Monday, March 30, 2009

Advice to a Leader

Originally this was Advice to a King on the book Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership. The same advice is true for every leader.

”In your daily activities,

vigorously carry out whatever is right
and put a firm stop to whatever is wrong.

You should not change your will on account of difficulty or ease. If because of today's difficulty you shake your head and pay no heed, how can you know that another day it will not be as hard as today?”

This is true for or the hard decisions - dealing with difficult people, dealing with diffidult customers, informing about mistakes, or on personal level dealing with your own bad habits. Delaying difficult decisions normally does not make them any easier.

If more leaders would consentrate on doing the right thing, would we even need Corporate Social Responsibility, Transparency International, SEC, etc.? Shouldn't that all come naturally?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's Blocking Your Ideas?

I read another interesting post by IdeaChampions. This time about enabling an nurturing innovations. They compare Innovation process to a river - If you want to create a river, you will need two things: flowing water and two river banks. If you want to create a culture of innovation, you will also need two things:

new ideas and the organizational structures to keep those ideas flowing forward.

Like in their Team Reality Check, they had an online poll about What's the Problem (with your innovation process). You can use their survey to identify the challenges, bottlenecks, and weak links of your innovation process.

On a scale of 1-5, "5" meaning "it's a BIG problem," and "1" meaning "it's not a problem at all," please rate the following statements re: your company's attempts to generate, develop, and implement new ideas (both incremental and disruptive) to grow the business.:

1. We have too many ideas.1 2 3 4 5
2. We don’t have enough breakthrough ideas.1 2 3 4 5
3. We’re not asking the right questions.1 2 3 4 5
4. We tend to avoid conflict.1 2 3 4 5
5. We’re not very good at prioritizing projects.1 2 3 4 5
6. Follow through is not one of our strengths.1 2 3 4 5
7. Our brainstorm sessions are poorly facilitated.1 2 3 4 5
8. Our meetings are poorly facilitated.1 2 3 4 5
9. We lack the tools and techniques to spark creative thinking.1 2 3 4 5
10. We don’t have enough time to originate & develop ideas.1 2 3 4 5
11. We lack a company-wide innovation process.1 2 3 4 5
12. We have an innovation process, but not everyone understands how it works.1 2 3 4 5
13. Employees are unclear about our company’s vision and strategy.1 2 3 4 5
14. Senior leadership is not committed to innovation.1 2 3 4 5
15. Our decision making process is unclear and takes too long.1 2 3 4 5
16. We never seem to have enough data to make decisions.1 2 3 4 5
17. We’re not flexible or agile enough to innovate.1 2 3 4 5
18. Our middle managers feel burdened by new projects.1 2 3 4 5
19. We share neither our best practices nor the learnings from our failures.1 2 3 4 5
Other: _________________________________________________________________

This survey should help your identify the problem areas. Ideas and tools on how to solve them are elsewhere in my blog and in IdeaChampions blog.

Picture by lumaxart

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We Are All in This Together

If you are committed to accomplishing extraordinary results, chances are good that you will need to collaborate with others. IdeaChampions posted some weeks ago a

Team Reality Check

Most people's experience of being on a team -- especially those who work in large companies -- is less-than-ideal, filled with frustration, power struggles, and the belief that it's not worth the effort.

OK. Those days are over. No matter how disappointing your experience of teamwork may have been in the past, it's never too late to turn things around. And it all begins with AWARENESS -- tuning into what's actually going on with you and your team.

That awareness can start by taking the IdeaChampions Team Reality Check below or online at their site.

On a scale of 1-5 (with "5" being the highest possible score), please rate the team you work most closely with on each of the following indicators of success:

