Busting Silos: Leading Organizations

Sometimes, things hit you in the face.

Sometimes, patterns are easy.

Sometimes, messages repeat but in new and different ways.

Thus has been the case for me over the summer.

In working with three clients the notion of ‘silos’ has emerged as the reason for poor teamwork, missing deadlines, and general dissatisfaction. Fingers have been pointed, heated words (verbally and in emails) have been tossed about, and goals have stagnated.

A few case studies are in order. The first couple demonstrate problem silos while the third shows what progress can happen when silos never get built.

The first such silo I observed was rather unusual. Often, when we think of silos in an organization it is because there has been a structure imposed by ‘someone above’ which hinders productivity and goal attainment. In this situation, the silos were being erected by individuals! How so?

Their behavior included creating onerous processes for simple tasks, retaining the ability to veto any input or decision from someone outside their function, and ultimately to shut down their function without input from everyone. Functional leaders were free to change dates, skip meetings, and cancel deliverable actions with virtually no input from anyone. Silos were created specifically to block progress.

The second example occurred in working individually with an executive of a start-up. One of his frustrations was the lack of cooperation among teams. His company is small with only 40 employees. Yet given the nature of new product design, the software and hardware teams were consistently working in silos. As we discussed his organization–and in particular, his expectations for the design teams–it became clear that he had set up the organization to be competitive. So over the summer, he worked on his ability to communicate the need for people to work together while keeping the integrity of their design. He recognized collaboration and instances of cross-functional success.

Well, just about a week ago he called and was quite stirred up. He was in the process of establishing a new customer support function to launch their product to the mass market. However, he was frustrated over the reaction of one of his managers. This particular manager was upset because he was being asked to start the new support function–hire, train, and design processes–but the organization would eventually not report to him. He admitted he wanted to avoid the discussion and would instead have the new team report to the manager. I quickly told him “ok, but this is an opportunity to build a cross-functional team without the silos you experienced a few months ago.”

Nothing was said at first. Then he said “you’re right”. He realized this was the best chance to build collaboration and to avoid silos and especially the mentality that comes with them. He went right to the manager and discussed how this was the perfect opportunity to shape the future. So far, no silo in sight.

The third example, the good one, was a request from a client I worked with about three years ago. It was in a start-up mode that eventually transferred to an existing agency for implementation. The start-up and transition had gone well. This time the request was to help with the next level in their strategy.

Their strategy.

You see, the email came jointly from the two organizations. While one of the executives is responsible for the program today, the request came from both leaders. What struck me immediately was that both leaders felt responsible for the next phase. Then, in my first few meetings with both of them it became clear and apparent that they felt a kinship in ensuring the future success. Neither pointed a finger, laid blame, tooted an individual horn, or felt the need to one-up the other. They were, have continued to be, and want to be in the future jointly responsible for the success.

So it occurs to me that silos are created–whether imposed by a senior manager or erected by functional departments–when the organization lacks:

  • clear goals–what is the outcome, how it relates to the overall organization, why it is important, clear (and simple) processes to support the collective goals, communicate clearly and often
  • accountability–who has prime responsibility and who needs to be consulted
  • collaboration–a core belief and behaviors that working together will reap success for the organization, build trust, and sustain growth

While this may sound like “teamwork 101” I think it goes deeper.

Take, for example, the first example where silos were created by functional groups and individuals in order to shield themselves from working with others and towards the goals. Silos had become in this case, bunkers and shields.

So, how can leaders avoid silos? Keep in mind clear goals, accountability, and collaboration. Work towards clear vision with the team, track progress together, and consistently reinforce the message that everyone must work together. As in the case of the second example, even when progress is made, you have to continually look out for silo creation. And as the leader, recognize and praise progress.

Lastly, keep in mind the core lesson of the third example. It’s a joint strategy. Start with this and silos will likely be avoided, as this client has been able to do so largely for the past three years.

As a leader, the challenge is to avoid building silos and that when you see someone erecting one, to bust it down quickly.


