Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Tag

On values-driven change management

Every business leader knows businesses must adapt to their environment or become discredited and irrelevant over time. But how do you do this as quickly and painlessly as possible?

While there are many leadership styles, the odds of a successful transformation improve when a leader’s values and behaviours are congruent with the mandate of the company, and are seen as aspirational.

Maurizio Bevilacqua, the mayor of Vaughan, Ont., is spearheading significant cultural change, transforming operational productivity, enhancing service levels and improving employee engagement while bringing newfound respect to city politics. His values-driven approach to leadership offers many lessons for people tasked with leading major transformation in any organization.
The mayor is no stranger to the public sector. He has served in government for many years, including as a Member of Parliament for Vaughan for 22 years. In 2010, he left federal politics and was elected mayor of the city. From the get go, Bevilacqua adopted a different leadership style from a typical politician. His approach relies less on command and control management and more on setting the right example and instilling in the culture aspirational, humanistic values.

Values-driven leadership is not new in the private sector. Many of the world’s most successful business leaders — Steve Jobs (Apple), Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) and Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen (Ben & Jerry’s) — have imprinted similar values in their companies with great results.

Bevilacqua’s values-driven leadership is demonstrated through a variety of practices and programs. For example, positivity, servitude and goodness are regularly invoked as guiding principles from strategy development on down to personal actions at Vaughan City Hall.

The mayor believes in improving employee engagement through small but personal gestures such as praising the dedicated efforts of employees both privately and publicly, placing a personal phone call for special occasions or simply saying thank you. The commitment isn’t just lip service. He and the members of council provided written commitment to the Vaughan Accord — a 12-point document that defines the principles of public service — a promise of responsible, co-operative, transparent and effective governance.

So far, the mayor’s approach has paid off in spades. Vaughan is now among the top municipal performers in Canada in voter satisfaction, economic development and staff excellence. To wit, a recent Citizen Survey revealed that 90 per cent of Vaughan residents are “very” or “somewhat satisfied” with city services overall, while 95 per cent rated quality of life “good” or “very good.” These numbers have all increased during the Bevilacqua’s tenure.
Furthermore, a fresh, business-friendly environment has led to a 18.3 per cent increase in new business creation since he assumed office. Similarly, his values-driven change has had a positive effect on staff excellence; employee engagement and demonstrated leadership competencies are up 13 and 17 per cent, respectively, compared with 2009.

Mayor Bevilacqua’s leadership style and methods are congruent with other best practice change practices:

  • Develop an inspiring narrative and values Leaders need to appeal to their staff’s spirit as well as logical brain using a simple message communicated regularly;
  • Engage all stakeholders Ignoring some groups, especially skeptics, may short change the effort and create unwanted opponents;
  • Model desirable behaviours Credibility is everything. If leaders talk the talk, they need to walk the walk;
  • Support your staff Nothing slows momentum faster than a leader who does not help their team overcome roadblocks; and
  • Be patient Real change takes time, courage and perseverance

Without a doubt, Mayor Bevilacqua is on the right track to transforming Vaughan. Yet, he should be mindful of the sage words of Pericles, Athen’s leader during the Peloponnesian War. “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” lamented Pericles, “is our own mistakes,” a warning all leaders should heed.

To discuss this topic please email me at mitchell.osak@ca.gt.com

Why do smart executives make bad decisions?

Why do seemingly intelligent and well-meaning executives make bad business decisions?

As consultants, it’s a question that organizations task us with answering, often through postmortem reviews of failed strategic initiatives. The idea is to develop a better understanding of how and why pivotal (and ultimately poor) choices were made in hopes of not repeating the mistakes.

We look at the analysis undertaken, the managerial deliberation and how the final decisions were made. In each case, we discovered that the root cause of the bad choice(s) was not the decision-makers themselves — i.e. stupidity on the part of management — but rather a dysfunctional process for making decisions.

Optimizing the decision-making process can go a long way to improving the level of analysis, managerial buy-in and the quality of the decision. And — perhaps most importantly — it could spare your organization from being responsible for the next Edsel or New Coke.

