Posted tagged ‘leadership development system’

Problems vs. Opportunities

December 21, 2009

The single greatest issue in addressing a client’s or colleague’s needs is understanding what we are trying to solve or manage in the first place. The reason this is so critical is because misunderstanding what the desired outcome is supposed to be typically results in the wrong solution.

Here’s a simple example. If we want to entertain ourselves and our friends on a Saturday night, we can ask what are the options? Once we add criteria or constraints, the choices narrow. For example, determining that we are on a budget of, say, less than $50 per person might eliminate tickets to a Broadway show. Deciding that we had to be back by 11 pm to relieve the babysitter might mean that we have to stay local.

What it all comes down to, in management speak, is clearly defining the problem. Solving the “right” problem usuall produces a subset of choices that will yield outcomes for which we would be happy.

Words, here though, are very important.

If one shifts from a problem definition to an opportunity definition, the options will become richer, the choices more exciting. And with that will come far greater and more robust ways of creating an outcome.

After all, wouldn’t it be more fun for you, your clients and colleagues to create an opportunity rather than solve a problem?


Talented Rookies or Experienced Pros?

March 8, 2009

One of the ongoing debates in many organizations is whether to hire young, unproven talent and develop them or engage experienced, savvy but more highly salaried professionals. There is an answer, and of course, it is that it depends on the situation.

Personnel should always be hired based on the requirements of the job. Here are many of the factors to consider:

  • Is the work time sensitive?
  • Is the work very important and can mistakes be tolerated?
  • Is the work highly technical requiring an experienced mind?
  • Is the management talent available to guide and train less experienced staff?
  • Does the client for whom this work is being performed have an expectation that it will be performed correctly the very first time?
  • Will the individual performing the work have to exercise political savvy in performing the work?

You’ve no doubt noticed that one of the factors not included is cost. This is because it often costs more to have a less experienced and lower salaried person perform the work. Less experienced staff often will need to try multiple times to get it done correctly. Oftentimes, they will need management guidance every step of the way.

When I started my first company, Flash Creative Management, I thought that hiring bright, young people was the way to go. Flash was a service based business specializing in strategy development, business process redesign, and software development to support the client’s strategies and processes. My thinking was that I’d have a greater profit margin between what we would charge the client and what we were paying the staff.

Within a few years, it became very clear that for Flash, this was not the right approach. Our clients were willing to pay a premium dollar for important services done right the first time. And they wanted dramatic results.

Less skilled talent had lower salaries but the cost of rework, management time and – this is very important – the hit to the brand we were trying to develop — were significant.

When we shifted to more “expensive” and experienced staff, our business’ growth accelerated dramatically.

So “situationally” speaking —

If the work is either very important, highly technical or does not allow for errors or is time sensitive or requires political savvy, go for the proven and experienced talent. It will prove to be a very prudent approach that will save you money.

There is a place for young talent as well. They will perform very admirably in an environment where fresh ideas are required. However, it is equally important in order for them to be successful, that a nurturing and supportive environment that is comfortable with experimentation be in place. Management needs to be patient and be willing to guide and train extensively.

Building Your Team

February 8, 2009

Much appropriate discussion has taken place regarding President Obama’s vetting process in selecting his team. It remains unclear whether his appointees witheld information or that the process was flawed. For the most part, though, the people that he has chosen have been hailed as competent choices.

In implementing every strategy, finding the right people is essential. It is equally essential to know who should be part of the team and who should go. People need to be moved into the right position without doing too much damage to short-term performance. Beyond that, there must be goals, incentives, and performance measures that propel people in the right direction.

Here are some common traps that you should avoid.