© Copyright 2016, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

‘Soft Skills’ Leadership

It’s quite common to hear ‘soft skills’ when people talk about managing people, leadership, conflicts, giving direction, listening, speaking…

But are they really ‘soft’? Let me tell a story I experienced over a dozen years ago while working with a client, Texas Instruments.

I was brought in to design and deliver a 5-month program for first-time managers. As you can imagine, it included things like leadership, performance management, DiSC®, teams, etc. It was interactive driven by case studies and group discussions. It was a half-day program each month for a group of 12-15 managers who went through the 5-months together.

Most significantly, it was introduced by the VP of the division (this was a production group in TI).

He attended the kickoff morning session and posed the following question:

“Let’s say that you return to your desk this afternoon and you’re immediately presented with 2 problems.

You only have time, however, to adequately solve 1 of the problems. You know that based on experience.

The first problem is that you have two employees who are arguing and fighting. Not coming to blows, but it is escalating. Words are being exchanged both aggressively and passive-aggressively.

The second problem is that the line has gone down because of the system failure.”

He then went on to ask:

“Which problem would you solve first?”

Invariably, everyone answered the second problem–the line is down. In all the sessions, this was the unanimous answer.

He then asked:

“Why did you choose that one?”

And they would say something like “it’s easier”, “we know how to solve it”, “it’s simpler”, “it has bigger implications for the company and customer”.

He then would say, especially to the responses about it being easier, knowing how to solve it, simpler:

“So it’s easy, ok. What’s the opposite of ‘easy’ or ‘simpler’?”

At this point, someone would say “hard”.

“Bingo”, he would exclaim. “Solving the technical problems is easy.”

“Solving the people problems are ‘hard'”, he would add. Heads would shake around the room in agreement.

And he would then add:

“So why do we say classes like this are ‘soft skills’ when by your own admission, they are harder? Why do we call issues dealing with people ‘soft’ when in fact they are ‘hard’?”

From that moment on, we never used the term ‘soft skills’ in the program. And working with this group was always rewarding–they really wanted to understand people, teams, and especially how they can successfully lead, manage, and coach.

I often use this story in working with clients. It’s an example I’ve found resonates with every client I have–from production and operations to sales and marketing to administration. I’ve found that it applies to my for-profit and my non-profit clients.

Soft skills are hard skills. Sometimes labeling them ‘soft’ implies fuzzy bunny, rainbows, and candy–, trivial, less important, secondary.

Rather, what makes them hard is that people are not machines. People have good days and bad days. People have emotions. Often as this example was debriefed in the program, that’s exactly what the participants said. They would also add that they had more confidence and ease in dealing with the system–they could count on it to react as expected.

So keep this in mind you use the term ‘soft skills’. For all these years, this has been an example which is both instructive and a useful reminder.


© Copyright 2016, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

Commitment is an Action, not a Word

In the past few months, I’ve seen what a role commitment can play in the success for an organization.

And when I use the term commitment, I mean actions not words.  Time and time again, I’ve met people who will espouse an opinion or provide direction only to find out later that they don’t follow their own lead.

Keep in mind I’m not referring to blindly adherence to your ideas.  Rather, true commitment comes from application of ideas and philosophy.  Leaders have to be in the trenches and be ready to make changes as warranted.  This aligns to Sartre’s original philosophy as well as his own actions on commitment and building authentic relationships.

The first such example unfolded over the past two years as the congregational president for a local Reform Jewish temple changed the culture from complacency to commitment.  He doubled-down, so to speak, this year when he focused on the need for commitment in actions rather than just words during his high holiday speeches.  He directly challenged congregants to act, not just talk about acting.

And it’s working:

  • membership and contributions have increased
  • participation in committees, programs, and events is burgeoning
  • increased pride and connection to the temple is evident in just about every aspect associated with their operation

It’s perhaps that last one on the list which builds a promising, sustainable future for them.

But he’s not the only leader I’ve observed in these past few months who put commitment into action.

I’ve had the opportunity to witness a turnaround of sorts for the Compliance function in an international financial firm.

