New Level of Greatness in All" we show how the star performers in an organization can serve as the basis of grassroots change throughout an entire company.

Top-Down or Bottom-Up?
In general, there are two types of approaches to change in an organization: top-down and bottom-up. In the past, organizational development has relied on executives at the top to drive cultural change. In most cases, though, this approach produced disappointing results. Executives may be able to initiate change efforts, but for change to be sustained, each and every individual in an organization must embrace change.

A much more effective and meaningful approach starts by changing individual behaviors and values, one person at a time. The challenge is to change sufficient numbers of people fast enough and completely enough to transform the character of the entire organization.
Achieving “Critical Mass”

The first step is to identify the attitudes and behaviors of the star performers. What makes them great? Next, every person in the organization is encouraged and inspired to adopt these attitudes and behaviors. When all employees practice these behaviors until they become a natural part of everyday life, a “critical mass” of change causes the organization as a whole to transform.
Even though the change is centrally driven, participants are given a sense of ownership. When enough people perceive the change this way and are functioning in the new mode, comprehensive grassroots change can take place, and the entire organization is rapidly and systematically transformed.

The Affirmative Transformation Model
Using recent advances in four areas of research, we have created a four-part model of organizational change:

1. Set the bar. The first step in a grassroots change model is to develop a clear, comprehensive picture of the desired outcome by leveraging the wisdom of the top performers. Simply put, identify exactly what your top performers do differently.
2. Motivate individual change. The passion and sense of purpose that drives the star performers is contagious. When others witness and come to understand this passion and purpose, they are motivated to become more like the stars.

3. Sustain the change. Through engaging learning tasks, each person practices the new attitudes and behaviors until they become a natural part of everyday life.

4. Scale to the enterprise. An organization drives enough individual change to reach a critical mass of change, causing the organization as a whole to transform.

Since 1996, we’ve been using a grassroots organizational change approach—with astounding success—in different industries and countries. By starting with the knowledge, wisdom and passion of your star performers, a grassroots change movement can blossom, one in which everyone is inspired to change.

Author Bios:
Dr. William Seidman, CEO and President of Cerebyte, is a recognized expert on management decision-making in high-performing organizations. He is particularly known for understanding the processes required to identify and use expert wisdom in order to inspire organizational performance improvements.

Richard Grbavac joined Cerebyte as Vice President in 2002. Grbavac has more than 25 years of experience in sales, marketing and organizational development, and he was involved in managing sales groups and re-engineering corporate structure and culture at industry-leading organizations such as Jantzen and VF Corporation.