Leadership Caffeine—Breakaway Leadership Part 2

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

In the first post in this blended, Leadership Caffeine/Art of Managing series, I focused on leadership and management behaviors that stifle or derail efforts to escape the gravitational pull of the past as organizations work to achieve what Geoffrey Moore calls, Escape Velocity.

In the words of that business pundit, Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us,” when it comes to building new on top of old (For those too young to have met Pogo, he was a popular newspaper cartoon character from another era.)

In this post, we look at behaviors and approaches that YOU and your management counterparts directly control that contribute to success with this challenging endeavor of building something new while managing the existing legacy business.

8 Ideas to Help Improve Your Odds of Success in Building the Future:

1. Create organizational awareness and understanding of the new endeavor. Every day. Seriously. I’m invoking Kotter’s dictate that, “in times of change, you cannot over-communicate.” Every time a firm’s senior leaders stop working at this, the cultural storm clouds emerge. Take care of it. Daily.

2. Position the new and legacy efforts as two equally critical but very different endeavors. It’s true. The existing business pays the bills and funds the future, while the new endeavor strives to ensure a future. One is no more critical than the other. They are both critical. Share the over-arching strategy (or opportunity) far and wide; create an understanding of how the firm will execute on the opportunity and share results, good and bad. Help the entire organization become invested in the success of the new endeavor!

3. Share the cool new toys! New endeavors often introduce new processes or approaches to innovation, development and market testing. Find opportunities to cross-train and cross-pollinate new approaches with legacy teams where appropriate. I’ve seen this most often in the move away from waterfall development to an agile approach. Frequently, all teams can benefit from understanding and learning to apply the new techniques.

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management terms4. Recognize and manage the inertia of your legacy business in creating new opportunities to invest. Your product managers will naturally identify opportunities to improve existing products and introduce new offerings into legacy markets. Marketing associates will find ways to spend their budgets in pursuit of the business, and rarely do the volume of development asks or marketing opportunities shrink of their own accord.

Senior leaders must manage the incremental requests with a clear filter and a firm hand. See also points 1 & 2 and recognize that creating context for “No” on new requests is critical to avoiding a cultural rift over the team with the shiny new toys and the other team with yesterday’s retreads.

5. You get what you measure…use the right progress measures. Moore does a good job of reminding us in Escape Velocity that you cannot measure new ventures with the same metrics you apply to existing businesses. New ventures are about engaging innovators and early adopters, gaining feedback and step by step, increasing activities, pipelines and then dollars and profits. We expect our existing businesses to quickly translate activities into revenues and profits, but the new ventures have to grow into those measures.

In larger entities, particularly holding companies and conglomerates, there’s often little consideration for the meaning of the numbers in cells on a spreadsheet…it’s up to you and your peers to establish this understanding and ensure proper context for costs without revenue that occur in most new endeavors.

6. Be prepared for the “Stuff Happens” phase. I don’t care how well you define the project and anticipate risks, something always happens that the team did not anticipate. The unknown-unknowns bite hard, and it takes leadership to stand firm in the face of the onslaught of finger-pointing and second guessing, and prevail. A senior leadership divided against itself will not stand. (OK, sorry President Lincoln.) The firm’s senior leaders and the new venture’s executive sponsor must fight the knee-jerk reactions and guilty before proven innocent tendencies of others vying for resources.

7. We think, therefore we are prone to errors and traps. Be merciless about avoiding group-think, dodging escalation of commitment and side-stepping other group and individual cognitive decision-making traps. Use outside perspectives to challenge your strategy and your assumptions. Promote outside-in discussions with target audience feedback and competitor analysis. Ask others to frame your perceived opportunity in a different way and challenge them to identify alternative approaches. And importantly, cultivate the leadership team dynamics needed to ask hard questions about insights, direction and strategies.

8. Avoid starving the new endeavor. One of my favorite managers often intones, “We’ve been doing so much for so long with so little that we can now do absolutely anything with nothing.”  He always gets a laugh, but it’s no laughing matter when promising ideas die on the vine due to lack of care and feeding. If you’re making a courageous leap to push into a new arena, back it with the people, equipment, tools and organizational support needed to improve the odds of success.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

This is a big topic contained in a couple of small posts. Many organizations never move beyond the business that made them successful. They are yesterday’s name brands and tomorrow’s answers to trivia questions. The effort required to add something new in an environment of existing (or old) is not to be trifled at. Use the ideas here and in post #1 as prompters and engage in the hard discussions and invoke the courageous leadership it takes to move beyond the gravitational pull of your firm’s past.

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 Art’s latest book: 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.

A Great Product Manager

Someone asked me about the importance of product management in my prior tech businesses. My answer was blunt. Great product managers see beyond customer requirements to the often unspoken needs, and they move organizational mountains to fill those needs.

If you’ve ever worked around, for or with a great product manager, you know this to be true. I’ve worked with a few who live up to this lofty description. Without them, there would have been less success. Maybe no success.

