Category Archives: Leadership

What Differentiates High Performing Teams

What Differentiates High Performing Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

How do you build a high performing team?

If you think like most people, you will start with acquisition. You will start by thinking about how you can convince higher performing people to join the team. But the truth is that the so called “War For Talent” this acquisition mindset kicked off wasn’t worth the cost. It’s not that there’s no such thing as high performing individuals, it’s that high performance is highly dependent on team dynamics. Research from Boris Groysberg and others found that most of individual performance was actually explained by the team dynamics, company resources, and a few other factors outside of the individual’s control.

In other words, talent doesn’t make the team. The team makes the talent.

And when you examine the inner workings of high performing teams, you start to see just how powerful team dynamics truly are. High performing teams do just about everything differently.

And in this article, we’ll outline four specific behaviors high performing teams do differently, as well as the research that supports these behaviors, in order to help you transform the dynamics of your team.

Watch the full video or keep scrolling to read.

Bursty Communication

The first behavior that high performing teams do differently is that they communicate in bursts. You may think that successful teams are in constant communication with each other, or you may tell yourself that as you find yet another meeting added to your calendar. But research from Anita Williams Wooley and Christoph Reidl suggests that high performing teams have calendars marked by long periods of alone time. That’s not to say they don’t communicate, but rather they’ve mastered how to come together quickly, communicate necessary information, and then break apart in order to execute.

If you want to communicate in bursts, consider copying the format of the daily standup or “scrum” from the Agile software development method. In a scrum, team members circle up quickly and give status updates (What did I just complete? What am I focused on next? What’s blocking my progress) before adjourning to focus on work. It doesn’t have to be daily, but a regular burst of status updates that allows teammates to know what’s going on and how they can help would likely achieve everything a 2-hour weekly all-hands does and leaves a lot more time for real work to get done.

Respectful Conflict

The second behavior that high performing teams do differently is that they harness respectful conflict. Successful teams have just as much conflict as lower performing teams, but that conflict feels different—because it is different. A lack of conflict on a team is more often a liability than a strength. Lack of conflict is either a signal that there’s not original thinking on the team, or that there is but those teammates don’t feel psychologically safe enough to express their original thinking.

Respectful conflict means that high performing teams embrace these differences of opinion and debate them in a way that ensures the best solutions are found. Research from Charlan Namath found that teams who used respectful conflict when generating ideas created 25 percent more ideas and generated higher quality ideas as well. Think about that the next time your team must solve a problem. Anytime people actually “think outside the box,” there is going to be conflict. The difference is how leaders, and the whole team, respond to that conflict. You can frame competing ideas as something to push against, or as something that pushes the team to better solutions.

Authentic Connection

The third behavior high performing teams do differently is that they build authentic connections. They work toward a collective understanding that goes beyond knowing each other’s roles and responsibilities, and even beyond knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead, successful teams build connection with each other around non-work topics as well. Researcher Jessica Methot calls these connections “multiplex ties” after the multitude of contexts built between different people.

Building multiplex ties means you build commonalities with teammates about multiple facets of their lives. And Methot’s research suggests that the result is higher performance, longer tenure, greater social support, and a host of other benefits. In addition, her research suggests that building authentic connections isn’t about elaborate team-building rituals, instead, it’s about small talk. Those unstructured moments before and after meetings, or the evening after conferences or company events, those are the moments when people self-disclose the multiple facets of their lives and, in doing so, build multiplex ties.

Generous Appreciation

The last behavior that high performing teams do differently is that they offer generous appreciation. There is a constant clement of praise and appreciation running through their discussions—bursty or not. Research from Ron Friedman and his team suggests that individuals on high-performing teams were 44 percent more likely to compliment or give praise to their colleagues and show appreciation for the work their colleagues do on any given day. This is more than just offering a quick round of praise at the monthly meeting or putting compliments on either end of constructive criticism. Instead, generous appreciation comes from a genuine place of appreciating that one’s ability to perform is dependent on others, and that means every individual success is a team-wide win.

How do you build a culture of generous appreciation on your team? You model the way. You praise people regularly and randomly. You catch them doing something right and you praise it publicly. And you even publicly praise when you catch them praising each other as well. The more you praise the right behavior, the more of it you get.

