Monday, November 29, 2010

Winning During the Slog - Part 7 – Characteristics of Adaptive Leaders

(from Issues for Growth Vol.19, No.19)

This is the seventh of a series of articles about how companies and individuals are winning during the “The Long, Slow, Hard Economic Slog” that we are in (Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No.13). This article is written by Christy Pearson, PhD, of Opus Leadership , who works with The Mead Consulting Group. – DPM

The recent economic downturn hit many organizations like a slap in the face. Some organizations responded by becoming more focused and attending to the most critical issues, others remained still, shocked by the uncertainties and unprecedented impact on corporate America. The most resilient companies accepted the challenge, adjusting their strategies, business plans and talent to adapt to the new environment. If there is one lesson all can learn from recent events is the need to remain adaptive, responsive, and focused. To adapt to these new demands, CEOs must not only focus on adjusting their business strategy but must also pay equal attention to developing their leadership strategy. A good first step is to ascertain if your organization has the leaders in place to manage presenting problems and this begins with a review of what type of leader is needed.

Characteristics of an Adaptive Leader

· Change ready; adjusts easily to new and different.

· Sets goals for the future; has a long-term view.

· Demonstrates initiative to address presenting and future problems.

· Takes calculated risks, effectively weighs the pros and cons.

· Decisive; has courage to make fast decisions, reaches conclusions quickly.

· Recognizes the need for consistent and frequent communication and does it.

· Seeks out information versus relying on existing data.

· Interpersonally savvy; understands what motivates others, trustworthy and credible.

· Learns quickly, is curious, does not accept the status quo.

· Critical thinker, asks questions versus making assumptions, digs for the root of an issue.

· Sets expectations and provides feedback; is able to have tough conversations when necessary.

Adaptive leaders will assist the CEO and the organization in navigating through these tough times and will help move the organization toward stability. These types of leaders are resilient and possess the necessary capacity and intelligence to address multiple issues and attend to the demands in their area of responsibility. These leadership characteristics are also stable and can be leveraged by organizations not only during the tough times but also once the organization has survived and repositions itself for growth.

What should you do? CEOs must improve their ability to identify the right leaders and determine what skills are needed for their organization to lead under these new circumstances. Increasing this ability depends on the CEO analyzing the current situation and making predictions about future scenarios and determining what skills, behaviors and competencies are required to implement business strategy. CEOs must also determine their leadership risk; what is the likelihood that the organization does not have the right leaders to grow and adapt with the organization and what impact will this have on the business. While these are not easy tasks, CEOs cannot afford to do nothing, to just keep leaders stuck in the past and unable to adapt to this new normal. For organizations to be able to effectively adjust, they must first have the type of leaders who can anticipate the need for a change, identify the appropriate response and lead the organization to its new direction.

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” ~W. Edwards Deming

Are You Up to the Task? It’s a new business environment and CEOs and other key leaders must develop the skills to adapt and evolve as their business as the world changes. What worked in the past may no longer be relevant and CEOs must first look to its leadership to determine if they have the right skills to address these new challenges. In the end, business success relies on a combination of the right strategy to address new business challenges and the right talent to move the organization forward. There is a growing list of companies and leaders who didn’t make the cut (AIG, Freddie Mac, Circuit City, Hollywood Video, Sharper Image) and those that did (Intel, Google, Apple,, Qualcomm). Which list do you want to be on?

Next: Is Developing an Adaptable Culture Too Hard? How Can I Get Started? Next article will deal with the ways that certain factors can prevent you and your company from developing an adaptable culture.

Some companies are experiencing significant “new thinking” results. What are you doing to change how you think about your business and create a culture of adaptability? Let us know your comments.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winning During the Slog - Part 6 - Do You have the Leaders to Drive an Adaptive Culture?

(from issues for Growth Vol.19, No. 18)

This is the sixth of a series of articles about how companies and individuals are winning during the “The Long, Slow, Hard Economic Slog” that we are in (Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No.13). This article is written by Christy Pearson, PhD, of Opus Leadership Group , who works with The Mead Consulting Group. – DPM

Are your people spending more time talking about what to do and less time actually getting things done?

Does this scenario sound familiar? A CEO of a successful mid-market company began to worry more and more about his organization’s ability to keep up with expected growth and its ability to adapt to current economic uncertainties. His team was quite busy, almost to the point of being overwhelmed and he began to notice some disturbing signs:

· workgroups were duplicating responsibilities, often resulting in conflicts between his leaders

· Staff meetings involved more discussions about how to get it all the work done versus any planning for the future

· There were too many independent decisions being made, resulting in delayed product delivery, reduced collaboration between workgroups and an overall atmosphere of conflict and distrust

His instincts told him that the current rate of growth could not be maintained. And then, his fears began to be realized.

· Customer complaints were increasing and three important clients decided to go elsewhere.

· Employees started missing key deadlines and there was a lot of frenzied activity without the expected results.

He wondered if his organization could adapt to these new problems and he wondered if his leader team could as well.

