Monday, August 14, 2017

Lessons Learned for Better Leaders and Outcomes #3

This is our third issue where we continue to develop the concepts of the Ten Lessons Learned from Thirty-Five Years in Consulting written by Joe Bockerstette.  Thus far, we discussed the below five lessons learned:
1.       Success depends far more on the client than the consultant.
2.       Figuring out what’s wrong isn’t that hard.
3.       Leaders don’t know how work actually gets done.
4.       Leaders and managers also don’t understand process.
5.       Companies measure what’s easy, not what’s important.

This issue focuses on:
6.       Change is simple, just not easy.
7.       Leaders would rather hire superstars to solve problems than solve problems.
8.       Industry experience is overrated.

As done in our last issue, we continue to provide case studies from The Inner Circle.  While we will always respect the confidentiality of our relationships, we feel the sharing of the essence of some of our engagements to be illustrative of the issues confronting corporate leaders.

#6 Change is simple, just not easy
If you have lived through a major change initiative, you understand this statement probably too well.  If you have never experienced a major change initiative, you may be scratching you head asking how it can be simple but not easy.  We human beings generally do not handle change well.  We like our routines and doing things the way we have always done them.  However, as we have written many times in our Update articles, an organization does not improve or come close to real success by doing the same thing year after year and not taking a close look at how things are being done and the tools used.

We define an organization as being made of three parts – People, Processes and Technology.  In the past, and probably a very small number of organizations today, technology was not necessarily a key aspect.  Today it not only is important but, in many cases, it is the driver of the organization.   We have been involved with many cases where a major change initiative was needed because of the implementation of new software.  That software change may make the existing organization and processes out-of-synch with the requirements of the software.  Change is needed.  Simple right?  Just change the functions and the processes as needed.  Wrong!  The organization dictated the technology change to align themselves with their vision of a successful and profitable future.  However, the people who needed to make it work did not want to see changes in what they did, whom they did it with and how it was done.  In other words, there is generally resistance (at least initially) to changing people and processes.  Sometimes this resistance is very direct and very vocal (overt).  Then there are times when the resistance is an undercurrent that gathers strength and attempts to short circuit or subvert the changes (covert).

Regardless of the trigger of the change – new software or a new corporate initiative – the change will only be successful if it is presented, implemented and measured properly with full and active support from the whole senior management team. 

There have been many books written, many courses offered and many consulting firms ready to guide you through a change initiative.  There is, of course, no one size fits all solution and no “best” approach.  Each organization is different and each needs to develop a change initiative that best fits the culture and the nature of the business.  Regardless of the specific approach taken, there are some basics of change management.
·         Understand why the change is needed.  This must be defined so that all layers of the organization can understand.  People hate change, but if they must change, make certain they can see the long-term benefit, can understand where they fit in the overall scheme and can understand the need to change.  An important factor to evaluate is the impact of this change on the culture of the organization.
·         Establish a sense of urgency.  Without this, many will just keep on doing the same thing and decide to “wait this thing out.”  But, don’t just establish a timeline without taking into account not just the technology or process side but also the people side.  It has to be a realistic timeline.
·         Start at the top of the organization and involve every layer.  We can’t emphasize enough the necessity of getting full and active commitment and support from the top of the organization.  We have seen cases where the CEO said he was committed and then put out the most unenthusiastic video to all employees.  The employees could readily see the lack of enthusiasm and developed the same blasé approach.  If all layers of senior management again do not actively and positively support the initiative, it will die a slow death.
·         The next most critical step is to communicate – clearly, accurately, honestly and frequently.  You cannot communicate enough.  It shows the urgency, sells the business case and most importantly reaches to all levels of the organization.  This is another instance of it’s simple but not easy.  In fact, it is complex and difficult.  However, building and implementing an honest communication plan is a key step that is often underestimated.
·         Look to build change champions at all levels.  Identify key people who have influence in the various levels of the organization.  Spend time with those key people and bring them into the planning.  Build their trust in the initiative.  Be patient.  Not all key people will jump right on board.  They need to be educated on the need for change.  They need to be stroked.  They need to be empowered.  If you can build champions among the key player at each level there is a good chance change will be successful.
·         Build measures that will accurately show progress toward implementing the change.  Don’t just have overall measures.  Develop measures at each level, including, if appropriate, interim measures so progress can be seen on the road to full implementation.  Identify small victories and celebrate those victories.  Interim steps are critical to reaching the end goal.  Make a big deal out of achieving interim steps.
·         Plan for some missteps along the way.  Not everything will go smoothly.  There will be mistakes.  There will be some holdouts, who either will overtly or covertly try to block success.  Expect those and try to use those instances as learning tools, but also don’t sacrifice the initiative for a few who refuse to support it.
See change is simple!  However, it certainly isn’t easy.

#7 Leaders would rather hire superstars to solve problems than solve problems.
Perhaps one of the largest hurdles we confront in our business is our smallness. While we are getting smarter, in the past, we opted to bid on larger projects we were completely comfortable in being able to complete successfully, because we had a strong network of professionals who could supplement our smallness. While successful in some, we were often considered too small to support the project.  The reality was we were viewed as too small to be able to blame or sue if something went wrong.  The other consideration here is that whomever was looking for the support owned the project, so they were in line too, but the contractor provided a buffer.

When looking inside an organization, similar situations exist.  We have always been proponents of looking within for solutions to problems.  In our work, we find the answers reside with those closest to the problem.  To a leader that can be a threat, although it certainly should not be.  Embracing this concept, places other demands on leaders – they have to lead.  Monitoring a computer screen with financials and metrics is fine, but to address serious issues and problems, a leader has to be close to their people.  A classic dilemma of meeting the dreaded quarterly reporting requirements or leading and learning from those closest to the work.  Worse yet, finding the best person who is closest to the issue and empowering them to fix it.  That too takes leadership skills, and as the leader, you still own it.