Simply put, the Chief Compliance Officer changed the culture of the organization by:

  • involving a variety of people in planning, goal-setting, and priorities–she included people throughout the organization at a variety of levels and functions along with key internal partners
  • setting the tone by actively participating in the changes and monitoring success–she attended each meeting, completed tasks, and led by example
  • providing clear feedback including corrective actions and recognizing successes–she did so decisively and quickly

All of these were necessary to turn the organization around.  She underscored her commitment not through emails, presentations, and overviews.  Rather, she rolled up her sleeves and worked alongside her team to meet the challenges head-on.

It’s working for her and the organization:

  • they have launched several new initiatives aligned to international fraud protection guidelines
  • governmental oversight ratings have increased for the company
  • stock price has stabilized after years of decline
  • they successfully opened a new Polish base of operations on-time with less than 3 months planning

So is it all about commitment?  Well, yes but there’s another factor that comes into play.


I’m a firm believer that commitment breeds trust.  Not only have I witnessed it in these two examples, I’ve seen it repeatedly in businesses and nonprofits–large and small, local and national, service-providers and widget-producers.

Commitment and trust both require action, not just words.  Leaders have to not only send messages, they have to live these messages.  They become more than role-models.  They become participants:

  • they do as they say
  • “we” is more important to “I”
  • challenges are met head-on by all
  • they build a solid team

As a leader, look in the mirror.  Check to see if your actions match your commitment.  Check for the above four items.  It’s ok to make adjustments.  Better you than someone else.

© Copyright 2015, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

When You Need Help

In earlier posts, I’ve talked about what to look for, how to utilize, and what to avoid in an advisory board and a mentor.  In addition to the value this collective group and these mentors can bring to any organization, I find that leaders today seek individual advice.  Whether you call this a coach, advisor, confidant, or some synonym, I believe there are important considerations in formalizing this relationship.

Start by asking yourself “what do I want from this relationship?”

Be clear if you are seeking advice, looking for a sounding-board, need someone to confidentially confide in, need an expert to guide your development, or want someone who can challenge you.  While these may sound similar–they are not.  The nuances between these are important to note and can help you begin to determine who can help you.

Consider the following checklist to guide you in determining why you are seeking such a relationship (mark any and all that apply):

I am…

  • trying to improve performance
  • building my confidence and assurance in making decisions
  • seeking personal growth
  • preparing for a greater scope and breadth of responsibility
  • dealing with a new, increased role and responsibility
  • facing a complex challenge
  • building a new future for me/my organization
  • coping with a disappointment
  • planning for a future transition and goal
  • seeking advice from someone who has already experienced what I am now experiencing

Being clear in what you want and, more importantly need, is perhaps the most important step in selecting a coach or advisor.

It should be noted that there are a few pitfalls in making this choice.  These include:

Expecting therapy–coaches and advisors are not qualified for this role.  If you have personal needs, seek a licensed professional counselor or therapist.  Be wary of people who want to be your therapist without professional training.

A substitute–whoever you select should not be expected to act on your behalf or, even worse, to do your own work.  Rather, they should help you determine your needs, provide ideas and solutions, and keep you on-track.  They are not simply another “pair of hands”–that is what an assistant does.

A crutch–they should partner with you on your development and not become a gatekeeper, medic, or best-buddy.  Independence is critical to your success (and they should work towards it with you).

A buddy–seek people who can objectively provide advice, ideas, and information.  Doing so provides you with unfettered and uncluttered attention while ensuring confidentiality, honesty, and perspective.  You’re not looking for a pal or someone to hang around with–you’re looking for someone who’s role is to challenge you.

Beyond this, consider the level and type of expertise you need.  Ask yourself, do I need someone…

  • who has been in a similar situation?
  • with expertise I lack?
  • who is not familiar with my exact situation but who can give me a new, different, and perhaps unbiased perspective?
  • with connections to other people and organizations that can also help me?
  • who will bluntly challenge me, my ideas, and my performance?
  • who is unfettered by alliances, allegiances, and is not beholding to me, my organization, etc.?
  • with a proven track-record of success?
  • who has the willingness to meet with me and help me?
  • with professional credentials?

