#Leading a Thriving #Organization


tree

Organizational executives, managers and leaders have good intentions to create thriving organizations that reflect their vision and mission for successful outcomes in the marketplace. Over the years, I have had the privilege to work for many organizations in various capacities; as an employee, a middle manager, a pastor, an executive, as a coach and marketing consultant. In other words, I have seen the internal dynamics of how organizations are managed and led; some thrive whiles others struggle to survive. To accomplish this monumental task of building a thriving organization it will take an organization to understand and embrace the four pillars of a thriving organization, which are simply strategy, synergy, structure and systems. Let’s start with the first critical layer of strategy.

1. Strategy

The original meaning of the world strategy reveals the “art of the General”, which implies the General’s broad grasp of the craft of warfare based upon years of acquired acumen and intuition from experiences on the battlefield. We can break down this art form into to three layers: hindsight, insight and foresight. Likewise, those in positions of mid to higher management in an organization have years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom derived through their education, exposure to people and events within an organization, and past experiences on the job. The accumulated wisdom of these employees is critical for tapping into new strategic methods for success.

Strategy is the sum of two parts: it’s your acumen and your approach. Strategy is melding what you already know and how you will go about executing what you know. Strategy, however, fails on many accounts. The most critical one is the lack of collaborative imagination that keeps many organizations operating in the dark at mediocre levels. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, understood the power of collaborative imagination. His wisdom was and is today second to none; the biblical narrative notes a person like Solomon will never be matched again, so listen carefully! King Solomon provides our culture today with a great Tweet tucked away in Proverbs 24:6:

Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.”

Can you imagine tapping into the combined acumen, intuition and experience of many advisors? So why don’t you take an assessment of the creative members on your team and begin to tap into their combined wisdom for strategic advantages and advances in the marketplace. The wisdom is all around you… are you listening?

2. Synergy

One lazy afternoon, on my day off, I went to the afternoon matinee to see the movie Pitch Perfect. It simply amazed me on many levels! It wasn’t the humor, although I had a load of laughs. It wasn’t the brilliant singing that caught my attention although it was American Idol on Steroids. The main message for me was how a singing team formed and fermented into greatness. Let me see if I can sum up the important snippets of the movie that helped me see how teams form to create dynamic energy and synergy:

1. Pride was present at first since the old guard did not want to give up their place or stature on the team. So they resist anyone trying to introduce new ideas, which will improve the team’s performance.

2. Then there is friction between the old guard and the newcomers since the new ideas being offered are better than the old ones. It’s takes some time for the old guard to realize their methods have become obsolete.

3. Thirdly, the old guard finally accepts reality and realizes it needs to adapt and change. They are now willing to make some accommodations to make the team better.

4. And finally, the team comes together to implement the new ideas. There’s a dynamic shift in team culture and performance.

Synergy is hard to create but when it is present it is dynamic and energizing. When a team creates synergy it begins to release that corporate magic many organizations long for. How do we know when synergy is present? It is evident when optimum energy is released and dynamic synergy is increased.

3. Structure

Every organization is structured in a unique way. Some structures are more rigid than others, such as the military and Law Enforcement agencies, while other organizations tend to adopt a more fluid and flexible approach. “By structure, we mean the framework around which the group is organized, the underpinnings which keep the coalition functioning. It’s the operating manual that tells members how the organization is put together and how it works. More specifically, structure describes how members are accepted, how leadership is chosen, and how decisions are made.”[i]

The structure solely depends on what your organization wants to accomplish. For instance, let’s take two examples from nature to make my point. An eagle and a duck are structured quite differently from one another since they have different purposes to perform. One is meant to fly in high altitudes, and to dive at fast speeds to catch unsuspecting prey by surprise. Eagles like to be alone most of the time; they are the kings of the air. While a duck is given webbed feet to navigate through the water, and tightly knit feathers to keep them warm in cold climates. Ducks like to fly in teams, and work together to fly long distances.

Each bird has a particular function to play and purpose to fulfill. These distinguishing features provide you and I insight into the roles they perform in their respected environments.

Let’s take another example from nature. What about a tree? An Oak tree has a firm base extending to the general body. It is immovable and strong. Then as the branches move out they thin out and become more flexible, bending by the wind, even with the subtle breeze. Structures in organizations should have a stabilizing structure but should also allow flexibility is some areas of the organization to accommodate quick changes.