For those of you who aspire to follow in their very big footsteps, you need to think bigger about your role…about your cause. Learn to lead across boundaries…quit staring at your competitors so much and climb into the businesses of your customers, until you can feel their stress and pain and see their opportunities. And then do something about it.

A great product manager is a difference maker.

Next! Call for Interviews: Product & Project Managers & Organizational Integrators

When chatting with leadership author and expert, John Baldoni, on the Leadership Caffeine Podcast (published on itunes last week), I asked him which of his books was his favorite. I loved his response…“The one I’m working on now.”

I’m just a few weeks away from the publication of book #2 for me, a collection of essays organized into helpful…self-help sections for professionals striving to survive and succeed (Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development), and try as I might to resist the urge to do this again (right away), I have to have a book in process in my life.

Next!  Bring on the Organizational Integrators and Informal Leaders!

(This means you, Product Managers and Project Managers.)

I’ve been hanging around professionals who function as organizational integrators for most of my career. These people are more commonly identified as product managers, project managers, team leaders and any of a number of additional titles and roles where there is heavy responsibility for outcome from cross-boundary activities with little formal authority. I’ve referenced these people as “informal leaders,” and am good with that label regardless of the occasional jibe that comes my way on this particular use of both informal and leader in the same breath.

Regardless of label, these individuals who build coalitions, navigate the stormy seas of crafting successful team environments and think about (and act on) issues from both the big and little picture perspective, are the people making things happen in organizations large and small.  Yes, I have a distinctly positive bias on the value, and a distinctly negative view on how organizations are leveraging and cultivating these professionals.

For many of these integrators, the work is hard, the pay mediocre and the grief nearly endless. Oh, and then there’s the respect issue from senior management.

Interestingly, the skills required to lead complex projects and drive change across organizational boundaries are increasingly the skills required to compete in this distributed, always-on world, where complexity is the norm and time compression seemingly inevitable.

The skills employed by the best integrators are increasingly valuable…and those who have them and who work on developing them, represent outstanding pools of talent for bigger, bolder and broader leadership roles over time.

A Big Idea Here Somewhere…and It’s Time to Talk:

Whether I’ve articulated it or not, there’s a big idea here somewhere, and I intend on finding and sharing it. The focus is on the art of leading without authority…in pursuit of driving results across boundaries.

The line of questioning for product managers, project managers and other integrators will focus on the challenges that you face in navigating your role and in developing your career. Consider these three as a great starting point:

1. What’s working?

2. What’s not?

3. What needs to change to better enable you and your colleagues to succeed?

Yes, these are open ended by design. It’s early.  And no, the focus is not on project process  nor on product management steps or frameworks, but rather on organizational, cultural and leadership issues that either support or hinder the efforts of integrators like you.  Along the way, we’ll explore the personal professional development issues for individuals in these roles as well.

Want to Talk?

I have a well-developed network of contacts in these communities and will be reaching out to these professionals. However, I’m curious to hear from people who I don’t know in industries and groups I’ve not encountered.

If you or someone you know might like to participate in a non-invasive, anonymity guaranteed discussion on the challenges and opportunities you see in your work as a product manager, project manager or organizational integrator of any type, I’m all ears.

Drop me a note and we will find a way to connect. For those who prefer a survey approach, I plan on releasing one after the first round of interviews.

Leadership Caffeine: Supporting the Rise of the Informal Leader

Want to know where to find your best and brightest emerging leaders? Here’s a hint, you’ll have to use your peripheral vision to see them, because they are moving sideways at a high rate of speed.

The Rise of the Informal Leader:

While it’s unlikely that hierarchical leadership will disappear anytime soon from our long-standing organizational models, it is my opinion that we’ve entered an era characterized by the rise of the informal leader.

The ever-shrinking middle layer of management has been replaced by a variety of different individuals fulfilling roles as project and product and team leaders. Their titles say, “manager,” but the real meaning is something like, “tons of responsibility and no authority.”

These Informal Leaders are the ones busy getting work done through and with others by marshaling resources, building coalitions and cutting through the organizational crap that slows many functional leaders to a “protect my turf” crawl.

Informal Leaders are often on a mission to change the world and improve their organizations for the better.  They are organizational and initiative focused zealots with the passion and confidence necessary for success.

Existing leaders will be well served to cultivate an Informal Leader culture and class to cope with the prevailing market forces. The need for speed, flexibility and adaptability have never been greater, and the better your people are at traversing functional boundaries to “get stuff done,” the better your odds of success.

And for those seeking to strengthen and grow your careers, instead of looking up the organizational ladder, it’s time to rethink your view of success and start looking sideways as the best way to make a difference.

7 Ideas for Cultivating Informal Leaders in Your Organization:

1. Give your people room to run beyond your boundaries. Hell, encourage them to run. Don’t create artificial silo or turf barriers for your people. You will succeed if your people are encouraged to create value and build coalitions across the organization.

