An Execution Lesson for Business – Compliments of the Military

McChrystal

Planning is important. Training is important. People knowing what the goal is, and the actions necessary to attain the goal is critical.  But great planning and training is not enough to beat your competition.  Companies spend millions each year doing both. The infamous “strat plans”, and training sessions, and off-sites all take time and money. Yet the list of companies that actually execute on their plans and achieve their goals is a much shorter list than those that fail. So what’s the lesson that business can take from the military when it comes to successfully executing a strategy? The answer is organization.

A well-trained employee (solider) can not be effective operating in an unorganized environment.  A fairly trained employee operating in a highly organized environment can be very successful.

Current military leaders suggest that an enemy who is well-organized – regardless of training – is the enemy to be feared.  Likewise, companies with strong organizations, processes, infrastructure, and culture of execution, will take the talent they have and win nearly every time.  This understanding is summed up by the great management consultant Peter Drucker who said, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.  It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

Are you organized?  Is your company?  Your department?  Do you have goals that are clear and understood by your entire team?  Have your “organized” your business around meeting those goals? Or have you simply created a new goal to execute within an existing organizational structure?

Goals change each year.  Sometimes more often depending on circumstances.  That’s the nature of business.  If all you do is change the goal without organizing you business around the specifics of that goal you’re bound to fail.  The old saying, “what got you here won’t get you there” will prove correct.  Take the time to test your goals against your current organization structure.  Chances are you’ll quickly identify gaps in your structure that may prevent or hinder the achievement of those goals.  Act quickly to identify them and address them.  Once you do…you’re on your way to successfully executing your plan.

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Forget Company Culture and Focus on Chemistry

chemistry

In a recent blog post titled Can You Tell if Your Culture Is Broken?, I shared some insights on how someone inside a company could recognize a breakdown in their company’s culture. That disconnect between what you say you are, versus what you really are; the old, perception-versus-reality dilemma.  And yet for all the hype given to the importance of “culture” why is it there are so many mismatches between employees and employers?  The reason is due to the lack of chemistry, not culture.

You work with people not an organism.

We’re all different. We have different backgrounds, different experiences, likes, dislikes, and preferences.  Each of us have our own unique personalities.  What excites and interests me, may be totally boring to you.  Things that scare me might energize or thrill you. That’s what makes the world go around.

Yet it’s so commonplace to find signs on company walls, or pages on company websites dedicated to touting its culture.  Or better yet, how many of you have seen the big screen TVs in lobby areas that state the mission, vision and value statements of the company?  Some companies go to extreme lengths to tell the world how wonderful they are. But saying so doesn’t make it so.  People make up a culture.  A culture is a living breathing thing, made up of individual personalities. It’s not static.  It’s not permanent.  It evolves. It’s people.

In Doris Kearns book Team of Rivals, she talks about how Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with a variety of individuals.  Many, if not most, were opposed to Lincoln’s thinking on slavery, the war, and exactly how much power he had as President over the states.  While I’m not a betting man, if I were to be, I would have bet against Lincoln’s experiment working.  Then again, I would have completely underestimated his leadership abilities to bring people together and accomplish great things.  The challenge of course was one of chemistry.  How do you put together so many different personalities and get them to jell…to be effective working together?  The answer is leadership.

Whether you’re assessing the chemistry between you and your boss, your peers, or the team that supports you, pay close attention to your intuition.  How do you feel when you’re connecting or interacting with them?  Does it feel natural?  Forced?  Valuable?  Do you feel like you can accomplish anything working with them, or do you feel as if nothing will work, nothing will be good enough?  Is that little voice saying “you’re so lucky to be here”, or “keep a keen eye open”?

No matter what the sign says in the lobby, or how many values your company posts on its website, it all comes down to chemistry.  Can you jell?  Chances are you won’t struggle to get along with Integrity, Innovation, and Accountability.  Instead your challenge will be with Jack, Jill, and Jane Doe. Take the time to acknowledge your intuition.  We were all given the hairs on the back of our necks for a reason.  It’s not about optimism or pessimism.  It’s about being pragmatic.  Recognizing your reality and taking the appropriate action.

Keep your focus on people.  Forget about the sign on the wall.

 

Can You Tell If Your Culture Is Broken?

broken

Sales are down, customers are complaining and the board is losing patience.  You say you have a brand problem.  People aren’t aware enough, confident enough, or convicted enough to buy what you’re offering.  Why?

Is it because your marketing budget isn’t big enough?  Maybe you’re not running enough ads?  Or perhaps you haven’t paid enough attention to SEO and key words?  It could be some of these things, or maybe all of them.  I’d be willing to bet it might be something entirely different.  It might be your culture.

What you produce is a direct reflection of who you are, how you act, and what you value.  These are the things that make up a company’s culture.  They’re the sticky things, the messy things, the complicated things.  They are the ingredients that many executives (notice I didn’t say leaders), shy away from addressing.

I’ve read literally hundreds of company websites that proudly talk about their culture using words they refer to as their “values”.  They advertise these words like awards, placing them on a shelf like a trophy.  Inside the company however is a different realty.

Years ago I had a boss tell me, “if you have to put your values on a website they have no value”.  She further explained that “saying something is so, doesn’t make it so.”  I agree.  If, as an example, you list integrity as a value then what does it mean for the companies who don’t list integrity?  Does that mean they’re bad, or operate dishonestly?  Do you really need to say you value operating in a truthful manner?

