“Staying The Course”…strategy’s PARANOIA

Staying-the-Course1

 

“Patience is a Virtue”, “Good things happen to those who wait”…beautiful sayings…never followed. Why do we champion such quotes yet we live in a society that rewards victory TOMORROW? Microwave success happens very rarely yet it’s expected as the standard of excellence. The question then becomes how long do we expect to see marked performance, which is a loaded question because it depends on who’s asking and what’s the situation. I’ll admit I’m in the category of wanting to see success in the next 5 minutes, you’re reading a post from someone who expected to get at least 20 clients lined up at the door when the “consulting open” sign posted in the window. Yet, I often tell myself and my clients that success from “Staying the Course” is like fine wine it tastes so much better when time & work has been put in. There is this sense of hurriedness however that you feel every day that comes from the need to either finish or accomplish something, and not doing so feels empty. Each day I have an agenda of things I need to have completed sounds like many of you right? But, often times my “neurosis” starts to kick in and I deviate from the prepared agenda for fear that I’m missing something…staying the course becomes paranoia. Now, I know some of you have already diagnosed my problem as “A.D.D.” and I thought about that but I’m so anal about completing things that that prognosis wouldn’t be possible. No, the problem I have like many of you is this thirst to find something every day that I can mark as a success story….not status quo (or “staying the course”). My conundrum (again, like many of you) is I understand the value of sticking to a plan and working the plan, it’s the environment that yells SPEED IT UP that forces you to push down on the gas pedal. I absolutely understand there are pressures in corporate America having been there myself for close to 30 years the energy to quickly attain a high level of performance oozes through the cubicle panels, but make no mistake that same energy is also present in the entrepreneur world (sometimes even more intense). The discipline to stick with a strategy until absolutely necessary is very rare in today’s business world and those who do so have an amazing record of success. For example, let’s take a look at Coca-Cola who over the years has had to deal with such a competitor landscape that it’s miraculous how they’ve been able to sustain a top presence in the soft drink space.  Selling “Happiness” has been a mantra/strategy of the Coca-Cola brand since its inception (1886-129 years ago), and while the company has gone through many metamorphosis it’s never deviated from “Life Tastes Good”. Everything the company does is inspired around the question; “How do we continue to promote, develop and create happiness?  Coca-Cola in a steadfast way drives the message of happiness across all points of customer contact, from Facebook to the vending machines you see at the mall. Author Jim Stengel captures Coca-Cola’s “Stay the Course” strategy the best: “They never forget why they started and where they came from, which means a lot to consumers”.

The “Trust/Confidence Factor”

To have trust along with confidence with a particular decision is a stalwart leadership behavior in my opinion. Staying the course when things are tumbling around you is probably one of the most difficult decisions anyone can make, and the ability to remain confident and trustful in staying put takes a great deal of courage. One of the things we haven’t talked about up to this point in this post and is the pink elephant in the corner… is PEOPLE. I would say 99.9% of the time most decisions to stay the course involve people; the .1% leftover probably doesn’t matter. The “Trust/Confident Factor” we place in each other to execute an objective takes place every second of the day whether at work or home, our dependence to get things done through others is in our DNA. So, when you think about an important decision that has to be made on whether you dissolve a department due to lackluster sales or staying the course because you have trust/confidence in the people from the department can turn it around…then the “people component” becomes critical.  I’ve had my eye on Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer since she took over the reins in 2012 partly because she has a very interesting story/background, and because very few people wanted her in that role. Whether the fact that Mrs. Mayer is female operating one of the biggest technology search engine companies on the planet, or that she looks like she could model for the “forever 21” store her performance to date has been topsy/turvy. However, what attracts me to her is what I keep reading regarding her stubbornness to stay the course of what made Yahoo the golden child of internet search engine back in the day, and how she’s depended on the people at Yahoo to keep focused on that vision. Below outlines the beginning of Mrs. Mayer’s experience as Yahoo’s Chief Executive and why she’s been able to develop trust/confidence in the people at Yahoo…and solidify that trust/confidence back:

Some of the people in the room were angry — angry about refused promotions and pay raises, angry that their jobs now seemed to entail an endless series of tasks done only because “Marissa said so,” or angry that new employees were coming into the company and making a lot more money. They were angry because, to them, it seemed like Marissa Mayer had said one thing and done another. Most of the gathered Yahoo employees and executives weren’t so mad. They were just confused. They believed Mayer was brilliant, hardworking, and sincerely interested in the welfare of Yahoo, its employees, and its users. They’d decided this after Mayer came to Yahoo from Google in July 2012 and brought with her sweeping changes that reenergized the entire company. Before Mayer joined, Yahoo’s parking lots were empty for the weekend by 4:30 p.m. Thursday. It took years for Yahoo to refresh its products, while competitors took months or just weeks. Yahoo’s apps for Android and iPhone were embarrassing. Within weeks of Mayer’s arrival, the lots were packed and the headquarters was humming till Friday evenings. Within months, Yahoo was launching products at a pace it hadn’t hit in more than a decade. Within a year, Yahoo was winning awards and praise from the press for its product design. By the summer of 2013, tens of thousands of people were applying for Yahoo jobs every quarter. Yahoo finally had a team of hundreds working on apps for smartphones. Now, in November 2013, the many Yahoos who had admired all Mayer’s progress wondered: Why was Mayer throwing away all the goodwill she had earned with a series of policies that were, at best, poorly rolled out and badly explained to employees or, at worst, plain mistakes. They wondered, more seriously than at any time since she joined, if Mayer was actually up for the job of saving Yahoo. One of Mayer’s first moves after joining Yahoo was to institute a weekly Friday afternoon meeting of all Yahoo employees, called FYI. The point of the meetings was to bring “radical transparency” to a company where, for many years, employees had to learn about what management was up to by reading the press — mostly reports from a journalist named Kara Swisher. FYI meetings would begin with a confidentiality reminder. Mayer would announce new hires and work anniversaries. Then she would go over Yahoo’s “wins of the week.” Mayer or another executive would go into “deep dives,” giving presentations on topics like why Yahoo had acquired a certain company or how a new Yahoo product worked. At the end of the meeting, Mayer would take questions from Yahoo employees and either answer them herself or ask one of her direct reports to squirm in the spotlight.

