Monday, January 28, 2013

Organizational Mythology #1 - "Soft Skills"

Without exception, there is one phrase I react to whenever I hear it. 
The phrase I refer to is ...

"The people side of change requires soft skills." 
I suppose I shouldn't react as sharply as I do, but it never fails.  This phrase is a mythology that frustrates me every time I hear it.
Why do people use the term "soft skills"?  Here's my take:
  1. Because unlike Accounting which measures numbers, there is no perfect measure of human behavior ... at least, not from a human perspective.
  2. Because unlike injection molding that repeatedly produces the same parts there is no perfect mechanism of human behavior ...
  3. Because there is no perfect method of analyzing human behavior ... only statistical probabilities (with the exception of parking lot behavior, which is very predictable).
But what does Dr. Bohn really believe is behind this smoke screen? 
  1. First of all, human emotion, motivation, perception, cognition, awareness, need fulfillment combine to create the most complex (and thus the most difficult and demanding) challenges we face as managers.
  2. Group Dynamics - the interplay of groups within groups within divisions, etc., all increase the level of complexity a hundredfold.
  3. Organizational Behavior, Organizational Psychology, Organizational Dynamics add yet ANOTHER level of complexity ...
  4. and above all that ... there is the issue of Power (a separate subject unto itself ... Jeffrey Pfeffer of Harvard has written extensively on the subject, also Robert Cialdini).
  5. The quote shown below puts it all together nicely. 

"Put simply, conflict in organizations is inevitable given that humans therein need to manage their mutual interdependence."  (Journal of Applied Psychology, November 2012, p. 1132). 

Whole Journals of research are dedicated to these subjects every year ... they are complex and demanding subjects. 

When managers, leaders and executives step back for a moment, they all realize these elements are far more complex than figures, equations, and theorems.
Albert Einstein reportedly said "I worked in mathematics, because people are too complicated."

Paul Allaire of Xerox said "The hardest stuff is the soft stuff." 

The mythology that people working with other people is a 'soft skill' requires reconsideration.   Don't get me started!

- Jim Bohn

Friday, January 25, 2013

The three greatest joys of my work life ...

I'm going to step away from the technical aspects of the blog and share a few personal insights about the work world, specifically those things that have given me the greatest joy in the day-to-day grind throughout the past few decades.

  1. Major achievements - doing those things others said couldn't be done.
  2. Connecting the Dots.
  3. Seeing others succeed.
The Joy of Major Achievements

I have often wished I were a carpenter, first of all because I admire their craft (I have a friend who builds beautiful homes and works wood with amazing skill).  There is another element of their work that I have always envied: they get to see progress every day.  They can stand back and see achievement.  Not so in the white collar world of endless meetings, conference calls, and IMs.  It often takes months, even years to see a tangible outcome. 


Some of the greatest moments in my work life have come with a sense of exhausted pride when a team came together to achieve unimaginable outcomes.  When I have worked on a project for months and I see the parts coming together toward something much bigger, that's joy!  I once heard a grumble on a team about how hard we were working.  I asked "when will you ever do something this big again in the course of your lifetime?"  I look back on major team achievements with a sense of satisfaction.  [On a personal note, I have loved being "The Designated Hitter" called upon to solve the intractable situation.]

The Joy of Connecting the Dots

I mentioned organizational silos in a recent post on analyzing organizational culture.  They are a bane in most organizations, but a reality, and electronic communications have all but eliminated the need for face-to-face connections.  I was at a customer site one time and I invited two men to make a decision on a product.   The conversation went like this:

"Oh, that's who you are."
"Yes, I've been in this department for 13 years."

Two men, two floors apart, had never met each other face to face! 

Connecting the Dots for me is bringing people together around a common need.  Very often, people find the comfort of their cubicle very hard to leave, and face-to-face conversations are far more unpredictable than say, an email interaction.  People will, however, respond to good leadership that brings them together to solve problems.  Sometimes it takes a bit of 'schmoozing' ... but it's a joy.
Even more important is helping others see the connections!  In our departmentalized world, people don't often see how the parts fit together, but that moment when I have seen others express an "Aha!" or "Eureka" moment - that's fun!  