Worst practices

Rigid silos
Whether purposefully, a product of geography or a matter of culture, employees in many organizations are “siloed” in discrete units or departments. Rigid silos restrict the flow of ideas, hampering the collaborative process required for developing sound analysis and making informed decisions.

Executives who possess a siloed worldview — i.e. “empire builders” — can be particularly toxic. Unlike lower-level managers, these individuals have the power to inhibit the allocation of necessary resources and the development and implementation of strategy that serves the interests of the larger organization.

Excessive politics
Politicking is inevitable when any group is gathered to make an important decision. The trouble occurs when politicking gets out of control and supersedes sound logic. This sort of dysfunction breeds and emboldens bias and ago, which can hijack the process and lead to lousy decision-making.

Common examples of excessive politicking include: prioritizing departmental or career goals at the expense of corporate ones; keeping key stakeholders in the dark through the widespread use of back-channel communications; and overemphasizing consensus building or “what will fly” over what makes the most sense.

Muddled processes
Most large organizations assert the importance of strategic problem solving and retain scores of managers who possess this skill. However, many of these firms fail to create and follow the right practices for guiding and empowering these individuals to reach their full potential.

The process — if it even exists — often follows inadequate preparatory work and is too brief, under-resourced and devoid of key stakeholders. Worse, the individuals who are in the room often possess a shared analytical framework thus and lack the skills, expertise and vision required for distinguishing between a good idea and a bad one.

Best practices

There is no silver bullet for creating and sustaining an effective decision-making process. Every company and situation is unique. However, getting the organizational fundamentals right can go a long way toward mitigating and eliminating many of the aforementioned issues. Generally speaking, best practices include:

  • Developing and implementing a systematic decision-making methodology and process
  • Encouraging open and frank discussions about all options, assumptions and scenarios
  • Providing access to high-quality and actionable data
  • Using practical and coherent criteria for evaluating decisions
  • Having engaged and impartial leaders overseeing the process

For more information on our services and work please visit Quanta Consulting Inc.  Follow me on Twitter @MitchellOsak or connect through email at mosak@quantaconsulting.com

Social business replaces social media

Busy managers should be excused if they are not current on every development in the social media world. In discussions around digital transformation, one question regularly comes up: “Where is social media heading?” Based on our research and project work, we have identified four emerging social media trends. Overall, social media is morphing from a communication tool to a larger social business enabler.

1.  It is not just for the marketers

Marketing no longer has a monopoly on social media programs. Other groups like HR (for external recruiting), product development (for innovation) and customer services (for product support) are increasingly driving usage on these platforms and delivering business value.

2.  Content strategies are evolving

Most marketing efforts “push” content out more than 90% of the time. Marketers (and other departments) will progressively become more social, seeking a balance between pushing information and engaging their customers in dialogue around the content. Moreover, visual content will likely become more prominent in these social and collaborative conversations. Expect new social apps to better support the embedding of visual content (including live video) into conversations to better deliver sales demos or technical support.

3.  Resetting the community button

Many attempts at community cultivation are failing due to a lack of resources and mismanagement. Equally important is the dearth of dialogue-fostering social elements in the content, such as relevance and uniqueness that cater to specific interests. “At its core, social media is about being social. Your social strategy should be designed to deliver an interesting core message that wants to be shared,” says Marilyn Sinclair, president of communications company All About Words. Companies are steadily getting serious about building focused communities that emphasize social sharing.

4.  The rise of social analytics

To better target business problems, understand customers and generate enterprise-wide ROI, firms are beginning to analyze, listen and learn from customer experiences, and tap into the social pulse of customers, advocates, influencers and their collective networks. These learnings will improve the quality and quantity of social media interactions.

Social business initiatives are all about enabling workers to collaborate with customers through social media to solve problems or capitalize on opportunities. To do this, participant conversations will need to cross functions, locations and devices, blurring the barriers between the internal and external roles. This transition won’t be easy for every firm. Gartner, an IT research firm, predicts, “Through 2015, 80% of social business efforts will not achieve the intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology.”