1. Clear about it’s mission?1 2 3 4 5
2. Aligned about roles and responsibilities?1 2 3 4 5
3. Communicating effectively?1 2 3 4 5
4. Freely sharing information?1 2 3 4 5
5. Trusting each other?1 2 3 4 5
6. Making the best use of conference calls?1 2 3 4 5
7. Enjoying the process of being on a team?1 2 3 4 5
8. Free of blame-making and gossip?1 2 3 4 5
9. Going the extra yard?1 2 3 4 5
10. Free of group think?1 2 3 4 5
11. Giving and receiving feedback to and from each other?1 2 3 4 5
12. Keeping its commitments?1 2 3 4 5
13. Collaborating effectively?1 2 3 4 5
14. Diverse enough?1 2 3 4 5
15. Thinking creatively about its goals and challenges?1 2 3 4 5
16. Celebrating its successes?1 2 3 4 5
17. Sharing best practices and lessons learned?1 2 3 4 5
18. Equally accountable for results?1 2 3 4 5
19. Getting the support it needs?1 2 3 4 5
20. Aligned about its mission?1 2 3 4 5
21. Operating under clearly defined agreements?1 2 3 4 5
22. Able to make wise decisions in a timely way?1 2 3 4 5
23. Speaking its truth with each other?1 2 3 4 5
24. Truly motivated?1 2 3 4 5
25. Learning from mistakes and breakdowns?1 2 3 4 5
26. Asking for what it needs?1 2 3 4 5
27. Being strategic? Planning ahead?1 2 3 4 5
28. Flexible and adaptive?1 2 3 4 5
29. Making best use of email and online collaboration tools?1 2 3 4 5
30. Taking full responsibility for creating extraordinary results?1 2 3 4 5
31. Connecting as human beings, not just “task-doers”?1 2 3 4 5
32. Making best use of outside resources?1 2 3 4 5
33. Listening to each other?1 2 3 4 5
34. Focused on results?1 2 3 4 5
35. Resolving interpersonal breakdowns in a timely way?1 2 3 4 5
36. Confident about being able to accomplish it’s mission?1 2 3 4 5
37. Meeting frequently enough?1 2 3 4 5
38. Succeeding in its mission?1 2 3 4 5
39. In sync about how and what it communicates to others?1 2 3 4 5
40. Committed to a process of becoming a high performing team?1 2 3 4 5

The questionnaire will help you find the strong areas of your team as well as the areas that need further development. Remember to be honest with answers.

IdeaChampions should soon be posting their results of the online poll, with hints to help you and your team get into deep dialogue about what it will take to really collaborate in 2009. I'll post that link here when it is available.

Picture by lumaxart

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cross-functional Leadership Moves

3,5 years ago a I applied for, and was selected to my current position of running a country organization. That was a bold move which ment that my first supervisory position and my first cost center responsibility was to happen in a different culture without any supervisor near me.

Little did I know about the challenges I would face!

Rather than going trough those challenges in public, I refer to a post by Dan McCarthy at his blog Great Leadership on how to avoid and manage the risks and pitfalls of cross-functional leadership levelopmental moves.

Mine was not only cross-functional, but also cross-cultural, and I have faced many of these risks. We have managed to overcome them with the help of my supervisor, our HR, my team and with the help the ”safety net” I managed to build for myself. ”Safety net” is item 7 on Dan's list. (Item 6 does not exist in his original list)

This blog would not exist without item number 3 on Dan's list – Going from knowing the most to learning the most. It's been one big learning experience.

To be better prepared in the future to support my own team, my colleagues, and my own career, I am copying Dan's advice below.

A Guide to Cross-functional Leadership Developmental Moves

In many companies, rising high potential leaders are usually extremely bright and have produced outstanding results. However, their experience is often very narrow. Many of are promoted within a single function or business, and as a result, are not prepared to be successful global general managers or business unit presidents.

Providing opportunities for new job changes across functions, businesses, or geographies is a way to accelerate the cross-functional capability in our future senior leaders. These new challenges also develop critical leadership competencies, such as leading change, influence, strategic thinking, and adaptability.

While job changes can be a powerful catalyst for development, they can also lead to the derailment of a promising high potential leader.

There are inherent risks and pitfalls that can be avoided or need to be managed. This guide was developed as a way to ensure successful cross-functional leadership developmental job changes and be a vaccination against possible derailment.

It is designed to support HR Directors/Managers as they assist their highest potential leaders prepare and navigate through these challenging job changes. Included are actual quotes from leaders.

1. Development assignments are not a free ride.
These are not educational sabbaticals. The standards and expectations for the new assignment should not be lowered to accommodate a lack of experience. While there will be a huge learning curve – and significant challenges – greater success and learning will come when the leader enters the assignment with a winning mindset, vs. a “good enough to get by” mindset. Many leaders said that the most powerful developmental experiences they ever had were challenging jobs where they were held accountable for measurable results. “Total immersion is much better than just putting your toe in the water. You need to have some longer range responsibility with measurable accountability – otherwise all you have to do is show up at the meetings.” “You have to held accountable to the same standards of those already in your new area.” “Hey, there’s no lifelines – if I’m a total screw-up, I don’t deserve it!”

Advice: Work with the leader’s sponsor to ensure the new job has measurable goals and accountability. Make sure the leader understands that a developmental move does not lower the standards – while making sure all of the support systems are in place to ensure their success.