The expeditious alternative is to hire someone to take the issue.  A few dynamics come into play.  By hiring someone, the monkey off the leader’s back, but if the leader makes a not-so-good hire, the leader still owns it, which increases the leader’s risk profile.  So far, none of these options really releases the leader of anything.  Up to now, the leader is in the direct line of culpability and resulting consequences.  With all this said, the easiest and most expeditious thing to do is to hire a superstar. By hiring a superstar, the leader demonstrates his or hers leadership acumen to either the BOD or anyone above in the chain of command. Such a stellar choice reduces the leader’s exposure if something doesn’t work out as expected or desired.  The blame and resulting consequences are shifted away.  The worst outcome for the leader who made the selection is some disruption to the organization and some cost consequences; otherwise, he or she is insulated.

In summary, solving problems can be a daunting challenge to leaders.  Looking at spreadsheets is easy, and numbers can be manipulated (believe me we have seen how manipulating numbers relieves pressure in the short term).  Managing the business processes, knowing the business and the people who make the organization tick requires getting out into the organization and working the problems.  As a leader, lead those who can make a difference, empower people, and hold them accountable.  These all take energy, but yield great returns.  Attempting to shift risk to someone else is a weak leadership tactic.  Soliciting insights from experts that guide your thoughts and actions is a very sound tactic, but as a leader you must own the issue and it’s solution.

#8 Industry experience is overrated.
Within the context of leadership, industry experience is a very interesting consideration.  One of the classic leadership stories of the ‘Turnaround’ era was that of Al Dunlap, CEO of Crown Zellerbach, Scott Paper and then Sunbeam.  This story goes both ways.  In the paper world for the 1980s and 1990s, Al Dunlap, more commonly known as ‘Chainsaw Al’ because he would turnaround these paper companies by slashing people, assets and anything else he could.  “For a while, things were good in the career of Al Dunlap. He turned Scott Paper and Crown Zellerbach into profitable companies by ruining thousands of lives, selling off the corporate scraps, and making millions for himself in the process.”1 Sunbeam hired Al because of his “reputation” as a turnaround guru, but he failed miserably.  In the paper-manufacturing world, he may have been a stockholder’s dream, but in consumer products world the culture was quite different as was the industry.  Adding to his problems, he seriously ‘cooked the books.’  “Dunlap was fired, sued, and sued some more. Old success stories were debunked. Sunbeam went bankrupt.  And Al Dunlap never worked as a CEO again.”2

What does this have to do with industry experience?  Joe Bockerstette’s position is that business processes are surprisingly consistent and stable across a wide range of industries, business models and company sizes. Indicating that, because of this level of commonality, it doesn’t matter much if leaders have industry experience and in contrast an influx of new ideas is valuable.  We concur with Joe, but we take a bit further from a leadership perspective, we feel context is keenly important.  Industry experience perpetuates industry culture in most cases. Therefore, if change is truly desired, maybe industry experience is not the answer.  Therefore, taking into account Joe’s comment about the commonality, having a leader who understands people, leadership and management, as well as the context of an organization and its culture is a far better predictor of success.  This relates to the above discussion in that finding the right leader who has the attributes, experience and knowledge can be a challenge.  We believe the effort is well worth it.  The alternative can be, and in most cases deteriorates into a less than desirable outcome for the company and their employees.

Inner Circle Case Study
Our most recent Inner Circle case study has to do with a leader, essentially an insulated and isolated leader. As indicated previously, we sanitize these case studies to protect the confidentiality of our clients. This happens to be a not-for-profit entity.  These types of organizations are unique for several reasons.  Many do not have the traditional organizational hierarchy.  For instance, there probably is a Human Resource function, a financial person/treasurer, and maybe an operational person.  Most have a board of trustees who oversee the organization.  The CEO or leader is fairly insulated, and in some not-for-profits, has to deal with some confidential issues which are not typically discussed with the board. This is a perfect stage for the Inner Circle.

For this case study, the CEO was mentoring a person who possessed the capabilities to assist the CEO in many of the routine functions and tasks on a day-to-day basis, as well as support the CEO in major activities and functions.  We might refer to this person as a ‘right-hand-man’ who had many of the qualifications of the CEO but not the experience or depth of knowledge; a perfect mentoring relationship.  Unfortunately the mentee felt there was a disconnect between the two of them, apparently, a rather deep philosophical divide; and one day decided to pack-up and leave.  No discussion, nothing.  When we say being a CEO is a lonely job, this situation is perhaps one of the worst.  The haunting thoughts of what went wrong, why and how did the CEO fail this person, and why should the departure be so harsh in the sense of no communication? 

This CEO knew of the Inner Circle and called; first to share the shock and disappointment of the event.  A person who they thought was close and had common perspectives and values had just departed without notice of any kind. Our first order was to listen, as we did.  The next order was to provide a framework and define the goal such that the CEO could structure their thinking.  Without this framework and goal, coupled with the anguish of the situation makes sorting out any form of a solution difficult. In essence, we helped guide the CEO’s problem solving thinking.  The CEO needs to develop the solution, we can only guide, advise and challenge their thinking until a solution becomes evident.  This engagement is ongoing, and, at this point, we feel the CEO has a grasp on the situation with initial ‘next steps’ to embark upon.  Once those steps happen, we reassess the situation and develop future actions.  

