Art of Managing—Change Your Field-of-View

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe next time you get to the end of the roll of paper towels, instead of immediately throwing the cardboard tube into the recycling bin,  channel your inner kid and put it up to your eye and use it as an imaginary telescope. Admit it, you did it. We all did. Wrapping paper tubes were reserved exclusively for sword-fights with annoying siblings, and the paper-towel tubes made excellent telescopes for spying on these same characters.

The view through the cardboard tube is analogous to how many of us view our firms, careers and industries. 

Too often, we’re laser focused on the object in front of us; the next project, the next quarter or our annoying competitor, and our field-of-view is severely constricted. We fail to see the bigger picture until something from outside our narrow view of the world runs us over. It might be that disruptive competitor we scoffed at or the new technology that we never thought would stick. These unseen and unanticipated changes disrupt our firms and derail our careers with remarkable indifference.

I see and hear the result of this monocular vision in my work all of the time. As a strategy consultant, I engage with clients who spend way too much time looking through the paper towel tube. As a coach, I’m frequently approached by individuals who woke up one day to find out that everything they had been educated and trained for and were accustomed to doing no longer applied. These are more than sobering moments. For many, they are horrifying.

Standing still in this era with our firms, our strategies or in our own careers guarantees that you are moving backwards at the speed of change. While none of us on our own can stop the force of change, we can all do a better job scanning for trigger events and anticipating how these events might impact our firms, our industries and our jobs. The first step in this process is expanding your field of view (FOV).

8 Ideas to Help You Expand Your Field of View:

1. Make external scanning part of your normal operating routine. It’s essential to get more people on your team regularly looking for and talking about the world beyond your industry and customers. Encourage the team to look far and wide at new developments in other industries and geographies. Focus on identifying potential trigger events that have the potential to ripple through industries. As a starter exercise, spend time with your team mapping the potential ripple effects from autonomous automobiles across our society and even industries far removed from the traditional automobile ecosystem. 

2. Jump-start scanning by assigning teams to visit events in unrelated industries. Visit conferences and trade-shows in unrelated markets and look for the latest developments, innovative new technologies or emerging business models.

3. Consider using “association” techniques to stimulate investigation and idea development. Two idea prompters: “How would the Ritz Carlton reinvent our customer service approach?” Or, “How would Amazon use our data to improve our marketing?” Observing how innovative firms and market leaders in other segments execute their business can serve as a source of ideas for your business. Your goal isn’t to mimic those firms, but to identify approaches that you may be able to adapt to your audiences and that differentiate from competitors. Starter Approach: send cross-functional team out to observe the operations of these innovative firms and have them report back on their findings and ideas. 

4. Create a space to curate observations and foster idea generation. I’m a fan of curating content in a physical space. It might be a room filled with whiteboards or offering ample open-space for flip-charts. A physical location allows people to wander in and out and consider ideas and observations and add their own thoughts to the evolving discussions. If your team is dispersed geographically, place someone in charge of refreshing digital images or operating a virtual whiteboard.

5. Check your instinct to prognosticate too early in the process. While we all like to think we’re analysts able to assign probabilities to potential outcomes, focus initial efforts on discussions, not mathematics. Discussion prompters include: 

  • “If this materializes in our space, what will it look like?  
  • How will this impact our customers? 
  • How might we leverage this trend? 
  • How might we protect our business against this?
  • How do we get out ahead of it before competitors?

6. Cull the herd. Over time, winnow the events down to those the team selects as most likely to impact your space and firm. Shift the dialog to, “How do we defend against or leverage this?”

7. Create the mechanism to turn insights and ideas into actions. Create intelligent experiments out of the insights gained from scanning. Whether it’s scenario analysis, exploration of potential partnerships or acquisitions, or early stage research and development, the work of scanning must eventually move beyond conversation.

8. Keep refining and improving your processes. I’ve offered just a few of many possible approaches to external scanning. Strive to get more people involved. Allocate more time for discussions. Consider involving customers and partners in the “What if?” scenarios and draw upon their ideas. Don’t let this process stall or atrophy or, you will revert to your tube-like view of the world.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

None of us can afford to focus solely on the view from our conference room window. Other than the color of the grass or leaves on the trees, the view never changes. Work hard as a professional and as a member of your firm to find ways to expand your field of view. While you might not be able to alter the course of that storm bearing down on you, the advance notice will allow you to sidestep or leverage it. Both are better than being blindsided and crushed.

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Leadership Caffeine™—How to Get Your Team to Open Up to You

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeve

It’s impossible to lead effectively if you don’t have an open line of communication with your team members.

From ample experience gained through coaching executives and soon-to-be executives, I’ve learned that many leaders talk about their “open door policy” and willingness to receive frank feedback, while their actions and body language say something completely different.

Here’s some of the feedback I receive on bosses with alleged “open door” policies:

Her door is open. The last person to walk thru it had their head handed to them on a platter. We just walk on by these days.

Every time I raise a suggestion, he gets defensive and ends up trying to convince me of his point of view.

His words tell me that he appreciates feedback on how he can improve. His facial reactions told me otherwise.