2. Hell no, we won’t go!
Ideally, it would be great if the leader has a genuine passion and interest for the new work. Being dragged into a new assignment kicking and screaming – or with ambivalence – will make an already challenging learning curve even more difficult to overcome. Sometimes a leader may not understand or accept that a job change is what’s needed – in fact, what’s required - in order to prepare them for a much higher level of responsibility. The career path to running a business should look more like a “Z” (series of different jobs) than a “T” (narrow, vertical promotions). The move may be outside their comfort zone, perhaps lateral - or worse - be perceived as a step down due to loss of perks and status. They may be getting conflicting advice from other well-meaning sponsors, peers, or significant others.

Advice: Listen to the leader’s concerns. Probe to find out what the real issues are. Work with the leader and the sponsor to address as many of these concerns as possible. Is there any room to modify the assignment or the conditions? If a concern can not be addressed, you may just have to help the reluctant leader understand how the new assignment is critical to the organization’s long range success and will help them achieve their longer range career goals. One senior leader said, “Some of my best jobs – where I learned the most – were one’s that I initially did not want to take. Some were painful – but I would not have gotten to where I am today if I didn’t take the risk” Forcing a high potential to take job against their will is risky – real high potentials have too many choices and may leave if they don’t think the move is in their best interests.

3. Going from knowing the most to learning the most
Going from a job where success has come from being the expert to an assignment that is new and different can be a humbling experience. Many leaders have said that this is where they learned some of their most valuable lessons of leadership. “I always led from a position of knowledge. I was the expert and had all the answers. This last assignment forced me to develop a new leadership style. I had to really listen to others – to use my ears more than my mouth. I developed a genuine appreciation for the talents of those around me. I discovered that this is what’s really required of a General Manager – you can’t know it all.”

Advice: Help the leader understand that the single most critical competency identified for success in new jobs is learning agility. Help them develop this competency prior to the new job through targeted assignments, coaching, books, or articles. Help them learn to ask questions and listen. Help them write a development plan that targets the most critical areas to learn and how to best address their learning needs. Work with the incumbent or sponsor to proactively build a plan to address anticipated learning needs ahead of time.

4. Never losing sight of strengths
The challenge of learning new things every day can be exhausting and make it difficult to stay confident, motivated, and energized. “Every single element of your like is different! (New geography and function) I couldn’t even remember where the switch was to turn the lights on!” It’s important to make sure the leader placed in a development assignment knows that they do bring some unique value to the organization. People will want to know what the new leader brings to the table – they don’t want to hear “I’m here to learn” – especially in a turn-a-round assignment. “Let people know what you need to learn and what you bring to the table that will help solve their problems. They’ll appreciate that and want to help you.” “My sponsor was very good about letting people know why I was there and how I could help – it was a win-win – this really helped pave the way for me”.

A caution regarding familiar strengths – it will be very tempting for the leader to want to gravitate to the things that they are already good at and avoid the things that are new. It’s important to help them figure out what the real priorities are, and pay attention to the things that really matter.

Advice: Help the leader make a list of strengths that they bring to the job. Share these with their new sponsor, and encourage that they be shared with other key stakeholders.

5. Sponsorship
The “receiving” manager plays a critical role in the success of a development job change. “Learning from others” is one of the most effective ways successful leaders develop leadership capability. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked for some really outstanding (and very different) leaders when I’ve changed jobs. In fact, I probably learned more from these new relationships than I did from the actual work”. “There’s three things you need to have for a reasonable chance for success: the right person, the right environment/situation, and the right support system.” A senior leader (sponsor) said: “Management support will remove the barriers. It’s my job to be really clear as to what’s expected, including specific deliverables and development goals, and to provide feedback and coaching.” “-------- was really instrumental. The very first day we say down and developed a 90 day plan – including who and where to visit, what to accomplish, what to learn and checkpoints.”

A high potential leader in the midst of a job change should be encouraged, and assisted if needed, to cultivate multiple sponsorships. One leader referred to his sponsors as his “Board of Directors”.

Advice: Consider who the leader will be working with to be as important to the learning as the change in function, business, or geography. Treat it as another multiplier in a developmental move. Help the receiving sponsor understand their role in the new leader’s success – including developing clear expectations and deliverables, being involved in the development plan, developing a 90 day transition plan, providing coaching and feedback, and removing barriers. Check in periodically with the executive to assess their sponsor relationships and assist if needed.