  • Keeping the existing team too long. By the end of the 90 day period, the leader should have a clear understanding of his team and their individual capabilities. By the end of six months, it is appropriate to communicate your proposed personnel changes to HR and your boss. In certain STaRS situations such as a turnaround, these decisions may be required sooner.
  • Fixing the airplane in mid-flight. It is very dangerous to repair an airplane in mid-flight. Develop options such as hiring additional people and allowing them time to learn the ropes, and/or explore whether people down the command chain can take over.
  • Losing good people. When you shake the tree, good people can fall out too. Always look for ways to signal to top performers that you recognize their capabilities and want them to remain.
  • Undertaking team building before the core team is in place. Premature team building exercises may strengthen bonds between staff that will ultimately be displaced. This does not mean that you should not meet as a group, however.
  • Making implementation-dependent decisions too early. Weigh the benefits of moving quickly on major initiatives against the lost opportunity of gaining buy-in from people who will be brought on board later.
  • Trying to do it all yourself. Remember, that restructuring a team involves emotional, legal, and company policy complications. Do not take this on by yourself. A solid HR person is indispensable.

To assess your existing team, establish criteria. These criteria may include competence, planning ahead and risk mitigation capabilities, judgment, professionalism, energy, focus, relationships, and trust. Match these criteria against the circumstances and requirements of the job and evaluate them accordingly.

Regardless of all of the analysis or perhaps, even as a result of it, we will discover that there are certain performers who are not in the right job or simply do not belong in the organization. These are people who are not achieving their performance goals or are failing to exercise leadership effectively. An effective leader must address this situation as well.

Failure to do so exhibits false kindness. While it may be easier to leave these professionals in their roles, doing so harms the leader, other staff, and the whole company. Additionally, it sends a message that non-performance is acceptable in the company.

An employee may not be effective in the job because of any of six reasons. The person lacks the ability, was improperly trained or oriented, has the wrong attitude, demonstrates the wrong behaviors, lacks the required skills, or lacks experience.

To remedy these situations, there are four options. You can train the employee, coach him or her, shift the person to another position, or let the person go. There is a way to determine what the appropriate remedy for each situation is.

  • If it is a matter of skills, training is the appropriate remedy.
  • Attitude related issues may be remedied by discovering what is causing the difficulty, and then addressing the issue while coaching and motivating the employee.
  • Correcting behavioral issues requires coaching and patience. Behaviors shift over time. In order for the supervisor to determine whether that amount of effort should be expended, s/he must determine whether the employee adds significant value in other areas.
  • If the person lacks sufficient experience, it may be possible to shift the employee to a position where her/his experience level is appropriate.
  • If the person lacks the ability, that individual should be let go. No amount of training, coaching, or shifting will allow him or her to make a meaningful contribution. If there is a need to let the person go, do so respectfully and in accordance with the management philosophy that you wish to inculcate. Direct reports will form a lasting impression based on how this part of the job is managed.

Strategy is most effectively implemented when there is a compensation and reward system designed to focus people. Typically, strategic goals will be distributed among functional departments and then further distributed among each department’s employees as employee goals. Performance is encouraged through effective incentives and clear criteria for measuring performance.

A blend of push and pull tools may be employed to reach strategic goals. Push tools, such as compensation plans, performance measurement systems, annual budgets, and the like motivate people through authority, loyalty, fear, and the expectation of rewards for productive work. Pull Tools, such as a compelling vision, motivate people by inspiring them and enrolling them in a new future. Methodical and risk aversive employees are more likely motivated by push tools while high energy performers respond better to pull tools. It is important that an effective mix be developed that rewards collective (where interdependent work is most important) and individual (where independent work is most important) performance.

The Leadership Pipeline Model in Action – Part 2

December 9, 2008

Let’s continue on our path to growing our leader. When our leader moves to this next level, he or she has become removed from communicating with the individual contributor.

