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.

text signature for Art

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

boxing glove striking man in the face

Keep fighting!

Some weeks are best left behind in the rear-view mirror. From a stock market swoon that was impressive if not unsettling, to the loss of some cultural icons: glam rocker David Bowie and actor Alan Rickman, you had to look hard to find good news. Of course, depending upon your own political views, President Obama’s final State of the Union address and/or the most recent Republican Debate may have offered some relief. (Or not.)

With no claims on predicting the future, last week’s “Don’t Fall Victim to Gloom and Doom,” might have been my internal alarm foreshadowing events to come.

For this week, I served up the following articles and ideas to support our mutual drive to grow as professionals and strengthen  in our careers.

  • The January Leadership Caffeine e-news, offering a variety of features on succeeding as a leader this year; an overview of some great reads and the usual fare of sound-bites and interesting links intended to prompt thinking and promote positive action.
  • I added the second of my posts in the Difficult Conversations series, offering guidance to help reduce stress and improve your chances of success with the actual conversation. Here are some well-practices tips for Conducting Difficult Workplace Conversations”

Enjoy the articles and use the ideas in great health. The year is young and while none of us individually can control the big events, we can all make a difference in our firms and with our teams by focusing on succeeding one encounter at a time.

Yours in great leading and managing!

text signature for Art

 

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.

Yahoo Misfires—Don’t Let this Happen to Your Firm

Cartoon image of a business meetingYahoo—a name left over from the boom and bust period of the dot.com world—has somehow managed to limp along in a world where many struggle to understand its value proposition. The financial markets vote with their valuations, and have recently concluded that the firm is worth no more than its holdings in the high-flying stock, Alibaba. Stated another way, the financial markets view the core Yahoo business as effectively worthless. (Note: as of this writing, there’s a good deal of swirl but little clarity surrounding the potential disposition of the Alibaba holding.)

The December 2015 issue of Forbes includes an interesting article, entitled: “The Last Days of Marissa Mayer?” Mayer is the firm’s CEO, and a former high-flying and early-stage Google Executive who has served as the face of Yahoo and the firm’s turn-around efforts for the past three years. If the article and sources are accurate, Mayer is failing as a manager and as a leader, and a big part of that failure is around the hard work of strategy.

In my recent post on strategy, I focused on the importance of the heavy lifting necessary to develop a clear, accurate diagnosis as a critical first step in building a coherent plan. The subsequent step, what strategy expert Richard Rumelt describes as, defining the “guiding philosophy,” builds on the diagnosis to frame the general approach to the situation. It’s the combination of the diagnosis and guiding philosophy that give coherence to the subsequent actions designed to seize opportunities and blunt threats. Anything short of clarity around both of these, and the prediction is in the immortal words of Mr. T, “Pain.”

The article in Forbes highlights in a very visual form the departure of key leadership and technical experts, and it reports (albeit from mostly anonymous sources) the growing frustration, tension and emotional responses to the lack of strategic clarity for the firm. The firm is in pain, and perhaps it is in its death throes. While creative destruction is inevitable in our world of change, one wonders whether a firm with the name and eyeballs of a Yahoo is aggressively striving to snatch defeat from what could be a victory.

In my work as a strategy adviser and facilitator, I see the impact of firms avoiding the hard work, introspection and experimentation that should surround an on-gong strategy process, all too often. Almost without exception, the issue is that top management has failed to take the time and put forth the effort to properly diagnose its situation. I listen to top executives and hear disparate views on the challenges and opportunities. I listen to them for clarity and unity on how they propose to move forward, and what I hear ranges from silence to cacophony.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The failure of any business is a sad affair. There are people and families and careers and dreams attached to our businesses, and when those are squandered due to ego and pride and unhealthy politics or worse yet, due to managerial laziness, it’s reprehensible. You owe it to your team and your firm to be a positive voice and catalyst in pursuit of strategic clarity, coherent actions and healthy, constant communication.

Read more in the Art of Managing Series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator/adviser. 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.

 

Art of Managing—Avoid Strategy Malpractice with a Proper Diagnosis

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsIf you’ve ever dealt with a complex medical issue, you understand how difficult it sometimes is to identify the real problem. Yet, pinpointing this problem is essential to developing the best possible treatment regimen. It can be a matter of life or death.

My oldest (adult) son suffers from an aggressive form of Crohn’s disease. He was first diagnosed as a young teen and placed on a minimal maintenance routine. We learned a few years later that his situation (location, severity, treatment) had been imprecisely diagnosed when the emergency room doctor informed us that he had summoned a helicopter to fly him to a hospital that was prepared to deal with his very life threatening complication. He navigated that—barely—and we invested a great deal of time working in the right places with experts who helped us pinpoint the type and location of the Crohn’s and develop the best possible treatment regimen and monitoring plan. The results have been great thus far.