A quick word about ‘the goal.’  Deciding whether effort should be expended, and what the potential end-point is seriously important.  Many times we assume a goal without challenging our thinking, pursue the goal only to find out it’s the wrong goal.  The Inner Circle is uniquely suited to validate such goals.  We know when a goal is either unrealistic or improperly focused.  We are sufficiently removed from the emotion of the situation to drill down into the unemotional issues and formulate a realistic strategy toward a well-defined goal.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Lessons Learned for Better Leaders and Outcomes #2

We interrupted our series of articles to introduce The Inner Circle.  This issue returns us to the Ten Lessons Learned from Thirty-Five Years in Consulting written by Joe Bockerstette.  Our February issue discussed the first two lessons learned –
1. Success depends far more on the client than the consultant.
2. Figuring out what’s wrong isn’t that hard.
This issue focuses on lessons:
3. Leaders don’t know how work actually gets done.
4. Leaders and managers also don’t understand process.
5. Companies measure what’s easy, not what’s important.
In addition, we are incorporating a column in UPDATE dedicated to case studies from The Inner Circle.  While we will always respect the confidentiality of our relationships, we feel the sharing of the essence of some of our engagements to be illustrative of the issues confronting corporate leaders.

We continue our 2017 UPDATE series on an article/post we read delineating Ten Lessons Learned from Thirty-Five Years in Consulting written by Joe Bockerstette, a principal at Business Enterprise Mapping. We are addressing a few of Joe’s lessons learned in our 2017 issues of UPDATE and expound on them based on our experiences.  This issue focuses on lessons:
3. Leaders don’t know how work actually gets done.
4. Leaders and managers also don’t understand process.
5. Companies measure what’s easy, not what’s important.

# 3 – Leaders don’t know how work actually gets done
In the early 2000s, we worked with a large telecommunications company in one of their specialized divisions.  Part of our charge was to create a 360° instrument unique to their business unit.  We did an extensive survey of competencies.  Two of the competencies were Business Process and Business Knowledge.  The 360 instrument is a valuable tool for leaders because their superiors, their peers and their subordinates assess them. Therefore, while Business Knowledge and Business Process were two of the key competencies, the actual day-to-day workings of the organization are difficult to get one’s arms around. I had one CEO readily admit that he did not know what was happening at the working level of his organization.  In another situation, a senior division leader who was responsible for about 30% of the company’s profit realized two months after the year’s end that he missed the mark by 90%.  Reasons for these missed marks and shortcomings are complex and we certainly don’t want to trivialize them, but one of the reasons involves leaders diving too deep into what they perceive as important rather than realizing what’s really important.  There is a belief that pouring over spreadsheets reveals all about a project, until the old adage of garbage in = garbage out.  The 90% shortfall, after a very intense team “Come to Jesus” meeting, resulted from some small targets being missed that were rolled over to the next reporting period with the anticipation that they would be completed. When they weren’t and additional ones were added to the deficiency list, those were rolled over. It didn’t take long before the project was in trouble. The Division head focused so much on computer screens, to an extent that he was completely out of touch with the work that was and was not getting done. 

Then there is the mushroom syndrome, where the leaders is perceived as an obstacle to work progress such that those actually doing the work treat the leader like a mushroom by keeping him or her in the dark and feeding them what they want to hear.  Again detaching the leader from the real work.  These are few examples of how it can happen, and we believe all our readers know of many more examples.  Fundamentally a leader must be tied in, not distracted, focused on the important things, and balance his or her priorities such that they remain close to the work of their people.   The leader must have clear knowledge of how work is being done, challenge questionable activities but not get so involved that nothing happens without the leader’s approval and hence the leader becomes an impediment to work getting done.
#4 – Leaders and managers also don’t understand process
Processes are what make things happen in an organization.  A process defines the steps necessary to achieve a result.  It may be how items are procured or how an insurance claim is to be processed or how pipes are welded together.  In other words, process defines how things get done.  There are formal documented processes and there are informal, probably not written anywhere, processes.  Both exist in every organization.  Let’s take a look at both and then examine how they work with – or against – each other.
Documented Processes:  These are processes, where the organization develops steps specifying how something is supposed to be done.  Some are detailed step-by-step instructions and some are more generalized giving, if you will, an outline of the steps.  In some cases, an organization provides a policy document serving as a process document.  The amount of detail in documented processes varies widely.  The intent is to instruct/direct employees how to approach and accomplish a particular process.  As we will discuss below, the intent may be good, but the execution, particularly over time, falls away from the documented process.  Most large to medium companies, we have found, have documented processes.  With smaller companies it varies.
Informal Processes:  These are generally not recorded anywhere.  They develop, over time, by the employees who do the work.  Employees find how they can best achieve the final objective of the process and start using other ways to get the job done.  Informal processes exist in companies of all sizes, and reflect the actual way things get done and results achieved.   Are these informal processes effective?  Generally yes, but they are often far from efficient.  Just like legends handed down verbally, the informal processes are handed down to new employees and often get tweaked in the telling.  It’s like the party game of “whisper down the lane” where one person tells another and it continues on from person to person until the final person is told something that frequently varies widely from the original.  Informal processes get things done but often not the best and most effective for the organization.  Therefore, over time the informal processes change and evolve.
Documented and Informal Process Interaction:  Even with formal documented processes, there will be informal processes employees use to do the actual work.  As discussed in #3 above, in far too many situations leaders of organizations have no idea how things actually get done.  Unless they were previously part of the actual process they may be familiar with a formal process but probably have no idea what the informal processes are and how they are intertwined with the formal process.    Our experience has been, when trying to help an organization improve their processes; the leaders of the organization only think they understand how the processes work.  They may know how they should work, but are generally totally unaware of how things actually work. 
Existing formal processes, in place for a long time, may change due to short-term circumstances adding steps added along the way as work-arounds for specific issues.  As a rule, additional steps aren’t eliminated when the short-term situation goes away, and too frequently, the process becomes so cumbersome and unworkable, employees develop their own informal processes to keep the wheels moving.  We have seen cases where the informal process is completely different from the formal process, but since the end results are there, the organizational leaders may be blissfully ignorant of how those results are achieved.  Interestingly, when one analyzes the flow of how the process actually works and factors in the informal processes, the actual process flow is indistinguishable from the formal process flow. 
Processes are critical to accomplishing work with proper results.  However, without periodic process review, including those who actually work the process, the process will become bloated and inefficient, to the point that, if the employees do not develop informal processes, work might not get done.  Why are process reviews not conducted more frequently?  A big factor is the leaders and managers not understanding the process and not asking the employees, who are using the process, for feedback and recommendations.  A process review is not rocket science, but the leaders of the organization have to recognize the need and want to see improvements and it takes a little work.

