Mentors: Because they’ve been there and done that!

Do you need a mentor? If you’re navigating tricky new territory in the marketplace, chances are that your mentor has probably had to navigate a similar situation at some point in their past. They can share their advice on how best to maneuver through a challenging situation, and lessons they’ve learned through similar experiences from their past.

A mentor’s primary role is to provide you with counsel in the execution of your responsibilities. A business owner or CEO’s job is all about doing the right things and doing them effectively. A mentor’s job is to ensure that you focus on the most important aspects of the job, and that you do them well.

Justin Norman CEO of JD Norman Industries started a manufacturing business without any operating experience before. To compensate for his lack of experience Justin developed relationships with mentors with either sitting CEOs or retired CEOs who are in a phase of their life where they enjoy mentoring and answering questions. Norman explains, “The stuff that I’ve seen for the first time in my life others have seen it 7 times before. So I’ve gained a lot of insight from that because it’s clearly a blind spot of mine going through the growth and the operations of the company for the first time.”

Mentors can also help you set career and personal goals, hold you accountable, expand your network of contacts and provide insights into the “little things” that can make a big difference in growing your business and in developing your leadership skills.
When selecting mentors you should choose a mentor who is working or worked in a similar industry as yours. Your mentor should be someone who inspires you with the success of their career and whose professional achievements you hope to emulate. Because they’ve learned a lot and developed many skills in their career, they’ll be able to guide you towards the best ways to learn the skills you’ll need to achieve similar success.

Are You Ready for VUCA?

TooManyChoicesVUCA best describes the business environment that has become the new global economy. The recession has given way to a slow and struggling recovery in the U.S. while Europe is facing a depression and economies around the globe are finding themselves in uncertain terrain.

V.U.C.A. (pronounced voo – ka) is an acronym developed by the military to describe an environment that is dominated by:

  • Volatility – The nature, speed, volume, magnitude and dynamics of change;
  • Uncertainty – The lack of predictability of issues and events;
  • Complexity – The confounding of issues and the chaos that surround any organization; and
  • Ambiguity – The haziness of reality and the mixed meanings of conditions. CEOs are struggling with how best to lead

Because they were designed for more predictable times, business models and business planning processes fail to perform well in this chaotic environment. This is because in a VUCA environment change happens more frequently, more unpredictably and with enough size to makes them “disruptive.” So the question for business leaders becomes, “how do you effectively grow sales, profits and customer loyalty in an unpredictable environment where literally everything changes in months rather than years?” Since you can’t avoid VUCA you must understand it and develop skills that will help your company adapt to the chaos it produces.

In a VUCA economy change is a constant. As markets and customers become less predictable businesses must vigilantly watch the landscape. Trends start quickly and can develop overnight bringing with it either great threats or tremendous opportunities. This often leads to shorter life cycles of products and services. With shorter life cycles market leadership is short-lived , as is the opportunity to mine the profit potential of the leadership position. Being the market leader in the past, meant years of market domination (think about IBM, Kodak, Nokia, Sears and Polaroid). In the New Economy market leadership is often measured in months.  The key to success is how quickly and effectively you can recognize and respond to market trends.

Leaders must dramatically modify or stop doing the following things to prepare for a VUCA environment.

  • Stop seeking permanent solutions to existing problems
  • Stop relying on the past and trends as an accurate predictor of the future
  • Stop assuming that long-term market leadership is possible without major innovations
  • Stop assuming that the strategies and people who got you here will get you to the next level
  • Stop assuming that the corporate culture and corporate values will remain the same

What are you doing to prepare your company to function in a VUCA marketplace?

Corporate Culture and Leadership: Lessons Learned from Goldman Sachs

The corporate culture and leadership at Goldman Sachs was put into an unflattering light by one of it’s own executives. Greg Smith retired from leadership and culturethe his position at the financial services company where he was executive director and head of the firm’s equity derivatives business in Europe. His parting gift to the firm was a March 14th op-ed in the New York Times, “Why I left Goldman Sachs.” He took unflinching shots at the company’s corporate culture and leadership by outlining “a decline in the firm’s moral fiber.” Smith wrote “Today many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs cultural quotient of exactly zero percent. …Integrity? It’s eroding.”

