That last few months have been trying for everyone around the world. The threat of plague, interpersonal violence, lack of certainty, economic collapse, and possibly war in particular regions cause many to lose sleep and suffer anxiety. If ever there was a time for leaders to step up, provide hope, instill trust, and inspire all of us to be better, it is now. There are no secrets about the actions leaders need to take to restore confidence, peace, and stability. They are the same principals leaders have used for ages. Leaders need to assess the situation and how each crisis affects her team, identify a course of action to address the threats and seize opportunities, and communicate the plan to followers in such a way to reduce fear and create inspiration. There are no easy answers to any of the problems currently facing the world but leaders can still do things to make the situation better by following those simple steps.
The most important thing leaders do in times of crisis is provide calm, calculated responses. Before selecting a direction leaders assess what is happening. During times when we are in an economic downturn, facing a pandemic, open violence in the streets, and complete uncertainty about how long each of these crisis will last, a calm response provides reassurance that at least there is stability in one part of the world. In addition to conducting a hasty Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis figure out what kind of problem you are facing from the Cynefin model.
The Cynefin model introduce in 1999 by David Snowden and Mary Boone breaks down problems into five categories, Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaotic, and Disorder. Identify simple problems as those whose cause and effect are known. Apply best practices. If you have a problem whose cause and effect can be discovered with some analysis categorize it as a complicated problem. Apply good practices to complicated problems. The cause and effect in complex problems can only be identified in retrospect. Apply emerging practices to complex problems. If the cause and effect cannot be perceived, you are facing a chaotic problem. Novel practices are best for these situations. In the case of disorder, leaders must do something to restore some level of order before applying any solutions. Understanding the type of problem you face helps identify the best approach to that problem (click here for an infographic).
In our current state, it appears the problem leaders appear to face a chaotic or complex problem because the cause and effect may be discovered with some probing or not perceived at all. However, leaders currently face several separate problems. True some of them are related such as the downturn in the economy caused by the pandemic. However, the economy was also affected by the riots. Each problem must be analyzed separately with an understanding of the cause and effect each has on the other. The most important assessment is the impact each problem has on your team.
Once leaders identify the problem or problems, they need to develop ways to address the problem. Leaders do not have to come up with the solutions on their own. Turn to your people. If you are a smart leader, you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in different areas of expertise. Rely on them to help find some ways to deal with the problems you face. An example from a gun cleaning kit manufacturer is that they switched from making gun cleaning kits and accessories to creating protective masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer. They have been able to keep many of their workers employed and meet a growing demand for such products. Those leaders identified a threat to their current product line and an opportunity for a new product line and took action to keep their company viable until demand for their primary products return.
Often in times of unrest, leaders do not know any more than their followers about what their followers know. However, those same followers turn to their leaders for messages of hope, reassurance, and inspiration. Communication during times of uncertainty is critical. Be honest. Many members of the press have pressured government officials to identify when life will return to normal. The best leaders honestly say they do not know. However, they also establish courses of action to begin the return to normalcy. They use milestones measured in data rather than time to trigger certain easing of restrictions. They tell people what is coming next and what the standard is for that next action to happen.
As a leader in your organization you should be doing the same thing. Tell your people the problems facing your organization. Tell them the steps you are taking to return to normal and what metrics serve as trigger points for those actions to begin. You cannot take away the current pain people are feeling. If people know there is a path ahead and you are scouting that path, they will be inspired and follow you.
The current problems we face create difficult leadership challenges. During such times good and great leaders assess what is happening, identify a way to resolve the problem, and communicate their plan with others. As leaders deal with difficult situations in a calm fashion, they reassure their followers that things will become better. People who follow such leaders are better able to respond in bad situations because they know what happens next and can plan appropriately. Uncertainty becomes less scary. They know the night might be dark and stormy, but their leader goes before them making the path safer to travel.
Leadership is the most important thing right now for organizations. It doesn’t matter if you are a leader in a governmental organization, a non-profit, leading in the private sector, health care, or even a volunteer leader in a local club. Leadership during these rapidly changing times will be the difference between the organizations that thrive after COVID-19 runs its course and those that collapse during or shortly after things return to “normal”.
