A culture of accountability and a unique compelling brand are what drive change today

Monday, March 10, 2014

Team Innovation

Today, businesses large and small like to say they are "team oriented" (whatever that means). I guess it means they work in teams. Big deal. Does that improve their performance? Does that mean that the quality of their product or service is better than the competition? Does that allow them to complete a project more timely, profitably or effectively? Is teamwork really a better way to go about solving problems than say the "hermit" approach? What about Thomas Edison or Leonardo DaVinci or Alexander Graham Bell?

If you've ever worked on a team you know there is one thing that can not be avoided: CONFLICT. At some point someone is going to disagree with somebody else and then, look out! Getting to a simple solution can take hours or days while these two "team-members" fight over minutia. Sound familiar?
Let's face it, often times, teams can hit roadblocks that can sabotage their success. There are a number of things that can be done to ensure good teamwork:

Conflict is Good
As team leaders we must not allow ourselves to think that we solely carry the burden of resolving conflict. I see so may managers, owners and team leaders rush to squish the most subtle sign of conflict within their team. Without conflict we can not reach the best solution. This also places us in a patronizing, parental position that encourages your team members to abdicate personal responsibility for resolving conflict. It keeps them from developing the skills to necessary to grow, mature and hold each other accountable. Allow the team to detect conflict and manage only those that escalate.
Guidelines for Managing Conflict

As leaders we need to model guidelines that set the tone for resolving conflict. In this way we will be educating our team members to take responsibility. These should include:

•No personal attacks
•No heated outbursts
•No backbiting
•No hostile assumptions

Establishing Expectations
Over the years I have noticed that communicating expectations to the team is paramount in achieving exceptional team performance. The following are areas that team leaders should develop clear expectations for members:

1. Work methods - Make sure your team knows the methods and procedures you expect them to follow when completing the job. If they do not they may frustrate themselves by taking the "long route" and end up disillusioned.

2. Deadlines - Make sure that the team fully understands the time frame for completion. This should include non-negotiable dates as opposed to to dates that can slip.

3. Responsibilities - Ensure that every team member understands their role in the team process. This should be communicated one-on-one with each team member prior to establishing the team. Also ensure that the team members responsibilities are consistent with the teams responsibilities.

4. Priorities - It is critical that team members know the proper priorities. What's to be done first, second and so on.

5. Performance - Paint a picture of the outcome for the team. Show them a vision of a "good" job vs. a "bad" job. Make sure they understand the degree of effort that you expect them to each contribute to the successful solution.

6. Measurement - Establish a system to measure performance in small increments.

7. Communication - Establish a format for consistent communication with the team. This forum will give you the ability to ask the right kind of questions to determine whether the team is "on-track." At this pint you can provide feedback to the team and make suggestions on course correction.

8. Resources - Make sure that your team members understand the resources that are available to
them. This could include staff, facilities, technology, equipment, outside consultants and so on. Encourage them to use the resources to their best advantage but in a cost effective way in order to achieve their goals.

As leaders it's our job to foster innovation. Team members look to us for confidence, guidance, direction and innovation. What can you do to set the stage for creative thinking in the teams that you lead? How can you get your team to discover the best solutions in the most cost effective manner. Remember teams are not just resources, they are people. As I have said many times, we line in an age of relationships. How can you create relationships that go beyond just getting the job done. How can you create relationships that can produce the kind of Edison, Bell and DaVinci innovation.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why We Do What We Do

How many of us brush their teeth every morning?
Ewww!  (to those who said NO)

I venture to guess that most or nearly all of us would answer, YES to this question. But why?
- Because our dentist lectured us?
- Our Mommy and Daddy taught us to do it when we were only 3?
- Our cubicle mate sent us paper airplanes with little notes saying, your breath is killing me?

Have you ever thought about... Why it is we do the things we do?

