Jim Clemmer's Leader Letter
November 2011, Issue 104
This month's November illustration shows pigs feeding on an autumn harvest of acorns. This medieval European scene continues today in large oak groves of Spain and Portugal.
A 14th century English proverb states, "Large streams from little foundations flow and tall oaks from little acorns grow." The acorn has long been a symbol of potential and growth. The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, adds an interesting perspective -- and twist; "Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak! Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay." An interesting -- and apt -- observation!
In preparation for my (free) Leading a Peak Performance Culture webcast on November 4, a major theme this month is organizational culture development. The 19th century American essayist, lecturer, and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, could well have been talking about organizational culture when he said, "the creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn."
This month's compilation and publication of last month's blog posts has much about growth. The flipside of growth -- decay -- is also found in this issue. Here are points to ponder, on whether you're an acorn or a decaying sheep:
- Are you changing (growing) or setting yourself up to be changed (decaying)?
- Are you leading an adaptive culture or one that's decaying toward being changed?
- Do you devote extreme care toward who you hire? Or are you planting pine cones culture and expecting mighty oaks?
- How many of the Fatal Five Failure Factors of Culture Change Efforts are pulling you toward the 50 – 70% that die?
- Do you Lead, Follow, or Wallow when faced with challenging changes or setbacks? What about your team?
- Do you have any fatal flaws that are overshadowing your leadership strengths? How do you know?
- Are you fostering cowardly communication and feeding the moose-on-the-table -- or elephants-in-the-room -- by not speaking up?
The Dad Joker in me wants to ask if you're feeling sheepish! But please stop me from my (a)corny puns. OK, I'll quit "oaking around" so you can grow ahead and read this issue … Help! I've fallen to the lowest form of humor and can't get up…
"Shift Happens" Video Ignites Discussion on How We Need to Change or We’ll be Changed
Last week I ran a highly customized Peak Performance Leadership workshop and facilitated a strategy session in beautiful Colorado Springs. It was the perfect place to discuss climbing to higher levels of personal, team, and organization performance -- especially during these fast changing and turbulent times. We also got to experience their first heavy snowfall -- there's a season change that came too fast!
To prepare for the session I interviewed all of the senior executive participants earlier by phone. We then used the summary and key themes of their input for assessment, learning, brainstorming, and action planning. Given the massive changes happening in their industry, I used the recently updated five minute video Shift Happens: Did You Know?
As with all the other times I've used it, this provocative video stimulated lively discussion about just how "we're living in exponential times." Here's a small sample:
- "More than 3,000 new books are published every day.
- A week's worth of NY Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.
- The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today's learner will have 10 – 14 jobs … by age 38.
- One out of four workers today is working for a company they have been employed by for less than one year. More than 1 out of 2 are working for a company that they have worked for, for less than five years.
- One out of eight couples married in the U.S. last year met online."
Picking up on the video's closing question "So, What Does It all Mean?" we agreed that our response to a fast moving world is to change or be changed. If the rate of external change exceeds our rate of internal change, we are eventually going to be changed.
We went on to discuss the biggest changes they're seeing in their industry externally and what internal organizational changes are needed. In their case, the biggest internal changes they identified were:
- Leadership/Culture Development
- Sales Training/New Business Development
- New Technology
- Succession Planning/Generational Change
- Improving Efficiency/Productivity
- Organizational Restructuring/Building
- Customer Service
- Adapting to Market Changes
It's often way too easy for executives to look out the window and point to changes they want to see in managing change for everyone else. It's much tougher to look in the mirror at what personal change I need to make to be an authentic and effective change leader. Here's the list they generated:
- Culture/Generational Change
- Retaining a Big Picture/Strategic Focus
- Organization/Leadership Development
- Personal Growth/Balance/Development
- Employee Morale/Engagement
- Sales/Business Development
- Keeping up with Technology
What's your personal, team, or organizational change list? Are you being those changes and truly leading by example? Who says so, besides you? How do you know?
