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.

How Perfect is Perfect Enough?

A business professor assigned a group of MBA students to visit a local custom door factory and observe some of the craftsmen there.

The students arrived at the factory and were assigned to observe an elderly and obviously very seasoned door carver.  They arrived in his work area, equipped with sharp pencils and clip boards.

The door carver paid scant attention to them.  He had already made quite a bit of progress on the door he was working on, and it was already a thing of great beauty. He would carve for a while, stand back and take it all in, and then go to a different part of the door and carve some more.

As he carved, the door became ever more ornate and beautiful.  The MBA students were amazed at his level of concentration and his obvious dedication to his work.

After a number of cycles of silently carving, standing back, assessing, choosing a new spot, and carving some more, one student asked, “How do you know when you’re finished?”

The woodcarver looked up, and said, “When they come to take it away.”

He was depending on someone else to decide  when the product was ready for market. He was deriving his joy from working at the margin and making the door ever more perfect.

“How perfect is perfect enough?”  It seems to me that answering that question  is a critical role that product managers and project managers must play in any complex project. The practitioners, the scientists, the engineers, and the door carvers want to keep carving. Successful projects require someone to make a business judgment.  What criteria define “perfect”?  When must it be done?  How much will people pay for it?  From those questions and judgments, the team creates the definition of when the door is done.

Here are some questions to consider when framing a complex project:

What value are we providing? Is it a door that will keep us warm in the winter, or a door that is a thing of beauty and makes us proud of our home?

Who are we serving?  The market for sturdy and energy efficient doors is significantly different than the market for beautiful doors.

When does the customer need it?  Is it October and getting cold?  Or is it spring and we’re fixing up a home for our daughter and her family to move into?

How perfect is perfect enough?  Am I letting perfectionism push the project completion past the point of diminishing returns and delaying the primary benefit?

Epilogue: 

Most complex enterprises require the right mix of the dreamers and artisans who take joy in the craft of the work and the pragmatists who want to serve a well-defined market with the right product,with just right set of features, at just the right time, and at just the right price.

Sometimes, those talents live inside the same skin.  Most of the time, they do not.

The 5 Most Important Skills to Drive Trust and Credibility

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 3.59.01 PMWhat are the five most critical skills to earning trust and credibility with your clients?

Find out how top performing consultants are answering this question! Respond to our survey and we’ll send you the results.

The  Survey has one multiple choice question and takes less than five minutes.  Thanks!

When I talk to consulting leaders, it’s not hard to quickly reach agreement that there are a set of communications and relationship skills which make a world of difference in how well their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts align with and communicate effectively with the individuals and organizations they are serving.

The practical problem which follows is, which of those skills will have the greatest impact? Because it is difficult and unrealistic to develop capability on 20 or so parallel fronts, it’s helpful to get a sense for which of those skills and knowledge elements are the most critical to develop in the short term, and which can be deferred to later stages of development.

In this month’s letter, I’ll discuss the work that I’ve been doing with a couple of key partners, and invite you to participate in the research which will help us answer the prioritization question.

Partners International, Discovery Consulting and Ascendent Leadership are working together to better understand the critical competencies which enable a technologist, scientist, or subject matter expert to develop into the role of valued consultant or advisor.  We want to understand how successful consultants build trust and credibility with the people they serve.

As part of our work, we have isolated 20 competencies which we believe are core to this transformation from subject matter expert to consultant.  Here they are, grouped by a high level outline of categories.  Even though we placed each of them in one category for simplicity, many or most of them could be relevant in multiple categories.

Here is our take on the four key categories and 20 discrete competencies:

Emotional Intelligence Communications
Awareness of personal emotions Customer focus and presence
Reading others’ emotions Asking powerful questions
Understanding client relationship needs Active listening
Demonstrating confidence Delivering difficult messages
Defending beliefs without being aggressive Resolving conflict
Credibility Managing Change
Executive presence Aligning with the client’s vision
Business acumen – general Identifying, validating client requirements
Business acumen – specific to client firm or industry Identifying alternative strategies, choosing the best
Asking relevant questions Identifying, managing barriers
Telling relevant stories Describing a clear path to the client vision

We believe that all of these competencies are important and could be critical in any given situation.  That said, we want to understand how consulting leaders would prioritize this list of 20 competencies to best assist their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts in developing the communications and relationship skills they need to become true consultants and advisors to their clients.

Want to participate?  Great!  We invite you to take a short (3-5 min) survey which asks you to rank order those 20 competencies into four levels of importance to you.  We also want to hear your input on any other competencies you see as critical that we did not include in our list. We will return the survey results to you if you provide your email address when taking the survey.

Click the link below to take the survey, and thanks!

button (1)

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Cease Fire: Part 3: Collaborate to create an integrated set of metrics

Cease-Fire-4Hi, this is Jim Cooper and welcome back to “It’s not just about the numbers!”