Leading by Example

In fact, modeling the way as a leader is a constant throughout these four behaviors. Because bursty communication requires a team leader who will model the way by structuring (and reducing) meetings to allow for it. Likewise, when conflict arises, teams are looking to the team leader to model the way in responding respectfully. And teams that build authentic connections have leaders who model the way by being authentically interested in the lives of their people. You could say that high performing teams do things differently, because they have leaders who do things differently. And in doing so, those leaders help the team do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on January 17, 2022

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Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Transformation and change initiatives are usually designed as strategic interventions, intending to advance an organization’s growth, deliver increased shareholder value, build competitive advantage, or improve speed and agility to respond to fast-changing industries.  These initiatives typically focus on improving efficiency, and productivity, resolving IT legacy and technological issues, encouraging innovation, or developing high-performance organizational cultures. Yet, according to research conducted over fifteen years by McKinsey & Co., shared in a recent article “Losing from day one: Why even successful transformations fall short” – Organizations have realized only 67 percent of the maximum financial benefits that their transformations could have achieved. By contrast, respondents at all other companies say they captured an average of only 37 percent of the potential benefit, and it’s all due to a lack of human skills, and their inability to adapt, innovate, and thrive in a decade of disruption.

Differences between success and failure

The survey results confirm that “there are no short­cuts to successful transformation and change initiatives. The main differentiator between success and failure was not whether an organization followed a specific subset of actions but rather how many actions it took throughout an organizational transformation’s life cycle” and actions taken by the people involved.

Capacity, confidence, and competence – human skills

What stands out is that thirty-five percent of the value lost occurs in the implementation phase, which involves the unproductive actions taken by the people involved.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) supports this in a recent article “How to Create a Transformation That Lasts” – “Transformations are inherently difficult, filled with compressed deadlines and limited resources. Executing them typically requires big changes in processes, product offerings, governance, structure, the operating model itself, and human behavior.

Reinforcing the need for organizations to invest in developing the deep human skills that embed transformation disciplines into business-as-usual structures, processes, and systems, and help shift the culture. Which depends on enhancing people’s capacity, confidence, and competence to implement the “annual business-planning processes and review cycles, from executive-level weekly briefings and monthly or quarterly reviews to individual performance dialogue” that delivers and embeds the desired changes, especially the cultural enablers.

Complex and difficult to navigate – key challenges

As a result of the impact of our VUCA/BANI world, coupled with the global pandemic, current global instability, and geopolitics, many people have had their focus stolen, and are still experiencing dissonance cognitively, emotionally, and viscerally.

This impacts their ability to take intelligent actions and the range of symptoms includes emotional overwhelm, cognitive overload, and change fatigue.

It seems that many people lack the capacity, confidence, and competence, to underpin their balance, well-being, and resilience, which resources their ability and GRIT to engage fully in transformation and change initiatives.

The new normal – restoring our humanity

At ImagineNation™ for the past four years, in our coaching and mentoring practice, we have spent more than 1000 hours partnering with leaders and managers around the world to support them in recovering and re-emerging from a range of uncomfortable, disabling, and disempowering feelings.

Some of these unresourceful states include loneliness, disconnection, a lack of belonging, and varying degrees of burnout, and have caused them to withdraw and, in some cases, even resist returning to the office, or to work generally.

It appears that this is the new normal we all have to deal with, knowing there is no playbook, to take us there because it involves restoring the essence of our humanity and deepening our human skills.

Taking a whole-person approach – develop human skills

By embracing a whole-person approach, in all transformation and change initiatives, that focuses on building people’s capacity, confidence, and competence, and that cultivates their well-being and resilience to:

  • Engage, empower, and enable them to collaborate in setting the targets, business plans, implementation, and follow-up necessary to ensure a successful transformation and change initiative.
  • Safely partner with them through their discomfort, anxiety, fear, and reactive responses.
  • Learn resourceful emotional states, traits, mindsets, behaviors, and human skills to embody, enact and execute the desired changes strategically and systemically.

By then slowing down, to pause, retreat and reflect, and choose to operate systemically and holistically, and cultivate the “deliberate calm” required to operate at the three different human levels outlined in the illustration below:

The Neurological Level – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to comprehend, connect to, and work with. Because people lack the focus, intention, and skills to help people collapse any unconscious RIGIDITY existing in their emotional, cognitive, and visceral states, which means they may be frozen, distracted, withdrawn, or aggressive as a result of their fears and anxiety.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by accepting “what is”:

  • Paying attention and being present with whatever people are experiencing neurologically by attending, allowing, accepting, naming, and acknowledging whatever is going on for them, and by supporting and enabling them to rest, revitalize and recover in their unique way.
  • Operating from an open mind and an open heart and by being empathic and compassionate, in line with their fragility and vulnerability, being kind, appreciative, and considerate of their individual needs.
  • Being intentional in enabling them to become grounded, mindful conscious, and truly connected to what is really going on for them, and rebuild their positivity, optimism, and hope for the future.
  • Creating a collective holding space or container that gives them permission, safety, and trust to pull them towards the benefits and rewards of not knowing, unlearning, and being open to relearning new mental models.
  • Evoking new and multiple perspectives that will help them navigate uncertainty and complexity.

