The network’s down! Five ways to empower your teams with Commanders’ Intent.

What would your people do if they were suddenly cut off from all ability to contact you?  … or their other leadership and sources of information, perspective, and resources?

Empower them to flex to the situation by understanding “Commander’s Intent”

Students of military strategy often use the term, “the fog of war” to describe a situation where leaders and troops lose contact with their chain of command and must deal with the ensuing confusion.  In order to enable their people to continue to press forward and take initiative without immediate guidance, the military has developed a concept what they call “commander’s intent”.  Through training and reinforcement, they give soldiers a clear vision of the intended outcome which enables them to take the initiative and tap their natural creativity to drive toward that vision.

What’s the benefit?

Military leaders have long understood that combat is a messy thing! Lines of communication are broken. Anticipated resources don’t show up. Key people become unavailable. Unexpected constraints pop-up and become problems to solve. Their enemies (and our competitors!) are planning, too. They may throw something at us that we didn’t expect.

The notion of commander’s intent enables our teams to take independent and continuous actionThey can move at the speed of the situation, They do not need to continuously check back with senior leadership to gain approval to take the next action.

The solution space

Great leaders create a “solution space” by the rules and constraints they impose on their team. That solution space is bounded by what the team can’t do. In business, the most common boundaries might be created by legal considerations, marketing strategy, ethics, or company policy.  An example might be a policy that requires CEO approval to authorize an engagement that will lose money for the firm. Once the leader establishes the relevant and compelling constraints, what is left are the millions of other combinations of available actions, the “solution space”.  All those options are available to the team member if they understand the space and feel empowered to operate in in all of it.

If they understand the ultimate desired end state, and if they know clearly the boundaries of their solution space, and if (this is big!) we have given them the flexibility and encouragement to operate freely in that space, then they can use their own initiative and creativity to realize the outcomes envisioned in the commander’s intent.

Five Ways to establish your Commander’s Intent:

  1. Paint the picture” of the end state in very clear, high contrast, colorful terms. Use relevant personal examples and stories liberally. Your team should be able to repeat it back to you instantly and accurately.
  1. Invest the time and effort to be sure that everyone understands in the most concrete terms your organization’s strategic goals. That understanding becomes the anchor for everything you ask them to do.  Use every means available to be sure your team understands the vision in the context of their individual roles. Great venues to do this are “coffee talks”, articles in your employee newsletters or blogs, and specific reference to the strategy in the resolution of real-time business issues.  (Obviously, there are many others…  Talk about your visions and specific goals incessantly!
  1. When delegating, take the time it requires for your people to understand the desired outcome. How does that outcome fit into a broader strategy you have already clarified for them?  With good questions, test their level of understanding and how they might apply that understanding in a real-time way.
  1. Carefully challenge any constraints or boundaries on your team’s actions. Limit constraints to the minimum necessary.  Be thoughtful about the constraining effects of any constraints you apply.
  1. If you are a manager of managers, take advantage of your “bully pulpit” to model to your middle managers the encouragement of new frames of reference, and challenging unnecessary constraints. Enlist candid feedback from your entire team about how well you are doing.

Manage Conflict! (or it will manage you)

Met-the-enemyConflict is a fact of life for most people. In a 2008 study, CPP found that 85% of workers in the US experience conflict to some degree and 29% report that they experience it “always” or “frequently”. (CPP 2008)

Constructive conflict is well accepted as a key indicator of high performing teams. In a comparative study of five globally accepted team effectiveness models, Korn Ferry, a leading authority on leadership and talent, found that four of the five frameworks featured conflict management as a key issue for effective teamwork. (Michael Lombardo 2001)

CPP found that when employees are trained how to manage conflict, over 95% of those people say that it helped them in some way. A quarter (27%) say it made them more comfortable and confident in managing disputes and 58% of those who had received training said they now look for win–win outcomes from conflict.

41% of employees think older people handle conflict most effectively. Seven out of ten employees (70%) see managing conflict as a “very” or “critically” important leadership skill, while 54% of employees think managers could handle disputes better by addressing underlying tensions before things go wrong.

But, when it goes bad, it goes bad in a hurry.

In the same research, 27% of employees reported that unmanaged conflict led to personal attacks, and 25% of them saw it result in sickness or absence.  Almost ten percent saw it lead to a project failure.

Hmmm…..

What can consulting leaders do to model and teach this critical skill within their teams?

