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.

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

 

 

Leadership Caffeine™—Fight to Eliminate Obstacles

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveWhat are the obstacles in front of your team and how hard are you working at knocking them down? Chances are you can and should be working harder at this critical task. 

A number of years ago, I was responsible for the product and marketing activities of a prototype systems division inside one of the world’s largest consumer electronics firms. It was and is one of my favorite roles of my career, and a firm I hold in high regard for its commitment to a strong set of core values. Nonetheless, like most large firms, it had rules and a bureaucracy to inform and enforce the rules.

Our business unit was unique inside the broader corporation. We were effectively helping the firm learn in real-time about what it took to manufacture highly specialized hardware supported by our own software for very specific vertical applications. Everything about the business was different from the firm’s consumer electronics or industrial components businesses. However, when it came to the rules and processes of conducting business and managing our unit, we were held accountable to the same guidelines that governed all of the businesses. Given our charter, this made little sense in a number of circumstances, however, it was the “law” within our corporate walls.

As we were embarking upon a new venture, I was charged with building the team needed for success. I carefully tailored the role descriptions and sat down with my regional H.R. representative who pulled off a fat, dusty book and set it down on her desk in front of me with a resounding thud!

“What’s that?” I asked.

“This is the approved position and title book. If the job you are asking for isn’t in here, I can’t approve it.”

My eloquent response was something like, “Huh?” as I was momentarily dumbfounded over the idea that our new business was going to be limited by an old collection of roles and titles.

Needless to say, there was no match for my job. I responded by booking an airline ticket to our corporate headquarters and justifying my new position to a series of increasingly higher ranked H.R. executives. When I reached the top, he approved the new position in about 5 seconds, reinforcing my faith in humanity and good business sense. He also handed me the form required to ensure the role made it into the “book,” taking the shine off of my new-found faith just a bit.

You Own the Role of Knocking Down Obstacles:

Bad managers and lousy leaders spend most of their time enforcing the rules. Effective leaders and the managers you and I want to work for seek out the rules and conventions blocking progress and knock them down—sometimes with finesse and sometimes with brute force.

What I observe in mostly old and tired firms is an irrational pride in seemingly tried and true processes and rules. Most of these conventions exist to restrict the ability to freelance or go maverick within the organization. They made sense when the goal of the organization was to control employees. However, in today’s very different era, these controlling rules and processes restrict creativity and innovation. Allow these outdated control mechanisms to rust in place over time, and your firm risks being rendered obsolete by market forces and disruptive entrants.

I’ve also observed firms rejuvenate, in-part, by throwing out the old rule books and allowing employees to explore and develop new approaches to solving problems and creating value. This requires courageous leaders and leadership.

How courageous are you? While you might not hold the power needed to transform your organization’s approaches wholesale, most revolutions start with a single shot.

5 Starter Ideas to Help You Initiate a Positive Revolution:

1. Pay attention and learn about the “administrative overhead” slowing your team members down in their pursuits. Ask and observe. Take on some of the compliance and process burden yourself and develop a body of evidence that will support your cry to adapt processes and strike out rules that effectively are shooting your firm in both feet.

2. Keep it positive. While your gut may tell you to rail at the dumb-a@@ rules, your brain should take control and help you propose positive change designed to enable faster response to customers and improved organizational results. If I would have attacked the ridiculousness of the “position book” in my earlier example, I would have lost. I focused on the key objectives of our unit as they fit with the corporation’s objectives. I created the unarguable argument and gained approval to complete my mission.

3. Seek first to understand intentions. Always assess what it is that the rules and bureaucrats are striving to prevent or protect. Good negotiators and great salespeople understand the interests of their opponents or prospects and strive to meet those interests, but in unique ways.

4. Build coalitions to drive broader change. Operating as a solo mercenary is interesting and exciting, but building a coalition to promote change is the key to an effective internal revolution against the tyranny of anachronistic rules and processes. Armed with first-hand perspective (based on #1), work to identify other stakeholders that will gain from changing the rules. Make certain to include your boss in this coalition. You need to both protect her and make her a hero.

5. Know your role. Remember that you are the shield—the last wall of defense between your team members and the misguided efforts of the process imposers and rule-makers. Live this role daily. Just make certain your team produces or, you will be overrun.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Wherever groups gather and firms form, both healthy rules and processes and unhealthy rules and processes emerge. The conventions that ensure ethics, fairness, freedom from harassment and compliance with the laws of the land are off-limits. Every other procedure and process that restricts your team’s freedom to explore, experiment and innovate is fair game for change or extinction. Good hunting!

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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.

Leadership Caffeine™—Seeing and Observing

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeve

The Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

A dialog between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

“The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

The famous author Saul Bellow coined the phrase, “first class noticer” and the late Warren Bennis as well as Harvard’s Max Bazerman both implore(d) us to strengthen our powers of noticing.

”I’ve never seen the world before. Now I was seeing it, and it’s a beautiful, marvelous gift. Enchanting reality! –Saul Bellow

In my discussions with senior leaders, I ask a few simple but not simplistic questions:

  • What’s new that will change everything for your firm?
  • Who are the people on your team that see the future?
  • What are you doing to change the game for the better for your customers?