In 1920 Claude Hopkins (father of advertising) was asked to help a little upstart company called Pepsodent to sell their toothpaste. Hopkins had already made Shlitz the #1 beer in America as well as Quaker Oats, Goodyear, Palmolive, Van De Kamps and a score of other household names.

Now in those days less than 7% of the population used toothpaste and even less bothered to brush their teeth so Hopkins had his work cut out for him. He spent many hours researching the product (which was typical for him) and he discovered that a protective film called "muncin plaque" formed on the teeth. He used this in his advertising touting consumers to... "Run your tongue over your teeth and feel that sticky yellow film. Then brush with Pepsodent and feel the tingly freshness."

Hopkins identified a way to get consumers to adopt a new habit by creating a CUE to motivate a change (sticky yellow film on the teeth), a ROUTINE (brushing with Pepsodent) and a REWARD  (tingly freshness) as a result of the habit. It worked and in less than three years more than 70% of the population were brushing their teeth!

Habits work the same way today. We are likely unaware of them but every habit contains "cues, routines and rewards." The movie theater produces a cue (the smell of popcorn), we engage in the routine (waiting on line to buy snacks at double the price). Our reward is a more satisfying time at the theater.

When we think about habits we think about smoking, eating, grooming and a variety of undesirable personal practices. Yet habits encompass positive practices and are relevant to how we conduct ourselves in business and leadership settings.

Some business leaders have a habit of shooting from the hip, others may respond to a cue that causes paralysis by analysis. Many are so involved in responding to daily cues that they are stuck in just maintaining the status-quo or "working IN the business" and may never have an opportunity to work ON their business, thereby facilitating growth. Still others are perpetuating a minimal level of innovation, engagement and teamwork through subtle communication or behavioral cues. The sad thing is that they are utterly blind to these. Few of their associates can even see the cues and even less know how to change them.

Think about your work habits now. What "cues" are you responding to?  What routines are they triggering?  What are the rewards you might unwittingly be creating for yourself?

This is the time of year that many people are making new year's resolutions. Statistics show that by March less than 5% of those resolutions will even be acted upon. Habits are so strongly ingrained that people would rather fail or even die than give them up.

The upside to all this is that we can change our habits by changing the cues, creating new routines and modifying the rewards. What habits might you need to re-evaluate?  What new habits can you create to replace them?  What might be keeping you from experiencing that breakthrough success that a habit change could bring?

This is the work I do with executives in our coaching sessions. It is so rewarding to see business leaders finally make the changes they have always been wanting to make.

What I often hear is... "I didn't know it was so easy." It is. About as easy as brushing your teeth every morning.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Navigating Competing Values in a Family Business, or... “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Tom is the CEO of a prosperous family business. He has always been a conservative fellow and has plodded along over 25 years providing good service, a solid product line and aiming for predictable results. He believes that it is this strategy which is the reason for sustaining a loyal base of customers and employees with an average tenure of 12 years. Conservatism has also allowed him to establish a generous pension plan and the ability to bank some good cash reserves. He will be retiring in five to seven years, relinquishing control to his sons desiring to finally travel the world with his wife. But he wants to be sure the legacy of the business continues.

Rob is Tom’s son. He is more of a risk-taker and believes that being the first to market is a definitive advantage. He believes the company needs to grow in order to survive in what is becoming a competitive industry. He has encouraged his father to invest in process improvement, state-of-the-art production equipment and progressive training. Tom does admit that his son’s innovative ideas have spurned the growth of the firm in recent years but he is concerned about their diminishing margin and when all of this will really pay-off.

Yet both Tom and Rob are a little nervous. Tom wonders if the company will be able to continue to thrive with his kind of “investment-driven” strategy that his son believes in. Rob wonders if his Dad will ever REALLY let go and allow Rob to fully assume the reigns.
What do you think?

