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First Impressions

How do first impressions influence you? For the last few weeks I’ve been even more sensitive than usual to the their impact, probably because of the wide variation in quality that I experienced. Here are a few recent examples:

We were fortunate to time a stay at our Florida retreat during Minnesota’s last cruel winter onslaught. This trip we wanted to spruce up the yard, so knowing little about landscaping in tropical climates we started with a visit to the most established operation in town. When we finally found an employee, she seemed peeved that we interrupted her plant-watering project. She informed us that only the owner could answer our questions, took our phone number and told us that the owner would call us. Since we were already First impression homebusiness.co.uk.comthere, we wandered the yard, but got confused by the disorganization and poor labeling of stock. We drove a half-mile to their competitor, Gulf View Landscaping, and were completely drawn in by a very knowledgeable, friendly and service-oriented employee. We returned the next day with sketches of our yard, and she patiently guided us through the process of finding the right trees and shrubs.

Several days later, a recurring back problem flared up and I hoped to find a local orthopedic or health service for relief. The operator at the first clinic that I called, again, sounded like I was an interruption in her day. In no uncertain terms she made it clear that there was no way they could possibly help me; end of conversation. As it turned out, the second resource that I called also couldn’t help, but the operator sounded genuinely concerned; she suggested several alternatives and offered their phone numbers. If or when I am in need of health services in that part of Florida again, which provider do you think I will call?

Despite horror stories about the air carrier we used getting to Florida, we had a positive experience that trip. On other occasions, however, we hadn’t; the carrier’s on-time and service quality is inconsistent, and not surprisingly, Zagat rates it among the ten worst airlines in the world. The day after my return from Florida I flew Sun Country to Michigan; as usual whenever I fly Sun Country, greetings were positive, and the flight was on time, friendly and comfortable. I have only positive memories of Sun Country experiences, and would choose it for all flights if that was an option. (Truth in disclosure: a family member is a Sun Country flight attendant.)

I’ve walked away from many service establishments never to return, and you likely have too on account of poor initial treatment or impressions; there are usually just too many alternatives. Sometimes a first impression is the last impression.

Here is my advice on ways to convert first impressions into competitive advantage:

  • Recognize its importance; as Will Rogers put it: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
  • Recognize the value of those who deliver first impressions, many of whom are the “unsung heroes” of our businesses: receptionists, operators, clerks, restaurant servers, etc. Accord them the status and credit they deserve, and hire and pay them accordingly.
  • Do some “managing by walking around.” When greeted or treated unprofessionally I’ve often wondered if owners or managers are even aware of their missed opportunities to cash in on positive first impressions. Make sure that you are, and take appropriate action.
  • Measure what matters. In addition to observation by walking around, invest in reliable measures of customer perceptions. Make sure that those who play a role creating first impressions know the scores and take responsibility for keeping them high.
  • Analyze reasons for unsatisfactory first impressions, and take appropriate corrective action. Bob Mager’s rubric for analyzing performance problems comes to mind: people don’t know what performance is required (tell them,) they don’t know how (train them,) they don’t want to (improve motivation,) or there are barriers of some kind (remove the barriers.) (Mager, Robert F. and Pipe, Peter. Analyzing Performance Problems – Or, You Really Oughta Wanna; The Center For Effective Performance, 1997)
  • Align staff, structure and systems (including hiring, performance management, training, measures and especially compensation) with your intentions. As UptonFirst impression adriansnood.com Sinclair said: “It’s hard to get others to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.” No matter what nice customer-centric verbiage is posted, for example, if a service employee’s recognition and pay are not connected to it or maybe even incent the opposite, first impressions will suffer.

Oh, by the way: the owner of the first landscape company that we visited did call us back – a week after we purchased and planted our new trees and shrubs from its competitor.

Hats off to all our service providers, especially our “first providers!” Most workers want to know that they make a difference. Let’s remind them and remind ourselves just what a big difference they make.

 

 

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

                                                                                    Will Rogers

“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as a single deed.”

                                                                                    Henrik Ibsen

Photo credits: homebusiness.uk.com and Anton Diaz / Flickr

Posted in Culture, Performance, quality
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2 Comments
  • Al Watts
    Thanks, Carolien. Yes, all of the above can make or break us and our reputations. We need to recognize their ...
  • Carolien Moors
    Thanks Al for emphasizing the importance of recognizing the value of the “unsung heroes” as you call them. We ...
Alignment And All That Jazz

Earlier this month our church sponsored its annual “Jazz Sunday,” and I thought about the jazz-like nature of excellent leaders and organizations. I am always struck by the Jazz Tenbensel Barbary Coast bandcamaraderie, communication and creativity of jazz performances. Ensemble members readily share the lead and support one another; their flexibility and cross-training would be the envy of most teams. Our Sunday’s clarinetist and bass players switched places without missing a beat; the trombonist seemed equally at home with his trombone, coronet or any kind of trumpet. (And on other occasions the cello and more!) Communication was seamless; when to start, when to shift and when to end were communicated by exchange of glances and subtle hand signals. Members of the jazz ensemble had played together a number of years, clearly enjoyed making music together and engaged their audience.

Mostly for me, jazz reflects the best kind of alignment in organizations – a combination of structure and discipline coupled with improvisation. There is always some underlying melody, arrangement or beat that is the foundation for jazz. Its distinctiveness, unique Yin Yang Stabilitasvalue and “magic,” however, stem from improvisation; no performance is the same. Playing an arrangement note-by-note might sound OK, but wouldn’t be jazz; of course total improv, or everyone “doing his thing,” would also not be jazz, but more like noise. The foundation, or underlying arrangement, and improvisation must both be present for jazz. Likewise, the best kind of alignment in organizations is a combination of foundational principles and goals coupled with flexibility and spontaneity. Jim Collins reinforced this point in his and Jerry Porras’ book Built To Last (Harper Business, 1994.) Collins’ research demonstrated that companies with the combination of a strong core ideology (mission and core values) with adaptive mechanisms generated returns that were six times those of control companies. Saint Benedict was thirteen hundred years ahead of Collins when he posited that the strongest faith communities were a combination of the Latin stabilitas (what should not change) and conversatio (changeable, or open to conversation.)

