Category Archives: Blog

The Tyranny of Silence

Do you worry about how many people in your organization care enough to tell the truth? Are you worried about people who should be speaking up, and aren’t doing just that when it really matters?

As part of our philosophy and approach to leadership, we have always believed the worst truth is better than the best lie. We also understand not all people have the courage to speak up when they should, especially to their boss and other senior leaders.

When several people are thinking the same thing and no one speaks up, that is what is called an open secret, and open secrets can be toxic and are almost always damaging. The truth is, right now within your company open secrets exist, and not dealing with them could put your entire organization in jeopardy.

This was the topic of an excellent piece in HBR back in January 2019, and it seems to become ever more important as time goes along. In fact, the many valuable points raised in this article should be reviewed by senior leaders on an ongoing basis.

Leaders should understand the reasons people:

  • Choose to be bystanders,
  • Expect others to stand up, or
  • Diffuse responsibility.

You might want to pause and try to figure out exactly why your people, especially those on the front lines, are opting out of the communication, action and accountability loop, and becoming silent co-conspirators in the plot to hide valuable insights from senior leaders.

To read the full article, you can go to https://hbr.org/2019/01/why-open-secrets-exist-in-organizations

Leveraging Conflicting Tensions and Senior Team Dynamics

As a leader, are you willing to really explore the tensions and dynamics impacting team performance within your organization? Are you hooked on finding team harmony, or are you willing to consider something more complicated, but ultimately much more productive?

We have written before on the value of embracing constructive conflict, and continue to believe it is a core competence of successful teams. We now have an opportunity to look at it again, in a slightly different light, thanks to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled The Best Senior Teams Thrive on Disagreement.

In this article, the authors are presenting some convincing research showing that the greatest predictor of top-team performance at the enterprise level is not cohesion, but rather the ability to manage conflicting tensions. Trust and positive team dynamics are critical foundational elements of course, but appreciating and managing these tensions will elevate the senior team performance.

Delving a little deeper, you will find these conflicting tensions are identified as:

  • Risk vs. Results – creating circumstances where both risk and day-to-day delivery can peacefully coexist.
  • External vs. Internal Pull – consistently scanning the external environment for consumer, competitor and industry knowledge, and using that knowledge to adapt internally.
  • Top-down vs. Bottom-up Innovation – managing the tension between leading and directing innovation, while also engaging and empowering the broader organization.

High performing senior teams navigate these tensions well, recognizing they represent a spectrum of behaviours and processes to be managed, rather than isolated problems to be solved. We believe you will find great value in exploring these concepts, understanding how they are at play in your own organization and learning how to manage the tensions.

To read the full article, you can go to https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-best-senior-teams-thrive-on-disagreement

Capturing Your Unique Spirit in the Core Values Statement

Do you ever find yourself in the lobby of another organization, staring at your own core values framed on their wall? Have you attempted to make a unique statement, only to discover that it is not so very different from everyone else’s?

To quote a little research from a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled Ban These 5 Words from Your Corporate Values Statement, 90% of companies reference ethical behaviour or use the word integrity, 88% mention commitment to customers, and 76% cite teamwork and trust. A core values document is supposed to inspire your employees in a way that is unique to your organization, but it seems the language is often not unique at all.

So, here are the five words you should never use in your core values statement:

  • Ethical (or integrity)
  • Teamwork (or collaboration)
  • Authentic
  • Fun
  • Customer-oriented

Chances are you might recognize a few words from the list above. The problem with them is twofold according to this Harvard article – in the first place, they are really just table stakes for any business that wants to be competitive and, secondly, they don’t define what is distinctive about the organization.

This article goes on to describe a few ways you can differentiate yourself, and really define what is unique about your company through your core values statement. It’s definitely worth reading, and then incorporating in a way that is meaningful to you.

To read the full article, you can go to https://hbr.org/2018/02/ban-these-5-words-from-your-corporate-values-statement

Change Management Lessons That Work

Do you struggle with the fact your well-crafted change initiatives continue to meet with resistance, despite all your best efforts?

Given the volumes of literature on the subject of Change Management, it is clear you are not alone. And, because of those great volumes of information (that require hours of study to digest), we were especially happy to see a very succinct post on the McKinsey Leadership & Organization Blog entitled Change Management Lessons from Japan.