Seeing Others Succeed

Above all these other working pleasures, nothing is more satisfying than seeing others succeed.  Oh, I'll admit it took a while for me to get there ... in my 30's it was all about me as a manager.  But along the way, I have found a great measure of satisfaction helping others accomplish their goals, especially those who needed help to get to the next step. 

In my work life I have often seen unsung heroes who have been relegated to the 'back waters' of the organization.  Over time, however, when I have discovered their gifts, intellectual abilities and talents, it has been a pleasure to brag about them and give them the spotlight they deserve.  Watching them accomplish more over time has been, by far, the greatest satisfaction I have known in my work life. 

~ Jim Bohn

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Analyzing Organizational Culture - Part 5 - Leadership

Recall we are analyzing organizational culture from the simple perspective of ...

"Culture is the way we do things around here."

While Organizational Culture has many elements, the major influence of "how we do things around here" is Organizational Leadership.

We talked of vision, cohesion, sharing of information, but leadership is the single most influential element of organizational culture.

Leaders ...

  1. Have a private vision of how the world should be, most often based on prior successful experiences.
  2. Work with other leaders to develop an organizational view of a possible future = vision.
  3. Have the authority to make financial investments, investments in human energy and direction.
  4. Have decision making authority that extends across multiple teams, divisions, even regions.
Leaders also ...

  1. Display a persona every day.   Unless a leader completely shuts himself or herself off from the world (and thus are no longer leading) they have a persona which influences the organization.  We know from Social Learning Theory that people will behave according to norms established by powerful others. 
  2. Demonstrate acceptable behavior.  People watch their leaders to see how to interact, how to solve problems, and how to get things done - even how to manage conflict. 
In a recent Journal of Applied Psychology paper, we read that leader conflict management behaviors influence entire organizations (Gelfland, Leslie, Keller, & de Drue.)

One of the challenges I have seen along the way is an inelastic culture that holds on because of the influence of former leaders - people long gone from organizations who still hold sway.   It takes a more powerful leader to overcome the influence of others ... and sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes years, even decades.

I am of the opinion that leadership behaviors are learned in the beginning of one's career, but the longer time a leader manages an outcome, and as they gain a track record, their behaviors become less open to change, short of a crisis or significant loss. 

Leadership, therefore has an immense effect on "how we get things done around here." Open style leadership promotes openness, but may slow accomplishment.  Dominant leadership may get things done, but often at the expense of others.  Laissez-faire leadership looks hands-off but without direction, some team members may struggle. 

While there is room for many leadership approaches in organizations, it is critical that we understand the dramatic impact leadership brings to bear on culture.  For my part: Leadership is the culture of how we get things done. 

Gelfland, M., Leslie, L., Keller, K., & de Drue.  (2012). Conflict cultures in organizations: How leaders shape conflict cultures and their organizational-level consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology.   November 2012, Vol. 97, (6) 1131-1147.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Analyzing Organizational Culture - Part 4 - The Marvin Gaye Principle: "What's Goin' On?"

In yesterday's post, I talked about the need for teams, individuals and groups to share information, work across departmental boundaries and engage others to improve efficiency and to speed decision-making.

Today I address the need to address the Marvin Gaye question: "what's goin' on?"  I always loved that song and his performance, and while the subject matter of the tune is not organizational culture, the question is truly valid for an understanding of your organizational culture.

Recall that "Culture is the way we do things around here." 

We know teams and individuals need to work together ... but ... what are they working toward!?
Without a clear view to organizational goals, precious human effort is often lost in the pursuit of non-essential and non-value added activity.  In short, people are wasting time. 

Common responses when the question is raised "Does everyone in your organization know what's going on?"
  1. We have a Mission Statement.
  2. We have a Vision Statement.
  3. Our department/team/group knows what we need to do every day.
  4. And the most insidious comment of all "this information is shared on a need to know basis ..."

Yet there is often an invisible, yet profound barrier between the executive development of vision and mission and the front-line application of those words. 

Why does mission and vision not flow to all team members?

  1. Most likely, the mission and vision were developed at a time when the company was formed and while the majority know it, they don't know how it applies in their setting.
  2. Mission and Vision are often developed by leadership, without involvement of other groups, teams and departments.
  3. There may be a misperception that front-line team members are not interested in mission and vision ... but they are!
  4. Leaders/managers have not taken the time to articulate, with clarity, how teams fit in to support mission.

