Develop Character First, Leadership Will Follow . . .

Character_Building

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.  ~Helen Keller

In the middle of the second World War, Britain was facing a shortage of young officers. The task of developing young military leaders fell to Lord Rowallan, a Lt. Col. who was then Commandant of the Highland Fieldcraft Training Centre (HFTC) in 1943/44. The HFTC was set up by the Adjutant General in 1943 for the purpose of developing leadership qualities in servicemen who had been graded “NY” (Not Yet) by the War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs) looking for potential officers.

rowallanLord Rowallan had a strong belief that if you first develop character, military leadership skills would follow. So he put together a 10 week “Outward Bound” type of training in the Scottish Highlands. The training at the HFTC was highly successful in developing character and leadership qualities in the cadets, and the pass rate at the end of each 10-week course in the Scottish Highlands was about 70%.

The Rowallan Company became the successor to the HFTC. The Rowallan Company was set up in 1977 in similar circumstances to address the high failure rate (70%) of officer cadets on the Regular passammoCommissions Board (RCB). The 11-week course was based on the training developed at the HFTC in 1943/44 by Lord Rowallan, who was consulted about the establishment of the Company. Since 1977, 53 courses were completed and of the 2,900 cadets who started the courses, 65% were successful. Of the successful Rowallan cadets, 92% were successful on the subsequent Commissioning Course and many of these reached high ranks in the service. A successful innovation was to admit women officer cadets to the Rowallan Company courses as well as men.

Sadly the Rowallan Company was disbanded for financial reasons in 2002 but has been resurrected in a new course taught at Sandhurst called the Development Course.

What I find fascinating about this program is that it was a 10 week ‘non-military’ course designed to develop character, not military skills. Each participant took a turn at being the leader of one or more outdoor problem solving challenges and was then graded on their effectiveness by an observing officer and by their peers. The 10 week training was filled with many such exercises interspersed with lectures on the “character of successful leadership”.

I had a chance to speak with one of the former Commandants of Sandhurst a while agosandhurst and he had glowing things to say about the young cadets who had been through the Rowallan program prior to entering Sandhurst. Remember these were the rejects, the Not-Yet Ready to be accepted. He said he would always look hard at the “Rowallan chaps” when looking for a Cadet to head up special tasks.

So let’s fast forward to today. A few years ago had an interesting meeting with two of the heads of the MIT Engineering Leadership Program. As you probably know, mentorship_mit_gel_logoMIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is one of the elite global engineering and technology higher education schools. A major benefactor, Bernard M. Gordon, gave an endowment to “develop more leaders” among engineers, believing strongly that the skills of engineering coupled with the skills of leadership would greatly benefit business and mankind.

In developing their Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) curriculum, the faculty and advisors relied heavily on the principle of “character building through experiential learning” by having Leadership Labs every Friday where the students solve challenging situations and are then reviewed and critiqued by the advisors. In it’s fourth year now the MIT Engineering Leadership program is worth watching as an example of building more leaders. If you are curious, check out http://web.MIT.edu/gordonelp.

Thanks for joining the conversation

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

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More Corporate Culture Myths . . .

(this post is adapted from a chapter in my new book – LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, available in paperback and eBook from Amazon.  See my previous blog posting for Myths 1-4)

Social-Media-Marketing-Myths

Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.  ~Joseph Campbell

Myth 5:  Developing a high-performance corporate culture is too expensive.

 The Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the poor handling of the situation by the leadership of British Petroleum ultimately cost its shareholders upwards of $40 billion and cut the share price in half.  The failed merger between Daimler and Chrysler cost a minimum of $38 billion and loss of market share.

Because most companies already have training budgets and spend time and money developing internal business processes, integrating the elements of culture into these and other normal business activities is not really an extra cost.  Developing a high performance culture is not a special program or extra activity, but a more effective way of running your business.  According to the research of Eric Flamholtz on the 18 Divisions of one company, corporate culture can account for as much as 46% of EBIT.

Myth 6: Culture is more important in retail companies than in engineering or technology centric organizations.

If you define culture as being nice to customers then you may understand where this common myth comes from.  Culture not only has a customer dimension (or should), but also many internal dimensions about how we treat each other and the habitual ways people react to business challenges and change requirements. While retail is mainly about product appeal and customer service, engineering and technology firms are greatly impacted by the degree of open information sharing, new ideas and innovation, as well as project disciplines.  All of these are highly influenced by the type of corporate culture.