The underlying arrangement of alignment’s “jazz” is why everyone knows, or should know, they are there – to achieve the organization’s mission and priority goals; its “beat” are the organization’s core values or principles. There should be no compromise on those scores. In today’s “VUCA” world (volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous,) how priority goals are achieved is where improvisation and diversity come in. As long as everyone agrees on their organization’s “3 Ps” – purpose, priorities and principles, results will be superior when performers can improvise. Performers can adapt as circumstances warrant and be creative meeting customer needs to achieve best possible outcomes. As the American journalist and women’s rights advocate Margaret Fuller put it: “Harmony exists in difference no less than in likeness, if only the same key note governs both parts.” Differences – in perspective, approach and method, are welcome so long as “the same key notes” – an organization’s purpose, principles and priorities are internalized.

To “jazz up” your organization and create this kind of alignment, pay attention to both your “key notes,” or foundation, and improvisation.

Here is how to make sure everyone is playing the same “key notes:”

  • Craft a meaningful mission, or purpose statement, for your organization – why all of you are there. Be sure that it resonates with target customers, reflects your core capabilities and mirrors your brand.
  • Articulate your organization’s core values – the basic principles that signal what behavior is most valued and that organization members can use as guides for best courses of action.
  • Make sure that everyone knows your organization’s strategic and operational priorities (research shows that about 60% don’t,) and review goals that are set up and down the organization to assure alignment with those priorities.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. From my experience, the maxim that we need to communicate something at least seven times in seven different ways for it to be understood is true. That applies to our “3 Ps:” purpose, principles and priorities.
  • Examine your structure, systems and processes to assure that they reinforce your “3 Ps.” Pay particular attention to hiring, compensation, recognition, performance management and measurement practices. As Upton Sinclair said: “It’s hard to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.”

To nurture improvisation:jazz 3 Duajo Allaho

  • Give people freedom to do their jobs. Manage outcomes, not methods; don’t micromanage.
  • Encourage experimentation and “play.” 3M and Google are both known for encouraging staff to devote some of their paid time pursuing whatever research project interests them.
  • Give people chances to shine and to use their best strengths. Surveys consistently demonstrate that a major driver of engagement is having regular opportunities to do what we do best.
  • Invest in education, training and development. Workers exposed to new thinking, updated methods and a wider world-view are better positioned for adapting to new and changing realities.
  • Embrace diversity – of background, perspectives and points of view. Give people the tools for creating the “harmony that exists in differences,” including negotiation, consensus-building and dialog.
  • Don’t over-specialize. Too much specialization restricts workforce flexibility and creates barriers that hinder collaboration.
  • Get more comfortable with ambiguity. There is a time and place for everything, including answers. Very little, and less each day, is black and white; sometimes it’s better to live with a question than force an answer.
  • Create a sense of community that is caring, supportive and collegial. Drive out fear and gamesmanship.

inTEgro makes a distinction between “alignment” the noun and “aligning” the verb, and we need both.  We need alignment the noun – structure and discipline, to make sure that all are following the same key notes. We need aligning the verb, or improvisation, to nurture creativity and adaptability. We need to both “walk the talk” and “dance the dance.” That’s jazz.

Here are a few more resources for jazzing up your culture:

  • Michael Gold’s “Jazz Impact” – Michael is an accomplished jazz musician who with his traveling jazz ensemble workshop helps organizations and leaders tap the power of jazz. Visit his web site at http://www.jazz-impact.com/
  • “Leadership and All That Jazz” – An early inTEgro newsletter at http://tinyurl.com/l9ue4s2
  • Max DePree’s Leadership Jazz (Currency / Doubleday, 1992) – Peter Drucker called this classic by Herman Miller’s founder “wisdom in action.”

 

“Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and never will.”

(trombonist J. J. Johnson, 1988)

 

“The great jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus once said, ‘You can’t improvise on nothing, man.’ Yes- a double negative- and he meant it. When we improvise together it is always about something.”

(Michael Gold, Jazz Impact)

 

(Photo credits: flickr-allthatimpossibleblue, Barbary Coast Dixieland Band, flickr-Duajo Allaho)

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Culture – Your Best Investment

I am struck by how often two “C” words appear in the press: “compliance” and “crisis,” as in crisis management or crisis communication. Corporations, particularly publicly held financial services organizations, are spending billions of dollars just assuring compliance with ever-increasing regulatory requirements; the average annual compliance and ethics budget of U.S. insurance companies alone in 2012 was nearly $12 million.  And they spend many billions more in fines and legal fees when found not in compliance; in 2013, J. P. Morgan alone settled with U.S. authorities for $13 billion on account of shady investment practices. Institutions of all kinds including government, media, sports and religious organizations are increasingly utilizing internal or external public relations and communication specialists to apologize for transgressions or failures and attempt rebuilding public trust. There is an alternative.

Another “C word” that deserves more of organizations’ attention is “culture.” If organizations and their leaders invested in culture earlier and more robustly, most Culture "C" flickr chrisinplymouthnon-compliance and crisis communication expenses could be eliminated. We’ve heard that “culture eats strategy;” it also eats compliance and crisis communication. Compliance is mainly about laws, rules, risk management and what not to do; it is externally imposed, usually in response to earlier harmful practices that we may not even have been party to. Are you more likely to do something when forced to, or when you want to, know it is the right thing to do and get reinforced for it?  My guess is that you responded the latter; that is an “inside out,” natural motivation for doing the right thing vs. an externally imposed, controlling attempt to cause the same behavior. Culture is the ethos of an organization that influences its members to behave the way they do – for better or worse. The “better or worse” is not just about ethics, but whether an organization attracts and retains the customers and members it desires and achieves its goals.

Organizational culture is real; you have one whether you are conscious of it or not. And we have a choice: we can either shape it as we wish it to be toward desired ends, or leave it to chance; I recommend the former. Here are four dimensions that contribute to what we call “triple-e cultures” – cultures that are effective, ethical and engaging:

IDENTITY – In “triple-e cultures,” purpose, principles and priorities are clear. As Alexander Hamilton put it, “if we don’t know what we stand for, we will fall for anything.” When an organization does not clearly communicate its principles and what they mean, there is too much room for interpretation; it is likely that many interpretations will be different than our expectations.

AUTHENTICITY – Truth-telling is expected and reinforced in triple-e cultures. “Inconvenient truths,” whether internal bad news or scary observations about market developments, see the light of day early enough for less costly course corrections. Most importantly, authentic cultures and leaders are true to their stated purpose and principles. Banks and investment firms that contributed most to our great recession were those that strayed furthest from their fiduciary purpose and stated principles of doing what is best for their customers. As a result, survivors in the industry are now saddled with voluminous and complex regulations that will significantly add to their costs of doing business.

