The Clemmer Group - Jim Clemmer's Leader Letter

Issue 204 - March 2020

training needs to be part of culture

Recently a training director asked for a customer service training workshop. As we discussed what she was looking for, it became clear she wanted "customer courtesy" or "smile 101" training. I asked about senior leaders' active involvement in building a customer-centered culture. Nope. They wanted her to fix the frontline to make happier customers.

Been there, done that. It's a waste of time. Servers not served by their managers and the organization's systems and processes don't produce happier customers. They reflect the culture and processes of their organization. In fact, training them to care about customers often backfires since they become even more frustrated with apologizing to customers and finding workarounds for systemic problems.

This has been a recurring issue throughout my consulting career. Too often, we're asked to "fix them" -- frontline staff or supervisors. Dunking participants in the training tank might change some behavior. But it doesn't last.

A recent issue of Harvard Business Review included an article summarizing research on the most effective learning and development executives or chief learning officers (CLOs). In "The Transformer CLO," the researchers concluded,

"The fast-changing nature of business today requires organizations in every industry to constantly enhance their capabilities. This presents an opportunity for CLOs to take on a more proactive and strategic role than ever before -- to be transformers, not just trainers. Transformer CLOs are positioning employees to succeed in their current jobs and adapt to future changes. They're making learning and development an integral part of their companies' strategic agendas. It's a profound and important shift."

This is a vital strategic issue for Human Resource, Learning and Development, Systems, and Safety professionals often asked to "fix them" with yet another program. Change or development efforts that are bolted-on rather than built-in to operations and actively led by line managers is the main reason up to 70% of them fail.

The culture compass in this issue evolved from decades of research and application on best practices for successful organizational change and development. Learning and Development is one of the six compass points. But it flows from, and integrates with, the other key areas to move beyond development dipping. "Let's Be Frank" shows how a leader evolved from his personal purpose to shifting his team's culture by deepening spirit and meaning. We'll also look at the culture and leadership issues underlying the delegation dilemma. Strong cultures and highly effective leaders move delegation beyond empowerment to "empartnerment."

May this issue help you to move from partial and piecemeal programs to sustained leadership and culture shift.

Culture Compass: A Six-Point Navigational Framework

New approaches to leadership and coaching

When we're mapping a trip to an unfamiliar destination, it's extremely helpful to be able to zoom out to see the big picture. We can then zoom in for turn by turn details.

A big reason up to 70% of change efforts fail is lack of zoomed out planning. Leadership training, succession planning, service/quality improvement, lean, safety programs, talent/performance management, or IT systems, are implemented at a zoomed in level. Often with a narrow street view on reaching that program's goals.

Recently we completed a zoomed out offsite retreat with a leadership team. The session helped the team get their culture shift together. They reaffirmed their desired culture, set strategic priorities, and then zoomed in to action planning for implementation.

I received a follow-up e-mail from a participant wanting to cascade the same organization self-assessment and planning process we used at the retreat with her divisional leadership team. I linked her to a complementary set of tools on our web site that she -- and you -- can use to start or continue this mapping and implementation process using these steps:

  1. Have everyone complete the Organization Self-Assessment and Gap Analysis.
  2. Compare responses (results are e-mailed to each participant) to identify the top 3 or 4 Pathways your team agrees would have the biggest payoff if you improved them.
  3. For each of your highest priority Pathways:
    1. Select that Pathway from the pull-down menu at Transformation Pathways and read the description of that area.
    2. Participants SILENTLY brainstorm (no discussion) improvement ACTION ideas (not motherhood statements like "trust" or "communication") for that Pathway on 3" x 5" Post-It-Notes (one idea per note) for about 10 minutes. Quantity/volume of ideas is more important than quality at this point.
    3. Collect the Post-It-Notes and cluster similar ideas.
    4. Get everyone's input to put headings/titles on each cluster.
  4. Establish 2 or 3 Strategic Imperatives from the key themes or overlaps you see in your Pathways brainstorming clusters.
  5. Form an implementation team for each of your Strategic Imperatives with an owner, team leader (sometimes the same person), and team members. Give each team a broad mandate and direction to return in a few weeks with the broad scope of an implementation plan.
  6. Follow up in a few weeks with presentations from each team and negotiating their focus, scope, and mandate.
  7. Teams implement their action plans.
  8. Set regular follow-up dates to monitor/adjust progress.

In a frenzy of meetings and e-mails, many leadership teams are zoomed in way too far and getting lost in daily firefighting. Is your team zooming out often enough to ensure you're heading in the right direction?

Let's be Frank: The Heart Part

meaningful work

Frank is a manager for a technology company who I first wrote about his personal transformation in Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. The hugely successful career everyone envied him for on the outside was merely a facade for the equally overwhelming unhappiness he felt on the inside. He was living in ever-increasing material prosperity while his spiritual poverty steadily worsened. Faced with work that was becoming ever more meaningless, and with his marriage to Debbie on the rocks, Frank, at his very lowest point, considered ending his life.

Frank recognized that something had to change. With his typical intensity, he began a personal quest to find deeper meaning in his life. After months of study, meditation, and clarifying his vision, values, and purpose, Frank broke through his "trapped emptiness." He developed a renewed sense of purpose. Life was worth living. He and Debbie began revitalizing their marriage and family life. He was now looking for ways to help his team connect with the same sense of meaning that Frank had been feeling.