7. A “safety net”
One way to help ensure a leader’s success in a new assignment is to make sure there is a “seasoned professional” available as a resource. Typically this is someone who might work for the new leader with deep expertise and experience but perhaps limited executive potential. This highly valuable person can not only help train the new leader, but help prevent a green high potential new leader from damaging the business.

8. Feedback
New jobs bring many opportunities to receive new and different feedback. Feedback can be one of the most powerful catalysts for leadership development – and a way to minimize the chances of derailment in a new job. Feedback is even more important during geographic moves, where a leader can become isolated from their established network and far removed from the watchful eyes of corporate headquarters.

Advice: Make sure feedback is provided from the selection process. Let the leader know how those involved in the selection decision perceive their strengths and weaknesses. While we tend to be most comfortable in sharing feedback around functional gaps, the leader often never hears about the “real” issues. Issues like arrogance, lack of composure, defensiveness, insensitivity, and political missteps are often discussed behind closed doors but rarely shared in a constructive way. These are the kind of issues that will follow a leader around until they eventually derail unless addressed.

9. How long is enough?
Long enough to learn and make a significant contribution is what most leaders would say. Generally, if the assignment is too short (less than 2 years) there is not enough time to have an impact. If too long, learning diminishes and the leader can feel plateaued or abandoned. Early career job assignment may not need to be as long; complicated assignments with more significant scope and responsibilities may need more time.

Advice: 18 months -3 years seems to be a general rule of thumb.

10. Preparing for the move - immersion in the details
Preparation for a move can begin as soon as the move is identified. Although some leaders can dive into a new assignment with little preparation (“Prepare? I Don’t! But than again, when I take a vacation, I just drive south – with no reservations, maps, or itinerary.” etc.), most will point to the importance of getting immersed in the details prior to starting. This immersion continues as a part of the leader’s 90 day transition plan.

Advice: Help the leader gather as much business information as possible. Share information and insights about the culture, work environment, politics, and people. Getting to know the people is as important as getting to know the business. “It’s the people stuff that really makes a difference!”

by Dan McCarthy
Great Leadership

Monday, March 9, 2009

Social Innovation

How will your organization find its next great idea?

Matt May invited me to test a new idea management and collaboration tool for groups - Kindling. If you want an invitation, please visit his blog, and leave a comment, Matt is inviting 100 people for 1 month trial.

I was bloging earlier about how similar tool is used by DELL to capture and rank customer requirements - to really listen to the voice of the customer.

Kindling to my understanding works similarly, and let's see what comes out of this experiment.

There's a good presentation in SlideShare about the dynamics of social suggeston box. There seems to be many of these tools available. Should you consider using one in your organization?

Photo by atomicShed

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Art of Innovation

My friend Jenni, who is in design industry, commented my previous post saying one of her favourites among the management's grand challenges was how to

Further unleash human imagination.
Much is known about what engenders human creativity. This knowledge must be better applied in the design of management systems.

I started thinking about this and realized I have come across a perfect example some seven years ago.

IDEO Product Development is the world's most celebrated design firm. Its ultimate creation is the process of creativity itself. For founder David M. Kelley and his colleagues, work is play, brainstorming is science, and the most important rule is to break the rules... Can this formula for creativity work in other places? Some of the world's leading companies certainly think so.”

said FastCompany on the back cover of the book The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firmby Tom Kelley, General manager of IDEO and brother of the founder David.

I will let Tom Kelley speak for himself

What this all comes down to is actually not ”the design of management systems”, but the leadership and culture which support (un)management systems unleashing imagination, like at IDEO.

IDEO's culture is 20+ years in the making. Compound that number by the hundreds of people who have contributed over the years and you get a special mix. Our values are part mad scientist (curious, experimental), bear-tamer (gutsy, agile), reiki master (hands-on, empathetic), and midnight tax accountant (optimistic, savvy). These qualities are reflected in the smallest details to the biggest endeavors, composing the medium in which great ideas are born and flourish ”

And they really are good at this. Click the screenshot below to see what they are thinking about at the moment, or check their projects and how they have been awarded.

Again, I have more ideas than I can fit on one blog post. If you got interested, I will guide you to some great videos related to the topic of creativity and innovation at and Stanford University:

Young at Heart: How to Be an Innovator for Life by Tom Kelley, who presents five core practices that enhance creativity.

Nine Lessons Learned about Creativity at Google by Marissa Meyer. I have used two of these on my earlier posts about Ideas Come from Everywhere and Right People On The Right Jobs.

