Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Building HPTs Rule #2: Ask Only What You Need

Over the years, we have witnessed many excellent management concepts lose potency and currency once acceptance moves from the early adopters to the majority. This happens for two reasons:

  1. Once a concept starts to trend, many want to jump on the bandwagon.
  2. Although many want to join the fun, few want to do the hard work necessary to truly understand the concept and put it into practice. In an era of sound bites, instant gratification and quick fixes this problem becomes exacerbated.

In the 1970s we were introduced to the powerful leadership idea of MBWA (Management By Walking Around). As it gained wide acceptance, managers used the concept as an excuse to make “gossip-rounds” or to “check-up” on their folks to make to ensure they were busy working at their desks. In the 1980s the important management focus on quality often produced nothing more than increased layers of bureaucracy. Ironically, after Phillip Crosby’s book Quality is Free became a best seller, companies spent billions on consultants and programs to improve quality. In the 1990s folks used the concept of Empowerment as an excuse to act irresponsibly. More recently, we hear the term High-Performance Team (HPT) awarded as liberally as little league soccer trophies.

Just saying you have of a HPT does not make it so. One good indicator is how those outside the team view you. If outsiders see your team driven by a sense of purpose, enjoying your work, accomplishing a great deal with limited resources, and making it look easy in the process there is a good chance that you are part of a HPT.

It is important to understand that the nature of your team’s relationship with outsiders helps to predict their response to you. If they see themselves as your customer the most likely response is trust and admiration. If they see you as a competitor the most likely response is distrust and disdain. If they see you as a customer or partner their response becomes more dependent on how you treat them than how you perform as a team. If they feel your success benefits rather than threaten them they will likely view you as an ally.

Here are some tips for increasing your chances of being viewed as an ally.

  1. If you sincerely recognize that your success is due in part to their involvement, and share the rewards and accolades proportionally with them, you may be viewed as an ally.
  2. If their involvement with you makes them a better team, you may beviewed as an ally.
  3. If you never ask them to do something you would be unwilling to do, you may be viewed as an ally.
  4. If you never waste their time, you may be viewed as an ally.

Recently I had the privilege of leading a HPT. Feedback I received in a discussion with a fellow executive were very revealing. When asked how she viewed our team she said, “My team enjoys working with your team for three reasons. First, you always give us plenty of advance notice when you need a big project completed. Secondly, you never asked us to do anything that you do not use. Finally, the things you asked us to do for you often challenged us to stretch, making us become better at what we do.” Her feedback provided evidence that my team was performing at a high level.

This brings us to Rule # 2 for building HPTs: We will never ask anyone outside of the team to develop work, or provide support, for anything we do not fully intend to use.

Building HPTs Rule #1: No Busy Work

There is a time and a place for busy work. During summer breaks as a child I quickly learned to never utter the words “I’m bored” in the presence of my father. Even during the school year, if I found myself lying on the couch on a Saturday morning watching cartoons, I always kept a keen ear on the driveway. Most Saturday mornings consisted of dad, a general contractor, checking on some of his jobs and typically returning mid-morning. Because his schedule was unpredictable, I never knew exactly when he might show up. What I did know is that if I was on the couch when he arrived he would find something for me to do. Something certain to be more fitting than zoning in front of the TV—at least in his mind. He had a knack for constructing a list of chores on the fly that would keep me occupied for the entire day.

I have come to learn over the years that each chore had a purpose far greater than having a weed-free lawn and garden, a spotless storage room, a well-swept patio or well-polished shoes. In fact, following his time as a U.S. Marine, I don’t think he cared if his shoes ever shined again. Certainly, he was never going to shine them himself! Although we never discussed it, I think his real purpose was to instill a work ethic, based on a few principles. The first was that any job, no matter how menial, should be done well. Secondly, you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Finally, he believed being lazy was second only to mass murder on the list of bad behaviors.

My dad used busy work as a way to teach me life lessons. Ironically, when I was around 30, my dad informed me that my problem was that I didn’t know how to relax. Funny guy! Busy work, however, has no place in purpose driven organizations, and is a sure-fire path to mediocre performance.

Rule #1 for high-performance teams is that there is no such thing as busy work. We challenge each other to only work on things that matter, and the only things that matter are those tasks that will help us achieve the goals and objectives to fulfill our purpose, vision and mission. When in doubt, ask if and how it fits. The answer “yes, it fits” is not sufficient.  It must be accompanies with an explanation of how it fits, so your teammates can connect the dots.

If you adopt rule #1 the team will become much more productive, driven and willing to take on any task. You will also find that the team derives far more enjoyment and purpose in their work. In the next post I will discuss an important rule for dealing with those outside the team.

