Category Archives: Management

Moving through change to success: Four essential values

In a rich essay about change for PwC’s blog, Elizabeth Doty of Leadership Momentum walks the reader through the typical players on the scene of a shift. 

This analysis, highly recommended, not only charts concrete action for navigating through change. It inspires four abiding values for any ecosystem, company and even family working to get to the other side of success.

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  1. Focus on what you have in common: the goals of the endeavor. Consider them the promises to make and keep for all stakeholders. Craft them in a way that you can get everyone on board, knowing that there always will be detractors.
  2. Decide whether you are a player or a witness. Doty defines the players as champions and resistors. The reality is that every player has some characteristics of the other, and there is a path to contribution. If you only want to serve as a witness, best not to stir the pot. Because the champions and the resistors have their work cut out for them.
  3. Know the difference between oscillation and advancement. Doty cites the work of Robert Fritz in describing a problem that many organizations face: while recognizing the need to do something differently, they often miss the fact they are churning, not moving forward. This is where leaders not only must help all players collaborate, they have to keep the goals and promises alive in the moments when people are struggling.
  4. Cast resistors to change as guardians. Beyond respecting their position, which is critical, absorb the challenges presented by resistors into a risk profile for the change. Seek their help in mitigating any risk so that the goals are achieved. Including resistors in outcomes is critical not just to strategy but to the quality of success.

As Tony Bennett says, you should sing for everybody

TONY BENNET

Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come. Photo by Associated Press.

“You should sing for everybody … it has to be interesting and it has to last … it never becomes old-fashioned. Make people feel good.”

Pretty much sums up what we are all supposed to be doing. Businesses included.

Yet making customers and employees and regulators and recruits feel good feels mysterious these days. Bennett has something in encouraging us to sing for everybody. When we set a tone of inviting everyone to the table, we demonstrate respect. Something everyone is craving right now.  

  • Customers are smart, they do their homework and they vote with their feet. They understand their options and connect with products and producers on their terms, armed with facts they gather about performance across the landscape. Customers are loyal when we create products with justifiable price tags that address a variety of variables, not just cache` or quality. We have to know and honor those variables. And keep up with them.
  • Condescension is immediately detectable and called out, and it pushes stakeholders away. Even when, on paper and in the buyer personas we spend millions to assemble, we figure target customers and influencers would never abandon us, they will and they can.
  • It’s clear that people want more than being labeled and relegated to arbitrary categories, no matter how glamorous the data gathering. Our analysis must catch up with our technological capability. In the 2016 election, millions were spent on polling practices supposedly using the most sophisticated technology. Yet the pollsters and their pols did not take into account things like how people might maneuver around seemingly obvious questions to tell their truth.

Singing for everyone calls us not just to keep it real but to know what is real — and to find real ways to connect and welcome all stakeholders.

Here is 2017. The best is yet to come.

The CEO in 2016: Five things you can do for your brand

Agility and customer centricity are primary themes today. Mapping the customer journey. Launching products and features quickly to adjust them — or pivot — just as quickly. All kinds of new technologies for analyzing reach.

Yet companies must still satisfy the classic marketing requirements of producing good stories and inspiring the loyal purchase.

CEOs, pressed for time and focus, often relegate marketing to a lower level of attention. It’s a habit left over from the days of slower message cycles, broadcasting and a lot of assumption about buyer values. Plus CEOs have to think about everything by the quarter. So with an at-best preoccupied and at-worst absent chief ambassador, the marketing investment — even when powered by the most powerful tools and visionary messages — suffers from not reaching its full potential. Because the CEO is the leader for a reason. She provides the direction and the inspiration. He keeps every stakeholder front-and-center.

The purpose of a business
Peter Drucker on the purpose of a business

Here are five ideas for CEOs who want to manage distraction and be on the ground while breaking new ground for their brands in 2016.

Demonstrate your devotion to the customer. If you must, think of it as taking a coffee break from the typical responsibilities of running a company. Not only does this pull you into the marketing effort, it sets a company standard for looking outward.
Quarterly: Call a customer. Or better yet, visit one.
Monthly: Share a customer story — good, bad, ugly — with your employees. Cover the key learning points the company should absorb and address.
Weekly: Ask a manager to communicate one key customer or competitor insight to the entire organization.
Daily: Pick one item from your daily non-company reading [you’re doing that, right?] to share with the company. Make it about the market, buying trends, innovation — anything that will align your brand with the marketplace and maybe equip people to amplify the brand’s values.

