• How to develop strategies that can’t lose. Being able to evaluate opportunities and threats around the world has to be a fundamental skill and one that is exercised regularly. This is because political, economic, and social issues are different and they change. How different are they? How about new regulations that appear without notice; judicial systems that do not administer justice; economic systems that can’t support the needs of operations, workers, or goods; and social cultural systems that condone corruption.• Managing and motivating employees from different backgrounds. There is a good chance that Employee A from Country A won’t be motivated by the same things as Employee B from Country B. In part, this can be cultural, for example, pitting employee against employee may inspire the competitive spirit in Americans,but contests for individual supremacy can be culturally offensive for many others. Or, it may be regulatory. In the United States, it’s relatively simple to terminate an underperforming employee. In many countries, it will cost a fortune and even require external approvals.• Traditional decisions on the 4Ps are being turned on their head. American managers have always preferred to build innovative/different products overproducts that are the lowest cost. But, this option will often be unavailable in the newest attractive markets. Besides competing on cost, there is the challenge of getting paid without credit. How do you promote products to people who read at a basic level, or in countries where there are many official languages? How can products be delivered on time when roads are primitive and airports inadequate?• Reading financial statements. What if financial data is unreliable due to cultural inclinations, political machinations, or manual reporting systems? Gone are the days of blindly valuing what comes in black and white.• A strong moral compass. Operating within unfamiliar, unpredictable places can make it challenging to distinguish the gold mines from the land mines. Some cultures will see bribery, the concealment of data, and quality shortcuts as business as usual. Today’s leaders know that a strong moral compass is the only reliable navigator of behaviors and decisions.
This guest post is an excerpt from “Judgment on the Front Line: How Smart Companies Win By Trusting Their People,” by Noel M. Tichy and Chris DeRose. They have advised CEOs worldwide and worked with Royal Dutch Shell, Ford Motor, 3M and Hewlett-Packard.
The popularity of CBS’ reality TV show “Undercover Boss” is rooted in a simple, if not always convenient, truth: Many CEOs have little actual knowledge of how work gets done in their organizations.
They lack an appreciation for the conduct and skills required of front-line workers, who all too frequently perform repetitive and strenuous tasks day in and day out, at an infinitesimal fraction of a CEO’s compensation. In one typical episode, Joe DePinto, a former Army officer, a West Point graduate and the CEO of the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, openly vows to go “on an undercover mission to find out what’s really happening inside my company. By working on the front line, I’ll learn about the good and the bad, which will ultimately change the way I manage the company.”
While much of the comic undertone of this Emmy-nominated reality show is derived from a senior manager’s incompetence at performing routine tasks, nearly every episode of “Undercover Boss” ends the same way: The CEO solemnly vows to change his perception, to institute policies and procedures designed to improve their lot and to manage his company differently based on the lessons learned.
Leadership in a front-line-focused organization
Surely there must be a better way to keep an organization’s CEO in touch with front-line employees than having the boss spy on them incognito.
The importance of ensuring that CEOs and senior managers maintain a communication pipeline with front-line workers is greater than ever. Not only can they validate whether a strategy is working in practice, but they are also able to pick up subtle cues about changes in customer behaviors that should influence the refinement and evolution of any given strategy.
Yet what gives this “reality” show bite is that there are so many challenges to providing a CEO with real, unfiltered feedback from the front line, not least of which is the fact that when the head honcho comes to town, many people suddenly feel inspired to do their best work. Layer on top of this the combination of awe and fear that the person sitting atop the organizational pyramid typically inspires in those near the bottom, and the multiple barriers to facilitating an open two-way conversation between senior management and the front line become readily apparent.
If CEOs and senior leaders don’t create routines for understanding customer needs through the eyes of front-line workers, they run the risk of creating strategies that can’t be put into operational practice. Building a business model that is aligned with customer needs is only a fraction of senior leaders’ responsibility. Once customer needs are identified, CEOs and senior leaders must work backward from the moment of truth — when customers and front-line employees find themselves face to face. They must imagine what the ideal customer interaction will look like and ask where breakdowns may occur throughout the process, from generating customer awareness to building post-sale relationships.