The Emotional Cognition Levels – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to take into account because people need to develop their PLASTICITY and flexibility in regulating and focusing their thoughts, feelings, and actions to adapt and be agile in a world of unknowns, and deliver the outcomes and results they want to have.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by supporting them to open their hearts and minds:

  • Igniting their curiosity, imagination, and playfulness, introducing novel ideas, and allowing play and improvisation into their thinking processes, to allow time out to mind wander and wonder into new and unexplored territories.
  • Exposing, disrupting, and re-framing negative beliefs, ruminations, overthinking and catastrophizing patterns, imposter syndromes, fears of failure, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Evoking mindset shifts, embracing positivity and an optimistic focus on what might be a future possibility and opportunity.
  • Being empathic, compassionate, and appreciative, and engaging in self-care activities and well-being practices.

The Generative Level – which most transformation and change initiatives ignore, because they fail to develop the critical and creative thinking, and problem sensing and solving skills that are required to GENERATE the crucial elastic thinking and human skills that result in change, and innovation.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by:

  • Creating a safe space to help people reason and make sense of the things occurring within, around, and outside of them.
  • Cultivating their emotional and cognitive agility, creative, critical, and associative thinking skills to challenge the status quo and think differently.
  • Developing behavioral flexibility to collaborate, being inclusive to maximize differences and diversity, and safe experimentation to close their knowing-doing gaps.
  • Taking small bets, giving people permission and safety to fail fast to learn quickly, be courageous, be both strategic and systemic in taking smart risks and intelligent actions.

Reigniting our humanity – unlocking human potential  

At the end of the day, we all know that we can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. Yet, so many of us keep on trying to do that, by unconsciously defaulting into a business-as-usual linear thinking process when involved in setting up and implementing a transformation or change initiative.

Ai can only take us so far, because the defining trait of our species, is our human creativity, which is at the heart of all creative problem-solving endeavors, where innovation can be the engine of change, transformation, and growth, no matter what the context. According to Fei-Fei Li, Sequoia Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, and co-director of AI4All, a non-profit organization promoting diversity and inclusion in the field of AI.

“There’s nothing artificial about AI. It’s inspired by people, created by people, and most importantly it has an impact on people”.

  • Develop the human skills

When we have the capacity, confidence, and competence to reignite our humanity, we will unlock human potential, and stop producing results no one wants. By developing human skills that enable people to adapt, be resilient, agile, creative, and innovate, they will grow through disruption in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives, that are appreciated and cherished, we can truly serve people, deliver profits and perhaps save the planet.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, and can be customized as a bespoke corporate learning and coaching program for leadership and team development and change and culture transformation initiatives.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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5 Job Titles That Break the Mold and Fuel an Innovation Culture

5 Job Titles That Break the Mold and Fuel an Innovation Culture

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Fabric & Home Care Marketing

That is the job title on my very first business card.  I remember holding the card in my hands, staring at it for entirely too long, and thinking, “This is sooooo boring.  Even my parents won’t be impressed.”

To be fair to P&G, that was the job title on the business card of everyone in marketing in the business units.  The company didn’t put job titles on the card for security reasons (or at least that’s what my boss told me when I politely asked why my title wasn’t on the card).

I am older now and should have the maturity to accept the bland and nondescript title on my first business card.  But I’m not.  It’s still boring, and it shouldn’t be because we were working on innovation projects with code names and outfoxing corporate spies in the airport (another story for another post).  We were doing cool stuff and should have cool titles to show for it!

So, to right the wrong inflicted upon me and the countless others stuck with boring job titles despite doing brave, bold, and daring things, today is Make Your Own Title Day (business cards not included)

Intrapreneur

PRO: Short and sweet with a great original definition – “dreamers who do”

CON: Everyone will think you misspelled Entrepreneur

Pirates in the Navy

PRO: Title of a book by one of the foremost thinkers in the field of corporate innovation and a phrase inspired by Steve Jobs’ statement that it’s better to be a pirate than be in the Navy.  It also creates the excuse to wear an eyepatch, talk like a pirate, and keep a parrot in the office.

CON: People are afraid of pirates.  You don’t want people to be scared of you.

