Archive for January 2009

Negotiating Success

January 30, 2009

According to Professor Watkins, to succeed with a new boss (the American People?)  or  for that matter, a new Congress, it is critical to invest the time in the relationship up front. Your new “boss” (and here you can substitute the word “Americans” to relate to President Obama’s situation) sets your benchmarks, interprets your actions for other key players, and controls access to the resources that you need. This person will have more impact than any other individual on your eventual success or failure.

Negotiating with the boss is about determining the shape of the game so that you have a fighting chance of success in achieving your desired goals. It is here that realistic expectations are established, consensus is reached, and resources secured.

If you are in realignment, you need the boss to help you make the case for change. In a sustaining success situation, you need help to learn about the business and avoid early mistakes that threaten the core assets. In start-ups, you need resources and protection from too much higher-level interference. In turnarounds, you may need to be pushed to cut back the business to the defendable core more quickly.

There are certain dos and don’ts concerning how to build a productive relationship with one’s boss.

Don’ts

Dos

  • Don’t trash the past. Understand it instead — and concentrate on assessing current behavior and results and making the changes necessary to improve performance.
  • Take 100% responsibility for making the relationship with your boss work. The responsibility rests with you.
  • Don’t stay away. Get on your boss’ calendar regularly. Be sure that your boss is aware of the issues that you face and that you are aware of the boss’ expectations and how they are shifting
  • Clarify mutual expectations early and often. Begin managing expectations right away.
  • Don’t surprise your boss. Report emerging problems early enough. The worst scenario is for your boss to learn about a problem from someone else. Give him or her a heads-up as soon as you become aware of a developing problem.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and actual planning. Do not let yourself get caught up immediately in firefighting. Buy yourself some time to understand the organization and come up with an action plan.
  • Don’t approach your boss with only problems. Bring along a plan as well. This does not mean that you need full blown solutions every time. The key is to give some thought to how you plan to address the problem, to your role, and the help that you will need.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to your boss. Figure out what the boss cares about the most. One way to do this is to focus on three things that are important to your boss and discuss what you are doing about them every time you interact. However, do not take actions that you think are misguided.
  • Don’t run down your checklist. Running through a checklist of what you have been doing is inappropriate. However, updating on what is being attempted and how the boss can help is appropriate.
  • Pursue good marks from those whose opinions your boss respects. Be alert to the multiple channels through which information about you reaches your boss.
  • Don’t try to change the boss. Adapt to his or her style and idiosyncrasies.

There are five conversations that should be held on an ongoing basis.

1)      Situational Analysis Conversation. It is important to understand how your new boss sees the business situation. How did the organization reach this point? What are the challenges? What resources can be drawn upon?

2)      Expectations Conversation. What does your boss need you to do in the short-term and medium-term? What will constitute success? How will performance be measured? When? Are there any areas that are untouchable? Learning the answers to these questions will allow you to reset expectations. If you are operating from different perspectives, it is critical that you have a conversation that creates alignment. Be conservative in what you promise and focus on over-delivering. If you have multiple bosses, it makes sense to bias your efforts to the one who has substantially more power early on, as long as you redress the balance, to the extent possible later on. If you cannot get agreement working with your bosses one-on-one, it is appropriate to bring them to the table together to avoid getting pulled to pieces.

3)      Style Conversation. This is about how you and your boss can best interact on an ongoing basis, i.e., in writing, face-to-face, voice-mail, and/or email? How often? On what kind of decisions does s/he want to be consulted and where can you make the call yourself? How are your styles different and what are the implications of those differences?

4) Resources Conversation. This conversation is essentially a negotiation for critical resources and should be had once you have agreed upon the diagnosis. The first step is to identify what resources are needed given the state of the business. In turnarounds and realignments, the need for resources is far greater because different skills and experiences are required. A menu approach that reflects different results based on different levels of commitment may be appropriate. Focus on the underlying interests of your boss and tailor resource requests accordingly. Look for mutually beneficial exchanges that support both of your agendas.

5) Personal Development Conversation. This conversation should only be held once your relationship has matured. In what areas do you need improvements? What actions or courses could you take? Discipline yourself to be open to learning about new skills that are required for the new role.

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Securing Early Wins

January 28, 2009

While it is important to secure early wins, it is equally important to avoid early losses. Common causes of early losses include the following:

  • Failing to focus. This appears as having too many initiatives. Identify the moist promising opportunities and concentrate on them
  • Not taking the business situation into account. What constitutes an early win in one situation can be a waste of time in another. See the table above regarding examples for each type of situation.
  • Not adjusting for the culture. Leaders who come from outside the organization naturally assume their old culture is in existence. Be sure to understand what the organization considers a win.
  • Failing to get wins that matter to your boss. Addressing problems that your boss cares about will go a long way toward building credibility and cementing access to resources.
  • Letting your means undermine your ends. Process matters. The early win must be accomplished in a manner that exemplifies the behavior you hope to instill in the organization.