#5 – Companies measure what’s easy, not what’s important
Assessment as a proactive tool illustrates how an organization can preempt problems.  It becomes the age-old issue of don’t ask the question if you are not ready for the answer.  Assessment tools exist to respond to issues/challenges affecting the health of an organization; and typically, an independent assessment yields the most valuable perspectives.  So once issues are identified and corrective measures taken, how does an organization know if the desired result was achieved?  This is where measurement comes into play. Key Performance Measures are important to the success of any organization.  If the right performance measures are not identified and used, significant consequences result.  

Too frequently, determining what and how to measure is not afforded the thought it needs.  Determining what to measure and how to measure it takes work.  Unfortunately, the old accounting joke of “figures don’t lie but liars figure” can be applied to performance measures.  It is relatively easy to identify some measures, but those measures may not really tell how a process or organization is performing.  A measure of “how many widgets produced per hour” may not really tell much about the effectiveness of an organization or a process.  Good measurement takes thought and goes into more depth.  Frequently a series of more detailed measures reveals the truth.

“Assessment is a necessary element of ensuring an organization is functioning effectively. The design of an integrated assessment methodology/plan is essential to appropriate follow up action and improvement.  Assessments designed and conducted in an improper context can yield inappropriate findings and information, which typically lead to inappropriate action.”

Our experience demonstrates that the necessary drilling down into an issue is the usually deferred over the choice of a more expeditious slice off the top; then measuring the result of whatever initiative is determined to address this rather superficial issue.

The interesting contrast is when leaders know how work gets done, when they understand Business Process and when they measure the right things not the easy ones; these organizations become successful and as Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great:
·         All good-to-great companies begin the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.
·         When you start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of your situation, the right decisions often become self-evident.
·         A primary task in taking a company from good-to-great is to create a culture wherein people have a tremendous opportunity to be heard and ultimately, for the truth to be heard.

Again we see that Joe Bockerstette’s Lessons Learned are in fact right on target with our experiences and provide lessons that should be studied by leaders who want to be truly effective.

Inner Circle Case Study

 When we began developing our thoughts regarding the Inner Circle, we based our focus on the fact that living at the top of an organization is a lonely place to be.  The biggest leadership challenge to Executives and CEOs is getting honest, truthful, candid, objective, qualified inputs and feedback, in a non-threatening context, to help in sorting out issues, ideas and problems and strategies.  The concept behind the Inner Circle is to support CEOs and Senior Executives, as they wish, in a confidential, safe environment; offering a wealth of experience, knowledge and integrity.  We envision the Inner Circle as a resource to CEOs and Senior Executives; a deviation from conventional consulting and executive support. We do not believe in conventional marketing or promoting of our services.  We anticipate executives will realize the benefit and bring their issues and concerns to us.  We believe we should share examples of selected engagements, respecting our commitment to confidentiality.  This Case Study is such an example.

A few months ago, a CEO, whom we had known, approached one of our principals in the Inner Circle.  This CEO asked to spend a few days with him.  Because they had known each other fairly well, he agreed, unsure of a specific reason for the visit. 

As part of our inner workings, we discuss such requests to ensure we respond as professionally as possible and provide value for the time spent.  We held a conference call to sort out expected issues based on what we know about the CEO, as well as methods to employ during the engagement, and/or cues to be aware of that might change our approach.  In this particular case, we agreed that listening would be the primary technique.  Listening is one of the most important communication methods.  Keen listening skills afford insights as well as time to assimilate the message received in order to provide valuable insights.  In many cases, just having someone trusted listen is beneficial.

Since the overall engagement was loosely structured, the first day was rather touristy, sightseeing, etc.  Consistent with our listening strategy, day two purposely remained open and unplanned, to develop as the CEO desired.  The weekend as a whole was relaxing and enjoyable for both, and the outcome, we believe, was as the CEO desired.  As we recapped the engagement we felt the CEO needed to get away, needed time for some head clearing in a different environment with a trusted person, who is uninvolved in the CEO’s day-to-day work; but knowledgeable and considered a colleague.

This demonstrates that the Inner Circle is more than discussing work related issues, but also an opportunity to reduce stress, enjoy time away from the daily grind, and an overall head clearing experience in a safe environment where issues can be raised as necessary

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Corner Office Syndrome

It takes time, hard work and commitment to reach a senior leadership position.  For many, most of their professional lifetime.  When the opportunity presents itself, shortly after the immense feeling of joy and ecstasy, reality sets in.  The responsibilities are huge, work hours long and problems never cease their onslaught.
You are the person the organization is entrusted to.   The powers to be selected you because you have the knowledge, skills, charisma and all those leadership qualities everyone writes about. With that, you are supposed to lead with confidence, vision and a firm hand on the tiller. While others believe all this, as a CEO or senior executive, you realize the realties; it’s a lonely place to be.  The organization looks to you for answers to solve problems and make decisions.  Leading by committee is not an option and is rarely, if ever, effective and dilutes your ultimate effectiveness.  You must be strong, confident and resolute while having the emotional skills to lead people.  Quite a challenge.