Rebel Smuggler

PRO: Also the basis of a book with the benefit of being a cool title that doesn’t scare people.  Plus, who wanted this to describe them:

Whether you’re are a Rebel in a functional company or a Smuggler in a dysfunctional company, you are the essential part of any transition.  You are the catalyst that transforms the caterpillar into a butterfly.  You disrupt the status quo and create opportunities for growth,

You are not the caterpillar nor the butterfly.  You are the magic that prompts the transition.”Natalie Neelan, Rebel At Work: How to Innovate and Drive Results When You Aren’t the Boss

CON: Legal and Corporate Security may not love the “Smuggler” part of the title

Tempered Radical

PRO: A more “professional” version of Rebel Smuggler, and it’s a term used in HBR, so you know it’s legit.  Here’s how they’re described:

They all see things a bit differently from the “norm.” But despite feeling at odds with aspects of the prevailing culture, they genuinely like their jobs and want to continue to succeed in them, to effectively use their differences as the impetus for constructive change. They believe that direct, angry confrontation will get them nowhere, but they don’t sit by and allow frustration to fester. Rather, they work quietly to challenge prevailing wisdom and gently provoke their organizational cultures to adapt. I call such change agents tempered radicals because they work to effect significant changes in moderate ways.Debra Meyerson, “Radical Change, the Quiet Way” in HBR (October 2001)

CON: Sometimes working quietly doesn’t work.  Sometimes, you need to make a ruckus. 

[YOUR TITLE HERE]

What title do you want to give yourself and other innovators?

Drop your suggestion in the comments (and feel free to print up new business cards)!

Image credit: Pexels

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Business Pundits Love to Say These 4 Untrue Things

Business Pundits Love to Say These 4 Untrue Things

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Go to just about any business conference and you will see a pundit on stage. He or she will show some company that failed and explain the silly mistakes that they made, then follow-up with a few basic rules to help you avoid those pitfalls and become super successful. You leave feeling confident, because it all seems so simple and easy.

Yet look a little closer and the illusion falls away. Very few of these pundits have ever run a successful business. At the same time, many of the executives that are shown to be so silly today, were hailed as visionaries of their time, often by the same pundits that ridicule them now. Some went on to great success later on.

The truth is that managing a successful enterprise is a very hard and complex thing to do well. It can’t be boiled down to a few simple rules. For every great enterprise that does things one way, you will find one that’s equally successful that goes about things very differently. So to succeed in the long term, we often need to ignore the myths pundits love to repeat.

1. You Need To Move Fast And Break Things

When the iPhone came out in 2007, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dismissed it, saying, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” The tech giant recognized the switch too slowly and largely missed out on the mobile market. Microsoft, it seemed, was a dinosaur, soon to become extinct.

Yet actually the opposite happened. Over the next 10 years, the company grew revenues at the impressive annual rate of better than 10% and maintained margins of nearly 30%. Those are very strong numbers. How can a company miss such an enormous opportunity and still survive, much less thrive?

They key to understanding Microsoft’s business isn’t what it missed, but what it was patiently building. While the world was obsessed with mobile, it was developing its servers and tools division, which eventually became the core of its cloud business that is now growing at stellar rates. That’s why Microsoft is once again vying to be the world’s most valuable company.

While agility can be an important asset for developing applications based on technology that is well understood, it is not a great strategy for developing technology that is truly new and different. To do that, you need to explore, discover and invent from scratch. That takes time and patience.

2. Innovation Is About Ideas

There is nothing that pundits and self-styled gurus like to talk about more than the power of ideas. They put up a picture of someone famous, like Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. or, most enthusiastically, Steve Jobs, and revel the audience with a fascinating story about how their ideas changed the world.

The implication is that you can change the world too if only you could find the right idea. So they suggest all manner of exercises, from brainstorming techniques to meditation and mindfulness, designed to get your creative energy flowing so that you can generate more ideas and rise to greatness, just like those fabulous and famous people.

Yet that’s not how innovation happens. Consider Einstein. He didn’t start with an idea, but with a problem. More specifically, he wanted to know what would happen if you shined a lantern while traveling at light speed. It took him ten years to solve that problem with his theory of special relativity. It took him another ten to solve his next problem and arrive at general relativity.

The truth is that if you want to make a real impact, you don’t start with an idea, but by identifying a meaningful problem to be solved. Revolutions don’t begin with a slogan, they begin with a cause.

3. Lowering Costs Will Make You More Competitive

Not all pundits are pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Some are hard-nosed realists and they will tell you that the key to success is focusing on the bottom line. That means a relentless drive toward efficiency and driving down costs so that you can increase margins and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Yet as MIT Professor Zeynep Ton, explains in The Good Jobs Strategy, that’s often not the case, even in the notoriously stingy retail industry, she points to companies like Costco, Trader Joe’s and Spain’s Mercadona as examples of how you can get better results by investing in training and retaining employees to better serve your customers.

The problem with a relentless drive to cut costs and drive efficiency is you often end up impeding the interoperability and exploration it takes to create value. That’s the efficiency paradox. The more we try to optimize operations, the less we are able to identify improvements, react to changes and discover new possibilities.