Unlike “Undercover Boss,” however, we don’t advocate that CEOs try to do the jobs of their front-line workers. Before settling on a strategy, senior leaders need to design an organization that is prepared to execute, or at least be aware of the limitations of the organization as necessary changes are being implemented.
In a front-line-focused organization, senior leaders have five primary responsibilities.
- Define a customer-based vision. First, they must set the vision and define a customer- based strategy for the organization. The accountability for where to compete, against whom to compete and how to differentiate an organization in the marketplace ultimately rests with the CEO. Senior leaders must mobilize organizational expertise to craft a customer-value proposition that matches the product and service capabilities to what the organization can deliver.
- Develop a front-line-focused culture. Second, the leaders must create a culture of front-line focus. This starts with the leaders’ personal attitudes and behaviors: They must deeply care about the opportunities their organization affords front-line employees and they must sincerely respect the importance of their insight. Senior leaders who respect the potential insight that can come from any individual can infect their organizations with their deep-seated respect for people. They are hierarchically positioned to embed values and model leadership behaviors that ensure their organizations actively consider the needs of those on the front line and learn from their experiences. They also have the power to define the organizational structure, job designs, customer policies and work environment to enable those on the front line.
- Obsess over talent. While they deeply respect views that come from anywhere in the organization, these leaders also know that they will win only by having the best talent and the right kind of leadership at the customer interface. They are hard-nosed about the recruitment and hiring process, not content to leave this to human resources or middle management to work out. Not only do they protect the front doors of their organizations with a watchdog mentality, but they also ensure that training and support systems are in place to teach newcomers how to be successful with customers.
- Define the judgment playing field. Armed with a customer-based strategy, front-line-focused culture, and the right players, these leaders actively define the judgment playing field for their teams. They define the boundaries for employee decision making, clarifying when front-line leaders can act autonomously and which issues are outside of their authority. When employees are empowered to act, senior leaders ensure that they are equipped with the right resources to make good judgments on behalf of the business and in the interest of the customer.
- Live on the line. Leaders — especially the top leadership — need to go where the action is. They must interact with workers at the customer interface to understand whether the front line feels capable of executing the strategy. Front-line-focused leaders do far more listening than talking when they are in the field.
More importantly, this is a reality check in which leaders try to understand at a deep level.
- Are individual employees committed to our organization, our mission and our customers?
- Are we incorporating all of our knowledge about customers to meet or exceed their expectations?
- Are we providing our employees the right tools, resources and work environment to create value for customers without unnecessary bureaucracy or delay?
Take a good hard look at your organization and ask yourself: Is your company front-line focused?
In the old days, companies did branding and people did leading. Not so today. Nowadays, if you want to get into or stay in leadership and other positions of influence, you must have a personal brand.
In our overwhelmed world, brands — personal and commercial — consolidate the information consumers, clients and hiring committees need to know about us and our products into intuitively understandable packages that are memorable and valuable (or not). To make things more confusing, because commercial branding is more important in our noisy marketplace, leaders who never needed to know anything about branding before — CFOs and VPs of engineering, for example — today must be conversant in how branding affects their careers as well as companies.
If you’re not careful in all this brand happiness, you might accidentally start trying to brand yourself like a bar of soap or brand your company’s bar of soap like a personality. While there’s a little value in both those approaches, beware the differences or you’ll drive away two markets at once.
What do personal and commercial brands have in common?
Even in the olden times, we had “personal branding,” but it was called something else — “reputation.” Products and companies have reputations, too, and in this truism is the common ground between our professional identities and the widgets and thingamajigs we work so hard to profit from.
Branding can be hard to grasp because it isn’t a line item in the financials. Even though you can do market research to try to quantify its equity, it’s still hard to prove a brand’s value because you can’t scientifically test the alternative to your brand (i.e., your market value without your brand/reputation). All very wishy-washy, but in the valuation business, at least, there are multiples for brand equity and several public indices for trying to quantify it.
The wishy-washiness is unavoidable, however, because you don’t control your brand equity — your audience does. At the end of the day, a brand isn’t what you mean it to be, it’s what those who interact with it believe, feel and experience when they deal with the branded thing. All you control is what that you present to them.
This is the key to all branding, tall and small. Brands are successful when they stand for something meaningful to their audience and are consistent in this meaning. They have soul, which makes them trustworthy and believable.
