Art of Managing—Thriving at the Speed of Change

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

The current theme in much of today’s management writing and speaking focuses on the unparalleled speed and volume of change present in our world.

From the work of Gary Hamel (video: Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment”) to the excellent new book, “No Ordinary Disruption,” by Dobbs, Manyika and Woetzel at McKinsey, to a variety of other new works, the literature certainly suggests it’s a fascinating and simultaneously frightening time to be responsible for guiding an organization forward into the storm. While we’re all busy learning to navigate and leverage (or understand) Big Data, the real issue is or should be navigating Big Change.

In “No Ordinary Disruption,” the authors offer a powerful, research-backed narrative describing the four primary forces behind the shifting landscape of society and business. These include the massive movement of people to urban centers in much of the under-developed world; the ever-present and unrelenting pace of technological change; the aging of the world’s population and the powerful force of globalization.

The book is fascinating…the evidence compelling and if you’re in charge of one of yesterday’s businesses, you’re to be excused if one of your thoughts is to go back to bed, pull the blankets up tighter and hope to awaken in a period of stability and predictability.

Nice thoughts, but you can kiss that dream of stability and predictability goodbye. Welcome to the rest of your career where nothing looks particularly familiar and what brought you here won’t take you or your firm there.

My one disappointment  with much of the current writing about change is that it is short on the “what to do about it,” content, in part because the notion of all this change makes for fascinating reading, and in part, because it’s not clear what exactly we should be doing in many cases.

Navigating the unknown…rethinking or discarding old strategies, offerings and approaches is uncomfortable and difficult work. Yet, it’s work we must undertake. While this is a big topic (worthy of book length), I’ll start small and keep building through the Art of Managing posts. (And yes, I know the words are easy and the actions challenging…but we have to start somewhere.)

5 Ideas to Get You Started on Navigating Big Change:

1. Learn to Look for Opportunity in Uncertainty. The operative word is “learn.” Our natural reaction to the notion of change in our business model is some combination of fear mixed with a drive to look harder for reasons to rationalize maintaining the status quo. The firms and teams I’m working with who are succeeding in rethinking their businesses are those who have embraced the idea that while change may disrupt the successful approaches of the past, it also opens the door to an almost endless set of new opportunities. They are focused on building the management tools, team talent and approaches needed to explore and test for ideas that stick.

2. Think Like an Explorer, Not a Manager. This is a great example where history is a teacher for the future. The polar adventures of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and others defined the original Great Age of Exploration and students of these adventures can apply the lessons from success and failure to our own circumstances. In “Great by Choice,” Jim Collins and Martin Hansen offer a detailed description of how Amundsen prepared himself and his team to navigate all manner of unknowns and uncertainties and succeed in great form while his capable adversary, Scott perished along with his entire team. The risk taking was calculated…the mission was crystal clear, the tools and training emphasized adaptability and the risk mitigation planning was exemplary. Study the explorers and look for ideas to apply to your firm’s or team’s business explorations.

3. Recognize that Innovation is the Currency of the Future and It’s More than Product Innovation. Much of our conventional approach to navigating uncertainty in our markets is to focus on investing in our products. The natural tendency of good product managers is to look for ways to make their offerings more relevant to customers. While this will never go out of style, the reality is that the forces of change open up massive opportunities to innovate beyond product. From business models to customer engagement approaches to network/ecosystem innovation, there are a myriad of ways to reach more customers and outflank competitors by innovating beyond the product. A must read for everyone concerned about the future is Ten Types of Innovation,” where the authors offer up their periodic table of innovation elements and suggest that the most successful firm use multiple elements…beyond just product innovation.

4. Hunt for Ideas and Insights. Ram Charan calls this strengthening your perceptual acuity. Regardless of the label, it’s about teaching your team to go beyond their four walls and challenge themselves to observe and relate changing market, competitor and customer forces to one of the most powerful phrases that should be in your corporate vocabulary, “What this means for us, is… ,” or a variant, “Here’s how we can leverage this change to grow/strengthen our business.” Too many teams are inwardly focused…opining on customer issues and market trends while looking at the same view of the parking lot from the conference room window. One innovative firm sent their team out to a group of customers to observe a day in the life of data…as they tracked data flows around a particular set of processes in the business. The observations on process inefficiencies and challenges led to a significant number of insights for new offerings.