This is becoming even more important in the age of automation, where it is all too easy to replace employees with robots and algorithms. The truth is that racing to the bottom of the cost curve will almost guarantee that you will become a commodity business. Value never disappears, it just moves to a new place. To compete for the long term, you need to identify value at a higher level, develop new business models and redesign work.

4. Companies That Fail Weren’t Paying Attention

The one thing that you can almost guarantee at any conference is that at least one of the fancy pants gurus will tell a story about a great big company, usually Blockbuster, Kodak or Xerox, that was run by eminently silly people. Because these dull executives were asleep at the wheel, they failed to notice the change swirling around them and drove their enterprises into the ground.

The problem is that these stories are almost never true. Make no mistake, it takes talent, intelligence and ambition to run a significant enterprise. So whenever anybody tells you that there was a simple fix to a complex problem, you should raise your B.S. antenna. You’re probably being sold a fairy tale.

Reality is never simple or clear cut. Executives need to make tough decisions with incomplete information, often in a complex time frame. So rather than looking for easy answers, you would do yourself a much greater service by trying to uncover why smart, diligent leaders with good intentions so often get it wrong and learning from them.

Most of all, you need to internalize the fact that success or failure never boil down to a single decision or event. Even the best of us have bad moments and sometimes the least deserving get lucky. The best you can do is to keep moving forward, continue to learn and, most of the time, ignoring the pundits.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Dall-E on Bing

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How Ready Is Your Team for Change?

How Ready Is Your Team for Change?

GUEST POST from Stefan Lindegaard

When we need to navigate through the complexities of organizational change, particularly in times like today where change is everywhere around us, we need a nuanced understanding of a team’s readiness for change and thus how it can enhance its resilience.

This ties into building a strategic approach to gauge, understand, and subsequently enhance this team readiness for change.

A Simple Exercise for Your Team Readiness

First, I would like to share a simpe exercise crafted to pragmatically assess your team’s preparedness and resilience in the face of change.

See the image and then embark on this reflective exercise, grading your team on a scale from 1 (low) to 6 (high) on these five questions.

Be mindful to approach this with candor as it will pave the way for tangible, beneficial insights.

1. Anticipation, Preparation:

1. How adept is your team at anticipating possible changes and preparing strategies and backup plans to manage them?

Adaptability, Role Flexibility:

2. How well does your team adjust its skills, knowledge, and alter roles and operations, to effectively implement new tools and methodologies during times of change?

Communication:

3. How effective, transparent, and consistent is the communication within your team during times of change?

Emotional Readiness:

4. To what extent does your team display emotional readiness and stability and what is the level of psychological safety during changes in the workplace?

Leadership During Change:

5. How effectively does the next level of leadership above your team guide, support, and provide clear directions during change processes, ensuring stability and clarity?

How well does your team score? Is change your worst enemy or you just great at dealing and growing with this?

Diving into the Elements

I added each component of this exercise to address key aspects of a team’s navigation through the terrains of change. Here’s why:

1. Anticipation, Preparation:

A cornerstone of resilient performance amidst change lies in anticipation and strategic preparation, ensuring the team can adeptly navigate through different scenarios, maintaining functionality and mitigating reactionary responses.

2. Adaptability, Role Flexibility:

Ensuring a team can modify its functions and shift roles, absorbing new methodologies, tools, and technologies during transitions, is vital for maintaining performance and productivity during upheavals.

3. Communication:

Transparency and consistency in communication form the bedrock of clarity and coordinated maneuvering during change, reducing anxiety and ensuring a unified team approach towards transitional phases.

4. Emotional Readiness:

A team that displays emotional stability and ensures a psychologically safe environment during change is poised to maintain morale and productivity, addressing and navigating through the emotional and psychological impacts of change.

5. Leadership During Change:

Leadership’s role in providing stability, direction, and support during change processes cannot be overstated, ensuring that the team can confidently navigate through alterations without feeling rudderless.

Other Considerations for Change Readiness

Beyond the above elements, several other facets warrant consideration to ensure a more comprehensive, multi-dimensional analysis of a team’s readiness for change:

– Team Cohesion During Change:

Maintaining supportive, strong relationships and a united front during transitions is pivotal for ensuring sustained performance and morale.

– Continuous Learning and Improvement Post-Change:

A structured approach towards analyzing and learning from each change process, applying these insights to future transitions, enhances adaptive capabilities.

– Employee Well-being and Support:

Acknowledging and addressing team members’ well-being during change is paramount to prevent burnout and sustain healthy team dynamics.

– Change Impact Analysis (KPI’s):

Ensuring a structured, strategic approach to managing the impacts of change on operations and objectives mitigates potential negative ramifications. This is also where you can look into metrics and KPI’s.

