Growing Your Business or Organization: 5 Things to Avoid

Growing the business is arguably one of a leader’s biggest challenges.  But the real challenge is doing it cost effectively without losing key talent.  At the same time, it is critical to rally the organization’s stakeholders around the vision even it seems that the company will come undone by the pace of change.  Here are 5 things that you should beware of as your company grows rapidly:

  1. First of all, and counter to your intuition and perhaps the desperation you may be feeling as your company begins to grow rapidly, adding people will not solve your problems and miraculously handle your workload. If anything, the more people you add to the firm, the more complexity you bring in. Plus it can be expensive and add to the chaos.
  2. Don’t assume that because you have a brilliant strategy that you are home free. As the old cliché says, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” If you are not managing culture and don’t have the right team, your strategy is not worth the paper it is written on.
  3. Don’t get so busy working in the business that you don’t work on the business. Are you letting important issues slides simply because you don’t have time to discuss them with your team, let alone take the time to resolve them? This is a case of “pay me now, or pay me later.” You can handle issues before they become crises or spend your whole time battling those crises.
  4. Make sure that in your haste to get more sales, you don’t neglect your people or your processes. Talented people and solid processes will keep your business successful and help you grow.
  5. Last, but not least, make sure that you have the leadership skills and competencies to continue to lead your company into its bigger future. Just as you need to develop your business, you must continuously learn and grow your capabilities.

In the midst of managing the day-to-day business, consider these questions as you work on your business.

How well do you feel you as a leader:

  1. Have a common, compelling vision?
  2. Are able to effectively execute and implement the vision?
  3. Have a practical plan to grow the organization in a cost effective manner?
  4. Are able to identify critical issues before they become screaming emergencies?
  5. Are able to make decisions quickly and effectively?
  6. Are able to drive projects, while engaging and developing people and improving processes?
  7. Have a strategic plan that engages every single employee in the company?
  8. Have leaders who are able to adapt to the needs of the organization as it grows?
  9. Have the ability to surface and discuss difficult issues?
  10. Are completely satisfied with your current strategic plan?

These questions will provide insight on where you might want to continue to work on the business while you work in the business.

What if you as a leader could grow your organization or business cost effectively and with less, turnover and chaos.  What if you were able to engage and rally all your employees around your vision for the organization and execute on your strategy? Jean Ann Larson & associates help individuals, leadership teams and organizations successfully transform themselves while growing their businesses. Executive, team and employee development are our areas of specialization. We use cutting edge diagnostic tools and facilitation methods to deliver effective results and improved outcomes.  Contact us today at 800-823-4330 to learn how you can grow your organization while improving your business results.

 

September 2015 Newsletter

Check out my September Newsletter: Leadership: The Secret Sauce? Managers not MBAs, Beware of Assessments, and more  Jean Ann Larson September Newsletter

Leadership: The Secret Sauce for Organizational Success?

With many articles, books and all the hype about leadership, why am I calling Leadership the Secret Sauce?  As organizational leaders we are often looking for the next “shiny” thing whether that “shiny thing” is a new methodology, new technology, philosophy or even a newly emphasized competency or character trait.  What I have seen in my career is that no matter the approach, the solution or the new skill set, the quality of leadership and how leaders lead will determine the success or failure of the initiative.

Let’s take a couple of examples such as Lean or process improvement. You can fill in other words if you’d like, e.g. supply change management, ERP, Six Sigma, etc.  What these examples of approaches, philosophies and methodologies all have in common is that are powerful and they work. However, what often happens is that in many organizations they do not deliver their full potential value.  How does it happen time and time again that leaders don’t seem to get it? What does it look like?

  1. Leaders brought the approach or methodology in because that is what everyone else was doing – It’s the “thing to do” syndrome
  2. Leaders sanctioned organization-wide training on the new approach but it remained separate from the core business activities and strategies
  3. The approach was listed as a stand-alone strategy NOT an enabler to key strategy
  4. Leadership was supportive while it initially seemed to work. Once the going got tough, they quickly focused elsewhere.
  5. No changes to organizational structure or job design were made to accommodate the new approach and take advantage of the benefits – Basically nothing changed other than a new overlay of complexity and busyness.
  6. Once there were any challenges to the status quo with the new methodology, it was allowed to die a slow death.
  7. When someone new comes into the company and recommends that the approach be implemented again the response is, “We tried that before but it didn’t work here.” No wonder!