Marissa Mayer as the full article states arrived at Yahoo like a superhero full of confidence and trust in her ability to rejuvenate what was back then a tumbling brand. Even through a series of mistakes some on her and Yahoo’s history she’s been able to gain trust/confidence from her new team and conversely has grown to have that same faith in them.

To read more on Marissa Mayer: http://www.businessinsider.com/marissa-mayer-yahoo-nicholas-carlson-book-excerpt-2014-12#ixzz3gYKzSQSm

In this “Microwave World” staying the course is becoming a dying strategy and that quite frankly is too bad considering the reality that “Success” doesn’t happen overnight (another cliché that has merit). There’s a reason why the word investing exists and why those who invest for the long term understand that “Staying the Course”…can be a very lucrative trip!

“Staying The Course”…strategy’s PARANOIA

Thank you so much!

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

The Non-Profit Industry…is about “BUSINESS”!

For Profit NonProfit

Just because its focus is NOT profit doesn’t mean it lacks “business competency”….!

The non-profit industry is trending and there are no signs that the train is going to stop, however there’s an unwarranted perception about this servant industry that often rears its ugly head…..“BUSINESS”.  Yes, that mostly misunderstood yet indispensable word that paralyzes most of our natural senses when it comes to survival….we value business almost as much as water. While the official definition of business is somewhat clear: “The activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money”, I find the definition to be erroneous. True, in its most tangible way business can be a commerce activity based on the exchange of goods for profit however that doesn’t mean that that same activity should be considered “non-business” if exchanging goods/services don’t result in obtaining a profit.  In the last 6 years or so I have been heavily involved in the non-profit space and as of recently been named board chair for one of them, and honestly I do not see any difference between a profit & non-profit based on business principles. As a matter fact I’ve seen more “business” taken place in my non-profit experience than 30+ years’ experience in the profit space. Unlike the definition of business I personally place just as much value on “Business Process” as I do on financial return.

Now that I have confused you let me explain:

Business in my opinion is a series of decisions based on processes from research, experiences and yes failures. Those processes based on quantified research, developed experiences, and lessons learned (failures) help us to carve out “STRATEGY”. Business doesn’t exist without some form of strategy and this doesn’t have to include making a profit in order for the process to be established as “business”. Any activity that requires strategy, planning, and execution in my estimation can be classified as “business”, and that’s why I’m a firm believer that it’s “The Process” that determines what’s considered a “business” or not.  

Non-Profit verses Profit

One of my best authors on management & leadership is Peter Drucker who in 1989 wrote a nice piece in the Harvard Business Review (“What Business Can Learn from Nonprofits”), below is part of that post:

“As a rule, nonprofits are more money-conscious than business enterprises are. They talk and worry about money much of the time because it is so hard to raise and because they always have so much less of it than they need. But nonprofits do not base their strategy on money, nor do they make it the center of their plans, as so many corporate executives do. “The businesses I work with start their planning with financial returns,” says one well-known CEO who sits on both business and nonprofit boards. “The nonprofits start with the performance of their mission.” Starting with the mission and its requirements may be the first lesson business can learn from successful nonprofits. It focuses the organization on action. It defines the specific strategies needed to attain the crucial goals. It creates a disciplined organization. It alone can prevent the most common degenerative disease of organizations, especially large ones: splintering their always limited resources on things that are “interesting” or look “profitable” rather than concentrating them on a very small number of productive efforts.”

It can be argued that there’s very little difference between the profit and non-profit organization with the exception that one is more preoccupied with money than the other. However, from Mr. Drucker’s perspective and I agree wholeheartedly it doesn’t mean non-profits don’t focus on obtaining income when that’s ironically how they stay in “Business”….it’s “The Process” that joins them at the hip. Because non-profit organizations devote a great deal of time to defining vision/mission statements they avoid the “corporate cliché statements” chocked full of good intentions and focus, instead, on objectives that have clear-cut implications for the work their members perform—staff and volunteers alike. Examples like the Salvation Army’s whose goal is to turn society’s fallen—alcoholics, criminals, derelicts—into citizens, the Girl Scouts who help youngsters become confident, capable young women who respect themselves and other people, both organization’s business strategy are steadfast focused on the community. Non-profits business strategy may focus on the environment, the community, the “customers” to be; they do not, as profit businesses tend to do, start with the inside, that is, with the organization or with financial returns.

The Non-Profit Industry is a business and that is not to diminish or remove the great work that is being done in our communities from the leadership of non-profits. My objective of this short post was to place the non-profit on the same level playing field as the profit organization, and drive the premise that everything in “business” (and “Life”) doesn’t have to include a financial objective focus….sometimes it’s just “The Process” that brings about the return.

The Non-Profit Industry…is about “BUSINESS”!

Thank you so much!

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

 

Advising Today’s CEO…takes “Strategic Empathy”

 

Advising The CEO

 

It’s more than just being a good listener or even a great problem solver…you have to be “Strategically Empathetic”. “Strategically Empathetic” is not necessarily knowing when to be empathetic but understanding “WHY” empathizing is the best strategy. I’ve advised/mentored CEO’s of small to medium size business and those stressed because their business has become a behemoth albatross (lol!), and from all that experience I find there’s one consistency between them…”relevant empathy”. While I spend the majority of time mulling over vision statements, strategy and people development I’m finding most CEO’s just want to know that you feel their pain. To be clear I’m not an educated/certified psychologist and I don’t play one on TV (although I suspect the money would be great!), I nonetheless have to connect with my CEO clients in a way that their experience is my experience. I often find that there are similar complex and challenging issues we ALL face in life when dealing with personal and professional adversity. Most of my work table sessions start out in some form or fashion dealing with “Communication”. Whether it’s dealing with organizational ambiguity, influencing/persuading, or crisis management the overall objective always comes back to effective communication. Every CEO regardless of the size of their company has to deal with at least one of those issues, and unfortunately many do not reach out for help to reconcile those pains of the job and the crisis becomes a CRISIS. Being empathetic as an adviser as I’ve mentioned requires more than just superior listening and problem solving skills, and while those traits are necessary what I’ve found to be even more helpful is the willingness to totally immerse yourself in those experiences from which your colleague lives. By the way, I call all of my CEO mentee’s “Colleagues” not as a marketing gimmick but as a way to demonstrate my commitment to them that succeeding through their adversity takes 4 hands on deck.  Advising today’s CEO is more complex than ever before and it’s not because business has become more complex it’s the “un-humanistic expectations” we’ve placed on the CEO of today. We all say nobody is perfect yet imperfection is not tolerated for CEO’s who lead industries in Transportation, Finance, and Agriculture because these spaces affect us directly. With the recent horrific occurrences that have plagued the global airlines industry (e.g. Malaysia Airlines) it’s become the normal course to microscopically critique how the CEO handles such crisis…in other words his/her optics. Is the CEO transparent? Is the CEO visible to the public? And the favorite “Is the CEO out-front of the crisis? All are optics that has nothing to do with the specific problem and everything to do with our perception of how they are handling the problem. You see CEO’s today have to deal with the perceptions from you and me regardless what they do behind closed doors in strategic sessions where the work is really done. This is where “Strategic Empathy” kicks in from an adviser point of view and those advisers capable of supplying such a needed skill in my opinion should be in heavy demand.