Rules for Building High-Performance Teams

In the recent series, entitled Houston we have a Problem, I focused on six factors critical to success for founders of startups within a larger organization. They included: gaining and maintain latitude/autonomy, honoring sacred cows, putting out a BOLO on the larger organization, building grass roots support, adopting a distinct fiduciary approach, and building a high-performance team.

Since it is critical in any group dynamic (not just startups), I am dedicating a sub-series on seven rules for creating a culture and atmosphere for building high-performance teams. These rules of engagement will provide fertile ground for building an elite team that produces unparalleled results.

For this to be effective it is imperative that every member of the team possesses a deep understanding of the vision, mission and purpose of the organization. Developing such an understanding requires a process that takes time. I will provide suggestions for how to do this in subsequent posts.

Once your team members have internalized the vision, mission and purpose, each member of the team should enter into a contract to honor the rules, and hold each other mutually accountable to them. Based on your personal leadership style and the nature of your team you can decide if you want this contract to be explicit or implicit.

The general theme of the contract is that the team will only expend energy on items that correlate to, and are aligned with the stated vision, goals and objectives. In the next post I will discuss Rule #1: No busy work.

Houston We Have a Problem: Building a High Performance Team

In this series we are focusing on six factors critical to success for founders of startups within a larger organization. So far, we have discussed: gaining and maintain latitude/autonomy, honoring sacred cows, putting out a BOLO on the larger organization, building grass roots support, and adopting a distinct fiduciary approach. In this and future posts I want to comment on what may be the most critical factor for success—building a high-performance team.

High performance teams offer the ability to accomplish a great deal with very few resources. Often resembling an elite Special Forces team, they move with a level of alacrity, speed and agility to execute strategic goals with dispatch. All while making it look effortless.

Unfortunately, high-performance teams are as rare as the northern spotted owl. In a subsequent post I will offer my thoughts as to why they are so rare. The reasons may surprise you.   For now, I want to offer guidelines for putting a team in place.

Developing a high-performing team is imperative if you want to build something quickly that is meaningful and sustainable. The approach used will differ based on whether your team is “inherited” or is built from scratch. While the checklist is similar for both, my focus here will be when starting from scratch.

Simply put, the addition of each new team member must be deliberate in order to ensure a strategic fit. While this concept seems obvious, it is seldom well executed. Because time is of the essence, the temptation is to staff up quickly. Often, the first action a new leader takes is to develop an organization chart, then immediately hire to fill the prescribed positions. The belief is that taking this all-hands-on-deck approach spreads the workload and allows for speed of execution. The leader may recognize that some of the hires will be a bad fit, so will be quick to fire members that don’t work out. This approach has a number of flaws. I will offer just a few.

  1. Eliminating a member of the team steals precious time that would be better spent strategizing and building the new venture.
  2. When new hires are quickly let go, it has a destabilizing effect on the entire team. Other team members aren’t given time to evaluate whether or not the termination was warranted, leaving them uncertain of their own security.
  3. It is largely ineffective to develop an organization chart this early in the build process. Even though we often need to include one as part of a funding request, it is absurd to act on it until the business model has been tested, modified and more fully proven. Keep in mind that proposals and business plans are always wrong. To believe yours is otherwise is either naïve or egotistical. Developing a precise business plan does not make it right.  I merely means it will be more precisely wrong.

Instead, the leader should add each new team member based on immediate need and strategic fit. For example, if the leader scores higher on discovery skills than delivery skills, he might look for someone who excels at program development and execution, and possesses strong project management skills.

If you are building a new venture from within a larger organization, your co-founders must demonstrate excellent 360-degree communication skills; have strong interpersonal skills and an excellent reputation within the larger organization. It is also very helpful if the co-founder has experience in the domain you will occupy.

This process will take time. It is important that the leader exercise the necessary patience to choose wisely, have the courage to handle activities during while searching, and faith that the process will yield positive results.

Once the semblance of a team in place, it is important to create a culture and atmosphere that allows for the highest level of performance. I will expand on this in the next post.

Houston, We Have a Problem–Governance for Startup Initiatives

When building a startup within an existing organization, the initiative often falls outside the competency wheelhouse of the host organization.  This requires a unique governance focus. As mentioned in the last post, it is important for the startup leader to meet weekly with the report-to executive from the host organization in order to stay connected with the mother ship. The report-to executive will be a valuable champion who can provide a host organization perspective of the startup leader’s strategies and activities. He or she can also be very effective in running interference. Remember, speed is of the essence, so any help keeping away the ankle-biters should be welcomed.

