For many leaders it is obvious to focus on long-term benefits; for our shareholders, customers, for our employees and many other stakeholders. We will be able to survive, grow and we are focusing on sustainability and lasting success.
Still, this McKinsey study shows that the majority of executives feel under pressure to redirect resources from strategic initiatives in order to meet short-term financial goals. This is impacting the sustainability of the business. The company will reduce its readiness for the future and the motivation of the people are jeopardised. The article formulates five behaviours that brings back the leadership focus to long-term objectives.
1) Invest in risky, large-scale initiatives which help the company to navigate into a position of growth. These initiatives can be about digitalisation, product innovation, talent development, exploring new markets.
2) Design a portfolio of strategic initiatives that in its sum are delivering positive value. These initiatives focus on how to maximise the value creation with existing assets; this can be in the areas of operational excellence.
3) Continuously allocate resources and people to strategic revenue generators. This also means to regularly exit old businesses; this allows you to focus on growing forward.
4) Take a broad range of stakeholders into consideration (beyond shareholders). Generate meaningful value for customers, employees, business partners, the society and the environment. This will also secure stakeholder value.
5) Ensure that short-term gains are not jeopardising your long-term success. Navigate through a crisis that will make the company stronger.
How are you navigating around the temptation to focus on short-term financial goals?
Neuroscience tells us that we are more creative and productive when we are working in a positive emotional state. As a leaders, this means we are responsible to create an environment which excites people to work in - establish a feeling of enjoyment and pride. Psychological Safety plays a big part in creating this environment. This is not a hygiene topic; rather it will allow people to deliver more value.
Two interesting articles are referenced in an article from 'CNBC Make It': Google determines psychological safety as the most important quality for success; Gallup reports that increased psychological safety leads to 12% increase in productivity. This is a worthwhile endeavour. And what does it take?
Which routines do you establish as a leader to create an appreciative working environment?
Source: ‘Psychological safety’ at work improves productivity–here are 4 ways to get it, according to a Harvard expert
Often, I get involved in discussions about how to motivate people; simply because I believe that in order to achieve excellence, we need people that are excited about what we want to achieve in our company. In this context, it is difficult to avoid the topic of financial targets. In my eyes, financial targets are a contributor to dissatisfaction when handled wrong. When handled right on the other hand, they don't motivate. Why is that?
Here, I want to share some of my thoughts about financial targets; and I am happy to hear your comments as well.
What are alternatives targets then? In a discussion with my friend Daniel Benes, he has suggested three key factors to focus on:
Which key performance indicators create success in your teams?
Quarter four is around the corner and yes, this is the last quarter of the year - time is flying in 2020! For many, this means reviewing their objectives and defining the new key results; closing all the major deliverables for the year...
Focusing purely on the deliverables though, might not lead to lasting success. This focus on the 'what' is not addressing the effectiveness of reaching the results. In a previous post - a single focus on performance might impede performance - I highlighted that we also need to look at 'experience' and 'learning'. What does that mean for our key results?
Here my suggested sections for expanded Objectives & Key Results:
Interesting... and what does that mean for our key results? How can we make them concrete and measurable? Let me list examples from a recent project.
Stakeholder Engagement (learning)
What are your examples? How do you accelerate your teams' effectiveness in reaching their deliverables?
This June was the first time I came across this word - Antifragility. Grant Rawlinson mentioned it as a strategy he applied during his adventures. Recently, more people started to mention it and I got curious. The story is simple. When we are fragile, we break under pressure. We start to be resilient; that means we don't break under pressure - we are surviving. The idea of antifragility is that we are growing and becoming stronger under pressure. Nassim Taleb defines it as:
"Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty."
How can we become thriving under pressure? Buster Benson summarised ten principles based on Taleb's book. Here are my thoughts around it:
In order to create lasting success, we might want to build a collaborative foundation and have a clear direction where we want to go. Then, we can combine this with curiosity to experiment and with a common understanding who are we creating value for. This might be a formula that avoids the trap of short-term thinking and shortcuts that ruptures our strength over time.
Source: 10 Principles to Live an Antifragile Life
Uncertainty has been discussed for some time and in 2020, we experienced it in a new dimension. I used to ask leaders to show me their 18-months plan from 18 months ago. Now, I think it is clear that past plans don't hold a lot of guidance anymore. How can we still lead our teams and create confidence and success?
Anita Sands shared in this article the seven habits for highly effective leaders in times of uncertainty. A great real life experience sharing what works for some of the best leaders. These seven points allowed me to reflect on four pillars of my Wheel for Agility - I haven't been so far off.