From Managing Others to Functional Manager
Skill Requirements
  • New communication skills must be developed to reach all levels.
  • Understand and manage areas outside of one’s own work experiences.
  • Illustrate the maturity to take other functional concerns into consideration.
  • Become proficient at functional strategy and the ability to blend that strategy with the overall business strategy.
Time Applications Participate in business team meetings and work with other functional managers. Team play with other functional managers and management of competing resources is vital. Limit the focus on functional matters. Delegate functional responsibilities to direct reports.
Work Values Shift here is from talking to listening to not only direct reports but customers, vendors and industry analysts so that more facts and perspectives may be gathered. Adopt a broad, long-term perspective (three years). Focus is on pushing the technical, professional and operational envelope, looking for sustainable competitive advantage rather than immediate but temporary edge. Understand the relationship between the function and other functions as well as the overall corporate strategy. Appreciate the work that is outside one’s own experiences.
Signs this Level Has Not Been Mastered
  • Favoring and concentrating on areas where the individual is most comfortable, thereby undervaluing the unknown.
  • Failure to make the transition from an operational-project orientation to a strategic one (e.g. more focused on short term, demonstrates a poor sense of how the business operates.)
  • Immaturity as a leader-manager (e.g. lack of a control or measurement system, need to control everything, doesn’t trust others especially subordinates in unfamiliar areas, isolates himself except for a few direct reports where he or she has relationships).
Management’s Role in this Transition Place these managers on task forces, teams and committees of managers from different functions or with different backgrounds, skills and experiences. This will allow them to learn about new areas of work, develop new relationships with people who use different skills and methods.

Create meeting opportunities with other functional managers to discuss how they can work better together and what other opportunities exist for synergies.

Watch for development of and reinforce traits of maturity such as humility (aware that others may know more about something), delegation, communication and strong information flows within their organization.

By now you have probably noted that the common theme is that the skills in each of these passages are not the ones that you will use to become effective at the next level.

Let’s see if this trend continues.

From Functional Manager to Business Manager
Skill Requirements
  • Significant increase in autonomy, unfamiliarity and complexity at this level with a clear link between efforts and marketplace results.
  • Where he or she had to understand different functions before, he or she must now rely and integrate the functions and their leadership.
  • Balance future goals and present needs and make appropriate trade-offs.
  • The issue is no longer can we do something technically but rather will we make any money at this and is this profitability sustainable.
  • Become skilled at working with a wide variety of people and become sensitive to diverse functional issues.
Time Applications Shift from doing time to thinking time.
Work Values Learn to trust, accept advice and receive feedback from all functional managers even though they may never have experienced these functions personally.
Signs this Level Has Not Been Mastered
  • Uninspired communications that doesn’t allow them to get their message across. This is because they are used to motivating a group of functional people who shared a particular “language” and now must address groups with different “languages”.
  • Inability to assemble a strong team of direct reports
  • Failure to grasp how the business can make money. This manifests itself in the failure to develop expense reduction or profit building programs. .
  • Problems with time management particularly in working upward, with direct reports and customers.
  • Neglecting the soft issues such as culture, feedback or organizational belief systems.
Management’s Role in this Transition Help business managers to learn to value all functions and assemble and rely on a strong team of direct reports. Encourage the business manager to spend time with each of his functional mangers to learn. Have them set goals which can serve as early warning systems of problems. Suggest that the business manager take an appropriate functional manager on trips to become more attuned to the marketplace.

Our next post will address two critical questions:

  1. Who is most responsible for the success of your leadership?
  2. What influences the likelihood that your people will execute successfully?

The Leadership Pipeline Model in Action

December 4, 2008

The “Leadership Pipeline” model can be scaled for small and large companies and includes six major leadership passages.  For example, in a small company of less than twenty people, the only real passage is a variation on the first one, Managing Self to Managing Others. The owner usually moves from individual contributor to managing others. It is only once you begin to hire others that these passages of leadership start to occur.

In the small business version of this model, the work within the group and enterprise levels is done by the Business Manager. The Functional Manager and Manager of Others levels are combined so there are really only four levels to address.

The small business model looks like this.

Level 1: Manage Self

Level 2: Manage Others

Level 3: Functional Manager

Level 4: Business Manager

Let’s take apart a couple of the levels and see how we can help our people become better leaders.

When one is effective at the “managing self” level, one’s skill requirements are primarily technical or professional. One contributes by doing the assigned work within given time frames and in ways that meet objectives. From a time application standpoint, the learning involves planning (so the work is completed on time), punctuality, content, quality, and reliability. The work values to be developed include acceptance of the company culture and adopting professional standards. When people demonstrate an ability to handle these responsibilities and adhere to the company’s values, they are often promoted to first-line manager.