And once you have found an advisor or coach, follow these steps:

  1. Formalize the relationship–set objectives, schedule meetings, document expectations
  2. Respect the relationship–make it a priority, keep appointments and commitments, monitor progress
  3. Evaluate the relationship–periodically ensure progress is made and objectives are met

Keep in mind that often these relationships are finite.  It’s rare that your coach or advisor can provide you with ongoing advice and expertise.  Plan for a transition to a new person.  Plan for how you will keep in contact with your coach and advisor once the formal relationship ends.

Such relationships provide an opportunity for leaders to enhance their abilities, provide feedback on ideas, provide information on direction, and present an opportunity for candid conversations.  Strong leaders consistently will seek such advisors and coaches throughout their career.


© Copyright 2013, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

Not the brightest crayon in the crayon box

During a coaching session last week with a client, I used a phrase that I often use “I’m not the brightest crayon in the crayon box”.  I went on to say that I don’t believe I need to be the smartest person.  Rather, I  try to continually learn from other people, experiences, and other sources.

My client at first laughed at the funny saying but then they were intrigued by what I said about not being the smartest.

(Ok, I admit some would say that this is both a strange saying and especially strange–if not downright dumb– to say in the presence of your client.  I couldn’t disagree more.)

I went on to explain that the saying comes from my youngest niece.  She once said that I wasn’t the brightest crayon.  (And as an aside, as a proud uncle, I’m happy to say that she’s now thriving in her career and is a member of Leadership Brazos training program.)

For me, I thought what she said was actually quite profound.

Simply put, it’s okay if you don’t know everything.  Be curious.  It resonates with another quote I’ve often used in working with leaders:

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the life-long attempt to acquire it.”  Albert Einstein  –Letter to an admirer, March 22, 1954; quoted in Dukas and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, the Human Side, p.44.

In sharing this quote with my client, they wanted to know more about how leaders balance intellect and humility, knowledge and curiosity, discipline and creativity, collaboration and working alone.  Leaders encompass these characteristics as well as the ability inspire others.

So what I left them with was a list of other quotes that I believe sum up what a leader strives for personally and with others.  Take a look at the list, let me know what you think, and add others that resonate with you: 

“What makes a company great is not primarily its top leaders, but the quality of its innumerable everyday ones.” –John Holmes (UN Humanitarian Chief)

 “We’re not born into leadership.  We convert” – Good Company magazine 

“Good leaders were first good followers” – Don Ward (UK entrepreneur)

“Strange as it sounds, the best leaders gain authority by giving away.”  –James Stockdale (US Admiral)

“The best leaders will be those who listen to their people to figure out where they should be going.”  — Jack Kahl (author Leading from the Heart

“Excellent organizations do not foster ‘we and they’ attitudes.”  –Tom Peters (author, In Search of Excellence) 

“The ultimate test for a leader is not whether he or she makes smart decision and takes decisive action, but whether he or she teaches others to make smart decisions and take decisive action.”  — Noel  Tichy (professor and author,  University of Michigan)

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” – Henry Ford (American inventor) 

“A leader leads by example not by force.” –Sun Tzu (philosopher)

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” –Dwight Eisenhower (American president) 

“Effective leaders work throughout the organization; they do not just sit on top.”  — Henry Mintzberg (professor and author)

“Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners and teammates.  The more they understand, the more they’ll care.  Once they care, there’s no stopping them. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish”  — Sam Walton (retailing innovator) 

“There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few we can solve by ourselves.”  — Lyndon B. Johnson (US President)

“To your customer’s way of thinking, you are the company.”  –Ron Zemke (author) 

“The essential difference in service is not machines or things.  The essential difference is minds, hearts, spirits, and souls.”  –Herb Kelleher (Chairman Emeritus, Southwest Airlines)

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu (philospher) 

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. —John F. Kennedy (American president)

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” — Margaret Thatcher (British prime minister) 

© Copyright 2013, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

New Challenges for Global Leaders

Today’s global leader differs from past such leaders in many ways:  more of a negotiator, better listener, builds consensus, holistic approach, and develops future leaders in a more integrated and collaborate manner. 

To learn more about this, check out this post from Harvard Business Review (and make sure you read the PDF on Developing the Global Leader of Tomorrow (about 2/3 into the piece). 