 Myth 7:  Large or multi-national companies cannot manage culture effectively

Corporate culture is a leadership force-multiplier!

Managing a large or multi-national company is hard, period.  The diversity of people and national cultures, combined with the time zone distances and language differences make the role of senior management extremely complex.  In that situation, we see culture as a “leadership force-multiplier” in that a high-performance culture creates alignment among people and helps keep things on track and focused.

Consider Wal-Mart, with 8,970 global locations, revenues of $470 billion and 2.2 million employees, which has a very strong and high performance culture that was built by the founder, Sam Walton, and kept alive by successive leaders.  In his book, The Wal-Mart Way, Don Soderquist, former Senior Vice-Chairman states: “The Wal-Mart Way is not about stores, clubs, distribution centers, trucks or computers.  These tangible assets are all crucial ingredients in the company’s business plan, but the real story of success is about people; how Wal-Mart treats its employees and its customers.”

Myth 8:  Culture is all about having a happy experience at work

This is connected to the myth of “culture is about soft stuff”.  There is great logic and considerable evidence that employees who feel respected, trusted and have fulfilling work are more productive and creative.  But even respected and trusted employees get the blues!

Happiness is ephemeral and constantly changing, while the fundamental ingredients of a culture are deeply ingrained into the everyday work behaviors and social networks in the company. The sad fact is, there are numerous employees with unhappy lives who come to work to either cheer up or get away from the pain of home.  A high-performance culture is about consistent work practices and behaviors that promote the overall business agenda while also treating people with respect and trust.

In the next post, we will talk about a few more myths of corporate culture.

Thanks for joining the conversation

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: john@johnrchildress.com

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
View   The Economist review of LEVERAGE

Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

 

 

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Corporate Culture and the World Knowledge Forum

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I have been invited to present at the 15th World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, South Korea on the 14-16 October, 2014.  This is a real honour for me and I look forward to sharing the stage with close to 200 world business leaders in economics, finance, politics and business.

My topic will be: The Importance of Corporate Culture in Asia’s International Business Expansion and I am keen to share some of the insights I have gained from over 30 years of advising on corporate culture and strategy execution.

As a run up to the Forum I was asked by the sponsors to do an interview about the topic of corporate culture. They supplied the questions and I did my best to answer.  I thought it might be of interest to share these questions (and my responses).  It seems the topic of corporate culture is on the minds of business people now more than ever.

Questions on Corporate Culture from the Korean Business Perspective 

WKF

Q1:  How would you define ‘corporate culture’?

The most useful approach is to think of corporate culture as the personality of the organization. Each person has a unique personality that determines how we interact with others people and approach challenges. For example, some people are outgoing and risk taking. Others are more introverted and risk averse. Some are more formal, highly analytical and structured, others are easy-going, intuitive and tend to adapt easily. Our personality is the way we habitually respond to other people and situations.

The same is true for organizations. Each organization has a specific set of behaviours that make up its unique “personality” and determines how people in the company habitually respond to situations. Just as no two people have the same exact personality traits, no two companies have the same corporate culture. In the case of an organisation, its history, leadership, industry, national culture, size, geographic footprint and management beliefs all contribute to its specific corporate culture.

Seeking to accurately define corporate culture through analytics, surveys and metrics is both difficult and not very useful. It is more important to understand the principles of how corporate culture is formed, how it is sustained over time, and what are the levers for shifting or reshaping corporate culture.

Q2: Why is corporate culture important? Is corporate culture a critical measure for determining a company’s success or failure?

 At its most basic level, corporate culture determines how the company executes its strategic objectives. While senior management sets the strategy, it is only through the collective work behaviours of employees that strategic plans turn into executable results. In many cases, strategic goals often require change and innovation to beat the competition.

Some corporate cultures are fluid and agile and embrace change as an opportunity. Other corporate cultures see change as a threat and are resistant. Those companies with change resistant corporate cultures find it difficult, slow and costly to effectively execute their business objectives. Numerous studies have shown that nearly 70% of all strategies fail, not because of a poor strategy, but because of poor execution, which often comes down to elements of the corporate culture.

For those leadership teams that do not understand their own culture or value the importance of corporate culture, they are open to a significant hidden risk.  Consider the fate of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Platform explosion, caused by a culture of cost control over safety. The near bankruptcy of Continental Airlines in the mid-1990s, or the failed mega-merger between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Motors are other striking examples of how corporate culture can be a significant business risk.

Q3: What is the similarity in corporate culture of successful companies?