Test your own assumptions. About your people, your competitors and your customers.
Quarterly: Ask your marketing team to give you a short briefing on what is being said about your brand.
Monthly: Visit competitors’ websites and social media accounts to see if you want to add any insights to what your teams tell you about competitors’ products, services and customers.
Weekly: Check what industry influencers are saying about trends and shifts in your marketplace.
Daily: Ensure that what customer says — good, bad, ugly — gets addressed by marketing messages and literally turned into marketing copy.

Tell an elegant story. Uncomplicated, drama-free, yet compelling. Invite customers and influencers to align with you, not just to buy your products.
Quarterly: Write something to share with customers and employees — something that demonstrates your company’s connection with the marketplace. Use an editor.
Monthly: For employees, share an anecdote about an employee who has done something to exemplify the brand’s reach and impact on customers.
Weekly: Schedule five minutes to talk with an employee about what is working on the street — and what is not.
Daily: Look at your marketing outreach, particularly social media, to offer guidance and to make sure the team is on message.

Surround your brand with leaders who have talents you do not. Whether it’s your marketing team or an event you are sponsoring, spare no time or expense in bringing the fresh air of new perspectives to your company. At the same time, vet attitudes as well as capabilities. For example, make sure every speaker your team invites to your company events is someone you can respect. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but let’s say the team finds someone who is billed as an expert in diversity. And it turns out they attack people on Twitter. Your invitations to people like this — as advisors, speakers or employees — say volumes about the brand. And no amount of clever marketing will correct the mistake of people who wound your brand through a thousand little cuts.
Quarterly: Ask for an audit of the content and experts your team is using to burnish or represent your brand. The marketing team should be doing independent research, not just looking at the experts’ or agencies’ marketing material.
Monthly: Go to a professional event that’s featuring a speaker or a panel. Remember what you liked and pass it on to your marketing team.
Weekly: Keep and update a file of quotations or essays you like. Having this on hand when you’re approving an event agenda will help you ensure content relevant to your brand.
Daily: Check the editorial page of a publication you like.

Reward actors, not bystanders. One of the great consumer frustrations today is the inability of customer service reps to go off-script — to actually come up with a solution on one’s own to a customer’s problem. The advent of social media has had a positive effect on the robo-response tendency — but we have a long way to go. Rote answers to customers’ concerns are the province of the bystander employee. As Cate Huston wrote in this excellent essay on the problem with corporate bystanders who don’t nip sexism in the bud, “it starts with refusing to be a bystander by calling things out”. Same phenomenon at work in branding: all the beautiful design and expensive messaging in the world won’t compensate for front-line employees asked to divert customers from what bothers them.
Quarterly: Listen to or read how a customer rep handled a problem. See if it resonates with your brand strategy.
Monthly: Ask direct reports to give an example of a problem solved that improved on customer service practice.
Weekly: Ask for a memo on the top five customer comments on social media.
Daily: Show your internal teams that you are confident enough to go off-script, too.

The art of listening can be the art of leading

In celebrating both the 500th anniversary of The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, and the life of Claudio Abbado, legendary conductor of La Scala, we celebrate leadership.

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THE ECONOMIST used “the art of listening” to draw a picture of Abbado for readers, connecting the young musician’s ability to hear and memorize music in his head with the professional orchestras he would lead and ultimately, the listening audience he invited into the music before he died.  For Booz&Co, James O’Toole takes us through what he believes we must understand about Machiavelli’s legacy — the situational leadership model taught in most business schools — and he leaves us with the questions Machiavelli’s work must provoke in each of us as we work.

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We can find one thing in common between these two diverse leadership cases:  whether the leader is making music or making money, he or she is creating an experience.

When a leader had all the power, he got to decide what the experience was going to be.  Today, however, she doesn’t have all the power — just a portion of it and maybe for not a very long time.  The one thing we can make consistent in an era some are already calling “the age of experience” is the experience we provide from our end of the exchange.  Besides quality and what the customer wants, how does the customer feel?  Does the skilled employee want to stay and help create the experience?  Do the suppliers want to be part of the experience, too?  Whatever our role in a transaction, we’re in a relationship — and our ability to transmit respect, trust and even authority can keep our “customers” coming back.

A Child's Machiavelli book cover

It’s better than the alternative.  As Claudia Hart reminds us in A Child‘s Machiavelli, A Primer on Power, her translation of The Prince, “Never be afraid to beat someone up if you have to.  First, try to talk ’em into listening, but just in case, you know what to do!”