Welcome to my world. This is similar to the issues I face when consulting with family-owned businesses. Often times there are competing values. It’s not so much that family members disagree on strategies, tactics or even the mission or vision of the company; it is more that their values are very different. They see the world through different lenses. They make decisions based on a different set of criteria. What might appear to one member as a “dangerous road to be carefully navigated” to another might be a challenge to “see how fast we can take that curve!”

Who is right? Either? Neither? Both?

Being RIGHT is hardly what is important. What IS most critical is how this family will be able to merge their diverging values into a strategy which will ensure that the company continues to prosper. Tom’s values got them where they are today but Rob’s values might very well propel to where they need to be to continue prosperity.

Of course it would take more than a two page article to communicate all of the details which need to be considered when helping a firm like this align their values and goals. But I have outlined a few (albeit oversimplified) issues which must be considered:

1. Start with the vision. No one can decide how they will make a journey until they are clear about “where they want to end-up.”

2. Identify the common ground for all the principles. The thing that gets in the way of good decision-making is emotions. Being clear on the “common-ground” allows the players to take the emotion out of the decisions which need to be made.

3. Create a third person who will be at the center of every decision – THE COMPANY. Remember that a corporation is a legal entity and retains the same rights as a person so weigh every decision with the impact to the company as a whole rather than only the individual shareholders.

4. Be clear on roles and responsibilities. When the principles that are transitioning out of the business understand and agree to what responsibilities they will relinquish and WHEN they will relinquish them, it makes it easier for the next generation to assume the role.

5. Create a clear succession plan with a timeline and accelerating and decelerating involvement from the appropriate parties.

6. Provide the right level of training and coaching for the emerging leaders. There is no worse formula for failure than throwing leaders into positions they are not ready for.

7. Invest time in understanding intergenerational differences. There has been a lot of information published on this topic. It is critical that both or all three generations, if applicable develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the others.

8. Create a family board to include members from each generation as well as an advisory committee. This should include key leaders in the company who are NOT family members as well as advisors who are not retained by the business to ensure impartiality. This allows family members to gain the perspective of experienced professionals outside the family.

9. Get the right training, coaching and mentoring or the emerging leaders and principles. This might mean going outside the family to retain experts in the vertical specialties needed.

Family businesses comprise 80% of all business enterprises in North America. They account for 60% of total U.S. employment, 78% of all new jobs. It’s not surprising that nearly 40% of family businesses in America will be passing the reigns to the next generation over the next five years according to Business Week Magazine.

Yet the most incredible statistic by far was the one postulated by Robert Avery at Cornell University in his paper, “The Ten Trillion Dollar Question: A Philanthropic Game plan.” Avery noted that by 2050, virtually all closely held and family owned businesses will lose their primary owner to death or retirement. Approximately $10.4 trillion of net worth will be transferred by the year 2040, with $4.8 trillion in the next 20 years.

The plain fact is that family businesses are in trouble because succession plans are quite obviously less and less effective.

Chances are if you are reading this, you or someone you know will be transitioning their family business.

What are they doing right now to prepare for that?

Mark Deo

Monday, October 28, 2013

Culture Hacking

Who would ever think you could change a company's culture by hacking into it like a computer.

Well not only is it possible but it is becoming one of the today’s most powerful ways to bring about corporate culture change.

In the same way computers are made useful by software and our ability to interface with them, organizations are made useful by employees and their ability to provide valuable product/service solutions. So if employees are the “software” that powers corporate productivity, how do we “re-write the code” which influences their behavior?

Every company has a culture which dictates the “acceptable way” for employees to act and speak. The culture is often NOT fashioned in the image of the owner or principles but is rather a collection of employee beliefs and behaviors which have evolved over time. The organizational culture may also have negative and positive aspects. There are diverse and sometimes conflicting cultures that co-exist due to different characteristics of the management team. When leaders are at odds in their management philosophy, silos may develop.  This push and pull is highly unproductive and a great deal of energy can be wasted in attempting to shift organizational decisions toward a specific silo’s desired outcomes rather than in the interest of the organization as a whole. These silos are sometimes the result of unchecked "empire building" by middle management and can stand in the way of creating a positive, productive and functional company culture.