Studies show that successful change is implemented in “waves” with distinct phases. These phases include acclimatization, change, consolidation, and deeper learning so people can catch their breaths. What follow are deeper and more thorough structural changes. The final wave is focused on fine-tuning to maximize performance.

Each wave ought to consist of distinct phases.

  • Learning
  • Designing the changes
  • Building support
  • Implementing the changes
  • Observing results

The goal of the first wave of change is to secure early wins that build personal credibility, establish key relationships, and identify and harvest low-hanging fruits – the highest-potential opportunities for short-term improvements in organizational performance. These targets should be consistent with your A-item business priorities and introduce the new patterns of behaviors that you want to instill in the organization.

A-item priorities should

  • Follow naturally from core problems
  • Be neither too general nor too specific. They must include measures for overall success so that wins may be recognized. In other words establish S-M-A-R-T goals but not goals that result in micro-managing.
  • Offer clear direction yet allow for flexibility when you learn more about the situation. This is an iterative process. Be prepared to test, refine, and restate the goals.

To realize A-item priorities, it is imperative to eliminate dysfunctional behavior. To alter culture, the new leader must define which behaviors are desired and which ones are not. Some organizations refer to this as the creation of a management philosophy but the key element is that the behaviors must be defined. It is also important to note that every culture has good points and faults. It is crucial that the good points are maintained so that people have stability in times of change. Elevate and praise the good points that already exist so that people have a bridge to the future.

In turnaround situations, bringing in new people from the outside and setting up project teams to secure performance improvement initiatives are a good fit. In realignments, it may be well advised to start out with less obvious approaches to behavior changes. The new leader can set the stage for collective visioning by changing performance measures and beginning to benchmark.

Once the A-items have been identified and behaviors have been defined, detailed plans for early wins may be created. During the first 30 days these wins are about building credibility and deciding where you will focus your energy to achieve early performance improvements in the next 60 days. The goal of a second wave of change, once this has been accomplished, is to address more fundamental issues of strategy, structure, systems and skills to reshape the organization. This is when the real gains of organizational performance are achieved.

To build credibility,

  • Determine what you want to get across about whom you are and what you represent.
  • Decide the best way to convey those messages.
  • Identify your key audiences (direct reports, other employees, and key outside constituencies). Craft messages tailored to each focusing on who you are, the values and goals that you represent, your style, and how you plan to conduct business.
  • Think about how you introduce yourself. Should you first meet with your direct reports as a group or individually? Will the meetings be informal get-to-know-you sessions or immediately focus on business and assessment? What other channels such as e-mail or video will you use to reach people? Will you meet people at other locations?
  • Remove minor but persistent irritants to your organization.
  • Focus on strained external relationships and begin to repair them.
  • Cut out redundant meetings, shorten excessively long ones, and improve physical space problems.

Matching Strategy to Situation: The STaRS Model

January 21, 2009

Professor Watkins emphasizes the importance of matching strategy to the situation appropriately. The author says that there are essentially four types of business situations that new leaders must address.

Each business situation has different characteristics, challenges, and opportunities. Yet, every business has a portfolio of situations. A new leader must figure out which situations fall into each category. He calls this the STaRS model.

1)  Start-up: There isn’t much existing infrastructure to build on. The new leader must assemble the capabilities including people, funding and technology to get a project or business off the ground. Among other things, to be successful, he must do things right from the beginning, energize people about the possibilities and focus on learning about the technical issues, products, markets, technologies, projects, and strategies. Early wins are putting the right team together and achieving strategic focus as well as determining what not to do and building discipline within the organization.

2) Turnaround: Like the start-up, there isn’t much existing infrastructure to build on. The new leader should take on a unit or group that is in trouble and get it back on track. She or he accomplishes this by cutting it down to a defendable core fast and then beginning to build it back up. Among other things, to be successful, the focus should be on reenergizing demoralized employees and other stakeholders and handling time pressures in order to make a quick, decisive impact. The leader requires authority, backed by political support, in order to make tough decisions such as painful cuts and difficult personnel choices. In this situation, everyone recognizes that change is necessary, but not what changes may be necessary. Affected constituencies may offer significant support and a little success goes a long way.