Do schools kill creativity? by Sir Ken Robinson, who makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

How creativity is being strangled by the law by Larry Lessig with a vision for reconciling creative freedom with marketplace competition.

I hope these help you, like they help me, to further unleash human imagination.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Management’s Grand Challenges

Last year June I posted about Management's new role inspired by Gary Hamel's conference for 35 really smart folks to find answers for a fundamental question

What great challenges must we tackle to reinvent management and make it more relevant to a volatile world?

After all, the foundations of “modern” management were laid by people like Daniel McCallum, Frederick Taylor, and Henry Ford, all of whom were born before the end of the American Civil War in 1865.

Management was originally invented to solve two problems: the first—getting semiskilled employees to perform repetitive activities competently, diligently, and efficiently; the second—coordinating those efforts in ways that enabled complex goods and services to be produced in large quantities.

But the world has changed.

Hamel finally published the findings in his blog and in the February issue of Harvard Business Review:

  1. Ensure that the work of management serves a higher purpose. Management, both in theory and practice, must orient itself to the achievement of noble, socially significant goals.
  2. Fully embed the ideas of community and citizenship in management systems. There’s a need for processes and practices that reflect the interdependence of all stakeholder groups.
  3. Reconstruct management’s philosophical foundations. To build organizations that are more than merely efficient, we will need to draw lessons from such fields as biology, political science, and theology.
  4. Eliminate the pathologies of formal hierarchy. There are advantages to natural hierarchies, where power flows up from the bottom and leaders emerge instead of being appointed.
  5. Reduce fear and increase trust. Mistrust and fear are toxic to innovation and engagement and must be wrung out of tomorrow’s management systems.
  6. Reinvent the means of control. To transcend the discipline-versus-freedom trade-off, control systems will have to encourage control from within rather than constraints from without.
  7. Redefine the work of leadership. The notion of the leader as a heroic decision maker is untenable. Leaders must be recast as social-systems architects who enable innovation and collaboration.
  8. Expand and exploit diversity. We must create a management system that values diversity, disagreement, and divergence as much as conformance, consensus, and cohesion.
  9. Reinvent strategy making as an emergent process. In a turbulent world, strategy making must reflect the biological principles of variety, selection, and retention.
  10. De-structure and disaggregate the organization. To become more adaptable and innovative, large entities must be disaggregated into smaller, more malleable units.
  11. Dramatically reduce the pull of the past. Existing management systems often mindlessly reinforce the status quo. In the future, they must facilitate innovation and change.
  12. Share the work of setting direction. To engender commitment, the responsibility for goal setting must be distributed through a process in which share of voice is a function of insight, not power.
  13. Develop holistic performance measures. Existing performance metrics must be recast, since they give inadequate attention to the critical human capabilities that drive success in the creative economy.
  14. Stretch executive time frames and perspectives. We need to discover alternatives to compensation and reward systems that encourage managers to sacrifice long-term goals for short-term gains.
  15. Create a democracy of information. Companies need information systems that equip every employee to act in the interests of the entire enterprise.
  16. Empower the renegades and disarm the reactionaries. Management systems must give more power to employees whose emotional equity is invested in the future rather than the past.
  17. Expand the scope of employee autonomy. Management systems must be redesigned to facilitate grassroots initiatives and local experimentation.
  18. Create internal markets for ideas, talent, and resources. Markets are better than hierarchies at allocating resources, and companies’ resource allocation processes need to reflect this fact.
  19. Depoliticize decision making. Decision processes must be free of positional biases and should exploit the collective wisdom of the entire organization and beyond.
  20. Better optimize trade-offs. Management systems tend to force either-or choices. What’s needed are hybrid systems that subtly optimize key trade-offs.
  21. Further unleash human imagination. Much is known about what engenders human creativity. This knowledge must be better applied in the design of management systems.
  22. Enable communities of passion. To maximize employee engagement, management systems must facilitate the formation of self-defining communities of passion.
  23. Retool management for an open world. Value-creating networks often transcend the firm’s boundaries and can render traditional power-based management tools ineffective. New management tools are needed for building and shaping complex ecosystems.
  24. Humanize the language and practice of business. Tomorrow’s management systems must give as much credence to such timeless human ideals as beauty, justice, and community as they do to the traditional goals of efficiency, advantage, and profit.
  25. Retrain managerial minds. Managers’ deductive and analytical skills must be complemented by conceptual and systemsthinking skills.
The HBR article contains further explanation of each topic. The list is rather long and takes some time to digest. It will serve as a good reminder as I will continue to pursue these challenges.