When I offer her ideas, she tells me immediately what’s wrong with them.

Our CEO made a point at the company meeting of encouraging more input on what was working and what wasn’t. He seemed genuinely interested in my ideas, but I have no idea what happened to them.

All of the managers above are stifling the free-flow of communication on their teams with their poor and almost but not quite involuntary habits. What’s a manager to do?

6 Ideas to Help Your Team Open Up to You:

1. Assess: am I giving my team members ample reasons to trust me. The absence of trust shuts down the flow of communication. If you’re new to leading the team, your team members may not have enough evidence to form a strong opinion about your trustworthiness. While earning credibility and trust is a long-term activity, daily focus on the following actions will help jump-start the process:

  • Give trust to get trust. Instead of making people walk on hot coals to earn your trust, try extending it first. Most people will climb mountains and ford fast-moving streams to show that your trust in them is well placed.
  • Back your words with actions. The do must match the tell. Every day.
  • Show that you care about your team members. Offering coaching and providing access to professional development opportunities are great ways to show that you care.
  • Never compromise on treating people with respect no matter how challenging the circumstances.

2. Admit: I need frank feedback and the best ideas and insights of my team members to succeed at my job. While it sounds a bit cliché the first step is for you to genuinely believe it.

3. Get help, because you’re going to fail to model the behaviors necessary to open the flow of communication. Find a “feedback buddy” who will observe you in action and provide quick, frank and actionable commentary on your performance as a communicator (giver and receiver). Ask him/her to monitor both your verbal and non-verbal responses as well as to observe how your team members react to you. None of us are unbiased judges of our own communication effectiveness. A great “feedback buddy” is priceless.

4. Align your behaviors with your stated intent. It’s difficult in some situations to resist critiquing the ideas of your team members. Instead of suggesting what’s wrong with their ideas, ask questions that encourage them to think through and around the entire issue. If you advocate an open-door policy, when someone walks thru your door, push away from the keyboard and focus all of your attention on the individual. Give up your need to occupy all of the air-time or prove you are the smartest person in every meeting. All of these are credibility killers that suppress open communication.

5. Don’t hide your weaknesses. If you make a mistake, admit it. If you’re working on strengthening your coaching skills, share this with your team. Your willingness to open up about your own challenges and growth activities will help relax the tension on other challenging topics.

6. Do something. People grow tired of sharing ideas or offering feedback if the input doesn’t go anywhere. Ask clarifying questions and try one of the following variations of the same question to move things forward. Ask: “How do you propose I tackle this issue?” Or, “How do you propose to tackle this issue?” If you make a commitment to do something, live up to this commitment. If you are empowering your team member to tackle the issue, offer your support but let them run with it.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Speed of learning and agility to adapt are essential for survival and success in our fast-changing world. It takes timely input and an open flow of communication on the tough issues—including your performance—to generate learning and to succeed with innovation. If the communication isn’t flowing your way, or, what you are hearing is mostly saccharine sweet, chances are the problem is staring back at you in the mirror.

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Art’s Writing and Week in Review for January 30, 2016

put it in contextFarewell January! We Won’t Miss You

For the first month of 2016, the weather and the stock market are setting the tone, with wildly varying conditions and tremendous swings in prices, temperatures and precipitation. At least some of that precipitation must have been tears of despair earlier in the month, momentarily giving way to outpourings of joy given Friday’s impressive upturn in the major market indexes. I’m sure I reflect the broader sentiment with, “I can’t wait to see what February brings for the weather and the markets.” 

When we’re not busy digging out from the latest storm or planning how much longer we’ll need to work before we retire, the political scene is keeping many of us enthralled, engaged, amused or horrified depending upon your view. It’s reality TV for the reality TV era.

In the world of business, Xerox has decided to split itself into two in search of renewed relevance, and Microsoft has become interesting again on the heels of a solid quarter based on the firm’s successes in cloud computing. Talking about both of those firms seems so 1990-ish.

For the writing work last week, I covered a wide variety of material, proving once again that I have little ability to govern my enthusiasm for all things management and leadership.

Leadership & Management Writing this Week:

In this week’s Leadership Caffeine post, the focus is on “Leading Your Peers.” This is a topic that is under-covered in the leadership community, and profoundly important if you’re interested in advancing your career and getting things done.  As a complement, consider:  “Why You Cannot Afford to Ignore Office Politics,” from my blog at About.com. 

For those of you interested in the difference between excellence and mediocrity and management and leadership, here’s a reminder on: The 5 Decisions that Make or Break You as a Leader. 

I added the second article in an on-going series focusing on the fundamentals of strategy, entitled: “The Ten Great Habits of Great Strategists.” The post was inspired by a recent and recommended read that I share in the article.

Last and not least, for anyone who has lived through a counter-productive quarterly business review with the team from corporate, I over a bit of catharsis in: Dear Corporate….Why We  Hate Your Business Reviews.” I’m a fan of the productive incarnation of those meetings, but sadly, they are all too rare.