1. Balance Realism And Optimism - People in general prefer bad news over uncertainty. Not knowing what comes is very stressful. At the same time, even the worst situation holds opportunities. As a leader it is important to strike a balance between the two. Get the people out of a downward spiral.
2. Communicate Often And Authentically - Proactive communication goes hand in hand with the first habit. Vulnerability shows that we are human and that creates better connections. If we don't have an answer for the future, we still have the values we are proud of. Let's continue to live by them.
3. Focus On Purpose And Culture - Many successful leaders have evoked passion in their employees and their customer base. Why am I giving a lot of my life's energy for this company? A leaders provides a meaningful answer to this question. I like to call this creating a collective dream.
4. Nourish Yourself - As a leader we are giving a lot of energy to the people around us. Do you have enough energy yourselves that you can give away? This means we need to continuously fuel our body, mind, heart and soul. Be generous to yourself!
5. Evaluate Competitive Positioning - Many organisations fell in a fight/flight/faint/freeze mode due to the huge negativity created in the past months. As a leader it is important to create a positive environment that allows creativity and the discovery of new solutions that bounce us forward. This also requires a deep understanding of the needs & challenges of our customers.
6. Get And Stay Curious - New solutions only come from experimentation - let's try things out and evolve from what we learn. As a leader we need to be curious ourselves, and we need to empower our teams to be curious and experiment. Further, curiosity is correlated to resilience; it enables a range of cognitive, emotional and social capabilities that allow us to cope with duress. Let's walk around with a beginner's mind.
7. Pause And Celebrate Successes - Simply rushing forward might make us blind to understand if we are on the right path. Regularly pausing and reflecting on what we have achieved and learnt; this gives us the space to focus on the right opportunities. Celebrating even the smallest success, will bring some of the positivity back. This gives us a glimpse of the blue sky above the clouds.
How do you inspire your teams?
Today was Day 2 of the APAC Operational Transformation Summit with a inspiring speakers that look at new aspects of Operational Excellence: culture, sustainability and agility.
Eric Tachibana started of with an deep dive into culture. Culture is important because there is a clear correlation to financial success - btw, strategy doesn't show this correlation. At the same time, it seems to be difficult to grab and manage. Eric introduced a model to make to make culture more tangible: values, rituals, stories and artifacts. Influencing culture starts with the little behaviours we conduct every day in these four areas. He shared that at Amazon there is a strong focus on the leadership principles that provide guidance to the entire organisation and to create new routines across the four elements of culture.
Luanne Sieh introduced another angle to operational excellence and illustrated the impact of human society on our planet in the last 100 years and how it shot through the roof. In today's business, we need to look at the triple bottom line - profit, people, planet - in order to establish a sustainable operation. Investors today are more and more interested to go beyond th short term financial KPIs and push the companies they are investing in to be active in creating a better world for our society and our planet. This essentially will bring new business opportunities and allows companies to distinguish themselves in the market.
Majid Bhatti supports the view that innovation is essential for business success; creating new products, increase motivation, increase productivity, establishing new relationships. Innovation is not only about creating ideas; selecting the right ideas and executing them are essential parts of innovation. Successful innovation is based on collaboration and interaction between people; based on empathy and understanding. In this context, he introduced agile methods which have a strong focus on interacting with peers and customers. Getting early feedback from them is essential to develop solutions iteratively. Agility also suggests that we are creating flat organisations and facilitate the flow of ideas and improvements from all corners of the organisation. Agility is a platform for innovation and improvements in our operational excellence.
For me, it was refreshing to observe a broad perspective on how we can improve our operational excellence and look beyond the usual set of tools. Diving deep into culture, sustainability and agility might create more engagement within the ecosystem; looking at a wider range of criteria can drive improvements in our daily operations.
Today was Day 1 of the APAC Operational Transformation Summit and we had a great lineup of speakers. And we could clearly see a red thread going through all the presentations. Operational excellence is based on digital transformation. And the success of digital transformation is enabled by the people.
First we had Michal Golebiewski from Microsoft sharing how digital transformation is a journey and that starts with the definition of a new you, with a purpose. This purpose is guiding the customers, the partners and the employees on how we are kick-starting this journey. We need a vision & strategy; a northstar. The transformation needs to look at the culture and mindsets that will allow experimentation and stimulate a growth mindset. The unique assets and the capabilities of the organisation need to be aligned for this journey. And finally, success is based on employee empowerment and we need to stay engaged with them. These are the ingredients for success.