Here are five steps you can take now to help your teams benefit from constructive conflict and avoid the negative results of poorly managed conflict

1.  First, assess where you and your teams stand. Consider these questions and discuss them with your teams:

  • How passionate and unguarded are team members able to be in discussing issues?
  • On a scale from “exciting” to “boring”, how do team members experience their meetings?
  • Do team members prioritize the toughest issues for attention, or avoid them?
  • How comfortable are team members in challenging one another about conclusions, plans, and approaches?

2.  Communicate! Make it clear in what you say and how you act, that conflict is normal and necessary, but unmanaged conflict is costly in many ways.

3.  Teach your team to communicate. Establish rules of engagement that help teams manage conflicts in a productive way. Focus on asking great questions, and getting everyone involved in formulating the answers. Encourage the shy ones to speak up and tell the aggressive ones to pipe down. Help your team develop emotional intelligence and relationship skills. Pay particular attention to empathy and assertiveness.

4.  Focus on issues and not people. When conflicts turn personal, turn them around to return to the issues that count. Teach your teams the analysis skills that enable the root cause analysis skills to identify the most important issues.

5.  Ferret out the “elephants in the room”. Chris Argyris calls an elephant an “undiscussable”.  Undiscussable topics become that way in order to “avoid surprise, embarrassment, or threat.”  In other words, a taboo. When elephants are running free in the room, the credibility of the organization and that of any leaders within sight are at significant risk.

Help your people stop avoiding conflict and become world-class at it.  In doing so, you and your clients will get their best, and they will develop a skill that will differentiate them (and you) for the rest of their careers.

End Notes:

Argyris, C. (1988). Managing with People in Mind, Harvard Business Review Press.

CPP, I. (2008). CPP Global Human Capital Report: Workplace Conflict And How Businesses Can Harness It To Thrive.

Michael Lombardo, R. E., Cara Capretta, Victoria Swisher (2001). FYI for Teams. Minneapolis, MN, Lominger International.

 

Business schools discover the power of EQ in leadership development

This is a very readable journal article on how a business school invested in a program to explore and develop the emotional intelligence of its students. It is well researched and its reference list would be a great place to start your own research into the history and contributions of emotional intelligence.

My take: While the study focused on a business school, its report and its supporting research have significant implications for all business and organizational leaders.

First finding of the study:  In this study, they were able to see a significant improvement in EQ competencies after a two year program of assessment and development

Second key item of interest, the writers referenced a study in which employers ranked the core MBA program objective of “knowledge of fundamental business concepts” only 12th out of 15 dimensions explored. Those organizations identified “courses that aided in the development of interpersonal skills” as the most significant shortcoming of traditional MBA programs.

Abstract: Over the past two decades an escalating interest in the construct of emotional intelligence (EI) has made its way into the popular press, professional press, and peer reviewed journals. Not surprisingly, an interest in EI is also gaining ground in academic settings (Parker, Duffy, Wood, Bond & Hogan, 2002; Parker, Hogan, Eastabrook, Oke & Wood, 2006; Parker, Saklofske, Wood & Eastabrook, 2005). Several major longitudinal studies have laid a sound theoretical foundation supporting the development of EI competencies as a component of the MBA curriculum (Boyatzis, Stubbs & Taylor, 2002; Boyatzis & Saatcioglu, 2008). This paper will describe why and how one MBA program took theory to practice and piloted the integration of content designed to develop competencies related to emotional intelligence into its curriculum. It will also review the results of an applied multi-year study that measured the results of the curriculum pilot. The study was conducted using one of the most widely used instruments for measuring emotional intelligence, the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (Bar-On, 1997), to identify significant changes between the beginning and the end of the program in the aggregate measures of emotional intelligence competencies.

Click on the image of the report title page to read the entire report.

 

 

Are we really coin operated?

As a recovering sales manager, I have always laughed at the proposition that “sales people are coin operated”.  Notice that I said I laughed, not that I didn’t agree.

What would you say if I told you that quite a body of research is telling us that “extrinsic motivation” (e.g. bonuses and commissions, carrots and sticks) actually makes performance worse, not better.  On the other hand, “intrinsic motivation” (I work because I love what I do) is the more durable motivator, especially in the 21st century.

I’m reading Dan Pink’s book, Drive, and I recommend it highly. If you’d like a compelling TED video on this same topic, done by Pink in 2009, check out this YouTube video.

How can you say, “It’s not just about the numbers”?

I want to use this column to explain what I mean when I say “it’s not just about the numbers”.