3) Realignment: This type of organization has significant strengths as well as serious constraints on what you can and cannot do. Typically, there is some time before making major calls. As a result, you can learn about the culture and politics. The intention is to revitalize a unit, product, or process that is drifting into trouble. The major issue here is that the organization is in denial. It is essential to understand what made the organization successful and why it drifted into trouble. To be successful, the leader must deal with deeply ingrained cultural norms that no longer contribute to high performance and convince employees that change is necessary. The successful leader must secure consistent public backing and support to confront the need for change. The leader must teach people about the problem

4) Sustaining success: The organization has significant strengths and serious constraints on what you can and cannot do. In this situation, the successful leader plays good defense by avoiding decisions that cause problems. He should develop the financial and technical resources to sustain the core business as well as exploit promising new opportunities. He should find ways to take the business to the next level. Typically, there is some time before making major calls. As a result, he can learn about the culture and politics and work to preserve the vitality of a successful organization and take it to the next level. S/he will need to invent the challenge and redirect resources.

It will be interesting to view the actions of President Obama in the context of these models.

A Blueprint for the New Leader to Effect Change

January 18, 2009

The transition from one presidential administration to another is nearly complete and the country is visibly excited.

There is no doubt that part of this excitement stems from public’s sense that Mr. Obama has demonstrated extraordinary effort in planning his presidency. He certainly seems to be working diligently to avoid the consequences of the aphorism, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Our country seems to appreciate the efforts of the President-elect and this is reflected in his approval ratings which are remarkably high.

There have been numerous books written on how a new leader should take charge and this seems like a great time to look at how Mr. Obama should be approaching this important initial period. One of my favorite books on this topic is The First 90 Days by Harvard Professor Michael Watkins.

Watkins’ work is instructive for all of us, but in the context of this “new beginning” one can see the areas that Mr. Obama has been addressing and which ones he will likely be focusing on in the days ahead.

Here’s the short list.

1)     Promote Yourself. Psychologically break from your previous role in order to take charge of your new role. You are likely to need new skills to be successful at this new level.

2)     Accelerate Your Learning. Focus on understanding markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures as well as its culture and polities. Do this systematically.

3)     Match Strategy to Solution. Diagnose whether you are in a start-up, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success situation. Each requires a different strategy. You may have different parts of your organization in different situations.

4)     Secure Early Wins. Early wins build credibility and create momentum.

5)     Negotiate Success. Figure out how to build a productive relationship with your boss and manage his or her expectations. This means critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development. Gain consensus on your 90 day plan.

6)     Achieve Alignment. This is a strategic role. The higher that you rise within the organization, the more that you have to play the role of strategic architect. This means evaluating strategy, developing appropriate organizational structures, and developing the systems and skills necessary to realize your strategic intent.

7)     Build Your Team. Inheriting a team frequently means restructuring it to better meet the demands of the situation.

8)     Create Coalitions. Develop supportive alliances, both internal and external. Identify them now as well as ways to line them up on your side.

9)     Keep Your Balance. Develop a network that can advise and counsel you so that you do not lose perspective. It can be difficult to look out from the inside.

10)  Expedite Everyone. Help everyone accelerate their own transitions to their new roles.

This week, we’ll talk more about the bottom half of this list.

* * *

Now some thoughts about President Bush as he leaves office…

Without a doubt, the Bush Administration left us with far too many challenges. We should, however, also acknowledge that there were no further attacks on American soil after 9/11. At that time, we were shaken and disheartened and scared and whether by intention or good fortune, the Bush Administration did keep us safe at home and helped us to reclaim our sense of balance.

We likely will never know if we were safe by design or by the Good Lord watching over us (or, of course, both) nor will we probably ever know how many plots to hurt our fellow citizens were thwarted.

Still, if we choose to discredit this Administration for the financial situation we find ourselves in today and the war in Iran, for our safety after 9/11, we should express our appreciation. The Bush administration also looks to have worked diligently during this transition period and that will, without a doubt, help the new president in moving us forward. Thank you, President Bush.

Let us also take a moment to remember that we are still blessed to live in a country that has the greatest opportunities and the most remarkable freedoms.

And now on to new beginnings and may the best be yet to come.

Growing Locally to Grow Your Business

January 11, 2009

For much of the last decade, we’ve heard about the importance of the global economy. The mantra you may have been reading is something like “grow global or you won’t grow at all.”

The Internet has certainly made that approach more viable but there is an equally meaningful perspective that warrants your consideration.

Seth Godin champions this point-of-view. He’s a best-selling author of about a dozen books on marketing or blogging and he is an original thinker. I subscribe to his blog and I do so because his thinking inspires me or it reinforces or extends my own thinking.