Other News from the World of Leadership Caffeine:

  • Thanks to some great marketing help, I have new and improved Leadership Caffeine Facebook page where I share the articles and a daily helpful (I hope) post or quote. Shameless pitch: please visit and “likes” are always appreciated.
  • The Jump-Start Coaching program is just about filled. I’ve got a few spots open for anyone interested in getting a running start on accelerating their career this year. It’s executive coaching for non-executives at a one-time price! I would love to fill the program this week and get started on the good work of collaborating to help you move forward.
  • WEBINAR on February 4: Level-Up-Accelerate Your Career. It’s complimentary and comes complete with idea prompting content, a nice webinar supplement take-away and 45 minutes of inspiration!
  • Look for the Leadership Caffeine e-news to become a weekly, offering subscriber-only content to help you survive and thrive as a professional and leader!

That’s all for now! Have a great weekend.

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Dear Corporate—Why We Hate Your Business Reviews

hearnoevilIn my considerable time working for and around large firms, I’ve been on the receiving end of exactly one good, constructive business review with a team from corporate. That makes the score approximately 119 lousy experiences to 1 that was worth a damn.

I’ll rail at the lopsided majority in a moment, but first the one good meeting. This singular event was the visit from a high-ranking member of this global electronics manufacturer to evaluate our progress. He had been involved in helping start us a number of years earlier and now he was overseeing the broader organization and needed to assess where to invest or cut.

For two weeks ahead of the review session, the general manager of our unit went into hyper-panic, driving his troops to produce a seemingly endless stream of reports and presentations. All of the data was assembled, bound and carefully positioned on the table in the spot designated for our visiting dignitary.

The day arrived and the big man, all 5’3” of him, along with his entourage took their seats and the process began. After opening words from our GM, the big man asked about the stack of bound reports practically blocking his view to the rest of us. The GM explained what had been prepared and for a few moments, the big man was silent. Finally, in what shocked everyone in the room, he looked at the stack, pounded his fist down on top of it and exclaimed, “Excuses! Get rid of this paper and let’s talk about your business.”

For the balance of the day, we engaged in a thoughtful overview of the business, outlining our challenges and opportunities. The tone was respectful and the questions were tough, and the responses honest. A form of swift trust developed that allowed for open discussion on difficult topics. When it came time to talk about the need for critical investments in infrastructure and new product development, we received approval for most of our needs on the spot.

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsFascinating. Priceless!

This meeting was in accounting vernacular, accretive. I’ll go so far to say that it energized our team to push harder. After all, we didn’t want to let down someone who had both respected us and provided support.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, most of these corporate reviews are the exact opposite of motivational events. Here’s why:

6 Ways the Team from Corporate Destroys Value During Business Reviews:

1. You’re approach suggests we’re guilty until proven innocent. Most business reviews by corporate staff assume that the division company is guilty of crimes ranging from gross mismanagement to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. These sessions are extended trials where the goal of one side is to convice and the goal of the other is to escape the hangman’s noose, at least until the next review. Great for morale!

2. You assume we are morons. And why wouldn’t you? We’re running this little tiny business and you oversee a giant megalopolis with hundreds of minions doing your bidding. Clearly, you’re smarter than the rest of us who have invested decades of learning our industries and vocations.

3. Every line of inquiry compels us to justify why we are drawing air and taking up space on this planet and in your company. These meetings are often nothing more than a requirement that we re-justify our existence in your corporate universe. Instead of transparency, these events turn into something resembling a farce at best or a bad tragi-comedy at worst.

4. You preoccupy on cells in spreadsheets without context for the numbers. I’m sorry, but no matter how hard you beat us over the head with that particular number, it’s not going to change in this meeting. We promise to work on it for the future, and we’ll tell you how, but make your case, set your expectations and let it go. That cell is not a crime against humanity or a personal affront to your very existence.

5. You don’t make an effort to understand our business. You critique our strategy without context for our markets, clients, prospects and competitors. And you suggest where we’re weak on talent and process, without having spent any time working in the business. You’re ignorance is showing, and it isn’t flattering to you.

6. You’re tone is exclusively, “what have you done for me lately.” It should be, “how can we better support your strategy?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ve attended, participated in and led productive and positive business reviews in a variety of settings. It’s the ones in the global conglomerates or highly divisionalized organizations with disconnected staffers or senior executives that seem to take on the personality of the sessions described above. For everyone involved in leading these reviews, start with showing respect and work towards establishing trust. After trust comes transparency about the opportunities, challenges and tough topics. If it never reaches this level, it’s just a waste of the precious time in our professional lives.

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Check out the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Art’s Leadership & Management Writing for the Week Ending 1/23/16

Toolbox with the words Leadership ToolsAs 2016 navigates its way through the first month, it’s proving to be cruel to rock and roll musicians and fans, stock market investors and as of this writing, anyone attempting air travel in the eastern portion of the U.S.

For this week, my leadership and management writing focused on sharing ideas on re-energizing, improving performance, navigating difficult moments and management insights gained in the role of product manager.

Enjoy the ideas. Use them in good health. And in the words of the recently late Glenn Frey of Eagles fame, “Take it Easy” this weekend.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.