My Adviser…My Friend

There are many reasons and most are obvious why we prefer our advisers to be those closest to us, but are those obvious reasons that obvious? One of my best advisers/mentors happens to be my mom but simultaneously she’s probably one of my worst. My mom absolutely loves me and I love her and in her mind whatever decision I make she’ll absolutely support…effective advising will not always support bonehead ideas.  I do agree that there needs to be a “mental connection” between the CEO and adviser because the stakes are so high, you wouldn’t hire me off the street and trust me with your secret of secrets if a connection wasn’t there. Choosing an adviser, confidant, mentor I’ve always preached is more difficult than the hiring process and getting that selection process wrong isn’t as simple as saying to an employee “You’re Fired”. I do not believe your key adviser should be someone very familiar to you because of the significant investment placed on that familiarity. Let me explain my madness this way:

When Familiarity Is Not Good For Business

Sam, who has created what looks to be a promising startup, has been taken by surprised by the rapid growth of his company. Like most startups that have had surprising success Sam is now receiving demands from investors to grow his business exponentially by 20% before the end of year. Sam determines that that growth is going to have to come from increasing the sales staff and moving quickly into a new market channel that has researched potential. Losing sleep and weight due to some crucial decisions Sam reaches out to a former colleague and current best pal Paul for consultation/advising. Paul who has been in the management consulting space for 8 years is happy to oblige and takes on Sam as a client.  Immediately it’s clear that the expectations between what Sam expects as a client and what Paul can provide as a consultant are miles apart, but because they are best pals the “business” part of the relationship was never addressed. Both Sam & Paul relied totally on their years of friendship and family outings when in reality they hadn’t a clue of each other’s business acumen or competencies.  Sam & Paul were “Friends”…. not “Client” & “Consultant”.

The Sam & Paul story is a case of knowing each other too well.  As human beings it’s a natural instinct to surround yourself around familiarity, it’s the comfort less risky move to avoid building a relationship with someone less familiar. Sam & Paul were consciously more concerned about jeopardizing their friendship then digging into the treacherous waters that exist between client and consultant.  To be sure the example above is not a foreign occurrence and there have been many opinions on why friendships almost never develop into successful business relationships. The challenge we all face when deciding that we need help is the trust factor we place in those we think can help us. Establishing trust is an interesting quandary because we all have varying degrees by which we evaluate trust based on our personal needs. If I’m a CEO operating a billion dollar business you can be sure my adviser is going to be vetted and someone familiar with my circumstances…not necessarily someone who knows my wife and kids. While there’s nothing wrong with subjectivity when it’s illustrated positively in a relationship, when it comes down to business however objectivity appears to work better and provides for better transparency.

Strategically Empathetic

The ability to “Relate” can never be underestimated. The best advisers are those that have the uncanny ability to relate and that’s what today’s CEO needs…to get assistance from those that can relate. The word empathy has been the subject of many debates and depending on where you place the word there are strong opinions on its use. For a long time I looked at empathy as the act of feeling sorry for someone, even though knowing that’s not its true application. Showing empathy in my opinion is really about relating, which is a step beyond just active listening and devising a solution to someone’s challenges. Tony Robbins the king of advising has a who’s who list of clients he advises and from what I’ve read his biggest gift is his ability to relate and master the skill of “Strategic Empathy”. Of course his years of motivational speaking and consulting has certainly helped his brand, nonetheless he’s orchestrated this perception that he’s the CEO’s CEO. As far as I know he hasn’t been President of the United States yet President Clinton is one of his clients, he hasn’t run a multi-billion dollar airline yet Richard Branson is one of his clients…what does this guy have? Some will say charisma, gift of gab or hyperbole all possibly true but apparently Mr. Robbins has the ability to make each client feel great about themselves and that’s using “Strategic Empathy” masterfully.

If you’re a CEO reading this post and searching for an adviser or even mentor avoid selecting the most comfortable approach select someone who’s willing to get in the muck with you….but kick you in the seat of the pants with “Strategic Empathy” when it matters.

Advising Today’s CEO…takes “Strategic Empathy”

Thanks and Happy Advising!

Take a look at our whitepapers:

Click on link:  http://bit.ly/1sgdtjc

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

Leading Salespeople….through the summer!