ALIGNMENT – Make sure that systems and practices like hiring, talent management, measures, recognition, compensation and training all send the same signals and reinforce stated purpose, principles and priorities. When choosing to believe what we read and hear versus what we see, we choose what we see; actions do speak louder than words. For example, if we hear that “safety first” is an inviolate principle, but data collection, bonuses or promotions clearly send the message that efficiency and cost reduction count more, that is what we will believe. Before Wachovia failed at the outset of our recession, loan officers who routinely approved bad mortgages but exceeded targets were awarded trips to the Bahamas; loan officers who diligently denied bad loans were fired. How seriously do you think employees who valued their jobs took Wachovia espoused values like “integrity” or “quality?”

ACCOUNTABILITY – I am surprised at the negative connotations that “accountability” carries for some. I suspect that is the kind of externally imposed accountability that organizations now saddled with onerous and costly compliance requirements will experience. In triple-e cultures, purpose, principles and priorities are sufficiently ingrained that accountability is a more natural state of affairs; there is mutual responsibility for achieving goals that all are committed to in ways that they are committed to achieving them. Accountable cultures imbue members with a sense of stewardship, not just for the organization’s tangible resources, but for the near and far impacts of how it operates.

These four dimensions comprise inTEgro’s Organizational Integrity Model – “integrity” as in “whole,” “complete” and “undivided” according to Webster. Integrious, or “triple-e,” integrious definitioncultures assure that organizations are in fact what they aspire to be and live up to their promise. They focus organizational energy and resources on all of what matters, not just short-term effectiveness and results, but on creation of engaging work places and ethical behavior. Doing well in the market place, doing good (or at least no harm) and engaging work are not independent, but integrated challenges; most of what drives ethical cultures also accounts for engaging work places and commercial success. A 2010 CEB study of 34 publicly traded companies revealed that companies which made culture a strategic priority achieved a 16 percent higher average total shareholder return than those which did not.

We can invest in healthy, strong cultures early and often, or pay the price later (and much more) for compliance and crisis management; the choice is ours.

Culture vs. Crisis pic 2

Accountability calls for measuring what matters. Culture matters, and it pays dividends to occasionally “take its temperature.” To learn more about inTEgro’s Organizational Integrity Survey and participate in a validation study, please visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/OrgIntegrity

 

“Moving forward, it appears that the new metric of corporate leadership will be closer to this: the extent to which executives create organizations that are economically, ethically, and socially sustainable.

Instead of wasting millions of dollars on ethics courses designed to exhort employees to be good, it would be far more effective to create corporate cultures in which people are rewarded for doing good things.”

                        James O’Toole and Warren Bennis (Harvard Business Review, 2009)

Photo credits: flickr – timtak (banner) and chrisinplymouth

Posted in Culture, Ethics, Integrity
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3 Comments
  • Al Watts
    Thanks for sharing this, Carolien. I wonder how they measured "happiness," and what its relationship is to "engagement." Research has ...
  • Carolien Moors
    No coincidence, I just stumbled upon a white paper The Science Of Happiness which is all about culture: - You ...
How About A “Selfie?”

So, “Selfie” is Oxford Dictionaries’ “word of the year!” “Selfies,” of course, are those snapshots that we see practically everyone taking of themselves with smart phones and posting on social media. Oxford explains how “selfie” earned its distinction because of its impact on society and its ubiquity. (Use of the term has increased 17,000% since last year!)

There is another kind of “selfie” that would be great to see come anywhere near the popularity of all the self-photos. It is a different sort of self snapshot that heeds the OracleDElphi Know thyself inscriptions of Delphi’s advice thousands of years ago: “Know thyself.” Too few of us meet the first requirement for emotional intelligence popularized by Daniel Goleman: self-awareness. It’s unsettling to encounter managers, team members, drivers, neighbors, associates and others in everyday life who act in ways that make it clear they are blind to the impact of their boorish behavior. And how unsettling especially, wishing that we’d known sooner, to discover for the first time how we’ve been blind to the way we come across.

As Goleman reminds us, self-awareness must come before the self-management that exhibits emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence pays. How might the troubles and pain caused by so many in the news for all the wrong reasons been avoided if only they were more aware of their shadow sides and better able to control them? How might things have been different if investment bankers that contributed to our latest recession knew more about what drove them to make imprudent decisions? How many more valuable employees could be retained if only their supervisors or senior managers were more aware of their propensities for micromanagement, bullying or capricious behavior?

Self-awareness also plays a vital role accurately assessing reality. Unless we know about our preferences for taking in and processing information or how we learn, for example, we may never know what we are missing. Unless we know how upbringing, culture or perceptual biases filter what we see or hear and how we interpret it, we are likely to see things as we are versus how they really are.

Instead of a smart phone and social media, tools for the kind of “selfie” that I’m talking about include personality surveys, “360” appraisals, openness to feedback, learning about ourselves from experience and capacities for self-reflection. Among other things, the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator reflects our preference for taking information in directly through our senses (whatever we can see, taste, touch or smell) vs. using intuition Sample-HDS-graph-smalland seeing patterns to determine what’s true even if not directly observable. It’s good for intuitives to know they will likely “miss some trees for the forest,” just as sensing types may “miss a few forests for the trees.” I use the Hogan Development Survey in some of my work to help clients identify which of eleven personality traits might derail their career. I wonder on how many occasions one of those derailers, excessive “boldness,” contributed to fatal transportation mishaps, exploding oil platforms and collapsed mines?

“It takes two to know one!”(S. Culbert) Actually, the more the better; employing “360” appraisals, openness to feedback, just asking for others’ candid input and really listening are among the best ways to learn about ourselves. Self-awareness is best played as a “team sport.”

Teams and organizations also benefit from “selfies” that reflect their character and culture. Culture or engagement surveys, commercially available team and organization assessment instruments, and consultants experienced in conducting organization assessments areSample-OIS-report-graph-small customary ways of reducing team and organizational blind spots. One of the most powerful questions of inTEgro’s Organizational Integrity Survey asks respondents to indicate how well senior leaders model the organization’s stated values. Senior teams are not happy if they learn that they scored 2.5 out of 5, but are in a much better position knowing that so they can do something about it instead of continuing to do more damage.

By all means, have fun with your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat selfies! While you’re at it, employ some of the strategies here for knowing yourself and your organization better.

 

“Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.”

Demosthenes

“The outward journey is nothing without an equivalent journey within oneself; otherwise, we travel to the ends of the earth and yet stay exactly the same.”

Doug Ammons in Whitewater Philosophy

“Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost.”