Go to "Shift Happens: Video Shows How OurWorld is Spinning Ever Faster" for a 2010 blog post on the earlier version of this video and three central findings on change that came from writing my latest book Growing @ the Speed of Change.
Book Review of The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance
John Kotter and James Heskett's classic book, Corporate Culture and Performance, is an organization development classic. The book provided solid evidence of the payoffs that come from adaptive cultures and the negative power of unadaptive cultures.
Adaptability is absolutely critical today. As change tsunamis relentlessly sweep the globe, adaptive organizations are getting stronger and unadaptive ones are being washed out to sea. Harvard Business School professor, James Heskett's new book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force That Transforms Performance, follows up his and John Kotter's earlier work with updated research, current examples, and pertinent observations. Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, IBM, ING, 3M, and Proctor and Gamble are some of the adaptive cultures providing insights to the enduring success growing from their highly effective cultures.
Steps in The Culture Cycle
The book's main framework is a circular diagram following these steps:
- Mission, Shared Assumptions, and Values <–> Alignment with Strategies and Methods of Execution
- Setting Expectations
- Behaviors Consistent with Shared Assumptions and Values
- Expectations (e.g. leadership, recognition, job opportunity, personal development)
- Core Phenomena (Trust, Engagement, and Ownership)
- Policies, Practices, and Behaviors (e.g. self-direction, accountability, transparency, collaboration)
- Organization Learning (e.g. continuous improvement, adaptability, agility, and speed)
- Results (Four Rs, innovation, growth, and profitability)
Steps 2 – 4 are labeled "Causes (less visible)" and steps 6 – 8 "Effects (More Visible)." Step 1 is at the top of the cycle and both the beginning and the end -- or beginning of the next turn of the cycle. Step 5 is at a halfway point and bridges causes to effects.
The "Four Rs" of Step 8 are "the results of an effective culture can be (but rarely are) documented and tracked:
- Referrals: A higher proportion of potential employees recommended by current or former employees.
- Retention: Lower recruiting, hiring, training, and lost productivity costs because of greater employee loyalty.
- Returns to labor: Greater productivity per dollar of compensation.
- Relationships: Better customer relationships, resulting in greater loyalty, lower customer acquisition costs, and more sales."
The Culture Cycle's organization and bent leans towards the academic. Although it provides a framework, it's not a how-to book. The Four Rs for measuring culture is the books' strongest contribution. The steps of the Culture Cycle are very helpful and align extremely well with our decades of experience using similar approaches with dozens of Clients.
Heskett does a great job of showing how culture is critical to organizational success and providing powerful and highly illuminating examples. But his application of the Culture Cycle steps are vague, confusing, and often veer into generalizations. Having written two books on leading high performance cultures (Firing on all Cylinders and Pathways to Performance) and produced detailed how-to workbooks, I am clearly biased.
The chapter on "Leading Culture Change" has some very useful nuggets -- especially on measuring and monitoring. Heskett uses his Culture Cycle model to prescribe the role of leadership. It's a good start and outline of many of the key issues. But this chapter needs lots more detailed how-to steps for executives and support professionals to follow.
Here are a few of his conclusions that are especially critical to "predicting the effectiveness of efforts to lead culture change:" (I've emphasized a few vital points)
- "Effective leadership often involves delegating responsibilities and authority. But one responsibility that can't be delegated completely is reshaping and maintaining an effective culture … leaders personally act out the values and behaviors … they do it consistently.
- Necessary changes in behaviors have to be modeled from the top. They can, however, be reinforced through such things as performance evaluations placing as much emphasis on "managing by the values" as "making the numbers."
- Broad involvement in shaping shared values and behaviors helps ensure the effective implementation of the change.
- Culture change that reflects or accommodates changes in strategy and methods of execution has the best chance of success.
- (Leaders) assign "believers" as change agents and replace "nonbelievers" early in the process.