Team members want to answer the question "What's goin' on?".  They want to know how they fit into the day-to-day success of the organization. 

Does your culture promote a sense of clarity?  Do people know what's happening?  Do they know why?  As leaders, make it your goal to be as clear as possible.  Don't waste another minute of precious employee energy in a zone of uncertainty.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Analyzing Organizational Culture - Part 3 - Silos

‘Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.’

Lou Gerstner (Former CEO of IBM)
In this blog, and a few that follow, we're focused on analyzing organizational culture as "the way we get things done around here." 
Travel through any of a thousand farming towns and you will see a landscape filled with silos.  Silos are helpful, meaningful and valuable tools for farming.  They retain a supply of food for livestock throughout harsh winters.   Without a doubt, they serve a crucial purpose in agriculture.
Silos also exist metaphorically in business.  Teams or departments or groups retain precious data, process, even historical knowledge that can benefit others.  But like the farming silo, contents are distributed by someone willing to share and provide.

When we analyze culture using this metaphor, we ask some very direct questions:

  1. How do teams share information?
  2. How are teams and key individuals included in critical decisions?
  3. How do managers and leaders demonstrate collaboration?
The barriers to collaboration are manifold:

  1. Those who have information may believe the old saw: 'possession is nine tenths of the law'.
  2. Some may wish to retain information with the false belief that special knowledge will help them stay employed during tough times.
  3. Sometimes people simply don't know why they need to collaborate.
  4. Reward systems may actually perpetuate silos. 
While there are multiple other barriers to collaboration, an organization with limited collaboration is impacted in the following ways:

  1. Speed of decision making is slowed, sometimes halted.
  2. Solutions to problems may be incomplete, causing rework in the months and years ahead.
  3. There remains a sense of Organizational Uncertainty which leads to lower productivity.
  4. Decreased productivity and ineffective decision making ultimately lead to decreased financial performance. 
There are many ways to analyze culture.  At Pro/Axios, we take a direct approach to helping people work together for the benefit of the entire organization.   How do things get done around here?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Analyzing Organizational Culture - Part 2

In this post, I want to provide some background for upcoming posts on a different way to analyze and change organizational culture.

Organizational Culture has been analyzed from many angles throughout the past 4 decades.  Many fine instruments have been developed to assess organizational culture and they have met with varying levels of success.

Some examples include:
  1. Organization Based Self-Esteem
  2. Organizational Commitment
  3. Organizational Climate
  4. Organizational Citizenship
  5. Employee Engagement
  6. Organizational Health
  7. Perceived Organizational Support

Each of these Organizational Analyses (with the exception of Organizational Health - Patrick Lencioni's latest book) focus primarily on the individual employee.  In other words, they ask employees about their level of commitment, the sense of self-esteem obtained through participation in a given organization, and the amount of effort they are willing to expend (Citizenship) based on how the organization treats them (Climate).   Perceived Organizational Support delves into an employees' perception of how the organization assists them in their quest to do good work.

But Organizational Culture is about the organization - not the individual. 

Organizational culture is the way we collectively 'do things around here', and thus organizational culture must be managed at the organizational level.  Some tools have been developed to assess the culture at a higher level - to decipher the ways organizations group together.  Some of this material is based on anthropology or how people develop clans. Other approaches look for the predominant 'personality' of a culture.  While the approaches are interesting from an academic perspective, in my experience executives have little patience for oblique academic terms or 'cute' phrases.  They want results.

I'll repeat what I mentioned in the last post: "Culture is about how we get things done."  
  1. How do we share information?
  2. Do we perpetuate silos between teams?
  3. Do we allow hierarchy to reign over common sense?
In the coming posts, I'll talk more about focusing on key elements of culture that get to the heart of how organizations get things done. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Changing Corporate Culture - Part 1

Culture – exactly what is it?

One of the major challenges in organizational analysis is the definition of “culture”.  It is an oblique word with as many meanings as there are people in the room.  And ineffective organizational culture costs thousands, even millions of dollars for organizations every year. 

Culture is a glamorous,, intriguing word and it has the sophisticated ring of … well, culture!  The problem is culture is often vague and difficult to pin down.  Deference to culture allows those who do not want to change the ability to say “it’s a cultural issue,” providing them an excuse to continue on with their same old practices.