Managing Self
Skill Requirements Do the assigned work within given time frames and in ways that meet objectives
Time applications Plan so work is completed on time, be punctual, deliver quality content and be reliable
Work Values Accept the company’s culture and adopt professional standards

This high performer is now ready for the first leadership stage. Let’s see what s/he needs to do to become effective in her/his new role.

From Managing Self to Managing Others
Skill Requirements Plan work, fill jobs, assign work, motivate, coach and measure the work of others. There are some individual contributions to the work product.
Time Applications Reallocate time so that one’s own work is completed and help others perform effectively. Set priorities for unit and team. Stop putting out fires, seizing opportunities and handling tasks themselves.
Work Values Delegate and get results through others. Value managerial work (rather than tolerating it) and the success of others. The passage begins a shift toward a great emphasis on planning.
Signs this Level Has Not Been Mastered
  • Views questions from his or her people as interruptions
  • Fixes their mistakes rather than teaching them to do the work properly
  • Refuses to take ownership of the success of his or her people, distancing himself or herself from their problems and failures.
Management’s Role in this Transition Create measures so that these performers make the transition effectively. Survey the direct reports to get feedback. Intervene and coach extensively when problems are observed. . Reinforce the need to shift beliefs and guide the leader in becoming effective using the new skills that are required.

As you can see, to be successful at managing others, our manager will have to shift from many of the things that made him or her successful when he was accountable for only his work. There must be a shift from “doing work” to getting work done through others.

In our next post, we’ll look at the remaining levels of the small business model outlined in Ram Charan’s and Stephen Drotter’s book, The Leadership Pipeline.

Growing Your People to Become Effective Managers and Leaders

November 27, 2008

Without a doubt, the most important role of leadership is to develop the next generation of leaders. After all, hiring is really just a license to learn the job.

Without strong leadership throughout the company, growth will be restricted and limited. Improper decisions will be made or decisions will need to be centralized and funneled to a few leaders who will quickly become overwhelmed. Once overwhelmed, they too will make inappropriate decisions or they will delegate these decisions to those who lack the ability to make them effectively.

Most companies focus on personal traits and technical competence when making hiring decisions. The working assumption is that if a person performed well in one job, he or she will perform well in the next. This of course often proves not to be the case. And hiring gifted people from outside the company makes sense as a tactic but not as a strategy, because there is a scarcity of highly talented individuals. To address this challenge, CEOs need to look at this leadership development challenge as integral to an effective business strategy.

Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel have articulated in their book, The Leadership Pipeline, a way to understand how individuals grow to become leaders and the steps that we can take to make this transition more effective.

There are three major benefits to adopting this pipeline model.

  • Emotional stress for individual employees is reduced.
  • Skipping passages becomes unlikely.
  • The time to prepare someone for the top level is dramatically reduced because it becomes easier to recognize when an employee is ready to move to the next level.

The authors assert that there is a natural hierarchy of work. This hierarchy takes the form of six career passages or pipeline turns. This pipeline is not a cylinder but rather one that is bent in six places. At each change in organizational position, a significant turn has to be made. These turns involve a major change in three areas.

  • Job requirements, demanding new skills
  • The way they use their time, which we’ll call time applications, and
  • Work values

Unfortunately, many managers often work at the wrong level. They’re clinging to values appropriate to earlier passages in which they managed others individually rather than managing other managers. Or, they haven’t acquired the skills or time applications appropriate to their current level. As a result they are less effective or ineffective leaders and the people they manage are negatively affected as well.

The challenge for organizations is to make sure that people in leadership positions are assigned to the level appropriate to their skills, time applications, and values. With an understanding of this model, bosses can become better coaches and more supportive as they recognize the issues with which new leaders are struggling. What prevents companies from growing is, more often than not, the failure of people to be willing to change their work habits, give up their hands-on involvement, or trust a new layer of management.

We’ll explore this concept and approach in the next post.

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