I’ve seen countless companies where there is a disconnect between the stated values and the real culture.  The employees know it.  They see it.  They’re living it.  They’re wondering if anyone else notices the disconnect.  They become numb to the words because that’s all they are …just words.  Instead they watch actions.  They look for proof.  When they can’t find proof to validate the words the culture cracks.  It becomes fractured.  It fails to deliver a delightful experience to the customer because the delivery mechanism – the employees – is fractured.

Leaders hit this challenge head on.  Leaders are not afraid to tackle the hard stuff, the sensitive stuff, the messy stuff.  They stand in front of the company leaning forward, and take complete responsibility for the disconnect.  They own it.  They believe it’s their job to fix it, no one else’s.  They’re a leader.

The leader knows that fixing something, or improving it, begins with honestly.  They know that to make a positive impact they must be able to be honest with their team.  The team is too smart to misled.  They know the deal.  They’re listening for the truth, not fluff.  Only then will the team rally.  Only then will the team consider the remarkable.  Only then is the delivery of a delightful experience possible.  Until then…the broken culture is incapable of mending the brand. But the only way forward is for the leader to walk the talk.

The question is, do you have the courage to see things as they really are and deal with the messy part of business, or will you ignore it, explain it, and excuse it?  The choice is yours.  Be a leader.

 

Where Chemistry and Leadership Intersect

Chemistry

Chemistry focuses on the relationship between atoms and other phenomenon. Cause and effect. How does an atom change when external factors are introduced. Had I only known then – 30 years ago when I took Chemistry in school – what I know today, I would have paid more attention.

Team building is all about chemistry. After all, the human body is made up of atoms and when two bodies are interacting it represents millions of atoms interacting with one another.  Interaction reactions are just as varied between atoms as they are humans.  Sometimes you just don’t know what will happen.

From our early childhood, to adult life, chemistry is at work in the choices we make and the outcomes they render. Remember those days on the school ground picking teams? Who did you pick, or at what point in the team-picking process were you picked? When you got your first management position how did you feel about your team? Were you able to make changes or new selections? If so, how did you go about doing that?  If not, how did you assimilate to your team?

I’d submit that chemistry is one of the single most important factors in establishing a successful team. The team’s ability to interact with one another given internal and external influences is a necessary requirement for a high performing teams. And like explosions that can occur when atoms are rammed together with great force, so too can human interaction experience similar explosions if not careful.

Here are 3 points to be aware of when navigating team chemistry:

  1. Have a clear vision.  Make sure that you’ve created the “destination postcard” for the team.  This represents where you are headed, why, how you’ll get there, and by when.
  2. Have clear rules of engagement.  Demanding honesty and input must be balanced with diplomacy and humility…even if it must be forced.  The team must understand what is expected, as well as, how they are expected to accomplish the “what”.
  3. Have clear values.  Stating your values and then demonstrating those values on a daily basis…walking the talk…is critical for your team to see.  You can’t state that you despise cussing and yet at every meeting use language to the contrary.  Your actions and values must be aligned at all times.

Be careful to not confuse good chemistry with the belief that you can only hire those that “think” like you.  That’s not the case.  Instead focus on attracting people to your team that “feel” as you do, hold similar values, work ethic, and attitudes.  Specific skills sets MUST be varied across a team but common values must be woven into the team’s fabric to succeed.  And that’s chemistry.

 

10 Things a Leader is NOT

Badleader

Remember that bad boss you had a couple of years ago?  Every interaction caused stress, disappointment, and sometimes regret.  Here are some characteristics NOT found in great leaders.

  1. Selfish.  Great leaders make it all about their teams.  There’s no “I” in team and the leader knows that and embraces it.
  2. Mean-spirited.  Strong leaders lead with dignity.  They understand that even when corrective action is required every employee deserves to be treated with dignity.
  3. Know-it-all.  The best leaders are continuous learners.  They do not claim to have all the answers nor do they believe they themselves are the only ones capable of generating great ideas.
  4. Placating.  Successful leaders understand the need for honest and direct communication.  They do not shy away from conflict or pander in order to win popular opinion.
  5. Narcissistic. Effective leaders have an inner confidence that allows them to operate without ego.  Not so say they don’t have an ego but they are able to keep it in check.  They don’t have a need for others to know who they are, what they have, or how important they believe themselves to be.
  6. Micro-manager.  Accomplished leaders know that they must have the details but cannot micro manage.  They give trust to their teams and provide opportunities to people to take risks and practice their decision-making skills.
  7. Disingenuous.  Thoughtful leaders know the importance of service to others.  They have a strong moral compass knowing that others can see clearly who they are and likewise can feel their authenticity.
  8. Thankless.  Purpose-driven leaders understand the importance of gratitude.  Being gracious for a job well done separates a good leader from a bad leader.  There’s nothing wrong with expressing your gratitude or thanks to an employee who did a good job even though a good job is what’s expected.  It’s often the smallest acts of kindness that embolden a team to its leader.
  9. Ignorant.  Learning leaders recognize all things change including their products, their markets and their customers.  They can’t afford to be caught with the short end of the intellectual stick and are constantly working to educate themselves and their teams.
  10. Indecisive.  Enduring leaders know that making decisions are required for leadership longevity.  Those that shy away from making decisions, difficult or easy, don’t last long as leaders.  Indecisive leaders are some of the most difficult leaders to work for.

And one bonus characteristic that ALL leaders DO possess…ownership.  All great leaders embrace ownership.  Ownership of their teams, their decisions – good or bad – their plans, strategies, ideas, and opinions.  These great leaders never look to place blame, often times to a fault.  They are able to shoulder great weight and responsibilities with a sense of ease and grace.

Are you a good leader?