M. Scott Peck

(Banner photo credit: Flickr – skakeman)

Posted in Culture, Leadership, Performance, Personal development, Self Awareness, Teamwork, Uncategorized
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3 Comments
  • Al Watts
    Thanks, Patrick. Yes, the MBTI can be abused in that way, just like other instruments; we are so much more ...
  • Patrick Hirigoyen
    Very informative and enlightening on tools to achieve self-awareness, Al. I used to have a real problem with the Myers-Briggs, ...
Doldrums

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, no breath no motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

–      (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

Sailors know doldrums well – persistent stillness and lack of wind that prevents movement. They were the bane of ancient mariners, without benefit of auxiliary power or rigs that worked in light air. Spanish sailors transporting livestock to America were often becalmed around the 35th parallel north or south, severely prolonging their voyage. Those regions became known as the “horse latitudes” because it was where severe water shortages necessitated heaving horses overboard.

Today we can experience doldrums of a different sort, periods in our professional lives when forward momentum seems to cease. We might be clipping along at a great pace, Doldrums 757Live flickrconfident of reaching our destination, when inexplicably momentum and forward progress stop. It may not bother us at first; in fact the quiet and inactivity might initially be welcome in contrast to periods of hyperactivity. After a lengthy time in our own “horse latitudes,” however, energy, activity, prospects and confidence decline. We wait and hope, then wait and hope more for that next breeze or gust of wind. Ships that are stagnant for long periods develop different problems than wear from activity create, including rusting cables, mildew, rot and barnacles that will slow progress if winds resume. In addition to any of his own personal doubts and demons, a ship’s captain has the additional burden of not showing his doubts or fears; that would only aggravate those of an already restless crew.

Here are some strategies for navigating personal and professional doldrums:

  • Move; do something. A friend recently reminded me of a scene in the 1935 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty.” When the HMS Bounty is becalmed for days, herHMS Bounty Jerry_a flickr ruthless Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) commands her crew to man the lifeboats, attach lines and begin towing the mega-ton ship. It reminded us that sometimes in the doldrums, it’s a good idea to just move, to do anything that at keeps us active and seemingly taking charge of our situation. There’s a Russian proverb that comes to mind: “Trust God, but row to shore.” Even if we’re just treading water, it beats sinking.
  • Do things differently. Stuck on a sand bar in the Apostle Islands once, we freed ourselves only after trying many different ways of breaking loose. Our last and successful effort required some ingenuity; you can read about it in my August 2009 newsletter, “In Praise of Outsiders.”
  • As Stephen R. Covey put it, use the time to “sharpen our saws.” If we’re trying to fell a large tree, taking time to occasionally sharpen our saw will save time and energy when we resume. We just saw Robert Redford’s new movie “All Is Lost.” When “our man’s” (as Redford’s character is named) sloop capsizes after colliding with a shipping container, he takes to his life raft and spends days aimlessly drifting in the Indian Ocean. He uses the time attempting to learn celestial navigation using a new, boxed sextant with instructions that he hurriedly threw in his raft. That kept his mind engaged, and was certainly effort that could pay dividends when lost at sea.
  • Stay alert. The biggest potential breaks or opportunities can arrive in the midst of doldrums, after allowing ourselves to be lulled into inattention. In “All Is Lost,” “our man” awakes from slumber just as the aft section of a giant freighter passes close by. Had he been more alert, he might have succeeded capturing its attention.
  • Get and provide support. In personal or professional doldrums, we are usually surrounded by potentially useful and supportive others, even if it doesn’t feel that way; many would be happy to lend support if we reached out. It is Sales graph SEOCumbria flickrimportant to tap resources already available, and to position ourselves where new resources might present themselves (e.g. networking.) If we’re part of a team experiencing the doldrums, especially if we are its leader, it is important to reach out and provide support to each other.
  • Take stock.  We seldom take time on our own for self-reflection; doldrums might be the universe’s way of suggesting that we slow down. We can use that time to literally “take stock” (as “our man” in All Is Lost did with supplies.) We might also use the time for objective evaluation of what contributed to our doldrums and how best to navigate away from them. Kevin Cashman’s book The Pause Principle is a wonderful guide for how to use “taking stock” time.
  • Navigate. Even if unable to move at the moment, planning and charting our course for when winds return pay dividends. It may not, or perhaps shouldn’t, be our original course; circumstances or motivations could be very different than they were. Last month’s newsletter about “Persistence – Is It Always Good?” offers some guidelines for determining when pressing on is admirable and when it might be just stubbornness or counterproductive.
  • Stay positive. ‘Easier said than done of course when we’re in the doldrums. Nevertheless the reality is that maintaining a positive outlook and not abandoning hope are among the strongest factors contributing to survival in any disaster situation. I’m all for authenticity, but sometimes to escape a funk we need to act our way out of it; if we’re part of a team, that’s usually contagious.

I hope that these reflections are useful should you find yourself in the doldrums. May you pass little time there, and make the best of it when you do.

Fair winds!

 

“Greatness is not where we stand, but in what direction we are moving.  We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

Willa Cather

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Persistence – Is It Always Good?

I’ve been thinking about persistence a lot lately. It started in the middle of gathering firewood in the BWCA, sawing a downed log that was a tad large for my folding saw. I kept at it, and was eventually rewarded with enough wood to grill our freshly caught bass. Over dinner, conversation turned to Diana Nyad and her remarkable 53-hour non-stop swim from Cuba to Florida. Her successful swim that day was a crowning achievement following years of unsuccessful attempts; taken together they were a remarkable testament to persistence. Today I am celebrating Team Oracle’s recent win in the America’s Cup sailing race. The U. S. team trailed New Zealand’s 8-0, then in one of the most stunning come-backs in sports history, proceeded to win the next 9 races and retain the Cup. Persistence.

Persistence is admirable; it has fueled most of the victories, inventions, rags-to-riches journeys, entrepreneurial successes, scientific advances, cures and worthwhile developments in recorded history. However there is a potential dark side to persistence. Persistence in excess, or the wrong kind of persistence, could be merely stubbornness in disguise, just like too much courage or the wrong kind of courage could be just recklessness or adrenalin. When is persistence a good thing and when isn’t it? I think there are four main determinants:

Worthiness of a goal – It’s a pretty easy call when survival is at stake – lives or livelihoods. If I’m starving I will keep searching for food, or if I’m freezing in the wild I will keep trying to light a fire until physically unable to. Peace in northern Ireland remained a worthy yet illusive goal for decades, and persistent diplomacy eventually prevailed; peace in the Middle East is still illusive, but a worthy enough goal to pursue indefinitely. For the vast majority of us, worthy stakes likely have more to do with winning or retaining an important account, achieving important personal or professional goals, keeping important relationships intact or perhaps maintaining solvency to keep doors open and jobs secure. How many beyond ourselves will benefit from achievement of a goal is a factor assessing its worthiness. Whether we are still inspired by a goal, and our level of energy and passion to achieve it, are additional important variables.