Most of our readers are familiar with our focus on leadership.  Much of our work over the past 20 years has been to work with senior executives and CEOs.  While we believe, as do our clients, our work has improved those organizations we also recognize the need for new and creative ways to help leaders improve.  Getting groups of executives together, seconded for several days focused on a combination of slide decks, talking heads, discussions, and group sessions, is not a reality for today. Research substantiates our beliefs and points out that coaching is one of the more effective ways of conveying leadership skills and knowledge.  That too has its limitations for several reasons; and we all know there are thousands of self-proclaimed coaches.  The problem with this approach is, who is doing the coaching, plus in most cases the coaching is a singular mentorship relationship.  Today it’s about potency and effectiveness.  There are no multiplicative benefits from those methods of the past.  It’s always better to multiply by more than one.  By multiplicative we mean sharing knowledge and experience of many who have walked in the same shoes for the benefit of one who is currently wearing the shoes.  Why, because time is valuable and needless to say trial and error learning is neither effective nor efficient. 

Couple all of the above with the fact that leadership is difficult; and sitting on the top is a lonely place to be.  Some of the biggest leadership challenges to CEOs and senior leaders is getting honest, truthful, candid, objective, qualified inputs and feedback, in a safe, non-threatening environment. The kind of inputs and feedback that helps in sorting out issues, ideas and problems and strategies.   We know this because we have been there and have helped those who are there now. 

Decisions affect employees, clients, customers, families, stockholders, and stakeholders.   Leadership is a difficult role, constantly requiring assessment/feedback, adjustment in style, methods and measures.  In addition, objective input prevents narcissism, builds and retains effectiveness and authenticity as a leader, and ensures ongoing support of those being lead.

Many CEOs have their confidants or groups close to them, such as President’s councils.  They trust these people, with a varying degree of applicable experience and knowledge.  We bring this up because there is a need for this inner circle of trusted people who have the best interest of the leader in mind.  To gain a multiplicative benefit though, and to improve leadership capacity, the inner circle should be multi-disciplined, experienced, knowledgeable and available as needed to enhance a leader’s effectiveness.  This approach is a departure from past leadership development methods, minimizes the disruption to normal work schedules and represents high-octane inputs and support for CEOs and senior executives on their terms at their convenience.
At one point in my consulting career one of my close associates who actually was the client, made the comment that as a consultant it is imperative that one “leads the need.”  This stuck in my head since my early professional career.  As a result of our experience, the data gathered, and research available, we have created “The Inner Circle” at The Macris Group. 

What are we suggesting?
Our clients confirm our belief; we are making a difference in their organizations. We have been able to select methods used over the years and assess what specific techniques, as a function of the level of the group or individual, as well as the resultant outcomes, that work best.  We have found packaged programs are just that, packaged and generic.  One size does not fit all, we design and tailor an approach to the person, organization and industry.  Our team has a unique combination of:
  •          Common Sense
  •          Experience
  •          Knowledge and
  •          Proven Track Record

Our success centers on CEOs and Senior Executives who know and trust us. 

The Inner Circle becomes the go to resource for objective, honest and candid insights in a safe and confidential environment.  We are available to leaders in the following contexts:
·         To solicit our thoughts, assessments, and insights on issues leaders wish not to share with others in their organization, their Board or close colleagues.
·         We will respond as they wish and at the level of detail leaders desire.  We can be a sounding board or we can provide detailed contributions and tangible actionable plans.
·         If one of our team members has a unique capability or experience, we can offer individualized coaching, mentoring and/or assistance.

How we operate
The Inner Circle exists to support leaders; as they wish.   We are not offering standardized solutions.  We take the best information and research from renowned organizations, as well as, our knowledge and experience and then listen.  Once we have a clear picture of the issue or issues, we discuss our thoughts with the leader and amongst our team. 
We want leaders to think of us as a resource they can trust, a mentor or a confidant.  We highly respect confidentiality and will never compromise ones trust. 

Getting started
Our working relationships are as formal or informal as our client’s desire.  Flexibility and access is what we are about.  Leaders can reach-out to anyone of us or to the person who they feel is best suited to address their issue.  Based on our initial consultation, the Inner Circle will prepare an outline of our proposed service, the scope, expected outcomes, and other terms and conditions as appropriate.  This allows us to be responsive and meet expectations and needs in a timely manner.

Who are we?
Below is an overview of our principals at the Inner Circle.  Detailed CVs are available upon request. Principals include:
A. C. (Dean) Macris – Dean is an independent consultant in the areas of human performance, ergonomics and operational and leadership training for over 30 years.  
William S. Skibitsky – Bill is a former CEO of one of the five largest specialty contractors in the United States, and currently owner and Chairman of WST Industries LLC.
Lawrence A. Reiter – Larry is a professional in the areas of supervising, managing, consulting and leading organizations in a variety of industries including public utilities, management consulting firms and health care.
Nancy Shapiro – Nancy’s experience includes design and facilitation of teaching/training experiences with a focus on communication, self-knowledge, and cooperative team processes.
James P. Urbas – Jim is an experienced Human Resource Executive with extensive knowledge in all facets of Human Resources and Administration having broad experience in large publicly held as well as entrepreneurial companies including manufacturing and construction.
Peter Glankoff – Peter has held leadership positions in corporate, non-profit, and advisory capacities in the areas of strategic planning, marketing, and public relations.

Next Step
We ordinarily focus UPDATE on leadership issues and challenges. This is a slight departure, but we feel our readers are one of the best places to introduce the Inner Circle.   We welcome your thoughts and comments.   If you are aware of others, whom you feel will find this useful or interesting we ask you to please contact us or forward this article to them.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lessons Learned for Better Leaders and Outcomes
What you can’t measure you can’t improve has been a mantra for improvement initiatives for years. Several years ago, we wrote with the contributions from our friend Tony Ameo about performance measures.  Another aspect of improvement is bench-marking.  We are firm believers in bench-marking as ways of externally checking an organization.  What do others do, how do they do them and what can we borrow from that knowledge to help improve the companies we consult with.  We like to think we practice what we preach, but bench-marking a small consultancy can be a difficult endeavor (perhaps a topic for a future issue).  However, we are continually on the lookout for lessons learned; when we saw Joe Bockerstette’s post on LinkedIn titled Ten Lessons Learned from Thirty-Five Years in Consulting; it hit home.  We contacted Joe and asked if we could use his lessons learned as a backdrop for our 2017 UPDATE series and he graciously agreed.  These lessons learned dovetail nicely into our last issue.