That’s it. That’s the secret sauce. Learn this and you and your soap will profit from a strong brand.
How is your personal brand different from your soap’s brand?
To stop at that commonality would be to make the mistake too many leaders do. Having spent more than 15 years in marketing, and branded any number of commercial products and services, I can tell you that the most frequent branding mistake executives make is to equate their logo with their brand.
Soap sales go south and the CEO starts casting about for a new logo and new messaging, crying, “The market just doesn’t understand us.” She or he turns to the marketing chief and tosses some money on the table to hire a big firm to come up with a magic color splotch, a new soap box and a new website. Sometimes this is too little, too late. Quite often, the market understands better than the leadership that the soap has lost its way. It’s lost its meaning and its soul.
And why shouldn’t it? Soap has no soul. A product’s only meaning is the meaning we give it. A company, a product, a business doesn’t have a soul. But people do. People choose what we stand for and what our businesses and products stand for as well. Aligned in what we stand for, we collectively give power to our brands through the culture we create with our decisions and behavior. Misaligned, we throw money at color splotches and deprive the people who give meaning to the brand the chance to be associated with something powerful and bigger than themselves.
The difference between you and the soap you sell is that you choose what you stand for. The soap can only ever be the soap. You, by contrast, can and will be many things in life and your career. You can and will stand for many things. Good leaders know this, and good companies want this in their leaders. They want their leaders to stand for something more than soap.
The question is, what do you stand for and do you take that stand consciously and consistently? How does your soul lead you in leading your company? How does your most fundamental uniqueness contribute meaning to your life and your business?
These are hard questions to answer even for the most self-aware (and the best leaders are self-aware). I encourage you to contemplate this until you can take a considered stand for yourself and for your soap. I invite you to take the personal leadership journey into your most authentic self, and emerge with the clarity to craft your personal brand so it becomes the power behind your success, regardless of the brands of soap you stand for during your career.
Read more blogs at SmartBlog on Leadership
For a business to grow and be profitable, business wisdom has shown that there are five key elements that will promote and sustain growth within a business.
These five key elements are frequently talked about in many businesses, but they are only implemented when people are willing to change the traditional ways and embrace the positive aspects of these five key elements for business growth.
Read more blog posts at More Success For Business Leaders
Last week, we asked: How deep is the bench strength in your organization?
- Great. We have solid succession plans in place with lots of great players: 7.67%
- OK. We have high potential candidates identified for the most critical positions: 32.63%
- Marginal. We do a mediocre job of building our talent base: 39.48%
- Poor. Our bench is pretty bare and we lack solid succession plans: 20.23%
Be ready to lose your stars. Clearly we’re not doing enough to build and maintain bench strength. Part of the problem is we see talent losses as long-term risks until that person quits and puts us in a pinch. We also see the talent pipeline as HR’s challenge and problem to solve. Wrong. Your job as a leader is to be grooming that next team of superstars. Because you will lose the members of your team eventually. The real task of leadership is to grow more leaders.
Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS and author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership.”
How deep is the bench strength in your organization? originally published by SmartBlogs
Do you want to get your business off to a fresh start in 2013? Focus on the issues your employees hate. There’s always a good reason for their discontent, and their gripes will reliably point you toward ways you can improve your leadership. Here are seven things employees hate and the quick lessons leaders can learn from them.
Employees hate surprises.
Employees like to know what they’re getting into; they want to get through a busy day without having to guess what mood the boss is in or what new changes in the schedule are going to be handed down after lunch. Lesson to leaders: Turn the core value of transparency into everyday behaviors — you’ll have an ongoing dialogue with employees, and everyone will be on the same playing field at all times.
Employees hate unfairness.
Employees hate when a manager or leader operates by his or her own set of rules, but demands a different set of standards for them. They hate when one individual or a team is a perceived favorite. Lesson to leaders: In your professional and private behavior, be a role model for your employees. Be consistent in how you administer rules and consequences for when those rules aren’t followed — and demand the same of all managers.
Employees hate unclear goals.