Click here to read. 

Mentoring Resources

In response to the calls and emails based on my two-part blog on The Importance of Mentoring, I’m listing some resources to help you further understand mentoring.  Keep in mind as you read through these that mentoring is “a structured and trusting relationship that brings professionals together who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee.”

I’ve found these resources helpful through the years as I mentor others, have been mentored, and in implementing mentoring programs for clients.

They are presented in no particular order but are grouped for your convenience.  You can find the books in traditional and online booksellers.  For the articles, you can find them all online.


Coaching and Mentoring by Jane Renton

Mentoring at Work by Kathy E. Kram

The 2020 Workplace:  How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willverd


“Mentoring Millennials” by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willverd, Harvard Business Review, May 2010

“Finding a Mentor” Inc., Aug 6, 2002

“The Uber Mentor” by Elaine Appleton Grant, Inc. Sep 1, 2002

“Four Myths About Mentoring” by Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review, February 1, 2011

“Mentors Make a Business Better” by Emily Keller, Business Week, March 20, 2008

“In Praise of the ‘Anti-Mentor’” by Keith McFarland, Business Week, May 15, 2007

“Why Mentoring Matters in a Hypercompetitive World” by Thomas J. DeLong, John J. Gabarro, and Robert J. Lees, Harvard Business Review, January 2008

Other resources

SCORE—www.score.org—they are a nonprofit organization offering free workshops, advice, and mentors to small businesses.

Menttium—www.menttium.com—offering mentor programs for women in leadership.

Center for Non Profit Management—www.cnmdallas.org—based in Dallas, they offer programs for non profit groups.

Center for Non Profit Success—www.cfnps.org—they offer programs and mentors for non profit groups in many major US cities.

Management Mentors—www.management-mentors.com—an organization dedicated to helping leaders and mentors thrive.

If you’re in a professional organization, they usually have a mentoring program.

And don’t forget the Small Business Administration—they offer a variety of services including individual mentors.

© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

The Importance of Mentoring (Part 2)

So you think you want to be a mentor? 

Ok, fine.  Ask yourself the following questions…

  1. Why do you want to do this?

  2. What do you know that can be helpful to others? 

  3. What do people say about you?

As you ponder these questions, keep in mind the following.

Why do you want to do this? 

Simply put, it’s not about you!  Okay, maybe a little but the focus isn’t on you.  Rather it is on the person you are mentoring.  Your motivation must be on how you can help the mentee.  It’s easy (and a trap) to talk about yourself during conversations.  To keep the focus in-balance, remember:

Listen, listen, listen.  Try to keep them talking 70% of the time. 

Keep an open mind.  This means “listen to your listening”—that little voice we all have in our head.  Sometimes it can get in the way of actively listening.

Ask questions to get them talking and to clarify their answers.  Prepare questions before each conversation, when possible, that provoke their thinking and analysis. Prepare follow-up questions.

Avoid telling personal story after story, endless examples, and meaningless anecdotes.  Instead, utilize your experience and expertise.  Choose the most meaningful and appropriate examples.  Never make up examples.  If you don’t have something to share, refer them to another person or resource.

What do you know that can be helpful to others?

Take the time to analyze your:

  • experience—what you’ve done

  • expertise—what you know

  • resources—who you know (people and places)

A careful and thoughtful examination of these will help you determine, first off, if you are a good match for a mentee.  If so, it will help your conversations and, in particular, in choosing the best examples and advice.

Be candid and forthright in your discussions.  Give them a balanced view of what you know, how you learned it, and what you’re still learning.  Particularly that last one—by talking about what you are learning it will encourage their development.  You will be setting a good example!

Network in your organization, profession, and community—not only for you but you may need other people and places to refer mentees for information.  And we all know that networking is a key to success for so many reasons.  In doing so, you not only benefit yourself but you teach them the benefits from networking.

What do people say about you?

This may seem odd or uncomfortable when thinking about mentoring but you should spend some time honestly understanding what others say about you—your leadership, empathy, ability to communicate, knowledge, etc.  These are qualities that will be needed. 