Realism of a goal – Each year the marketplace is littered with thousands of failed ventures that fall victim to unrealistic goals or inaccurate assessments of capacities to achieve goals. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, vision without the capacity to execute the vision is mere hallucination. Some personality traits can play a role here. For example, excessive “Boldness” as measured by the Hogan Development Survey or inability to focus on details can contribute to underestimating a goal’s difficulty.

Goal vs method-driven – You are probably familiar with the old maxim about insanity: “doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” Key to Team Persistence bobbyz95 flickrOracle’s victory in the America’s Cup race were rigging adjustments that they made after noticing how the New Zealand team consistently bested them upwind. They needed to set aside assumptions about what was and wasn’t possible, and adopted their competitor’s methods to win. When time after time something isn’t going as expected or desired, it likely signals a need to examine not only what we are doing and why we are doing it, but what methods we are employing and what adjustments to make.

Adverse impact – We know that a sign of chemical dependency and other addictions is when they begin adversely impacting important dimensions of our lives like family, friends, work or health. When we become so carried away by a pursuit that has similar adverse effects, it is likely time to question our persistence. We can persist proving that we are right, but in the process sever a relationship. We might prevail after years of building a business, meanwhile losing meaningful connections to family and friends. Mountain climbers who are “hell bent” to reach the summit, regardless of bad weather or other dangers, are said to suffer from “summit fever.” They often perish in the course of pursuing their goal to the end.

Leadership requires the capacity to see things as they are, not as we wish them to be. As Kenny Rodgers coached us in his song “The Gambler,” we need to know “when to hold them, when to fold them and when to walk away.” Persistence carries opportunity costs; persisting with one task often precludes devotion to others or exploration of options. If Bill Gates and Paul Allen had not walked away from their only modestly successful start-up Traf-O-Data, they would not have gone on to found today’s behemoth Microsoft. Had Akio Morita persisted with perfecting and marketing his early rice cooker, Sony would likely not have become the electronics powerhouse it is known as today.

We owe it to ourselves, our associates and significant others to exercise this kind of discernment around our persistence:

  • Am I pursuing a worthwhile goal?
  • Am I passionate about it and energetic enough to pursue it?
  • Is my goal realistic?
  • Am I overly fixated on one way of accomplishing my goal?
  • Are the costs – to self, family, others – too high? Am I foregoing better opportunities?

And we should not trust only our own assessment, since we might be too consumed by our pursuits to be sufficiently objective. Ask friends, family, associates or coaches, and truly listen to what they say. If all systems are still “go,” then by all means persist away! As Bill Bradley, basketball Hall of Famer and three-term senator reminded us: “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you will arrive in.”

Persistence peak Paxson Woelbar flickr

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”

William Feather

“Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance.”

                                    Anthony J. D’Angelo

(photo credits: Economist Magazine, flickr/bobbyz95, flickr/Paxson Woelbar)

Posted in Adventure, Leadership, Performance, Personal development, Uncategorized
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3 Comments
  • Al Watts
    Thanks, Carolien. Gee, maybe we should send this and your comment to our stubborn Congress!
  • Carolien Moors
    Excellent piece Al, as usual. I just posted it on some of the LinkedIn groups that I have joined. I ...
Labor Day Reflections

What does Labor Day mean to you? For many, it is mainly marks the end of summer vacations, an extra long weekend, time for family cook-outs, great sales and the start of football season. I propose that this Labor Day we take some time to reflect on its origins and its meaning today.

Labor Day was declared an official U.S. national holiday in 1894, largely as a gesture in remembrance of workers killed by the U.S. military and marshals during the Pullman Labor Age flickr Tobias Higbiestrike. Hundreds of workers were killed in this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s over the right to unionize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. It is fitting that on Labor Day that we acknowledge the positive contributions that organized labor has made to working and living standards.

The work world is radically different than sixty years ago when a third of the American workforce was unionized (today about 7% is;) it is radically different than even ten years ago, and continues to evolve rapidly. Here are a few of my observations about the world of work and items that might be worthy of reflection this Labor Day:

  • This is old news: traditional worker “contracts,” essentially assuring job security and advancement in exchange for loyalty, are long gone; almost all of us are basically “employed at will.”  Employers can pretty much release workers for whatever reason they see fit or for no reason. Most workers are fundamentally “free agents;” especially as our economic recovery continues, more workers who for whatever reason don’t feel particularly positive about their situation will feel free to sign on with others. Workers need to keep their skills and capacity to move on fresh; employers need to make sure there are sufficiently attractive reasons for especially their most valuable human resources to stay.
  • Technology continues to revolutionize the workplace and worker roles. Significantly greater portions of work will require at least some technological (computer) savvy, and most growing job sectors will require sophisticated labor me at work flickr adriagarciatechnological capacities. Education, government, employers and workers themselves will need to step up efforts for closing some large gaps between skills that are required and skills that the workforce possesses.
  • Technology will significantly impact our work world in other ways as well, perhaps principally in privacy arenas. E-mail, internet, phone, video and location monitoring  capabilities have introduced whole new ethical / legal quagmires.
  • Our great recession only temporarily slowed the anticipated “brain drain” and exodus of retirement-age knowledge workers. Unless many employers get smarter about it, many legacy skills that took decades to acquire will soon walk out the door when there is no game plan to replace them.
  • Our population and workforce pool are increasingly diverse; workers and employers alike need to improve capacities for cross-cultural communication, relationship building and teamwork. States and organizations that do best attracting, training and leveraging a diverse workforce will be in the best competitive position.
  • Fundamental worker needs and motivations have not changed much for centuries. Beyond decent pay and working conditions, workers seek meaning in their work, opportunities to use their talents and be recognized for them, fundamental respect and fairness, growth and community. For over a dozen years, worker engagement surveys have consistently demonstrated that less than a third of the American workforce is engaged at their workplace, and about a quarter are actively disengaged; that does not bode well for how employers are fulfilling fundamental worker needs.
  • Skepticism and distrust that institutional leaders will do the right thing are growing. As the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer summary stated, “the shock of 2008, the subsequent recession and misdeeds by establishment figures haveEdelman-2013-Trust-Barometer forced a reset in expectations of institutions and their leaders.” Their most recent survey showed that 19% of 26,000 respondents across 26 countries trust business leaders to make the right moral and ethical decisions; 14% trust government leaders to do the same. Other studies have demonstrated strong correlations between integrity, performance, abilities to attract and retain talent, customer loyalty and sustainability.  Institutions and their leaders have work to do earning workers’ and customers’ trust.
  • The widening gap between executive and worker pay levels is not contributing to closing integrity and trust gaps. Until the day he died in 2005, the esteemed management theorist Peter Drucker maintained that anything beyond an executive: worker pay ratio of 25:1 was bad for business. According to a 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek study, the average CEO pay for the top 100 companies in their survey was 495 times the average pay of non-supervisory workers in their industry. According to an Economic Policy Institute 2012 study, average CEO pay increased 127 times faster than worker pay over the last thirty years.
  • Working conditions and wages for a substantial portion of workers globally are still abysmal, particularly in the mining, maritime and manufacturing industries. To re-purpose a sentiment from organized labor’s beginnings, “worker solidarity” implies that whatever our role – union or not, executive or non – we have a responsibility at some level to improve working conditions globally. More of us as decision-makers in organizations and consumers need to be better at “upstream” and “downstream” thinking about ways that our commercial and consumer behaviors impact workers across global supply and distribution chains.