Captains and floozies

On Monday, I wrote in the weekly newsbrief about how we can find talent on our teams in the unlikeliest places.  How project leaders who discover and promote talent can trust them to take work to innovative places.

These project leaders generally have the foresight, strength and confidence that equip them to let those they lead to excel — to enter and capture the spotlight — to extend the project message in other interesting, often unplanned ways.  The story of Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi serves as the case study.  The man was selected without any acting experience by a director who taught him as well as hired him and knew a good line when he heard it.  The ad-lib heard around the world is showing all of us, not just Hollywood, how to be delighted by the unexpected.  Not threatened by it.

By Tuesday evening, I was enduring the remarks of a so-called expert in talent who fretted that “token floozies” in companies like Twitter are not truly women of the tech workforce.  Who then refused to explain what he meant.  For two days now.

You see, he expects only to pontificate.  To not answer questions unless they are posed in a way that flatters his ego and sustains his superiority, both in the asking and the answering.  Should this man be challenged, watch out.  He cites Duke University, Stanford University, Singularity University, WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and startup Trove as the stars in his CV, and so far, they see no need to call for an explanation, either.  Rumor has it he has a book coming out about how women are leaving tech employers in droves.

If tech women are leaving anywhere in droves, it’s for two reasons.  First, for being expected to behave, code and program in the manner of the teen tech stars who have captivated Silicon Valley for the first decade of this century.  Second, women leave because guys like this appoint themselves gurus of all things female and feminine without working — hard — with the founders and teams who are actually building companies, products, services and customer lists.  There is not a conspiracy to prevent women from succeeding.  But there is money to be made selling books that tell us there is.

Guys like this think the only good women are the ones who have multiple degrees in engineering related disciplines.  Guys like this think that women who write stories or build customer communities are not really women of tech.  Guys like this believe Minimum Viable Products spring forth unaided from engineers who need marketing, accounting, sales and legal experts only to serve them, not advise them or stand beside them as founders.

At least this is what I assume.  Because in the absence of a real clarification from Mr-Women-in-the-Tech-Workforce, I can only conclude he’s like a few, not the majority, of the guys I’ve encountered in my decades of experience:  suspicious of anyone in heels, assumptive that mascara and brains do not go together, and convinced he knows better than anyone else, including women, what they need and want from a career.  He’s a misogynist.  And the only woman he can begin to trust is one with a pure engineering pedigree.

Well, even the women with those kinds of pedigrees don’t tend to believe that.  In fact, one of the great things about women in the workforce is that we understand the importance of being open to the possibilities, wherever they emerge and from whatever corner.  I’d rather see this guy write about that than feather his own nest with nasty diatribes against the producers — like Twitter, Facebook and Google — who are hiring women and creating open opportunities based on merit, not gender.

Whether the talent was once a limousine driver or is a woman with a BA, we have to celebrate the people who are inviting them to the talent pool.  And we have to celebrate the talent.  Because even the business-side floozies deserve their moment in the sun when they engage users and customers in technological marvels.

By the way.  First rule of PR:  acknowledge your own missteps.  Second:  assume the questioner is sincere and respond with clarification, even if you think it’s a “mindless rant” [his words, not mine].  That’s the only way you get in front of your own mistake.  Own it and explain it or you’ll never move beyond it.

There was no simpler time. Never, ever.

David McCullough tells the best stories about American history through the lens of leadership.  Last year, he shared his encouraging, grounded perspective with Scott Berinato in this interview for HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW.  Here are my favorite observations.

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When the founders wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they didn’t mean longer vacations and more comfortable hammocks. They meant the pursuit of learning. The love of learning. The pursuit of improvement and excellence.

Are we in a special or particularly fraught moment in our history? A turning point?

I’m very annoyed when I hear people who ought to know better flannelling away about how it was a simpler time “back then.” There was no simpler time. Never, ever. Imagine being in our country in 1918, and 500,000 people have died of a disease. No one knows where it came from or how long it’s going to stay or how to get rid of it. Would that be called a simpler time? Would the Civil War, or the Great Depression?

What makes a president a great leader?

The capacity to lift our sights a little higher. Someone who can call on us to make sacrifices, not promise to give us more. One who can say I’m not going to make it easier for us. I’m going to make it harder, because we have hard things to do. And let’s be grown up about this.