Review and analyze performance reviews, feedback reports, and informal conversations.  Ask your closest confidants, colleagues, and those who know you best.  Look for common patterns and themes.  If you…

  • are a good listener

  • display a genuine interest in helping others

  • have useful knowledge

  • can make time for others

…then you should be a successful mentor.

If you don’t, simply refer the mentee to someone who you believe has these characteristics.  (And remember, it’s not about you…as said earlier.)

Becoming a mentor can be rewarding.  Helping someone else grow and develop by sharing your wisdom, experience, and knowledge is very satisfying.  Taking the time to determine if you have what it takes to be a mentor will help you and your mentee. 

© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Texas 21-Alabama 37: Mack Brown’s Failed Leadership

As a devoted UT Longhorn graduate and fan, it pains me to write this.  But as the inscription on the Main Building says “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” I am compelled to reflect on the absolute failure of Mack Brown as the UT coach at the BCS Championship.

I realize that my fellow Longhorn fans and Texas-Exes will want to revoke my degrees but hear me out.

He failed as a leader to prepare the team for when (not if) a key player goes down.  Such was the case early in the game by the great Colt McCoy.  Brown failed to have a succession plan, rally the team emotionally, and fully understand that it is a team sport.

Soon after McCoy’s injury two things became painfully apparent:

  • Garrett Gilbert was not prepared to take over as quarterback

  • The team was not prepared to function without McCoy

As to Gilbert, no disrespect whatsoever to him.  Frankly, after the first half he shined.  The future of the great UT Longhorns is secure!  However, Brown failed to adequately prepare Gilbert to enter the game. 

Brown had no succession plan.

Remember what I’ve discussed in earlier posts about succession.  It applies to this situation as well.  Simply put, while Brown had a successor to McCoy he had not adequately prepared him for action.  He did not give Gilbert enough time in real games for him to develop playing-time experience, develop leadership with the team, and for him to understand the emotional elements of being on the field.

Imagine yourself in a similar situation.  Your boss is gone.  You have to lead.  You’ve never really ‘done it’ other than a simulation (“practice”). 

No wonder Gilbert and the team were befuddled in the first half.

The other fatal error Brown made is related to succession.  He failed to prepare the team for the transition.  It was obvious that the team was shocked when McCoy went down.  Not only could you see it in their play but you could see it on the sidelines.  The entire organization was in shock.  Brown should have called everyone together to rally them.  That would have been an excellent use of a “time-out”.

Even more, Brown should have prepared the team for the inevitability by giving Gilbert more game playing time.  Doing so would have allowed a stronger bond for all as well as enabled the team to make the transition quicker.

And there was a third failure of Brown.  From the beginning of the season he had a dual focus on the national championship (team) and on the Heisman trophy (McCoy).  You simply can’t have these competing goals.  In doing so you ensure neither will be met.  A dual focus ensures a blurred outcome.  Brown sent a mixed message to the team.  And remember, football is a team sport.  Yes, it takes talented individuals—at least 11, not just 1.

Brown and other coaches (and all leaders) can learn from this debacle:

  1. Prepare your team for change—it will happen and you don’t always control when it will

  2. Rely on the collection of the team rather than just one person

  3. Prepare each person’s replacement (successor) by giving them real-time experience

  4. Always remember to manage the totality of a situation particularly during a crisis—your team needs you more than ever

I would be remiss in not ending this by saying that I’ll always be a Longhorn fan.  And as I was taught on the Forty Acres, that means rigorous debate is welcome and encouraged.

Hook’em Horns!

© Copyright 2010, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Putting ‘vacate’ back into ‘vacation’

Today marks the end of summer.  As I reflect back on this past season, one thing sticks out as a problem for me.

Have we all forgotten that the word ‘vacation’ comes from the word ‘vacate’?!

This summer I don’t know of anyone who really vacationed.  Sure, they went somewhere but they didn’t really vacate their jobs.  During their time of relaxation they were attached to their phone, computer, etc.  They really didn’t leave work.

Ok, you’re probably saying that I’m some sort of lunatic.  Come on, given the economy it was only prudent to stay connected to the office.  If that is the case, then you’re failing as a leader.