- (Leaders) form a "contract" with employees that specify expectations of all parties.
- They preserve the culture through everyday behaviors, measurement, and timely corrective actions, beginning with managers exhibiting behaviors that run counter to the values."
I very much enjoyed The Culture Cycle. The combination of field and secondary research, examples, and pithy quotations/comments makes this an engaging and very useful book. It's a great addition to the field of organizational culture change/renewal.
Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm on… Leading Culture Change
Here are especially vital findings and powerful observations about just what it takes to build a peak performance culture. These are drawn from Harvard Business School professor, James Heskett's new book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force That Transforms Performance:
"Culture really matters. As Lou Gerstner wrote, reflecting on his experiences in taking over the job of CEO at a failing IBM and achieving one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent business history:
'Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization's makeup and success -- along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like … I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game -- it is the game.'"
"In studies … as much as half of the difference in operating profit between organizations can be attributed to effective cultures … an organization's culture provides especially significant competitive advantages in bad times … all of this is possible with little or no capital investment, yielding an infinite ROI. All it requires is the time of leaders. But this is time spent doing things that good leaders should be doing anyway. In short, it involves an investment that keeps on giving back for years and years."
"Culture has served some organizations so well that I am continually amazed that more don't get it."
"The question is not whether an organization has a culture. All do. Many have more than one. Cultures form with or without leadership, structure, or clear intent. The question is; what kind of culture naturally emerges from or is shaped by leadership?"
"The most frequent failing cited by managers with whom I work is the unwillingness of leadership to act in a timely manner to rein in others, especially star performers, who fail to adhere to core values and accepted behaviors in their day-to-day managerial activities. This accounts for much of the decline of previously effective cultures."
"Organizations with effective cultures share one thing in common. They devote extreme care to whom they hire. They place at least as much emphasis on attitudes of potential hires and their likely fit with others in the organization -- characterized by beliefs and likely behaviors -- as on skills. They involve employees in the hiring process. And then they make an effort to choose initial assignments that will immediately immerse the new recruit in the organization's culture."
Fatal Five Failure Factors of Culture Change Efforts
Author and futurist Alvin Toffler's powerful phrase "hinge of history" is an apt descriptor for our times. Our highly integrated global village is going through huge and massive shifts. We're now in the midst of a major pivot point.
The "Shift Happens" video (above item) vividly illustrates these dramatic and accelerating changes. History teaches that tectonic change can be an agent of organizational destruction or renewal. It all depends on how we respond.
My last post illustrated how research with one Client pointed to leadership/culture development as the biggest internal change they must make. This is very consistent with most of our recent Client work. Organizational leaders know they must redefine, revitalize, and renew themselves or die.
I've been spending a large amount of time researching, reviewing, and revising our approaches to leadership and culture development for a series of upcoming speaking engagements, workshops, and consulting work. It's proving especially challenging to boil all this down to a 60 minute webcast for the (no charge) November 4 Leading a Peak Performance Culture webcast.
One of the key emerging sections is the Fatal Five Failure Factors. The goal is to succinctly identify the core factors at the root of the 50 – 70% failure rate of organization change initiatives and programs. As a work in progress, here's what's emerging:
- Partial and Piecemeal Plans and Programs
- Poor Assessment of Systems/Processes and Perceptions/Attitudes
- Leadership Lip Service: Behaviors Undefined and Underdeveloped
- Not Building Cause and Capacity for Continuous Change
- Weak Implementation Framework, Plan, and Infrastructure
We'll quickly dive down into each of these. Given the short time, we'll be scratching the surface. If you're signed up for the webcast, here's a sneak preview of a few key concepts in this discussion and a chance to do a bit of advance study:
Note on Who Should Attend the Webcast
This session is for senior operating executives and organization/leadership development support professionals such as HR, Learning/Training, Organization Development, Safety, Lean/Six Sigma, Quality, Continuous Improvement, and Customer Service. We're getting quite a few registrations from support professionals or executives who are bringing together their management teams to listen to the broadcast and use it to assess and refocus their own efforts. Click on Leading a Peak Performance Culture for more information and to register.