This post describes the approach to change management used by a new CEO at a Japanese consumer products company. It is noted that, in Japan, consensus building is a strong part of the culture and a driving force behind the approach taken. The four practical ways to drive change are described as:

  • Define the end state in detail and provide a roadmap much earlier.
  • Engage the front line very early and create opportunities to endorse change.
  • Map the organizational network and tackle change blockers.
  • Expose top management extensively, broadly and directly.

The beauty of blog posts is that they are usually short and to the point, giving you food for thought and often inspiring you to dig a little deeper. The concepts presented here apply equally well in all cultures and all types of organizations – it’s well worth a read.

To read the full blog post, you can go to https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-organization-blog/change-management-lessons-from-japan

Managing the Push and Pull of Strategy Execution

Does strategy execution sometimes feel like a tug of war in your organization? Are you constantly juggling the trade-offs between delivering short-term results and making longer term changes?

Managing performance within a team, or in an organization overall, almost always involves finding a balance between opposing ideas or approaches or needs. If you find yourself in this arena, you will most likely enjoy the recent Harvard Business Review article entitled Good Strategy Execution Requires Balancing 4 Tensions.

In this article, the authors expertly identify the four key tensions predictably found in organizations, and bring them to life with relevant examples. The four tensions are:

  • Tension #1: An inspiring end-state versus challenging targets – you need to balance a clear picture of what life will look and feel like once change has been successfully implemented with aggressive targets and milestones to be achieved along the way.
  • Tension #2: Top-down control versus democratization of change – you need to balance capitalizing on the energy created through empowerment with reigning people in when they get too far off track.
  • Tension #3: Capability development versus pressure for results – you need to balance taking the time required to develop the new capabilities you feel are necessary to achieve your goals with making do in order to meet timelines and budgets.
  • Tension #4: Creativity versus discipline – you need to balance the insight and excitement of creativity with the realism and necessity of discipline.

This is a short but clever article with some very useful advice, and I think it is well worth the few minutes it will take you to read it.

To read the full article, you can go to https://hbr.org/2017/11/good-strategy-execution-requires-balancing-4-tensions?autocomplete=true

Find Your True Voice as a Leader

Do you feel your communication style resonates well with all the different people you interact with on a daily basis? Do your messages land the way you intended them to?

To be effective as a leader, you have to react appropriately in a variety of situations, and you have to connect with a variety of people inside and outside your organization. One of the many tools you use for this is your leadership voice, and Harvard Business Review has recently published an article which you might find helpful, it is entitled You Don’t Just Need One Leadership Voice – You Need Many.

Over time, and possibly without really being conscious of it, you will have worked on developing your leadership voice. As pointed out in the article, though, this might leave you feeling as though you are living with imposter’s syndrome or exhausting yourself by wearing a game face all day.

To help you be more genuine is this endeavour, and ultimately more successful, the author defines the different types of leadership voices you can cultivate:

  • Your voice of character – the fundamental principles voice.
  • Your voice of context – the big picture voice.
  • Your voice of clarity – the focussed voice.
  • Your voice of curiosity – the asking good questions voice.
  • Your voice of connection – the storyteller voice.

Discovering and developing your voice as a leader is work you will do over your entire career – and there is no time better than right now to get started.

To read the full article, you can go to https://hbr.org/2018/01/you-dont-just-need-one-leadership-voice-you-need-many?autocomplete=true

Embracing Constructive Conflict – Once and For All

You probably consider yourself a determined business leader, perhaps even courageous a lot of the time, but do you still manage to step around conflict if there is reasonable opportunity to do so?

We have written before on what we feel is the very significant, but often unappreciated, value of constructive conflict, or creative friction, or whatever label you would like to put on it. It is also a well-documented fact that most people, at all levels in an organization, will go to considerable lengths to avoid or minimize disagreements.

Harvard Business Review has started 2019 with an article entitled Why We Should Be Disagreeing More at Work, and we thought you might want to begin the New Year tackling this thorny issue too. There is a very real business case for embracing dissenting opinions and working through opposing views, and this articles presents the benefits under the following banners – better work outcomes, opportunities to learn and grow, improved relationships, higher job satisfaction and a more inclusive work environment.