Change is inevitable. I have posted several blogs on leading change. Good leaders understand change is always happening and look to the future to ensure those they lead are ready when change happens. Most of the time that means change is gradual and like the hands on a clock, the changes are barely perceptible. Sometimes, like the events surrounding the COVID-19 response, change is rapid and requires leaders to accelerate their leadership processes.
Joan Sweeney, Ph.D teaches there are five elements that need to be present for change to success fully happen. Those elements are vision, skills, motivation, resources, and plans (Sweeney, 2009). If any of these elements are missing effective change fails to happen. Whether you find yourself leading gradual change, rapid change, or in a crisis, you as a leader need to ensure each of these elements are in place to lead change.
Start by assessing the situation. A SWOT analysis is common method of assessing. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. There are plenty of documents, books, and websites discussing the subtleties of conducting SWOT analysis. If this is the first time you heard this term, head to your favorite search engine. I provide a short answer about what SWOT is here. Divide a sheet of paper into four quadrants. Label each Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Individually or with your team identify each area. Ask the simple questions of, “What are our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats?” Use these answers to work on the five elements of change.
Most leaders understand the need to have a vision. In times of crisis, the vision is not about the distant future. The vision is about the days, weeks, and months ahead. The vision shares with your stakeholders your view of how the organization navigates the turbulent waters of the crises, in this case getting through the COVID-19 Pandemic. This element is essential so examine your strengths and opportunities so others have hope.
Take a look at the skills you listed in your strengths. Determine how you can use them to address the threats posed by the situation to create opportunities. Include this assessment in your vision statement. Doing so provides hope which is the basis of motivation.
I learned on Jocko Podcast 207, that the root of the word motivation means to move (Willink, 2019). When you motivate others, you cause them to begin movement. To sustain movement, it is important for leaders to align resources with action plans. This alignment demonstrates to followers that the proposed action and change is both viable and attainable.
There is an old saying in the Army, “We the willing have done so much for so long we are now qualified to accomplish the impossible with nothing.” In times of crisis resources become scarce. If you have tried to by bathroom tissue or hand sanitizer in the last few days you know that is true in this current crisis. You may not be able to acquire the ideal resources is times of crisis so leaders need to be creative. What resources do you have that can be repurposed safely to accomplish the same thing? What resources can you obtain that come close to doing what you need done? What do you really need?
In a TEDTalk in 2006, Tony Robbins encountered former Vice President Al Gore while discussing the importance of resourcefulness. He told the former VP that had he been more resourceful during the campaign he would not have needed to have his case heard by the Supreme Court. Rather he would have received an overwhelming number of votes to win the election without having to resort to a Supreme Court case. Leaders always have to figure out how to use the resources available to accomplish their organization’s mission.
Plans in crisis are important. Looking ahead and creating plans before crisis helps move that process along quicker. Even if you lack a plan for dealing with a pandemic, you probably have some emergency plans you can adapt. In the non-profit I run, we have plans to continue operations in the event of a disaster like the building burning down or other cataclysmic events. We did not have one for dealing with COVID-19. As the crisis escalated, I found it easy to re-examine our emergency plans and take relevant parts, piece them together to develop a plan that, so far, ensured we were available and able to continue to provide services to our clients. Planning occurs rapidly in a crisis. Your plan must support your vision. You need to communicate so everyone remains motivated to apply their skills to overcome the crisis. The plan must include how to use existing resources and how you will find other resources necessary to survive the crisis. Your plan does not have to be perfect. Theodore Roosevelt said,
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best thing is the wrong thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.
In this current crisis, leadership is critical to meet the changes required for organizations to survive. Leaders must ensure they communicate a vision, coordinate the skills of stake holders, provide motivation and resources, and create a plan that effectively coordinates the actions of the organization. Leaders everywhere are faced with important decisions during this pandemic. Following the basic principles of change management will ensure your organization prepares and responds effectively to this crisis and emerges ready for the future as things subside.
“Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.” (Bullock, 1716), everything else is subject to change.
I wrote this article on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon. It caused me to think about how that happened. There are lots of examples of leaders creating great things in government, business, and in social services after creating a vision of what could be dating back to the beginning of recorded history. As I study and apply leadership lessons, I found there are five principals of leaders who effectively lead change within their organizations. Those leaders set examples by living and enforcing organizational guiding principals, communicating a clear vision for the future, establishing goals and benchmarks, taking disciplined action to accomplish required tasks, and possessing humility.
guiding principals through their behavior. The old maxim, “Actions
speak louder than words,” says it all; leaders who say respect is
important and treat others respectfully are more convincing that
those who treat others disrespectfully. Whether you are new to the
organization, in a new position, or a veteran in a leadership role,
you choose your values. Ensure they are aligned with the
organizational principals, or advocate to changing them. It takes
time to establish character, but even if you have been an angry,
disrespectful, fly-off-the handle kind of a leader, you can change.
Others will notice and your character will change.
In addition to behaving in accordance with your professed and the organization’s values, leaders ensure others also develop character. You cannot ignore a direct report’s violation of an organizational principal and fire a more junior person for the same behavior. If your organization values people’s time, then the person who is consistently two minutes late for work, meetings, and leaves five minutes early needs to be held to account. Not every offense requires firing. Not every offense requires a written reprimand or other disciplinary action. Often pulling a person aside and pointing out their faux-pas is enough to gain compliance. When misbehavior is displayed by otherwise compliant people it may signal trouble. Pulling that person aside presents an opportunity to address the trouble and become aware of their problem.
A few years ago I gave in and went to the eye doctor because I noticed road signs were not as clear as I remembered them. I needed glasses. Over time my vision dulled and I needed someone to help me see clearly again. An organization’s vision is the same. In the beginning everyone knows why they belong, where they are headed, what they are doing, and how to do it. As the organization grows older, the vision fades, just like people’s eyesight.
Leaders often think
they only need to cast their vision before their followers once and
they are good for life. They are wrong. There is a reason all major
religions have services on a weekly basis. That reason is to refresh
the soul. Face it, after ten years of church going, you probably have
heard all there is to hear. Services keep your faith fresh.
Likewise leaders need to continually project their vision for the organization. Those who work in the organization need to see it so they can properly care for clients and customers. Clients and customers need to see it so they understand why you do what you do; it builds brand loyalty. Vendors and contractors need to see it so they are on the same page. Leaders, from each member of the Board of Directors, to the shop foreman, need to see it so they can magnify and amplify the vision for their followers.
are not one and done. Leaders constantly need to proclaim their
vision to inspire everyone they encounter. Leaders develop
credibility when they not only talk about their vision, but take
action to make it a reality.
Based on the
leader’s vision, the leader and junior leaders establish goals to
accomplish the mission and vision. Goals should be specific,
measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound, and task oriented. Many
of you will recognize the SMARTT goal setting model. I added and
extra tee for the task steps.
Task steps are
important. They provide the directions to achieve the goal. The goal
is your What. The task steps are the How.
Leaders should establish a plan for goal setting. Good goal setting happens in cycles. The first step is to assess. Your assessment establishes your starting point and destination. As you walk your selected path, you will encounter life and may find you stray from your planned path. Periodically check your progress and adjust course as necessary. As you move along, you learn; apply those lessons along your journey. As you near the end of your journey, it is time to assess again and establish new goals. Click here http://bit.ly/2YfQH0Y for a short lesson on the goal setting cycle.
ensures accomplishment of critical tasks for mission success.
Discipline has several meanings. In this case I intend it to mean
controlled behavior resulting from training (adapted from
Action means activities required to complete the mission. Disciplined
actions are planned and controlled activities that are scheduled,
measured, supervised, and coordinated across all teams in an
To be effective,
organizations must plan. Planning includes scheduling, measuring,
supervising and coordinating actions. Planning requires discipline.