Successful companies share certain traits of their corporate culture. The first, and perhaps most important, is that the leadership team understands the fundamental principles behind how corporate culture is developed and how it impacts performance. In this regard they are very clear that their behaviour, how they relate with each other and other departments plays a strong role in determining the elements of the culture. In many ways, organizations are shadows of their leaders, and a high performing company understands this important principle.

Secondly, they put culture and culture development as a strategic business objective, not just an HR agenda. They understand that a key aspect of their role is to lead and shape the corporate culture and to help build a culture that supports the ability of the organization to deliver its business strategy.

Thirdly is a combination of openness, transparency and real-time feedback. All employees know the current state of the company, the strategic goals, and the two or three top business priorities. In addition employees are encouraged to give feedback, both appreciative and constructive to each other and importantly, to upper management on how things could be improved. People at all levels feel a deep sense of accountability and ownership for not only the company performance, but also for the culture they work in.

Q4:  How do you evaluate Korean corporate culture? What do you think are the limits of Korea corporate culture? What are the strengths?

 Although I am far from an expert on Korea and Korean businesses, there are a few elements of business and corporate culture that stand out to me as significant.

Even though the Korean culture shares many similarities with traditional Asian culture patterns, the political history of the Korean Peninsula has resulted in a unique system of business and corporate culture. In the case of Korea, major businesses cannot exist without the support of government and thus much is expected in terms of performance and there exists a unique quid quo pro system.

The demands of the Korean economic miracle over the past several decades have been achieved through the development of a corporate culture that stressed the national importance of hard work, long hours, competitiveness and loyalty. The benefit has been a dramatic improvement in the economic standard of living of workers.

One of the key positive elements of the Korean corporate culture is openness to debate, arguments and new ideas. Large multinational Korean companies are the product of determined entrepreneurs who championed their innovations, and with the support of government, helped improve the economy and drive wealth creation. The Chaebol conglomerate system has driven much of the economic prosperity of Korea resulted in a strong and unique type of corporate culture.

While R&D spending will continue to help drive innovation and the Korean economy, global expansion and the ability to exploit empty niches will be limited by the rigidity of their local labour market and an inherent distrust of diversity.

 Q5: What do you think is the gap between Korean and international corporate culture?

 First of all, we have yet to see a truly “international corporate culture” that is appropriate for a global company. Corporate culture is most strongly determined by first national culture and secondly, the leadership style and management beliefs of the founders and the leadership team. In this sense, all countries take their culture with them when they expand globally.

However, sensitivity to diversity and openness to feedback and new ideas are probably the most important elements of a corporate culture that can successfully thrive and survive on the global stage. If one thing will hold back Korean companies from becoming truly global and “international” is their formal and somewhat rigid hierarchical organization structure.

Q6:  The Korean government is pushing towards a ‘Creative Economy’ as a new economic growth model. What do you think is the most appropriate culture for harnessing creativity and innovation?

 Three ingredients of corporate culture are critical for establishing and benefiting from creativity and innovation: transparency, diversity and openness to feedback and new ideas. Transparency means that all levels in the organization know what is expected, what is the current state of goals and milestones and who is accountable for what part of the value chain. With a healthy level of transparency, all levels are able to see where improvements need to be made.

Diversity has been proven time and again to foster creativity and innovation. A corporate culture that supports, encourages and hires for diversity will be better able to reap the benefits of innovation.

Without an openness and respect for feedback and new ideas, innovation will be a slow process inside the company and new ideas from outside will be looked at with suspicion.

Q7: What should leaders keep in mind when forming a corporate culture? In fact, is corporate culture affected by a leader, or is it beyond the influence of leadership?

 As I elaborated in my recent book, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, the strongest determinants of corporate culture are firstly the national culture and secondly the human need to “fit in” and belong to the group. Overall, peer pressure is a significant factor in forming and maintaining a corporate culture. Next on the importance scale comes the trio of “Selective Hiring” (for specific behaviours), “Who Gets Promoted” and “Who Gets Fired”. These actions quickly help mold a corporate culture.

The organizational beliefs and management principles established by the founders is a strong determinant of corporate culture in the early years of the company’s growth, as is the leadership style of the senior executives. However, as the organization grows in size and geographic expansion, peer pressure (conforming and fitting in) becomes the dominant factor in maintaining the cohesion of the corporate culture as new people join the company.

Q8: Why did you become interested in researching corporate culture? Was there a specific incident/reason?

 In 1968 I left the University of California to attend the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. For the first half of that school year, Beirut was a modern and open city, brimming with diversity, confident about its future as a center of international trade in the Middle East, and tolerant of many cultures and religions.