– Partners, Stakeholder Management:

So much happens in networks and ecosystems today, so we also need to maintain trust and rapport with partners and stakeholders during transitions in order to ensure sustained positive external relationships.

Feel free to add your thoughts and perspectives on other elements for team readiness for change.

Final Thoughts

The components outlined in the exercise provide a foundational framework for understanding and enhancing a team’s readiness for change. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that change is multi-faceted and complex, demanding continuous, dynamic approaches to managing it effectively.

The simple exercise can help your team reflect on the important topic of change readiness and I hope that by coupling reflective assessments with strategic action, your team can not only navigate through the changes of today but also fortify itself for the uncertainties of tomorrow.

Ultimately, it is through understanding and addressing these elements that teams can truly become adept, resilient navigators of change.

Image Credit: Pexels

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Goals Are Not the Goal

Goals Are Not the Goal

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

All goals are arbitrary, but some are more arbitrary than others.

When your company treats goals like they’re not arbitrary, welcome to the US industrial complex.

What happens if you meet your year-end goals in June? Can you take off the rest of the year?

What happens if at year-end you meet only your mid-year goals? Can you retroactively declare your goals unreasonable?

What happens if at the start of the year you declare your year-end goals are unreasonable? Can you really know they’re unreasonable?

You can’t know a project’s completion date before the project is defined. That’s a rule.

Why does the strategic planning process demand due dates for projects that are yet to be defined?

The ideal future state may be ideal, but it will never be real.

When the work hasn’t been done before, you can’t know when you’ll be done.

When you don’t know when the work will be done, any due date will do.

A project’s completion date should be governed by the work content, not someone’s year-end bonus.

Resources and progress are joined at the hip. You can’t have one without the other.

If you are responsible for the work, you should be responsible for setting the completion date.

Goals are real, but they’re not really real.

Image credit: Pixabay

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This One Word Will Transform Your Approach to Innovation

This One Word Will Transform Your Approach to Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Have you heard any of these sentences recently?

“We don’t have time”

“Our people don’t have the skills”

“We don’t have the budget”

“That’s not what we do”

I hear them all the time.  

Sometimes they’re said when a company is starting to invest in building their innovation capabilities, sometimes during one-on-one stakeholder interviews when people feel freer to share their honest opinions, and sometimes well after investments are made.

Every single time, they are the beginning of the end for innovation.

But one word that can change that.

“We don’t have time – yet.”

“Our people don’t have the skills – yet.”

“We don’t have the budget – yet.”

“That’s not what we do – yet.”

Yet.

Yet creates space for change.  It acknowledges that you’re in the middle of a journey, not the end.  It encourages conversation.

“We don’t have time – yet.”

“OK, I know the team is busy and that what they’re working on is important.  Let’s look at what people are working on and see if there are things we can delay or stop to create room for this.”

“Our people don’t have the skills – yet.”

“Understand, we’re all building new skills when it comes to innovation.  Good news, skills can be learned.  Let’s discuss what we need to teach people and the best way to do that.”

“We don’t have the budget – yet.”

“I get it.  Things are tight. We know this is a priority so let’s look at the budget and see if there’s a way to free up some cash.  If there’s not, then we’ll go back to leadership and ask for guidance.”

“That’s not what we do – yet.”

“I know.  Remember, we’re not doing this on a whim, we’re doing this because (fill in reason), and we have a right to do it because of (fill in past success, current strength, or competitive advantage.”

You need to introduce the YET.

It is very rare for people to add “yet” to their statements.  But you can.

When someone utters an innovation-killing statement, respond with “Yet.” Maybe smile mischievously and then repeat their statement with “yet” added to the end.

After all, you’re not disagreeing with them. You’re simply qualifying what they’re saying.  Their statement is true now, but that doesn’t mean it will be true forever.  By restating their assertion and adding “yet,” you’re inviting them to be part of the change, to take an active role in creating the new future state.

There’s a tremendous amount of research about the massive impact of this little word.  It helps underperforming students overachieve and is closely associated with Dr. Carol Dweck’s research into fixed and learning mindsets.

The bottom line is that “YET” works.

Put YET to work for you, your organization, and your efforts to innovate and grow.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Trust is the Answer to Any Question

Trust is the Answer to Any Question

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If you want to make a difference, build trust.

If you want to build trust, do a project together.

If you want to build more trust, help the team do work they think is impossible.

If you want to build more trust, contribute to the project in the background.

If you want to build more trust, actively give credit to others.

If you want to build more trust, deny your involvement.

If you want to create change, build trust.

If you want to build trust, be patient.

If you want to build more trust, be more patient.

If you want to build more trust, check your ego at the door so you can be even more patient.