Listening to the car radio on his way to work one morning, Frank heard a caller ask the host to play a special love song for his wife. The caller went on for some time about what a wonderful woman she was to have put up with 21 years of traveling more than 300 days per year while raising their three kids. Intrigued, the radio host asked the caller what he did for a living. "I travel to fairs, carnivals, and special events," he answered. "And what do you do?" she inquired. "I am a human cannonball," he replied.

Now the host was really fascinated. "Why in the world anyone would want to be shot out of a cannon several times a day?" she asked incredulously. Mr. Cannonball's response was immediate and enthusiastic: "Are you kidding me? This is the greatest job ever! People take time out of their busy lives to come spend a couple of hours with us. If we do a really good job, we can take them away from all of their worries and stress. We put a smile on their faces. They watch me come flying out of that cannon with my arms and legs flailing all over the place and land safely in the net. When I look up and see them laughing and in good spirits, I know I've done a wonderful thing for these folks. Maybe a couple of weeks later, when they're having a bad day and life has got the best of them, they'll think back to me flying out of that cannon with my arms and legs thrashing through the air. Just maybe it will get them smiling again, and their day won't seem so bad after all. So, you see," he concluded, "this really is a great job! It's a job I love and one I wouldn't trade for anything."

"Wow!" Frank said to himself. "Here's a guy with a job most of us would never dream of but is able to find such deep spirit and meaning in his work. Why can't I help my team members do the same? There really isn't a job that can't be fulfilling in some way. The big question is, how?"

This launched Frank on a leadership quest in search of his company's heart, avoiding stones in snowballs with his team, how to grow his organization to the next level, and redefining the role of leadership. If you're interested in learning how he began leading with purpose, click here for the rest of the story.

In Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit, organization consultants, and professors Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (co-author of the classic Corporate Cultures -- the book that popularized the idea of organization culture) conclude, "The signs point toward spirit and soul as the essence of leadership."

Delegation Dilemma: Are You Trapped and Overrun by Monkeys?

Improve poor delegation skills

The senior and middle managers frustrated the General Manager of a large organization. She felt managers weren't using their time effectively. "Many of them are managing a level or two below their position. They're trapped in micromanaging daily details. They need to be more strategic with their time and learn to delegate." She wanted delegation skills to be part of the leadership development workshops we were designing for their organization.

Delegation is one tip of the leadership iceberg. There is a skill set with dos and don'ts for effective delegation. But as we assessed the organization's culture and leadership practices, we found -- as is often the case -- lack of delegation went much deeper. Micromanagement came from low levels of trust in the delegatee's effectiveness. This often reflects the manager's failure to provide effective coaching and poor "monkey management."

Imagine a team member coming to their manager with a little monkey. "Hey, boss. We've got a problem," as the team member hands (delegates) the monkey to their manager. Less effective managers will say, "Ok. Let me look into that/take that and get back to you" as he or she takes the monkey and puts it on their back with all the other screaming primates. A more effective leader-coach will say, "Eewwww, that's an ugly little monkey you have there! How can I help you manage that monkey?"

An element of monkey management and delegation is coaching that creates empowerment and growth. Delegation without enablement is abdication. Delegatees often need to be guided and developed so they can confidently deal with and manage monkeys on their own.

This guidance moves delegation beyond empowerment to "empartnerment." Traditional delegation is often hierarchical with the leader dishing out power as each monkey comes screeching into sight. Partnering creates an environment where team members deal with many issues on their own and only bring the biggest, unruliest monkeys to the manager.

In conjunction with coaching skill development, it turned out that the organization's managers also needed to use their time more strategically. They were falling into many of these deadly time traps:

  • Highly reactive and crazy busy
  • The Acceleration Trap
  • Low culture/capacity development
  • Poor monkey management
  • No time for coaching skill development
  • Working in Versus on Your Team
  • Falling down the meeting sinkhole

Take our Strategic Use of Time Assessment if you'd like to see how you're doing.

Often called "the father of modern management," Peter Drucker wrote in his landmark book, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done," As usually presented, delegation makes little sense. If it means that somebody else ought to do part of 'my work,' it is wrong. One is paid for doing one's own work. And if it implies, as the usual sermon does, that the laziest manager is the best manager, it is not only nonsense; it is immoral." He never did put lipstick on a monkey.

The most productive managers aren't lazy. They proactively build team capacity to share monkey management and make the best strategic use of their time.

Tweet Reading: Recommended Online Resources

Linkedin Reading   Tweet Reading

This section summarizes last month's LinkedIn Updates and Twitter Tweets 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. You can follow me on Twitter at and connect with me on LinkedIn at

Yet more evidence companies focused on more than just profits are more profitable -- and making the world better.

The Global 100 Difference, Mike Scott, Corporate Knights special report
"The most sustainable corporations keep upping their clean revenue -- and outperforming competitors."

Another study showing how doing what's right pays off. The good guys really do finish first.

The ESG premium: New perspectives on value and performance, McKinsey survey
"83 percent of C-suite leaders and investment professionals say they expect that ESG (environment, social, and governance) programs will contribute more shareholder value in five years than today."

This webinar on-demand has valuable insights that will help unleash every leader's ability to collaborate effectively.

Webinar -- The Power of Collaboration and Teamwork, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, Zenger Folkman


Read The Leader Letter in Weekly Installments

Leader Letter Blog

The items in each month's issue of The Leader Letter are first published in my 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 a leadership book. 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 or connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or my blog!

Live, learn, laugh, and lead -- just for the L of it!

Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer

Phone: (519) 748-5968

In this Issue:

Leadership Team Retreats with Jim Clemmer


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