So, how do you get comfortable with dissent and debate, and thereby create a safe environment for your employees or team members to do so? This article offers the following ways to start:

  • Let go of needing to be liked
  • Focus on the big picture
  • Don’t equate disagreement with unkindness
  • Find a role model and emulate them

It’s time to step into the arena, even if it’s just a toe at first. Put your reticence behind you, and start reaping the benefits of vibrant and challenging interactions.

To read the full article, you can go to https://hbr.org/2018/01/why-we-should-be-disagreeing-more-at-work?autocomplete=true

Finding the Sweet Spot in Strategy Execution

Do you often feel you are banging your head against the wall, crafting corporate strategies that aren’t embraced and executed as you feel they should be?

Well, sometimes there are things you just have to get your head around, whether you want to or not.

Harvard Business Review published an article entitled Great Corporate Strategies Thrive on the Right Amount of Tension, and they let you know right up front that strict compliance with your carefully crafted strategy doesn’t always correlate directly to performance. What you need is just the right amount of strategic stress between the deliberate execution of your plans and the responsive actions you take to emerging issues.

This thing called strategic stress, according to the authors, is characterized by three zones:

  • Strategic Burnout (too much strategic stress) – usually caused by such things as too much autonomy, unrealistic strategic plans and/or unexpected market dynamics.
  • Strategic Boredom (not enough strategic stress) – causing complacency which may, in turn, lead to rigid execution of the strategy and being blind to emerging risks or opportunities.
  • Strategic Sweet Spot (just the right amount of strategic stress) – which is characterized by a sufficient balance between alignment and nonconformity.

Perhaps it is true after all that we learned everything we need to know in kindergarten, and Goldilocks might have taught this lesson. To stay alert and responsive you need the right amount of tension between compliance and autonomy – not too much, and not too little.

To read the full article, you can go to https://hbr.org/2017/11/great-corporate-strategies-thrive-on-the-right-amount-of-tension?autocomplete=true

The Real Value of Talent Management

Are you very clear on the impact talent management has on your bottom line? Or do you feel it is a bit fuzzy, and not really worth a significant investment?

Well, just in time to help take this important, but often undervalued business practice out of the dark corners, McKinsey & Company have published the results of a new global survey in an article entitled Winning with Your Talent-Management Strategy. In their words – organizations with effective talent-management programs have a better chance than other companies of outperforming competitors and, among publically owned companies, are likelier to outpace their peers’ returns to shareholders.

Through this survey, McKinsey was also able to identify three common practices that had a significant impact on the effectiveness of talent management as well as organizational performance:

  • Rapid allocation of talent – this is facilitated by effectively deploying talent based on skills needed, ensuring executive team involvement in talent management, and having employees work in small, cross-functional teams.
  • HR’s involvement in fostering a positive employee experience – key to this practice is having an agile HR operating model, as well as an ability to deploy talent and skills in a way that supports the organization’s overall strategy.
  • A strategically minded HR team – simply put, this is an HR team with a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s strategy and business priorities.

If you haven’t done so already, it is time to really come to terms with the importance of effective talent management. This article can help.

To read the full article, you can go to https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/winning-with-your-talent-management-strategy

The Smart Leader’s Checklist

As a new CEO, could you use a transition checklist to help ensure you are making all the right moves? As a leader at any stage, would you like to have a look at that list too?

As a leader, new or otherwise, one of the greatest gifts you can receive is sage advice from a wise mentor. Imagine your luck, if someone would take the time to write you a letter with a 10-point checklist of tips, gathered over many years of experience as well as interviews with leading CEOs and chairmen from around the world.

Well, it’s your lucky day! Published in the McKinsey Quarterly is a Letter to a Newly Appointed CEO, written by their former managing director Ian Davis. It is written for a new CEO, but it is valuable to all leaders who believe in self-reflection and lifelong learning.

Here is a small sample of the advice offered:

Context is critical – you must be keenly observant both internally and externally, and remember that what worked in one context doesn’t necessarily transfer well to another.

Don’t just surround yourself with people you are comfortable with – it is important to have a bit of grit to reduce decision making bias and risk.

Make mindful choices – rather than letting circumstance or your staff determine your priorities.

Get objective, balanced feedback and information – find some room and time for mavericks and talking to your frontline staff.

I feel strongly that you will find several, if not all, of these ten pieces of advice extremely valuable.

To read the full article, you can go to https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/leadership/letter-to-a-newly-appointed-ceo