How to Instill Purpose (HBR)

A great many organizations invest a significant amount of money in trying to improve themselves. This commitment to getting better is laudable, but many times organizations overlook something within their organization that, when tapped, can sharpen focus, tighten alignment, hone execution, and — in the process — deliver better results. It’s called purpose.

While a veritable tsunami of resources — many of them first-rate — exist to help individuals discover purpose, a mere trickle of resources are available to help organizations discover theirs. This dichotomy led me to research ways to help organizations discover their purpose, and upon discovering it find ways to put it to good use. The result is Lead With Purpose, Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.

Purpose, as savvy leaders know, is the foundation for creating vision, executing the mission, and abiding by the values of an organization. Culture emerges from purposeful organizations, because purpose is what shapes individual’s beliefs and organizational norms. That foundation is essential, because it opens the door for organizations to do four important things, all of which are vital to success:

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First posted on HBR on 11/11/2011

VIDEO: Good Values Spark Good Customer Service

Customer service is something that is a reflection of corporate values.

Good service is a reflection of good values. When an employee says that management makes it easy to do what’s right, it means they are teaching employees to put customers first and, most importantly, backing it up by example.

Organizations whose cultures place a premium on doing what’s right are organizations for which employees want to work and customers want to patronize.

First posted on Smart Brief on 5/22/2015

Compromising When Compromising Is Hard

“If you want to get along, you have to go along,” was the advice legendary Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn gave to members of Congress. It was the mantra by which he governed the House of Representatives.

While Rayburn’s adage is focused on what it takes to succeed within a legislative body, it applies equally to functioning successfully with colleagues in any organization. The nut of Rayburn’s words mean you have to learn to give a little to get something in return: In other words, you have to compromise.

Today, I see too many people who see compromise as a bad thing, an abandonment of principle. In reality, a willingness to compromise is a sign of great conviction: the conviction that the organization comes first.

As easy as that sounds, it is remarkably hard to adopt.

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First posted on 10/12/2013

 

 

VIDEO: Three Steps to Executive Presence

I define leadership presence as the “right stuff of leadership,” and, by doing so, I embrace a holistic concept.

By that definition, presence encompasses conviction, authority and power — and the application of them through a leader’s actions and words.

You might consider presence as defined by three verbs: be, do, review.

Leadership embraces activism; it is the outcome of a purposeful pursuit of goals. Presence gives the leader the wherewithal — authority and resilience — to battle the odds and endure through being, doing, and reflecting.

First posted on 6.05.2015

It’s a Mistake to Make Succession a Horse Race

Who’s next?

That is the question that those involved in succession planning focus upon when considering candidates for senior positions. And while the answer produces a candidate, such a question is too narrow.

A better question would be: who’s best?

While succession planning needs focus on identifying candidates for senior positions, too often the focus is on the horse race — who’s ahead — rather than the organization — who’s best prepared to lead. In a horse race, the focus is on metrics: what an executive has accomplished. In the organizational perspective, the focus is more broad-based — how the executive has achieved what he or she has accomplished.

As much as organizations devote to success planning issues, there are shortcomings. According to a 2012 study by the Institute for Executive Development (IED) survey participants noted three major problems:

  • Lack of a coherent strategy for executive development
  • Lack of a formal process for developing successor candidates; and
  • Lack of candidates ready to take the CEO job.

IED’s suggestions for improvement include clarifying roles and objectives for those involved in succession planning and developing relevant analytics to determine a candidate’s true effectiveness. These two focus on what a candidate has accomplished; a third recommendation — improve the development process — gets to the how the candidate works.

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First posted on HBR.org 2.07.13

 

VIDEO: How to Manage Change the Right Way

No reorganization is ever easy. Especially when you are hired from the outside.

When this occurs, the newly appointed leaders must do what Alan Mulally of Ford and Sergio Marchionne of Fiat Chrysler did when they transformed their organizations. Their example works also works for leaders who have been in their jobs for a while.