Abhishek Sharma, Axa, continued the journey and added that the tools and the process are necessary to make bring fruits from the ingredients. In order to start your digital transformation journey, you need to investigate your what, who, how and the impact you want to create. Important here, you will not reach the peak in the first round. And as a leader, you encourage your team members to climb the mountain by themselves - milestone after milestone. And at the same time, you are there to hold a guiding hand when necessary. This will build confidence. The transformation journey is triggering a cultural shift that involves everyone. THat is why it is important to cultivate trust with your employees, your customers and in the entire ecosystem.
During my presentation, I took the concept further and introduced positive leadership as a model that allows you to drive engagement, motivation and therefore operational success. Today's uncertain and complex business environment requires agility in order to create success. This agility is based on empowering people to experiment, guiding them with a collective dream, creating an understanding how we can create value for our customers, and lastly on building a collaborative platform to facilitate relationships and trust.
Finally, Kesavan Sivanandam, from AirAsia, shared an inspiring story about perseverance and pushing boundaries. Needless to say, the airline industry is hit very hard and AirAsia took this as an opportunity to push digital in the end-to-end experience. He shared the story how strong collaboration with various agencies and business partners allowed them to achieve a contact-less solution from "curb to gate" within a few months time. This was possible based on a common purpose within the ecosystem to keep the business going in a safe way. And in this journey, it was important to keep the people engaged under this collective dream.
Day 1 of the conference was a lot about creating a common purpose, engaging with the people, and cultivating relationships. Key ingredients for a smooth and sustainable digital transformation journey. I am curious to hear more during Day 2.
"When you bring a problem to me, also come with a solution." This has been a very common manager practice. Since a while, I believe that this statement is flawed. How do you expect your team member will react? Will they be openly and willingly approach you with their struggles? And, how does this contribute to a positive environment which is essential for creativity?
When your team is facing barriers in creating success then the entire team has an interest to overcome this barrier; the team needs transparency in order to excel and grow. As a leader you want to be a sparring partner for your team. Instead of looking at how we ended up with that problem, positive leaders will turn it into an opportunity to learn and improve the way we serve.
When we are facing a challenge, it is important to create a deep understanding of what is the problem and to withhold thoughts about possible solutions until a very late stage. Let's first identify the people we are creating value for; what are these people's needs and pain points; how can we make them excited? How are we delivering value to today and where are the gaps? With a solid understanding of the challenge, we will identify opportunities to reduce friction. Solution ideas will easily emerge.
Next time a team member comes to you with an issue, appreciate that they are sharing it with you and ask: "What did you already try?" and lead the conversation towards a factual analysis of what have encountered so far.
In my practice to give operational excellence a people-centric angle, I am always curious to learn more about how to experience and influence change. First, it is not possible to force people to change - and I think this is an important notion for any leader. You can only create an environment that facilitates people to change.
Recently I stumbled across this article - How to (Actually) Change Someone’s Mind- that illustrates how we can work together with naysayers that are opposing the change we want to create in our team and company. We all experienced the detractors that seem to be have this deep-rooted resistance to change, right? Here are three strategies that might help.
The cognitive conversation is about holding an objective and positive chat that uncovers new, specific information that can sway the decision into another direction. For success, it is important to consider the existing arguments and to keep emotions out of this discussion.
The champion conversation helps in situation where logic is not an important factor because the underlying relationship is week and is in the way of changing the decision. We want to become a champion in the conversation, get to know the people and allow them to get know you from different angles. For success it is important to stay authentic and continue to rely on logic.
The credible colleague conversation is an approach when deep believes are in the way of change; logical and emotional arguments are not working to overcome deep values. Sharing experiences from another person might help to see that other values are in favour of the upcoming change. The positive aspects from another angle might change deep-rooted opinions.
These types of conversations are not only great when dealing with individuals. The principles also work when designing the journey for large scale transformations: use logic, build authentic relationships, expand people's experiences.
Thank you Laura for putting these thoughts together and sharing these great examples.
In an environment of uncertainty and complexity, anti-fragility will allow you to create lasting success. That's a nice sentence and many people agree to this. And then the big question comes: how do you get there? how do these puzzle pieces fall in place?
Two months ago, I posted my leadership view on the four pillars for agility: customer value, purpose, relationships and experimentation: How to reach agility? Four Key Drivers for Leaders. Today, I want to come back to these pillars and share how they fit together.
The underlying premise is that your company is acting in an uncertain and complex environment. Now, in this uncertainty, you want that decisions are made fast and bottlenecks are removed. This means, you need to empower the people at the front to experiment and try out what might work - and learn. You need to increase their autonomy to allow your teams to run forward with high velocity.