No alternative
A culture cannot be changed by installing policies or procedures. This is a huge error made by well-meaning but deluded leaders. Nor can we discipline employees with the hope that the behaviors will change to ultimately shift the culture. Just as unsuccessful in culture change is the notion that we can “incentivize” employees to modify their beliefs and behaviors. Employees will be resentful and unwilling to change when being manipulated by any means even if it is done with sincerity and a pure heart. So how do we get people to change their erroneous beliefs and modify their behaviors?

 How to Hack
We must “hack-into” the social structures and implant “doubt” so employees begin to question their long-held beliefs and act-out ingrained, dysfunctional behaviors.  This sounds more daunting than it actually is. What this amounts to is giving our employees a “better choice” when it comes to their response to; dealing with difficult personalities, balancing conflicting agendas, meeting unrealistic expectations, engaging in emotional control, relieving stress and enduring disappointment over inconsistent rewards. In other words, rather than tolerating an environment where employees are engaging in gossip, a better choice might be to speak with a mentor. A better choice to abdicating responsibility is to “take” responsibility because your boss/company will always back-you-up even when you’re WRONG. A better choice to slamming someone in another department because they don’t see your point of view is to help develop mutual understanding through cross-training. Behavioral change is a process; it requires practice. As leaders it is our responsibility to create the right environment where functional behavior can prosper and before we know it the culture is changing of its own power.

 Getting Started
Here are some ways that we can begin the process of “hacking-into” the culture in a practical way:

1. Make a “results contract” with the leaders in your organization. The energy for change comes from the tension between current and aspired results, a tension that the organization cannot resolve without change. Have the business leaders take accountability for closing the gap.

2. Lead a business transformation project. Integrate the culture change initiative into the business strategy. Have a logical thread from the new behaviors to the aspired results. Refer to this thread constantly.

3. Set outcome metrics. Ask the leaders to define what concrete and measurable results they would see if the project succeeded. Use these metrics to assess progress.

4. Start with demonstrations from leaders. Ask leaders to explain and display the new behaviors before any cascade activities. They don´t have to do it perfectly, but they must show their commitment in action.

5. Focus on business. Facilitate operational meetings and help people do their real jobs more effectively through the new attitudes and behaviors. Consider workshops and coaching only when there is a pull; that is, when people want to learn how to be even more effective.

 6. Don’t play favorites. Treat all team members the same in terms of their value and contributions.

 Changing a company culture requires time, focus and determination but it is possible. Next time you hear about those hackers and the damage they are doing to network servers. Think about doing some positive hacking of your own to create a more harmonious, productive and satisfying workplace for all your team members.

Mark Deo

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Brain's Going to Bust if I Learn One More Thing!