Businessman in suit and tie lying on grass in a park

Ah yes, many would concur that summertime is the best season of the year and I would agree with that sentiment. Opportunities to get outside more, vacation, golf, drive the convertible that’s been in hibernation…who has time for work?? If you are responsible for salespeople this is what you hate about summertime. As a sales leader back in the day the summer months proved to be my most challenging in keeping my teams “sales inspired”. Outside salespeople who are responsible for territories have the luxury of enjoying the beautiful temperatures as they travel from customer to customer/account to account, and sometimes that luxury is taken for granted. Let me be clear this post is not to rant against salespeople “slacking” or not putting in the effort due to the warm temperatures, it’s the focus, discipline and persistence to stick to the objective while everyone else SLACKS. You see, there are many distractions that occur during the summer some of which I’ve outlined (e.g. vacation time, outdoor activities etc) that can take away the mind’s focus on delivering sales results throughout the middle part of the year. When you live in the Midwest/Eastern part of the states in the U.S. where you only enjoy 3 or 4 months of really nice weather it’s hard to keep focus when the previous 3 or 4 months you were digging out your car. Not to mention customers/accounts who are also enjoying the great temperatures and are often hard to catch. Keeping everyone on your sales team on task is probably the most difficult responsibility you as a sales leader face during the summer months…yet it’s the most critical time of the sales year. Between the months of May and August I would say is the most important sales period even though some would argue it’s not because of vacation time and time off. Let me break it down this way  being a consultant in the commercial sales space for several industries and understanding the different sales periods, during that January to April timeframe many customers are  utilizing or unloading the inventory you sold them during the 4th quarter of the previous year. This is why closing new orders during the 1st quarter of the year is so difficult because customers haven’t had time to unload inventory bought at the end of the previous year’s quarter. Unless you have a product like the IPhone where distributors can’t keep it on the shelf, you in most cases have to time your customer’s buying cycles in order to get new orders placed. Now, after the summer months are over and we’ve moved into the fall season or end of 3rd quarter/beginning of 4th quarter customers are using the new inventory you sold them in the summer and if the inventory is moving with regularity customers will consider buying more during that 4th quarter (ONLY if the inventory moves aggressively). By the November/December timeframe customers are reviewing their “year buys” and determining what their purchase inventory objectives will look like for the following year…if your product moved off the shelf then chances are you’ll enjoy a big order from them at the end of the 4th quarter but again that order will most likely be used during that January – April timeframe. This is why I stressed to my sales teams that you can compete for that top sales spot and make a bunch of money during the sales year if your summer sales are strong. Quick debrief, the 3 reasons why the summer months should be the best sales months out of the year: #1 chances are inventories may be a bit light, #2 it sets you up for a strong finish of the year, #3 customers will consider a big order at the end of the 4th quarter…if the product moved off the shelf. Understanding that industries have sometimes unusual buying cycles (nothing beats the irregular buying cycles of the pharma/device industries LOL!!) nonetheless because there are so many other distractions that go on during the summer months often times there’s a lack of focus by companies to maximize profits during the sunshine times.

Inspiring vs Sunshine

I once asked myself “How in the world am I going to compete with SUNSHINE…we it comes to keeping salespeople focused during the summer”? With the time-off’s/vacations I rarely had a full complimented team during the summer months. Seriously, often times it was a kin to competing against the competition with one arm tied to my back. At one point leading a team of 12 account managers I can remember having on average 7 at one time covering their accounts during the summer. That meant there were a lot of important accounts not being covered with regularity during the summer months because of vacations/time-off’s. Now I understand the importance of having time off and taking in a little “R&R” as a matter of fact I not only encouraged it….I pretty much demanded it be used. I’m very pleased to see that many of the companies I’ve been a part of and now consult actually make time-off/vacations a requirement, not taking time-off is considered unacceptable. The U.S. is not at the level of time-off acceptance as say some of our European colleagues who believe in employee sabbaticals, we are however getting a little more lenient. The reality is the sunshine months are extremely difficult to lead in and having a strategic plan that your people will buy into and produce results during that most beautiful time of year is critical. I’ve compiled a list of some “DO’s” that sales leaders could consider implementing to their team to keep them inspired and focused during the summer months:  

May – August “Leadership Inspiration Months”

  • Importantly, encourage if not require that your team members take time-off to recharge. Nothing discourages a team more than to have leadership not sensitive to “human needs”.
  • Require team members contact customers/accounts to notify them of their absence. This activity encourages salespeople to maintain customer engagement and follow up while absent, it’s also good customer service.
  • I’ve always required that each of my salespeople have territory business plans, in that plan should be a detailed sales outline with May – August sales goals. Since May – August are critical sales months it should be required that a sales plan be executed through the 4 month period.
  • I’m not a huge fan of “Sales Spiffs”/Contests however I did use them not necessarily to fatten wallets but to inspire and have a little fun competing with one another. I never believed that money inspired…but being the “BEST” you can be always inspired.
  • May – August “Dashboard Meetings”. Because many of my teams were global I would have dashboard meetings through web-ex’s/conferencing’s outlining the top 25 accounts and “Brain-Mapping” how we as a team can impact these most important accounts. Salespeople are innately competitive so the thinking is they wouldn’t help each other….well if the leadership is strong and it encourages collaboration the exercise is inspiring and can be a positive learning experience.
  • “Leaving the Ivory Tower”. The sales leader should leave the office and get as much “Field Time” with their people as possible. An opportunity to show your salespeople how committed you are to their performance during the summer months, and demonstrating a little “Leadership by Example”. Importantly, you should get to know their customers well.
  • “Communicate Vision”. It’s critical that you communicate at the beginning of each year how important the May – August sales months are and WHY they are important. Avoid “ambiguity” as a leader by demanding high level performance while in the summer months…by then it’s too late and causes discouragement. May – August sales should be a part of your leadership strategic plan at the outset of the year and communicated thoroughly to the sales team.
  • Lastly, communicate to the team that the summer months are when the competition takes their “Mental Vacation” and is the best time to implement Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”.

The most important thing you can do to inspire your team during the summer months is to “Communicate” & “Listen” to them. It’s a tough time of the year to focus and having a leader who’s attentive, supporting, and disciplined in helping their salespeople will get the most out of them during the warm temperatures. If you as a sales leader mentally checkout during the summer months you can’t expect your salespeople to check in during them.

Thanks and Happy Summer Selling!!

Leading Salespeople….through the summer!

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

www.ah2andbeyond.com

 

“Adversity Expert” or “Consultant”…I’m torn!