Planning also identifies key performance indicators. Controls are
necessary to establish measures of performance and effectiveness
(insert link to that blog). Supervision is only effective if
supervisors know what they are looking for in performance and
effectiveness. Coordination ensures things are going according to the
plan across all teams. Coordination communicates the plan and status
of activities to everyone.
An example of disciplined action are the steps required to make a widget and ship it to a customer. In the planning stage, leaders determine what needs to be done, what resources are required, what will be measured, how often, by whom, and how to coordinate across all the teams. The organization identifies the material, machines, and people required to make the widget. They order material and hire people. They schedule activities such as when raw material should arrive, when workers need to be at their machines, when product will be shipped, and the means for delivery to customers. Coordination is required so there is material on hand to manufacture widgets when workers are available; trucks are available when enough widget are ready to ship, and adequate capacity exists to meet deadlines. Coordination is an on going process. For example, if machine operators are sick, it causes reduction in production. The shipping team needs to know so they can adjust shipping schedules.
Much of this step is as much management as leadership. Management is an important leadership skill. People are involved in each part of disciplined action and that is where the leadership comes into play. Fail to lead disciplined action, and your organization may achieve a task, but it will not remain successful.
I remember reading
in Seven Habits that Stephen Covey claimed to have studied great
people for years before boiling down their secret of success to seven
habits. I thought, “Why would anyone dedicate themselves to such
work?” I found myself reviewing Good to Great a short while ago and
read Jim Collins’ assertion that Level 5 Leaders are humble. That
was not the first or last place I encountered that idea, but it
struck me then how many times I learned that point from so many other
sources including people I chose to follow. I now wonder if Covey
stumbled across those seven habits the same way I found the five
principals of leading change.
Humility is an
important trait for being a good or great leader. Great leaders do
all the things I present in this article, but they also recognize
they lack certain skills, lack knowledge, lack connections, and other
important resources to make things happen. Great leaders recognize
they need to rely on others to help them accomplish the
organization’s mission. If they are the smartest, fastest, most
skilled person in the organization, they are leading the wrong group
of people, and they know that. They seek out people who are smarter
they them. They hire others with greater skills. They know these
others are their superiors and they are blessed to lead them, or put
another way, they know they are blessed those high speed individuals
choose to follow them.
You can develop
humility. It is a skill that can be learned. I saw it in action
during my first General Staff meeting. In a General’s staff meeting
there are standard scripts everyone follows to ensure the General
receives the information he needs to lead the force and make
important decisions. According the script, other staff sections
presented their canned information to the General. Then it was my
Colonel’s turn to present.
At the time, Colonel Shawn was the Director of Logistics. On schedule, the slides with the logistics information were projected on the screen. COL Shawn hardly noticed. Instead he looked at the General and said, “Sir, I know you’ve seen my slides and our information is pretty good this month. If you don’t mind, I want to tell you about the great work that Kris Skinner has done this month with our surface maintenance program.” The Colonel went on about LTC Skinner’s accomplishments that month. At the end of the story COL Shawn asked the General if he had any questions about his directorate’s data. When the General said he did not, Shawn introduced the next staff chief.
I was impressed. I thought it was a one time thing to bring some attention to the boss about good work done by his followers. The following month however, COL Shawn had another story about the good work another member of the section. Again at the end, instead of getting into the data on the slide he moved onto the next speaker. COL Shawn had someone every month he highlighted at the staff meeting. Now of course none of those workers acted independently. Col Shawn knew what each was doing and used all his leadership ability to encourage them to do the greatest job they could do. Each individual responded by regularly exceeding the standards and expectations.
COL Shawn was promoted to Brigadier General. He is a confident and competent leader. He accomplished plenty of big things in his own right. Yet when ever he talks with someone, he learns about them. He shares what he learned in a recent book he read. He asks what he can do to make things better for lower-level leaders. He practices humility.
Change is inevitable. Leaders must navigate future changes. Even choosing to maintain a certain level or quality of business without growth or shrinkage requires organizational change. Laws change. Customers change. Demand for products changes. Organizational staff change. Leaders who do not lead change will find there is no one left to lead. Leaders effect change by creating a desired vision of the future. They set and help followers set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound goals with task steps. They plan and manage disciplined action to accomplish the mission and change. They are humble people who understand they still have much to learn. Change is coming. Are you leading to adapt to that change?