Smith’s action brings to mind two key questions. First is Goldman Sachs really that bad? Second why would an executive take such drastic action against his former employer?

Let’s address the first question. Although executives at the Goldman Sachs have been disputing Smith’s claims the firm’s shares dropped 3.4 percent on the day of the op-ed. This suggests that there are shareholders who suspect that there may be some truth to the allegations.

Why did Smith write the piece? He said he did it as “a wake-up call” to the board “(to) make the client focal point (of its) business again.” The firm said he was a disgruntled employee. Only time will tell who is right. There is probably merit for both sides.

What’s the lesson to be learned?

These are stories told at the water cooler, at a lunch table or in the ladies or men’s room. These aren’t the glowing stories created by a PR firm or ad agency. These are the stories that reveal the true DNA of an organization.

If culture defines “how we do things around here” then the stories employees tell are the way it’s conveyed. In many organizations there are the SOPs and then “the way we really do things.” In other organizations they are one in the same. Which one are you?

Great companies have employees who tell great stories that are aligned with the direction set by their leaders. When negative issues surface great companies listen, discern and take appropriate action. They do this because they know failing to do so is the first step down a slippery slope towards a dysfunctional culture.

The challenge for you is to know what stories your employees are sharing. If your employees were to write an op-ed in the New York Times about your organization would it be glowing or scathing?

Corporate culture and leadership must be developed and cultivated over time. It’s based on what you say and the extent your actions support your words.  The by-product is the stories employees tell. Make sure your actions cultivate the stories you’d want to appear in the New York Times.

To get a better picture of your culture take the Growth Positioning Survey.

Improving Performance: Are You Treating the Symptoms or the Cause?

Are your initiatives for improving performance treating the symptoms or the cause? Your answer may mean the difference between success and failure of the initiative and maybe your company. Let me explain.improving perfromance

A few weeks ago I developed knee pain and went to my orthopedic doctor. After an MRI and some X rays he told me the pain was from arthritis. My treatment options were physical therapy to strengthen my knee, cortisone shots and drugs to give temporary pain relief, surgery or knee replacement. When I asked him what the cause was he simply said “It was age and wear and tear from years of playing sports.” He said another option was to stop playing tennis and basketball because they put so much pressure on the knee.

Not satisfied with the options I was given I went to another doctor. Instead of focusing on my knee he examined my spine and my feet. He took X rays and picture of my feet (they’re flat). The doctor said that the options outlined by my orthopedic doctor were appropriate  for treating the symptoms. However if the cause of the knee pain wasn’t corrected I would continue to create the dynamics that caused the knee pain in the first place. This would especially be true is I continued to play sports.

The solution outlined by the second doctor involved correcting the imbalances in my spine and correcting the instability in my feet with orthotics. The goal is to stabilize my foundation and core structure so that my body can withstand the demands put upon it by high impact sports. This solution would relieve the pain now and help prevent it in the future. This is the option I chose.

What does my knee pain have to do with business? Everything. All too often companies throw resources at symptoms without addressing the underlying cause of the business pain. Treating symptoms may be expedient but it rarely produces sustainable results. In many cases it adds to the problem.

In today’s New Economy volatility’s and change are no longer the exception. Responding to the dynamics created by constant change puts stress on the foundation of any organization. If your company’s foundation (i.e. vision,values,strategies,people and processes) becomes unstable business pain in the form of performance issues can start showing up in any number of places.

When business pain like turnover,customer churn, decreased sales or profit erosion do surface don’t take a prescribed remedy until you fully understand the underlying cause. Take the time to gain the perspective needed to understand the relationship between the performance symptoms and the cause. If you can’t see a relationship yourself seek an outside resource to help you. This can be a coach,consultant,advisory board or mentor. In the heat of battle business owners and executive often have difficulty seeing the forest for the tree. Give yourself the benefit of clear vision before committing valuable resources.

Once you understand the cause of the business pain you can then select the solutions that can relieve the symptoms and address the cause. A good diagnosis is an essential first step in the success of any prescribed treatment. This is as true for business pain as it is for knee pain.