Culture is “the glue that binds an organization together … it is the collection of values, beliefs, symbols, and norms the organization follows and that define what it is and how it does business each and every day” (SHRM, Fornal, 2002). 
In my view, culture is 'how we get things done around here."

Unfortunately, cultural analyses, while helpful, do not provide solutions to the roots of the culture itself.  Let me explain.   I agree with the foundational researchers who offer that “Culture is the way we do things around here.”   If that’s the case, then we need to resolve (1) what it is we’re doing and (2) how we’re doing it, and (3) why we do what we do.  Then, and only then, make changes that correct the way we do things.  If culture is ‘the way we do things around here,” why not analyze that? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

IT Projects - Keys to Success #5 - Due Diligence: Preventing Unintended Consequences

Although IT/Systems projects may not be part of our daily work, the systems themselves most likely have an impact on what we do to greater or lesser degrees.  Lurking in the background of every IT/System project are unforeseen consequences of tampering with the heart of an organization.

Here's an example: Suppose you want to change a system that fills orders for clients.  A client orders something on the web and they expect to get it shipped to them.  Now suppose you want to change that system ... sounds simple, right?  Here's a scenario you may have experienced.

People flock to a meeting where PowerPoint slides show how the new process will work.  Heads nod in agreement.  More slides show the dramatic improvement the new system will provide.  Heads nod with greater energy.  Finally, the Return on Investment looks very strong, and the leaders nod with approval.  The project is launched with great aplomb.   The energy and enthusiasm are contagious ... at least at first. 

Here's the caution: Without effective Due Diligence, the clock is ticking on an unintended discovery that will bring the project to a grinding halt. 

It's not complicated - it just takes hard work to discover what you need to know to be successful.  Here are a few starter questions ... I like simple outcome questions as opposed to geek speak.

  1. Who uses the system?
  2. Who supports the system?
  3. Who feeds data TO the system?
  4. Who receives data FROM the system?
  5. Who gets reports from the system?
  6. How old is the existing system?
  7. Are there data feeds specifically designed to have an old system talk to a new system? (These are often deeply hidden where no one can find them until the systems don't 'talk'.  Very likely, they were built by someone who retired in 1980.) 
Why don't organizations take the time to do this?

  1. Generally, by the time the project is being presented, commitments to savings (in the next year? quarter, month?!) have been made.  Those commitments have been registered, documented and remembered by a savvy finance person. 
  2. The enthusiasm to get going outweighs the boring effort required to dig deep into the system's parts.  Novelty will always win over tedium. Count on it. 
  3. "We know enough ... let's get started."
  4. Details are overlooked because of expediency ...

Pay me now, or pay me later.  Truer words were never spoken. 
As a leader, you cannot afford to overlook this key activity in your project.  In the end, proper Due Diligence can save tens of thousands, even millions of dollars as you implement your new system.

Find an engineer who loves the details.  Treat them well.  Feed them well.  Care for them.  And have them find the mystery lurking in the background.  You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

IT Projects - Keys to Success #4 - Managing Scope

Occasionally, the film industry will produce a comedy about something that started small and turned into a nightmare.  If they did a film about an IT/Systems project, it would probably best fit in the Science Fiction category, and the biggest reason is ineffective management of scope.

There are lots of terms for this, most notably 'scope creep' (which is an interesting double entendre, don't you think!!?)

Managing scope is a notoriously difficult problem for several reasons:

  1. When word gets out that a new system is being implemented, managers often see a way to resolve the chronic issues that have plagued the organization for months, years ... even decades.  It sounds like this ... "As long as we're doing ABC, let's add XYZ."
  2. While scope is generally established at the beginning of a project, odd things appear during Due Diligence (which in my mind should be done well in advance of project start up).  The whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa were in the news as this writing because of the mysteries surrounding his death.  There's an analogy here for IT/Systems projects ... some hidden system will present itself at the wrong time, causing scope creep.
  3. Although people start with a clear view of scope, it is inevitable that new discoveries will cause change and additions, typically in terms of system interfaces developed long ago.
  4. Executive pressure.
  5. There is a more subtle reason scope is increased --- those who truly are opposed to the project will add scope, giving the appearance of interest and participation, all the while subverting the project by adding layers of demanding complexity that will sabotage success.   And then say "I told you this wouldn't work."

What to do?