Did he have the right men and women with the necessary leadership abilities to adapt and evolve with the business and its new challenges?

The above situation is common for companies experiencing growth or those trying to survive during economic uncertainties. The mistake they often make, however, is to think they need to make a few radical changes to resolve all the presenting problems. Many organizations overcome significant challenges by continuously planning for and adapting to the challenges presented. Successful companies maintain their success by adapting their organization and its leaders to the challenges inherent with growing and sustaining a successful business versus committing to a full-scale change. However, many companies attempting to survive during this current economic climate, fail to evolve the leadership of their key employees. As a result, they fail to have the right people with the right adaptive leadership attributes to address the many challenges so evident in today’s business world.

“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Does Leadership Really Matter?

In good times and bad, CEOs must not only focus on external drivers of the business but also focus on what is happening internally. The most effective CEOs continue to recognize the need to match their business strategy with a strategy of hiring, deploying and developing their people. They evolve their strategy and ensure their people evolve as well. CEOs spend countless hours determining the right strategy but without the right people to execute, failure is imminent. While most CEOs understand the need for the right people in key roles, many fail to adequately determine what type leadership and business skills are needed and most fail to adequately assess who has the right stuff.

Would you believe “leadership incompetency” rates of 65%? So does leadership really matter? Robert Hogan, a respected researcher of executive leaders continuously finds an incompetency rate among leaders to be around 65-70%. Would you value a commodity that only produced expected results 30-35% of the time? In a 2005 HBR article, the authors suggested that most companies only deliver on 63% of their expected financial performance as outlined in their organization’s strategy. The most commonly cited factors contributing to this poor performance were related to people and leadership (Turning Strategy into Great Performance by Michael C. Mankins and Richard Steele, 2005). Given the challenges and complexity of today’s business environment, does leadership matter? It sure does!

Signs You May Not Have The Right Leadership

· Leaders react to problems versus proactively predicting them.

· Discord and conflict within the leader’s team or functional area.

· Too many meetings with no outcomes.

· Inadequate or no contingency or strategic planning.

· Lack of alignment and collaboration between key leaders.

· Poor communication by both the leader and his/her employees.

· Leaders continuously address new problems with old solutions.

· Complacent leadership, believing that the status quo is good enough.

· High turnover, low morale.

Organizations that fail to adapt display many, if not all of the above characteristics. However, organizations can mitigate this risk by ensuring they have the right leaders in place to adapt to their current business challenges.

Next: Characteristics of Adaptive Leaders. Next article will deal with the characteristics of adaptive leaders.

Some companies are experiencing significant “new thinking” results. What are you doing to change how you think about your business and create a culture of adaptability? Email us your comments.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Winning During the Slog - Part 5 - Create an Adapting Culture: When It Can Go Wrong

(from Issues for Growth Vol.19, No.17)

This is the fifth of a series of articles about how companies and individuals are winning during the “The Long, Slow, Hard Economic Slog” that we are in (Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No.13). This article is written by Chris Carosella who works with The Mead Consulting Group. – DPM

Signs and slogans won’t do it. A healthcare CEO thought he could quickly transform his company’s culture by having a couple of meetings about “let’s become an adapting company!” He put up a bunch of posters, put “ADAPT” on every agenda, and waited for the transformation. What he didn’t do was ask employees what adapting meant to them, how they’d do things differently every day if they were adapting instead of changing, what did they expect of the management team, and what kind of training/development did they need to be able to achieve at high levels. When nothing changed, he blamed the employees.

Other factors that can derail the ability to adapt are:

· Leaders/key influencers who are rigid and concrete in their thinking tend to have the most difficulty in adapting. It’s not easy for them to let go of control or work outside comfortable patterns.

· Companies that operate in crisis and chaos mode are full of destructive behaviors: frustration, anger, fatigue, and apathy. There are too many activities, along with a lack of focus on the right activities.

· Organizations don’t adapt. People do. Or they don't. If employees don't trust the leadership team, don't share the organization's vision, don't buy into the ability to adapt, and aren't included in the planning, you will not be successful, regardless of how brilliant your strategy.

· For today's skeptical employees, rhetoric without action quickly disintegrates into empty slogans. If you don’t walk the talk of creating an adaptive culture at the highest levels, you will not succeed.

No company can afford to waste human talent. Every talent, every idea, every skill is needed urgently if companies are to survive and thrive. The potential of the workforce to adapt to any possible scenario or opportunity really is the company's greatest asset. Now is the time to build an adapting organization so you can reach sustainable, profitable growth in a culture of achievement. If you wait for the right time, it’s already too late. The window of opportunity has never had narrower or shorter open time.

Companies underestimate the importance of culture to their continued success. This is especially true of companies that have enjoyed early success based on product or technology acceptance.

