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

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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?

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?

The Secret Sauce of Transformation, part Deux

Like I wrote about a while back,  we know there’s no secret sauce. Well, at least we know there’s no secret. But, we do know there is a sauce, listed in Part I (Jan 09), and I’m here to tell you that even though it is difficult to make, it is absolutely delicious when you serve it up with the three-course-meal of transformation: People, Process and Tools.

A dab, nay – a smothering, of humility, discipline and hard work on all three of those dishes will do wonders for not only how it tastes to the workforce its being served to, but for how it gets digested in the culture of the organizational stomach.

Concerning people, we’ve heard the terms plenty enough – almost iconically emblazoned in the vernacular of modern business imperatives: Get the Right people on the Bus. Which bus – isn’t our domain, but getting the right people may not be enough. Those folks have to do something, you know? And what they do, determines whether or not that bus goes to Buffalo or the Biltmore. What we need is for those people to DO the right things, which means to exemplify the behaviors we need for success in our organization or transformation effort.

We get the right behaviors using the right processes (again, there’s that ‘right’ word), which aren’t happenstance, but intentionally designed to get the results we’ve determined that we need to get. Then we give them the tools to follow the processes and do the work. Those tools might be an actual wrench and hammer or a mainframe or new knowledge and understanding.

But all the people, processes and tools are nothing to us if they are not ‘using’ the right behaviors, and that’s where we come back to our sauce. The sauce is what gets the big three to stick together, to have a similar taste and texture. Without the sauce, any one of our picky eaters out there may spit back the portion they don’t like and disengage from the table with that hunched-over, gagging, “I can’t believe you made me try and eat that” look that I get from my kids when I try to feed them something healthy. Only these aren’t green beans they’re rejecting; it’s change. Vital, business-essential change. (By the way, if its not vital, business-essential change, then why are you doing it? You wouldn’t force your kids to eat junk food, so don’t shove your latest whim and fancy down your workforce’s throat either. If it doesn’t build, revitalize and nourish your business, then its organizational junk-food).

I’ve recently witnessed a transformation project, a change project, where they didn’t apply the sauce. The change was so shockingly different from what they had been ‘eating’ before, that many of the frontline workers just couldn’t stomache it. When the consultants left, so did any hope of transformation. They forgot to look at what these great workers’ assumptions and norms were about getting work done before we decided to change their operational diets. They forgot to look at the culture, and begin with that culture, not the new one. 

Begin with where they are, NOT where we want them to be. Talk about the change pipe dream! No wishful thinking or organizational narcotic will mask the reality that if we don’t begin on the cultural level of what people are used to, they simply won’t cross the chasm. The sauce is what helps them blend the taste of the old and comfortable with the new and essential. The sauce is what makes it all palatable. The sauce is our leadership discipline and hard work. Without that, just write the consultants a check and send them on their way. It’ll save you a lot of heart-ache, and probably a lot of money.

The Secret Sauce of Transformation

“Right, we get the right tools and processes, but how do I know we’ve transformed?” asked the leader of one very large IT organization that I was working with. 

As I watched the consultants stumble to answer, he continued, “But you’re not telling me anything different from anyone else. I just don’t see the secret sauce. Where’s the secret sauce to this whole thing?”

It may not be the same words, but I guarantee you that this same conversation has been had over and over, in office after office, between endless sets of senior managers, management staff and consultants – all over the world. 

 

How do we know if we've transformed?

How do we know if we've transformed?

“Yeah, we know all this change stuff, but how do we make it stick? Where’s the secret sauce?

 

The funny thing is, I’d bet that if I told you what the secret sauce is, you still wouldn’t be able to use it, let alone taste it. In fact, I’d bet that most transformation efforts are ended before they’re fully implemented. Why? Because, and legitimately so, the business imperatives change. 

In the space of just a few years, we go from “Customer First” to “Nothing but Quality” to “Best in Class” to “Innovation” and on to “Cost-Effective Operations”. And its not that we have business-initiative-attention-deficit. Or maybe we do. But the environment, customers, regulations, wall street, etc. – continuously flux and change. And so we respond with … whatever seems to be the “urgency-dejour.

However, like the latest fad diet on on any given New Year’s day, we say we’re going to do it, but we never address the heart of the matter: change. A new diet isn’t about recipes, exercise, ingredients, intake or losing weight. Its about changing behavior that will lead to changes in the other things we are seeking: the results

While we proclaim the “new me” for the new year, we fail to address the issues that are made redundant in nearly every large business – that change is not made up of proclamations. Change is made up of behaviors. And unless we get our transformation efforts out of the strategic planning sessions and into what Mintzberg calls the “operating core”, then it doesn’t matter what we call them, because we’ll get the same results from every one: nothing of real substance.

“So what about the Secret Sauce?”, you ask? 

There is no secret sauce. Transformation is no secret. But there is a sauce, and its ingredients are Leadership (consisting of equal parts Humility and Discipline), accountability and flat-out Hard Work. That’s it. No surprises, no secrets, no spying on the Colonel to see what he puts in his chicken. Its all there on the table. 

You need to create leadership by having the humility to face your own shortcomings and recognize the need to change yourself and your leadership core before you ask your workforce to change. Thicken the leadership paste with the discipline required to work on that individual change in yourself, day after day after day. Hold yourself and others accountable, regularly and often. Then add working hard to the mixture, to do the right things, not the easy things, to lay the foundation for the future changes to take place.

No secrets. No proclamations. No mission-statements. No banners, t-shirts, laminated cards, no guiding principles. No way. You don’t get great change by talking – you get there by doing.