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Four Strategic Shifts to Streamline Your Work Flow

Four Strategic Shifts to Streamline Your Work Flow

Behind every business strategy is a belief. What we believe about how the world works determines the policies we enact, the plans we devise, the processes we use, and the way we behave. Often, when we want to alter an outcome and improve results, we need to change the underlying belief. Then the processes and activities can be changed.

New product development is one area where erroneous beliefs keep us from getting the results we desire. The drive is always to achieve faster time-to-market and more predictable product development cycles, since finishing second in a winner-takes-all competition means, at worst, giving up millions in revenues, and, at best, delays in translating spending to revenue.

Here are four shifts in belief and behavior that make a profitable difference:

  1. Increasing throughput. The widely held belief is that keeping everyone going full bore-working long hours will speed things up. But most projects take longer than planned, and keeping everyone working longer does not necessarily improve speed. It’s more important to know what is limiting how much work can get through the system, and focusing resources there. Apply the most precious skills to tasks only those people can perform, offloading lesser tasks and ensuring the work arrives fully prepared.
  2. Exposing capacity. The entrenched belief is that idle system capacity is wasteful and should be eliminated. In reality, not having some extra capacity is sure way to miss deadlines and due dates. Too often, business capacity is pared to the bone, and projects fall behind. With no cushion, the system can’t handle even minor mishaps, let alone major problems. A reasonable extra capacity is not excessive but protective, helping to guard against sudden deviations. Flexible protective capacity can reduce project cost and time.
  3. Coherent work behaviors. Multitasking—working on several things at once—does not speed projects along. In fact, multitasking is one way to lengthen project time. Shifting attention among several different tasks inevitably wastes time. It’s almost always possible to speed up work by 10 to 30 percent just by eliminating multitasking. In truth, people cannot do more than one task at a time; they simply switch back and forth and lose time in between. The alternative is to get it, work it, and move it-working on a task until it is finished or you can’t do any more without more input.
  4. Acting globally. The common belief is that any improvement helps the organization, that local excellence always benefits the larger entity. However, local improvements may have no effect, or a negative one, on the bottom line. Becoming faster as a company simply can’t be achieved by optimizing areas. Since organizations are interdependent systems, it’s not always obvious how a change in one part will affect others. Changes toward “faster and better” may shift the balance of power, and people may resist or subvert change that hurts the ego or wallet. So, shifting to a global mindset may also mean adjusting rewards and incentives.

Speeding up product development requires knowing what makes work flow in a smooth and streamlined way. It’s not about keeping everyone busy all the time, eliminating all “waste,” juggling tasks, or making isolated improvements. The way to speed and quality is through stronger alignment—of behavior and belief, of practices and purpose—that frees us to strategically apply resources where real opportunities for improvement lie.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

10 Commandments for Implementing Lean Business System

10 Commandments for Implementing Lean Business System

Regardless of the approach adopted, the role of the boss always turns out to be of paramount importance during the implementation of both technical and sociological aspects of lean business philosophy.

Having analyzed experience gained from cooperation with different enterprises, conversations with company bosses, the studies of subject matter literature and Internet sources, here’s are some thoughts on this role in ten points, dare we call them commandments:

  1. Have a clear vision and improvement goals for the whole organization. The process of gaining acceptance and preapproval for a proposal by evaluating first the idea and then the plan with management and stakeholders to get input, anticipate resistance, and align the proposed change with other perspectives and priorities in the organization.
  2. Be an engaged boss initiating changes. The boss’s involvement in training his immediate subordinates is also helpful in implementing Lean philosophy. Firstly, it gives an opportunity to get feedback on how the subordinates understand the subject matter and what their attitude to the announced changes is.
  3. Improve processes and the results will come consequently. Process improvement is not a one-day activity but it means continuous improvement. It is also important that the boss makes it clear to his employees Process improvement is not a one-day activity but it means continuous improvement. It is also important that the boss makes it clear to his employees.
  4. Create Obeya-like management centre. What actions have been planned to eliminate these reasons in order to improve the process? How these actions being implemented and what are the effects? How does it affect other processes and results?
  5. Determine indicators and bonuses that show one direction to the managers. The boss needs to be a coordinator of any actions undertaken in the company. He should efficiently lead his subordinates towards one common goal, since only in this way will he be able to ensure optimization of the company operations. Bosses, who evaluate their subordinates on the basis of various, often conflicting departmental objectives, make individual departments oriented on partial optimizations, which are seldom translated into optimization of the whole company operations.
  6. Motivate your people. Going to production floor in order to directly watch the process, talk to employees, confirm data and understand the situation (instead of relying exclusively on computerized data and information from other people). This practice shall be applied by both top management and lower-level management.
  7. Delegate the ownership of processes and places to your employees. Employees performing work, dealing with part of the process have a considerable knowledge of what is going on in this process in reality. Many of them are experienced workers, involved in the process for many years. It must be noticed that job rotation among management members is much higher than among lower level employees. Greater frequency of management members’ replacement accounts for the fact that lower-level employees, not managers, possess significant part of internal knowledge in the company.
  8. Engage everyone in problem solving and continuous improvement. Employees’ engagement in problem solving and continuous improvement results in many refinements which, at company level, bring about a speed of changes greater than that achieved by investment in new machines alone. In Toyota’s plants each employee makes on average from a dozen to several dozen improvement suggestions a year and in some plants over 90% of such suggestions are implemented. This results in productivity increment, fewer mistakes and greater safety at work stations.
  9. Teach your employees to achieve “the impossible.” The thing is to set a goal for people in the organization and make them move towards its achievement by showing proper behavior patterns. It will be a great success if the whole organization starts to think this way, not just a small group of enthusiasts who constantly want to change something (unfortunately, they are scarce in numbers). It can be reached by building good relations with employees. Feeling good in their work environment and having a sense of responsibility for their workstations, they are much eager and willing to use their creativity.
  10. Practice the routine of Gemba Walks every day. Going to production floor in order to directly watch the process, talk to employees, confirm data and understand the situation (instead of relying exclusively on computerized data and information from other people). This practice shall be applied by both top management and lower level management.
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Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership

Adapting to Change and Managing the Transition Successfully

Life is about adapting to change and ever-increasing demands. William Bridges was right: “It’s not the changes that do you in. Ifs the transitions.”

Organizations must continually change. The question is “how?” The leader’s task is to make change work by helping others through transition.

A successful transition …

  • Explains what is and what isn’t over. Some things never change: You will continue to serve customers and produce products. What changes is not what you do but how you do it. Help people identify what is and is not over.
  • Respects the past. The practices that frustrate you today were someone’s innovative solutions of the past. Do not criticize widely accepted practices. Accept them as right for that time while recognizing that times change.
  • Ensures the “important stuff” continues. What is the important stuff to you? Service? Ethics? Whatever it is, it must continue. Involve others in defining the “important stuff” and ensure that the change does not disregard them. This increases support for the change.
  • Sets the stage for the future. Today’s change will open your eyes to new opportunities. As you evolve, set goals for what you want to achieve. Measure and evaluate progress. And, show others how the change will move them toward a positive future.
  • Recognizes its day will end. Don’t assume that today’s solution will work forever. And don’t think that this will be the last change.

Long-term success depends on anticipating and responding to change and making the transition.

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Posted in Management and Leadership Uncategorized

Implement a Retention Plan to Keep Good People

Implement a Retention Plan

Don’t be misled. A soft economy is no justification for abandoning your commitment to employee retention. Good people are needed today more than ever. You need people connected to your mission and focused on delivering your product or service as efficiently and effectively.

The economy will rebound, baby boomers will eventually decide to retire, and staff shortages will return. Generation X does not have enough bodies to replace the retiring boomers, and the Millennial Generation will not offer relief until 2008.

A difficult truth will be discovered when the bidding for talent returns. An exorbitant compensation package might not attract people in a post-scandal economy. And, it won’t retain them or ensure the productivity your business needs to survive.

People hire into organizations. They stay, leave, or contribute based on their relationship with their manager and their opportunity to both contribute and advance in their jobs. They want to work in a place where they can succeed and feel their contribution is appreciated. A positive response to each of the following questions will help you stay connected and keep your best.