CHESS adversity

 

To be honest I’m struggling at the moment of determining which one I am…”Adversity Expert” or “Consultant”. I spend most of my time helping clients/mentee’s put out flames and I’m by no means complaining I’ve really enjoyed the relationships I’ve built, I’m just trying to put in perspective who I am at the present. Since getting into the consulting business after a long career in corporate America I have learned that the business of “consulting” is not actually in its true sense “consulting”. The definition of consulting: “Engaged in the business of giving expert advice to people working in a professional or technical field.” The challenge I presently see for the consulting industry is that its role is ambiguous at best, and clients today want more than just “expert advice”. I’ve been consulting for the past 6 years which is not actually eternity; however over the half dozen years my role has changed every year of the 6 years…seriously. The 1st couple years as a consultant I spent the majority of the time marketing my experience and competencies, and finding ways to set myself apart from the gazillion consultants delivering similar solutions. After of course a series of “NO’s”, “We Don’t Need Your Services” and a mixture of creative “NO’s” my focused changed to building up a “credibility portfolio”. It occurred in my mind that the reason why I wasn’t getting any business is that I lacked credibility not on the level of Price Waterhouse or Bain Consulting…no one knew who the heck I was. So, after a series of posting work, a few whitepapers, testimonials, and becoming a contributor to Harvard Business Review Magazine I became a “consultant” people would at least take a look at. Well, that worked in getting more attention sent my way my twitter/linkedin followers have increased dramatically but not much engagement in inquiring about my services. It hasn’t been until I applied for a couple of board positions and met with board colleagues who happen to be consultants in big consulting firms provide priceless advice to me as to why my business hasn’t taken off. Consistently, the advice I received had nothing to do with the standard definition of “consulting” it had a whole lot to do with addressing everyone’s immediate adversity and just giving advice wasn’t enough. My biggest client was a very well-known generic pharmaceutical company who decided to purchase a 14 year-old hospital product with two years left on its patent and increase its profit forecast from $32 million to $45 million in basically 1 year. I was brought in to help rejuvenate the brand marketing and basically rebuild a brand that had already been on the market for 14 years…so you can imagine the indifference we received from customers. The entire project had absolutely NO need for “advice”, it needed someone who could come in roll up the sleeves and dive into the muck of adversity to which thank goodness I was able to respond. However, after going through that experience and getting valuable advice from tenured consultants that situation is no longer unique. The days of consultants kicking back and just providing advice like that of pundits on TV no longer cut it and client expectations from their consultants are increasing. Companies are now hiring consultants as extensions to their infrastructure; you’re now hearing the title “contractor” come up more as corporations look for ways to bring in expertise without actually hiring them as employees. Much like my 6 years as a consultant the role of a consultant is changing by the moment and the client of today is pushing that change.

“Getting in the Muck”

I had this impression of consulting that it was a role/job that people in their golden years after a long career in corporate America would play in just before moving to that dream job of retirement. Some people today would say it’s the best “unemployment job” available (LOL!). Both cases may have been true in the yesteryears…it is no longer the case today. Today’s consultant has to get their hands dirty in order to keep a client; I know this because I have fortunately picked up clients based on their displeasure with the previous consultants.  Today’s competition for that client really boils down to your ability and commitment to “Getting in the Muck” per se with the client. Clients who are customers expect their consultants to know, breath, eat, and sleep their business and this cannot be done with just giving advice. Clients frequently wish to supplement skills in their organization by hiring experienced, proven, inspired consultants on a short-term or long term basis. Regardless of the timeframe clients need a consultant dedicated to reviewing the adversity and not only speaking to the solution but helping to tactically solve the solution. As I mentioned earlier I was actually asked to come inside a company and rebuild their brand, this took collaboration, partnering, understanding the corporate politics, and influencing/persuading thought….a little outside the old scope of consulting. The old objective view of consultant once again has changed:

“Consultants are retained as impartial advisors without any vested interest in the outcome of the recommendations. Internal staff may not be able to see the problems or may not be sufficiently objective. A consultant can perform a competent and thorough analysis of the issues. It is easier psychologically for personnel to adapt to external advice rather than the internal advice of someone who may be acting out of self-interest.”   [1]

While there’s still validity to the above statement on the role of the consultant, the one area that has changed drastically is that “Consultants are retained as impartial advisors without any vested interest in the outcome of the recommendations”. That statement has changed clients are requesting that their consultants be accountable to the agreed upon outcome, and that’s how they determine their R.O.I. from the consultant’s fees.  Yes, clients are becoming more demanding and their expectations of their consultants is increasing every day, so it’s imperative that today’s consultant can deliver on those demanding expectations otherwise their next step just possibly may be retirement.

Attributes of Successful Consultants

There have been various studies on what constitutes an effective consultant, below are some attributes:

  • Good physical and mental health
  • Professional etiquette and courtesy
  • Stability of behavior
  • Self-Confidence
  • Personal effectiveness and drive; that is, responsibility, accountable, initiative, resourceful and persistence.
  • Integrity; that is, the quality that engenders trust
  • Independence, self-reliance, and ability to resist conforming to the opinions of others
  • Intellectual competence
  • Good Judgement; that is, the ability to provide sound, objective appraisals in their areas of competence and experience
  • Strong analytical or problem-solving ability
  • Creativity; ability to see the situation with a fresh perspective
  • Articulateness and persuasiveness, with above-average oral, written and graphic communication skills
  • Psychological maturity; readiness to put people, things, and events in perspective and calmly and objectively without being diverted from sound, logical, and ethical course by outside pressure
  • Interpersonal skills for building client relationships, such as gaining trust and respect, involving tem in solving problems, applying principles and techniques of change, and transferring knowledge
  • Receptiveness to new information and the points of view expressed by others
  • Oriented to the people aspect of problems….ADVERSITY

In addition to these attributes, consultants also require an all-encompassing knowledge of the business. They must recognize where they lack skills and seek to acquire those skills or employ people who have them.

“Adversity Expert” or “Consultant”…I’m torn!

Thank you!!

Take a look at our whitepapers:

Click on link:  http://bit.ly/1sgdtjc

 

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

www.ah2andbeyond.com        

[1] Consulting Business (Douglas Gray, BA, LLB)

IT’S THE OPTICS…and then crisis!

leadershipcrisisedit

“Crisis”: a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

 

I have to admit I’m not sure there’s a complete playbook on how to effectively deal with crisis as a leader….however there is a playbook on managing the “OPTICS”. This is literally my 5th post on the subject of leading through crisis and as we continue witnessing crisis management incompetence by our leaders of today I’m afraid this will probably not be my last. I’m first baffled at the rate of which we’re seeing the total meltdown of those appointed to positions of authority when dealing with crisis. Now, let me state I’m by no means the foremost thought leader on how to effectively deal with a burning fire  and quite frankly I’m not sure there are many out there who are (other than firemen). Dealing with a crisis is such a “situational” experience that an off the shelf mechanism that addresses all calamities just doesn’t exist. It’s a damn if you do, damn if you don’t proposition. Reacting to a crisis without some strategy is seen as incompetent if not dangerous; not reacting to a crisis fast enough is seen as incompetent if not dangerous. Adding to the complexity are the Monday morning quarterbacks like you and I who have the luxury of critiquing the leader’s performance…after the fact. After all of the recent debacles of crisis leadership we’ve seen in our country of the United States its clear “Crisis Management” is an ongoing skill development challenge. The crazy thing however is that like beauty effective crisis management is in the eyes of the beholder. Where leaders get caught is focusing their entire energy on looking “beautiful” to EVERYONE when determining how to address a particular crisis….only to become the “Crisis”. In an INC. magazine article dated Oct 2014 Bruce Condit (Vice President, Allegiance Capital) outlines 7 critical steps to effective crisis management:

  1. Have a Plan
  2. Identify a Spokesperson
  3. Be Honest and Open
  4. Keep Employees Informed
  5. Communicate with customers and suppliers (and the media)
  6. Update Early and Often
  7. Don’t Forget Social Media

While I agree with every step Mr. Condit outlined he has missed one really critical step….control the “OPTICS”. The biggest challenge with any crisis is that you don’t see it coming until it happens and often times there are no warning. While these 7 steps hold water in theory and textbook…I’ll bet you once a crisis appears 4 out of the 7 steps won’t apply. Most of our anger with leaders centers on how they’ve handled a specific crisis, which comes from a superficial point of view based on how they looked managing it….thus the “OPTICS”.

Optics of Crisis

As I’ve mentioned we’ve seen crisis leadership incompetence at its height in the last few years but none has stood out more than British Petroleum’s CEO Tony Hayward leader of the biggest oil spill in history. The optics from Mr. Hayward’s management of the U.S. oil spill was one of legends. Below highlights some of Mr. Hayward’s most memorable moments:

  1. “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” —BP CEO Tony Hayward, on the oil spill disaster that claimed 11 lives and has since spewed 20 to 100 million gallons of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico, May 31, 2010
  2. “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest.” —Tony Hayward, interview with Sky News television, May 18, 2010
  3. “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” –BP CEO Tony Hayward, speaking to fellow executives in London about the Gulf oil spill disaster, May 2, 2010
  4. In one of his most famous gaffes, Hayward told The Guardian “the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” With thousands of gallons pumping into the ocean every day, this small ratio of oil to water is taking a large toll.
  5. “Yeah, of course I am.” —Tony Hayward, when asked if he sleeps at night, Forbes, May 18, 2010

How this guy became the CEO of one of the most powerful oil companies in the world…..speechless.

While this is almost an over the top example of incompetence from a leader managing crisis it nonetheless demonstrates a skill gap many of these perceived highly educated geniuses have. Strategically dealing with a crisis behind close doors is one thing, appearing like a buffoon in front of the door is what sets people off and drives the narrative/optics of incompetency. As a leader you can do absolutely everything right in the “crisis meeting”, however if that work isn’t effectively communicated directly to those most impacted by the crisis….everything behind closed doors won’t matter. BP CEO Tony Hayward obviously wasn’t prepared or suited intellectually to deal with a disaster of epic proportions, but I would argue very few would have been. You see, a crisis in its essence is impossible to prepare for I don’t care what safe guards/precautions you put in place…life will throw you a curve ball you cannot possibly hit. However, how you react to a crisis as a leader makes all of the difference. It’s analogous to a duck paddling on a pond’s surface, it looks so effortless…yet their feet below water are moving in chaos. Confidence in a leaders ability to do their job effectively often times comes from the “Optics” whether that’s fair or not it is reality and unfortunately many of today’s leaders haven’t had that coaching. Unlike years past when there wasn’t what I call “Voyeur Media” or 24/7 access to EVERYONE’S life you could get away with incompetent leadership, but not anymore even the local hardware store owner can get shutdown if he/she is caught on video saying something insulting.  

Lastly, like you who are in the United States I have been extremely disappointed with the recent events that have divided our country, and while the “OPTICS” haven’t given us any confidence that our leadership knows how to handle the various crisis thrust upon us, it’s clear if it doesn’t improve we will be headed for a crisis we won’t be able to recover from.  Again, not that I’m the foremost thought leader on dealing with crisis I have nonetheless successfully managed a few crisis and currently coach corporate leaders on how to successfully operate with a crisis. Below are just some of my observations:

  • Don’t overreact even if the situation is severe our worst decisions on conflicts happen when the mind doesn’t have time to unscramble…seems simple but many do not heed.
  • What does the “Vision/Credo” tell you? I’m amazed at how many decisions are made on issues without the inclusion of the company’s vision or credo…why do you have a vision or credo if you don’t let it lead your way.
  • Determine what’s best for the “PEOPLE” then the business, and many decisions are made on emotion which is part of our human DNA, however separating emotion from practicality/common sense can lead to the best available plan towards the crisis.
  • REPEAT: Place people first! Your business decisions have to be in the best interest of your people or the people.
  • Most importantly, BE VISIBLE! Don’t hide when there’s a crisis and don’t “pass the buck”…take accountability.

IT’S THE OPTICS…and then crisis!

 

Thank you!!

Take a look at our whitepaper: Cross Functional Leadership….”Leading Across The Ambiguity Aisle”

Click on link:  http://bit.ly/1sgdtjc

http://www.slideshare.net/aharrell2000/cross-functional-cross-functional-leadership-best2-p-whitepaper

 

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

www.ah2andbeyond.com

 

 

 

Being the only “MINORITY”….true leadership!