As a young process engineer, I was easily mesmerized by the power of Deming’s plan-do-study-act methodology as well as process redesign, lean, six sigma and countless other methods, approaches and philosophies.  I was even fortunate enough to see many of them be very successful.  Looking back over the years I realize that it wasn’t the wonderful approach, the brilliant team or my finely honed skills as a facilitator 😉 that led to success. It was ultimately the depth and breadth of the executives’ leadership sensibilities and capabilities.  Were they 100% behind the approach? Did they see it as integral to the organization achieving its mission and strategy and ultimately its success? Were they willing to support it during the dark days and doldrums that always come once the excitement and newness have worn off?

In my latest book, Organizational and Process Reengineering Approaches for Health Care Transformation, I devote as many pages to the role of leaders and organizational culture as I do to a methodology.  I purposefully stayed methodologically agnostic, e.g. I am not proposing any one approach over another. I’ve come to realize the simpler the better. The key is engaging the leaders. And actually they should be engaging us!  It is after all their initiative and responsibility.

Are You a Strategic Thinker?

Are you a strategic thinker? Strategic thinking involves analyzing opportunities and problems from a broad perspective while understanding how certain decisions and actions might have an impact on other options and outcomes.  How do you know if you are a strategic thinker?  You might be a strategic thinker if you:

*        Are curious

*        Are flexible

*        Are future-focused

*        Have a positive outlook

*        Are open to new ideas

*        Work to broaden your knowledge and experience

*        Are able to “connect the dots.”

How do you rate? What are your strengths? Areas for improvement?

Strategy as Planned Change

The 50+ leaders I interviewed about top challenges and critical leadership competencies for the future all noted there is a growing need to effectively deal with the increasing amount of change impacting us while leading ever more complex organizations. They also mentioned the need for leaders to develop strong strategic thinking skills.  I would argue that the two go hand-in-hand and that strategy is nothing more or less than “planned change.”

Why do you develop a strategy?  Whether you are part of a Fortune 500 organization or a sole proprietor, you want to take your company from point A to point B – with point B being your organization’s vision.  In between points A and B is a gap of what you need to do or change in order to reach that vision. Thus organizational change requires a strategy as much as strategy requires organizational and behavioral change.

So what is strategy? One definition states, “Strategy is about positioning an organization for sustainable competitive advantage. It involves making choices about which industries to participate in, what products and services to offer, and how to allocate corporate resources. Its primary goal is to create value for shareholders and other stakeholders by providing customer value.” (De Kluyver & Pearce, 2011).  The late Warren Bennis noted that “leadership is the capacity to translate vision into strategy” or the ability to lead planned change.

This all seems fairly simple and straightforward.  However, I see many people try to turn strategy development into both a science and art project making it very complicated in an effort to make it all things to too many people.  I argue that if it takes you 30+ minutes or a PowerPoint presentation to describe your strategy, it is too complex and is in danger of being permanently shelved in a back corner in the executives’ offices where so many well-meaning strategies go to die.

So how can we simplify strategy?  I suggest going back to the basics by considering Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions. Those questions are:

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?  Or what results and outcomes are we wanting?
  5. What is our plan?

Let me know how your strategy as planned change efforts are moving forward.

The Cost of Toxic Leadership

Are you the cause of low productivity, low employee engagement and high turnover in your organization? Or do you know leaders who would provide more value to their organizations, if they stayed away from the office? A recent study shows how toxic bosses wreak havoc on teamwork (Adams, 2014). A related finding is that targets of an abusive boss’s ridicule will often turn around and start abusing other team members. This then makes the environment more toxic as everyone devolves into negative and competitive conflict. Sadly, I’ve witnessed this among senior executive teams. In one case the CEO was widely known as a narcissistic bully. His executive suite seemed to have a revolving door where executives came and went. New executives would arrive on the scene as great heroes but within 6- 18 months the CEO would turn on them. For those VPs who wanted to survive and remain in the organization, they had to basically become just like him and turn on their own peers and direct reports. Leaders with options quickly left.

So what do bosses do to demoralize employees? Here are some common examples:

  • They micromanage and second guess their direct reports despite the fact that the direct reports have more expertise and experience than the boss.
  • They walk away from a conversation because they lose interest (I was once called out on this – OUCH!).
  • They take calls in the middle of a meeting without walking out – this applies not only to bosses. I was recently on a client site where the team was discussing next steps. One participant didn’t just receive a phone call, he MADE it and then began an unrelated conversation with another party in a very loud voice.
  • Bosses may openly mock people by pointing out alleged flaws or personality quirks in front of others.
  • They remind their subordinates of their role and title in the organization.
  • They take credit for wins while pointing the finger at others when problems arise.

Employees who are harmed by these behaviors quickly learn to stop sharing ideas and they hold back throwing any hope of innovation out the window.