Workplace where employees succeed and feel their contribution is appreciated

  • Does a dear focus and direction exist for the business and the individual? Specific goals linked to a common, compelling vision provide a sense of contribution and focus. Commitment to the job is enhanced when a visible link exists between individual performance and organizational success.
  • Do people receive the time, tools, and training to accomplish their jobs? Frustration develops when barriers hinder success. An investment in tools and training reinforces the idea that quality is important.
  • Are efforts recognized and appreciated? Sincere recognition to your stars ensures that they don’t look for a better environment in which to utilize their talents. Poor performers can be motivated when managers recognize their value rather than only look for the negative. Those who do a good job each day view recognition as verification that their performance matters. A one-percent increase in performance from those who simply meet expectations makes a tremendous difference in the bottom-line.
  • Is poor performance addressed? Top employees grow weary of doing more than their share of the performance load. They want those who are not meeting expectations to be dealt with fairly.
  • Are honest mistakes used as a learning opportunity? Most of the important lessons we learn in life are the result of honest mistakes. When people feel punished for those missteps a culture is created where errors are hidden communication lines are closed, and valuable knowledge that could improve performance and results is not shared.
  • Is specific and accurate feedback provided in a positive manner? Everyone wants information about how they are doing compared to the expectations for their performance. The best feedback acknowledges effort, points people toward success, and encourages personal responsibility.
  • Do people have fun? Environments that promote laughter contribute to higher morale, improved productivity, and lower stress. Having fun is not just playing games or dressing up on holidays. The ability to be relaxed and enjoy oneself creates a bond between team members.

Creating an environment that keeps people feeling connected to the mission and vision is every leader’s task It is the one sure strategy for achieving success.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

How to Create Collaboration

How to Create Collaboration

The goal of collaboration is to achieve a desired outcome in the best way possible for all parties. Cooperation, synergy and teamwork can only be achieved if the parties pay as much attention to how they work together as they do to the work itself.

Before agreeing to collaborate, people must know the key elements: parity among participants, mutual goals, shared responsibility for participation and decision making, shared resources, shared accountability for outcomes, and mutual trust.

Collaboration is a highly interdependent process that requires an upfront commitment to work within these elements from all participating entities before going forward.

The collaborative process involves creating guidelines for how people will work together. You might customize these seven items to fit your situation:

  1. Bring the parties together;
  2. define the scope of the project;
  3. define success, expectations, or desired results;
  4. discuss leadership, roles, responsibilities, support, ownership, control, communication, decision-making, time management, prioritization, disagreements, accountability, resources, milestones, rewards, recognition, and evaluation;
  5. identify possible barriers to collaboration and problem solve around those;
  6. identify components that may not need to be completed collaboratively; and
  7. obtain a commitment to collaborate from each member to move forward under the guidelines.

Once people engage in the collaborative process, they are well on their way to achieving superior results. The process is not for everyone or for all situations that call for greater teamwork. It needs to be used with the right people, for the right reasons, and with the full support of management.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

Barriers to Successful Strategy Execution

Barriers to Successful Strategy Execution

As managers, we learn the truth what Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “Plans are useless; planning is everything.” Indeed, execution—more than planning—determines success. Planning should be a process for building clarity and alignment, and positioning for efficient and effective execution.

Each year managers spend countless hours planning, budgeting, and forecasting. Most expect significant results from their plans. Unfortunately, even seasoned managers struggle to bring together people, strategies, and operations to achieve results.

We have identified five critical barriers to successful execution.

Barrier 1: The underlying strategy is not clear.

Confusion ranges from “fuzziness” in direction to not understanding what strategy is. A strategy represents set of decisions regarding the future and how to achieve success. Without a crisp articulation of these decisions, executives must reinvent them every time a new idea, opportunity, or problem arises—resulting in endless meetings, missed opportunities, a culture of indecision, and lower returns on executives’ time. A lack of clarity and agreement regarding the direction creates a void where personalities, politics, and oneupmanship prevail. Disagreements are played out in fragments of daily conversations and emails about what initiative is the priority at that moment, resulting in diluted progress, frustration, and missed opportunities.

Solution: Invest the time to get clear. Every executive team must agree on three points: Who are we? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? The level of clarity required for execution is derived from focusing on actionable answers. For example, there may be more value in defining the basic competitive advantage of the enterprise than in wordsmithing a mission statement. We suggest using a strategic framework to unify all aspects of strategy, one important element being a Quantified Vision. In addressing where are we going, it is powerful to paint a picture of the future with numbers to depict the evolution—not just financially, but also in terms of customers, products, and locations.

