Posted tagged ‘Priorities’

Staffing Appropriately During a Recession

March 2, 2009

With each passing day, we learn of more layoffs and furloughed employees. Today, more than ever, service and professional organizations need to determine the resources needed to complete projects so that they are staffed appropriately. Not surprisingly, there is a method by which one can accomplish this goal.

To do so, one begins by looking outward and assessing the projects that one wishes to address over a discrete period of time. Evaluate what is a priority or even an emergency project. These are the projects that absolutely must be accomplished for the well-being or growth of the business. Consider how long each project will take to complete.

Then segment the remaining projects into ones that would be nice to complete as they would add some value and then ones that are critical to the growth of the company. Your focus should be to address the priority projects, then the long term growth ones and then the “nice to haves.” By organizing the projects in this manner, the ability to address some of the longer term projects will present themselves as well.

From there, one should assess the type of staff required to complete the project. Do not think of terms of names of individuals within your company; rather, think in terms of roles. This is important because when one thinks of individuals, there is a tendency to not recognize that a particular person lacks a necessary skill or to minimize the importance of that person missing the skill. Make certain that you understand the skills required within each role.

Out of this exercise, a pattern will emerge. You will begin to discover that certain skills are required over the long term and certain skills are needed temporarily. You will also learn, based on the lengths of the projects, whether you need more than one individual with certain skills.

Once the roles have been identified, it is time to inventory the skills of your team. Do you have the right people and the right mix of professionals to complete the tasks at hand? Are their skills mature or do the lack the appropriate experience?

After completing this analysis, you will be in a better position to determine if you wish to recruit or buy additional talent, rent or have a consultant supplement your team to address a short term need, or provide additional training so that members of your team can acquire the skills.

Each of these alternatives has their place within the solution set. A short-term need or the immediate requirement for expertise and depth may necessitate that the most appropriate and economical alternative is using a consultant (the “rent” approach). A longer term or less pressing need may allow for an investment in training and augmenting the skills of your staff.  A need that you believe will be required for years to come may result in your organization pursing the recruitment or buying talent option.

In our next post, we’ll contemplate whether to recruit talent that has less experience and may be less costly or talent that has more experience and a higher price tag.

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Keeping Your Balance

February 16, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it appears that President Obama is getting quite an education from both the Democrats and the Republicans. This type of education will hopefully result in the President learning how to keep his balance.

The life of a leader is always a balancing act but never more so than during a transition. Uncertainty and ambiguity can be crippling. One does not know what one does not know. Keeping one’s balance is a key transition challenge.

It is essential that the new leader avoid these seven traps.

1)      Riding off in all directions. You must focus yourself on what is important.

2)      Undefended Boundaries. It is important to establish boundaries around what you are willing and not willing to do. Otherwise bosses, peers, and direct reports will take all that you have to give.

3)      Brittleness. The uncertainty inherent in transitions breeds rigidity and defensiveness, especially in new leaders with a high need for control. The likely result will be over commitment to a failing course of action.

4)      Isolation. Isolation can occur because you do not take the time to make the right connections, perhaps by relying on a few people, on “official” information or, by discouraging people from sharing bad news with you.

5)      Biased Judgment. This difficulty manifests itself as over commitment to a failing course of action because of ego and credibility issues, confirmation bias (the tendency to focus on information that confirms your beliefs and filter out that which does not), self-serving illusions (a tendency for your personal stake in a situation to cloud your judgment), and optimistic overconfidence or underestimation of the difficulties associated with your preferred course of action. Vulnerability to these biases increases in high stakes, uncertain, ambiguous situations in which emotions can run high.

6)      Work Avoidance. The leader avoids making a tough call by choosing to bury him or herself in other work. This causes tougher problems to become even tougher.

7)      Going over the top. All these traps can generate dangerous levels of stress. When stress is too high it becomes counterproductive.

To avoid these traps the author recommends following the leadership transition program outlined in this document, creating and enforcing personal disciplines, and building support systems at home and at work that help you maintain balance.

Personal disciplines that should be considered are

  • Planning to Plan
  • Deferring Commitments until you are certain that you have time to fulfill the commitment
  • Setting aside time for hard work by prioritizing and eliminating distractions so as to concentrate on what needs to be done
  • “Going to the balcony” and allowing yourself to step out and distance yourself so that the problem may be perceived in a different light
  • Focusing on the process of influencing others through consultation
  • Checking in with yourself to privately reflect on the situation.
  • Recognizing when to take a break in order to reenergize yourself.

Building your Support Systems means getting your personal office set-up, stabilizing the home front as your spouse and family are transitioning too, and building your advice and counsel network. This network should include people who can guide you on technical issues, such as expert analysis of technologies, markets and strategies; cultural interpreters who will help you understand the culture; and political counselors who will help you deal with political relationships.

Creating Coalitions

February 11, 2009

Anyone who has been observing the stimulus bill negotiations surely has become much more cognizant of President Obama’s need to build coalitions and the early lessons he is learning. To paraphrase his comments last evening, “old habits die hard.”

In order to exert influence without authority to require that people take certain actions, one needs to create coalitions to get things done. Influence networks – informal bonds among colleagues – can help you marshal backing for your ideas among colleagues. However, to do so, one needs to create an influence strategy. This means figuring out whom you must influence, pinpointing who is likely to support and resist your key initiatives, and persuading “swing voters.” .

