Alignment, Inclusion and High Performance at Costco.com

One of the great keys to alignment is knowing how your work and the work of others fit together in the bigger picture to drive the organization in a common direction. Its not enough just to know your own goals, but know the goals of the teams and workgroups around you. I rarely find that in organizations, and I have traveled all over the world looking into organizations and their inner workings. Continue reading

Throwing Around the Word ‘Leader’

It’s an easy mistake to make: Calling managers “leaders”.  I often find myself correcting my own words in an, “I’m sorry, I mean ‘Management Team'” back-peddle, when I’ve thoughtlessly used the term ‘Leadership Team’.  That’s usually what we refer to them as, right?  The ‘leadership team’?  But what we really mean is the group of managers that meet to make decisions without the rest of us. Does that responsibility for resource allocation and accountability make them leaders? (the debate goes on…)

We often refer to people above us in organizations as “leaders”. Perhaps it’s an expression of hope.  Maybe it’s an affirmation we’re expressing (the whole “thoughts become things” bit). We may want them to lead.  We may want to see some leadership along with their management responsibilities. In fact, I think we long for that, secretly.

What’s interesting is when they refer to themselves as leaders. I have had experience with a few management teams that refer to themselves in front of org chart subordinates as “the leadership team”.  That’s a pat on one’s own back – don’t you think?  I simply can’t resist interjecting an innocent, “You mean the ‘Management‘ team, don’t you?”  I know, some people could really be insulted by that.  For those individuals, I wouldn’t recommend that they open their 360 feedback.

‘Leader’, ‘Manager’ – “What difference does it make?”, you ask?  Well, for one, learning to carefully choose our words might actually help us to communicate better…  Besides that, though, keeping the word ‘leader’ sacred might create a cultural view of the term as earned through behavior and not obtained through promotion.

Think about that as a norm in your organization!  What impact would the simple, intentional selectivity of the usage of one word have on organizational results?

The Great Questions of Leadership

For those who might wonder just how effective their leadership is in their organization, let me introduce you to “The Great Questions”.  I work with a lot of leaders who are doing everythingquestion-mark-dice they know how to stay on top of the responsibilities that rest on their shoulders: from being great managers of work, to great managers of people, to making an impact and getting things done. And often, in the heat of the moment, with the pressure on, it’s easy to begin to fall into common leadership traps such as complacency (not really leading at all anymore) or naivete (not knowing what a leader is supposed to really do in the first place).

So every time I sit down to work with a leader, no matter what the chief complaint or symptom is that brought us together, I always begin with the “The Great Questions”:

  1. What is the purpose and/or mission of your organization, department, etc.?
  2. Are you accomplishing it?
  3. How do you know?

Let’s talk about the power of those three simple questions, from both the inquirer’s and the receiver’s side.

What is the purpose and/or mission of your organization, department, etc.?

This first question is meant to take all of the things competing for a leader’s time and attention, all of the distractions and all of the small stuff that has become big, and blow it away by regaining context of what this whole thing is about in the first place: why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing in the long run? Asking this question helps calm the seas, focus on what matters most, and quickly tells the interrogator how well the leader understands why the organization even exists in the first place. By doing so, we frame the important conversation and throw anything not directly related to it out the window, off the plate, persona non grata, etc.

Are you accomplishing it?

This is the point where leaders either have an immediate answer or pause to think.  If they have an immediate answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are or are not on target, it just means that they think they are.  This question is not meant to be debated, it’s really a set-up for the next question by getting them to answer yes or no, and then slapping question number 3 on there for gut check time.

How do you know?

How do you know is a question about awareness, about measurement, about active inquiry into the ultimate question of “are we successful or not?”  It tells you so much about the manager or leader before you, and what may or may not be missing in their organization.  It also is a question about knwoledge vs. conjecture:  We are asking if they KNOW.  Often, it is difficult to really know, but we want to find out how they are framing their paradigms of the organization.  in 9 out of 10 organiztions, I will bet that the manager never really asks that.  Instead, it’s, “Am I doing what I need to do to keep my boss off my back?  Am I doing what I need to do to look good?”  Those aren’t wrong questions, rather they are more likely indicative of what the real organizational mission may be, rather than what the framed poster in the break room or company banner claims.

How do you know lets the interrogator see if the leader and their organization is measuring their purpose and mission – if not, then it probably is not being fulfilled, and the activities, systems, processes, people and focus within the organization are almost certainly out of alignment, are fragmented and disjointed.

Leaders who lead by “The Great Questions” tend to do less managing and more actual leading and torch bearing, thanks to the vision and clarity that working within the big three allow you to achieve.

So go on, ask them, of your self, of your direct reports and of those you report to.

What does the CEO do, anyway?!

Sometimes we elevate our posts above the necessity for work.  CEOs in small companies need not try and emulate their peers, but focus on rolling up the sleeves as opposed to piling up the reports.

Sometimes we elevate our posts above the necessity for work. CEOs in small companies need not try and emulate their peers, but focus on rolling up the sleeves as opposed to piling up the reports.

What do CEOs do?  Honestly.  What do they do?  I see so many companies that are not big enough for a whole host of chief executives, VPs, Directors, etc., yet they have a “Chief” of all those executives, and I wonder as I watch them throughout the week, “What the heck is that CEO spending his/her time on?”  Ready to grow,  they often go hire a VP, Sales and a VP, Marketing and a VP, IT / CIO, VP / CFO and a COO and all those guys end up being 1/5th – /10th of the business, and if all the members of this team are taking care of the work, then what in the world is the CEO doing?  What they ought to be doing is working, but what they end up doing is sticking their nose in everyone’s business, making decisions that aren’t theirs to make and messing up the work.