  1. Every two-year-old kid has one very powerful word: "No."  Why not use that as a lever?
  2. Have the person who adds scope articulate the impact to the project, in terms of dollars, human cost, opportunity cost, project delays and additional consulting fees.  While they may have a valid reason for adding scope (improved ROI) it's a real good idea to get a sharp understanding of what the addition means.
  3. Be wary of someone who says you're not a team player if you won't add scope ...
It takes managerial discipline and courage to set very hard boundaries around a project - but it is one of the best ways to ensure success, to finish the project on time and within budget. 

Accomplish one of these monsters and your work will become a thing of corporate legend.  Fail to do so through excessive scope, and your work will also become a corporate legend.  Think about it. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

IT Projects and our day jobs - Keys to Success #3 - Our participation

We all have 'day jobs'.  That is, we work in finance, procurement, sales, human resources, and operations, among other roles.

When a major IT System change comes into our organization, sometimes we're asked to join a team to help implement the new System.  From a Change Management perspective, it is critical to engage multiple stakeholders in the process to ensure a complete implementation.  Participation is critical to success.

But let's go back to the day job for a moment.  Our finance, procurement, sales, human resources and operations roles do not prepare us for the IT/System implementation.  Even the most savvy among us may find themselves bewildered by the project.  Here are a few reasons:

  1. We are exposed to a brand new language.
  2. There are new terms we need to learn.
  3. We are brought together around levels of complexity that may boggle the mind a bit!

And what about the 'day job'?  Although we're often flattered and intrigued by being selected to support the project, we have concerns.
  1. We've been asked to commit hours, days, maybe weeks and months to the project.
  2. We have other priorities to manage.
  3. We've heard the project has been attempted before ... and failed.
  4. We've heard we have to travel, adding further complexity to an already busy schedule.
  5. There's risk in our participation: We may show our incompetence of the overall process. 
So what can we do to be successful when invited to participate?  Here are some tips based on my experience with IT/System Implementations ...

  • Work with our teams to delegate responsibilities.
  • Gain a clear picture of our involvement - what are the expectations for time, effort, project deliverables?
  • Ask for clarity on our levels of influence ... do we have the right to question process or protocol when it seems like things are not moving in a good direction?
  • Learn the terminology, as painful as that may be.  Meetings are difficult - meetings with non-stop misunderstood complex technical terms are brutal.
You have a day job.  Your organization wants to invest very heavily in a new system to improve performance ... it's to your benefit and the benefit of others to improve, so get on board and help.  Just take the time to ask some questions early in the process. 

The benefits?  A central system brings together the component parts of our complex organizations.  An IT implementation can teach us how the pieces fit together.  In the long run, that knowledge can help build your career.    But don't be fooled - it's going to take a lot of hard work. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

IT Projects - Keys to Success #2 - The consultant

IT Introductions are major investments in time, dollars, human energy, and business opportunity costs (the things you can't do while you're doing something else).

These investments are often mission critical systems, forming the DNA of the organization.  They are data repositories, systems for order management and fulfillment, customer contact systems, and telephony interfaces.  Clearly these projects can have a dramatic impact on organizational performance.

Given the major challenges of these IT introductions, organizations often use external consultants to advise and provide everything from project management to change management.  External consultants have the expertise and they can staff up or down, depending on the needs of the project.

A few considerations:
  1. IT consultants are not part of your organization - that's a double-edged sword.  They will take up much time learning what your organization does and that translates into $$$, Euros, Pounds, Yen ... name your currency. 
  2. Not being part of your organization allows them to push and say things internal people may not feel comfortable addressing.  That's a good thing, and a key lever to use during organizational change.
  3. IT consultants will not be working for your organization after the project is done ... at least not for a while.  They are not as invested in the outcome as you are.  They can leave; you remain. 
  4. During the sales process, IT consultants are likely to provide a glamorous view of projected savings, improved revenues, employee satisfaction, and myriad other benefits.  This is normal and natural, but ... their projections may not be realistic.  I haven't seen companies check out the BEFORE and AFTER effects of an IT implementation, comparing initial projections with actuals.  You may want to consider that in your assessment ... and in your contract.
  5. Finally, most IT projects run over on time and cost ... it's a fact of organizational life.  When push comes to shove (and it often does) IT consultants will want to cut time to reduce cost.  That's not a bad idea, but it can cause problems if they cut critical process analysis steps.
Cutting the Wrong Corners Can Lead to Disaster.