 

It is equally important to engage thought-leaders specific to startup’s domain. Early in the process, it is advisable to assemble a small advisory team made up of leaders experienced in the specific domain to provide outside accountability, advice and counsel. It is important that these advisors challenge the startup leader, and provide input without pulling punches. While advisory boards are often set up to provide access to influencers and funding, it should be only a secondary objective here. Startups outside the orbit of the host organization are often blazing new frontiers, which can make adequate governance a challenge. Advisors experienced in the arena or ecosystem in which the startup operates are essential to ensure sound governance. A word of caution: you want these advisors to be brutally honest with you, so be prepared to check your ego at the door before meeting with them.

The Puzzle

One day this man’s daughter came to him and said, “These puzzles are no longer challenging enough for me. I want you to find for me a puzzle that is really difficult.” So dad purchased a three dimensional puzzle. While that presented a bit more of a challenge, the puzzle was quickly completed, and his daughter said, “Dad, you can do better than that!”

After searching to no avail for a more complex puzzle an idea came to him, and he said, I will find you a puzzle tomorrow with less than 100 pieces that you will not be able to put together.” She said, “Bring it on, dad.”

The next day, the daughter spent the entire time at school in great anticipation. When she got home she ran into the dining room, where she found what looked like a puzzle with relatively few pieces. This was a puzzle she knew she would be able to assemble before evening’s end. Under dad’s watchful eye, she smoothed the puzzle pieces out on the dining room table to begin. Then she said, “Dad, give me the box top so I can get going on this thing.” That’s the catch”, he said. “Your challenge is to put together this puzzle without a picture of what the finished product is supposed to look like.”

After giving him that look only a daughter in high school can master, she set out to assemble the puzzle. After several frustrating attempts over what seemed like an eternity she said, “Dad, how am I supposed to put together a puzzle without having any idea what the finished product is supposed to look like?” After giving her a look that only a dad with a daughter in high school can master he said, “You said you wanted a puzzle that would be tough for you to do.” Her response was, “This is stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore.”

As leaders, how often do we give out similar assignments? We tell those we count on that we need better results. Maybe it is more revenue and profit. We tell them that they have to do better next year than the year before—that they have to be faster, smarter and more competitive than anyone else out there—but we do not articulate a clear plan for how to get there. A good business plan is much like the box top of a puzzle. With it, everyone on the team knows what success looks like when achieved, providing a clear guide along the way.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

Staying in the Moment

During a trip to Italy I was reminded of a difference between Americans and Italians. While walking the streets of Rome I witnessed people engaged with one another in discussion and fellowship both day and night. I saw it in and around the restaurants, the squares, the fountains and on the sidewalks. Time seemed to take on a different meaning.

The Greek language has two different words to describe time. One provides the root for our word chronology, and describes time from the perspective of moving through time. The second refers to time as a moment—a good time was had by all. What struck me as I walked the streets of Rome is that Americans all too often view the things that happen to us on our way to our destinations as distractions or things we must endure along the way. To most Italians these distractions are what life is all about.

Upon further reflection I have come to believe that successful leaders have the ability to capitalize on both elements of time. The first is obvious. Through strong organization skills and the ability to prioritize, effective leaders are able to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. While not as obvious, the second is even more important. By being in the moment, and remaining receptive to those we encounter along the way, we can gain a great deal. In addition to developing stronger relationships, being in the moment opens our minds to take advantage of the serendipity that surrounds us. By keeping our eyes open to the possibilities of our everyday encounters we might just find solutions to our toughest problems.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys

In a conversation with a colleague earlier today I was reminded of a phrase I have heard repeated over the years—feed the eagles and starve the turkeys.  At first glimpse this phrase may seem harsh and uncaring.  After all, aren’t we called to help those who are less competent?  Aren’t the strong supposed to help the weak?  Quite simply, no!  Not if it makes the strong weaker.  Not if doing so makes it more difficult for the strong to produce.

If the overachievers in an organization become hamstrung by blanket restrictions, budget cuts, or increased taxes, which are often the result of the mediocrity or failure of others in the organization, it stands to reason that total production will drop.

If this argument holds, why do organizations refuse to allow this logic to inform their decision-making during times of crisis?  An obvious answer is that it is much simpler to declare an across-the-board cut.  That way we can offer platitudes like, “everybody is being asked to tighten their belts.”  Sadly, I think the answer is more insidious than that.  I think it is based on the fallacy of CAN and WILL.