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Coins by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay using pixabay license.
Companies spend large sums of money to sending employees for training to improve performance. When employees return, they resume ineffective habits. Ken Blanchard says in his book, KNOW, CAN, DO, that he is frustrated people do not implement the changes he teaches. The point of leaders sending employees to training is to develop to new, effective behaviors in employees and become better people. Here are some ideas how leaders effectively help employees implement behaviors learned at training increasing their return on investment (ROI) on training.
Require employees to take notes during class. Note taking improves retention. Hand written notes are better than typed notes in the classroomi. When they return to work make them then sit down and type those notes. Typed notes are better than handwritten notes after the class. Typing notes requires the student to revisit the material again providing an additional opportunity to learn improving training ROI. It also provides a readable copy of the notes which will be more useful a few years from now. They understand the type written notes better than their hieroglyphs taken in class. Typed notes should include the title, location, and date(s) of the training, the name of the employee completing the notes, the name of the presenter, and a website for additional information. Typed notes are necessary for a later step in this process, sharing learning with others.
Once your employee has completed their note typing, have them report to you the big concepts taught in the class. Ask them the one or two take always they think are most important to implement in their work behaviors. Work with them to develop an action plan or goal. There are a few other blogs here on goal setting and developing personal improvement plans. As the leader, you have the responsibility to periodically check in with the employee to monitor progress. Employees require your guidance to overcome obstacles and provide encouragement. Set aside 30-60 each week in the first few weeks after class to meet with the employee and measure progress.
One great way to improve learning is teaching. Have the employee present what they learned at your next staff meeting. There are several advantages to having employees present after training. One is you increase your return on the investment you made on that training event. Every employee learns something new, not just the employee who attended the training. Second, the employee becomes the teacher and for a short time, the subject matter expert. This puts them in the spotlight. Everyone craves recognition. This is a great method allowing employees to shine in front of their peers. Third it provides you an opportunity to discuss why the behaviors learned in that training are important. You reinforce for staff what new behaviors you expect from all of them. The message about expected new behaviors comes from a peer. Peer pressure is strong. Use it to your advantage.
Remember those typed notes? Copy and distribute them during the short training session. The notes should include the name and email address of the employee who took the notes. Having the employee’s name and email on the notes provides contact information for others. When other employees have questions, they are able to contact the company’s subject matter expert and receive answers; another opportunity for the subject matter expert to shine.
It may sound a bit overboard to provide all kinds of recognition to an employee returning from training. In some organizations, training is viewed as punishment. People in those organizations think the only reason the company would send someone to a training event is because they messed up something. The training is the company’s way of telling the employee and others about your mistake. Highlighting the positive impacts from training encourages others to want to attend and learn. It is the basis of a learning and improving organization.
Since your employee returned from training, you worked hard to groom him or her into a subject matter expert. You allowed them to share their new knowledge with others. You developed a plan encouraging them to implement changes in behavior learned at the training. Now reap the rewards. Appoint your self-grown expert as a mentor. Assign a protegee to the mentor who is dealing with performance problems. Often we think of performance problems as coming from problem employees. Frequently though performance problems come from inexperienced people, or people assigned new tasks without appropriate background or training. Use your subject matter expert to teach this person how to improve. As they work with the newer person, they may find a need to refer back to their original class notes. Good thing they typed them so they are legible! Because you modeled goal setting with your employee, they use that skill to help their protegee set goals. Your newer, inexperienced person benefits from the training provided to the mentor weeks or months ago, another return on your investment. Instead of sending this person to the same training to learn the basics, you book them for something different. When they return, repeat the process and you have a new expert on a different topic.