Yes, you are.

A leader must train their team so that they become self-sufficient.  Doing so not only allows for greater commitment, creativity, and loyalty from the team but it also frees up the leader to concentrate on further developing the organization (including their own development).

So why do so many of us believe we have to stay connected when on vacation?  I think it’s actually due to several reasons:

  • Deep-down we don’t believe they can function without us

  • We are the reason—the main reason—for the success of the organization

  • We like to be in control

  • We like to be ‘missed’ so to prove our importance we check-in

  • It’s much easier to keep up on vacation rather than have a pile of messages waiting for you when you return

  • Technology is cool, allowing you to stay connected

Imagine the messages this sends to your team.  The lessons regarding trust, communication, and daily operations remind them, sometimes nonverbally, that they are subservient to you and your knowledge.

Ask yourself, do you shop at Wal-Mart because of Sam Walton?  Do you drive a Ford because of Henry Ford? 

What we can learn from these leaders is that they knew that their legacy was in their leadership.  They created organizations that have sustained the test of time.  They built companies based on collective success rather than personal power.  If they had not, these companies wouldn’t exist today. 

I once had a manager who required me to call in every few days while on vacation.  I was puzzled why she required me to do so since we had worked together for several years, nothing major was happening while I was out, etc. but nonetheless, I called in every other day.  When I got back, I expensed the calls.  She was irate.  I said that I felt it was justified since she required me to do so.  She took the case to HR and Finance.  Interestingly, they both backed me saying that since she required it, the company had to reimburse me.  While I’d like to say I taught her a lesson, she actually taught me a lesson.  From that day on, I learned the value of leadership and trust.

This same lesson was reinforced last year when I advised the leader of one of my nonprofit clients to take the full-month off and not call or log in.  In discussions, I knew that he was beyond a reasonable limit of stress and was no longer effective.  He did so and came back renewed.  Unfortunately, his organization was incensed.  His board called for his resignation and cited his lack of leadership—he abandoned them.  In talking with several members of the board, it became clear that they had unrealistic expectations for him.  Eventually, he left the organization.  All had lost trust.  Sadly, no one came out a winner in this situation.

And don’t forget the ‘other side’ of these lessons.  Just think about the messages you are sending to your family and friends when you spend valuable vacation time with them logging and calling in.  Who is more important?

So let’s all work hard to put the ‘vacate’ back into ‘vacation’.  Show leadership by trusting others.  Model effectiveness by organizing others before you leave.  Use technology rather than be abused by it. © Copyright 2009 Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Motivating Others in Tough Times

Given the circumstances many businesses and organizations find themselves in during this tough economy, I expect they’re struggling with the question of how to motivate employees.  I bet they’re wondering how they can not only keep people focused but, more importantly, how can they retain the talent with dwindling financial resources (not to mention that many ‘cool’ projects are on-hold because of the tough economic situation).

Frankly, it’s easy.  And no matter what you believe, it doesn’t cost much.

Take a look at the following list and pick the one thing that is most mentioned as the key motivator for employees:

  1. money

  2. extra time off, with pay

  3.  the best benefit plan—health, dental, 401K, stock plan, etc.

  4. clear understanding of their role and objectives

  5. oak plaques, crystal sculptures, and trophies

  6. nice office architecture, design, and workplace

If you chose #4, you’re right.

This shouldn’t be a surprise because the answer has been virtually the same for more than 65 years.  Whether you believe Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (in his 1943 article “A Theory of Human Motivation”), Frederick Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory (in his 1959 book The Motivation to Work), or the recent work of Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their 1999 best-seller First Break All the Rules.  In their book, based on extensive research on employee satisfaction and motivation conducted for over 25 years by Gallup, they find there are 12 factors that motivate (listed in order of importance):

  1. Clear performance expectations.

  2. Materials and equipment to do the work right.

  3. pportunities to do best work.