This is the third post in our series on increasing alignment between sales and marketing.  In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

I have lost my wing-man, as Susan is in the middle of a job change and a city change. But I’ll continue the series in a text copy of the dialogue Susan and I had as we were building this piece of the series.   Here goes:

Jim:

Our second initiative involves the marketing and sales executives collaborating to create an integrated set of metrics

By bringing sales and marketing together to create metrics, it ensures both organizations are laser-focused on the same goals and marching to the same drummer. But, building these metrics requires three things:

1) agreement and alignment on the objectives, both short and long term, 2), a common language, and finally 3) shared service level agreements to be very clear what we will do for each other

Susan:

The days of sales being only focused on short-term revenue goals and marketing being focused on long-term branding are gone, thank goodness. Yet, there are still many short term realities. The most immediate goal for both sides is the need for sales teams to meet quota. Looking longer term, sales and marketing must take the broader perspective, to map and support the full customer experience with our product or service.

Jim:

Once the sales and marketing leaders are aligned, they can begin to develop the metrics needed to ensure that all objectives are aligned and metrics are in place for measuring success. Examples of shared metrics include: short term revenue growth; new logo goals, and lead generation,hand-over, and qualification metrics.

Susan:

To ensure success, both teams need to use a consistent language for the sales process. When one team speaks of “opportunities”, the other team must know precisely what that means. For example, does everyone understand precisely what an MQL  (Marketing qualified lead) is? What criteria are required for that lead to become an SQL (Sales qualified lead)? What does “nurture” mean and who owns which parts of it?

Jim:

Which brings us to Service Level Agreements, or SLAs. Sales and marketing must be precise in understanding the process in which leads, and feedback, go through the system. For example, marketing must get a lead into sales’ hand within 24 hours. Sales must follow up on the lead within 24 hours.

Along with an agreement of when and how hand-offs occur, building accountability and governance in to the process is essential for long-term success.

Susan, what do you think are the critical actions at this point?

Susan:

Take the time to be very clear on roles and responsibilities. Beyond the metrics and agreements, sales and marketing must work together to clearly articulate each organization’s responsibilities and then build individual performance measurements based on these responsibilities.

Most importantly, sales and marketing executives must sit down to evaluate how both sides are performing against their performance and service level goals.

As we all know, performance objectives strongly influence behavior.

Jim:

So here are the five questions we invite you consider and discuss, when creating an integrated set of metrics: [supporting images for each question]

  1. Have you identified which objectives should be shared between sales and marketing?
  2. Have you established a common language?
  3. Are SLAs in place?
  4. Do you need training materials and communications habits (e.g. coffee talks) to ensure new team members understand the common language, SLAs and processes?
  5. How will you drive acceptance and commitment?

That’s it for this post! We hope you’ll continue the discussion with responses to the post.

In our next post, we’ll explore the second strategic initiative, which deals with creating an integrated set of metrics for the strategic alliance between marketing and sales.

So this is Jim and Susan signing off, and reminding you, that…. It’s not just about the numbers!

Cease Fire! Part 2: Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives

In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

1. Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives
2. Create an integrated set of metrics to measure your degree of alignment
3. Show a united front to the organization on your business planning and budgeting
4. Use a consistent data set that tracks to both organization’s individual key performance indicators, as well as the integrated metrics for your partnership
5. Assign key team members from both teams to work together to win the battle in the market for new revenue

Click on the video below to listen to Susan and Jim discussing the first of those initiatives, establishing a highly visible partnership between sales and marketing executives to alert the entire sales and marketing team that both sides will either succeed together or fail together.

Thanks for watching!

Cease Fire! Five Things You Can Begin Today to Tighten Sales-Marketing Alignment

Cease-Fire-4There they were in the middle of my desk…

… a little stack of computerized forms which I had received from someone in marketing. HP had conducted a tradeshow somewhere in the world, and a handful of people from Dallas had wandered into their booth. The slips were a signal to me to call these visitors and inquire about the multi-million-dollar purchase they were clearly poised to make.

Marketing had done their job. They had planned and conducted the event, and had carefully collected the names and contact information of all the visitors, and put them on my desk. Now it was up to me!

I knew from experience that the vast majority of those slips had been generated because the visitor wanted to get whatever tchotchkes we were giving out, and not because they had any near term need for our products and services.

When I was a new salesman, I would feel guilty about the stack, and I might even call one or two of them. Typical response: Barely any memory of the trade show. No interest in more discussion. What a waste!

As I became more experienced, and more bold, I would let the stack sit there for about a day for before I moved it quietly, but directly, into the wastebasket. That was the view from my foxhole, in the passive-aggressive war between sales and marketing.

Of course, marketing had a view from their foxhole! They had worked very hard for months and spent huge amounts of money to conduct that event. The least “those salespeople” could do would be to follow up on the leads. No feedback ever came back. Why bother? Why spend all that money? What a waste!

Sound familiar?

There is a better way. But sales and marketing have to crawl out of their foxholes, and talk about it. They need to change what they talk about, how they cooperate, and the actions they both must take to build the company brand, and generate short term business.

In this video from my blog and several which follow it, my colleague Susan Tormollen and I discuss how sales and marketing can work together to win. … how to spend most of our time battling the competition, and not each other… and how we did it at a new business unit of HP.

Cease fire!

(See the blog history for  follow-on posts 2 and 3)