"Leading a Peak Performance Culture" Complimentary Webcast (Free)
Research consistently shows that 70% of efforts to improve customer service, quality, safety, productivity, innovation, employee engagement, restructure, or introduce new technologies fail. Leadership and organization culture are THE critical X factors. "Soft" leadership and culture boosts or BLOCKS strategy, structure, and change initiatives.
High performing organizations pull together the intangible leadership issues that define their unique character and rally people around a deeper sense of purpose. These powerful feelings are made tangible through the strong implementation of management processes and systems that translate ideals into action.
Join me for a rare and powerful free 60 minute webcast on November 4 @ 1:00 PM EDT.
Register ~ Agenda ~ What You'll Gain ~ About Jim
Join this webcast to:
- Define what strong leadership skills and a peak performance culture looks like for your organization
- Get practical tips, tools, and techniques for leadership and culture development
- Assess your personal, team, or organization's leadership skills and culture against world class standards and research
- Pinpoint performance gaps and priorities to be addressed
- Learn how to better integrate and coordinate your team or organization's current culture changes and improvement programs
- Establish the key elements and priorities of your leadership development and culture change efforts
- Identify and address the barriers to energizing and mobilizing people to building a peak performance culture
- Clarify/redefine technical, management, and leadership roles and responsibilities
- Refocus and pull together leadership development and culture change programs and initiatives
I hope you can join me! Spaces are limited -- register now!
Change Choices: Creating Our Own Reality
The short video clip Lost Generation continues to be a big hit with keynote and workshop audiences as we discuss our choices to Lead, Follow, or Wallow when faced with challenging changes or setbacks. It features a poem written by Jonathon Reed for a "U @ 50" contest sponsored by the American Association of Retired People (AARP) for 20 – 22 year olds on what future they see for themselves in 30 years.
Audiences love the video's powerful message and clever construction. It's a palindrome. That means can be read top down or bottom up. The message in reading top down paints a bleak and foreboding future. The bottom of the poem states, "and all of this will come true unless we choose to reverse it." The narrator reverses and reads the poem bottom up. The message is brimming with optimism and hope. The exact same words read in two different directions carry diametrically opposite meanings.
In less than two minutes, Lost Generation hammers home how we create our own reality. In researching and writing Growing @ the Speed of Change I came across this summary from author and physician Larry Dossey: "In the last three decades findings in experimental psychology have suggested that one's belief about the world may actually change it. This idea is very disturbing to the usual conceptions of the mind, suggesting that mind can actually influence events at a distance -- that it can 'move matter' and thereby shape the world around us."
Most of us can accept that where we focus our own personal consciousness or awareness creates our perception, which then creates our reality. But science is now raising serious questions about whether there is such a thing as objective reality or unchanging facts.
Amit Goswami, a physics professor (emeritus) at the University of Oregon and author of ten books, is one of the pioneers in a new multidisciplinary paradigm of science based on the primacy of consciousness. He explains his theory of science within consciousness: "Establishment science is done within the metaphysical umbrella that says that matter is the ground of all being, including mind and consciousness which are brain phenomena. Science within consciousness turns this upside down: consciousness is the ground of all being; matter, including the brain, consists of quantum possibilities of consciousness. When we observe matter, we choose from among these possibilities to produce the actual event that we experience."
Go to Lost Generation for your own reality check. What future are you constructing for yourself, your team, or your organization?
When to Work on Weaknesses
It was an eerie coincidence! Maybe it's because it's the Halloween season…
I had just read my old colleague Jack Zenger, and his colleagues Joe Folkman and Scott Edinger's excellent article in this month's issue of Harvard Business Review. Entitled "Making Yourself Indispensible", the article builds on the strong research and application work they've been doing over the past decade on developing extraordinary leadership skills. So I decided to write this blog about it. As I was getting started I got an email offering Joe Folkman as guest blogger with a piece on when to work on weaknesses.
