Monday, August 25, 2014

How do you decide?

Life always avails the option of seeing the truth, no matter how blind and prejudiced we may be.  And if we have the courage to respond to the option, we have the power to change ourselves profoundly.  Only through the truth do we come to grace.  ~Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Making and executing decisions is a substantial part of leadership.  Yet, what I see frequently in organizations are leaders choosing to take the hard road as opposed to the high road when it comes to decision making.  Here’s what I mean.

What I see frequently is a decision making process that looks something like a) decide, b) debate, and c) demand.  We go into discussions having already decided what we think should be done.  Then we debate with one another and debates tend to have winners and losers based on the belief that there is a right and a wrong answer.  That's followed by demanding that our view be the option that is implemented.  Sound familiar? 

The alternative to decide, debate, and demand is to a) discern, b) dialogue, and then c) decide.  In all organizations – large, small, for profit, not-for-profit – we've veered off the path of discernment and dialogue before we make a decision. 

What does it mean to really discern?  One of the definitions of discernment I've come across is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to understanding.  Another way I've heard it stated might be "am I willing to say that I could be wrong."  In Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline he describes preparing for dialogue by "suspending your own assumptions."  He suggests that we visualize our assumptions about an issue as if they were suspended in the air, available for both us and others to observe and assess.  If we are in a state of true discernment, we are more likely come to a decision through truth.

Then instead of engaging in a hearty debate, we create a pool of shared meaning through dialogue.  Crucial Conversations provides an example of dialogue with the acronym, STATE, to state your path. 
  1. Share your facts.  Earn the right to share your story by starting with the facts.  Facts lay the groundwork for all delicate conversations.
  2. Tell your story.  Why share your story in the first place?  It's the facts plus the conclusion that call for a face-to-face dialogue.
  3. Ask for others' paths.  Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
  4. Talk tentatively.  State your story as a story – don't disguise it as a fact.
  5. Encourage testing.  Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.
Once we've spent time in discernment and dialogue, we can make a collective decision that is laced with truth and grace, as opposed to the casualties of debate: winners and losers.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The key to organizational succession: millennials and women.

One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it's almost a non-event when it happens.  ~Anne M. Mulcahy

Succession planning, a term used frequently in organizations.  But what if we were to take the meaning of the word succession seriously?  Synonyms for succession include: series, sequence, chain, and progression.  When I've come across organizational "succession" plans, they feel more like these words: replacement, understudy, substitution, and interruption.

Why does succession feel like a clunky substitution instead of graceful progression?  I think there are a couple of key factors that make succession either graceful or clunky.

First, we've created a culture that encourages leaders to focus more on their personal legacy than the organization's future as they near retirement.  For example, how many leaders could we all name who wanted to retire from the organization with grandeur?  Maybe build a few new buildings, launch a new program or product, raise more money or increase revenues more than any of their predecessors.  I'm guessing that more than a few individuals come to mind. 

This means that while leaders are creating a personal exit worthy of notice, the organization falls off the edge of a cliff because no one was being mentored, coached, or groomed to truly take the helm and lead the organization forward.   

So what if our entire view of succession for leaders looked more like a peak followed by gradual downward mobility that was supporting others’ upward mobility?  It could be something that looked more like a seamless series or progression rather than an abrupt end and reboot for the entire organization.

A second factor that could improve succession planning is thinking more broadly about who can really lead.  We are now well into the 21st century yet many organizations are still being led by men over 50 years of age.  If you're looking for organizational growth, then look to the millennials.  Fast Company recently reported that "Companies with a 30% proportion of young people in higher roles saw 'aggressive growth.'  When it's more like 20%, the companies see 'little to low growth' rates."

Another demographic underutilized in leadership is women.  In the same study, "companies in the top 20% financially had almost twice as many women in leadership roles, as well as more high-potential women holding those roles."

It's 2014, it's time for the boomer men to gracefully step aside, mentor and coach millennials and women, and then take pride in leaving a thriving organization well-positioned for continued (and seamless) success.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are you hiring employees or people?