Are You Committed to Leading Change?

leading changeA critical measure of success in leading change is your commitment.  Once you’ve weighed the options, given others a chance for input and settled on the best course of action.  You must be resolute, even passionate about your determination to follow through.  If you can’t be excited about where the organization is going, how can you expect your people to be.

Don’t try to reduce resistance by softening your position.  This is taken as a sign of weakness and becomes a rallying point for resisters. Keep in mind that in times of uncertainty, actions speak louder than words.  If pushed to the limit, you make have to make an example of someone who resists.  When this happens, make it a high profile person and make it public.  Your objective is to send a message to the others to get on board.

Change often has casualties.  This may seem heartless but it’s true. Resisters resist because they choose to do so.  They are the ones who put you in a position to choose them or the change effort.  If your change effort is worthy, the choice is an easy one.

In times of change, people gravitate to the people who have the most conviction about the future. Don’t initiate change you yourself aren’t committed to.  People will look to you for answers and to show them how to act.  If you’re certain, confident and act with congruence, they will follow.  If you lack those qualities, they will seek those that do.

Remember, you can’t manage change, you can only lead it.  When you lead change, people will follow.  So, if you’re in charge of change, lead it.  The resisters will either join the parade or voluntarily drop out.

Leading Organizational Change

leading organizational changeDue to the demands of the New Economy  organizational change is running ram­pant in corporate America.

Unfortunately, most of it isn’t working, or at least, not as well as it’s sup­posed to. Success of formal change programs in Fortune 1000 companies is rare. Reports indicate that more than half   are      disappointments or outright failures. Whether the change initiative is called, “reorganization,” “downsiz­ing,”or “re-engi­neering,” the results are the same.

The process usually starts with an enthusiastic top management push delivered to a skeptical group of employees. Then, meetings are scheduled, training conducted, until everyone is in­volved in the process. Unfortunately, the inevitable eventually hap­pens, commu­nications break down; mile­stones are missed; results don’t meet expectations; and manage­ment is left wondering what happened.

A Matter of Perspective

One of the core problems in leading organizational change is a simple matter of perspective. Management and em­ployees often view change differently. Management sees change as a challenge and an opportunity to strengthen the organization for the long haul.
For many employees, change is seen as disruptive and intrusive.  They didn’t seek it so they rarely welcome it. Change to them is threatening.

This difference of perspective is compounded by management misjudging the effort required to win acceptance of change. To avoid this problem, manag­ers at all levels must learn to view change through the eyes of their employees. This insight can give man­agement the leverage needed to move the change process forward.

New Rules

Resistance to change is rooted in a lack of under­stand­ing and in a loss of empowerment. Change means the rules have changed. Most people withhold support until they’ve figured out how the new game is going to be played. This usually occurs when people know the rules of the game and how the score is kept. Most people know how to win in the existing culture, but aren’t sure in the emerging culture. The quicker management can explain the new rules and show their people how to win, the sooner they’ll embrace the change.

The key here is understanding. For employees to under­stand the new rules, manage­ment must be prepared to answer several critical ques­tions. When change occurs, the first thing people want to know is “What’s going to happen to me?” This is a natural extension of a person’s self-preservation. People want answers when they feel threatened or unsure of their future. Even if its bad
news, people deserve answers. Keeping people in the dark only compounds the problem and increases their resistance.

Be committed to resolving the “WGTHTM” questions as quickly as possible. Giving people closure on these issues helps them move past resistance and begin focusing on the future.

Once the general issue of “What’s going to happen to me?” is resolved, management must answer the following questions more specifically:

  • What’s my job? (What am I supposed to do?)
  • What resources do I have? (What support can I expect?)
  • How will my job be evaluated? (What are the standards
    and how will I get feedback?)
  • How will I be compensated? (What financial rewards, recognition,
    and personal satisfaction will I receive?)
  • How hard will I really have to work and are the rewards
    worth it? (What’s needed to survive and thrive?)
  • Is this a place where I belong? (Are my values aligned
    with the organizations?)

These questions provide the explicit rules for winning in the new culture. Answering them resolves a lot of fears and anxiety that employees are apt to feel.  However, it usually takes some time for people to fully trust the new rules. That’s why most employees don’t fall in line until the unspoken rules of the game become clear and management answers the final question, “How do you really get things done?” Like teenagers testing a curfew, employees will test the stated rules until they know that they are real. Once this is accom­plished, people can start focusing on results instead of the rules. Even the best planned change effort can experi­ence resistance. And, manage­ment must be prepared to lead it.