Organizations don't do massive IT projects every day, and thus they need the assistance of IT consultants who can manage the details.  A bit of caution is in order ... take the time to understand the relationship you have with the consultant ... set careful boundaries and expectations.  After all, they are working for you!

Next time: Managing Scope

Thursday, January 10, 2013

OADD - Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder

Does your organization have attention deficit disorder?

  1. Inability to focus
  2. Distractedness
  3. Incomplete projects
  4. Penchant for novelty
  5. Intense energy with little output
  6. Employee burnout due to a lack of achievement
Organizational pressure to produce the new thing, new product, new service, new process drives us to distraction.  People are often overwhelmed and consequently unable to focus long enough to get something done.

  1. Reactions to market pressures
  2. Undisciplined managers who believe everything is #1 TOP PRIORITY
  3. Multiple, disconnected initiatives
  4. Leadership changes
  5. "Me" generation mentality
  6. Executive sound bytes
  7. Social media cognitions
  8. ... a fundamental lack of patience.

While we cannot control the causes of OADD, we can control our reactions.  Disciplined managers/leaders perform a daily assessment of priorities and develop fierce determination to 'stay the course' in the midst of all the distractions that come their way.

A manager once told me he had to decide who he was going to disappoint (he used different words to describe his situation ... I will not share them.)  He understood that some things were far more important than others and, at all costs, must be completed to achieve organizational success. 

If you see this happening in your organization, pay close attention to the lack of attention.  Lead! Find a way to remind people of the original goals they designed.  

Design a feedback loop for recurring reminders of original intent.  What did you want to accomplish?  What got you off track?  Why? 

This is a insidious phenomena in organizations today.  Lack of attention = a lack of long-term results.
Better pay attention to this! 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fixing a Broken Team - The Radical Value of True Recognition

I cannot overstress this element of team repair.  True Recognition has serious benefits for everyone on your team, for your organization, and for you!
Recognition is risky business.  Some leaders believe that people will stop performing if they're recognized.  Some leaders are fearful of recognition ... here are a few reasons:
  1. Show favoritism and you're done.  Your recognition will be shown for what it is: you take care of people you like, and you don't take care of people you don't like.
  2. Recognize people for non-performance and you will lose credibility.  Your recognition will look more like a pep rally than a business strategy.
  3. Recognize people inappropriately and it can backfire.  In other words, some people simply do not want public recognition, but they won't mind a gift certificate for dinner. 
With all these risks ... some managers can become wary, cautious, and risk-averse ... and in the process do nothing! Don't fall prey to doing nothing.  That's the easy way out.
When people know they’re valued for their legitimate accomplishments, and they know the organization acknowledges what they’ve done, meaning has been added to their lives.  Think about it: most people will spend their entire work lives wondering if they mattered.  You can change that, if only for a moment.
A few years ago, a Vice-President walked over to my desk and shook my hand, congratulating me on a successful project.  I believed I was immune to recognition.  I thought it wouldn't matter to me ... but it did. 
If you want to repair a broken team, do not overlook this key element of motivation.  You don't need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars: you need to carefully articulate the value of a person's contribution.  Then watch the energy flow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Conference Calls - Risk to your career? Part 1

It's no secret that conference calls are part of our business DNA.   While the ability to get a few, or scores or hundreds of people on one call is a wonderful communications tool, they also pose risks ...

Today, I'll focus on one risk and one solution.

People can always slow you down, but they find it difficult to speed you up.
Let me explain - if you drone on endlessly without interruption, assuming your audience is paying attention, you're in danger of harming your career. 
  1. People are busy.
  2. They don't have time for endless droning.
  3. They are already on too many conference calls.
  4. You are not that important.
  5. They are distracted by ... Google, Yahoo, pictures of their grandkids ... etc.
So speak quickly, clearly and ask for questions.  Establish a bit of dialogue at the beginning of the call to set the stage for discussion. 
And when you ask a question, count to ten (not out loud, of course) to demonstrate listening behavior.  The silence is tough on most of us, but we can gain comfort with the space.  I have found that people will begin to discover that their comments are welcome, but they need to know the 'space' is there allowing them to speak.  If we trample over their words, we'll get compliance from everyone else.
Let me know if you have any funny conference call stories you care to share!