If you want to have influence, build trust.

If you want to build trust, do something for others.

If you want to build more trust, do something for others that keeps them out of trouble.

If you want to build more trust, do something for others that comes at your expense.

If you want to build more trust, do it all behind the scenes.

If you want to build more trust, plead ignorance.

If you want the next project to be successful, build trust.

If you want to build trust, deliver what you promise.

If you want to build more trust, deliver more than you promise.

If you want to build more trust, deliver more than you promise and give the credit to others.

If you want deep friendships, build trust.

If you want to build trust, give reinforcing feedback.

If you want to build more trust, give reinforcing and correcting feedback in equal amounts.

If you want to build trust, give reinforcing feedback in public and correcting feedback in private.

If you want your work to have meaning, build trust.

Image credit: misterinnovation.com

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Five Simple Things Great Leaders Do

Five Simple Things Great Leaders Do

GUEST POST from David Burkus

When you start out your career, you’re most often an individual contributor. And in that role your knowledge and skills are most important. But if you do that role well, you’ll likely be asked to consider becoming a leader. And in leadership, the methods you relied on to be a great employee don’t often help you become a great leader. Those skills will rarely help encourage and coach others to be great employees. Being a great leader requires a new toolkit.

As Marshall Goldsmith often says “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

In this article, we’ll discuss what will actually get you there. We’ll outline five ways to become a great leader —
whether it’s your first leadership role or your fiftieth.

1. Give Clear Expectations

The first way to become a great leader is to give clear expectations. In order to perform adequately (or higher), people need clarity. Teams need to know what’s expected of them, by when, and how they’re supposed to deliver it. And they need to know the priorities behind various tasks—what is most important, least important, and what’s in the middle. The challenge is that many leaders think that saying what they expect once is sufficient. And that might work in a static environment. But in a rapidly changing one, expectations and priorities can change quickly. So, leaders need to be clear about expectations and clear about when changes have happened and so expectations have also changed. And the same is true for priorities. It’s not enough for leaders to set expectations once, great leaders check-in constantly and revise their expectations accordingly.

2. Ask For Input

The second way to become a great leader is to ask for input. Often leaders can assume their primary job is solving problems and providing answers. They were promoted into a leadership role because of their outstanding knowledge and performance, and their team often comes to them with problems. So, their job must be to supply answers. Right? But great leaders don’t assume they have all the answers. Instead, they ask the team for input on nearly every decision of consequence. Great leaders know that doing so increases how much information will get captured and how many solutions will be generated. They also know that coming out of those requests for input will be team members who feel heard, and hence valued. And great leaders know that any suggestions they make can quickly be interpreted as orders—so they’re careful not to offer those suggestions until everyone has had a chance to be heard.

3. Share Your Reasoning

The third way to become a great leader is to share your reasoning. While great leaders seek out input from as many sources as possible, the final decision often rests on them. When that happens, great leaders know to share the reasoning behind their decision—not just the decision itself. Sharing the reasoning behind decisions is a way to reinforce the input that was considered before making the decision—which is especially helpful for those who may have desired a different decision. But sharing the reasoning also helps train the team on how their leader thinks—which is especially helpful when teams or team members bring their problems to the leader. Overtime, teaching team members to reason like their leader makes it more likely they’ll be able to solve the problem on their own next time. The more often leaders share their reasoning, the less often they’ll have to make a decision—because the team gets trained to reason the same way.

4. Stay Purpose Focused

The fourth way to become a great leader is to stay purpose focused. Great leaders keep the team focused on the mission, vision, and values of the organization but more importantly, how that specific team’s work helps serve that mission. It’s not enough for an organization to have a fancy vision or a compelling mission. Whether that mission actually motivates is determined at the team-level. That’s why great leaders know how to translate that larger mission into the day-to-day tasks of the team and bring meaning to the metrics the team is being assessed on. One of the most powerful ways leaders do this is by helping the team answer the question “Who is served by the work that we do?” and then build reminders to keep that answer top of mind. People want to do work that matters, and work for leaders who tell them they matter.

5. Care

The fifth way to become a great leader is to care. That’s the secret behind how great leaders tell their people they matter—those great leaders believe it. They genuinely care about the team they’re leading. They care enough to know about team members career desires and life goals, and they care enough to help each member fulfil those desires and goals in their work. Moreover, great leaders remind their people on a regular basis how much they care. The things leaders do to remind the team about its purpose are good, but the things they do to remind them they matter are great. And they can’t be faked. Great leaders genuinely care.