Barrier 2: The plan is overly optimistic.

Most executive teams tend to take on too much. The opportunities and issues they face make it difficult to prioritize initiatives and activities. As organizations evolve, they collect initiatives, processes, and pet projects that dilute focus and soak up resources. In addition, when executives plan, they often assume a perfect world—one free of distractions and problems. Such environments don’t exist. Runaway optimism builds failure into the plan, corrupting the notion of execution in the minds of the people required to follow-through and maintain the plan.

Solution: Define priorities. Creating an executable plan requires putting as much discipline and focus on those things that are not considered a priority for execution as those that are. The Not Do’ s must be identified along with Must-Do’s. From a list of initiatives, projects, and activities underway or planned, assign each item to one of three buckets: 1) must-do this year, 2) nice-to-have this year, and 3) not-do this year. Ask which items are most critical to executing them and achieving the vision. Put nice-to-have items in a holding bin. Put not-do activities and pet projects on hold. Cease activities relating to the not-do’s.

Barrier 3: No one is accountable for results.

Accountability motivates people to follow-through on their commitments. A driver of accountability is clarity on “who is on the hook for what.” Unfortunately, most managers focus the accountabilities on activities, as opposed to results. This creates challenges. You must ask: “Does all of this activity add up to real progress against strategic objectives?” “Are people makll1g progress against their commitments?” Without a clearly defined “finish line,” accountability will be confused or diluted.

Solution: Raise the stakes. As initiatives are prioritized, tie the initiative to a time horizon. Define a specific business result associated with effective execution of that initiative. What do we expect to get out of this initiative? When? Who is on the hook to make this happen? Defining initiatives in this manner raises the stakes for execution and enables people to fully commit. These initiatives become your business commitments.

Accountability for Results

Barrier 4: The plan has not been actively deployed.

Many executives complain about the difficulty of aligning around a vision or strategy. When asked what they do to deploy the vision or strategy, they respond with puzzled looks or explanations of communications programs. Issues of strategic importance require more than a 60-minute presentation in order for people to internalize and act on them. Treating complex issues in this manner usually reaps confusion at best. At worst, the result is mismatched expectations. To do their jobs, managers need to apply the strategy to their part of the business, ideally by working shoulder-to-shoulder with the primary authors of the strategic plan.

Solution: Mobilize the troops. Leaders should articulate the new strategy or plan to groups of managers in a series of deployment workshops. Leaders and managers participate in planning exercises in which the managers make decisions regarding what they must do differently as a result of the new strategic plan. This approach aligns, motivates, and mobilizes people to execute the strategy, as it builds momentum.

Barrier 5: The plan is static.

Within many expensive but ineffective plans is an unspoken assumption that nothing can change the validity of the plan. Of course, this is not true. Today major changes in the competitive landscape, economy, and key strategic areas must assumed. Strategic plans that do not account for change are doomed.

As internal and external conditions drive changes in priorities and resource allocations, one of three things impedes the use of the strategic plan:

  1. the plan not visible—after planning, it is locked away, disconnected from decision-making;
  2. the plan is not accessible it is held in secret, restricted to a few senior executives; or
  3. the plan is not changeable—it is a dense amalgam, making it difficult to update and manage.

If any of these situations exists, the effort required to maintain the plan becomes unwieldy and the plan becomes obsolete. Executives must then do so without the benefit of the analysis encompassed in the strategic plan or an understanding of how resources are to be applied to aid quick decision-making.

Solution: Create an execution process. Use strategy as a weapon to drive progress, manage accountabilities, evaluate performance and support decision-making. Make the plan visible, accessible and changeable. Use annual planning not to develop static plans, but to create dynamic processes: single-page executive dashboards, single-page management action plans, and strategy progress meetings. A dynamic planning and execution process helps an executive team understand progress, make decisions, and take action.

Conclusions

Successful strategy execution is a dynamic process. Strategy begins as a set of agreements about markets, products, revenues, and growth. The rest is execution. Unless there is a process for evaluating execution, making decisions, and closing the loop with the original strategy, the effort dies. Execution is a process for maintaining strategic progress. Refocus your planning activities on execution of plans. Use your planning process to steer around these barriers and on to success.