Employees hate when grand goals are announced from leadership but they have no way of knowing what, specifically, is expected of them. For example, a manager makes an announcement that she intends to reduce costs in her department by 10%, but then leaves employees to figure out how to cut corners. Lesson to leaders: Make certain that for every business objective, you involve employees in coming up with concrete procedures and behaviors that will contribute to achieving it.
Employees hate policy disconnects.
Employees hate when there’s a gap between official rules and the informal ways people go actually about their work each day. For example, an organization establishes best practices for particular processes and procedures, but then skimps on them because of budget or scheduling pressures. Lesson to leaders: Have a hard look at the social norms of your company culture to make sure that formal rules and the way those roles get carried out are in sync.
Employees hate empty talk.
Employees hate when leaders don’t do what they say they’re going to do. Nothing frustrates employees more than having critical matters sit undecided because a leader, often offsite, hasn’t gotten around to making a decision. Lesson to leaders: If you say it, be accountable and do it. And empower your managers. Employees want managers to have the authority to make decisions that affect their work groups, and they want those managers to step up and make those decisions.
Employees hate being lectured on values.
Leaders don’t need to tell employees which values they need to have. The majority of employees already have the right values, such as integrity, transparency, commitment, fairness and teamwork. Lesson to leaders: Your job as a leader is to remove the roadblocks that stand in the way of your employees living those values at work. If integrity is a core value, for example, then make sure that employees are rewarded for reporting problems rather than intimidated.
Employees hate isolated leaders.
Even in organizations that have rock star CEOs, employees tend to harbor resentment when they feel that their leader is out of touch with the “real” people who are keeping the company going day-to-day and the real issues going on. Lesson to leaders: If you stay inside your ivory tower, pretty soon people will start telling you what you want to hear, rather than what’s really happening. Create safe ways for others to express concerns and report contrary views. Appoint a “devil’s advocate” to bring up hard truths at meetings.
David Gebler is the founder and president of Skout Group, a consultancy that helps companies evaluate the cost-effectiveness and scandal-potential of their corporate cultures. He’s a lawyer specializing in business ethics and has written two books on value-based cultures, including his latest, “The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance” (2012, Jossey-Bass).
Read more great blogs on SmartBlog
SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring Dave Rahill, president of health and benefits at Mercer. View the video here.
With employees taking on more of the financial responsibility of benefits and having more options, it is the responsibility of employers to make sure workers are educated and understand the different choices, says Dave Rahill, Mercer’s president of health and benefits. “In our view, there’s a lot of education that has to take place, and it’s very similar to the type of education that many employers engaged in as they moved from a defined benefit plan and pensions to a defined contribution in pensions,” he says.
During the past two decades, an aging population and increasing benefit costs have caused employers to ask more of employees financially, and they have shifted from the concept of defined benefits to defined contributions, Rahill says. This makes it important for employees to know how to manage their benefits and assess their risks.
However, Rahill says most employees value immediate benefits, such as paid time off, more than benefits that might have more significant long-term value, which is the reason it is important for employers to make sure employees understand their benefit choices. “And we don’t think employees are making the best choices in the world when they’re taking that immediate benefit and valuing it over a long-term benefit that would be much more valuable to them and their families over time … a retirement benefit or a health benefit,” Rahill says.
- How To Stay Sane. A Q&A With Philippa Perry
- Reinventing Math for the Computational Knowledge Economy
- Big Data is Neutral: A Tool for Both Good and Evil
Helping employees make smart decisions about their benefits originally published by SmartBlogs
Peer leadership requires conviction that the person in charge is one whom you trust and are willing to follow even though that person has no authority over you. So why believe?
Leading those who can say “no” to you is always a huge challenge, but if you can convince them by your actions and your enthusiasm, then they might believe in what you are doing.
Read more great blogs at SmartBlog on Leadership
When I left my corporate job years ago for the risky business of starting something on my own, several people asked me if I was afraid. To me, it was an odd question because I saw myself as headed on a new adventure that stretched me and used my strengths and passion. These were things I’d always valued in the work I did.
Yet when I considered the question about fear and became curious about what was behind it, I realized that the point others were making to me had to do with financial security. They were wondering how I might feel about leaving the security of a regular and substantial paycheck, benefits, and other financial perks of working for a large company.