5. Pursue Intelligent Experimentation and Accept Compressed Time Horizons. Navigating uncertainty demands experimentation and experimentation embraces failure on the road to success. Traditionally, we view failure as something to be avoided…and mitigated. That worked fine during a period of time when next year in an industry looked a great deal like last year. Now, managers must learn to embrace the idea of failing forward to find innovations that might stick. Along with establishing conventions for widespread intelligent experimentation, we must shrink our view on acceptable time horizons. Experiments and subsequent strategy or offering development must resemble a series of sprints and our view to the expected marketplace life of our innovations must reduce to reflect the reality of shifting needs or tastes and the likelihood of disruption. This doesn’t preclude us from mining a lucrative vein for a long period of time, but the nature of our world is those veins will be seized upon and exhausted by fast and/or disruptive competitors and their offerings. Speed kills on the highway, but timeliness is of the essence in this new world.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While far from exhausting this expansive topic of thriving at the speed of change, we’ve defined some starting points well within your control. You own your own attitude about navigating uncertainty and as a senior manager, you have a great deal of power to create the approaches and tools and to guide your talent to become more adept at observing external forces at work and translating those observations and insights into actions. While the essence of most organizations and most teams is to preserve the status quo, this is one case where standing still practically guarantees that you’ll end up as global road kill. Steering into the fog with the right attitude and committed to finding the way forward as you go is a much better alternative.

At Least 10 Unnatural Acts of Misguided Management

TrippingNote to Readers: this column is rated “SM” for the representation of stupidity in management. Younger managers strongly cautioned.

At Least 10 Unnatural Acts of Misguided Management:

1. He only lied when his lips were moving. The CEO announcing to all of a firm’s employees, “there will be no layoffs,” over a pizza lunch in the warehouse. Ten days later, there were layoffs.

2. Coordination is over-rated. An executive team who despised each other so much, they never met. What do you think happened to this business? You’re right.

3. It turns out, people have to want to change. The manager who early on in his career believed he could change a brilliant but difficult person into a brilliant and not so difficult person. (Crap, I was that manager.)

4. Rats, I should have picked the other door! The executive of the market leading firm who defiantly announced to his team, We will not play in the low end of this market. There are no margins there. We own the high end” It turns out that when the high-end disappears due to the disruptive competitor and you have no viable response, there are no margins when there are no sales.

5. Homer Simpson said it best: “Doh!” When the team cannot answer the question, “How many customers or prospective customers were consulted in the making of this strategy?” with anything greater than zero, you’ve got a problem.

6. How many monkeys with a typewriter do we need to recreate Shakespeare’s works? When the CEO brings 45 people together for a strategy offsite and proceeds to have that entire group wordsmith vision and values for the entire offsite, you shouldn’t expect greatness. Or coherence. Or lucidity. It was like the audience of a play simultaneously feeding the actors their lines…one by one by one… and then arguing with each other over which line or which nuance of a line was right.

7. Cats and Dogs Achieving Instant Karma. Every meeting that has ever been held anywhere between two different management teams suddenly thrust together due to merger or consolidation and charged with the task in the next two days of creating a unified vision and strategy. Yes, all of them. Every one.

8. Great Moments in Corporate Motivation. There was the corporate slogan author of this global firm who provided instructions to the printer that must have said something to the effect of, use the same slogan as last year. When the tube containing the new slogan was opened and the banner unrolled for the first time at the management meeting, guess what it said? Yep. “Same Slogan as Last Year.” Seriously.

9. “With a bit more time and money, we’ll get this right.” The team who convinced themselves that every failure put them closer to success. It turns out, that’s not always the case. Sometimes with a bit more time and money, you just waste more time and money.

10. “The inventory said, what?” The GM who very seriously accused his management team of not listening closely to the inventory. It turns out, the inventory had shared with the GM that it was ready to be sold.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The pursuit of effective management is a noble calling. It’s too bad that too many managers give it a bad name.

Leading the Project? Define Your Charter to Support High Performance

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

Effective leadership is a critical success factor for projects of all shapes and sizes.

And breathing is good for living.

It’s hard to argue with either of these statements, nonetheless, too many project managers deeply skilled in the mechanics of their vocation fall short on learning and practicing the soft-skills critical for high performance team development. When project fail…and too many do, there’s a safe bet that people-related issues are key contributors to the initiative’s demise.

Great project managers define their role beyond the project mechanics liberally. Working with team members at the front-end of the project to define the role and accountabilities of the project leader is a great practice that improves the odds of team success. The development of a Project Leader’s Charter is a simple, powerful technique that helps everyone involved gain a clear, consistent and comprehensive view of the leader’s role.