4. Systems

Systems are like highways that connect motorists to interchanges, intersections and bridges, which provide a proper flow of traffic so that people can get to places in an efficient manner within a specified time frame. Let me provide you a personal example:

I remember a time when our church fed thousands of inner city people on a Saturday afternoon. At the time, our church had an extraordinary cook on staff that was once Donald Trump’s private Chef (and you know Mr. Trump is a pretty picky guy). Anyway, when it came time to feed the multitudes, I just happened to walk into the kitchen area where I overheard the Chef say, “This is how we are going to take the food out to feed the folks.” To shorten my story, he had adopted a system with six steps before the people could even receive their food on the table. I thought to myself, “This process or system is going to take forever. We can do better?” So immediately, I took the Chef aside and advised him of a more efficient way. After I made it sound like it was his idea, he adopted the new system. The result of this simple change in the flow of food delivery was that everyone was happy, from the volunteers who had to serve the food, to the Chef himself, and the multitudes receiving our compassionate services for the day. All it took was a simple change to the “system”, which provided more efficient outcomes.

Systems should be made simple, but most people make them more complicated than they should be. The Chef in this situation had extraordinary skills but he lacked the basic skills of how to deliver his product efficiently.

What area above is the weakest in your organization? Which one is the strength of your organization?


[i] An Organizational Structure: An Overview. http://ctb.ku.edu/en/tablecontents/sub_section_main_1092.aspx, accessed on 4/7/2013.

Default Leadership: The Presumptuous Leader


 presumption

The “presumptuous leader” sounds like an oxymoron. Well, it actually is one! Leaders who are presumptions think of themselves a little higher than they actually are and think they know more than others. Allow me a short illustration:

I was recently promoted to a new position and took hold of my new branch which had a lot of potential for growth and profit. However, after a quick appraisal of the store’s metrics I soon discovered the store also had some areas that required immediate attention and improvement – most noticeably its leadership presence. This particular branch had been on the decline for some months with the present management who was feeling the pressure from top brass concerning some alarming numbers. During my first few days in the office, my objective was to get to know my team members by simply interacting with them and observing how they worked with each other, but most importantly how they perceived me as their new leader. On the onset I detected some resistance from the store manager, the second in command. At first he was a little distant, cold and “short” with me. One time, during a brief interview, he must have presumed we were done with the conversation, so he got up and walked away. I sat on my seat stunned thinking, “Does this guy have any social skills?” Over a period of two weeks, I knew I had a lot more to work on than getting the store to operate at peak performance. I needed to groom my store manager with the right leadership skills for personal, team and corporate success. Throughout my interactions with the store manager I soon found three default characteristics of a presumptuous leader:

1. Previous work experience does not add up to competent leadership

After spending some time with my store manager, I noticed how he would keep bringing up his previous employment experience, “In my previous job I supervised fifty employees.” And the time I asked him to do the schedule he made a point to say, “It’s easy, doing a schedule for four people is nothing compared to what I used to do.” My first thought, “Wow, I have a great leader working with me. We are going to turn this store around quicker than I first anticipated.” Soon enough, within a matter of days, I noticed the incompetence surface. He lacked the basic skills of supervision, delegating responsibility and holding his direct reports accountable for their work performance. My initial thought was, “Now, how did this guy get to a position where he supervised fifty people?” It just didn’t add up.

2. Layered expectations is a form of controlling others not leading them

There’s nothing more I dislike than someone saying, “They are not allowed to do that!”, or something similar, “The previous boss would only let me do that.” After a few comments like these I had to put a stop to that kind of managerial thinking. In a learning environment managers must relinquish some control and trust others to learn and do the job. After all, we must advance not only the agenda of the organization but also employees to their next level of operation. So I asked myself, “Where did he get this learning?” After some brief dialogue, it was the previous General Manager who would not allow certain people to do some basic things, such as count the cash drawer upon opening or closing the store. My style of training is a “cross-trainer” approach where everyone gets to participate and learn a new aspect of the operation. This happens gradually when someone is willing and ready to learn the next new thing. A working environment must be empowering not controlling others based upon one’s position or title.