Only Diversity

 

There is a pink elephant in the corner…..and it’s YOU. Before you come to the conclusion that this post is just another story of how an African American man survived in a corporate culture that didn’t reflect his, hear me out you may just be surprised at the twist. Yes, I’ve been in corporate environments where I’ve been the only African American period and yes there is a “Transition”….notice I didn’t say assimilation. I absolutely detest the word “assimilation” and you hear it frequently when the discussion centers around purposeful steps minorities take to be accepted among the majority. The classic definition of assimilation is: The process by which a person or persons acquire the social and psychological characteristics of a group. I firmly disagree with the premise of the definition because it assumes the group being assimilated too is going to accept a person’s ability to acquire their characteristics. I’ve long come to the conclusion that in order for someone to be able to acquire the social and psychological characteristics of another race while at the same time excelling at their job requires a beyond comprehensible skill set. Being accepted and agreeing to accept requires cooperation on both ends and if there’s a bottleneck anywhere in that process then there’s no such thing as assimilation.  There is however a “Transition” process that takes place and as I’ve highlighted in the title takes a great deal of “True Leadership”.  Take for example the following story that I’ll never forget and I’m extremely grateful to have been a part of:

In the middle of my sophomore year in college I decided to do what appears to be unpopular these days and pledge into a fraternity. The decision to pledge wasn’t a difficult one I was extremely impressed by my future brothers and I wanted quite frankly to surround myself around African American brothers who were polished, intelligent and about business. At that time many of the fraternities & sororities were inclusive, very little diversity….well, until my pledge line came into existence. Prior to pledging I did not know who my line brothers would be, all I was concerned about was getting through the pledging process. When our pledging line was finalized there were 4 of us myself being the 1st line member (because I was the shortest…not due to intelligence). Our line name was affectionately called “Controversy” and back then the word controversy was famous by a little musical genius by the name of Prince. However, that’s not why we became known as “Controversy” we were given that name because we were a handful for our big brothers (haha!!)…but we also had the only white male in the entire fraternity on our line. My sans (e.g. line brother) “Mike” was AWESOME. I’m not sure even today if he understands the impact he made on my life and I’m sure other frat brothers due to his strength, humility, leadership and importantly compassion. During a time when it was inconceivable that someone who didn’t fit a demographic of an organization be included, Mike’s introduction into the organization was groundbreaking. The way Mike carried himself wasn’t in the sense of trying to assimilate he knew he brought special talents and diversity to the organization, and the organization saw the immediate value of those talents and the benefits obtained from the diversity. From a fraternity standpoint I cannot tell you how proud I was and continue to be of the men who didn’t get caught up into the pigment of someone’s skin, but evaluated ALL OF US on the content of our character and the principles and values that uphold the fraternity credo.  “True Leadership” was demonstrated on both ends, from Mike who wasn’t concerned about assimilating and my fraternity who was colorblind and remained true to themselves by being….. polished, intelligent and about business.

Self-Identity Leadership

There were a mountain of lesson’s learned from my time with Mike and observing how he carried himself as the only white in an all black fraternity, but there’s one lesson that stands among all…SELF-IDENTITY LEADERSHIP. You see, Mike experienced what I myself and millions of others who find themselves the only “minority” in the room have experience…being the only one. The “being the only one” mentality takes a tremendous amount of confidence, humility, intelligence and self-identity leadership to work through. Along with “Happiness” next in line is “Self –Identity” as the most coveted personal google search. Unless you’ve been in an environment where you pretty much represented yourself it may be difficult to understand how leadership can come from that self-identity; however for those of you who have I’m sure you comprehend the logic. The reality is that it takes a long time developing this sense of self-identity and unfortunately not having it on hand has destroyed many careers. There are countless examples how being the only “minority” has had devastating effects on the individual and company, and conversely when leadership existed it became quite an inspirational experience. There’s awareness from an individual point of view that “my presence provides value, my work provides diversity”….repeat “my presence provides value, my work provides diversity”. I came up with that philosophy because I truly thought as many do that my presence only signified diversity which was a mistake and it removed the “VALUE” which strengthens the character of that diversity. A little deep I know (haha!!), but it addresses the self-identity leadership one needs to have to overcome the “being the only one” mentality. There’s self-identity leadership from a company point of view, and a similar philosophy of (“my presence provides value, my work provides diversity”) follows as well. Companies that have the best track record of success for better or worst….know who they are. The company who consistently hires and attracts people based on an inclusionary metric and does so purposely you can argue has a solid sense of self-identity albeit obsolete. Those companies who see value in diversity simply don’t respond to the “being the only one” mentality, they respond to execution and results from every employee period.  One of the greatest books I’ve ever read “Cracking the Corporate Code” (The Revealing Success Stories of 32 African-American Executives) continues to have the most profound impact on my career. The book provides an in-depth look at the careers of 32 African American executives who recount their impressive and widely differing career trajectories, revealing what motivated and discouraged them. Providing examples of self-identity leadership they explain the support and conflict they had to go through to excel in organizations like PepsiCo, GE, Merrill Lynch, Kraft, Prudential, Chrysler, and dozens more. Below are captions from the book:

 

Fitting In

 

I have had numerous conversations with people who say, why should I have to compromise my individuality just to get along with those people? That attitude means you’re going to have trouble wherever you go. If you’re going to be successful, you are going to have to learn how to be culturally flexible, and cultural flexibility is something blacks are very good at.

Edward “Chuck” Chaplin, Senior Vice President and Treasurer (Prudential Financial, Inc)

 

As I got more experience and moved into leadership roles, I expressed more of who I am, not less.

Linda Baker Keene, Vice President (ret) (American Express)

Overcoming Isolation

 

In every relationship throughout the organization, being a black American is a salient feature. There are times you feel uncomfortably visible, as if in a fishbowl. At other times you feel you are not seen at all. Not very long ago—not even two generations—each black in corporate America was in fact isolated as “the first” and “the only” We can learn much from how they dealt with their isolation.  Lloyd Trotter eventually became president and chief executive officer of one of GE’s largest operating divisions, but in 1963 he literally had to push open the corporate door. His willingness to take that small step, to withstand the isolation and then build out from it, was in fact an early indication of his eventual corporate success. These acts of will, simple but strong, are available to everyone.

 

I encourage ALL of you who are reading this post to pick up a copy of “Cracking the Corporate Code” no matter what race, gender or religion you represent, the book is fantastic and inspiring.

Connecting with and valuing your own culture, background, and heritage will take away this sense of being the only “Minority”. The word “Minority” is a relative term that can be devaluing as well as inaccurate, and the inaccuracy comes from how we “Self-Identify” through our leadership. Always remember “my presence provides value”, “my work provides diversity”….repeat “my presence provides value”, “my work provides diversity”.

To my frat G.O.M.A.B!

Being the only MINORITY….true leadership!

Thanks!

Take a look at our whitepaper: “Value Proposition”….addressing customer outcomes

http://www.slideshare.net/aharrell2000/value-proposition-addressingalue-proposition-addressing-customer-outcomes1-s

http://bit.ly/1sgdtjc

 

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

www.ah2andbeyond.com

 

 

 

 

THE “CHAMELEON LEADERSHIP” EFFECT!