Then in late December, Israeli commandos attacked the Beirut International Airport late at night and the entire country changed, almost overnight. We now had armed guards inside the university, tanks in the streets and student riots. My student friends, who before were open and tolerant, quickly succumbed to the strong peer pressures from radical students and the entire collective behaviour of the young student generation changed.

This rapid shift both fascinated and frightened me and I became curious as to the ingredients of behaviour change in groups, which ultimately led me to study, not politics, but business organizations and specifically, corporate culture.

See you in Seoul, South Korea in October!

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: john@johnrchildress.com

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
View   The Economist review of LEVERAGE

Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

 

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The Many Myths of Corporate Culture

myth

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.  ~ John F. Kennedy

 Corporate culture is one of those business issues that, as we have seen, is difficult to define and certainly more difficult to manage than a supply chain or even the business brand.  And yet corporate culture is one of the most talked about topics.  I recently spoke with a senior investment manager who had just returned from an investor conference in Brazil and he was floored by the number of times culture came up during investment presentations!

 Anything popular is also subject to exaggeration, misinformation and just plain myths.  Corporate culture is no exception.  Below are some of what I believe to be the most pervasive myths relating to corporate culture.

 Myth 1:  Culture is built from the top-down

 While the rules, processes, business model and behaviours laid down by the founders are the fundamental building blocks of a corporate culture in early stage companies, quickly a second, and I believe even more powerful determinant of culture comes into play.  And that is group socialization, peer pressure and the human need to fit in and belong.  Often subcultures are far stronger than the original beliefs and ways of working set down at the beginning by the founders.  And if culture is not continuously managed by the leaders, then the influx of new employees make peer pressure a powerful force in shaping the culture.

Myth 2: There is just one culture

While everyone knows there are subcultures, and some culture assessments can slice their data by employee or management level or by department, most culture metrics look at the overall average scores, plot them on their culture “map” and voila, there’s your culture.

subculturesThere is no single, overriding central corporate culture, but instead most organisations are a collection of subcultures of various strengths and characteristics.

In the case of high-performance and cult-like cultures (where culture is actively led and managed), subcultures have more or less the same characteristics, giving a great deal of alignment and strength to the overall culture.

Myth 3: Culture can be measured

Yes and No!  Predetermined characteristics that probably are a part of the cultural makeup can be assessed on a scale (say 0 – 5) and, when combined with the scores for other characteristics, do present a picture or description of the existing culture.  The question that every culture assessment begs is: Do these characteristics accurately describe the culture?  I would say that the well researched “business and behavioural characteristics” provide a closer estimate to the culture than those surveys that seek to measure individual values.

One of the ways to get a good understanding of culture is when the same assessment is conducted at two or three different time periods, say one year apart and the resulting culture descriptions can be compared for changes with the actual business changes and pressures the company has faced over that period of time. These longitudinal looks at culture are very revealing.

Another key point here is to distinguish between a culture assessment and a climate survey.  The climate survey identifies current employee feelings and morale more than the actual deeper business characteristics and habitual behaviours that drive the way we do business. Climate surveys do not measure culture.

 Myth 4:  A high performance corporate culture cannot be defined.

One aspect of this myth is absolutely true. It is next to impossible to define a high performance culture by asking employees to choose the elements of the “desired” culture!  Culture is more than just how well employees feel they fit with the company and how well the company matches their personal values. There are business processes and other characteristics that go into the make up of corporate culture which I believe carry a great deal of weight in determining a high-performance culture.

That said, every industry has different success drivers and by looking at the success drivers of your industry in a balanced format (employees, customers, financials, products, operations, etc.) a management team who understands their business can craft a good list of the behaviors required by all employees, and the ways of working, that will best ensure competitive advantage and effective internal functioning.

Note:

Over the next few days I will be posting my remaining Corporate Culture Myths from my book, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, available on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: john@johnrchildress.com

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
View   The Economist review of LEVERAGE

Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

 

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Good Culture . . . Bad Culture

mae west

When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.  ~ Mae West

A culture isn’t good or bad in and of itself. Cultures develop by design or default based on numerous causal factors. When people say this company has a ‘bad’ culture or that company has a ‘good’ culture, they are usually describing the culture in relation to something else. Perhaps it is in relation to employee engagement or overall morale. This is the common connotation used when most people talk about good or bad cultures. But for the CEO and the success and sustainability of the company, another important comparison is between the culture and the business strategy.