Great project leadership is both science and art. A large part of the role is about forming and framing the environment for your talented team members to do their best work in pursuit of meeting customer and stakeholder needs. Ensuring that you and the team define the values that drive acceptable behaviors to tackling the sticky issues of how decisions will be made to how the team will talk, work, decide, resolve and perform together are all captured in your Project Leader’s Charter.

Seven Simple Steps to Defining and Developing Your Own Project Leader’s Charter:

1. Start by Asking Questions: take the time to think deeply about what your role in creating success with this initiative should be. Meet individually and in groups to discuss the following:

  • What’s the nature of this project? Innovation? Implementation? New development?
  • How does the project connect to firm’s/customer’s strategic initiatives?
  • What are the critical success factors for this initiative to succeed?
  • What does this team need from project leadership to succeed?
  • The pre-post mortem, part 1: assume the project has concluded successfully, what might you imagine we would say about the project leader’s role and contributions to the success of this initiative?
  • The pre-post mortem, part 2: assume things went wrong and we failed to hit our objectives. Where did project leadership let us down?
  • You get a vote…ask and answer: what can I do to optimize our chances of success?

2. Write the Draft: armed with the input from your team members, write a draft of the charter. Start with, “My Charter as Project Leader is… .” Strive to minimize the cliché statements and use verb phrases that specifically describe what you will do and what you are accountable for with this initiative. Length isn’t incredibly relevant…from a few well developed sentences to a couple of paragraphs supported by bullets. Quality and clarity count more than length.

3. Review the Draft with Team Members and Solicit Feedback: the iterative nature of this activity ensures that team members buy-in to your role and clearly understand what to expect. An indirect benefit is that this will challenge them to think about their role as well. Revise and share the final draft.

(Best Practice Tip: one project manager I know has everyone on a team create and share their individual Charters with each other as a means of ensuring role clarity and visibility.)

4. Post the Charter: I love to see these shared in project documents as well as made visible and public for the duration of the project. Some Project Managers hang them in their offices or cubicles. Others grab wall space for project documents and ensure that this is visible in that public setting.

5. Live the Charter. Daily: the exercise of writing the Charter is healthy. Reading it daily and considering how to incorporate the key tenets in your day’s activities is priceless.

6. Remember the Charter When “It” Hits the Fan: something always go wrong at some point in time. The Charter is your guide to the right behaviors in the middle of whatever crisis is threatening your team. Return to it and develop your actions in concert with the behaviors and values outlined in the document.

7. Ask the Team to Evaluate Your Performance Using the Charter as a Guide. We learn by doing and feedback is part of the process of growing and improving. Ask your team members to evaluate your performance versus the key tenets and behaviors/activities identified in your Charter. Use this input as rocket fuel for improving with your next project adventure.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Striving for high performance should be the goal for every project manager on every project. It’s lofty, difficult and in some cases, the pursuit of high performance gets lost in the haste and pace to navigate the pitfalls and move the army forward. Let a carefully thought-through Charter serve as a guide to your True North during every project. Get your role right as project leader and the odds of success for the entire team, your firm and your customer improve dramatically.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Art of Managing—Helping Your Firm Navigate a Level-Up Situation

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

“85-percent of organizational problems are system related and only 15-percent are related to people.” –W. Edwards Deming

As managers, it’s our sacred responsibility to create and continuously improve an environment and system that allows our people to do their best work.

This system that Deming speaks of is an amalgam of the values, behaviors, processes and approaches in pursuit of the firm’s core mission that define the personality of an organization. The approaches and processes around decision-making, planning, developing talent and executing on projects and core operations are all part of the system. Innovation, creativity, employee and customer engagement and financial performance are critical outcomes of an effective system.

Few managers would disagree with their responsibility and accountability for creating this effective environment. Like breathing, it’s a good idea to invest time and energy in practices that promote a healthy, efficient and effective system. In reality, many firms do a good job of this in stable markets…the operative word being “stable.”

I’ve worked in and around many organizations where the firm’s leaders point proudly to a long string of successful years and effectively suggest that they’ve cracked the code of sustaining performance. Their organizations are well-tuned for the current state, the numbers are just good enough to keep stakeholders happy and employees have that swagger of consistent champions.

And Then “It” Happens:

“It” is most often some form of disruption…an unanticipated competitor move, a new market entrant, a disruptive technology innovation or some unexpected shock to society. Regardless of the source, change becomes the order of the day and the long-successful senior leaders react to the situation in a logical fashion and begin to talk about the firm moving down a new path with new strategies or approaches.