Welcome to our 2017 UPDATE series.  This year we are focusing on an article/post we read that delineated Ten Lessons Learned from Thirty-Five Years in Consulting written by Joe Bockerstette who is a principal at Business Enterprise Mapping. While a relatively short post, it was quite powerful for us because it validated many of our observations and topics we have written about.  Joe’s ten lessons seemed to form a nice backdrop for our 2017 articles.  This being our first article, we will introduce the 10 lessons and then drill down into the first two.

Often we face the question: why do we do what we do, which is a very good question.  We can tell you what we do and how we do it, but answering the why is a challenge.  One answer is independence.  We believe we offer a very personal level of professional service that does not carry corporate baggage or any ulterior motives.  We believe we can be clean and honest with our clients and always reserve the right to walk away if we feel we pressured to compromise our values.  Having been in this business for over 30 years we have the privilege of working with great people and companies, gaining a breath of experience and fortunately a track-record of successes;  but bench-marking can be difficult.

While we believe we are doing fine based on the longevity we have with our clients, as well as a healthy new client influx, it is nice to get an external perspective of how are we doing.  Do our observations make sense beyond our sphere?  When we draft our newsletters, we attempt to reach beyond the traditional, challenging ideas, thoughts and practices.  Again, bench-marking is difficult.  So, when we see something validating our experience, observations and beliefs, we get excited.   Our purpose in this 2017 series of articles will be not to extol the virtues of consulting but to present important lessons on effective leadership.

Ten Lessons
Joe’s post on LinkedIn caught our attention because the ten lessons learned were spot on and validate our observations from years of consulting.  They are:
1. Success depends far more on the client than the consultant.
2. Figuring out what’s wrong isn’t that hard.
3. Leaders don’t know how work actually gets done.
4. Leaders and managers also don’t understand process.
5. Companies measure what’s easy, not what’s important.
6. Change is simple, just not easy.
7. Leaders would rather hire superstars to solve problems than solve problems.
8. Industry experience is overrated.
9. Corporate politics stops improvements.
10. Great clients have a will that delivers successful outcomes.

Addressing all ten in one article is not realistic for our UPDATE newsletter, so we are going to address a few in each of our four issues for 2017 from our perspective.  Our first issue focuses on # 1 - Success depends far more on the client than the consultant; and #2 - Figuring out what’s wrong isn’t that hard.

In past Update articles, we have discussed how improvement efforts depend on a true and active commitment at the top of an organization and how active commitment sets the tone for participation by the rest of the organization.  Let’s look at the first of these lessons:

# 1 - Success depends far more on the client than the consultant
When we started consulting, marketing was a necessary endeavor but not something we were particularly adept at.  We felt that our job was to sell ourselves, then our consulting approach.  Fortunately, most engagements were successful, but not all.  In trying to understand the successful and the not so successful engagements, we saw common threads realizing there were common characteristics of our clients that affected the success of the engagement.  We realized in addition to marketing ourselves we had to assess the potential client to ensure they were the right people to drive improvements and the organization’s success.  The criteria we developed for our ideal client included:
  • All aggressive –
    These individuals were willing and able to take charge and make things happen.   They were committed to the organization and wanting to make changes happen so the organization would thrive.
  • Variety of levels of Supervision –
    We found that our success was not at any particular level within the organization.  We found we were successful at multiple levels, provided these individuals possessed these characteristics.
  • Not risk adverse –
    Willing to “upset the apple cart” to gain improvement.  In our case, being a small firm carried risks, but one they were willing to accept to achieve organizational success.  There have been times when we experienced challenges because we did not have deep pockets or bench strength, or the panache of a larger more recognizable firm.  Our ideal clients focused on outcomes rather than perception.
  • They can “handle the system” –
    These individuals could maneuver through their bureaucracies to move the agenda forward.  They could sell the improvements to those below and above them in the organization.
  • Target individuals vs. Topics –
    Jim Collins hit this characteristic when he stated in his book Good to Great, get the right people on the bus and they will be able to take you anywhere you need to go.  Our Ideal Clients focused on getting the right people involved in the change effort both internally and externally. 

Not everything went smoothly.  Finding the Ideal Client was and is a challenge. In businesses and or companies where we had connections we were able to do some research in advance so we got as close to the person or people we needed to, but that certainly had limitations.  So in order to qualify or get closer to the ideal person we had to do a bit more work.  In these cases, we applied, selectively, the following criteria:
  • Who is the ‘right’ person –
    It takes work to identify the ‘right’ person and it takes more work to ensure that person would be assigned the lead for the consulting engagement.
  • Do you use outside services –
    Is there an aversion to using outside services.  If so, what can we bring to the table to show how an independent approach is beneficial?
  • What current ongoing project –
    Learning what work or endeavors were considered important helped us focus either our approach.
  • What current anticipated projects/need –
    How did what we were proposing integrate with other planned needs?
  • What is the budget cycle and $ sign-off authority –
    This item is keenly important.  A few examples: If we were dealing with a senior executive, budget cycles and sign-off authority was a moot point. If they wanted something done or believed in a particular endeavor, it happened.  In a more planned context of projects, budget cycles and sign-off authority became important.  An Ideal Client could make things happen.  Without this authority, all the good intentions meant nothing.

In contrast, engagements that did not fulfill our criteria resulted in less than ideal conclusions, as stated above; fortunately, those were few and declining over the years as we refined our process.  Engagements where our clients and the people we worked with met our criteria were interesting, engaging and beneficial for both the client and us. 