Since I have a weakness for believing there really aren't many true coincidences in life, I had to take the offer. I hope this helps you to keep growing!
When Jack Zenger and I discovered that the key factor in leaders being extraordinary was the presence of strengths and not the absence of weakness, it fundamentally shifted our view about how leaders can improve. Our efforts to make leaders better had, in the past, only focused on fixing weaknesses.
As we teach people about this research insight on building strengths, many have an "ah ha" experience which reinforces their intuition that it is our strengths that make us successful. People also discover that great leaders are not perfect. In fact they do have weakness, but no fatal flaws.
When great leaders have weaknesses, they don't hurt them because their strengths are so profound. When a person has a profound strength, people only notice the strength. As many people leave the training, they remark that this principle of building on strengths was a significant revelation.
Recently a group of executives were interviewed about the impact of the Extraordinary Leader training session and every participant mentioned the building on strengths principal was the highlight of the training. As I am introduced, my company, Zenger Folkman, is frequently described as an organization that focuses on building strengths.
To be accurate, the next insight we describe after our research on building strengths is a discussion about fatal flaws. In a recent training session a leader asked me, "What is the priority between strengths and fatal flaws?" Fatal flaws always take the priority. As we review the 16 differentiating competencies with leaders, we reinforce that with only three strengths, a leader's overall effectiveness rating goes to the 81st percentile, but with one or more fatal flaws, it falls to the 17th percentile.
The more research we do, the more the impact of strengths and fatal flaws become evident. The problem is that most people remember our insight about strength building and forget the fatal flaws. A more accurate description of Zenger Folkman is that we are the organization that focuses on building strengths if you don't have a fatal flaw.
Both concepts need to be kept in mind. Some people might have the assumption that fatal flaws occur when leaders are young and inexperienced. They assume that as a leader gains experience, they will no longer be plagued with the challenge of having fatal flaws. Unfortunately, this is not true. Frequently, leaders get moved or promoted into a new job where a competency that was not critical in the past becomes essential in their current position.
We define a fatal flaw as a competency in which you receive:
- Strong negative feedback results (and/or poor performance review results)
- Below average capability in an area that is mission-critical to your job
Being below average basically means that you perform this competency reasonably well and it may not even be considered a weakness, but when it becomes the center piece of a new job, that can be a problem. A leader can have a fatal flaw at any point in their career. When a competency is mission-critical, average performance is never good enough.
The longer I work, the more I notice that we need to be mindful of both strengths and fatal flaws. It is our strengths that set us apart and make us distinctive as leaders, but a fatal flaw can derail an otherwise successful career. Our advice once again, if you have a fatal flaw -- FIX IT.
Joe Folkman is the co-founder and President of Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm focused on building the strengths of individuals, teams, and organizations. Joe is a co-author of the recent Harvard Business Review article "Making Yourself Indispensable." To learn more leadership tips from Joe, subscribe to his leadership blog or follow him on Twitter: @zengerfolkman.
Six Core Elements to Leading a Peak Performance Culture
My reciprocal post on Zenger/Folkman's blog is now available. Click on Six Core Elements to Leading a Peak Performance Culture to read it. This post brings together some of elements I'll be covering in our free Leading a Peak Performance Culture webcast on November 4.
Silence Kills: Are You Fostering Cowardly Communication?
I just came across a Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study showing the incredible penalties and pay-offs of good and bad communication practices. A survey of 300,000 employees shows that open and honest communication pays huge dividends to companies with transparent cultures.
A CEB poll found that nearly half of executive teams don't get critical information because employees are afraid to be the bearers of bad news! Clearly, many messengers are being shot -- or at least wounded -- when they don't tell their bosses what they want to hear. Only 19% of executive team are promptly told of bad news that could have a big impact on the firm's performance!
