energizing breakthrough performance

Rent the Stadium!

Author: ; Published: May 21, 2015; Category: Collaboration, Leadership; Tags: ; No Comments»

The CEO of a scientific enterprise decided that the organizational culture needed to change. After years of autocratic rule, there was a pent-up need to make the culture more inclusionary and participative, moving away from a strict “need-to-know” basis characteristic of a rigid hierarchy. Meetings came to involve progressively larger numbers of people. Smaller conference rooms fell into disuse as larger conference rooms were booked week in and week out. Absent complete consensus, no decision was made. Decisional gridlock grew worse. Sometimes it would seem that a decision had been reached only to find that a “huddle after the huddle” caused it to unravel or be reversed several days later.  More people were getting involved but fewer decisions were being made. The decisions that were reached were less certain and sturdy, more diluted than anyone wanted. What’s more, staff feared exclusion because career well-being was perceived as revolving around visibility at meetings rather than around genuine contribution.


As the organization lost faith in its ability to move quickly, every move, no matter how minor, involved a large entourage. Results-oriented people were finding ways to circumvent the crowds and get things done “their own way.” As each faction pursued solutions in its own way, nascent anarchy picked up a head of steam.


Top executives became fixated on the process of inclusion and on minimizing discontent. The process of setting strategic priorities, e.g., deciding what not to do, allocating resources, aligning talent, etc., was getting lost.


Who can be against transparency and inclusion? It builds a future generation of leadership and confers additional benefits. On the other hand, renting the stadium to ensure that everyone has been included is not sustainable for all issues all of the time.


The solution was to adopt a Decision Process Model for making, ratifying, and communicating decisions and to clarify roles and responsibilities with precision sufficient to target meeting attendance with greater parsimony. The model pre-specified types of decisions where complete consensus is necessary vs. alternate forms of decision-making process, authority and accountability. When roles are poorly defined, there is no sharp edge for cutting meeting attendance to the vital few, and no basis for avoiding rent-the-stadium syndrome. Even good intentions can have unintended consequences, which must be managed promptly before things get out of hand.

(e-)Remote Control

Author: ; Published: May 20, 2015; Category: Leadership, Uncategorized; Tags: ; No Comments»

Respected widely as the guru of his organization’s fiscal policies, he sat in his glass-walled office and hammered the keyboard from morning ‘til night. He supervised 15 financial analysts who toiled in the policy development vineyard. However, these intellectual laborers were showing signs of unrest. Increasingly negative and cynical, the weeds of discontent were strangling the policy garden.


The manager in the glass-walled office was “managing” by e-mail – for everything. Forget face-to-face meetings. Forget the telephone. In fairness, his fingers were fast and accurate. However, tasked staff members lacked opportunity to learn about the context for what they were creating. They lacked opportunity to interact with the manager and peers concerning issues, trends, and leadership preferences that needed to be factored into the deliverable. This unit was quickly becoming a morbid, untouched-by-human-hands culture of alienated staff.


E-mail provides splendid efficiencies, but overreliance can result in a loss of community and atomization that atrophies meaningful information.  Because “the work itself” is a key motivator, the workforce will lose motivational wattage over time if alienated from the work. When staff aren’t able to work with management to define a context for an important assignment, the results can be suboptimal. Management is the art of getting work done through other people consistent with how you would do it yourself. If you are not providing rich context and growing your people to understand issues as you understand them, then you are confusing pounding the keyboard with making a real contribution to improving the enterprise. So how much e-mail traffic did you handle today? Please don’t confuse your answer with a sense of true accomplishment.


Get out from behind the computer and wade among the people. In this case, the manager was coached to triple his face time with employees within sixty days. Union grievances were dropped and morale improved significantly along with work product quality, as measured by top leadership’s increased acceptance of deliverables.

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.