We all have work to do; let’s get at it! Oh, and Happy Labor Day!

Labor heart flickr Sean MacEnlee

 

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work that is worth doing.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

 
“All wealth is the product of labor.”

John Locke

 

Photo credits: Flickr – Tobias Higbie, adriagarcia, Edelman, Sean MacEnlee

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How’s Your Core Strength?

Physical therapy following shoulder surgery and back issues gave me a new appreciation for “core strength.” Physiologically, core strength is primarily a function of our abdominal and lower back muscles, pelvis and diaphragm working together to provide support, Core strength flickr kizzlexybalance and power when we need it. Core strength isn’t as readily visible as the muscles on “muscle beach;” we notice it more in its absence. Core strength is a large part of power generated in the martial arts; it strengthens our backbone, contributes to a healthy upright posture, and is necessary for dynamic sports. Yoga and isometric exercises are particularly beneficial for developing core strength.

There is a core strength possessed by some leaders and organizations that is comparable on many levels. It is the foundation for their reserve strength and power, contributes to balance, helps them maintain an “upright posture” and conditions them for success in dynamic environments. Like physiological core strength, it requires exercise and conditioning, but we don’t readily notice it other than in its absence. What is this kind of core strength, and how can we get it?

“Core” means at or from the center; like physiological core strength, leadership and organizational core strength also come from their center. Have you noticed how much more confident and powerful you feel when a deep sense of purpose or principles drives core-values signyour actions? In those cases you are fueled by your core strength; you will likely not be deterred or distracted easily, and will remain committed to a task far beyond would otherwise be the case. In his classic book From Good To Great, Jim Collins labeled an organization’s combination of deep purpose and principles its “core ideology.” His research demonstrated that companies with a strong core ideology, coupled with “adaptive mechanisms,” achieved returns six times higher than their comparison companies and twelve times higher than general stock market returns. Why would that be?

  • Most of us are more energized and loyal when working for a cause or purpose beyond just “another day, another dollar.” To be part of an organization committed “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” (Nike’s mission) is more energizing than if the purpose were merely “making athletic equipment” or “maximizing profits for shareholders.”
  • A clear purpose and solid values function as beacons attracting like-minded and like-motivated talent; they also serve to screen out those not aligned with an organization’s core ideology. Like any successful sea voyage that will be challenging, it is of primary importance to get the right people in the boat and the wrong people out of it.
  • A clear core purpose and solid core values can also serve as a “diving rod” of sorts for market opportunities that are good fits and a red flag for those that are not. For example potential acquisitions or mergers that are disguised as opportunities but don’t fit an organization’s core competencies or unique value proposition aren’t really opportunities. The dustbin of failed mergers and acquisitions is littered with organizations with values and cultures that were mismatches.
  • We know that trust significantly impacts relationships with leaders and organizations’ success in their markets. Credibility and trust increase when leaders are who they say they are and do what they say they will do; companies are rewarded by the marketplace when they live up to their brand promise.
  • It can be incredibly tempting to cut corners, bend rules or “fudge” on core values when the heat is on. Staying true to purpose and values while meeting competitive challenges and financial pressures hones the same kind of creativity that fuels innovation in general.
  • Physiological core strength helps us lift heavy weights, maintain our balance in awkward situations, stretch beyond old limits, marshal bursts of speed or power without injury and maintain an erect posture. The kind of core strength that we’re talking about here essentially does the same for leaders and organizations. “Maintaining an erect posture” in this context is about ethical behavior and sustainability.

Leaders and organizations cannot fake this kind of core strength any more than physiological core strength can be faked. Some try; leaders might “talk the talk” and organizations can fill manuals or cover walls with statements about purpose and Core Values 0713principles. Unless their actions consistently model their words, however, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson “their actions speak so loudly we no longer hear what they are saying.” Real core strength and the courage of our convictions help us power through challenges and setbacks. As Howard Schulz, Starbucks CEO put it: “Winners use hardships as opportunities to reinforce their values, not abandon them.”

A recent New York Times article described the popularity these days of personal trainers, who among other things of course can help build up our physiological core strength. Could your organization and its leaders benefit from a “personal trainer” of sorts to build up the kind of core strength in this article? Here is what such a trainer would recommend.

  • “Core” means “center.” Make sure that you articulate a core purpose and values or principles that come from your center – what you and those you work with care about, what you value and what you aspire to.
  • Keep it real and stay true. Core purpose and values become real for those inside organizations and its customers when they see them played out consistently. Not “walking our talk” is one of the greatest drivers of employee cynicism and disengagement; failure living up to our brand promise erodes brand value and market position.
  • Work it! The more we are exposed to messages about core purpose and values, the more they become part of us (but only when words are reinforced by actions.) On a regular basis we need to remind ourselves and those we work with why we are there, what we stand for and why that’s important. When we make critical decisions or pursue difficult courses of action, communicate how those decisions and actions were driven by core ideology.
  • Exercise. Like most muscles or capabilities, without use we lose them. Use your core purpose and core values or principles as that “diving rod” for scoping out market opportunities. Use them as your primary screen for whom to “get in the boat and whom to keep out of the boat.” When faced with difficult decisions, keep core ideology foremost in your discernment process. If we exercise our core ideology only when convenient, fruits are the same as when we exercise anything else only when it’s convenient.
  • Don’t make it an “exercise.” Too many organizations and leaders go through the mission, vision, values exercise because they’ve heard that’s what they’re supposed to do. The products are usually mish-mashes of rather dull, similar-sounding statements that are interchangeable across organizations. When our stated core purpose and principles are not reflections of our “DNA” – who we really are and aspire to be, they become passionless exercises that generate little commitment.