And even though it’s the fifth way, caring might be the most important one. You have to care for the people in your charge in order to put them first and serve them as a truly great leader. All the other ways will become easier if you start with caring. You’ll find you give clear expectation, ask for input, share your reasoning, and stay purpose focused. And over time you’ll find that caring, and employing all these methods, will help everyone on your team do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on April 17, 2023

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Thought Sparks – Episodic Innovation

Raise the curtain on Innovation Theater yet again!

Episodic Innovation

GUEST POST from Rita McGrath

We know that to create meaningful innovations that can move the needle for the companies that sponsor them, attention, resources and commitment needs to be sustained. But in too many organizations, innovation gets started, gets some traction and – just at the brink of discovering something useful – gets cut. Welcome to the world of innovation theater.

Layoffs are in the air

Predictably, firms that spent like drunken sailors during the low-interest-rate free-for-all that we’ve just been through are now reconsidering their spending as the economy looks a little soft, inflation has become a thing and investors are asking for — egads — a route to profitability!

We have seen this movie before, and it is one of the most devastating patterns that afflicts internal corporate venturing, or ICV. It’s worth bringing back some original research by Stanford’s Robert Burgelman and his colleagues to understand it.

The mystery of corporate innovation cycles

Years, ago, Robert Burgelman and co-author Liisa Vilikangas came to a perplexing conclusion. Despite all the talk about innovation, all the energy and money thrown at it and all the noise about accelerators, studios and labs, companies find it extraordinarily difficult to stick to an innovation program.

Indeed, as they observe in this article, “many major corporations experience a strange cyclicality in their ICV (Internal Corporate Venturing) activity. Periods of intense ICV activity are followed by periods when such programs are shut down, only to be followed by new ICV initiatives a few years later. Like seasons, internal corporate venturing programs begin and end in a seemingly endless cycle.”

They identify two influences on how an innovation process can come to grief. The first predictor is how healthy the existing core business is in terms of growth prospects. The second is how much a company has in terms of uncommitted resources – whether that’s cash or people. What you get when you juxtapose the two is a lovely 2×2:

Corporate venturing orphans: With plentiful resources, people get resources to start new ventures, only to find that the core business is quite happy to ignore them. So, things get going, develop for a while, then wither on the vine as the core business essentially refuses to welcome them into the corporate fold.

The entrepreneurs behind such ventures either give up in frustration, leave to find a firm with a more welcoming environment or even leave to found a startup that might well compete with the original firm. The interesting story of how Zoom became Zoom is a case in point.

All-out venturing drives: In this situation, there is money to invest, company leadership knows it has a problem, and venturing becomes the holy grail. This can be useful, as it tends to raise the profile of the venturing activity and it finally attracts attention, talent and a seat at the table.

The dilemma is that senior leadership teams in a hurry are apt to put too much time pressure and expectations for rapid growth on a still-uncertain activity. This can cause them to lose faith in its prospects and terminate it before it even has a chance. IBM and Maersk’s effort to create a blockchain platform, TradeLens, feels like that to me. That venture also ignored Bent Flyvbjerg’s excellent advice to avoid complexity to the extent possible.

Venturing seems irrelevant: Here, money and talent is already committed to other things, and the core businesses’ chances are looking pretty good. So why bother with an uncertain, unproven, hard to predict new business activity when you can just ride the existing gravy train, probably for as long as is relevant for the career of a given senior leader?

What happens in this situation is that investments in new capabilities are ignored, and eventually competition catches up or makes your existing operations irrelevant. For instance, Carlson Travel was riding pretty high for a while, and evidently under-invested in technology. Carlson Travel implicitly acknowledged as it struggled through a bankruptcy that it had under-invested in its core digital technologies and customer experiences and promised to spent $100 million on getting up to speed.

Desperately Seeking Corporate Venturing! Ok, so we’ve left investing in the future too late, money is now tight, and we need to deliver something to our customers and investors PRONTO! These situations rarely end well. A desperate senior executive team might well enter into ill-considered acquisitions or now, belatedly, fund the one or two ideas that have survived being neglected.

These are often terrible ideas. See: checkered history of mainline telecom or cable companies entering the content business. AT&T’s misadventures with its forays into the media business are a case in point. Verizon’s as well. Desperation seldom leads to cool-headed deal-making or venturing. A rare exception took place at Xerox Parc, where the invention of the laser printer saved the company after the government forced it to essentially give away its patents to other firms.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

In the next Thought Spark, I’ll describe what we think about all this at Valize, my sister company whose mission is to create predictable and reliable innovation and growth capabilities. In the meantime, please stop pouring money into innovation theater!

Or if you are really itching to start an innovation or transformation program, mail us at growth@valize to set up a time. We can get you off on the right foot. After all, there are no standing ovations for innovation theater.

Image Credits: Unsplash, Pexels, MIT Sloan Review, www.collectivecamp.us

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