The CEB study found companies "where employees provide honest feedback substantially outperformed their peers in terms of 10-year TSR (Total Shareholder Return) from 1998–2008. Two factors stood out in particular:
- Openness of Communication - Employee perceptions of the extent to which managers encourage two-way dialogue matters. We found that companies rated by their employees in the top quartile in terms of openness of communication have delivered TSR (10-year TSR 1998–2008) of 7.9% compared with 2.1% at other companies. (They also had materially lower levels of observed fraud and misconduct.)
- Fear of Retaliation (and Willingness to Speak Up) - Among the 12 key indicators we track in our cultural diagnostic, the one that is most strongly correlated with 10-year TSR is employee comfort of speaking up. The most important driver of this comfort is a lack of fear of retaliation. As with openness of communication, we found that companies that excel on this dimension also had materially lower levels of observed fraud and misconduct."
Small wonder there are so many struggling organizations in these turbulent times. CEB found that perceptions of communication openness dropped sharply during the recession of 2008 and stayed way down. This is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen during wrenching changes. With closed communication the contagion of fear spreads like a virulent virus throughout organizations. This creates defensiveness, turf protection, mistrust, disengagement, kills innovation, and lowers service and quality levels.
Reducing fear and encouraging Courageous Conversations is the central theme of Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work. As with the book, we've found that using a lighter approach can sometimes initiate these delicate conversations. How is your team doing? Is silence killing you? Do you foster cowardly or courageous conversations? Take our Moose on the Table quiz for a quick reading.
Tweet Reading: Recommended Online Resources
This section summarizes last month's LinkedIn Updates and Twitter Tweets sent about online articles or blog posts that I've flagged as worth reading. These are usually posted on weekends when I am doing much of my reading for research, learning, or leisure.
My original tweet commenting on the article precedes each title and descriptor from the original source:
John's short video outlines key differences between "hard" management and "soft" leadership. In turbulent times we need leaders at all levels.
"The Perils of Confusing Management and Leadership" - John Kotter
"… in a world that's changing faster and faster, great leadership is especially important… there is too much management and not enough leadership."
Steve didn't teach customer service or leading people. Blazing your own path is the key lesson to learn from this design/marketing genius.
"What not to learn from Steve Jobs" - Fortune Management
"Let's be clear on what not to learn from Jobs. We can't be him. He was a unique combination of compulsions, traits, and experiences… imitating someone else was the very last thing Steve Jobs ever wanted to do."
This excellent new book is providing powerful research for our work in Leading a Peak Performance Culture - the focus of my Nov 4 webcast.
"The Profit Power of Corporate Culture" – HBS Working Knowledge
"In the new book The Culture Cycle, Professor Emeritus James L. Heskett demonstrates that developing the right corporate culture helps companies be more profitable and provides sustainable competitive advantage."
After reading this excerpt, I've just downloaded and begun to read Great by Choice. Lots more great research on leadership and culture.
"Jim Collins: How to manage through chaos - Book Excerpt"
"It's one thing to rise to greatness. It's another to do so in a time of upheaval, disruption, and economic turmoil (hello, 2011). How do some companies do it? Management guru Jim Collins shares the answers for the first time…"
Absorb The Leader Letter in Twice Weekly Installments
The items in each month's issue of The Leader Letter are first published in my twice weekly blog during the previous month.
If you read each blog post (or issue of The Leader Letter) as it's published over twelve months you'll have read the equivalent of one of my books. And you'll pick up a few practical leadership tips that help you use time more strategically and tame your E-Beast!
Feedback and Follow-Up
I am always delighted to hear from readers of The Leader Letter with feedback, reflections, suggestions, or differing points of view. Nobody is ever identified in The Leader Letter without their permission. I am also happy to explore customized, in-house adaptations of any of my material for your team or organization. Drop me an e-mail at Jim.Clemmer@Clemmer.net or connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, FaceBook, or my blog!
Keep learning, laughing, loving, and leading - living life just for the L of it!!
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