The following success factors can help a firm exploit the trend towards social business:

  • Make strong leadership and expert change management a priority

When it comes to leveraging IT, the corporate Achilles Heel is often internal adoption. All senior leaders — and not just the CIO — should prioritize social business initiatives, model the right behaviours and deploy the right change resources and tools to drive employee acceptance. For example, some CEOs are appointing Chief Digital Officers to drive digital adoption across the organization. In other cases, companies have created senior, cross-functional steering committees to secure alignment, focus and investment. Technology is merely the delivery system

  • Establish a clear and compelling purpose for social business from the outset

Most organizations look at collaboration as a technology platform issue not as a solution to a specific business problem. Having a platform view isn’t necessarily wrong from an enterprise perspective but it frequently leads to band-aid approaches that don’t get to the root cause of problems and typically get bogged down in organizational inertia.

“Organizations fall in love with the newest ‘thing’ and they want to be cool, but they forget that their objective is to compel an audience to do something specific. Clear, consistent and compelling messaging that address social business needs across all platforms is key,” says Sinclair. “Technology is merely the delivery system.” Social business is best enabled when the business problem drives all key decisions including technology choice.

  • Consider systems and cultural tweaks to support social business

Many companies today are not well organized to conduct social business. For example, community management and customer-service efforts often lack sufficient capabilities including tools, people and skills to deliver credible programs that address customer needs. In other cases, a firm’s organizational dynamics (e.g., siloed structures, and oblique processes), performance measurement tools and culture norms do not promote free flow communication let alone collaboration.

Companies can maximize the value of their social media investments and efforts when they shift from a marketing-centered, “push” approach to an organization-wide, problem-solving strategy that engages both the community and firm. The first step in leveraging social business comes from exploring how a company can meaningfully talk and listen to their customers and stakeholders to collaboratively address their needs through the right business solution.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Drive innovation by unlocking middle management

For many companies across a variety of industries, the rate of product innovation is a major driver of competitiveness and shareholder value.  When high levels of R&D spending and new innovation strategies do not turn into product wins, leaders will naturally question how innovation is spawned, cultivated and commercialized.  While idea generation and marketing are crucial, one important way to increasing innovation may lie with the R&D process itself.  New research on the drug industry from the consultancy Booz & Co. suggests that midlevel managers may hold the key to improving the odds of innovation success.

Despite dramatically rising R&D spending over the past decade, drug companies have little to show for it.    Moreover, increased pharma consolidation has saddled large firms with bloated R&D departments that suffer from cumbersome bureaucracies and diseconomies of scale.  A variety of process, structure and collaboration strategies have been tried to improve R&D productivity – the ratio of R&D inputs to product outputs.  Unfortunately, most of these initiatives have not met expectations.  Not surprisingly, one industry leader dubbed the past 10 years the “lost decade.”

Booz studied R&D productivity in 15 leading academic-based pharmaceutical firms.  The study concluded that breakthrough innovation and problem solving occurs when individual scientists connect their own subject matter expertise to similar work being undertaken by their peers. One example of this was when Albert Einstein credited the discovery of his theory of relativity to his discussions with his peer, the engineer Michele Besso. 

Typically, organizations attempt to generate rich scientific interactions by executive decree, through traditional networking activities or by changes in their management systems, such as new measurement tools or reward schemes. Unfortunately, these strategies often fail to meet expectations, for a variety of reasons.  For example, in large companies the R&D leaders who set priorities and control resources are often too far away from the action:  the most creative scientists; high potential opportunities in technology adjacencies and; the mechanisms that generate deep and regular collaboration. Furthermore, even the most cutting-edge innovation strategies will suffer if the people implementing and managing them can not (or do not) exert the right kind of leadership.  I’ve witnessed these subtle organizational barriers in such diverse industries as consumer goods, software, telecom, aerospace and healthcare.