As I dug into learning more about Crohn’s and IBS diseases, I learned a great deal about the complexity of diagnosing the problems. I spoke with too many individuals who had lived through a variation of my son’s situation—the wrong generalized treatment for a specific problem that was never properly identified.

The analogous situation takes place in business all of the time. Instead of taking the time to properly understand and diagnose the situation, managers deploy a shotgun approach with all manner of tactics, hoping to get lucky and find a winner. They’re playing fast and loose with the business and the livelihood of the firm’s employees, and this is indeed management malpractice. Sadly, it’s epidemic in our firms and government.

Much of the debate and in some quarters, outrage, over President Obama’s plan to deal with ISIS boils down to a fundamental disagreement over the definition of the problem. Critics suggest that his “diagnosis” is off and therefore his proposed tactics for dealing with the problem are fatally flawed. President Obama of course suggests that same about the thinking of his detractors. A good number of level-headed citizens I’ve spoke with admit to being uncomfortable about whether we (collectively) truly understand this situation enough to develop an approach and appropriate supporting actions.

In organizational settings, I’ve lost count of the number of times senior management team pronouncements of strategies have fallen on deaf or cynical ears from the broader employee population. While poor communication is a critical part of the problem in these situations, the root cause is that most people don’t understand the diagnosis because management failed to find and describe it. They don’t understand the analysis of the situation, the assumptions and therefore, they don’t understand the problem/opportunity with pinpoint precision. Management spouts the approach and the tactics and provides very little context for how they arrived at these ideas. People don’t understand the “Why?” and without this understanding, the “What” and “How” are out of context.

chaosThere’s a reason why we often fail to clarify situations. It’s hard work. Darned hard work, and it takes time, analysis, intense debate and the occasional and very uncomfortable leap of faith.

Rumelt’s concept of the “kernel” of a strategy (diagnosis, guiding philosophy, coherent actions) is the most powerful framework I’ve yet encountered in strategy work to help simplify complexity. The diagnosis portion is step one, and it’s the equivalent of answering: “What the heck is going on here?”

It should come as no surprise that at the beginning of a strategy refresh initiative, the participants have widely varying views of their firm’s situation. Most of those views are anchored in their silo or functional perspective and there’s no unifying diagnosis. People and teams quickly want to jump to action-plan development and bypass the heavy lifting of diagnosis. If you’ve ever been a part of a miserably facilitated strategy process, you know what I’m talking about. Let’s suspend reality and define a vision. Time for a S.W.O.T. Now, let’s describe why we can win, and then define some lofty goals and responsibilities.

This template work makes people feel like they’re making progress. However, it’s just busy work without the context of a carefully developed diagnosis. It’s malpractice if the tactics are put into play and the diagnosis remains vague or non-existent.

A more effective approach is to accept that success is defined at the front-end of the process and it starts with a proper diagnosis. Use these ideas to jump-start the work of finding the diagnosis:

  • Start with the general, “What’s going on here?” and then painstakingly explore, from the macro-trends and disruptive threats to the very specific insights gleaned from speaking with AND observing customers.
  • Understanding a competitor’s strategy is useful, mostly in deciding what not to do. Don’t assume they’ve done the due diligence on diagnosis—like you, most have not.
  • Look across sectors and technologies for external trigger events and macro trends that may present opportunities and threats.
  • Document assumptions about everything and work with experts (inside and outside) to challenge the assumptions.
  • Gain help in looking objectively at your warts and blemishes.
  • Gain help in identifying and articulating your true superpower as a firm. Sorry, you have one superpower only, not six. It’s not something general—it’s very specific.
  • Agonize over a distillation of all of this work to assess the situation. Debate the perspectives fiercely and don’t look for consensus as much as emerging clarity. Let someone with a practiced ear and kevlar skin distill and drive debate around the diagnosis.

Rumelt serves up a great number of excellent historical examples in Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. One in particular, the development of a strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union after World War II is quite powerful. The essence of it, “The Russians look forward to a duel of infinite duration,” eliminated from the equation the possibility of a negotiated “peace” and set the stage for a policy of containment that can be reasonably connected to the eventual demise of that incarnation of their government. Alternatively, a diagnosis that suggested the Soviet leaders would eventually negotiate peace would have led to a different set of actions with a potentially very different outcome. Once the diagnosis is set, the general approach and supporting cascading set of actions are able to be intelligently developed.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Don’t settle for poorly thought-out, cliché-riddled statements of strategy baked in boardrooms without the benefit of fierce diligence and debate around the diagnosis. As a family, we learned the hard way that a wrong diagnosis was potentially fatal. For a business, it most certainly is.