Now, many people argue that this will only lead to chaos. Yes, and while we allow our teams to run forward, we need to ensure that they are moving fast in the same direction. The organisation requires an aligned and transparent understanding of the big picture purpose. Important, this is not a top down vision. I like to call it the collective dream which is evolving with everyone participating.
What is the key ingredient to this collective dream? Our customers decide if we are successful. That means, we need to create value for them. The company purpose and the different team purposes are highly influenced by how we are creating value to our customers. And this is based on a deep understanding of their needs and challenges.
The fourth pillar is about creating a platform that allows the teams to run forward in the right direction. This platform facilitates cross-silo collaboration which allows quick sharing of information and further eliminates barriers to speed and fuels creativity. Smooth collaboration is based on common goals and good relationships.
As a leader that drives anti-fragility, your role boils down to two things: bring the people together to define a meaningful and customer-focussed purpose. With this established, the second role is removing bottlenecks, providing resources and further driving motivation. Sounds easy and yes, it takes a lot of efforts to become this agent of success.
In German we have this expression - "Wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist des Talers nicht wert"; basically saying, you need to value to small change in order to be worthy of the dollar bills. Did I get this right? In many efficiency improvement projects, companies deploy a small focus team that is working on the large improvements and within a few years they can achieve great improvement results. Why is this not enough? How can these initiatives excite the entire workforce? And do these central projects have a lasting impact?
In Southeast Asia we engaged in an energy efficiency project for about 15 factories. And, we took a different approach: we directly asked the frontline people where they see improvement potential. I clearly remember a few projects we celebrated together with the staff at the factories. One was the idea to change the switches in a large warehouse. Imagine a large warehouse, and whenever you enter it, there is one switch for all the lights. The team experienced this as a waste of energy and suggested multiple switches for the different sections in the warehouse. Does this have a million dollar impact on your business? Even we might consider this as a small improvement, we celebrated it because the behaviours is correct and we wanted to stimulate more of the same.
The next time this team walks past a idle running grinding plant, they will switch it off and will save significant energy costs. Based on over a hundred similar small projects, we were able to reduce the annual energy cost by a three digit million dollar figure. Plus, we created ownership, commitment and engagement from everyone working in our plants. This was an exciting journey.
A case study from Coca Cola in Sweden shows similar results - Improvement opportunities that are hard for managers to see. The study compared the improvement impact of a Six Sigma initiative with an idea system for continuous improvement. The sum of the small ideas in total generated 6 times more savings than the big projects.
A positive leadership engaging all the workforce to participate in the overall vision of the organisation will have significant and lasting effects on your bottom line. How will you implement this in your company?
Many leaders understand that empowering their team members will improve motivation, creativity, agility and will lead to lasting success. Still, many struggle to find a balance between being the boss and stepping aside. What is the right path?
Previously we shared about the Innovation Days, a two day event in Shanghai to drive creativity: Cultivate a Creative Mindset while Delivering Business Results. During this event we encouraged the sponsors of the teams to observe their teams and be available to provide guidance.
In one team we observed great leadership. When the team went ahead to create a prototype of their idea, they involved their sponsor as an ordinary team member. This allowed this regional director to learn from the project team and at the same time share his ideas and advise. The key here is that he did this while being on the same level - not as the sponsor or a senior person.
What does it take to be a supportive, positive leader? At the start and throughout the journey, the role of a leader is to create clarity on the collective dream and what we intend to achieve with this team. Another role is to display the expected behaviour and values; be a role model. Lastly, supportive leaders coach their team members to overcome obstacles. When this is done, why not join the team and enjoy the ride together with them?
Thank you for your great leadership: Renyi Wang, Lance Yang.
Photo credit: Huntsman, Shanghai
The other day, a financial adviser shared with me that there will be a market correction coming soon and I should put my planned investments on hold. I was contemplating on this... What happens if many people believe in this correction and act accordingly? The spiral will go down. And, what will this mean for the companies I planned to invest in? They might lose funds and their growth will slow. Is this what I am believing in?
As a leader, I think we have a choice. We can follow the advice, maybe get richer ourselves and then what? Or, we can stick to our long-term investment strategy, support the organisations we are passionate about and reach our long-term growth targets; not just financially.
So, what does that mean for leaders? What can we achieve with financial targets? How is this creating engagement with your teams? Can these monetary targets be meaningful? Aren't these objectives leading to more selfishness?