“Corporate culture can have a significant impact on long-term economic performance. Un-adaptive cultures will have an even larger negative financial impact in the coming decade.” John Kotter & James Heskett, Harvard Business School, Corporate Culture and Performance

Your success depends on achieving the desired results for your company. Companies are recognizing that, in order to succeed during “the slog,” the current and future economic environment calls for a dramatic difference. Companies are enjoying success using the RapidAdaptÔ process. Adapt means to Accelerate Decisions Attitudes and Processes in Time so that you can stay ahead of competitive, client, and company challenges. The purpose of RapidAdaptÔ is to help you develop the ability to constantly adapt strategies and tactics in order to create sustainable success in any environment. It’s not just a strategy process. Employees learn how to create an adapting culture with a sense of urgency instead of complacency. That, in turn, creates a continuous learning culture with accountability at all levels of the company.

Some companies are experiencing significant “new thinking” results. What are you doing to change how you think about your business and create a culture of adaptability? Post your comments.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Winning During the Slog -Part 4 - How to Create an Adaptable Culture

(From Issues for Growth Vol.19, No.16)

This is the fourth of a series of articles about how companies and individuals are winning during the “The Long, Slow, Hard Economic Slog” that we are in (Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No.13). This article is written by Chris Carosella who works with The Mead Consulting Group. – DPM

While working on their strategic plan for 2011, the CEO of a highly successful technology company asked the others, “How do you think our employees describe our culture?” Their initial responses included: “High energy.” “Get it done.” “Fast pace.” “Occasionally chaotic.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with those descriptions, it can be a problem if management, instead of the employees, defines the culture. After reviewing the results of an employee satisfaction survey, this management team learned their culture was considered “exhausting,” “focused on tasks and to-do lists instead of results,” “urgent without purpose,” and “managed by crisis.” And then their discussion turned to, “What do we want our culture to be?”

Be intentional about company culture. Very few companies take the time to identify the kind of culture they want and then actively and purposely create it. Most companies end up with a culture that just happened while they were trying to build a business. And many companies decide culture means things like employee appreciation events, free food, decorated cubicles, or a “fun” environment.

Company culture is “the way we do things around here.” Culture is the sum of the beliefs and values that shape behavior and determine the ways things get done. For example, is the company driven by (a) results and achievement, or (b) relationships and people? Is the company (a) adaptive and flexible, or (b) structured and stable? We often think that culture is a “soft” thing that we can't really understand. And culture often makes leaders uncomfortable because they don't feel that they can control it. Since culture is an outgrowth of leadership, however, much of the culture is actually shaped by individual leaders' styles and work preferences.

Your culture can doom you to failure. It can prevent you from executing your strategy. An organization can have the best strategy in the world but a culture that won't allow it to happen is doomed. First and foremost, understand where you are now and where you want to be. There has to be a clear sense of direction and a vision for the organization and you must connect culture to strategy. Plus, you must have the right leadership – confident, flexible, creative, decisive, results-oriented, and empowering. Second, get employees from all levels involved to help determine what has to happen to get you where you want to be. For example, if you want to grow your revenue 20% each year and you’ve got disruptive conflict between sales and operations, you want and need an aspect of your culture to be collaboration. That means you include sales and operations employees in determining joint performance metrics and joint rewards. It also means sales management and operations management walk the talk of collaboration and teamwork.

Create a culture capable of adapting to any challenge. The next step is to purposely create a culture capable of adapting to any challenge – one that includes all employees learning how to anticipate possible scenarios with customers, competitors, or within the company. It means teaching critical thinking and leadership skills at all levels. And it means top management must have the confidence to let go. That’s easier to do when you:

· Set very specific goals and objectives for all areas of the company.

· Discuss with every level of employee what it means to adapt in your organization and how you’ll reinforce an adapting culture.

· Recognize people will respond to adapting initially as they’ve responded to change. If they don’t trust the leadership, disagree with the vision, or are excluded from the process, you cannot create an adaptive culture.

· Re-think authority levels and how decisions are made. You want the ability to take action at all levels and not all the control at the top.

· Share competitive, company, and customer information throughout the organization plus talk about what it means to your growth.

· Trust in the innate intelligence, capability, and creativity of your employees.

· Measure progress frequently. Talk about it often.

· Reward taking risks.

· Learn from mistakes.

· Repeat what works.

· Be quick to alter tactics. If something isn’t moving you toward your desired outcome, do something else.

· Communicate openly, honestly, and often.

Communicate, communicate, Communicate. Even when it’s inconvenient. Enough can’t be said about communication when it comes to creating a culture that embraces the ability to adapt. Today's employees are demanding it. Not everyone will thank you for your candor, but they will never forgive you for anything less. Open and honest communication goes beyond simply telling the truth when it's advantageous. You need a proactive, even aggressive, sharing of everything -- the opportunities, the risks, the mistakes, and the failures. And then encourage all employees to work on these challenges together.

Next: When It Can Go Wrong. Next article will deal with the ways that certain factors can prevent you and your company from developing an adaptable culture.

Some companies are experiencing significant “new thinking” results. What are you doing to change how you think about your business and create a culture of adaptability?

Check out the archives of the last 10 years of Issues for Growth on our website