We thought we hired employees, but people showed up instead.  ~Unknown

I've used this quote frequently with clients; unfortunately, I don't know the original source.  But the sentiment has resonated with clients on many occasions.  While it states the obvious, that the employees we hire are people and consequently bring along all of the talents and trials of working with human beings, we still hope for "employees" to show up on Monday morning.

Simon Sinek takes this concept one step further in Leaders Eat Last. He asks, "If you were having a hard year, would you get rid of one of your children"?  Sinek says, "Being a good leader is like being a good parent.  We want to give those in our care opportunities, education, discipline when necessary, all so they can grow and achieve more than we could for ourselves."

Many of you may be in agreement with all of this, so far.  The example Sinek uses to make his point is a mid-size organization.  When their economic foundation shifted along with every other organization, they chose to look for alternatives to layoffs.  They instituted a four-week mandatory furlough for every employee, top to bottom.  The CEO introduced the strategy and said, "It is better for all of us to suffer a little than for some of us to suffer a lot."  Much like a family wouldn't get rid of one of their children.

I'll admit, I've worked both with and for organizations that came upon hard times and I couldn't see another option but to reduce the workforce, which they did.  So I was a little cynical about  Sinek's perspective (pardon the pun).  If you've never had the pressure of creditors hanging over your head, then it's much easier to say there are alternatives to layoffs.

Then, I read a book that altered my perspective.  In Why Good People Can't Get Jobs Peter Cappelli describes a hiring process problem more than an unemployment problem.  We've taken that "employee" mindset so far that we believe we can craft a detailed and specific job description, run it through a database of hundreds of candidates, and find a perfect match, the perfect employee.  And, since there's a plethora of unemployed people looking for jobs, we can hire and fire, almost as if employees are disposable.  

The term employee is still fairly recent, relatively speaking.  Employee was first used in the U.S. in 1854 referencing railroad workers.  Labor unions began forming soon after, and in the early twentieth century we began using the term "human resources."  

Getting back to Sinek's analogy of getting rid of one of our children, is it time that we start hiring people, and consequently view them more like family members instead of resources?  In some regards that's counter-cultural, because we've been taught to think in an employee mindset.  However, many, if not most of our organizations in the 21st century require a people mindset in order to function effectively.  It's as if our mental perspective hasn't quite caught up with reality.  

We can keep hiring employees, but people are going to keep showing up!  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Are you an empathetic leader?

At its very heart, a business is the beauty of bringing together people and things to make the community better off—these are the businesses we admire.  Empathy is one tool that makes it all happen.  ~Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University

Rita McGrath, professor at Columbia Business School recently authored a post on the HBR Blog Network that very succinctly summarized the history of management into three eras, leading up to the current era of empathy.   The following few paragraphs I excerpted from her blog post.

With the rise of the industrial revolution, management changed.  Along with the new means of production, organizations gained scale.  The focus was wholly on execution of mass production, and managerial solutions such as specialization of labor, standardized processes, quality control, workflow planning, and rudimentary accounting were brought to bear. 
The next major era of management emphasized expertiseThe mid-twentieth century was a period of remarkable growth in theories of management.  Statistical and mathematical insights were forming the basis of the field that would become known as operations management.  Peter Drucker, one of the first management specialists to achieve guru status, was representative of this era. 
Today, we are in the midst of another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist.  If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences.  Management has entered a new era of empathy. 
This would mean figuring out what management looks like when work is done through networks rather than through lines of command, when "work" itself is tinged with emotions, and when individual managers are responsible for creating communities for those who work with them.

So what is empathy?  Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others.  Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings, and understand their needs.

If you're thinking that this view is held by McGrath and few others; I challenge you to do a search on leadership and empathy and you may be surprised at the results.  Here are just a few examples of others who support McGrath's perspective.

"Leadership is about making a positive difference and you cannot do that without empathy."  ~Carly Fiorina (CEO of Carly Fiorina Enterprises and former CEO of HP)

"We are living in a world that, more and more, is driven by rapid change; a world in which every individual needs to be a changemaker.  You cannot afford to have anyone on your team who isn't a changemaker…and one of the qualities you need as a changemaker is empathy." ~Bill Drayton (CEO and founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public and former director at McKinsey & Co.)

This week, let's each make a greater effort to "walk in someone else's shoes" and join the movement toward 21st century leadership.