  • One, respect tradition.
  • Two, make change urgent.
  • Three, treat employees with respect.
  • Four, insist upon personal accountability.

Managing change is never easy, but when you respect the work and the people who do it you have the opportunity to make change work for the organization.

First posted on Smart Brief on 6/12/2015

Challenge Your Assumptions Before Working with a Coach

Working with an executive coach can be a large investment of time and money; it seems a shame to waste either. If you’re considering coaching (or have, ahem, been asked to consider it), make sure you get the most out of the experience.

People sign up for coaching for all sorts of reasons — perhaps it was their own idea, and they genuinely want to improve. But often, coaching is not something an individual chooses willingly; someone senior to them, maybe even on the board of directors, has suggested it.

Someone in a position of authority may make it known that if the executive wants to be promoted, win a bonus, or even keep his job, he must change behaviors that hinder his performance, turn others way, or do not instill confidence in his abilities.

And so the coach arrives — the outsider, hired to speak truth to power — and can’t make any headway, because the person being coached doesn’t really want to be there. Or the person being coached doesn’t have a specific goal in mind, and so coach and coachee meet a bunch of times before parting ways, neither really knowing what they tried to accomplish.

As I was talking the other day with a colleague — Mark Goulston, M.D., author of Real Influence, which he co-authored with John Ullmen — it occurred to us that there were some things we wished executives knew about coaching before signing up for it.

Effective coaching is often a matter of challenging assumptions, and the biggest assumptions often reside in the mind of the person being coached. Challenge your own assumptions about what you need to improve so that you can lead your people in ways the organization demands and they expect.

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First posted on HBR.org 3/15/13

VIDEO: Visit Employees Where They Work

The best executives with whom I have worked make a point of hitting the road.

Executives who get out of their offices and make treks to the front lines, as well as to customer locations, get firsthand impressions of what is happening, as well as what is not happening. And it’s not enough to show up.

You need to engage. Have real conversations about how the work is going, and especially listen to how people respond.

Ask questions. And, most important, listen to what you hear.

Hitting the road to discover what’s going on is time-consuming and wearying, but it is necessary for any executive who expects to lead with a clear head, and an even more clear vision of the future.

First posted on Smart Brief 6/26/2015

Your Least Engaged Employees May Be Your Best

Some of the most engaged employees in your organization are your worst performers. And some of the least engaged are your highest performers.

This conclusion comes from new research by the consulting firm, Leadership IQ. The study “matched engagement survey and performance appraisal data for 207 organizations.” According to CEO Mark Murphy (who I interviewed via email), “We had long suspected that high performers might not be as engaged as has traditionally been assumed. But seeing that, in 42% of cases, high performers were even less engaged than low performers was a bit of a shock.”

This conclusion runs contrary to conventional wisdom as well as many studies (including this one from Gallup) that show high engagement — that is, how much employees are committed to their work — correlates with better bottom line results, including productivity and profitability.

You could think of these low performers as hamsters on a wheel, spinning fast but actually going nowhere. Conversely, high performers may be coasting like swans on a pond, just gliding by. You don’t see their effort because it’s below the water. As Murphy says, “in our study, high performers gave very low marks when asked if employees all live up to the same standards.”

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First posted on HBR.org 4/08/2013

VIDEO: Put Your Personality into Your Communications

When you are presenting your ideas, you don’t have to sublimate your personality. It may be your most important asset.

Effective leaders know how to inject their personality into their ideas. How?

  • One, think about what you want to say. Make a well-reasoned argument.
  • Two, reflect on what your words really mean. Whom do they affect? What the benefits of your ideas?
  • Three, add an anecdote from your own life — or lives of people you know — to make your message more memorable and compelling.

Effective presenters connect with their audience on two levels: intellect and emotion. As a leader, you need to keep a balance between the two in order reach people’s hearts as well as their minds.

First posted on Smart Briefs on 7/10/2015