2. Use your functional power to broker alliances with peers that pave the way for people and teams to tackle the big issues of the day. Actively encourage teams to work to solve problems across boundaries and you will be supporting the development of an Informal Leader culture.  Those with passion and skills will take the opportunity to grab these initiatives.

3. If your culture is already project centric, recognize that great project management has two components: the tools of the trade and the socio-cultural (people) issues. You can be mechanically sound and still fail. Invest in strengthening people skills to improve your chances of success.  Don’t assume that people know how to collaborate.  I see far too many cross-functional initiatives reduced to “debating societies” to be comfortable assuming that people truly get how to collaborate for results.  Provide resources and coaching to teach teams and Informal Leaders how to succeed.

4. Change at the top to promote growth across the organization. Current leaders need to learn what it means to effectively sponsor working teams.  Those at the top of the ladder (yeah, there is still hierarchy) need to consistently model the right behaviors for cross-functional and Informal Leader success.

5. Design developmental assignments to push people into informal leadership roles. Ensure that assignments challenge individuals to quickly form relationships and guide groups towards problem resolution.  Ensure an ample flow of feedback from participants and stakeholders, and provide a reasonable blend of skills development in areas such as: communication, negotiation, critical thinking and facilitation.

6. Engage Informal Leaders in the strategy processes of the firm. Too often, the people driving progress are simply “receivers” of direction. This devalues their understanding of talent, organizational capabilities and their tremendous insights and lessons learned along the way.

7. Create diversity in your upcoming Informal Leader ranks.  Far too many organizations create “project managers” out of just their technical professionals. While cautious to generalize, many of these same organizations end up with a project management culture that is mechanically excellent but truly weak on the soft, people side of the equation.  Draw from and build informal leaders in all areas of the organization.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The issue of building a powerful Informal Leader culture transcends the topic of project management. This is neither a functional nor a vocational issue as much as it is about building an environment that works effectively in this challenging and ever-changing world.

I see successes all of the time, although they tend to emerge due to the tenacity of one or more passionate individuals, rather than through a deliberate development process. The challenge now is to find ways to deliberately develop an Informal Leader class and quit relying on its emergence by accident.

Marketers: 4 Ideas to Avoid Falling Victim to The Felt Need

A Better MousetrapThe article, “The Felt Need” by Dan and Chip Heath in the November, 2010 issue of Fast Company is worth the price of the annual subscription for it’s reminder value alone.

The Heaths tackle a topic that just about all of us involved in selling, marketing or strategy have succumbed to at some point in our careers: the felt need versus the burning need.

If entrepreneurs want to succeed…they’d better be selling aspirin rather than vitamins. Vitamins are nice; they’re healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must have.”

The article speaks to our tendency to become enamored with our own ideas and offerings, and to make the leap that because everyone can benefit from this (a vitamin), they will jump at the opportunity to buy.  They provide a number of great examples from the publishing and technology arenas.

In my own experience, technology businesses do this all of the time, often as they race to either out-feature competitors or to blindly reflect the input of customers. Not that beating competitors or listening to customers are bad ideas, but both can lead you down blind trails if you’re not careful.

I know better than to fall victim to “The Felt Need,” yet, I’ve produced a number of vitamins during the past few years. On several occasions, I’ve invested considerable time in creating programs that I would take a bullet for as offering career-critical content.  While no one disagreed with me on the importance of the programs or the value of the content, they responded to them much like people respond to their gym membership in February.

4 Ideas to Avoid Falling Victim to The Felt Need:

1. Measure and monitor the success of your new offerings. Are they selling like vitamins or, are they selling like aspirins. If you’re listening to your clients properly, they will tell you loud and clear what level of pain that you are addressing.

2. Evaluate new offerings and investment ideas with the filter of “The Felt Need.” It’s not difficult to assess if your marketer, developer or product manager can substantiate true audience pain. Ask tough questions. I love people that are passionate about their ideas, however, I still advocate a “trust but verify before investing” approach.

3. Quality-check your “Voice of the Customer” processes. Many a well-intentioned firm or product manager has listened carefully to customers only to find out that the requests, while valid, were not material. Too much blind followership leads to a bad case of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

4. Cultivate the practice of social anthropology. Ensure that your people are out in the market and in customers’ businesses observing. Ask someone a question and you will get an answer, but watch them in their own environment and you will learn something about them.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Read the article and spend some time looking at your own mix of current and planned offerings. While as the article indicates, you might end up with some vitamins, you better have a good number of aspirins to address burning pain points.  Make certain that your primary strategy is not “follow the competitor” or, “the customer’s need is our command.” You need good systems and great people to observe, translate and mostly uncover true pain points that merit a cure.  And remember the Heath’s warning about building a better mousetrap. Most people aren’t interested in a better mousetrap. They simply want a dead mouse.