You likely will have noticed that my sales related posts are about becoming more related with your own customers. Seminars and referral meetings are really – at its core – about becoming more related to your own relationships. This is because for many small businesses, going global isn’t an option. They need to be effective in their own zip code.

Today’s blog from Godin presented a new twist on the art of becoming related locally. He suggests that you start your own local “newspaper.”

The way he’d go about it is to briefly interview a local business, a local student or a local political activist by phone. Get 20 households to ‘subscribe’ by giving you their email address and asking for a free subscription. You can use direct contact or flyers or speeches to get your list and then release the newspaper via e-mail twice a week. In no time at all, you’d build a mailing list and if you do it well, in not time, it would be the talk of the town.

More important, for you and your business, you will become related on a very local and personal level. You will know about people and the value they contribute to the community. You will become a source for connecting others. Most important, you will be transformed into a valuable resource associated as the source for learning about all of the wonderful things going on in your own backyard and in your community.

And that sounds like a fantastic position for you to be in and a source of strength for any local business.

How Buyers Buy Professional Services

January 8, 2009

The editors of RainToday.com, an excellent site for those who market and sell professional services, recently released their 2009 benchmark study on how clients buy professional services. In their nine minute podcast, they talked about the top 5 ways buyers find their professional service providers.

The research involved asking 200 buyers of professional services (law, accounting, consulting, technology, training, among a whole range of services). The sizes of the buying firms were small to a billion dollars in revenue. The survey identified 27 different methods by which buyers choose professional services.

Here are the top five:

(1)   Referrals from colleagues (79% of respondents)

(2)   Referrals from other service providers (75%)

(3)   Personal recognition or awareness of the buyer / brand / reputation (73%)

(4)   In person seminars (66%)

(5)   Presentation at a conference

Here’s what the findings mean to me.

(1)   Your own client base is your greatest source of leads. It tells me that I’d better have the kind of support that keeps them happy and I’d better find opportunities to keep talking with them.

(2)   People in the industry talk. Sounds like it would be prudent to look after our professional relationships

(3)   Having a presence is important and being known is very important. This means that speaking engagements, writing articles and sharing and helping others is critical toward developing a prominent brand.

If you’d like some unique ideas about seminars, drop me a note at david_blumenthal@msn.com and we’ll set aside some time to talk about some unusual and really effective seminar development approaches taht will generate immediate opportunities.

Guidelines for Delegation

January 4, 2009

As with most management techniques and interventions, there are guidelines and strategies that will help to assure a successful delegation process. Here are some that I have found to be most effective and important.

  • Define the task and clarify the goals. Confirm in your mind that the task is suitable to be delegated. Understand what you hope to achieve by delegation.
  • Select the individual. Be clear as to why you are selecting this person to perform the assignments. Make certain that he or she has the skills or can grow from the opportunity. Assess the person’s ability and provide the appropriate training and coaching, if necessary.
  • Explain the reasons for delegation and clarify relevant policies. You must explain to the person why the job is being delegated and why he or she has been selected. The person must also have context as to where the assignment fits into the overall scheme of things and be provided with any background data that is necessary.
  • Agree on the expected results and deadlines. Make sure that the individual understands what tasks he is expected to perform, what the expected outcome is, and by when the task must be completed. This will also assure that you have the individual’s buy-in. Such goals should always be linked to the company’s basic objectives of profitability, effectiveness, efficiency, customer satisfaction, community service, etc. Be explicit. For example, “When you report back, I’ll be expecting information on the costs of the project, how much manpower we’ll need, any obstacles you foresee, the sequence in which we will have to operate, and the milestones for each stage.”
  • Define authority and responsibility. The authority needed to get the job done should be commensurate with the responsibility. Make sure the individual knows whom to turn to if the demonstration of authority causes a problem.
  • Make sure the appropriate resources are available and limitations are set. Discuss and agree what resources are required to get the job done. Consider people, location, premises, equipment, money, materials, other related activities and services. Fix a top limit for expenditures and determine the limitations that may have to be imposed if you anticipate possible conflict with another department.
  • Check the lines of communication. Make sure that the delegate knows with whom he or she will have to interact and that all such people are committed to being available to him or her for giving and receiving needed information.
  • Institute controls. Establish reporting intervals with the delegated party so that progress can be discussed. Establish milestones that allow for spot-checking. Make certain the person understands what milestones and controls will be used.

    Setting up guidelines though is not enough, especially in the case of a permanent delegation. Delegation is never abdication. Contact must be maintained for the purposes not only of control, but also to give assistance, recognition and encouragement as necessary or desirable. To delegate responsibility is not like launching a ship and praying that it will make safe harbor; you have to serve as the lighthouse for all of your ships at sea.


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