3. Leading from behind is not authentic leadership

After a week or so I noticed the store manager was not leading his direct reports properly. So I asked him, “How do you lead your team?” He responded, “Oh, they already know what to do. I just let them do it.” I then asked, “How do you know they are accomplishing tasks on time and being effective in their jobs?” He just stared at me. His style of leadership was laissez-faire, from a French term meaning laid-back leadership. When I questioned his style of leadership he simply replied, “I’ve always done it that way.” Presumption – yes or no? As a leader, you have to engage your direct reports with vision and responsibility, and responsibility with accountability, and timed tasks that are measured by effective performance and results.

What did I learn in the first two weeks of this encounter? First, I learned that the more someone is “experienced” the harder they are to train, because “they just seem to know so much” more than you. Employees who brag about their previous work experience must embrace new learning experiences. Second, bringing correction to a leader who seems to “know it all” is difficult to do but it’s a must. A leader must have the courage to have transparent and regular discussions. What kind of discussions? The one’s where you tell your direct report to “push the refresh button” and to start all over by learning how to lead effectively.

Organizational Intelligence: Stay Connected to Your Business Web


Part III of III

Stay Connected to Your Business Web

Your business operates among a web of networks within and without the organization. Your internal web consists of various departments, a system of reporting and accountability, and employees with varying degrees of experience, knowledge and education. Your external web is made up of vendors, shareholders and consumers who also may interact with your competitors and other related enterprises. As you become more intimate and connected to the entire web you begin to sense the slightest changes within your field of relationships. According to author Mary Beth O’Neil,

When anything comes in contact with a spider web, anywhere on its surface, the whole web moves… so it is with an interactional force field established between two or more people. It has its own anchor points, resiliency, and breaking point, and it is most often invisible to the members within it. When anyone in the field moves, all members feel the effect, though differently based on their positions.”[1]

When you become more familiar with your internal and external business webs you become more sensitive to slight movements, and their effects upon your business.

In the opening story in this article at what point should Bob have felt change in his environment? Could it have been the moment he sensed the missing river? Remember he had been there several times before with his father. At this point he should have stopped and asked himself, “Something isn’t right here. Let’s regroup.”

Back to Bob

If Bob had detected and thought through the changes in his environment early and learned to use this information, he probably would have made better decisions and avoided an embarrassing trip. Some environments do not stay the same within time; they change, while others stay the same. Therefore, we must remain on constant vigil or else learn life’s lessons the hard way. What could Bob and his companions have done differently? It’s easier to gain insight from hindsight but it’s even better to develop foresight; insight fostered by perception and knowledge. Therefore, learning how to learn is the key to increasing intelligence capacity, which must become a priority for every organization. A “winging it” approach simply won’t help you survive through the unexpected changes in your business environment.

What can you learn about Bob’s story? Go to link>>> (See Part I of III)

The better question is – Are you Bob?


[1] O’Neil, Mary Beth. Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart. John Wiley & Sons; San Francisco, CA. 2007, pg. 49.

Organizational Intelligence: Lessons from Living Systems


Part II of III

According to Professor William E. Halal, “Organizational intelligence is the capacity of an organization to create knowledge and use it to strategically adapt to its environment or marketplace. It is similar to I.Q., but framed at an organizational level.”[1] Author Verna Allee defines it as “the cognitive capacities and capabilities of an organization.”[2] In sum, organizational intelligence is tapping into your organization’s collective knowledge quotient, and then applying new learning capabilities to seize opportunities to gain advantages in the marketplace. Utilizing organizational intelligence does more for you than just help you stay afloat; it’s about perceiving and taking advantage of new trends and shifts in the marketplace, then creating strategies to stay competitive in unstable environments. Organization’s who place a high value on learning and accessing new knowledge increase in strength and are better prepared to absorb fast changing environments. How can organizational and business leaders prepare themselves and their teams to become more aware of the environmental changes in their sphere of business? This article addresses a few ingredients essential to help you, the organizational leader, access new knowledge, and use this knowledge to adjust organizational strategy to meet the changes emerging in your environment. First, we must look to our living systems to get our queues.

