energizing breakthrough performance

Quiz Show

Author: ; Published: May 18, 2015; Category: Leadership, Reorganizations, Uncategorized; Tags: ; No Comments»

The CFO had flattened the organization considerably and spans of control for many managers rose from six direct reports to as many as twenty. Liposuctioning the layers of marbled fat out of the enterprise had been accomplished. However the CFO made no changes in his behavior so when he called upon a manager to opine about future options, he expected the manager to have the same level of detailed insight into specialized issues as the manager had when there were fewer direct reports. The CFO table-pounded about how each manager is to be fully versed when appearing at one-on-one and group meetings. Unfortunately, the CFO was loathe to pre-specify the topics into which he planned to drill.  Had he done so, the manager could have been prepared or have brought a specialist along to enrich the meeting’s content as well as the specialist’s career development. As a result, our manager-contestants were subjective to the Quiz Show experience, along with the buzzer, which signals scornfully “wrong answer” or “time’s up!”

 

Staff became more focused on avoiding the buzzer than they were on pursuing longer-range purposes. Fact-based deliberation became less important than having the “correct answer.” Yes, tactical details and recovery from mistakes are essential. However, if top talent is increasingly focused on the weeds, then there will be fewer opportunities to pull out of the emergency spiral and get away from quiz shows, firefighting, and other unproductive drills.

 

The executive may develop a sense of being surrounded by dunderheads. As the executive focuses increasingly on niggling details of tactical problems, strategic goals and objectives get lost in the shuffle. Eventually the focus becomes exclusively about doing things right rather than on doing the right things. This spiral will eventually do the executive in and s/he will need to become a host on another Quiz Show!

 

One alternative is to communicate meeting agendas in advance so that the right people can be at the meeting and be prepared to hit the ground running!  If you identify whether the purpose of the meeting is exploratory, information-gathering, analytical, or decisional, that would be an added plus. The bottom line is that significant changes in structure must be accompanied by behavioral shifts if the structural change is to achieve its desired effects. 

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The Pronouncement

Author: ; Published: May 15, 2015; Category: Leadership, Strategic Planning; Tags: ; No Comments»

Ah, the exquisite glamour of audacious goals. Our high-ranking executive had risen from humble beginnings in the Great Plains by setting high standards for himself and then surpassing them daily.  Perhaps it’s only natural that once he ascended the ranks he set high standards for others and pronounced them to be law. However, he regularly encountered one disappointment after another as employees failed to meet, let alone exceed, his expectations as expressed by the pronouncements.

 

Human performance equals motivation times ability.  Yes, sometimes staff failed to achieve the pronouncement because of motivational factors. In other instances, the problem was a lack of clear mutual understanding about the meaning of the standard and/or the capabilities required to attain it. Sometimes the problem was a combination of ability and motivation, often beginning with impossibility only to find expression as a cumulative motivational deficit. One thing was clear: The Pronouncement was insufficient to achieve performance at the high standards our executive had set.

 

Negative impacts accrued. Collective frustration mounted as staff became numb to the executive’s expectations. Pronouncements and exhortations degenerated into ignorable background noise. Alienation from the executive, the work, and the organization itself began to snowball, careening towards toxicity. To the extent that the high standards were not translatable to the granular level, employees came to regard executive exhortations as nonsense syllables. When understood but not accepted, high standards were regarded as unattainable based on perceived limitations on freedom to act without a plethora of “Mother-may-I?” roundabouts. Other issues included organizational capabilities, available technology, the nature and extent of workload, etc., which the executive had not analyzed prior to issuing any given pronouncement. Many employees came to view employment in the organization as a losing battle to be endured until a suitable exit could be found.

 

What was missing? The effective executive manipulates and aligns core dimensions of the organization, e.g., strategies, systems and structure/people to enable employees to attain progressively higher standards. If our executive doesn’t pull out the big wrench to achieve this alignment, then mounting frustration and subpar performance will surely result. Pronouncements themselves are not enough; they are incomplete, if not delusional. The executive’s ability to set audacious goals was laudable, but the sound of one hand clapping was sadly laughable.  

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Launch and Abandon Syndrome

Author: ; Published: May 15, 2015; Category: Leadership, Strategic Planning; Tags: ; No Comments»

Absent coherent strategies by which individual initiatives and projects can be sorted and prioritized, a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” approach comes to be pursued. Each Monday, each new project left the executive conference room wearing a shiny gold badge.  The new gold badge trumped projects with older badges, tarnished badges or badges that had long since fallen off. Each new project competed successfully for money, talent, visibility and priority. Each new project was launched with great fanfare, and then abandoned thereafter. Following a maritime metaphor, talented staff gladly ride the new launch but only up to a point. The staff objective is to avoid getting stranded at sea too far from shore because, after all, each new project will enjoy its honeymoon halo only until it is capsized by the next latest and greatest project. Experience had demonstrated over and again that last month’s project will be abandoned in favor of this month’s new favorite as a matter of course. Indeed, staff coined a term for the CEO’s repetitive behavior pattern: The Launch and Abandon Program. 

 

Negative impacts for the organization: “What’s New?” becomes not only a greeting but the central organizing principle for setting priorities and allocating resources. Recency replaces strategy as the galvanizing force of organizational thought. As time progresses, critical, do-or-die projects cannot be distinguished from trivial ones. Individual staff members develop the wrong skills in this environment. The politics of attaching to the current hit parade of popular projects is all-important. Appearances trump substance as people elbow their way into the front-end of popular projects and then exit stage left with great agility so they can do it again.

 

The executive grows more frustrated as s/he can’t get done what s/he wants to get done and the reason for this condition is wholly unclear to the executive. Word gets around that the executive can’t think strategically.  Staff and the Chairman begin “working around” the executive’s blind spot.

 

A better way is to set priorities clearly and regularly. Use a quantitative pointing system to weigh and sort priorities. When a new initiative is launched, identify prior projects to be stopped, adjusted, or continued as is. Merge related projects with one another to conserve scarce resources. Go ahead and stretch your organization within reason but don’t fail to make tough decisions about what not to do. If you fail to make these decisions, you will be frustrated by perpetual stuttering and sputtering – along with lackluster results.

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