When Processing Feedback, Apply the 'Rule of 1%'

Are you getting feedback on a regular basis as a leader?  If you are a CEO, is your senior leadership team comfortable giving you feedback?  Are you getting feedback from your board?  How are you handling it?

What does it feel like when you get negative feedback?  For me, sometimes I can get defensive.  It can depend on the subject, and on my own emotional state and level of stress at the time, but more often than not my tendency is to be defensive.

Customer Experience Defines Your Brand

Good leaders understand that an inspirational Vision, supported by enduring Core Values, with Goals that are in alignment with the current mission are all critical factors in a successful organization. They understand why they do what they do, and are clear about their purpose.

The Value of Respect

Barron’s recently published results from its annual survey of institutional investors about their views of the world’s top 100 companies, based on market cap as of May 12, 2014. This cross section of U.S. money managers ranked companies on the basis of 1. Strong management, 2. Ethical business practices, 3. Sound business strategy, 4. Competitive edge, and 5. Product Innovation. Barron’s has been conducting this survey since 2005, and uses a numerical scale relating to four statements of Highly Respect , Respect, Respect Somewhat, and Don’t respect.

Radical Empowerment…Exponential Growth

Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store has a system of onboarding that is revolutionary.

Tindell is author of Uncontainable, How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives. Training is a large part of The Container Store’s onboarding process, where new employees receive nearly 300 hours of education and training, compared to a retail industry average of 8 hours. As a result of the investment, The Container Store has a following of devoted customers who love to shop there, and who tell others of their experience.

Great Workplace Cultures. A Professional Services Sector Study

This month Fortune Magazine featured two articles on culture trends in the professional services sector.  In the first, '20 Companies with Great Workplace Culture', authors Ed Frauenheim and Kim Peters describe characteristics of a great place to work within the sector.  The second, which lists the 20 Companies, is based on a survey of 255,200 employees, and is titled 'Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services.' by Christopher Tkaczyk.

It's Not About the Fish. A Unique Customer Experience at Seattle's Pike Place Market

One of my favorite fresh food stands in Seattle is The Pike Place Fish Market just West of Downtown.  I love to stand and watch as customers begin to experience their offerings from the salt waters of Puget Sound, brought in fresh each day from the last original hunters and gatherers, the fishing fleet based in nearby Ballard.

The seafood is displayed carefully with great pride on ice.  Anyone who has been there remembers the colorful display of salmon, crab, shrimp, other finfish and bottom fish, and lots of Oysters.  If you wish to ship your prized purchase home, the Fish Market Guys will carefully wrap your 'catch', pack it in dry ice, and send it to your destination. 

Leading Your On-Boarding Process

Are your on-boarding processes functioning well?  Are they used strategically to introduce new employees to the systems and mechanisms used in your organization designed to accomplish the goals and deliver a remarkable customer experience?  Are you as a CEO involved in the process?  If not, you need to be.

Open Book Management. Transparency that Works

The Great Game of Business is a company whose origins were from the Springfield Re-manufacturing Corp, (SRC).  For those who do not know about Jack Stack and Springfield Re-manufacturing, I will be writing more about this great story of American Manufacturing ingenuity in future posts.  Suffice it to say, Jack Stack and his smokestack industrial Midwest manufacturing companies are the real deal.  Key learning from the SRC story are all rolled up into an Open Book Management Concept they call the Great Game of Business, and it is an awesome system to utilize if you want your company to succeed and thrive for decades to come.

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

What is your company’s culture?  How would you describe it?  Are you able to say that everyone in your company understands what you mean by culture?  Are they completely aligned with it?  Do you communicate it during your recruiting, interviewing, hiring, on-boarding and training of all employees?

A Tale of Three Cultures

A definition of culture that I like is from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, Built to Last, and numerous other books and articles … Culture is a combination of core values, core purpose, combined with the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is a very aggressive stretch goal set for a long timeframe.  Another is what people are saying about their company to others, including customers.  Culture is either intentional by active design and promotion, alive in the organization and cause for continued operations, or it is unintentional and largely ignored by passive default.

Most companies have two cultures.  The first is the one reflected by your view of the world as a CEO.  It is written on your website, and discussed in your annual retreat.  It is a corporate worldview that may be shared by your Senior Leadership Team.  However you have a big problem if that view of culture is not shared by the majority of employees in your company, who are actively supporting Culture #2.