Learn from Living Organisms

One way organization’s can make the adjustment is to think like living organisms, which learn to live in, adapt and survive in changing environments such as seasons of drought or when imminent danger looms. Animals have built-in systems of awareness and networks that alert them to apparent changes emerging in their environment. Do you remember the tsunami that hit Thailand’s beaches unrepentantly on Christmas Day 2006? It was noted that birds and animals were seen taking flight away from the ocean to higher ground moments before the tide hit the beach. In other words, these animals sensed atmospheric changes in their ecosystem, which triggered an internal “flight” mechanism. The world of living organisms can teach us many things. For one, a feeling or sense that something is out of alignment in your environment, and with a little intuition and foresight, one can make the needed changes to sustain oneself, even thrive, through what’s looming ahead.

Second, you’ll need to depend on your team and learn to optimize their collective intelligence.

Optimize Team Intelligence

Organizational intelligence requires a constant conversation with your team, not just at the executive level but also throughout the organization, including the shop floor. It’s a top to bottom conversation. Therefore, as you gather your team members’ mine for their collective insights and knowledge, which are crucial for navigational purposes. You should not underestimate the wisdom of your team members regardless of their background, experience or education. Pure wisdom often comes from the simple-minded. Certain employees in your organization interact with suppliers, customers and others vital to your existence. Many times the information shared in these exchanges don’t make it to the top, and organizations miss vital intelligence data required to lead masterfully.

In the story you read, Bob’s two companions had no experience neither as campers nor hiking, however, a conversation would have been better than none at all. In this respect, community learning is essential for acquiring new knowledge. Rapid changes in the environment must include speedy discussions. One leader can’t have all the right answers all the time but a team’s collective insights, knowledge and intuition can be the deal breaker in situations like Bob’s excursion.

How well do you tap into your team’s intelligence?

[1] William E. Halal. Organizational Intelligence: What is it, and how can managers use it? Strategy and Business, Fourth Quarter, 1997. http://www.strategybusiness.com/press/16635507/12644?tid=230&pg=all.
[2] Allee, Verna. The Future of Knowledge, Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks.  Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003.

Organizational Intelligence: Thriving in Unstable Business Environments


Part I of III

Bob Mercer, a Marketing Executive from Manhattan, took two of his associates to the mountains, where he and his father had camped many times. It had been fourteen years since his last trip. During the drive Bob reminisced of the wonderful memories he shared with his father. Upon arriving Bob decided to forego setting up camp for a short hike into the woods, to a river less than three miles from camp. They took with them a backpack containing a few jugs of water, some light snacks and their fishing gear. Bob sensed he had enough equipment for their short journey. After all, he had planned to get back before sunset to set up camp, build a cozy fire, and fry some of the fresh catch of the day for dinner. Along the trail Bob bragged about the river he and father had fished several times in the past. After they had traveled a few miles, more than expected, the river was nowhere in sight… Bob kept saying, “I’m sure it’s here. I’ve been here several times with my dad.” They kept walking a few more miles, no river in sight. What Bob did not know is that the river was rerouted due to a heavy mudslide in the area several years ago. If they had read the signs along the path they would’ve been alerted of the latest changes in the landscape. But wait, even the trail signs were burned by local fire a few years ago, and since the camp area became unpopular with the campers the signs were not replaced. The ridges and peaks seemed familiar to Bob but certain rest areas and other key landmarks had been eradicated by the fire’s fury and ensuing erosion. Soon Bob and his friends were lost, and the weather above them was rapidly changing; a small detail they had not anticipated. The weather in these high altitudes can change within a moments notice and cause temperatures to drop drastically. Suddenly the ominous clouds above them burst sending a heap of water over them. Bob and his friends needed to respond quickly to the environmental changes. Although Bob was an avid camper for many years as a youth, he had not gone for a long time, and his friends were city dwellers all their lives. They simply didn’t have the expertise or knowledge to respond to these types of situations. The hiking trails filled and flowed with water, which made it more cumbersome to walk uphill. After walking several hours in the rain and mud they luckily stumbled into their campground late into the evening extremely exhausted, nursing the large blisters on their feet. Too tired and late into the night to set up camp they simply spent the night in their rented car, grateful they had made it out of the wilderness alive.


As a businessperson can you relate with this story?

Do you approach your business or the workplace with the same mentality that the economy will look and operate the same as yesterday’s glory years?

When the current economic recession blindsided you, how do you react to it? Did you see it coming?

Did you have a ready recession proof plan in place to guide you through tough times?

In Bob’s story, what was required to make their trip less risky and more enjoyable?

If intelligence matters in a simple hiking trip, then it would make even more sense in the way you operate your business or manage your organization?