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Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership

Working with Creative and Non-Creative People

Working with Creative and Non-Creative People

Tips for Working with Non-Creative People

  • Play to their strengths. Have a 7-to-1 ratio of positive to negative comments. When people feel good, it empowers them to take risks.
  • Give them a design buddy. Managers should have a deep understanding of the nuances of each team member, then pair up those with different skill sets.
  • The worst kind of feedback: “That’s bad” or “That’s ugly.” If you’re not a professional creative, it’s not your place. If you don’t trust the person you hired to make visual decisions, they’re just a pixel-pushing monkey.
  • Use “I feel” or “I experience.” Feelings are real. Taste is illusory.
  • Establish design principles. You can bring up these attributes, and that way you’re not complaining—you’re just mentioning concepts that have been mutually agreed upon.
  • Speak unarguably. Say what’s not working and avoid phrases like “Did you consider …”
  • Resist pulling rank. Instead, say things like, “My suggestion would be X, but you have to solve this problem.” If they can’t, let them go.

Tips for Working with Creative People

  • The work should speak for itself. When presenting your idea, say what problem it’s trying to solve, but don’t walk co-workers through the hows and whys.
  • Pick your battles. When a co-worker tells you how she feels, you may be able to straight up ignore her, as long as you solve all major problems.
  • You could iterate forever. Move on once it’s good.
  • Even if someone gives you ridiculous feedback, treat it as valid. His pain is real, even if his issue makes no sense.
  • Avoid a design conversation when receiving feedback. The critique is never a good place to be creative. You can’t design on your feet, so take the feedback to your desk and consider solutions.
  • Ask follow-ups. Phrases like “Tell me why” will get to the root of the problem. When you dig deeper, you’ll find managers want something different than what they’re saying.
  • Annoyed? Explain you want the feedback process to be more open. If bosses refuse, quit.
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Posted in Management and Leadership Mental Models and Psychology

How Do You Inspire Others

How Do You Inspire Others

Leaders who are rated as “highly inspirational” are also rated high in the following three areas:

  1. Have positive expectations of others. Inspirational leaders have faith in the people with whom they work. They believe that others are capable of great accomplishments. They believe others will work hard, follow through on assignments, and do whatever is needed to achieve goals. Having positive expectations of others predisposes leaders to expect more, check less, and encourage people to give their best.
  2. Get people the resources they need to do the job. Leaders often create a compelling vision of what needs to be done; however, as employees start to do the real work, they look for the resources to support them, only to find that systems don’t work, equipment is on order, or added personnel can’t be hjred. Leaders who inspire provide needed resources at the same time.
  3. Ask for input. When communicating, most people concentrate on their message and how it is delivered. Yet one of the strongest competencies for communicating powerfully is involving others—asking others for their input and encouraging alternative approaches. Leaders rated low give their prepared presentation but fail to ask for input from the audience.
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Posted in Management and Leadership Mental Models and Psychology

How Leadership can Learn to Innovate

How Leadership can Learn to Innovate

Why do good people who desire to learn and innovate consistently fail to produce what they intend? If most people come to work truly desiring to make a difference, to gain, as Peter Drucker puts it, a “return on their citizenship,” then the failure to innovate is puzzling. It can’t be blamed on not having the right people.

Peter Drucker has elegantly presented the three ingredients of the discipline of innovation: focus on mission, define significant results, and do rigorous assessment. But if it sounds so simple, why is it so difficult to innovate? It must have more to do with why Peter Drucker’s three core practices are challenging.

Practice #1: Know your purpose

We can start by inquiring into what we mean by mission. You can’t focus on what you cannot define, and there is some fuzzy thinking about mission, vision, and values. Most organizations have mission statements, purpose statements, visions, and values. But few of us can say our mission statement has transformed the enterprise. There is understandable cynicism around lofty ideals that don’t match organizational realities.

The first obstacle to understanding mission is a problem of language. Many leaders use mission and vision interchangeably, or think that the words—and the differences—matter little. But words do matter.

The dictionary, an essential leadership tool, contains multiple definitions of the word mission; the most appropriate being “purpose, reason for being.”Vision, by contrast, is “a picture or image of the future we seek to create,” and values articulate how we intend to live as we pursue our mission. Paradoxically, if an organization’s mission is truly motivating, it is never really achieved. Mission provides an orientation, not a checklist of accomplishments. It defines a direction, not a destination.