Culture #1.

  • Developed at the annual strategy retreat by the senior team a number of years ago.
  • Mission, Vision, and Core Values written on a sign on the conference room wall.
  • Posted on the website, and sometimes on the back of business cards.
  • Descriptive words are similar to Integrity, Quality, Innovation, Responsive, Customer Focused.
  • Listed on certain company documents, like an employment intake form, to be signed after reading indicating the new employee has read and understands the mission and vision statements, and agrees with the core values shown on the conference room wall.
  • Not frequently communicated, or clearly understood or remembered by anyone in the company
  • A somewhat cloudy vision of culture the leader believes exists in the company.
  • Something that is separate from day to day operations.
  • Not used as a strategic differentiator, recruiting tool, or weapon with which to dominate markets.

Culture #2

  • Informal, default, risk averse, and protective of the status quo.
  • Alive in the organization at levels below the senior team.
  • Unwritten, but clearly understood by all employees, at levels below the senior team.
  • Accepting of triangulation, where it’s ok for folks to talk about others when they are not present.
  • Completely different than the words used by the leaders to describe it.
  • Protective of the group, who desires a paycheck for time spent working each day.
  • Promotes job security, and a strategy that says ‘Don’t rock the boat’.
  • Confused by efforts of leadership to enforce Culture #1, which few if any understand.

Culture #3

  • Could be a blend between #1 and #2
  • Could be something entirely new and different, but clearly understood, adopted, and promoted by all employees.
  • Should be used as a competitive advantage in recruiting talent and acquiring customers.

With culture #1, you will have difficulty scaling your business, and will be stuck and frustrated each day working ‘in’ the business instead of ‘on’ it.  And employees will not have the same view of culture that you as the leader and your Senior Team have if you do not consistently and frequently communicate the core values and core purpose, and BHAG of your company to others.

  • If your company’s culture looks like culture #1, then you are not consistently and frequently communicating the purpose and core values, and your goals.  The generic words you have written on the conference room wall have no viability and are basically useless.  In fact, having two cultures takes a lot of energy to manage, drains the organization of creativity and innovation, and creates tension.  It definitely hurts your credibility as a CEO.

If this resonates with you, it is a problem… your problem.  You created it, and you need to fix it.  Your big job is to create a new culture, one we’ll call Culture #3.  Culture #3 could be a bridge between what you would like to have as a culture, your ideal state, and what actually exists within your firm.

My guess is that if you don't do something about it, your company will be challenged to be relevant going forward.

I would like to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to connect and we can discuss how to create a high performing culture you would be proud of.

9 Authentic Leadership Lessons from @Bill_George

Bill George is worth listening to if you have an interest in building a trust culture, and growing your market cap. He should know. During his tenure as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of medical device firm Medtronic, (NYSE MDT) market cap increased from $1 billion to $60 billion. PBS named Bill George as one of the top 25 CEO's over the past 25 years.

Authentic Leadership, Anyone?

Fortune Magazine has been on my regular reading list for at least the past four decades.  Articles published by Fortune are generally timely, instructive, useful, thought provoking, and written by terrific authors.  I attend the semiannual Fortune Growth and Leadership Summits, co-hosted by Vern Harnish and Gazelles Coaches International, where I listen to terrific speakers and network with mid-market entrepreneurs, CEO’s and other growth coaches and advisors.

Last week, Fortune published an article by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  My takeaway from this article, and a key point with which I strongly disagree, is that In communicating with others in your organization, being authentic, is a deterrent to getting ahead.  Compromising who you are as a person is more important than standing up for what you believe.  A communicating style that is authentic and transparent is to be discarded in favor of just ‘blowin in the wind’, borrowing a line from the great folk musical trio Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Keeping our jobs is more important than being current and authentic, according to Professor Pfeffer.  He reports that 'leaders need to be pragmatic—to say and do what is required to obtain and hold onto power and to accomplish their objectives.'  In my view this type of communication behavior only prolongs the pain in organizations where employees are often uncertain and confused when they see ambiguous and compromised messaging coming from their leadership.

Authenticity is the currency of the internet.  Organizations will follow their leaders, good or bad.  Bad leadership will sink a company, and leadership needs to be trustworthy, honest, and predictable.  People working in the organization need to be closely aligned with the culture.  One or two wrong moves by leadership, or messaging that is confusing and inconsistent may cause loss of trust, and employee turnover, or loss of valuable customers.