Why are we discussing the marketing of consulting work?  Because these characteristics apply to successful managers and provide strong leadership within any organization.  An organization succeeds because of leadership.  We always try to focus our Update articles on leadership.  The 10 Lessons that are providing the backdrop to our 2017 Update articles are lessons not just for consulting but also for building and growing successful organizations.

#2 – Figuring out what’s wrong isn’t that hard.
Several years ago, we wrote an article that likened figuring out what is wrong within an organization as misplaced pieces of a puzzle rather than mysteries.  In reality, the challenges facing businesses today are not mysteries.  We believe success in addressing the challenges comes from a clear understanding of the issues.  The issues and many of the answers reside within the organization and are identifiable.  Therefore, rather than mysteries, which contain unknown components, organizations face misplaced puzzle pieces.  The pieces are there; what we do, with our clients, is to sort and reshape the pieces so they all fit together. 
Frequently managers think they understand what is wrong in their organization.  Their definition of a problem typically is the primary reason behind our engagement.  Sometimes these definitions are accurate, but sometimes leaders are not close to defining the real problems.  One of our challenges and a key to the success of the engagement is a clear definition of the problem.  As we will address in our next article, leaders don’t always know how work gets done.  To gain a clear and true understanding; those who “are in the trenches” must be involved not just with the improvements and changes, but first with helping to define what is wrong.  These “trench dwellers” may be wrench turners, accountants, first level supervisors, customer service folks on the phone with the customers, etc. 

Achieving this understanding involves tapping into the best thinking of those who confront these issues and then designing the necessary changes.  In order to achieve this insight, it is important to create both the environment and framework to identify and sort out the issues, assist organizations regain a sense of purpose and focus, establish an overall improvement design, create real and achievable improvement initiatives and establish the whole picture of its existence. We help organizations shape or re-shape their pieces to solve the puzzle, facilitating tangible outcomes while institutionalizing cultural change.

As noted, rarely is it rocket science to figure out what is wrong in an organization.  It takes involvement at all levels and more importantly listening on the part of the leader.  After listening, the leader must separate the facts from the “venting” and pull those facts together into a clear and accurate problem definition.  As consultants, we work hard with our clients to gain a clear problem definition that sets the stage to move forward with focused and effective resolution initiatives.

When we first read Joe Bockerstette’s Ten Lessons Learned, we thought they formed a great backdrop for us to provide our perspective on the same lessons, interjecting our real world experiences in the context of leadership.  Another goal for this year is to abbreviate the length of our articles.  Keeping them shorter and hitting the high points. Therefore, we will address the next few Lessons in our next Update issue.  Keep in mind we feel these are key leadership issues and many that we have previously addressed in past Update articles.  We feel these are important issues in building strong and effective leaders at all levels of an organization.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Leadership – “Landia” – Organizational Environment

Several years ago we characterized the issues facing businesses as puzzles.  We stated that few mysteries remain in the business world, but there are many more puzzles.  Shaping the pieces of the puzzle and fitting them together into a cohesive effective organization is the real challenge. The issues are typically known, or can at least be identified.  Rather than mysteries, which contain unknown components, what businesses face are puzzles. The pieces are usually there, but most likely need to be re-shaped so they all fit together. We use the concept of Landia to highlight the selection and shaping of puzzle pieces into an effective, vibrant organization.  The mechanism to shape the organization with all its pieces and Landias is Contextual Leadership.  While our discussion of Landia started a light hearted representation, it is a very real challenge to leaders.  Applying the concepts of Contextual Leadership is the focus of this article.

In our last article in a rather tongue and cheek manner we introduced the concept of one’s “-Landia” (“Portlandia”, e.g.).  Over the past several years, we have been writing about leadership, particularly Contextual Leadership.  If we examine the two concepts of -Landia and Contextual Leadership together and couple them with organizational environment, we see how leadership can affect the culture and effectiveness of an organization.
A brief refresher on Contextual Leadership:
Contextual Leadership differs from the historical view of leadership development and/or leadership training as what seemingly successful leaders or celebrity leaders do. 

Contextual leadership attempts to understand the dynamics of leadership and leadership responsibilities.  Unpacking these dynamics and becoming aware of how to maximize the tangibles, leaders can begin to recognize how to respond successfully and lead their organizations.  Contextual leadership is a framework to build upon.  It recognizes that various situations may have different contexts from the expected norm or one’s previous experiences.

Contextual leaders are those people who are able to:
·         Recognize and understand the culture of the organization and its people
·         Use their attributes and apply their experience and competencies in an enlightened and effective manner to achieve positive results for the organization, its people, and its stakeholders
·         Not do blindly what may have worked for them before in some other context!

For more on this please contact us or visit our website Newsletter button, you will find detailed articles on Contextual Leadership.

First, despite the light-hearted approach we took to the concept of -Landia, -Landia is real.  Each and every one of us has our own -Landia.  -Landias can overlap and -Landias can be distinct and different with little commonality.  We see them everywhere and every day. Sometimes this perception is conscious and sometimes unconscious.  Consider entering a social event where you may or may not know people.  The first thing we tend to do is look for someone we know, then someone who we may perceive as having some common characteristic with whom we can begin building rapport.  Once we start talking we are looking for overlapping -Landias.  When we identify the -Landia overlaps, barriers come down.  In contrast, if through initial conversations we see little overlap in our –Landias, we tend to move on and begin the process again.  This example was simplistic.  Now if we believe we can expand our perspectives by seeking people whose -Landia is different and then work to bring the two together in a manner that begins building rapport, a synergistic effect can happen.  People too often look for common -Landias and overlook the opportunity to expand the discussion and expand their own horizons by engaging with different -Landias.  So let’s translate these examples into an organization. 