New initiatives and projects are born and the latest books consumed in search of answers or approaches that lead to answers. And when results aren’t immediately visible, energy and enthusiasm for experimentation and innovation wane and the pursuit of new consistently loses out to the gravitational pull of the old. From investment dollars and attention, the pursuit of new is often suffocated…for what seems like perfectly rational reasons chasing today’s problems. After a period of time, the wheels on the vehicle that is the effort to pursue new begin to wobble and parts start to fly off as the firm races towards an uncertain destination via an unknown path through uncharted terrain.

With apologies for mixed metaphors, the ride begins to resemble Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing and horrifying post-presidential journey deep into uncharted portions of the Amazon, as he and his colleagues navigated all manner of disasters and dangers as they followed the aptly named River of Doubt.

Once the dangers become visible and the wobble of the wheels sensed by everyone, the fun begins. That is if you find journeying through organizational and career hell some form of perverse fun.

The Level-Up Opportunity:

This moment in time when a firm faces the critical need to change is what I describe as a Level-Up opportunity.  Level-Up opportunities typically involve individuals, teams or entire firms learning to navigate situations of extreme ambiguity and potential peril. We face them as individuals in our careers as we take on new challenges and climb the ladder of responsibility. Organizations face Level-Up opportunities as they strive to do something new…develop and implement a new strategy, move to a new market, capture a new group of customers or pursue an innovation they perceive will leverage their strengths and enhance their fortunes.

It’s somewhere during the flailing phase at the front-end of of a Level-Up situation that people recognize that the old system doesn’t work for new needs. Sure, business the old way continues just fine, after all the system is optimized for the old. However, when it comes to new, the gears grind, the engine smokes, rpms rise and speed slows to a crawl.

It’s time to change the system.

The old ways don’t work for new markets, customers, technologies or business models. It’s also at this time where too many senior leaders choose the wrong paths and tactics. Like Roosevelt’s team attempting to descend a seemingly never-ending number of treacherous rapids and falls during their journey down the River of Doubt, what worked for us at the last rapid or fall results in us smashing our canoes to bits on the rocks in this new environment, endangering lives and squandering precious time and resources.

Beware the Siren Song of Two Powerful Actions:

There are two reflexive actions by senior managers that often exacerbate the wobble. The first is a creeping belief that the people that brought them this far aren’t the right people for the journey ahead. They begin to doubt the abilities of their people to learn, adapt and succeed.

The second mistake is to assume that the organization’s structure is at fault. It’s not. It’s the strategy and system.

While there are nuggets of truth in both of these reflexive thoughts, the actions must be filtered against a clear strategy and tempered appropriately or you risk making a difficult situation impossible.

Change is difficult. Ambiguity and complexity are powerful adversaries in the fight for successful change, and while no simple list of ideas offer the absolute right answers, these seven are intended to help you strive for clarity and simplicity while learning to deal step by step with ambiguity.

Seven Ideas to Help Your Firm Navigate a Level-Up Opportunity:

1. Senior Executives Must Link Arms on the New Strategy Direction. Easy words…damned difficult to achieve in practice. Most senior leaders struggle to show up in the same zip code on strategy much less end up on the same page in the same book in the same house. CEO leadership is essential here…with clarity as an absolute and once the direction is set, senior manager compliance essential. Fight it out with vigor and honor, but link arms and go forward aligned and resolute.

2. It’s Not a Strategy If No One in the Firm Understands It. The hard work of strategy begins after the boardroom brawling ends on this topic. Your job is to simplify the strategy and ensure that everyone not only gets it, but sees how they play a role in supporting it.

3. Remember, It’s Not Important to People Just Because You Said it Is. Don’t assume awareness equals either understanding or support. Your approach to strategy development and then execution task definition and implementation must get everyone involved in offering input and backing words with actions..

4. Bet on Your People First and then Acquire to Fill Key Gaps. There’s no doubt that anything new requires education, training and yes, some fresh perspectives from people immune to the firm’s dominant logic. Strive to objectively assess the skills needed for the new strategy and then focus on whether those skills can be learned, trained or whether they must be acquired. We’re too quick to assume acquisition is the answer…when the reality is that your good people are typically hungry for something big and new to do and willing to pour their hearts and souls into it. (For people who resist new learning and new directions, drop them off politely and professionally at the next rest stop. You’ve got no time to waste.)

5. Tune the Organization to Align Superpowers with Key Opportunities. Instead of assuming that a new structure is the solution….something that often emerges from these challenging and frequently political battles over change, use as your emphasis aligning the absolute best resources with the biggest opportunities. Strategy should highlight the best opportunities…now, plug in the people with the right superpowers to succeed for each key opportunity. More often than not, wholesale restructuring squanders precious time and creates confusion. The Superpower-to-Opportunity approach reduces resistance and accelerates the time to implementation so critical in this situation.