Here’s to your health and core strength!

Core strength beach banner

“One way we try to foster innovation is to align our business objectives with our ideals.  I believe that people do a better job when they believe in what they do.”                                                                        Daniel Vasella, Novartis Chairman

“Where there is a purpose underpinning the business of an organization, then there is an unavoidable moral discipline that engages individuals.”                                                                        Nikos Mourkogiannis

(Photos courtesy of Flickr – kizzlexy, ritavida, carmelsandiego)

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Clear the Deck!

In older days, “Clear the deck!” was a common command to prepare for doing battle at sea. The command focused attention, cleared visibility to gain a better perspective on the action, eliminated distractions and quickly channeled resources where they were needed most. Literally or figuratively, “clearing the deck” today serves virtually the same purposes.

Three developments inspired this article: First, and perhaps most closely linked to “clear the deck’s” original meaning, was the decision to sell our sloop on Lake Superior; it was time to make more room for other priorities and new adventures. (LOON now has a proud new owner who will take good care of her and take her on new journeys.) At about the same time a good friend described how being laid up for a period after surgery allowed him to “clear the decks” and think anew about his direction personally and professionally. Most recently, some interior home repairs and painting required moving way too many books, files, boxes, trip mementos, etc; a reminder that it is definitely time to “clear the decks” of clutter in our home and offices. We discovered many things with meaning or usefulness that no longer outweighed their required upkeep.

Not clearing the decks soon enough before early-day sea battles carried severe consequences. Maneuvering was awkward, vision and perspective were hampered, and valuable resources – including personnel – were lost.  Actually, the decks usually got cleared eventually, early and intentionally or in defeat. Modern day sailors no longer need to clear decks in preparation for battle, but they do in preparation for storms; “prepare for a storm before the storm” by taking in sails, lashing gear down, “battening the hatches” and tying yourself in for the ride. Failures to clear the decks in those scenarios also extract serious consequences.

“Clearing the decks” for leaders and organizations today can Priorities flickr hockadillytake the form of time for reflection and planning, questioning and reordering priorities, discarding what detracts from execution or no longer contributes value, or simply taking time away as a break or to see things differently. As Marcel Proust said, sometimes “A voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but seeing with new eyes.” (See inTEgro newsletter 05.26.09) Just as for naval commanders of old and present-day sailors, leaders and organizations that do not “clear the decks” from time to time will also likely be hampered by impaired vision, organizational clutter, restricted maneuverability and lack of focus. They will also likely miss out on innovations that new perspectives can bring and lose valuable talent.

So how can leaders and organizations clear the decks today?

  • First, recognize its importance. Kevin Cashman’s latest book The Pause Principle makes a strong business case for pausing, a form of clearing the decks. The dividends of “stepping back to lead forward” as Kevin puts it include developing leadership (vs. just management) capacities, more innovation, greater clarity out of complexity, alignment with purpose and increased engagement.
  • Make time for it. At a personal / professional level options include short or longer beaks from routine or challenges. Organizational options include leadership and team retreats, strategic planning, GE-like “workout” processes and other disciplined practices for stepping back to gain perspective. Best practices in surgical settings today include the discipline of pre-surgical team meetings to increase clarity about the procedure, potential complications, processes and roles.
  • Focus on the three Ps: purpose (what will best serve the mission,) priorities (Have they changed? What’s most important?) and principles (What is most aligned with our core values?) Those were pretty clear when clearing the decks for sea battles: some variation of carrying the day for God, honor and country. In the course of clearing decks today, leaders and their organizations will benefit from clarity around the purpose to be served, strategic goals and priorities, and core values to reinforce or at least not abandon.
  • Challenge assumptions, decisions and directives. Prior to Microsoft’s and Apple’s breakout, had IBM challenged its assumption that there would never be a sufficiently large market for personal computers, they would have secured a far stronger market position. Had BP managers not assumed that their Gulf rig blowout preventer was functioning Deepwater Horizon flickr US Coast Guardproperly and other sufficient safety precautions taken, 11 rig workers wouldn’t have lost their lives. The Coast Guard and hospitals have adopted a practice that originated with aviation: the “two challenge rule:” If someone fails to adequately respond to two or more challenges about questionable observations or actions, it should be assumed that situational awareness has been lost and there is a need for remedial action. (See last month’s “Situational Awareness.”)
  • Practice discernment and dialog. Discernment is a more private version of dialog; both are practices for gathering sufficient information and exercising sound judgment to determine right courses of action. In both cases, relaxing assumptions, not hurrying solutions and examining broad possibilities are essential. Discernment and dialog are two of the “3 Ds and 3Cs” covered in more detail in my book Navigating Integrity – Transforming Business As usual Into Business At Its Best.
  • Ask powerful questions.  Asking provocative questions that challenge the status quo, and questions with no ready answers are important catalysts for discernment and dialog. Asking good questions is an essential leadership capacity since they open up possibilities and uncharted territories.
  • Be ready to let go. I must admit, this is probably the hardest for me. I hold on to articles, books, files, other materials and ideas or approaches far beyond their usefulness. In most cases I mainly need to focus on my “3 ps” (above,) letting go of whatever else will not serve my future purposes, priorities and principles.

Sometimes, perhaps more in keeping with its original use, “Clear the deck!” is an urgent call to action. In his book A Sense of Urgency, John Kotter makes a strong case for how cultivating ship deck 3 flickr wallace39a true sense of urgency is foundational for successfully executing change and growth strategies. He distinguishes a true sense of urgency from the complacency or false sense of urgency that usually accompanies unsuccessful change initiatives. Complacent organizations are comfortable with the status quo and blind to impending hazards or opportunities; a false sense of urgency is marked by frenetic and negative energy that is unaligned with clear, coherent strategies or rationales for change. Threats to survival and the urgency for action were all too apparent when the warships of old squared off. Today’s leaders need capabilities for “clearing the deck” that make the urgency for action in a perpetually changing, significantly more complex and nuanced environment more palpable.

 

How could you or your organization benefit from “clearing the decks?”

 

What are some actions that you can begin taking now to reap those benefits?