So why do managers say that they behave like bullies? They say that they are overloaded and don’t have time to be nice. But seriously? Is being respectful all that time-consuming? Being respectful on a regular basis makes it easier to navigate through both good and bad times leading to higher levels of productivity, more innovation and lower turnover. And, what if you had another type of behavior that derailed your success and had such a negative impact on your organization’s productivity and bottom line? Wouldn’t you want to change it? Research has proven that incivility and bullying hijack workplace focus. According to a survey of 4500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71 percent tied disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct to medical errors, and 27 percent tied these behaviors to patient deaths.

In two separate studies Bennett Tepper of Ohio State found that nearly 14% of US workers are subject to abusive supervisors. Because of the damage these mean bosses cause, Tepper estimates that abusive supervision costs companies $23.8 billion a year. Clearly no amount of automation, process improvement, six sigma or lean management techniques (not that we should ever stop the continuous improvement journey) can overcome the bad impact of these mean bosses.

So what can you do if your boss is a bully?

  1. First and foremost, do not doubt your self-worth. If you’ve been successful in your career up until this boss, the issue is with him or her, not you.
  2. Draw on your own inner resources and tell friends and loved ones outside work about your difficult boss. They can be your allies by listening and affirming your competence and value as a human being.
  3. Accept the fact that though you may love the company and the job, the boss may not make it possible for you to stay in your position. Keep your options open.
  4. Check out the additional strategies for survival in Robert Sutton’s book referenced below.

What if you are the bully? (If you’re not sure whether or not you’re a bully, take the self-assessment in Robert Sutton’s book referenced below.)

  • Accept the fact that your behaviors are hurting your organization’s productivity and ability to innovate.
  • Work on improving your emotional intelligence – particularly self-awareness and self-regulation.
  • Get an executive coach to help you improve your leadership effectiveness. Studies done by the University of Southern California and the Center for Creative Leadership have shown that the number one characteristic associated with an executive’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.
  • Reconsider your behavior: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down. Understand that if they look good you do too.
  • Also, you do NOT, I repeat do NOT have to be the smartest person in the room. Give your people a chance.

Do you have other strategies that have worked for you when dealing with toxic bosses? Drop me a line.

For more strategies on how to deal with bullies in the workplace, I recommend the book, The No A–hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert I Sutton. It is well researched and very practical. Starting on page 121 of the paperback copy of the book, you can even take a quick self-test called, Are you a certified A-Hole? Signs that your Inner Jerk is Rearing Its Ugly Head (Sutton, 2007)

The Power of Self-Awareness

One of the most powerful ways we have to help our organizations and clients navigate change and transition is ourselves. Using the concept of self-as-instrument allows us to provide deeper, lasting value to our practice. Self-as-instrument is defined as our ability to use ourselves potently and it relies on the level of awareness we have about the impact we make, and our ability to make choices to direct and modify that impact.

Awareness is key.  Developing our mind so it is aware of self, others, situations, and patterns is the beginning of being able to use ourselves as instruments of change.  Self-awareness and self-management become the first requirements. They are also critical to developing our emotional intelligence or EQ.

As consultants and practitioners, various assessments, including EQ, help us better understand ourselves and understand our impact on others and their impact upon us. In turn, we provide that perspective to our clients whether we are coaching them or providing team-based interventions. As consultants, coaches, leaders and facilitators, we need to appreciate and understand how we bring ourselves to our clients  and our teams and how we show up. We do this through our actions, behaviors, dialog, questions, and choices.

Questions we can ask ourselves include:

  1. Are we present with our clients and teams?
  2. How do we influence them?
  3. How do we connect with our clients and our colleagues?

According to Peter Block, the author of Flawless Consulting, it is essential that we are authentic with our clients. Are we true to ourselves and our values and do we have the courage to advocate for those values with the client? When we are not sure of ourselves and our role as consultant, whether we are an internal or external consultant, we actually get in the way of our client’s growth and development. As such we do ourselves and the client a disservice.

Some ways to improve our self-awareness include:

  1. Practice self-reflection
  2. Identify emotional triggers
  3. Journal about challenging situations and your impressions and reactions
  4. Share your insights with others
  5. Seek on-going feedback from trusted sources

We can help or hinder…it is all in how we show up and how we engage our clients in their moments of transition and change.