As time passes, you find many of your people have gone to a wide variety of training. Some learned to become effective leaders. Others learned how to improve customer service. All attend regular training about advances in your company’s field of expertise. Every employee is up on the latest in each area because they benefit from the micro trainings each new subject matter expert provides after an off-site training opportunity. Your people acquired lots of information boiled down in carefully typed class notes. Many have become strong leaders. Eventually people move on to other activities in life. Because you took the time to train everyone about a wide variety of issues from leadership, to cutting industry trends, and building strong networks ensuring customer needs are met, you have no problem replacing leaders. Someone is ready to step into the role. This is the final pay off from that training investment perhaps years ago. You have the right people in the right places with the right training and experience so when someone leaves, no one misses a beat.
Sending employees to an off-site training is a big investment. Good leaders understand how to leverage the learning of one person so that everyone on the team learns. Using these skills the ROI on your training investment. Employees use a training event to help other employees develop goals changing behaviors, the objective of training. Good leaders spotlight the employee’s learning and behavior changes by helping them become subject matter experts. Good leaders set the stage for people to want to go to training because they understand you want them to stick around for a while. You developed a library of knowledge in the typed class notes which is available for everyone. Employees have contact information for subject matter experts. Employees mentored others learning to lead. You influenced change. You influenced others to effectively improve behaviors and accomplish the organizational mission. You maximized the return on the company’s investment on training. Next time someone comes back from training, put them to work so everyone becomes better and maximize ROI on your training investment.
Trainers and leaders need to measure success. Measures of success demonstrate the organization does things correctly and does the correct things. Trained tasks support the organizational mission, the organization’s why. Trainers measure performance and leaders measure effectiveness. Understanding the difference ensures organizations correctly apply the correct measures to tasks by the right people.
Performance measures are those things that show we are doing something correctly. Examples include demonstrations of completing a task within a set of given guidelines, passing a test demonstrating knowledge of selected ideas, or achieving a certain result we believe leads to effectiveness. All these examples show the task is being performed correctly. These are the measures a trainer uses to demonstrate tasks are understood and performed correctly. Front line leaders use measures of performance to demonstrate assigned tasked meet defined standards.
Effectiveness measures are those things that show the organization is accomplishing its mission. Effectiveness is harder than performance to measure because organizations often have poorly defined missions. Effectiveness comes down to an individual or organization being able to focus on their one reason for existing. Examples of effectiveness measures include things like changes in behavior favorable to the organization, increased trust between employees, customer loyalty, or improvement in a given condition. Measures of effectiveness demonstrate mission accomplishment by the organization.
Organizations must understand and communicate why they exist in order to be able to measure effectiveness. Jim Collins talks about businesses that learn how to laser on their purpose for existence. Great businesses last because they were designed well in the beginning, or transform to meet changing times. There are many books that talk about the importance of why including Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, and Stephen Covey’s First Things First. Senior leaders use measures of performance to determine success when the organization meets its mission.
As leaders and trainers measure success, they need to learn how to measure both performance of individual and collective tasks, but also the effectiveness of those tasks. Everyone may be doing everything well, but if they are doing the wrong things, they fail. Knowing which measures to use and when help organizations ultimately complete their mission. Find your why; determine what an how to achieve it, then measure your success.
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Measured by Michael Coghlan from flickr.com under a Creative Commons License
Companies carefully develop and vigorously safeguard their corporate logos and trademarks because the leaders understand the importance of brand. Logos speak for the company, what it makes, and stands for. Some trademarks become terms for common items, actions, or a range of products. Years ago people would Xerox a copy when they wanted a photocopy. Everybody had a Frigidaire even if their refrigerator was a Whirlpool. Today if you want to find out some piece of information, you Google it. Mention these names or show their logos and people create a vision of excellence in each of those industries. The trademark is the company and people know the values of each. Artifacts, such as logos and trademarks, are the visible representations of an organization’s culture and values. Other aspects of artifacts include customs, traditions, celebrations, buildings, and attire. Leaders can use artifacts to change behaviors of stakeholders to align with desired values.
Back in the day, families had coats of arms that contained symbols representing significance accomplishments from the past, the region of origin, and tools of their trades. Military organizations thrive on the symbolism of their unit crests. Good leaders understand the qualities shown in organizational symbols and use them to provide a common bond for all stakeholders. The symbols and traditions create a unification for all those involved in the organization.