6. Use Formal Project Management Practices to Execute the Key Strategy Initiatives. Most strategies breakdown in the execution phase…not the idea phase. For your key initiatives, establish formal project teams complete with an executive sponsor, a clear charter and scope and a well define project team with priorities and targets. Then use this project-focus to provide visibility into progress and to capture lessons learned along the way.

7. Use Process Mapping Relentlessly to Support Building the New System. The work of mapping out key processes around selling, marketing, supporting, deciding, measuring etc. is priceless. Remember that the gravitational pull of “we’ve done it this way” is extremely powerful. Process Mapping helps identify opportunities for new approaches and of course, it highlights flaws, blind spots, inefficiencies and in general it supports cross-functional collaboration and learning.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Deming was once asked what he hoped his legacy would be. In the interview (I paraphrase), he responded quickly with, “I’ll doubt I’ll be remembered at all.” Then after thinking about it, he offered, “I would like to be remembered for trying to help (American) companies from committing suicide.”

The seven suggestions above are not foreign to most senior leaders. They reflect some good commonsense. However, their use in synchronization is way too rare. When striving to navigate a Level-Up opportunity and adapt your system to changing circumstances, using these ideas is like breathing…a really good idea. Anything else has a bad outcome. Now, breathe…

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Introducing The Saturday Serial—An Ongoing Management & Leadership Case

A text slide reading: The Saturday Serial: A Management and Leadership Story Delivered One Post at a TimeA note from Art:

I’ve long believed serials are great ways to share stories. Dickens published many of his works in serial format and the dockworkers were reputed to shout from the shore as ships arrived with the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, “Did little Nell live?” The Golden Age of Science Fiction was filled with stories told one chapter at a time from issue-to-issue and today’s Game of Thrones novels from George R.R. Martin are an excellent example of the serial on steroids, with fans (myself included) waiting impatiently to learn the fate of our favorite characters and hoping that Mr. Martin finishes the story. Who lives? Who dies? Who conquers?

Serials provide readers an opportunity to become invested in a story and the characters, and I believe the approach provides authors an opportunity to think and then create new twists and new approaches to challenge the characters and further engage the readers. As a child and teen I was addicted to the Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries because I appreciated the characters and I loved the ability to try and solve the cases. I’ve added that twist here in the form of discussion questions and I look forward to sharing my ideas and learning how readers might solve these business cases.

Welcome to my intent and attempt to share and cultivate management and leadership lessons beyond the format of a stale blog post and endless lists of “10 ideas to… .” While I love writing the Management Excellence blog and the first 1,025 posts are testament to my commitment, I’ve wanted to experiment with the serial and management fable format here for a long time. I’m emboldened by the reader appreciation for the short, fictional cases around my mythical APEX Corporation, inserted in front of the chapters in my book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership. Those mini-cases and their discussion questions and the author’s take on the cases have been a staple of this book and something many managers have leveraged to stimulate thinking around the issues we all face in growing as leaders. I’m grateful for the appreciation many of you have expressed for those cases.

Lencioni and Goldratt popularized the novelized or fable form of business lessons in their various writings and I understand that some of you love those and others don’t. For those who prefer their business and leadership lessons and questions with a taste of drama, The Saturday Serial is ideal for you.

Beginning with my first episode, “Welcome to ACME John Anderson,” you will meet a growing cast of characters facing a series of very real management, leadership and career challenges in this fictional high-tech, global conglomerate and its various units and divisions.

Yes, the issues are real. I see them every day and I’ve experienced and observed these dilemmas around strategy and execution and learning to lead and learning to manage in many flavors  for 30-years. And while the characters and firms are all fictional, I will wager a fair amount, you will recognize these issues and challenges…and many of you will be dealing with them in real time. Now, you get to see and hear them unfold here in this on-going series of stories and cases, and hopefully, we’ll all engage in sharing some ideas on how to navigate the challenges. After all, the intent of my work and this entire blog is to help those striving to grow their firms and grow in their careers find useful and creative ideas and answers to the vexing challenges we all face during our journeys.

Welcome to The Saturday Serial at Management Excellence I hope you’ll tune in and chime in as the story develops. After all, the beauty of this format is that you can help determine the outcomes. -Art

Check out Episode Number 1.

 All characters and firms are fictional and any resemblance to any person or any firm is purely coincidental. The Saturday Serial is a copyright (2015) of Art Petty, The Art Petty Group and The Management Excellence Blog.