To learn more about increasing your ability to use yourself as an instrument of change, visit my website at www.jeanannlarson.org or send me a note at jeanann@jalarson.net

Best practices for leading teams

 

When I first started my business, I interviewed over 50 leaders in a variety of industries asking them to identify their top three challenges, what they were doing to overcome those challenges and what they felt were key competencies for leaders in the future. One of the top challenges across all industries was the need to identify and develop our future leaders. One of the most important competencies identified for those future leaders is their ability to lead teams. The challenges we face are so complex that we cannot expect to go it alone as a leader. And, one of the most effective instruments we have as leaders to influence culture is through strong teams. Based upon that earlier research and my own experience, I offer a few best practices:

  1. Make sure that you are actually leading a team and not just a group of people who report to you. In order to do this you’re going to have to treat that group of people as a team. How do you do that? By having regular team meetings that highlight the team goals and the collaboration required to meet those goals. (One client shared with me that she only met one-on-one with her direct reports so as to not waste their time in meetings. When I pointed out the benefit of having everyone focused on the same goals and collaborating and executing on those goals, a lot more work could get done, she quickly adopted brief, weekly team meetings.)
  2. Make sure that the team goals are clear to the team and that everyone knows his or her role as well as the mission, vision and role of the team in the organization.
  3. Communicate clearly within the team. A way to jump start this is to understand your own and others’ communication styles in order to more effectively communicate and use your individual differences for better problem-solving and decision-making.
  4. Meeting etiquette is key – Make sure that you have an agenda, meeting purpose and a set of ground rules for all your meetings.
  5. Manage the good and the bad behaviors. Make sure that everyone’s opinion is heard and do not allow any sort of bullying, such as interruptions, dissing of someone else’s input, etc. I usually try to address bad behavior as immediately as possible, both during the meeting and then later to make sure that my message was heard.
  6. Defer to the wisdom of your team. Sometimes as leaders we can shut down team members. Understand your communication style and flex it to bring out the best in others on the team.
  7. Improve your own emotional intelligence and know your trigger points.
  8. Be mindful of group behavior and use assessments and other ways to get to know yourself and to help the team learn and grow.

Strong teams are our best weapon for improving the effectiveness of our organizations. Per W. Edwards Deming, “Research shows that the climate of an organization influences an individual’s contribution far more than the individual himself.” Creating strong teams are one of the quickest routes to improving the climate of the organization.

Leading Your Organization Through Trying Times

leader

Being a leader during good times is challenging enough. But what about when your organization and industry are undergoing serious fundamental change? There are many things to think about and dozen of things that you could do, but I recommend you go back to basics and remember these basic behaviors:

 

  1. Listen to employees and seriously consider their ideas. You don’t have to have all the answers.
  2. Let go of control and do not micromanage. Allow your people to help with the transition
  3. Accept that the people who do the actual work have a unique level of knowledge, are closest to the process, know it better than senior leaders, and are best able to find new innovative ways of doing things.
  4. Accept that your customers have unique and valuable perspectives.
  5. Communicate the difficult challenges and the new actions and behaviors required to meet the challenges.

 

Your first reaction might be to hunker down and get through the storm, but by engaging your employees and customers, new ways and approaches will emerge.

Using ourselves to bring transformational change to our organizations and clients

Great Blue Heron in flight

One of the most powerful ways we have to help our organizations and clients navigate change and transition is ourselves. Using the concept of self-as-instrument allows us to provide deeper, lasting value to our practice. Self-as-instrument is defined as our ability to use ourselves potently and it relies on the level of awareness we have about the impact we make, and our ability to make choices to direct and modify that impact.

Awareness is key.  Developing our mind so it is aware of self, others, situations, and patterns is the beginning of being able to use ourselves as instruments of change.  Self-awareness and self-management become the first requirements. They are also critical to developing our emotional intelligence or EQ.

As consultants and practitioners, various assessments, including EQ, help us better understand ourselves and understand our impact on others and their impact upon us. In turn, we provide that perspective to our clients whether we are coaching them or providing team-based interventions. As consultants, coaches and facilitators, we need to appreciate and understand how we bring ourselves to our clients and how we show up. We do this through our actions, behaviors, dialog, questions, and choices.

Questions we can ask ourselves include:

  1. Are we present with our clients?
  2. How do we influence them?
  3. How do we connect with our clients

According to Peter Block, the author of Flawless Consulting, it is essential that we are authentic with our clients. Are we true to ourselves and our values and do we have the courage to advocate for those values with the client? When we are not sure of ourselves and our role as consultant, whether we are an internal or external consultant, we actually get in the way of our client’s growth and development. As such we do ourselves and the client a disservice.

Some ways to improve our self-awareness include:

  1. Practice self-reflection
  2. Identify emotional triggers
  3. Journal about challenging situations and your impressions
  4. Share your insights with others
  5. Seek on-going feedback from trusted sources

We can help or hinder…it is all in how we show up and how we engage our clients in their moments of transition and change.

To learn more about increasing your ability to use yourself as an instrument of change, leave a comment or send me a note at jeanann@jalarson.net