The terms blue collar and white collar demonstrate how artifacts affect perception. Mention blue collar worker to someone and they probably envision a person working on a factory floor, working in an automotive repair facilities, or dumping waste cans after the office closes. White collar workers are viewed as those working in clean environments such as offices, hospitals, or laboratories. Blue collar workers have GEDs or high school diplomas. White collar workers have college degrees, have offices higher in the building relative to their perceived power. These statements are not necessarily true as there are plenty of people holding traditionally blue collar jobs with high levels of education, and many office workers with high school diplomas.
Ceremonies and customs are other artifacts that show the world and stakeholders where an organization places value. Organizations that toss their new employees to the wolves with little training demonstrate they value people less than accomplishment. Those who celebrate small successes show they care when people succeed and understand that when an individual succeeds, everyone in the organization is better because of the achievement.
A smart leader seeking to change an organization’s culture can use artifacts to help that change occur. He can point to the symbols of a logo to talk about the important values of the organization. He describes how certain behaviors emulate the organizational values while others detract. He eliminates ceremonies celebrating negative achievements that belittle and embarrass, and replaces them with rituals observing feats supporting desired behaviors. Awards for compliance with desired organizational values serve as visual representations of success and encourage others to model similar behavior. Employee of the month is one example, but a creative leader finds other ways to also provide visual cues.
Understanding organizational culture is a critical leadership skill. Knowing how symbols, ceremonies, and traditions creates certain behaviors enabling leaders to change artifacts to encourage behaviro changes. If something runs counter to a professed value, it is shed. Leaders adopt new artifacts that support behaviors aligned with desired values. Take a look around your work place. What do the dress, visible symbols, behaviors, and traditions say to someone walking in for the first time about what is valued? Change those that subvert what you want others to think of you and your organization, and replace them with artifacts that show the character you seek to achieve.
“I quit!” said Bill out loud. “I haven’t made a sale all day.”
Jill, Bill’s big boss, happened to be passing his cubical as he announced his intent to terminate his employment, or at least sales calls for the day. “Bill,” said Jill, “We don’t quit. If you are having problems, I expect you to find a way to over come them. Getting to YES is an important principal of our division. I want you to spend the rest of the afternoon examining what what you have been doing and work with your team leader to figure out what you can improve. Both of you will report to my office in the morning with your findings.” Jill did not wait for a response. She turned and left. When she returned to her office, she called Bill’s team leader and told her about Bill’s problem and her expectations for corrective action.”
Jill said, “Getting to yes is an important principal.” She did not scold Bill for breaking a rule, but rather for failing to comply with a guiding principal. Guiding principals liberate leaders and employees from restrictive rules that require and prohibit behaviors by establishing clear boundaries, not rules. Employees operate within their boundaries established by guiding principals without fear of breaking some arcane rule. Employees use the principals to break the molds of past successes improving the organization. Sometimes people make mistakes, but in principle based organizations, leaders allow people to learn from errors, reorient themselves, and continue on the path to success. Guiding principles establish boundaries, not specific routes, for people to travel to achieve successful outcomes.
In the example at the beginning of this post, Bill probably violated several rules in his organization. Jill elected to call out Bill for violating a principle instead. According to Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, “A rules-based organization is a safe place to work…because as long as you follow the rules, you’re never going to be criticized. You go to the General Counsel for each opinion, so you never have to take any personal risk.”1 Rules tell each employee what to do and what not to do in a given situation. The problem with rules is no organization can write a rule for every situation, and organizations like the VA have tried. Often rules conflict in a given situation. When faced with a situation not covered by a rule, or one where the rules provide conflicting guidance, people have to make decisions. That is why guiding principles are necessary.
Guiding principals, sometimes called values, are a short list of ideas that establish behaviors for employees to accomplish the organizational mission regardless of the situation. In some organizations, they establish their guiding principals a single words like, duty, honor, country. Others may use short phrases like, get to yes, respect all stake holders, continually improve. Organizational leaders boil down ideas until only those most important remain. An area cannot be established with less than three points. More than seven and people will not remember the principals; the area is too large.