As an alternative, we leaders can follow our passion and activate excitement among our team members. This will stimulate motivation and will lead to value creation for our customers. We can develop a greater and collective feeling of purpose. This collective dream will strengthen the collaboration in our team and across the wider ecosystem.
When you sit down with your team and define your goals, try to go beyond these dollar figures. Think about the results you want to achieve for your customers and with your business partners. In addition, specify the work environment you as a team want to cultivate. These are objectives that will bring meaning, excitement and passion to your team.
How are you leading beyond financial targets?
There is no magic how to master uncertain times - be innovative, be creative, think out-of-the box! Why is it so hard for many companies to thrive?
This article - How to rebuild a business after the coronavirus lockdown, WIRED UK - shows interesting cases of startups in the UK that managed to turn around and be successful despite the storm hitting the business world.
“Go back to basics,” Hannah Martin says. “Who are your ideal customers, what problem do you solve for them, how has that changed, can you adapt? Approach people, don't wait for them to update you. Look at what others are doing, in and outside your industry, see if you can get ideas.”
Many corporations are stuck in their view of the world, decision makers are too far away from reality, motivation structures are based on lagging indicators, experimentation is discouraged, silos are preventing velocity. Today's leaders need to get out of this cycle to create lasting success.
How do you bring your vision into action?
Do you still think that meeting face-to-face is the only effective way to collaborate? Many people went through different experiences. First, they struggled to work remotely overcoming technical and social barriers. Then came the realisation that remote working actually works; it is possible to achieve a lot (and even more) even when we are not able to meet. And a third phase has arrived where we want to enrich virtual collaboration with physical interaction. What is you preferred mix of the two worlds?
I do love to read WIRED UK, uncovering the latest trend in tech and innovation. This recent 'work smarter' article expressed this observation: Coronavirus could finally fix some of our most toxic work habits.
In the past, many managers believed that they need to call a meeting to discuss everything, and most deliverables can only be created during these face-to-face interactions. This is great for the people that love to speak up and then hope that others are picking up what they said. How can you be sure that you have you captured all ideas from everybody?
“If you give people time to react to your question they can take the time and their contributions can often be more thoughtful,” says Prithwiraj Choudhury, Harvard Business School.
Work is not meant to be tied to a desk. Now, we have the opportunity to change our view what is the essence of working in the office. This can be the place to meet colleagues, to facilitate the random knowledge exchange at the "water cooler". Sometimes it is great to conduct a workshop face-to-face - the dynamic is different and maybe more relaxed. At the same time, we learned to appreciate to work by ourselves, which allows us to focus on tasks and go deeper with our thoughts.
The flexibility to choose the work location based on a variety of criteria will be one of the new norms we can build upon.
How will you benefit from this?
Image credit: Giacomo Gambineri
July is the start of a new quarter and many teams are about to define what their goals for the next three months will be. Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) are used in many organisations and I believe they are a great tool to write down and discuss the big picture objectives and the immediate achievements to focus on - strengthening alignment & transparency.
How to make these key results meaningful? Let me share with you an example. In the last two weeks I was supporting a global compliance team that is split in five smaller groups. In the last quarter they were struggling because they felt the OKRs were not relevant to what their work was actually about. What did we do differently?
First, we expanded the objectives beyond the core deliverables: timely implementation of regulatory requirements. A few posts ago, I shared an article why a single focus on performance might impede performance. The idea is that a solid environment is further improving the outcome of your teams. This environment is based on creating positive experiences and enabling continuous learning. Our compliance team added two objectives. One is related to adding value to stakeholders; the teams are encourage to establish frequent meetings with the different stakeholder groups and implement a structure way to showcase their projects and to understand where they can deliver more value. The second new objective is about strengthening knowledge sharing and collaboration within the global team. The key results for this are aiming at improving social connections between the smaller groups and establish knowledge sharing habits. The felt that these objectives are more meaningful and will support the core deliverables.
Second, we included a round to collect key results from the smaller groups. In this organisation it was typical that OKRs were defined by the team leaders and then communicated to the rest of the organisation. Sounds familiar? The experience of the previous quarter was that the team members didn't think the key results were relevant for them; they also felt that each group has totally different focus topics. Instead, after defining the objectives, the leaders went back to their small groups and defined key results for their group. These were then aggregated and clustered which made the key results relevant for all team members. As a result it was obvious that the different groups have an overlap of topics and this created stronger bonds across the global team.
Overall, the entire team is positive and confident with the key results for the upcoming quarter and are highly motivated to focus on bringing value to their stakeholders and to themselves. A great start for success.