This also gives some clue as to why being mission-based is so difficult. It gets to the core of power and authority. It is profoundly radical. It says, in essence, those in positions of authority are not the source of authority. It says rather, that the source of legitimate power in the organization is its guiding ideas. The cornerstone of a truly democratic system of governance is the belief that power ultimately flows from ideas, not people. To be truly mission-based is to be democratic in this way, to make the mission more important than the boss.

While this might appeal to our ideals, living this way is challenging. We are all closet authoritarians. For most of us it is the only system of management we have ever known. To be mission-based and values-guided is to hold up lofty standards against which every person’s behavior can be judged. Moreover, mission is inherently abstract. It is easier to make decisions based on “the numbers,” habit, and unexamined emotions. To be mission-based requires everyone to think continuously. But it can be done, and, when done, it can work.

Practice #2: Define results

This requirement is easier in some ways. Managers by nature are pragmatic; ultimately they are concerned about results and must concentrate on how, not just why. The danger is that short-term goals can obscure larger purposes. Here again, language matters. Vision—an image of the future we seek to create—is synonymous with intended results. As such, vision is a practical tool, not an abstract concept. While mission is foundational, it is also insufficient because, by its nature, it is extraordinarily difficult to assess how we are doing by looking only at the mission. For this we need to stick our necks out and articulate “an image of the future we seek to create.”

Results-oriented leaders must have both a mission and a vision. Results mean little without purpose: a mission instills both the passion and the patience for the long journey. While vision inspires passion, many failed ventures are characterized by passion without patience.

Now, these ideas might sound good, but they are radical statements in today’s society. The return-on-investment orientation—the view that people go to work primarily for material gain—is the bedrock of our beliefs about people in contemporary society. Thus, the real discipline of innovation not only threatens established power relations, it also runs counter to our cultural norms.

Consider, for example, the saying “People do what they are rewarded for.” What management is about in many people’s minds is creating the right set of incentives and rewards so people will do what the enterprise needs them to do. Just ask people if they think the senior management really believes that people come to work every day, as Deming said, “seeking joy in work.” That’s intrinsic motivation, and it is assumed to be in scarce supply in today’s management. Joy in work comes from being true to your purpose. It is the source of the passion, patience, and perseverance we need to thrive as individuals and as organizations. However, people cannot define results that relate to their deeper passions unless leaders cultivate an environment in which those passions can be safely articulated.

Practice #3: Assess results

We must continually gauge how we can best use our scarce resources. Assessment has two components: measurement and interpretation. The second and more difficult component—interpretation—requires understanding, participation, and physical presence. Statistical measures of an activity may be disappointing, but if you’re actually involved, you may see that people are engaged, learning, and on the brink of a breakthrough. Incomplete or premature assessment destroys learning. After assessing results, we must abandon what doesn’t work to clear the decks for trying something new. Yet it is difficult for organizations to abandon what isn’t working, or to remove a person who lacks credibility from a position.

The first step in practicing abandonment is openness—creating a culture in which, at a critical moment, somebody can tell a boss, “This is not working,” without fear of reprisal.

The litmus test for measuring openness is simple: How fast does bad news travel upward? Good news travels upward faster than the speed of light. But failure is denied before the word can be spoken: “Whose failure? What failure? That wasn’t a failure, we just didn’t have enough funding.” Innovation is a process of failure—a continual learning process. You must experiment, assess, reflect on mission, identify results, and experiment more. Yet we are trained to avoid failure, and thus real learning.

Most people learn that to succeed, they must find correct answers and cover up incorrect ones. This undermines the inquiry-skills essential to real innovation and leadership.

From Habit to Discipline

Taken together, mission, vision, and assessment create an ecology, a set of relationships forming the bedrock of real leadership. These tools allow people, regardless of job title, to help shape their future. Drucker is right that innovation is a “discipline,” a word having its root in the Latin disciplina, an old form of “to learn.” Many people have talent, but real learning requires discipline, the process through which we draw out our potential through commitment, practice, passion, patience, and perseverance.