Read more in the Art of Managing Series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator/adviser. 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.

How Small-Company CEOs Can Build Management Teams that Work

Graphic displaying terms relevant to high performance managementOne of the worst uses of the term, “team,” is in relationship to the group of executives who report to the CEO. For many of the firms I work with ($20 million to $200 million in annual revenues), there’s little beyond the “report to” issue that binds these groups together as a team. This is often frustrating to CEOs who expect more from their highest paid lieutenants.

Countless hours and dollars are spent at offsite retreats and with expensive consultants and industrial psychologists exploring interesting dimensions of individual and group dynamics, often with no sustaining and positive “teaming” effects once the group returns to their day jobs.

What’s a CEO to do?

The answer for many is to simplify this situation by resetting expectations for teaming and laser focusing on the few issues that demand close coordination across this group of experienced and highly compensated individuals. While resetting expectations may sound like capitulation, it’s more of a case of choosing what not to do and focusing energies on the few combined activities that will move the performance meters in the right direction.

Resetting Expectations—Letting Go of Visions of Camelot

For many CEOs, there’s an idealized state of existence where the senior managers without prompting function as a single entity solving problems and making decisions and spreading confidence and good cheer across the firm. In this vision, the managers trust and even like each other and importantly, they protect each other. It’s a nice vision. Nice, but impractical.

In reality, senior managers are often at cross-purposes with each other over budgetary issues and the battle for resources for their teams. By nature of their functions, their time horizons are different. Poorly designed compensation systems fail to motivate integration and coordination, and key performance indicators reflect functional variables that are irrelevant beyond the specific department—interesting and perhaps important, but not meaningful to the group.

And the unspoken reality is that some senior managers view a seat at the table as a license to hunt for more power—whether it’s via an elevated title or favored status when it comes to gaining access to the CEO’s ear. The senior management environment is a ripe breeding ground for competition for individuals used to competing and succeeding in games of power and resources.

While many of the above variables are capable of being tuned and tweaked, a faster path to meaningful collaboration is to focus on the core issues that must bind this group in attitude and performance: direction, coordination and values. While I absolutely advocate creating meaningful, integrated measures, goals and compensation schemes, and eradicating destructive power-grabs, those should emerge from a focus on the issues.

Where Teamwork Matters at the Top:

1. Direction.The senior managers must coalesce around the next steps for the firm. Easy words, but a difficult objective to achieve in reality (and the subject of a dedicated forthcoming post).

Helping Teams and Individuals Find DirectionWhether it’s diversifying and strengthening offerings or making moves to extend within a current segment/customer group or, expanding to cover new segments, a unified front from this group is essential. In teams where this unified view and messaging is missing, the broader organization picks up on the dissonance and morale and execution suffer.

CEOs must facilitate the hard dialog about direction and bring the debates to a close with a clear, unassailable conclusion. Once direction is set, the team is accountable to owning this direction choice together—from messaging to execution, learning and adaptation. This doesn’t preclude amending or shifting in the future, but there’s a point in time when the debates stop, a choice is made and the needed senior manager collaboration begins.

2. Coordination around Strategy Execution. Management groups are capable of developing as teams around the critical and challenging work of bringing directional decisions to life. These are effectively programs or projects with a tremendous number of inter-dependencies between functions. From co-sponsoring cross-functional initiatives or key project pieces to defining meaningful measures that gauge organizational progress on strategies, teamwork at the top is critical. In my experience, the clear and galvanizing purpose of strategy implementation and the transparency required for gauging progress are critical variables for promoting senior manager teamwork.

3. Values. For high performing organizations, the values that define expected and accepted behaviors are visible and very much alive, and their reinforcement starts and stops with senior management behaviors. People mimic powerful leaders, and they are super-sensitive to behaviors that are dissonant from what’s been described as appropriate or ideal. There can be no exceptions at the senior manager level to living and supporting the values of the firm and the behaviors needed to ensure clarity of purpose, rules of engagement and collaboration and accountability for outcomes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

In three decades of attending, being a part of or facilitating senior management teams and meetings, I have no qualms suggesting that most of these groups sub-optimize. I’ve observed or have been a part of a couple of groups for points in time that looked and felt like real teams in all respects, but those are the exceptions. CEOs have a tough job deriving value beyond functional leadership from their senior managers, and instead of expecting them to spontaneously emerge as a great team, they are better served focusing on driving teamwork in the limited but important areas of direction, strategy execution and values reinforcement. Get these three right and the opportunity for the group to emerge as a real team improves considerably.

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.