According to Booze, firms should focus on elevating the performance of middle managers in order to trigger serendipity-based innovation.  This key group has the mandate and ability to identify, connect and manage the crucial interactions between scientists, product developers and customers.  Business leaders can optimize middle management performance through a variety of measures, such as:     

Enable and empower midlevel leaders

  • Remove overlapping roles and responsibilities to avoid duplication and political strife while ensuring key activities are being executed;
  • Ensure senior, middle and project managers have the appropriate authority and autonomy to avoid decision making paralysis;

Optimize information rights and collaboration

Enhance the function

Improving middle management productivity is a tall order for any organization, but especially for those in dynamic, knowledge-intensive sectors. To be successful, senior leaders will need to adopt an innovation approach that combines talent management, organizational design and cultural tweaking.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Manager influence goes up when they are less certain

This counter-intuitive notion is the key conclusion of new research coming out of the Stanford Business School.  This research has important implications for senior managers as well as industries that sell expertise such as professional services, advertising agencies and recruiting firms.  

The researcher, Zakary Tormala, had subjects evaluate the appeal of a restaurant based on the assessment of two different reviewers.  Half the participants read the review by an expert (a professional food critic) while the other half read a review by an amateur.  Half of each group saw a review that was highly certain; the rest saw a review that was tentative.

Overall, while the confident amateur inspired subjects to give better ratings than the uncertain one, the less assured expert prompted higher ratings than the certain expert. The findings suggest people do not necessarily mistrust confident experts, but sometimes people are more persuaded by experts who are not confident.

What is behind this phenomenon?  Chock it up to a concept known as expectancy violations. People expect experts to be confident. Violations of that expectation surprises them, resulting in the individual taking greater notice and giving the opinion more credence. In the research, subjects reported being more surprised by the uncertain experts and the confident amateurs.

These findings do not suggest that CEOs should project uncertainly about their company’s prospect to become more influential. Having your audience take notice is not a substitute for ignoring a relevant message.  To be persuasive, managers must balance surprise with credibility. Being credible means a delivering message that is relevant to the core argument or issue.

Complementary research by Tormala also looked at how people view potential. Interestingly, the initial findings seem to show that people value high potential more than high achievement.  In one basketball study, people read the scouting report on a player and were asked to predict their salary level. Some subjects read the actual stats for the player’s first five years in the league while others read predictions for the first five years’ performance. The numbers were identical. On average, people gave the rookie over 20% more in salary in year six than the veteran.

These findings were similar to those found in the restaurant review study.   Proven achievement is very certain and predictable. At the same time, potential is uncertain and exciting.  The potential for multiple outcomes could lead to higher than expected results, and as a result, greater expectations for performance.

For managers and external experts, there are some key takeaways to build influence and trust:

  1. Foster a communication approach that emphasizes honesty, empathy and integrity;
  2. Adopt a more humble tone and style in place of the standard confidence-based rhetoric;
  3. Demonstrate analytical and process transparency underlying the opinion.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Successful Strategy Execution – Lessons from the Military

It is widely acknowledged that without successful execution the best strategic plans often fail to meet expectations, resulting in wasted capital, reduced morale and organization disruption.  How can organizations bridge the gap between plans & actions and desired outcomes & actual results?

Firstly, it useful to review some of the barriers to successful execution:

  • Strategic plans are often poorly communicated down and across the organization, and lack a suitable strategic rationale;
  • Overt or hidden organizational friction gets in the way of smooth execution. Examples include: personal agendas impacting tasks, competing corporate priorities, poor operational accountability,   turf wars and changing organizational structure; 
  • The right information is not available to the right people at the right time

Companies can learn a lot about strategy execution by studying how militaries perform their missions.  The history of war demonstrates that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  Historically, Generals have had to frequently make plan and resource adjustments as the situation changes, thereby slowing down the overall speed of execution.  To cope with this, many militaries have adopted a concept known as Mission Leadership (ML).  Basically, ML involves 3 core principles based on where and how leadership and decision making is exercised:

  1. Leaders provide and communicate clearly defined, succinct and understood military objectives through their subordinates;  these objective are trackable and are delivered with context;
  2. Leaders allocate resources to accomplish the task, provide dispute resolution and restrict their span of control so not to limit their subordinate’s freedom of action;
  3. Empowered and creative subordinates decide within their delegated freedom and available information how best to achieve the mission in the time allotted.

Corporations and militaries share similar external and internal states.  For example, both types of organizations compete in rapidly-changing environments characterized by a lack of (or imperfect) information, limited resources and internal misalignments.  Because of these similarities and it’s proven success on the battlefield, ML has been adopted by companies as diverse as Pfizer, Walmart and Diageo.