Photo credit: keadventure.com
Until not so long time ago, success was defined by following a plan through, or you designing a product that is flawless, or you following the process to the dot. Management schools and project management standards have contributed to this push of perfectionism. The base for this are assumptions that markets are stable, customer needs won't change and operations are easy to map into processes. With the current crisis, and even before that, we experienced that we can't rely on these assumptions? The world is changing faster, the future looks uncertain and ecosystems are complex.
Why do we as leaders feel it is hard to move away from perfectionism?
"In the midst of great uncertainty, leaders across all industries are adjusting strategies and supply chains, rewriting the rules of operating, and sometimes making things up as they go. This kind of leadership demands mental agility. However, there is a challenge: our minds are not naturally built for agility." This Harvard Business Review article shares insights on how we can address our mental barriers to agility.
The first challenge are the distractions. Every day hundreds of messages are asking for our attention. And, we tend to get involved in too many activities; too many priorities are demanding our input. It takes courage and new habits to remove these distractions and focus on the things that matter; the old 'signal versus noise' situation. We can achieve more agility when we focus on small steps, intermediate achievements, instead of keeping a constant focus only at the top of the mountain.
The second challenge is about our ego. I had success with this in the past; my opinion is correct; I already have invested a lot. All this is fixing our mind and prohibits fast adjustments. Instead, as leaders we need to look at the collective wisdom, listen to all the people that are close to the market. Authentic leadership allows to be closer to reality and removes the self from the equation. And as a result, we and our team members can be more self-confident.
The third challenge is empathy. In a crisis we are expected to recognise and resonate with the emotions of the people involved. This is a very important step to overcome the difficulties and come out stronger than before. At the same time, we might reach a paralysis and are not able to make decisions that might hurt some people; then empathy might slow down our agility. As a leader we can find a balance with constructive compassion. This means we are respecting the emotions of people, we treat them as humans. Keep looking for the value these people are bringing, in the larger context of things.
Is your mind ready to conquer the opportunities of the next crisis?
Illustration by Keith Negley
The first half of 2020 is over - and wow, this was a rollercoaster, right? As a leader, what did you learn? Which new routines did you start? And what is on your list that requires immediate attention?
We have asked manager in Asia and Europe about their top priorities right now. Our findings have been positive and alarming at the same time.
Positive is that leaders care about their people and employees are confident that they are supported. There is a human touch in the leadership in Asia which might be based in the more collectivistic cultures in the region.
On the alarming side, we conclude that companies make limited efforts and plans for a new future and set up their business for success. Are companies putting themselves into hibernation and expecting to wake up and continue in the same way? This might not happen and operations, business models and ways of working require a creative remodeling.
Read here the detailed study: Teams Come First - New Business Models Later
Thank you, Björn Kälin and Emmanuel Montet, for your collaboration and support.
Photo credit: University of Maine
In the current situation, many companies are stumbling and stuck in the place they currently are - or worse, where they have been in 2019. At the start of the lockdowns, leaders tried to connect with their teams and engaged on a social level. Then, the urge of survival kicked in; many companies started cost cutting exercises. Is this sufficient to shine and thrive at the end of this crisis?
On my side, I am convinced that in order to create lasting success, companies need to focus on value creation. We need creativity to address totally new needs and we need velocity to deliver value at the time it matters most.
In this context it is great to see that major consulting companies are confirming this point of view. McKinsey pushes in a similar direction: Ready, set, go: Reinventing the organization for speed in the post-COVID-19 era.
In the article, they reinforce the notion that we need to re-invent our organisations. Do we expect that 2021 will be the same as 2019 has been? Consumer behaviours are changing, employee preferences have shifted, communication technologies are maturing fast. Here an interesting example: recently, a global alumni organisation was forced to conduct their annual general meeting (AGM) virtually. The organisers shared with me that this format allowed more relevant members to participate and the outcome served the global community better. This was never possible with a physical event. Will they continue with a virtual AGM? Probably yes. Transformations around us are happening fast; and we as individuals and as business leaders need to adapt as well.
McKinsey mentions 9 triggers for speed in your organisation. Autonomous, cross-functional teams with more freedom to make their own decisions, with reduced hierarchy & bureaucracy, and with a clear result focus will execute lasting success. Further, successful organisations are embedding themselves in a collaborative network of partners, customers and suppliers. This means, building a platform that facilitates hybrid work and continuous development of the people is essential to remove barriers. And, what is the role of today's leaders? Enabling, inspiring and empowering these strategic teams. Step back and see success flourish.
How do you create lasting velocity?