Look CEOs, when you have layers of management stacked on top of a workforce, then the CEO has a full time job doing things like meeting with his reports, giving them the air-cover they need for their stewardships, checking alignment with vision and strategy and continuing to build the Sr. team.  But when you are in the 80 – 95% of the other companies out there, your job is to get business in the door, and too many of you are simply not doing it. Yes, I know you need to massage the board, manage key stakeholder relationships, etc., but what is happening is you have guys like CMOs that you keep kicking out every 18 months because frankly, you don’t know what the heck you are doing and you have abdicated your job over to them.

I know a CEO of a tech company that has vision, passion and knows how to close deals and build relationships in a multitude of channels.  So, what does he do?  He hires a VP of sales.  Now, when they have weekly sales meetings, the CEO is in there, asking all the questions, driving the meeting and essentially, being the VP of Sales.  What does the VP of Sales do?  Tells him to, “Let me do what you hired me to do and stay out of it”.  Good move VP, Sales, I’d tell him that to.  So the CEO now spends half his energy biting his tongue and the other half… elsewhere, out of the office – I don’t know what he’s doing.

Finally, after sales declined and management overhead went up, it came time to say, “Listen, you are the CEO, that means that you are in charge of sales, and quite frankly, you are the guy who should be leading sales.  This company isn’t big enough to have all this extra weight.  You should be selling and leading this organization with vision and passion.  Let a sales director do your training, etc.  But you go and close deals.  If you don’t want to lead sales, then get a territory and work under him for cryin’ out loud.”  And of course, nothing happened.  Layoffs came and went.  And came and went.  And came and went.

And just recently, they let go of their VP, Sales and now the CEO is leading it and selling it. Now I know what the CEO does every day; He doesn’t just worry about revenue, he helps bring it in the door.

Same with Marketing. I know another CEO that just let go of his VP, Marketing, and while I could go into all the reasons why, the truth is that the CEO ought to be the VP, Marketing and he did himself and the old VP a disservice by layering someone where they didn’t belong.  Now they are probably going to go after a new VP, Marketing, but what this CEO doesn’t know yet is that what he really wants are a couple of marketing directors reporting to him and giving him all the information that he wants.  But of course, this CEO came from a $500 million company, and now he’s running a $27 million company with only a couple of million in profits.  This isn’t the big corporation anymore – this is time to get off your rear end, out of meetings and start rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.

Look, this is just my opinion, but I think it comes down to this:  If you find your company needs more revenues, really needs them, and you are sitting around analyzing reports and talking to the board and trying to figure out how you are going to do it – then you may be the wrong person for the job.  Now is the time to pitch-in and bring revenue in, not manage the people who do.  When you have enough revenues that you don’t need to be in an urgent and panic state of operations, then you back up and pull out your Mont Blanc and figure out which documents need to be signed and where you’ll put your washroom with the golden key.  Until then, win business or drive revenue.

A great business man that once took me to the bank and the wood shed at the same time, taught me a valuable lesson:  Your first priority every day is creating revenue today.  Your second priority is creating revenue for tomorrow.  Your third priority is positioning the business for revenue creation beyond today and tomorrow.  The last priority is to make sure the necessary but non-value added things you need to keep your doors open get done.  Anything after that is a hobby.

The Preference for “Free” and the impact on Employee Engagement

Since organizational behavior is made up of the aggregation of individual behavior, it’s hard for me not to turn a blind eye to cool research from the field of psychology. Add some marketing or business relevance to that, and I’m hooked.

Here’s a great article on the preference for “Free”. They’ve found that there is even a clear distinction of how the brain reacts to “Free” vs. “Almost Free”, even though they both contain that marvelously enticing word of words.

For marketers, this makes sense. For Leaders – what does this mean?

I think the bigger message here is how we process the feeling or sense of attachment – of price or cost that we will have to pay for something. This isn’t just about products or services. This is about engagement.

When employees feel that the return is not worth the investment, they check-out, and that action translates into the loss of everything from the number of rotations on a screw driver to the level of attentive customer-service provided. It also translates to the amount of knowledge and innovation contributed and captured vs. the absence of such that creates gaps in the value chain and leadership of organizations.

I have seen plenty of organizational surveys that probe opinions and ask for frank insight into employee realities, only to tap the respondents and leave them, 10 months later, wondering what ever happened to the survey? They thought real change was coming!

I have seen managers place prices on behaviors and extract heavy costs from individuals whose desire to contribute and achieve excellence tend to make life for a mediocre-manager, otherwise uncomfortable.

I have seen leaders, fearful of revealing their own weaknesses or trepidation about competency, locking-up decision-making and creating redundant, non-value-added workflow to already efficient processes. The resulting mistrust eats not only the leader, but the organization.

I am sure you can think of many examples where the culture did not convey the right offer of “Free” that might enlist greater engagement from a workforce.

What price are you setting, intentionally or unintentionally, for the needed behaviors and work that will make your business successful?

10-20-30 Rule

Guy Kawasaki, famous for his book “Art of the Start”, talks about his 10-20-30 rule for pitching to VCs.  What I like about it is that its a simple rule for pitching… anything.  

Ultimately, anyone you are presenting to is going to be investing some sort of capital in you or your idea, even if its simply emotional or mental.  I can’t tell you how many organizations that I have been in where the culture was one of death by powerpoint.  The funny thing is that they all know its stupid and senseless, but nobody has the courage to break the cycle (ahhh, the importance of leaders stepping out and setting their people free).

Watch this and see what you can take away from this in principle to change and better your next slide show.