Many new leaders make the mistake of focusing on the vertical dimension of influence, i.e., direct reports and supervisors, and not enough to the horizontal dimension, namely peers and external constituencies.  Think about who might be critical to your success and whether you have engaged and enrolled them.

Start by identifying the key interfaces between your group and others. Customers and suppliers, within the business and outside, are natural focal points for relationship building. Another strategy is to get your boss to connect you. Request a list of ten key people outside your group whom s/he thinks you should get to know. Then set up  meetings with them. (This strategy should be employed for your direct reports as well. Create priority relationship lists for them and help them to make contact.)

Another productive approach is to diagnose informal networks of influence. Observe the interactions at meetings including who defers to whom on crucial issues. Identify who is sought after for advice, who shares what information and news, and who is owed favors.

Identify the sources of power that give people influence such as expertise, access to information, status, control of resources (such as budgets and rewards), and personal loyalty. Talk to former employees and people who did business with the organization in the past. Seek out the natural historians.

Eventually, you will identify the opinion leaders. If these vital individuals align behind your A-item priorities, broader acceptance of your ideas is likely to follow.

There is a diagramming tool known as an influence map that will help you identify who influences whom. An influence map will help you identify supporters, opponents, and “convinceables,” people who can be persuaded.

Potential supporters typically share your vision of the future, are quietly working for change on a small scale, or are new to the company and have not yet become acculturated to its mode of operation. You must solidify and nurture this support. It is not a given.

Opponents will oppose you no matter what you do. They may believe that you are wrong. They may be comfortable with the status quo, have a fear of looking incompetent, see you as a threat to a value that they hold dear or to their power, or that your arrival will have negative consequences for people that they care about.

When you meet resistance, try to grasp the reason behind it. This will allow you to counter arguments and you may be able to convert some early opponents.

“Convinceables” are the swing voters who are either indifferent to change, undecided, or may be appealed to based on their interests. Take the time to try to figure out what their interests may be. Ask them or engage them in dialogue about the situation. Ask if there are competing forces that prevent these people from listening to you.

Now you are ready to think about persuasion strategies. People tend to weigh status quo vs. change. People will more likely gravitate to the status quo unless remaining with the status quo is perceived as a future threat or if there is a reward for change. If the leader has earned sufficient credibility, merely asking people to try something new is sufficient. These persuasive appeals can be based on logic and data or on values and the emotions that values elicit, or some combination of both.

There are action-forcing events that require change. Review meetings in which people must discuss progress publicly are one such event. These meetings encourage action and enforce accountability.

If people are unable to move at once, a leader may employ strategies to allow people to make incremental steps towards change called “entanglement strategies.” For example, getting people to participate in an initial meeting may cause them to participate later on. Entanglement works because each step creates a new psychological reference point for deciding whether to take the next small step.

Another way to do this is to get people to participate in data gathering. Once the person recognizes the problem, have them participate in refining the problem definition. From there it is a small step to solution planning and then, to implementation.

Finally, if you get people to change behaviors, right attitudes often follow. This is because people look for consistency between their behaviors and beliefs.

This all leads to a concept called “sequencing strategy.” By getting individual influencer’s alignment and support, group actions follow. If you approach the right people first, you can set in motion a virtuous cycle. Approach people in the following sequence:

  • Individuals with whom you have supportive relationships first
  • People whose interests are strongly compatible with yours
  • People who have the critical resources to make your agenda succeed
  • People with important connections who can recruit more supporters

Managing by Priority

October 29, 2008

A little more than ten years ago, when I began to actively study business process redesign, I came across a book titled Managing by Priority: Thinking Strategically, Acting Effectively. The book’s author, Giorgio Merli, introduced me to a concept called time “horizons” and its role in decision making.

There are a number of ways to understand this concept. On a personnel level, think of it in terms of a typical departmental organization. A customer facing employee (sales reps, customer support staff) operate in an immediate time horizon. There job is to address whatever issue the client or prospect puts in front of them. A departmental manager typically has a longer time horizon. Their thoughts are more focused on a year or two down the road. A general corporate manger is focused typically on a three to five year plan.

From an initiative perspective, to be successful, a company has to effectively pursue objectives with three different time horizons (short, medium, and long) and at the same time manage emergency situations. If they are effective at doing so, the results of their efforts will be seen at different times.

Emergencies are typically problems to be solved or opportunities to be capitalized upon. A work stoppage or the ability to deliver a product or service caused by a “trigger” in the environment is a common example. Success rests on quick reaction times, improvisation and rapid deployment.

Short-term objectives are usually aimed at operational performance. Examples include issues related to quality, cost, processes, and financial results. Corporate leadership will typically frame these as annual objectives.

Medium-term objectives are those that concentrate on assuring that the business will still be competitive two to three years down the road. Leaders would focus on organizational capabilities after assessing where they think the competition will put the company at risk and market trends. Think new product development, retooling and significant technology improvements at this level.

The long-term objectives are more closely aligned with a five to ten year horizon. This point of view looks at where the company must be in terms of its organizational and cultural shape. It is for this reason that the word “vision” is commonly associated with long-term thinking.

If you look for it, you’ll find this pattern of time horizons appearing a lot and in places such as business process redesign, portfolio analysis and – you guessed it – strategy.

Does your mix of initiatives address all of these time horizons? More important, is your leadership team evaluating all of these time horizons when building your strategic plan?


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