Earlier this year, with a friend we discussed how to start a mindset shift initiative in a company; introducing autonomy and agility. On the one hand, the teams might be reluctant to experiment with the new ways of working. At the same time, some of the leaders are cautious if not doubtful. How do you make both sides comfortable to give it a try?
The obvious answer is in small steps - with a pilot - and then let it organically grow. The success of the first team will spread and other teams want to try, and the inception has started. For some people that might be too slow. An alternative way is to limit the pilot in scope. You introduce the initiative to a wide audience but only related to a small part of their daily work.
This reminded of what we started in 2014 in a manufacturing excellence program in Southeast Asia, covering 15 production sites. Besides the typically efficiency projects, we launched an initiative to strengthen the ownership of the frontline workers; the aim was to let them take more responsibility and get them more engaged with their surroundings.
This ownership program was straightforward. We divided the manufacturing site into areas and assigned teams to these areas. Each team then had three housekeeping tasks: a) keep them clean, b) keep all things orderly, c) make the area enjoyable to work in. They received a budget and had full autonomy on how they implemented these three tasks.
The results were great. First, the areas' housekeeping improved a lot and the people installed rest areas, painted their work areas and beautified the factories. In addition, they were more engaged, excited to come to work and simply more content. In addition, we could then take this spirit of responsibility and accountability to areas closer to the key operational activities.
This can be an inspiration for you to introduce new routines that give people more autonomy and introduce agility at the workplace. Housekeeping is a good start; in an office environment that means that you can provide a budget to refresh the common areas and then continuously improve them.
With such programs you can try out how your teams adopt this new way of working. As leaders we can overcome some of our concerns and experiment with new leadership styles: more guidance, less micromanagement. And then, widen the reach of these routines to operational tasks.
Thank you for the discussions, Philippe Henrotaux.
In larger companies you can observe one barrier to success, and it is present almost everywhere. How can I make the people in the other function work for me? The managers then request to have communication training, support to improve their negotiation skills, and resort to escalation to the higher ranks. Is this effective? Will you solve the root cause of the collaboration problem?
A few weeks back, I conducted a workshop with the request to improve cross-silo collaboration and we introduced two simple concepts. How can I create win-win situations and how can I make other people trust me.
A simple game you can try right now is the 4x4 Tic Tac Toe. Take another person and try to play the game that all of you can get the most points. Here comes an interesting observation: many players try to block the opponent to get points, instead of allowing them to make points and get points yourself. Why are we fighting instead of working towards a common goal? In order to create win-win situation, interestingly, it takes only one party. The key is courage and consideration. Courage to express how win looks for you. Consideration to listen and understand what winning means to the others.
Trust is a loaded term; everybody knows it is important; few try to dissect it and understand how to cultivate trust. I tend to introduce the formula of trustworthiness by Charles H. Green: you can increase trust with credibility, reliability and intimacy; and reduce trust by self-orientation. Most are pretty obvious, though I like to share a few words about intimacy - not a word we are often using in a business context. According to Green, this is the most important factor. And, it relates to familiarity, safety and respect. The closer I am with the person in the other silo, the better we will be able to work together.
Improving collaboration across the boundaries in your organisation is vital. And, you don't need to wait for the others to join. Each individual can start to seek win-win situation and cultivate trustworthiness for themselves.
Where will you start today?
Photo credit: Galliard Games
This sounds weird, right? If we fully focus on performance, our performance will go down? How is that possible? And what can we do to improve performance in a sustainable way?
A while back I learned about this formula that your performance is equal to your potential minus your interferences. While I wanted to learn more about this a stumbled across this article written by Tim Gallwey about the Inner Game and its impact on capability building. One passage brilliantly explains the above paradox:
"For example, my need to finish an article by the requested deadline obscures the reasons I chose to write the article in the first place, and dampens the natural enjoyment of expressing my thoughts and convictions. The person caught up in performance momentum neglects learning, growth, and the inherent quality of the work experience."
Let's look what we are doing at work. At first, yes, we are producing products and services; a key aim is to produce outcome of our work. At the same time, we are also engaged in two other things. We are building teams, cultivate relationships, providing a safe environment for our people - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'experience'. In addition, we need to grow in our skills and as personalities during our career - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'learning'. As a summary and taking the example of sales, we need to provide a trusted environment with our customers and we need to engage with them to learn what they need. Only then, we might be able to sell our products to the customers.
This week, I was coaching a team to develop their objectives and key results and based on the discussions we had, the team then added two objectives related to cultivating better relationships and engaging in more learning. They are very engaged now with their objectives.