 

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”  (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

 

“The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life.”  (David F. Jakielo)

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Situational Awareness

On October 22, 1707, four ships and at least 1,400 seamen of Her Majesty’s fleet were lost off the Isles of Scilly near England; the primary cause was miscalculation of longitude. On the night of April 14, 1912, the “unsinkable” luxury liner Titanic sank with a loss of more than 1,500 lives when it struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic ocean. Over the course of Ron Johnson’s failed turnaround of JC Penney, over 20,000 jobs and $12 billion in market capitalization were lost. Common to all three disasters was a lack of situational awareness – awareness of surroundings and their potential impact.

In my four years as a volunteer with the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, we received regular briefings on how to maintain situational awareness and on its importance. They were lessons that served me well sailing Lake Superior, and lessons that apply to leadership and organization effectiveness as well.

The USCGA’s definition of situational awareness is “the ability to identify, process and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening in a team and the environment with regards to the mission. More simply, it is knowing what is going on around you.” Clues to the loss of situational awareness include no one watching for hazards, failure to meet planned targets (or do anything about it,) unresolved discrepancies, and fixation or preoccupation. How many leaders and organizations have been blindsided because “no one was watching for hazards?” Was Ron Johnson so fixated or preoccupied with his untested and failed or failing JCP strategy that he lost situational awareness?

The USCGA points out these typical causes of poor situational awareness:

Faulty perception. We may not see or understand what’s really going on because we are expecting something else. For example, we might strongly believe that sales are low on account of poor promotion, when in reality a product just hasn’t hit the mark or is priced incorrectly. Or we miss something because we assume that it’s like something else we’ve experienced, but it isn’t. Ron Jonson likely expected that Penney’s retail market would respond to innovations like what he experienced at Apple, and missed the signals that it wasn’t going to. In some case our mental maps, or filters, get in the way of clearly seeing or interpreting what’s going on; we forget that “our map isn’t the territory.”

Excessive motivation.  The drive might be so strong to achieve a certain end, that we ignore signs of danger or that a goal is unattainable. Mountain climbers call this potentially fatal condition “summit fever:” after an arduous journey and within sight of the summit, overly motivated climbers attempt the final ascent despite the approaching deadly storm. BP managers were likely experiencing a variation of “summit fever” when they missed critical danger signs before their Gulf rig exploded.

Complacency. In the immortal words of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E: “What, me worry?” After decades of growth, by 1980 General Motors and the American car industry had become complacent and discounted any threat posed by Japanese car manufacturers. Before it was too late, they didn’t see, or refused to believe, that car buyers actually preferred stylish, reliable economical and relatively trouble-free automobiles.

Overload and fatigue. Traffic fatalities due to texting reflect the drawbacks of multitasking. Experienced clowns might be able to juggle while riding a unicycle, but Breaking point 1the human mind is not wired to manage multiple conceptual tasks simultaneously, at least not well. Can anyone honestly say that they haven’t missed a thing when emailing while attending a meeting? Unreasonable workloads and overly stressed workers are unfortunate byproducts of recession-driven cost reduction measures; there comes a time when there is simply a limit to the volume and complexity of tasks that we can handle.

Distraction. Without focus and discipline, today it is easier than ever to be distracted from what matters most; the trick is not falling prey to “the trivial many at the cost of a vital few.” (Pareto’s Principle) When executing a jibe in challenging weather, focusing only on properly setting sails without checking for surrounding traffic can be disastrous. (See “Paying Attention To What Matters”) When workers are distracted by threats of layoffs, turf battles, unreasonable pressure to achieve short-term targets or unsafe working conditions, it’s likely that they will overlook something of importance.

Poor communication. Stories told about the 1707 Scilly naval disaster include the flogging of a common seaman earlier in the voyage when he questioned an officer’s calculation of position. (He was reportedly a local who likely knew the currents and conditions better.) How likely would it be after such an incident that any common seaman dared again to raise concerns or questions? Flogging has been replaced with more modern penalties in some organizations for questioning leadership or bearing bad news. Barriers to communication need not be so offensive to cause damage; in many cases they are products simply of misunderstanding. For that reason the Coast Guard, hospitals and other settings where situational awareness is critical have adopted a practice that originated with aviation: the “two challenge rule:” If someone fails to adequately respond to two or more challenges about questionable observations or actions, it should be assumed that situational awareness has been lost and there is a need for remedial action.

Here are some strategies for improving situational awareness:

  • Make sure that all understand its importance, and how it is everyone’s responsibility. Develop situational awareness capabilities.
  • As the philosopher and propaganda expert Randal Marlin advised: “The pursuit of truth is like picking raspberries. You miss a lot if you approach it from only one Coast Guard patrol 1angle.” Coast Guard patrols post crew at all quarters necessary for a complete picture of surroundings. If there are discrepancies or disagreements about observations or their interpretation, consultation generally improves decisions. Likewise, situational awareness and resulting action planning shouldn’t be only senior leadership’s, strategic planners’ or marketing’s domain.
  •  Pay attention to the quality of communication channels for utilizing observations and information. Make sure there are no barriers, conscious or not, for the free-flow of observations, feedback and “bad news.” (Because you think there are none usually isn’t sufficient; use “360s” and climate surveys to check it out.)
  • Empower team members to take necessary corrective action when they observe errors or factors critical for success. Jidoka, one of Toyota’s core manufacturing principles, includes giving production workers control to stop production lines when problems occur. The outcomes of BP’s burning Gulf platform would have likely been much different had that principle been practiced.
  • Monitor stress levels; do a reality checks on workloads, and help prioritize tasks to reduce the fatigue, stress and distractions that negatively impact situational awareness.
  • Take time periodically to “scan the horizon” and pay attention to any potential critical factors – especially when things are going well (encroaching competitors, regulations, shifting tastes or environmental / market conditions, etc.)

In my book “Navigating Integrity . . ..” I describe how Authenticity is one of four dimensions required to cultivate engaging, ethical and effective work cultures. We want “real leaders” and “real organizations” that live up to who or what they claim to be. There is another side to being real as an organization or leader, however; that is the capacity to accurately assess and interpret what is really going on – in other words, situational awareness. We would enjoy exploring ways to enhance your leaders’ and organization’s capacities for situational awareness as a resource for strategic planning, “360” / organization surveys and tailored leadership development.

Authenticity-2

 

“Sometimes, leadership differs from non-leadership only in that leadership views the world with a slightly larger lens.”

John Carver

 

Seeing the world through the largest number of lenses makes it unlikely that some new reality will appear without being aware of it at all.

Robert Theobald

 

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