Don't you feel that way sometimes? Like your brain will explode if someone sticks one more bit of data inside it?
Yea everyone is always talking about, learning organizations, process improvement, continuous education, blah, blah, blah!
With technology always nipping at our heels there seems to be a constant effort placed on technical learning or the latest and greatest new systems. I understand. That stuff is necessary.
But I am speaking about a different kind of learning. The kind that won't mess up your cubicle-mate with your bloody grey matter!
That is learning about other people and how deal with them better. Imagine that! Can such a thing be learned? YES and it won't make your skull burst!
I am speaking, for example, of learning how to motivate, inspire and incite enthusiasm in others in a GENUINE way.
Leaders and their employees who develop the capacity for self-analysis and adaptive learning will have a remarkable competitive advantage in the future. The future will not be based on technology, cool products, faster solutions or sexy ergonomics. It will be based on the strongest relationships.
I have seen what can happen when there is a greater commitment to work ON improving business relationships rather than just the business deliverables. People in the firm become highly engaged, client loyalty improves, revenue and profits grow, employee turnover drops, new initiatives can be launched quickly and effectively, market differentiation occurs, employees give not out of obedience but out of discretionary effort and there is cooperative, harmonious teamwork. People go BEYOND what is expected of them.
This is not a dream. It can be a reality. I have seen it with my own eyes. It is important to understand that this is NOT exclusive to my consulting practice. I know several consultants, like myself, who employ similar tactics with similar positive results. You see, in business, as in medicine there is a new standard of care. It is a standard that focuses on preventative maintenance and improving health rather than merely treating symptoms and constantly fixing aches and pains.
But as in medicine, the patient must believe they need to become healthier in order to accept treatment. You may be making money, but this is not the only measure of health. Ask yourself these questions:
• Is there a high employee turnover rate?
• Is there political infighting, blame shifting or a lack of accountability among your employees?
• Is there an absence of discipline or self-centered attitudes?
• Do the people in your workplace really enjoy coming to work or is it drudgery?
• Are the excited to give their best?
• Do they feel appreciated and significant?
• Have dysfunctional behaviors like dishonesty, insubordination or emotional outbursts occurred in the workplace during the last six months?
If any of these symptoms are present in your business, its time to think about making some core changes to your business culture. These changes begin with the ability to cope with the unrelenting daily change in our society and economy. They are an outgrowth of our ability to change ourselves first BEFORE expecting others to change. They are interwoven with our commitment to a pre-defined, consistent value set. And they are an example of our ability to hold others accountable for peak performance rather than just mediocrity.
At the SBA Network we like to say that we influence decisions, improve performance and inspire change. Let us know how we might be able to assist you to inspire change in your organization.
Mark Deo

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When Coaching Doesn’t Work

Whether you are a manager who needs to coach your team, or a professional coach working with a client, it is critical to understand the conditions which must exist for performance coaching to be effective.

Oftentimes we misdiagnose a performance gap as requiring “coaching.” Coaching isn’t always the right solution. When people need to be told what to do we can advise them, when people need to know how to do something they can be trained, but when people need someone to help them to do it themselves this is when coaching is most effective.

In pure coaching engagements the coach never tells the client (or team member) what they should do but rather allows them to make the decisions and select their own path. The coach merely guides the subject by asking the right questions and attempting to uncover the reasons for the attitudes, habits and behaviors and gently assists them in discovering the best solution through facilitating a dialog.
When coaching is ineffective it is often resisted and this might block the individual’s growth or performance improvement. Here are some of the key reason’s which cause others to resist coaching:

Consumes Too Much Time
Surely coaching requires a commitment of time (possibly even dollars) from the subject. Some coaching happens monthly or weekly or even daily. There is no prescribed frequency or duration of time earmarked for coaching sessions. That said the time/dollars invested by the subject must at least be equal to the benefit received. In fact the subject is expecting to gain significantly more value from the coaching arrangement as compared to the time or dollars invested. For this reason the coach and subject must together develop a plan of “desired outcomes.” The success of the coaching engagement should be measured based on the degree to which these outcomes are realized. Since the benefits of behavioral change are massive the return on the coaching should represent a high multiple of the time/dollars invested.

Respect or Trust is Absent
In order to influence others we must be respected by them. If the coaching being provided is not “perceived to be” in the best interest of the subject; the coaching arrangement will fail. This is why forcing someone to engage in coaching is hardly ever productive. The relationship between the coach and the subject is an intimate one. Rather sensitive issues will be addressed and the subject must be able to trust the coach in order to communicate in a transparent manner. On the other hand when trust and mutual respect are achieved the result of the coaching arrangement can be rather significant.

It’s Intimidating
If coaching is not carefully facilitated the result might be the subject feeling unmotivated or ill confident. Too much pressure for change being exerted on the subject can have a contrary effect causing them to believe the possibility of behavioral change is not achievable or even warranted. Their confidence in their abilities might wan. Some coaches still believe that pushing people very hard is the best way to inspire peak performance. This can’t be argued looking at the statistics but there is a more pure way to incite change in behaviors. Genuinely helping to “build confidence” in the coaching sessions is a powerful way to engage the subject to tap into their self-potential. When the subject believes that the coach has pure motives they tend to apply themselves and embrace change more readily.