The following morning Bill and his team leader Jane were waiting outside Jill’s office when she arrived. After being invited into her office, Bill explained to Jill that he and Jane spent the afternoon reviewing his sales pitches. They discussed some small improvements he could make to be more effective. Jane told Jill that she would check in with Bill a couple times in the next week to review his progress and make additional refinements to help him get to yes. Bill said, “I’ve learned the importance of seeking help when I need it to deal with frustrations.” Jill smiled. Bill’s outburst helped her develop Jane’s leadership skills and Bill’s sales skills. Had she just reprimanded Bill for disturbing other sales representatives, neither Bill nor Jane would have grown.
Leaders who use guiding principals establish markers to follow allowing freedom of choice instead of rules that fence in options. Guiding Principals develop effective organizations. They create a climate for employees and junior leaders to safely take risks within established areas. Leaders use mistakes as learning opportunities for the employee and others. Employees respond to increased trust by finding improved ways to accomplish the organization’s mission. All stakeholders receive the results they expected. By using guiding principals, people find their own route to success within establish boundaries. Now is a great time to review your organization’s principals and determine how you can improve them for increased success in the coming year.
As the new organizational leader, you have taken the time to recruit the right people to run your group. You worked hard ensuring they occupy positions where they will excel. You know they need training, but what do you teach them? Effective leaders training teaches new leaders five functional areas of leadership; planning, controlling, operating, resourcing and leading .
New leaders need to learn the basics. Often leaders are selected for reason other than their ability to manage and lead increasing justification to train them. It does not matter whether the new leaders are related to important people, knowledgeable about their part of the organization, or bring money to the table to obtain their leadership position, all need to understand all five functional areas to help your organization succeed.
Planning is the process of assessing what the future brings, how you want to respond and preparing for it. New leaders training helps develop understand the planning process. During planning, leaders assess to establish where the organization is, what the group wants to accomplish and what lessons can be learned from earlier projects. Leaders establish goals and mile stones so they can set a course and make adjustments as the project progresses. Developing task steps enables supervisors to measure workmanship and progress.
Controlling is the process of both measuring progress and accountability of resources. On any project leaders plan to evaluate progress based on appropriate information or data. The standards are established during the planning process and are used to adjust course if necessary. Accountability controls are imperative to ensure resources remain available to complete the project and remain available if necessary for the rest of the organization. The newspapers are full of stories of people in positions of trust running off with the organization’s because of poorly implemented controls. Quality controls prevent such problems, or identify problems before the group is broke.
Operating is the process of executing a plan. It includes the planning process, and ensures controls are in place and being used. Quality operations ensure success of the project and organization. Good operations aline with the groups mission and guiding principals.
Resourcing involves providing stuff. What stuff? Everything needed for the project to succeed. People, money, food, parts, space are all resources required to ensure successful completion of any project. Leaders ensure the stuff is where is needs to be before or at the time it needs to be there. Potatoes delivered the day after a fund raising dinner fails to help the organization feed those who support it. Likewise if resources are delivered too early storage and other problems become issues.
Leading is the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission of the organization while operating to improve the organization. Many argue that leadership cannot be taught; you either are born a leader or not. Because leadership is a process, anyone can learn that process. Leaders possess character, and acquire knowledge and skill. They understand how to accomplish things and make sure the right things happen.
New leaders training is important for every organization. Every new leader must know the five functions of management: planning, controlling, operating, resourcing and leading. Learning the basics is easy. Learning the finer points takes a life time. The Chief Executive of every organization is responsible to train junior leaders in each of these functions. There is no point enticing the best and brightest people to lead your group if your training plan involves tossing them in the water to see if they can swim. Develop and implement a leader development program for your new leaders.
Photo credit: ISCTE-IUL by Hugo Alexandre Cruz. CC license from flickr.com
“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower. Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principals. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brain storming sessions although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is to developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principals, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is they only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.