  4. In the last 7 days, I have received recognition for good work.

  5. Someone at work seems to care about me as a person.

  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

  7. In last 6 months—someone has talked to me about my progress.

  8. My opinions count.

  9. The company mission makes me feel my work is important.

  10. Co-workers committed to quality work.

  11. A best friend at work.

  12. Opportunities to grow and learn.

And when you add the recent information from Rick Tate and Dr. Julie White in their book People Leave Managers…Not Organizations!, you can’t deny that the factors that motivate and inspire people are clearly related to strong leadership, exemplary management, and processes to support productivity. If you’re still not convinced, honestly answer these questions:

  • “When was the last time I was really excited about work?  So excited I told everyone how wonderful work was.”

  • “When was the last time I hated my job?  I was miserable.”

If you’re like most, your answers will confirm what we’ve known about motivation for over 65 years. 

Bottom line, it’s the work assignments, strong leadership, total work environment, and simple recognition that motivates people.

That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there are times in one’s life—back to my broke college student days—where money did ‘motivate’ me to stay in a job.  Surely there are times in all of our lives where we work just to survive.  But we don’t thrive in those jobs.  I think it’s just a combination of reality and practicality. 

So what are the lessons from all this?  Actually I think this is quite appropriate and timely to these tough times we face today.  Leaders should:

  • set clear goals and provide ongoing feedback

  • recognize people simply yet sincerely for a job well-done (a thank-you goes a long way)

  • build a work environment that encourages creativity, involvement, and development

The smart leaders will do these three things.  Others will just look to bonuses, big offices, incentive trips, and crystal sculptures to reward and motivate people.  Keep an eye out for these managers—their people might be looking for a job soon. 

Perspectives on AIG, part 1: Succession Planning

Okay, we can all agree we’ve heard enough about AIG and most likely we’ve all formed an opinion.  I’d ask you to put your opinion aside just for a minute and consider the following case as I think it is quite instructive not only for AIG but for all organizations struggling with issues like executive bonuses and employee retention.

Partnair Flight 394 crashed on September 8, 1989 off the coast of Denmark enroute from Oslo to Hamburg.  On board were 50 employees of Wilhelmsen Lines—including the entire executive team.  All were killed.  Read the account here.

In an instant, the entire brain trust of the company was gone.

Given the rhetoric and messages coming from so many companies about the need to retain talent, you would expect that this catastrophic event clearly closed Wilhelmsen.  No!  In fact, today the company is stronger than ever and is a leader in oceanic transport and shipping.

Was it easy for them?  Clearly no.  Besides the obvious mourning for the company, employees, and even their customers, the company learned a couple things from this experience:

1.      Management must share leadership with all levels of employees.  They must create an environment where people are motivated, empowered, and have the resources to make things happen.  Avoid placing all responsibility on a few people.

2.      Always prepare the next level of managers and leaders.  Actively develop, train, and coach people who can step-in once key people leave the organization.  This requires organizations to enact strong succession planning processes.

Does this work?  Yes.  Just look at Wilhelmsen today—they are stronger, have a greater market share, and are one of the top admired companies in their industry and worldwide.

How do you get started?

First, it takes management that is willing and eager to share responsibility for decision-making, directing the company, and that will enthusiastically listen to employee input (without stifling creativity or honesty).   

Second, it means that companies must build sustainable succession planning programs.  Such programs must start with a clear understanding of critical roles, functions and processes that must be protected to ensure normal operations.  From there, consider the following steps:

  1. Determine future needs of the organization—processes, roles, products, competencies
  2. Assess current jobs, employees, and departments—compare them to future needs
  3. Scan the external environment—benchmark competitors, customers, and your pipeline
  4. Build a robust performance management system—provides performance feedback and identifies key personnel
  5. Invest long-term development in key personnel—training, coaching, job assignments, and yes—compensation
  6. Periodically review your program—annually at least, more frequently during turbulent times

So what are the implications for today?  Just re-read the two lessons Wilhelmsen learned from this tragic incident.  Put aside the emotionally-charged language coming from all the pundits—corporate executives, politicians, media, etc.—and concentrate on building an organization that can withstand anything, even the loss of key staff.  It can be done.  It has been done.  It must be done!

Check back next week when we’ll look at the Partnair case study from a different angle—that of the airline.