The fallacy of CAN and WILL is based in the faulty logic that because overachievers and high performing teams CAN produce more than others with the same resources, they WILL do even more with even less.  What makes this logic so dangerous is that it feeds the turkeys and starves the eagles.  In a backhanded way it rewards mediocrity by not holding it fully accountable.  Moreover, instead of rewarding overachievement it discourages it.  Why pull out all the stops to run a lean operation if it is not going to be recognized?  Why go to all that trouble only to be hamstrung?

Turkeys often store fat in preparation for a cold winter.  Eagles carry little, if any, fat.  If you are heading into a cold winter of crises, it would be wise to keep your eagles well fed!

© Mark Loschiavo

Can Music Promote Social Change?

When my son was in middle school he got involved in a program called Children’s International Summer Villages (http://www.cisv.org/about/history.html).  A woman who believed that if children could learn to relate to kids from other countries it would promote world peace started CISV shortly after WWII.

In my travels, I have found music to be a common denominator—the universal language.  Whether it was singing along to a Beatles tribute band at a table in Roppongi with two Koreans and six Japanese, jamming in a karaoke bar in Tokyo with musicians who spoke no English, or jamming with an outdoor market vendor in Bangkok for 45 minutes, playing a stringed instrument called a Thai Pin, that I picked up for the very first time that day, connections were made.  The Thai vendor and I couldn’t communicate with each other in any other way, but we became brothers that day.  When my business associates finally found me they were relieved to learn that I was NOT abducted–just distracted.

I am privileged to serve on the board of LiveConnections (http://liveconnections.org), an organization dedicated to providing innovative music education programs to build bridges and connect cultures.  It was started by a group of people who are passionate about music, but more passionate about making a difference in the world through music.  Now, that is something to sing about!

If this is something that resonates with you, please go to http://liveconnections.org to make a donation.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

In today’s Voices (Harvard Business Publishing), there is an article by Jeff Kehoe, entitled, When Do You Fire Your Four-Star General? Kehoe summarizes the reasoning behind the recent firing of Gen. David D. McKiernan, formerly the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Referencing an August 17, 2009 Washington post account, Pentagon Worries Led to Command Change, Kohoe writes, “The article gives a vivid sense of how Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, first worried, and then concluded, that McKiernan was not up to the urgent task at hand—that is, not only quickly turning the tide in the complex and treacherous 21st-century battlefield of Afghanistan, but also, simultaneously and continuously connecting and communicating with the Pentagon and Washington about developments on the ground and responsive strategy.”

While reading this article, a comment made to me by a senior IBM executive immediately came to mind.  “Out of sight, out of mind.”

It was the summer of 1992, and I was the financial executive for a billion dollar profit center of IBM.

Two years earlier I was finishing up a groundbreaking assignment during a pivotal time in IBMs history, reporting to the aforementioned executive (we will call him Hank). As we were preparing to part ways and take on the challenges of our new assignments he said, “I just want you to know that we would have never accomplished so much without your leadership. If you ever need anything from me, just let me know. I owe you.” He had been promoted to a position at corporate headquarters and I was promoted to a CFO position in Philadelphia. Even though I had never before asked for help in that way, his words meant a great deal to me.

Two years later an opportunity to take on a more significant leadership role surfaced. While it would require another relocation, the position was going to be filled by someone with my experience. As luck would have it, Hank was going to be a key influencer in the selection process, so I decided to give him a call.

Hank was glad to hear from me, since we had only talked briefly a couple of times in the last two years. After a bit of chitchat, I asked Hank if, in fact, they were looking at candidates for this open position. Indeed they were, and they were down to the short list. When I asked Hank why my name was not included on the short list his response startled me. He simply stated, “out of sight, out of mind.”  Even though my accomplishments measured up nicely, my name hadn’t come up.

Following the call, which ended graciously, my initial reaction was a feeling of betrayal. What happened to that heartfelt IOU?

Upon further reflection, I realized I had nobody to blame but myself.  While I had accomplished a great deal over those two years, I didn’t bother to keep in touch with those who did not have an immediate role or stake in my endeavors. I was so involved in trying to make a difference that I completely ignored the politics that exists in any organization. It is not enough to do good work. It is imperative to simultaneously and continuously connect with and communicate with your stakeholders.  You must take every opportunity to keep them apprised of your current state, the progress you have made to-date, and your strategies to get to your desired state.  For those of you who like to operate autonomously this can feel confining, and it is time consuming.   Ultimately, we attain our goals only with the help of others who are invested in the outcome.  One of our chief responsibilities as leaders is to stay “top of mind” with those who will help us succeed.  Otherwise we may be reminded that “out of sight” equals “out of mind” at a very critical time.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

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