Fixing a Broken Team - Review

If you've missed some of my posts on Fixing a Broken Team, here's a summary:
  1. Lead with confidence, not with your ego.
  2. Build trust.
  3. Find out the true concerns of the team you're going to lead.  
  4. State the not-so-obvious - your group is a team.
  5. Find the naysayers and bring them to your point of view or neutralize them if necessary.
  6. Set the context – where people fit into the company.
  7. Set the vision – where the team can go.
  8. Let ‘em know what you’ve done in the past (with a bit of humility!)
  9. Set an expectation for excellence.
  10. Help and solve chronic problems – people must see evidence of leadership. 
  11. Put them on the map.
I have two more steps to share with you ... thanks for your participation!
Jim Bohn, Ph.D.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Simplify ... or perish. Finding Organizational Simplicity.

The axiom of "Publish or Perish" has held sway in Academe for decades.  There are certain things one must do to maintain one's status in the world.  In the Academy, professors must publish.. or perish.

I believe this type of simple clarity has been lost in organizations, much to their detriment.  My corollary is "Simplify or Perish". 

I doubt that complexity ever arises as an intentional strategy, but it certainly is a byproduct of organizational activity. 

  1. Department A develops a new product that requires Department C to reschedule, rearrange and reorganize.
  2. Department B also develops a product that requires Department D to reschedule, rearrange, reassess, reevaluate, and respond.
  3. Before long, Department E arises to resolve the conflicts in Departments A through D.
Soon, processes are documented, managers are trained, and line workers adjust to the new resolutions.

Then something happens to add complexity: Department A notices a slippage in revenue in their product.  They write more processes, develop more marketing materials, add staff to prop up the lack of sales ... they've added unnecessary complexity. 

ANALOGY: Each of us has storage space in our homes or apartments.  When we no longer desire something, we place it in storage space thinking "I'm sure I'll need that one day."  But we rarely do ... yet we add complexity to the storage space, preventing us from accessing critical items when we need them.  We add unnecessary emotional stress, absorb precious resources, and make our lives more complicated ... all because we believe ...somehow, somewhere, some day ... we'll need those items.

If we do not seek organizational simplicity, we expend grievous amounts of energy maintaining policies and procedures that mattered at one time, but matter no more!

What are the barriers to simplicity?  What's holding you back from making things easier, simpler, and thus faster, more efficient and less emotionally draining on your employees?

Fixing a Broken Team - Steps 11 and 12

Caveat: I want to offer that these steps can happen in parallel or in different order depending upon your situation.  As a leader, you decide where you're at, and which steps you need to take. 
Help and solve chronic problems – people must see evidence of leadership. 
As you’ve listened to the team members, you’ve picked up on some chronic problems that have been around forever.  These are problems other managers have NOT been able to solve, but they're very real.  If the problem is a worthy issue that can truly make a difference for the organization, make it your business to fix one of those problems …  Things like: ‘We can’t get parts’ and ‘We can’t work with our Canadian Suppliers.  Solutions to both problems are radically different: one requires pure data, the other required finesse involving a different culture.   If your new team sees you resolving a longstanding issue that others have avoided, you'll win major points in respect, which translates into more of their energy expended to help you lead. 

Put them on the map
After the team scores a few real points, let the world know.   Nothing pumps up a team that was downtrodden like recognition from others that things are moving and changing in a positive direction.  One of the curses of the corporate world is a fear that recognition will lead to poor performance.  The research (and my own experience) shows this is not true.  People are proud to work in a group with achievements, and those achievements, in turn, energize greater achievements.   Clearly a manager must be careful to only recognize ‘the real thing’ but if someone on the team has done well, speak loudly.  If the whole team has done well, shout it from the rooftops.   Organizations don’t know what they don’t know.  As a leader, you’re the one who has to brag about your team.  Do this diplomatically, with good data, and with professionalism, but by all means give your team the organizational recognition they deserve!