Some People Are Just Not Coachable
Coaching is not for everyone. There are those who reach their level of competency (or incompetency) and simple plateau-out. They feel leaning of a coach is akin to a character weakness. There are a number of signs which are indicators that a person is not coachable. First; they may not believe they have a problem but in fact, everyone else is the problem. Second; they may be stuck on behaviors which they believe to be the most effective yet blind to evidence of the contrary. Third; they just may be in the wrong job or pursuing the wrong strategy which they are too personally aligned with to back-off. It's hard to help people who don't think they have a problem. It's impossible to fix people who think someone else is the problem. This is a clear sign that coaching may not be the right solution.

Whether you are a coach, someone being coached or someone looking for a coach it is critical to recognize the impediments to coaching. In doing so we might save someone and ourselves the heartache of attempting to bring about unwanted change.

On the other hand most good leaders are self-reflective and focused on continuous improvement. They know that success is not a destination but a journey and are always seeking ways to improve their competencies and behaviors. Next time you are tasked with coaching someone or even being coached think about these four impediments and answer the question, are these behaviors present?

If so, head for the door!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

8 Tips For Employee Engagement

As simple as this sounds, actively engaged employees exhibit certain tendencies - tendencies that will make any business much more productive.

According to a Towers Perrin study of 90,000 employees in 18 countries conducted in 2007-2008, companies with the most engaged employees had:
A 19% increase in operating income during the previous year; while those with the lowest levels had a 32% decline.

Overall, employees are happy when they enjoy their work and they see their part in the organization's progress. What can you do to actively engage your employees?

Tip #1: Create Activities Outside Of The Office - Employees enjoy socializing outside of the workplace. Once per season, create an activity outside of the office, such as a scavenger hunt, bowling outing or picnic.

Tip #2: Eat Lunch With Your Personnel - While understanding each person's job function is important, you should also be aware of your employees' feelings about processes and procedures. Host an informal lunch on a Friday afternoon to encourage general chat and to assess your level of employee engagement.

Tip #3: Encourage Experimentation - Innovation and productivity happens when employees are encouraged to have some time and space to come up with new ideas. Create a workspace that encourages brainstorming.

Tip #4: Establish Weekly One-On-One Meetings - A short, 5 to 15 minute weekly status meeting can really help you connect with each employee and monitor progress. These meetings also give your employees a chance to discuss any concerns.

Tip #5: Interact With Your Employees - Walk around and talk to your employees every now and then. Check in and observe their progress. This also keeps you involved in each aspect of the operation of your business.

Tip #6: Provide A Sense Of Completion - Most employees crave change, especially if their job duties are repetitive. Once a project or major task is complete, encourage the sense of completion that comes along with it. Allowing this to happen will increase employee retention and the general feeling of accomplishment in your corporate culture.

 Tip #7: Reward Positive Behavior - Always praise positive behavior and reward success with your employee engagement goal in mind. Provide incentives for helpful ideas that can increase sales or productivity.

Tip #8: Survey Your Employees - Employee engagement is measurable. You can judge your level of employee engagement and obtain metrics by creating and distributing a simple employee engagement survey. Be sure to include some extra space for additional comments or ideas. To measure your success, distribute this survey quarterly or semi-annually. You also might want to provide a gift certificate to the best suggestion to improve the company.

Executive Summary: Employee engagement involves an investment of time (and very little money). Once you do invest more time with your employees, it will result in new ideas, higher productivity, lower turnover and a better work environment for everyone; therefore, investing in meeting your employees' intrinsic and extrinsic needs will provide you a huge competitive advantage in today's competitive economy.

Let us know what we can do to help your firm fully engage your team members.