What does that mean as a leader? Do I stop pushing for results? The way I see it, a leader's responsibility is to provide a safe and challenging environment. This will create a condition in which people can grow their capabilities, become more creative, take more ownership, enjoy more and become better team players.
In my work, quite often I see myself as the person that is providing the space to reflect. Which is important to become more excellent.
The Inner Game of Work: Building Capability in the Workplace.
In my projects we often talk about agility and a lot of efforts are taken to initiate tons of new activities. At first people are excited and expectations from the management are high. The teams try to achieve more in less time and are rushing forward. After a while, a cloudy feeling starts to emerge - is this it? Exhaustion arises and with that frustration: what is exactly different from what we did before?
In my eyes, two fundamental questions are not answered often enough.
Why do we need to become agile?
And what does agility really mean?
Today, our business and organisational context is getting more uncertain and more complex. In order to strive and become stronger in this environment, we need to be able to constantly find new solutions. Solutions that bring value to the business, bring value to our customers. At the same time, we can't wait for the perfect solution. We need to share early prototypes and establish an early feedback. They need to be short because everyone is constantly confronted with new challenges and opportunities; the people around us evolve, and we need to evolve as well. Velocity matters! Do we need to run faster? Or do we need to run smarter?
Ok, we know the Why. And how can we get there? Some people come up with great frameworks, activities, templates and say, that is what we need to become agile. In my experience, while these tools are supporting the journey, I see that it is more important to bring people back to the foundational principles of agility.
First, we need to go deep and understand the needs and challenges of our customers, understand how we can create value for our customers. In order to do this we need to interact with them with empathy and compassion; getting close to them. Co-create the solution they need - beyond their initial wants.
Based on this and based on our values, each team, each department, each company requires a purpose, a vision, a collective dream that guides every person in the organisation in what they need to focus on in their daily work. This big picture objective should be specific, tangible, ambitious and created from within.
When we are dealing with complexity, can we simply focus on our own territory? Act in our own silo and let the others deal with their own? In my experience, improving the way people work together across silos has a significant impact on the results of the individual silo and the entire company. And this collaboration starts with the cultivation of good relationships; they will establish trust and build the foundation for efficiency.
An important barrier to velocity is trying to be perfect. This will delay delivery and prevent early feedback-cycles. Potentially we are wasting efforts on work that are not related to creating value for the customer and the company. Instead, if you have an idea, an early draft of a solution, give it a try! Experiment. In case that solution was wrong, then at least you know it, you got early feedback and guidance on how to create more value. Build - Measure - Learn. Be curious what other people, especially your customers, will say about your idea.
Cultivating agility in your team is a journey which will take a few months to get established. Be patient until you can harvest the benefits. Stay true to the principles and enjoy the ride.
A manufacturing site in Thailand had an established continuous improvement program that included brainstorming sessions, Kaizen reports, 6-Sigma activities. Still, the plant management team saw a need to drive excellence. They felt there was a lack of innovation and inspiration. And headquarters launched a strategic initiative to significantly improve productivity. How can the local team achieve this?
While observing the 300-people site, there was no lack of team spirit and engagement. They were a happy family. At the same time, most topics and issues where dealt within the respective departments. Also, the annual improvement topics where defined within these silos. The familiarity between the functions did not translate into deep cross-silo collaboration. New activities were required.
With the local leadership team we decided on a 12-months innovation program that had a clear focus on a) driving excellence & optimisation, b) cultivate innovation & agility, c) strengthen cross-silo collaboration. The program had two core phases: create crazy ideas and then execute these ideas.
During the first phase we conducted a Innovation Days event for about 70 people from various functions. We defined six teams that focused on different, specific challenges around maintenance, process technology, supply chain, environment and others. During these two days workshop, the teams engaged in brainstorming to better understand their customers and the brainstormed solution ideas. The success here was that the insights and the ideas were discussed across silos; this sparked creativity and opened people's mind. (Previous blog entry)
In the second phase we executed these ideas with Focus Cycles that lasted three months. Again, the six teams took their crazy ideas and started to work on implementing these ideas. The big change for the people was that we didn't chase a specific deliverable. Rather, we gave them a time frame (three months) after which the teams shared what they achieved and what they struggled with. This resulted in a big mindset shift and the teams realised that in this way, they are operating much closer to what they want to achieve and were delivering value to the overall operations. (Previous blog entry)
After about six months, the local and regional leadership team looked at exciting results:
Thank you Aphisak Traipoonsin, Teerapan Jaieam and Paul Seagle for your support and enabling this great journey.
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.