Corporate culture either supports and empowers the strategy, or acts as a barrier. While strategy determines the direction the company takes across the competitive landscape, culture supplies both the fuel and the constraints. A culture well aligned with the strategy provides the integration between actions and objectives and offers little constraint. A culture aligned with the strategy can, in most cases, provide significant leverage for effective strategy execution. A culture out of alignment with the strategy adds multiple constraints and significantly slows down the process of strategy execution, much like an automobile with its tires out of balance.

A strategy can only be effectively deployed if the culture supports it. And yet a positive, employee-engagement culture will not make up for a weak strategy.

“They may be going fast, but they’re headed in the wrong direction!”

Southwest Airlines is a classic example of an effective, and designed, relationship between strategy and culture. Southwest turns a plane (the time elapsed from parking to unloading, loading, and pushing back) faster than any other airline, a product of a culture designed with the customer in mind, as well as the bottom line. They delight passengers and they make money, every quarter for the past 40 years! The combination of a high-performance, customer-focused culture in conjunction with a focused business strategy of point-to-point destinations and only one type of aircraft is simple, focused and profitable.

More often than not the difference between a ‘good’ culture and a ‘bad’ culture is visible in where executives spend their time, focus and energies. At the two extremes are internally (process) focused cultures and externally (customer) focused. Southwest is a good example of a customer focused (external) culture. Most other big US airlines are more internally focused, with a myriad of rules and schemes to get more passenger dollars. Even the common phrase in the airline industry, ‘bums on seats’, says a great deal about the culture. Many dysfunctional cultures spend far more time on internal meetings and internal process than on listening to and satisfying the customer.

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.  ~Thomas Sowell

(this section was taken from my new book – LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats)

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: john@johnrchildress.com

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
View   The Economist review of LEVERAGE

Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

 

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Collateral Benefits ?

Bee

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.  ~Saint Francis

As a result of the recent conflict in the Middle East, we have all become familiar with the term, “collateral damage”, which of course in this context refers to the unintended damage caused by a roadside IED, guided missile or smart bomb as it slams into its intended target.  Often the collateral damage is greater than expected with civilian casualties and extensive damage to nearby properties.

Another example of “collateral damage” is the use of the class of drugs called statins to control cholesterol levels.  While daily use of a statin (Lipitor or other brands) is effective at reducing cholesterol levels in the blood stream, it comes with some “collateral damage” or “side effects”, such as diarrhoea, upset stomach, muscle and joint pain, and changes in some blood chemistry tests.

Collateral Benefits?

I was thinking the other day about what terminology we would use to describe the “opposite” of collateral damage.  “Collateral Benefits”?  My definition would be when we engage in an activity or do one thing that generates multiple value-add benefits beyond the initial intent.

Here’s a good example, regular physical exercise; an activity which definitely generates multiple value-add benefits.  The collateral benefits of regular physical exercise have been shown to be stronger heart muscles, weight loss, greater lung capacity and better blood oxygenation, improved stamina and posture, reduced risk of heart attack, greater joint flexibility, improved circulation, improved mental attitude and positive outlook, faster healing from cuts and bruises, a reduced risk of diabetes, and also reduced cholesterol levels.  A lot more collateral benefits than just treating each of the issues separately.

It’s the difference between treating health issues holistically, as with exercise and diet, or individually with drugs and medications, which often comes with collateral damage.

The more holistic the solution the greater the potential for collateral benefits.

So, let’s move to the world of business and organizational performance.

Like modern medical approaches, business improvement solutions are often piece meal in their approach, with improvement actions focused on specific business problems.  For example, slow IT processing or frequent systems down-time is often dealt with by purchasing and installing a new computer system, with larger memory, more storage capacity and faster processors.  The new system definitely will solve the IT speed problems, but some of the collateral damage can be user resistance, incompatible databases, cost overruns, the need for extensive tailoring, increased training costs, and a host of other unintended issues.

Strategy Execution:

An area of business that is definitely in need of a holistic, collateral benefit approach is strategy execution.  This is definitely the CEO’s lament.

Right now there are a plethora of piece-meal approaches to trying to overcome the fact that most strategies fail to get implemented, not because the strategy is defective, but because of poor execution.  Some of these solutions include: improved spreadsheets and more data, additional performance metrics, strategy mapping, balanced scorecards, greater employee engagement, team building workshops, culture change, updating corporate value statements, focusing on the customer, and a host of other “solutions”.  All of which are supplied by a plethora of consultants and outside experts.  Even with the adoption on several of these fixes, the problem of poor strategy execution often remains.