Balancing -Landias – a leader’s responsibility
In past articles we have discussed using tools like Myers-Briggs to identify “personality types”, recognize different types, and make those types work together productively.  It is the same with –Landias, perhaps to a greater extent, since they are more diverse and not as easily categorized as an MBTI grid.  However, those -Landias come together in an organization and must function to advance the organization.  If an organization had only similar -Landias it would not only be boring, it would eventually stagnate.  There would be no one to challenge ideas and bring different perspectives into the organizational thinking. 

The leader of an organization must recognize that he/she needs different -Landias, different perspectives, and different thinking to build a productive and progressive organization.  The challenge for the leader is to find those different -Landias and then mesh them into a cohesive unit.

You want enough overlap in the right areas and sufficient diversity to ensure broad perspectives and thinking consistent with the Vision and Mission of the organization.  This diversity, however, does often create some conflict and head-butting between staff members whose -Landias are divergent.  Leaders have to seek different -Landias, but then must monitor and control the diverging -Landias to create a cohesive unit.  Easy to write, but not particularly easy to do.  Instead of focusing solely on the mission, but leaders must put equal--and sometimes more--effort into the human interactions within the organization.

The imperative for leaders is to create an environment that understands different -Landias exist and appreciates their value to the organization, to realize that Contextual Leadership provides insights into effective leadership in order to build an organizational culture that respects varying -Landias, and to utilize those contextual qualities, attributes and experiences to achieve the mission of the organization.   While this concept is certainly not new, it suggests that the dynamics of -Landias provide a fresh way of looking at building a cohesive and well-functioning team.

Creating culture and changing culture
Organization culture is often misunderstood and dismissed as a “foo foo dust”.  But it is real and critical to an organization intent on achieving its mission and thriving.   The culture of an organization develops over time.  Culture is influenced by the leader, more or less, depending on his/her leadership traits and personality.  Just to shed a bit more light on the topic, the type of organization plays a tremendous role in a leader’s ability to affect a cultural change.  We use this example in our presentations.  As a former nuclear submariner, I experienced a few changes of command.  As one Captain physically leaves the ‘boat’ and the new Captain boards, the culture can change almost as quickly.  The hierarchical chain of command, the closeness of the physical environment, and the criticality of mission and potential danger of operating a nuclear submarine all have a significant influence on culture.  Hence a new Commanding Officer can rather readily, and almost immediately, affect culture change.  Contrast that with a Not-for-Profit organization that has both employees and volunteers.  A leadership change has a completely different impact and effect.  It can take years for change, much less cultural change, to take place.
Culture is also influenced by the members of the organization and the history of the organization.  The various -Landias within impact that influence.  The impact can be positive or negative depending on how the -Landias interact and are managed. Building a positive and healthy culture is one of the biggest challenges for a leader.  The mission is the goal, but achieving that goal requires an effective organization that recognizes the goal and is committed to working together. 

Workforce planning – hiring for culture, and balancing -Landias
Perhaps one of the costliest and potentially disruptive functions within an organization is planning human resource needs and then hiring people.  Planning a workforce is complex and a long term initiative, and hiring the right people can be even more difficult.  With current employment laws, when hiring goes awry, significant direct and indirect costs impact the organization.  A person may fulfill all the technical requirements of the position description, possess the requisite education and experience, but if that person does not fit the organizational culture no one is happy.  It is important to note we are not suggesting the IBM Gray Suit model.  Cloning people is typically not in the best interest in any context.  We recognize certain expectations exist within any culture, and if those expectations are not communicated at the onset, current employees and new hires can potentially clash, or at a minimum, experience unnecessary stressors in the workplace.

When a Not-for-Profit organization engaged our services, as part of that work we modified their overall hiring process.   The team of employees we were advising became aware of how culture was impacting their hiring and retention process; consequently, they realized the financial (and disruptive) impact bad hires had on the organization.  We systematically changed their process into a “Hiring for Culture” context.  

-Landia plays a major role in the success of a Hiring for Culture strategy.  The goal is not to have a -Landia diagram that is neat, symmetrical, and overlapping uniformly.  (That is something that is probably impossible.)  What this concept strives for is a balance of -Landias, where people bring unique and special skills, knowledge, experience, and attributes to the organization all within the context of balance.  For this diversity to be successful, the people within an organization must also be aware of the concept of -Landia, learn to respect differences, realize the benefits of differences, and also realize that healthy conflict is part of a healthy organization.  The negative impact of Group Think is extremely serious.

The onus is on the leader to be aware of -Landias and how they can interact both positively and negatively.  In addition, the team members must recognize people are different and not everyone thinks or acts like they do.  And to achieve the mission of the organization and to help the functioning of the organization, they must accept differences and be willing to learn to work together.  Such a transition will not always be smooth.  Differences can be frustrating and lead to friction.  The leader must take the different -Landias and point them in the same direction and lead the effort to overcome the differences to achieve the goals.

Clearly, workforce planning is a key to helping the leader find and nurture diverse team members and instill a common goal and direction.  He/she must always be aware of -Landia interactions to keep the team functioning and headed toward the organizational goal.  To do so requires the leader to expend more effort on the human aspects of the team than on the technical aspects.  For some, especially in technically oriented organizations, human interactions are not a “normal” focus and can take a concerted effort, bringing context into the discussion.  The context created in a technical organization is different than the context of a marketing or sales organization.

We continue our discussion on -Landias by reintroducing contextual leadership.  Each individual’s -Landia is unique, while individuals in an organization contribute to its culture.  Divergent -Landias are a necessary part of a successful organization.  A key aspect—and challenge—of building a high-functioning organization is for the leader to find and nurture divergent -Landias.  Taking each of the individual -Landias, building on strengths and meshing them together into a productive unit may be one of the biggest challenges a leader faces.

Wishing you the best for the upcoming Holiday Season, and don’t hesitate to call or write when the puzzle pieces don’t seem to fit or if different pieces will help fill-in the gaps.