Being authentic and transparent with others is crucial to progress with a team and essential when the business is rapidly scaling.  When dealing with conflict, being clear and authentic will yield a higher quality result more rapidly.  Truth is critical to building trust on a team, and trust needs to be in place before conflicts can be worked out.  Dealing with the truth will absolutely get to the desired outcome more rapidly than not.

The author goes on to say that 'the ability to subordinate one’s views and feelings is a critical skill for advancing and surviving in the workplace.'  If this is the default cultural state of affairs in any company, the chances of that company succeeding in the marketplace competing for customers, or for talent, is slim to none.  He quotes INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra as follows: “By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that … suits our organizations’ changing needs.”

As a business growth coach, I work with many clients who have major problems in their organizations because they are not authentic, behaving instead like the Chameleon, changing colors and adapting as Professor Ibarra suggests.  I suggest that if we are not sure of what we stand for, then we stand for nothing, and that is a sure recipe for disaster.

Authenticity as a Differentiator

Can the authentic behavior of a CEO or senior leader be a strategic differentiator?

In a word, YES, however it’s a little more complicated than just saying you are authentic or transparent within your work relationships.  If you are the CEO, or a member of the Senior Team, your job is to communicate authentically, showing your people what you do, how you do it, constantly demonstrating with your words and actions about your core values and core purpose.  Done well, this can truly be a differentiator in the competitive marketplace.

A Living Passion for the Vision

Are you passionate about your work as a leader?  You know the answer, and what may come as a surprise, so does your team.  If you aren’t, you may be frustrated, ineffective, and struggling to get results.  It may be the reason you are not making progress.

Leaders need to have a passion for their work, and have a vision for their organization, exuding the essence of it in all thoughts and expressions to all stakeholders, at all times.   S/he needs to be passionate and stay focused like a laser on bridging the gap that exists between that vision, and the mission…what the company actually does day to day.

The Turnaround. Part 3 of 3

In one turnaround I was leading, a member of the senior leadership team was always in agreement with everything we discussed and pleasant to be around, but was quietly and effectively undermining my efforts to discover variances that were causing waste numbers to be excessively high. His department was causing the problem by using materials that were over specification because the correct inventory was not available when needed to meet order lead times.  This senior manager didn’t want to spend the time or energy to solve it. Instead he tried to bury the data with evasive maneuvers.  His passive/aggressive behavior proved not only costly to the company, but fatal to his career.

The Turnaround. Part 2 of 3

Strategy can emerge from a gap analysis illustrating where you are currently, your mission, vs your vision of where you want to be. Strategies, goals and objectives can all be set once the mission and vision are identified and agreed upon, and those strategies must be in alignment with the mission, and the organizations overall vision. Its extremely important to identify a unifying strategy(s) and to gain buy – in from all stakeholders in the value chain, and that includes customers, suppliers, employees, bank, and board.

The Turnaround. Part 1 of 3

Congratulations!  You’ve just been hired as CEO of a company in deep financial trouble. The ownership and board of directors have given you free reign to do your job, and you feel up to the task of leading the effort, but you have limited time to turn this ship around, and get it moving in a different more profitable direction.

What will be your plan starting Monday, your first day on the new job… the first month…the first six months. How will you evaluate and manage the company and its processes.  How will you engage with the customers?

Three Questions for Leaders

Roselinde Torres, in a recent TED talk, describes a new 21st Century world which is global, digitally enabled, transparent, with faster speeds of information flow and innovation, and where nothing big gets done without some sort of a complex matrix. Ms. Torres suggests that leadership is defined by three important questions that we should be considering for ourselves as leaders, and for those whom we lead.

A Culture of Innovation

Innovation can be iterative and lineal, as in re-engineering a product component or a work process. It can also be transformational, when entirely new technologies are discovered, such as life changing medical devices like the pacemaker, the Cochlear Implant, or the personal computer. Others come to mind, such as the automobile, or the internet.

Are You a Passionate Leader?

Are you passionate about your work as a leader?  You know the answer, and what may come as a surprise, so does your team.  If you aren’t, you may be frustrated, ineffective, and struggling to get results.  It may be the reason you are not making progress.