Although I can’t deny that I had some passing thoughts about that (especially when people reminded me that I should be fearful!), money has never been a big motivator for me. I realized years ago that my motivator (passion) is to make a difference in the lives of leaders, and I couldn’t see my way to that in the corporate situation I was in.
I was ready to leave my corporate post. Yet, then and now, I believe it’s possible to find a way to affect others in a positive way wherever you are, especially as a corporate leader. I find that many leaders have a passion toward making a difference in the lives of their followers. In fact, as a leader, it is your responsibility to find passion in the work you do and to help others to find theirs.
Affecting the lives of your followers is a big part of what you do, and for many, it’s the place where you’ll derive the most satisfaction. It’s also the key to results for your organization.
You see, when you affect your followers in a positive way, you promote:
Confidence. It would be rare for you to hear someone admit that they don’t have self-confidence. But if you listen closely, you’ll be able to hear doubts. When you observe, you may be able to see someone holding back, not using their full potential. Letting them know that you have confidence in their ability by what you say (thanking them for a job well done) and do (allowing them the freedom to achieve goals their way) will build them up and make them stronger as individuals.
Development. A leader’s job isn’t to do the work for their followers but to help them to think about how best to get the work done. There is always a way, even when they get stuck. It isn’t your job to find that way but to help them to find the way. When you do, they learn and develop. They get better so that the next time they learn to think for themselves.
Team strength. By being the catalyst to help your team connect and work together, you’ve helped them to strengthen. By not tolerating poor performers and by promoting (in word and deed) good performers, you’ve removed barriers to team success. By modeling all of the important behaviors of leaders — listening, encouragement, communicating the vision, holding people accountable (to name a few) — you’ve shown others that by holding yourself to high standards, you expect them to follow suit.
Motivation rarely comes in a paycheck; money is one of those basic needs that helps us to clothe, feed, and shelter ourselves and our loved ones. If you are a corporate leader, don’t confuse having a regular paycheck with what motivates you. Find a way to make a difference to others; this is where your fulfillment comes from. When your followers have confidence, are learning and are part of a strong team, the business results will follow.
Having trouble coming up with a good New Year’s leadership resolution? Here’s a list of 10 to pick from. These are things that leaders know they should do but often don’t. Don’t overdo it — just pick one and commit to it.
Feel free to submit your own in the comments section — there’s nothing like a public declaration to hold yourself accountable.
For 2013, I’m going to:
1. Develop a charter for my team or organization. The charter will include our purpose (or mission), our vision, our values, long-term (two to three years) goals, objectives, and action plans. I’ll involve my team and other stakeholders in the development of the charter, make sure it’s communicated clearly and consistently, and follow up on a regular basis to track progress, revise, and celebrate achievements.
2. Reach out to someone who helped me become the leader I am today. I’ll write a letter, or maybe even pay a visit, and let them know specifically what they did and why it was so important for me.
3. Schedule and hold regular one-on-ones with each of my team members. We’ll use that time to discuss concerns, opportunities, progress on goals and development; celebrate achievements; or just touch base on what’s going on in our busy lives. If I have a conflict, I won’t cancel the meeting — instead I’ll reschedule it.
4. Decide what’s important to me as a leader — what I stand for and why. I’ll share this with others and consistently act in a way that demonstrates these values and beliefs.
5. Be more accountable. I’ll admit my mistakes, fix them, learn from them, and stop pointing fingers or placing blame.
6. Improve my presentation skills and the way I communicate. I’ll take a course, join Toastmasters, hire a coach, practice, and get feedback from others.
7. Listen more and better. I’m going to seek to understand the other person’s point of view and emotions and force myself not to evaluate, judge, or offer my own point of view until I am sure I have understood theirs.
8. Get feedback on my leadership skills. I’ll take a multi-rater assessment or figure out some other ways to get an accurate assessment as to how I am perceived by others.
9. Mentor someone. I’ll make myself available to help someone else become even better than me. If not someone at work, I’ll volunteer my time to an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters.
10. Be more innovative. I’m going to look for possibilities and ask “why not” and “what if.” I’ll take a course or read a book on what it takes to be an innovative leader, and pick two or three things to implement and practice.
Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire. He writes the award-winning leadership-development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBlog on Leadership. E-mail McCarthy.