As you might imagine, the answers to all three of the questions are often…light.

Too many of us view our world through glasses that both narrow the vision and shrink the focal point to a point just a short distance (and time) from the here and now.

We spend an incredible amount of time immersed in a world of our own fabrication—the world as it feels and looks and acts from inside our organization’s walls. It’s not the culture that will kill you, it’s the view. It’s time to change it.

Take off the blinders and look up and out further. Extend your focal point.

Changing the View and Becoming First Class Noticers:

A marketing executive I hold in high regard did this with her team.

She had grown tired of the endless debates about what to do and where to go that were anchored firmly by the view and biases of the people in her firm.

She sent her team out into the field to attend industry events and talk with customers. They parroted what they heard: “faster horses” (more of the same…incremental changes) from the customers, and the same tired industry gossip and scuttlebutt about new features, functions and releases from competitors. She had long been convinced that the only thing that changed at the annual industry trade-shows were the company names on the badges of the same people.

She did something her team viewed initially as odd. She cut the budgets for travel to industry events and she signed people up and sent them out to events and conferences and summits in markets and for technologies far removed from her firm’s industry.

The team was confused.

She sent them out with bewildered looks on their faces, armed with two requirements:

  1. Listen and observe. Pay attention to this environment. What’s happening? What’s new? What’s driving and changing everything? How are the change leaders impacting the incumbents?
  2. Be prepared to come home and share your ideas (no matter how wild) on how what you observed might apply to our industry and customers?

While people were tentative at first, they quickly embraced the idea of listening and learning and observing in these very foreign environments. They met with industry leaders. They lingered at the booths of unfamiliar companies and asked questions. They asked a lot of questions. And then they returned home to share.

Some of their ideas connecting developments two or three degrees away from their industry sounded like science fiction. She was pleased.

They logged the ideas and made them visible in open space area. She encouraged people to return to them and refine and jump and build on the ideas…on their own or in small groups. She encouraged people who developed a belief in a vector to research and experiment. They did.

Over the two years following the start of this program, the company added two of the ideas from this adventure to their long range investment horizon. Two other ideas translated to near-term revenues based on new partnerships uncovered in these pursuits. Her team is now talking with their customers about opportunities to grow and adapt and partner in new ways with new technologies and ideas.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The team in this example extended and broadened their view of the world to their firm’s benefit. They became “first-class noticers” who translated what they observed into ideas and in some cases actions. If your firm is preoccupied in the world that exists inside the walls of your firm, it’s time to push out and open your collective eyes and look around and notice. There’s a lot going on out there. As Bellow says, “Enchanting Reality!”

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.

 

 

Just One Thing—Think Big(ger)

Just One ThingI confess to having cultivated a strong affinity for Big Thinkers in my advancing years as an executive. The flip-side of this growing affinity is my creeping impatience and dismissal of small thinkers. Given the scale and scope of the challenges in our world and in our industries and firms, small thinkers are a drag on the drive to change. And yes, life and our careers are too short to think small.

Big Thinkers see unlimited opportunities presented over a stream of endless tomorrows. They are unencumbered by the shackles of the status quo and the narrowness of their own experience.

In prior generations, the Big Thinkers would have been arctic or sea-faring explorers or inventors challenging the boundaries of dogma and human experience. In our time, they’re the ones found rethinking everything in a world where the pace of technological change enables everything to be rethought. They’re app developers solutions architects and entrepreneurs and researchers and the business professionals stomping all over the philosophy of: “But we’ve always done it this way.”

And while ideas without actions just take up empty space in the universe, the Big Thinkers I admire revel in the view to the future while promoting actions in the here and now. They are Big Thinkers and Big Doers. Consider:

  • There’s the senior product manager who watches his customers run their operations and identifies an opportunity to save tremendous amounts of time and money by adapting off-the-shelf technology in a way never envisioned by the technology’s creators.
  • There’s the sales manager who sees the market declining over the next few years and immediately begins building an all new (to the firm) approach that will open up new customer segments.
  • There’s the engineer who takes on the de-facto industry standard technology for high value applications with a radically different and dramatically less expensive approach. But it wasn’t just the technology, it was the established dogma and the ecosystem surrounding the old technology that had to change. He won the market.
  • There’s the senior manager who tires of the price and feature battles with competitors and reinvents the firm as a systems integrator. When he presented the idea to his Board, they laughed. They’re not laughing now–they’re too busy helping govern a growing firm.
  • And there’s the customer service manager who grew tired of what she describe as, “managing reduced expectations,” and built a team that rethought what it really meant to “serve customers.” She changed the fate of the firm in the process.

In each of the examples, these Big Thinkers stared down complacency, overcame the powerful gravitational pull of the status quo and convinced others to try something new and different and even frightening. They looked up from their desks, pushed their view beyond the one from the conference room window and embraced the philosophy of: “What If? and Why Not?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The real leadership issue of our time is to find and engage and help the Big Thinkers who are Big Doers. If you’re a dreamer and a doer, you’re in the right place at the right time. Small thinkers need not apply.