Mastering the discipline of innovation will require working together, learning from one another’s efforts. To do something new, people invariably experience periods of profound discomfort. Confronting the threat and uncertainty such change brings is best done together, not in isolation.

We are all addicted to maintaining control, to avoiding failure, to doing things the way we have always done. We can’t help it. And we need one another to break the habit.

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Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership

Use Your Beliefs and Values to Gain Higher Commitment

Use Your Beliefs and Values to Gain Higher Commitment

Leaders are often reluctant to bring their spiritual beliefs to their leadership roles. Many leaders outside of a religious context are justifiably anxious that bringing their beliefs forward in a multi-religious society will cause unnecessary and unproductive conflict. Still, leaders who win high commitment consciously bring their beliefs to their leadership roles. In other words, they enact their beliefs.

I once interviewed 20 experienced leaders who win high commitment from others. None of them is a “business leader” in the traditional sense and none learned leadership skills in the traditional way—at a business school or a corporate university.

Their decision to focus on insights about leadership from leaders outside of business comes from the belief that we often learn the most from people who are unlike us. These leaders are fettered by limited resources. They must win commitment because they can’t afford to buy it. If they excel at winning commitment, they often engage a deeper commitment that comes from the heart and the spirit.

Although I did not ask those I interviewed about their spiritual beliefs, three beliefs became evident. The ability to enact these three beliefs characterizes leaders who win high commitment.

Belief in Divine Involvement

The first belief was expressed by Pat Croce, former president and part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers professional basketball team. Croce said, “My tenet is that if you do your best, God will take care of the rest.” Bonnie Wright, former CEO of the Arizona Red Cross, added an important twist: “If you are doing the right things, the resources will come to you to do it.” The statements form a summary of what leaders express when talking about divine involvement: When you are doing the right things to the best of your ability, the divine powers will supply whatever else is needed. Wright also maintains that periods of reflection are essential to leaders. These are the times, she said, that she gets her “God-given to-do list.”

This belief in divine involvement is also a source of strength and renewal for leaders. Croce’s belief that if he does his best God will take care of the rest provides him with a basis for dealing with the inevitable problems that all leaders face. With that belief in hand, he said, “You then can handle setbacks, disappointments, and frustrations.”

Belief in the Primacy of Service

The second belief is the importance of living a life of service. For example, Wilma Mankiller, the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation and an advocate for minorities, said that she ran for the office of Chief because she wanted to be in a position to allocate more resources to rural and poor people. She said, “My decision to choose public service and social justice issues as my life’s work was driven by passion, compassion and idealism. I was brought up in a Cherokee community where it was understood that we are responsible for one other and that we survive in reciprocal relationships.” These leaders are not drawn to serve because it will be profitable or ensure the loyalty of others. They do it for its own sake and for its own rewards.

The zeal to serve is at the root of the compelling insights that give rise to noble visions. The insights that compel leaders are perceptions about the needs or aspirations of people; they come out of belief in the primacy of service. Noble visions are about the contributions that leaders intend to make to a group of people; they have their roots in the impulse to serve1 and they invite followers to serve as well. Without this impulse to serve, without this belief in the primacy of service, compelling insights and noble visions elude wouldbe leaders. Philosopher Sam Keen wrote: “Whenever you are confused, keep heading in the direction that leads toward deepening your love and care for all living beings, including yourself, and you will never stray far from the path to fulfillment.”

Belief in the Basic Goodness of People

Despite declarations to the contrary, many of our organizations and many people who hold leadership positions tend to operate as if people are basically selfish, needing to be watched and scrutinized carefully to prevent rampant and destructive self-interest. However, leaders who win high commitment act as if people are basically unselfish and trustworthy. They give people an opportunity to show that they are world-class citizens. They affirm their belief in the goodness of others. Such statements are not simply about the capabilities of others, but about the basic nature of people.

This belief is what some refer to as the assumption of trust. William Purkey, a professor at the University of North Carolina, notes: “Given an optimally inviting environment, each person will find his or her own best ways of being and becoming.” Leaders who win high commitment create such optimally inviting environments, which depend heavily on the leader’s ability to hold onto the assumption of trust.

Leaders who win high commitment know what they believe in and value, don’t pretend to anything else, and are persistent about bringing their beliefs to their leadership roles and to the organizations that they lead.

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