What have these industry leaders learned from ML?

  • The primary role of senior leadership is to identify key strategic priorities and objectives that support the business vision and then find the right combination of people, resources and structure to deliver maximum focus on these objectives;
  • To ensure accountability, the objectives must be measurable, tracked and linked to individual and departmental goals through performance evaluation systems;
  • A higher frequency and simpler style of communication is critical to ensuring alignment;
  • For effective decision making, employees need a clear understanding of personal and departmental operating space and their interdependencies with others;
  • There must be wide distribution of the strategic rationale and other critical pieces of information to guarantee clarity of purpose;
  • Leaders need to be facilitators that create the right environment for success including: delegating decision making down the organization, enabling a risk-friendly culture, stimulating cross-organizational adoption of best practices, and encouraging tactical improvisation for problem solving and stretch performance.

For more information on our services and work, please visit www.quantaconsulting.com

Business Strategy Influencers – General Erwin Rommel

Many military thinkers, including Sun Tzu and Napoleon, have provided strategic insights for business leaders.  One of my favorites was perhaps the most skilled German general of World War II.  Among his many successes, Erwin Rommel’s tank division was the first German unit in the 1940 attack on France to reach the English Channel. Moreover, Rommel’s 1941-42 leadership of the Afrika Corps has served as a classic example of maneuver and indirect warfare.  Throughout his service, Rommel developed a number of maxims on military strategy that have a direct bearing on how business leaders formulate and execute strategy.  Here are a few of his pearls of wisdom:

1.         See for yourself

Rommel regularly operated near the front so as to clearly understand the battlefield situation and to make immediate decisions when the tactical conditions changes. 

Management Learning:  Too often, executives do not spend enough time in the field talking with customers, channels and suppliers to get accurate, unbiased facts. In addition, being on the front lines often improves employee morale and generates goodwill with clients.

2.         Concentrate your force at the decisive point

Despite usually having numerically inferior forces, Rommel understood that if he concentrated his power at his adversary’s vulnerable point he could gain an overwhelming advantage. Splitting the Allied forces in this fashion enabled him to destroy them piecemeal at different times of his own choosing.

Management Learning:  Focusing resources at a competitor’s blind spot or weakly defended market (as opposed to their strongholds) can quickly lead to market penetration and the establishment of a defensible position. This strategy may also reduce your business risk as competition may not be prepared or able to counteract your moves.

3.         Surprise and speed are everything

In every campaign, Rommel endeavored to achieve tactical surprise, hoping to catch his foes disorganized and unprepared.  Once surprise was achieved, Rommel’s aim was to quickly exploit the advantage with highly mobile forces.  It was not an understatement that one of Rommel’s units was known as the Ghost division.

Management Learning:    Attaining first mover position enables new entrants to preempt an immediate and possibly lethal response while potentially building a sustainable advantage.  Furthermore, decisive executives understand that slow or poor execution is expensive, risky and fraught with opportunity cost of foregone revenue.

4.         Protect your supply lines

Rommel recognized that a high tempo, rapidly mobile army requires a flexible yet uninterrupted supply line.

Management Learning:  Rapidly growing and profitable markets requires supply chains that are reliable, scalable and efficient. In knowledge-intensive industries, prudent executives recognize the importance of maintaining their ‘human capital’ supply chains including effective recruiting and training.

5.         Outsiders often are more effective than insiders

Originally trained in the Alps as an infantry officer, Rommel went on to become a leading practitioner of tank warfare, both in the lush, rolling hills of Europe and the bleak deserts of North Africa.  As such, Rommel was not a prisoner of a static frame of reference, conventional wisdom or inherent bias.   His expertise lay in the mastery of many generalist skills including a genius for improvisation, a follow-me leadership style and a propensity for thorough research & planning.

Management Learning:   Rommel’s experience supports the view that effective leaders can come from outside of the home industry.  Possessing traits such as the ability to understand key customer & market drivers, being a creative problem solver and a passionate leader may be just as important as domain expertise.