There is a peripheral but powerful motivational benefit to recognition.  No one wants to go backward.  Once the team has shown what it can do, the bar is set and your expectations can be pushed even higher.  People like being part of a winner, and they will hold their position at all costs. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fixing a Broken Team - Steps 7, 8, 9 and 10

Set the context – where people fit into the company
Most people have no idea why they even come to work.  They’re unclear about their place in the business.   Bring some clarity and certainty to that angle of their thought process.  Be deliberate about why they matter to the organization.    What is the context of their involvement?  Why does their work matter?   You have to sort that out in a simple, yet clear way that resonates with people.  They won’t buy a sales pitch, but they’ll believe someone who can make a strong case for why they exist as a group.   It goes something like this: "Here’s where we fit into the broader scope of the organization." 
Set the vision – where the team can go
Here’s where we can go.  Here’s what we can do.  When setting vision, people will seek something that is credible yet beyond what they have today.   They’ll want to know some of the ‘how will we do that?’ answers.  Let them know they will be involved in the solution. 

Let ‘em know what you’ve done in the past (with a bit of humility!)
People need to know you’re the real thing.  They need to see legitimacy.   Selling them on a few things you’ve done is a good starting point (most likely, they've already done some due diligence of their own to check out your background).  It develops what I call “listening confidence.”  In other words, they’re confident enough in your abilities that they will at least listen.

Set an expectation for excellence
After about two – three weeks into the role, set high expectations for excellence.  You’ve listened to them.  You’re smart enough about the team now.  When you hear, “You have no idea how hard this job is!” you’ll be able to say, “actually, I think I do.”   You can speak with authority about what you’ve learned.  I once had to explain to a team how poorly they were perceived by the rest of the organization.  It was tough news to bring, but it set the table for high expectations.  They knew it was true, but someone had to bring it to the surface.  Two years later, they won the highest award in the organization.

According to Burke & Litwin (1992), “Team members feel effective” (p. 540) when teams have the following characteristics: “the team has role clarity, the team has good relations with other teams, the team manager empowers the team, the team has high standards.”   As a leader, you can make that happen. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fixing a Broken Team - Step 5 and 6

Step 5 - State the not-so-obvious     
The most fundamental observation you may make is that they are a team.  They may never have even thought that way before.   Most people are in ‘departments’.  They come to work in a department or a work group.  Identifying them as a team, even if it is only in name to start, puts a different viewpoint on the situation.  People on a team are responsible for the success of the team, not just themselves. 

Step 6 - Find the naysayers and bring them to your point of view or neutralize them
Every team has a ringleader that people look to when confirming or disconfirming a new boss.  In one of my situations, I got on a plane and flew to meet the guy who had the most influence on the group.  I wanted to hear him out.  The very fact that I went to him spoke volumes.  In another situation, I listened to a chronic complainer for about 30 minutes, then asked him what he would do to fix things.  The greatest fun I ever had was with some naysayers who regularly told me how much stress they were under.  At the same time, I contracted a serious illness that required I was taken out of the building in an ambulance.  When I returned, I faxed the ambulance bill to the team and never heard about stress again.  A little dramatic, I know, but it got the message across in a humorous way. 
Naysayers can be helpful ... I offer 'can be'.  But there are times when you simply must sit down with someone and say, "I'm heading in Direction A.  I realize you may want to go Direction B.  Neither of us is wrong, but we cannot go in both directions.  My job is  to lead.  If you help me, we can make this work out very well.  If you're not interested - - - you need to find something else to do."
This conversation, while not pleasant, is essential for the road ahead, for your success and for theirs. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wasting your investment in Team Building

So you've ...
  1. browsed the catalogues for team building exercises
  2. found an 'exotic' location for a team building session
  3. booked the flights
  4. booked the hotel rooms
  5. paid for the catering
  6. brought your team together
  7. took pictures of all the goofy, crazy and unusual activity you shared and then ...
you, and everyone else on the team, forgot all about it a few days later. 

Why waste that investment?

Team Building exercises only have value IF they are integrated into the fabric of the organization going forward.

Let's back up a bit!

  1. How will this investment truly build my team?  Too often managers let HR leaders select the exercises their teams will participate in, without truly considering the immediate and long-term impact! 
  2. How am I strategically placing people into groups where they will most benefit from the experiences and insights gathered through the stress of the exercise?
  3. MOST IMPORTANT!  What will I do every week, every month, every future meeting until I know - with certainty - that the investment of time, effort, energy ... embarrassment for some ... and dollars truly changed my organization. 
I am not averse to team building - but I believe it is critical that managers use every bit of the investment in a way that changes the behavior of the team for the good of the organization.