What if there was a holistic, integrated approach that not only greatly improves the probability of successful implementation, but also has multiple collateral benefits? Some of the collateral benefits I would like to see are:

  • Improved senior team alignment and the leadership of change
  • Increased transparency and speed of decision-making and problem solving
  • Strategic goals and measures (metrics) available and clear to all employees
  • Focused accountability on who is responsible for what at all levels
  • Clear line-of-sight from the overall strategy to the monthly metrics.
  • Engage all employees (hearts & minds) in strategy delivery
  • Take strategy out of the executive suite and into the workplace
  • In a real and meaningful way, link employee goals to corporate goals
  • On-going governance. Provide for regular review of corporate goals and current performance at all levels
  • Ability to rapidly change parts of the strategy when the business environment changes
  • Encourage real-time input from employees with ideas, innovations, observations, suggestions, etc. that can improve the plan and results.

Imagine a Strategy Implementation business process that could deliver all that?  I can !

If you are curious and interested in a different (collateral benefits) approach to strategy execution, take a look at FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution.  This book not only explains the Non-Obvious barriers to strategy execution, but also presents a framework for developing and implementing a strategy execution roadmap, built by your management team and employees, not outside consultants.

You might find added benefits that translate into a more effective business!

————————–

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: john@johnrchildress.com

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
View   The Economist review of LEVERAGE

Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

George and Harry Take a Trip . . .

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  -George Bernard Shaw

One of the marvels of modern aviation transportation is the autopilot which on a long distance flight effectively and safely guides the jumbo jet directly to the proper airport and puts in on course for the designated runway landing.  This has been of great benefit to long distance travel since the pilots can relax during most of the trip, thus remaining fresh and alert for the important process of landing and manoeuvring around weather patterns.

The autopilot process is actually a special relationship between two instruments, the Autopilot, which controls the speed, altitude and direction of the airplane, and the Inertial Navigation System, which is like a GPS and communicates constantly with the Autopilot about the exact location, speed, altitude and other key bits of information. These two, we can call them George and Harry, are in constant communication as they fly the plane along its preset course. This “special relationship” is actually a very sophisticated form of two-way feedback.

Here’s how this “special relationship” works.  Harry (the INS) tells George (the Autopilot) the plane is a little slow and needs to speed up.  George says “thank you” and makes the corrections.  Harry then tells George his needs to increase his altitude.  George again says “thank you” and makes the altitude adjustment.  Harry then tells George they have reached a point where the plane must make a course change.  George says “thank you” and adjusts the compass bearing.  All through the long flight George and Harry are in constant communication and as a result they reach the designated airport safely and effectively.

Now, let’s imagine George and Harry were two senior executives, each responsible for a different department.  Harry tells George he needs to speed up.  George, somewhat incensed that a “peer” is telling him how to run his area, grudgingly complies.  Harry then tells George he is too low and to increase the altitude.  George snaps back that Harry should mind his own business.  Harry tells George about the upcoming course correction and at this point George stomps off muttering something about how he doesn’t have to be told how to run things.  Before long Harry and George are not speaking to one another.  Or worse, they are both talking to a third executive about each other’s nosy behavior.

I wouldn’t want to fly on that plane.  And I wouldn’t want to work in that company either. But because most business executives don’t appreciate and understand the value of continual constructive feedback (they mistake it for “criticism”), too often meetings are filled with “hidden agendas”, defensiveness to outside ideas or input, hurt feelings and in a few instances, Vice Presidents not talking to each other.

A good friend of mine used to say:  “Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions”.

No business decision, no project plan, no strategy is ever perfect the first time.  As they begin to be implemented they all run into either external change or unexpected obstacles. The most important ingredient in keeping your plans and strategies (and your airplane)  on course is constant feedback.

In our leadership alignment and strategy execution work we often spend a considerable amount of time on practicing the skills of giving and receiving real-time, appreciative and constructive feedback in order to keep things moving forward and to avoid project roadblocks.

If your senior team is not hitting the bullseye, take a look at the amount of feedback passed around and how people respond to direct feedback.  In my business experience, teams comfortable with frequent, real-time, information rich feedback outperform those who focus on their individual functions and keep others (and new ideas) out.

I’ll fly with George and Harry anytime!

John R. ChildressN2Growth: President, Europe and Chair, Culture Transformation Practice

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014).

John also writes thriller novels:  novels.johnrchildress.com

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