At the end of John Adams’s life, Ralph Waldo Emerson went to talk with the old president. Adams said to him, “I would to God there were more ambition in the country.” And then he paused and said, “by that I mean ambition of the laudable kind, ambition to excel.” Not ambition to get rich or famous or powerful but to excel. That’s when human beings are at their best. I like people who work hard; the people who are best at what they do almost without exception are also the hardest workers.

A leadership secret: Communicating with finesse

This post is dedicated to Scott McNealy, with all due respect and great admiration for his accomplishments.  And his potential.

During a late lunch break on November 10, I turned on the television to watch CNBC.  They were running a clip of an interview with Scott McNealy, one of Silicon Valley's technology thinkers and CEOs, a real success story.  When asked what he thought of the Occupy movement, Mr McNealy said, "get a job."

While I happen to have even stronger feelings than McNealy about what we should do with the anarchists and arsonists who have hijacked the Occupy movement, I was flabbergasted that someone as smart and quick as McNealy couldn't think of a better way to answer the question — or to capitalize on it.  He could have said something equally arresting without appearing insensitive to how the problems afoot in the United States, culturally and commercially, are affecting the rest of us.  It was the perfect opportunity to explore what's back of Occupy, and in McNealy's case, maybe even demonstrate how his new startup can help connect people in an age of gated neighborhoods and the disintegration of the middle class.  Or maybe just to say something more inspired than, "get a job."

And that's when I realized that our leadership problem runs much deeper than I ever imagined.

http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=4525966&searchId=777a9b8fb43ab0af98ab97282b6093bb&npos=51The art of management finesse

Can it be that the astronomical financial and personal success of our business leaders has isolated them so much from the rest of their fellow citizens that they don't realize just how difficult it is to get a job or build business, get a living wage or project fee, or get paid at all?

Yes, it can be.  But I think it's more than that.  I think even the self-made guys are turning into elitists.  After all, their investment bankers parcel out IPO opportunities.  The elitist training begins early.  Many CEOs seem to be disconnecting from the rest of the populace to the degree that their positions are not about leading organizations and innovating but strictly about their own wealth. 

I hope this is not the case with McNealy.  I hope this is just one gaff.  But the gaff pulled me up short and made me acknowledge that the wealth gap is merely one aspect of a larger gulf:  the growing absence of management finesse.

Finesse is often a natural gift.  Whether instinctive or acquired, finesse is a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have.  It's the ingredient that gets messages heard and inspires action. 

Finesse is nurtured by study and a personal emphasis on empathy.  We all stumble.  CEOs, though, have access to a key tool for learning and practicing management finesse to the degree that it can mitigate the stumbles.  The corporate communications function.  A need-to-have, not a nice-to-have.  Like anything else, it's all in how you build it.

Get your finesse on

The very best of the traditional American business canon gives us example after example of leaders who had experienced, legitimate communications advisors and who listened to them.  It's difficult for any human being, much less one with corporate power, to remain human without at least some institutional emphasis on keeping things real.  Corporate Communications should be the one place the CEO can turn whose only ax to grind is seeing the CEO set a clear path for the organization.

Many of today's CEOs are surrounded by yes men and women who take orders instead of tell the emperor he's not wearing any clothes.  Instead of a Merlin, they have court jesters.  Or worse.  These leaders would rather get up and read something a remote underling or PR agent wrote for them than spend time thinking about what they believe and how they can use their positions to lead us out of this mess. [Which includes speaking up about how we got here in the first place — not just blaming Washington or Wall Street.]

If Jack Kennedy had developed his messages this way, we might never had heard his voice or known what he thought.  His process alone should be enough of a template for today's CEO to follow in crafting and articulating messages of insight and intellect.

CEOs:  Owning your message is the price of entry to leadership

You aren't interested in or comfortable with setting aside time to work on your messages and deliver them?  Not acceptable. 

CEOs, thinking about your messages gets you in the habit of exploring every option in front of you.  Of listening.  And of thinking before you open your mouth, helping you find the words to say something enlightening, enriching the conversation because you were in it. I refuse to accept any thinking that excuses you from participating relentlessly in the creation of your messages.  It is part of your job. Like riding herd on financials or helping to win a big account.

Most important:  every opportunity to communicate should serve the purpose of reminding you that being a leader is as much about service as it is about lordship.  Owning your messages can help bridge the gap between the solitary burdens of your office and all the stakeholders in the enterprise's success.  It can help you put your own problems in context.  It can remind you that you're part of something larger than yourself.