Resistance is the most common side effect of change. Resistance is the organization’s way of main­taining the status quo. It’s a good barometer for mea­suring the impact of change, but it is not an appropriate gauge for measuring the appropriateness of change.  Just be­cause people resist change doesn’t make it bad.  When you initiate change, you will encounter resis­tance. Keeping this in mind, you’re able to handle resistance better as it occurs.

Remember, the 20%50%30% Rule

When change occurs, most people fall into one of three camps.

The first camp is those that embrace change and see it as an opportunity for growth. This group represents about 20 percent of the people.

The second camp is those people who are unde­cided about change. They try to be neutral until they figure which side of the fence they’re on. This group makes up about 50 percent of an organization.

The third camp is people who resist change. They fight it and often try to ensure that the change fails.  This group represents
about 30 percent of a group. Resisters are often responsible for holding the whole organization back because they usually
get the most attention from management. Unfortunately, paying undue attention to resisters only reinforces their nega­tive behavior. The more attention they get the more compelled they feel to justify their position. This often makes it even more difficult for an organization to move forward.

The key to leading organizational change is to focus on results. You may never get 100 percent buy-in from all people. For some, the buy-in can only come after they see results and have proof that the change was appropriate and successful.

Casey Stengel, the former manager of the New York Yankees, once said, “The secret to managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.” This applies to business as well. A manager must decide to “win with their winners and not lose with their losers”.

Help People Understand Change

Education and communication are your first steps in defeating resistance. Give people the information and rationale that’s driving change. Also, relate the change to the organization’s mission and core values. Finally, help people see it from their perspective. It should make sense from where they sit.

Even when you explain it, everybody may not accept it. Some resisters reject anything that they don’t agree with. For these people, the goal is understanding, not necessarily agreement. If they understand, they can eventually accept it.  Some people won’t get it even after you’ve explained it several times. Don’t give up. ..keep communicating until they do get it. Remember, your job isn’t just to explain change, but to help people understand it.

Change Should Have A Purpose You’re Committed To

A clear mission and goals can be a good antidote for the fear that causes resis­tance. The clear­er and more compelling the future seems, the easier it is for people to leave their doubts behind. Aimless mis­ery is a tough sell. Make your change goals easy to see and provide a destination that makes the change seem worthwhile.

Once people realize that change is a done deal, their resistance usually fades away. When people realize you’re not just “giving change a try” they generally accept it.

Remember, it takes very little to keep the hope alive in the hearts of resisters. They continuously look for an opportunity to believe that the change isn’t for real.  Resisters won’t become believers until they see tangi­ble evidence that you mean what you say.

A critical measure of success in leading change is your commitment. Once you’ve weighed the options, given others a chance for input and settled on the best course of action. You must be resolute, even passion­ate about your determination to follow through.  If you can’t be excited about where the organization is going, how can you expect your people to be?

Don’t try to reduce resistance by softening your posi­tion. This is taken as a sign of weakness and becomes a rallying point for resisters. Keep in mind that in times of uncertainty, actions speak louder than words. If pushed to the limit, you may have to make an
example of someone who resists. When this happens, make it a high profile person and make it public. Your objective is to send a message to the others to get on board.

Change often has casualties. This may seem heart­less but it’s true. Resister resist because they choose to do so. They are the ones who put you in a position to choose them or the change effort. If your change effort is worthy, the choice is an easy one.

Be a Role Model

In times of change, people gravitate to the people who have the most conviction about the future. Certain­ty usually outweighs desirability. This is why resisters can win the hearts of the 50 percenters. Resisters often have more conviction to the resistance to change than managers have to the change effort.

Don’t initiate change you yourself aren’t committed to. People will look to you for answers and to show them how to act. If you’re certain, confident and act with congruence, they will follow. If you lack those qualities, they will seek those that do.

Remember, you can’t manage change, you can only lead it.  When you lead change, people will follow.  So, if you’re in charge of change, lead it. The resisters will either join the parade or voluntarily drop out.