In business, the viability of a firm depends on its ability to create the numbers it needs to exist! No one can debate that.  My all-time heroes, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, knew that and made profit their number one corporate objective.

At the same time, Bill and Dave recognized that the numbers by themselves could not create an environment where people can grow, where they can ensure the success of those they care about, and where they can make a contribution to their industry and their community.  All of those things are critical for the employees of an organization to feel that their work matters and to fully engage in the mission of the organization.

So looking at it another way, the key word in my catch-phrase is the word “just“.

The high-tech industry in particular, has become so competitive, and the importance of current quarter business results so compelling, that leaders often sacrifice everything to get “the number”. What they miss,  is that focusing just on the numbers destroys the employee engagement that is so critical to achieving the business objective. Most mature adults understand that meeting the business objectives is job one. They just don’t want it to be “job only.”

As leaders, we have to appeal to all levels of their motivation. We have to help them feel a part of a community, to feel that their company and their colleagues, really care about them as individuals, and that the company ties its business success to values that transcend more than just return to shareholders.

This is why I get so excited about deploying the power of coaching into modern organizations. It’s the best way for leaders to connect their teams to the motivation and skills they need to hit their numbers, while making their workplace a human and fulfilling place to invest their time and their skills.

Your Culture is Your Best Teacher

culture_iconIt was the spring of 1981 and I had just joined Hewlett-Packard as a sales representative.   I was drinking from the fire hose.   It was my first sales job and I was learning a new career as well as a new company.  It was a heady time for HP.  We were undisputed leaders in our market and were growing rapidly in the general business expansion of that time.  What I observed around me was a great deal of youthful energy, and the primacy of our new products and their contribution to the markets we served.  One example of that energy was how we interacted with our product divisions.  When the divisions came to town, it was a natural rallying event for the sales force.  We gathered after hours, shared drinks and refreshments with the visitors, and then grilled them mercilessly for the latest intelligence about markets, competitors, and new products.  They in turn grilled us for what we were seeing on the front lines.  It was intense, but it happened in an atmosphere of shared commitment and collegiality.  I found it wildly invigorating.

Looking back on it, I was learning powerful lessons from the corporate and local cultures within HP.  As a company, our values included a commitment to technology and making a differentiated contribution to the state of the art in our markets.  That had started with Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in 1939 and it was a cornerstone of HP’s culture.  The behavioral norms I observed in the Dallas sales team included the willingness to dedicate after hours time to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the visit and the importance of blending professional and social interaction in building teamwork across the company.  I was also figuring out how to get things done inside HP.  The factory relationships that I built over a beer and snacks would enable me later to find my way to the right product development team to get a special feature I would need to close a major sale.  I didn’t learn that in a breakout session within a newcomers’ orientation course.  We were living it every day, and I learned it in a way that no workshop could teach me.

As a consultant, I have seen many very promising change initiatives die on the vine for lack of full adoption.  I believe that there are important considerations here for leaders who are considering some form of training to drive an organizational change:

Aggressively test the new ideas and behaviors against the prevailing cultures.  Are they complementary or likely to clash?

Where the new behaviors are not tightly linked to or supported by the culture, treat the project as a change management challenge.  Acknowledge the time, effort, and money it will take to integrate the change into the DNA of the organization.  Does the benefit justify the investment?

Consider the long-term impact that you are seeking. As cultures change slowly, it will likely take years for the organization to fully embrace the new ways as “just the way we do things around here”.  Can you afford the time?  Will the benefits endure over the time it takes to realize them?

Your culture is your best teacher.  Respect it, and put it to work on your most important change initiatives.

Jim Collins, Meet Michael Porter.

Here’s a link to great blog article from the Harvard Business Review blog, posted today.  I always enjoyed Jim Collins’ books on strategy, and of course, Michael Porter is the marketing strategy god we all read in business school.

A great quote from the article for those of that believe that great leadership is a necessary complement to great strategy…

So, is it great by choice…or making great choices? MBA students and their professors tend to divide the world into two separate domains:  people and numbers. There are the “soft” subjects like leadership and organizational behavior, and the “hard” ones like finance, accounting, and operations. Of course this distinction only makes sense in the classroom. All good executives know that the central challenge of performance is seamlessly integrating the two into a working whole. Good strategies do just that. Jim Collins, meet Mike Porter.

Readability meets rigor, and they get along just fine…

Jim Collins, Meet Michael Porter