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.

High Performance Management—All Strategy Work is Personal

Graphic displaying terms relevant to high performance managementMost businesses and most management teams flail and fail when it comes to the work of strategy.

In today’s world, where the long-cycle strategy process has been replaced by short-bursts of experimentation and iteration, it’s essential to reduce the fail and flail by attacking the root causes of so much dysfunction with this work. And, it’s not the complexity of the new initiatives that derail these teams. Rather, it’s a lack of discipline and a deficit of resolve on the part of the primary actors to do what is necessary to improve the odds of succeeding.

Watch Out for These Pitfalls:

The debate around direction (strategy) is almost always a tug-of-war, with those firmly married to this bygone era, resisting those who see the need to throw away that familiar security blanket in pursuit of new. These situations often end up as an Us-Versus-Them contest, with one side waving the flag of culture and tradition and the other side shouting that it doesn’t matter. The history isn’t the issue. It’s part of the firm’s legacy and culture and it should be celebrated but not endlessly emulated or repeated. Once the fracture in the culture opens up, this is difficult to repair and it creates a drag on progress in finding much needed new growth opportunities.

Another common dilemma is the debate over disconnected vectors. One group is passionate about the opportunities in markets A & B and requires investment to realize the benefits of those markets. Another group looks at Y & Z as the logical next steps and requires their own new investment to move forward. Instead of making the hard but critical call, senior executives often broker a compromise and fund both, setting the stage for a Darwinian battle for survival. This “cut the baby in half,” where the baby is precious resources and capital, practically guarantees failure for both initiatives.

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsYet another tripping point for senior management teams comes from the passive-aggressive lone-holdout. In my experience, the name and role changes, but the behaviors remain the same. Whether it’s the head of sales or marketing or research and development, this individual views himself/herself as the protector of the sacred status quo. He/she plays along in the strategy games, often extending debates and withholding commitment. They become particularly dangerous when they quietly but maliciously work to torpedo the initiative by withholding resources and derailing key supporting projects. These individuals are often master politicians, deftly navigating and neutralizing much deserved criticism.

All of the above is compounded when the individual sitting at the head of the table is uncertain over the right direction and unwilling to commit until the fog clears and the path becomes obvious. This hesitation is perceptible to everyone and easily exploited by those anchored to the status-quo.

This would be easy if it weren’t for the people.

7 Steps to Help the Senior Team Get it Right:

1. Get Outside Help. Yes, I’m biased, but the bias comes from decades of beating my head against the wall as a member of senior management teams trying to cut through all of the above. The right guide will shave person-years off of the duration of these initiatives and dramatically improve your odds of success. When choosing a guide, select someone with some gray or less hair from this process and beware of consultants bearing templates. There is no one template to get strategy right.

2. Conduct a Pre-Post Mortem on the Initiative. Ask, “when this succeeds, what will we have done right?” Model the success. Then ask, “If it fails, what will we have done wrong?” Leverage the output from these questions in forming and adopting a set of values that describes the essential and accepted behaviors.

3. Make Success or Failure Personal. In a variation of number two, ask everyone to codify in writing and then to verbalize, “At the end of this initiative, what will my teammates say that I did?” Everyone, involved, and especially the CEO, must participate. One team posted their planned contributions and behaviors in the designated “war room” and referenced them regularly.

4. Address the Elephants in the Room Early and Often. Remind everyone: Yes, this may mean a departure from the status quo. Yes, we will eventually have to structure to succeed. Yes, pet project are potentially vulnerable. Yes, we will make the hard decisions on what’s right for our firm, employees and stakeholders. Yes, we will ask outside opinions. Yes, you will be voted off the island if you violate the established values.

5. Respect the Legacy, but Don’t Anchor to It. Acknowledge that past approaches and legacy markets were the sources of growth that brought you here. Unless a clear case can be made for growth by extension in those arenas, it’s time to make some new opportunities and earn some new victories.

6. Decide How You Will Decide. Take time upfront to define the decision-making process. Too much work around strategy is prolonged by the lack of clear processes and approaches for this difficult but critical step.

7. It’s All About Execution—Build Discipline in Up-Front. Even when management teams get the advance work done in good form, there’s still the real work of bringing the ideas to life. Take the time to architect an execution program that allows for experimentation and learning and refinement. By the same token, build in the measures and reporting needed to quickly identify lack of commitment, poor coordination and the gravitational pull of resorting to old approaches.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Humans by nature are consistent and predictable, particularly when it comes to the messy issues around change. While few would argue that change is the order of the day in our world, we’ve not yet adapted our hardware and software—our minds and hearts—to facilitate critical change and adaptation in our businesses. Today, strategy work is an iterative, short-cycle process that demands participation, discipline and resolve. The senior team and senior leaders must build and build-in practices that mitigate the human pitfalls around change and motivate experimentation and learning. And while we talk about strategy as an organizational issue, it’s really an intensely personal issue.

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.