Chameleon

 

Hiring and leading people that mirror you is not only foolish….it’s dangerous. Yes, it’s extremely comfortable to bring on new hires that look like you, think like you, and even talk like you but is that truly comforting? Today’s leader is constantly faced with new, varied, and complex challenges and opportunities as it deals with the diverse workplace. I would argue that there are more opportunities to succeed as a leader if indeed the workforce continues to be a melting pot. We always hear the complaints that today’s leadership hasn’t evolved and whether it’s the inability or will to relate  to the diverse workforce….it’s clear we need more “Chameleon Leadership”. The ability to be able to adjust to the environment, culture, and situation much like a chameleon does the leader is required to be nimble and flexible. Unfortunately, we still have neanderthal leadership thinking out there that refuses to come to grips that today’s workers don’t look, think, or act like the workers of the past. There is more than enough content regarding how millennials don’t hold the same values or desires of yesterday’s employee where money means everything. This poses a challenge to today’s leadership on how you inspire, coach, and lead such a dynamic workforce….and for some like myself that’s a fun challenge. As I see it the first step is to fully notice, embrace, and appreciate the value the differences between and among people in an organization provides. View these differences as assets rather than sources of nuisances and tolerability.  Yes, I do think because there’s so much pressure to drive diversity in organizations today that many corporate leaders feel they have to appease which causes confusion and misunderstanding. It really comes down to a matter of education and training. Organizations that educate and train the value a diverse workforce has can easily gain and maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. To be clear the challenges and opportunities to leverage individual and cultural diversity can vary from culture to culture, country to country, and even organization to organization, which is why a “Chameleon Leadership” approach works. Effectively leveraging diversity means utilizing the advantageous differences employees have to accomplish organizational goals that are directly impacted by a diverse marketplace.

Valuing “Diversity” Self-Reflection

One of the most helpful steps in understanding how to value the diversity of people on your team is to understand your own values and beliefs. This could be an eye opening experience for most because we ALL have our specific values, beliefs….and yes, biases that we have clung to. It’s important to take a self-reflection assessment of how those values, beliefs and biases intertwine with your team’s diverse make-up. I often find when I’m in consulting sessions with clients it comes out that there’s sometimes an unwillingness to “Self-Reflect” on how one deals with a diverse environment. Corporate leaders basically express to me “It’s their job/responsibility to adjust to me….not vice versa”, and I typically express back to them with kindness “You won’t be leading them long”.  It’s important for anyone in a leadership capacity responsible for a team push themselves beyond their current environment and interactions (step out of that plush C-Suite office) to develop their knowledge of and sensitivity to issues of diversity.  Doing so can help to fully understand, appreciate, and maximize the talents that diversity brings. The more leaders understand other’s values, beliefs and backgrounds, the more they will know what inspires them. Consider these recommendations:

  • Proactively establish relationships with people who are different from you. Doing this in your personal life makes for an easier transition in your career life, and it will help you learn about the unique perspectives and contributions others have to offer.
  • Inquire people from a variety of backgrounds for help in understanding their experiences, perspectives, and culture. Seek to understand the individual rather than seeing the person as a representative of a group. Looking at the person either as an individual only or as a representative of a group only could lead to wrong assumptions….and biases.
  • Caution, some people won’t want their differences recognized at all. Some may see your overtures to support underrepresented groups as threatening. Make sure your proactivity to learn more about others always returns to the central theme—how to recognize and enable each person’s unique talents….sincerely not manipulatively.
  • Continually, monitor and “Self-Reflect” the assumptions you make about people and ideas. Such assumptions you’ll find will be based on both external, easily identifiable differences, as well as more subtle, invisible differences. The key is to acknowledge that those assumptions and cultural beliefs can have a significant effect on how you see others.

Creating an environment of respect, appreciation and acceptance for EVERYONE goes beyond simply tolerating people who are different. As a leader you must actively welcome and involve yourself in ensuring there’s a sense of belonging, loyalty, and significance to those under your leadership. Believe me people take cues from the environment about how well they are accepted. For example, as a leader actively enlisting and involving people, versus merely responding if they ask to be involved….conveys two different messages. Some leaders assume that being different is a source of confusion and difficulty, an example of someone who should not be in a leadership capacity. An effective leader recognizes the value of maximizing the complimentary skills, backgrounds, and cultural knowledge his/her people have. Recognizing and adjusting to those complimentary skills can move a leader a step closer to achieving The “Chameleon Leadership” Effect.

The “Chameleon Leadership” Effect

Some would say the efforts to manage diversity can easily stir powerful frustrations and other emotions within an organization. Those who have stifled feelings of frustration for years may suddenly voice their anger…I’ve witnessed this personally. Some may see the “diversity program” (an intentioned quote) as a company pressured EEOC plan that will advance the career of someone less skilled. It’s critical that corporations today as I’ve mentioned earlier educate and sufficiently train their leadership to clearly communicate that diversity refers to EVERYONE. “Chameleon Leadership” refers to the ability to communicate broadly the value of diversity in a way that it resonates with people who might otherwise consider themselves irrelevant to the discussion or overlooked. Emphasizing the importance of understanding and respecting each other’s view of the world and how in most cases there’s value hidden in those differences can demonstrate a leader’s chameleon effect. The leader of today has to be able to change colors…NOT who they are. If upon self-reflection there’s unwarranted biases that impact the ability to lead, then a change in color is warranted.

We all make assumptions based on values, beliefs, and biases the trick is identifying them quickly so that they don’t impair the ability to lead. While the king of the jungle is the undisputed Lion….the best leader just might be the “CHAMELEON”.

THE “CHAMELEON LEADERSHIP” EFFECT!

Thanks!

Take a look at our whitepaper: Cross Functional Leadership….”Leading across the Ambiguity Aisle”

Click on link:  http://bit.ly/1sgdtjc

http://www.slideshare.net/aharrell2000/cross-functional-cross-functional-leadership-best2-p-whitepaper

 

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

www.ah2andbeyond.com

 

“OPEN DOOR POLICY”….that’s half closed

Closed Door Policy

 

Yeah, I used to say it all the time “I have an open door policy”….but I did not really mean it. I’m being honest and sure coming out with this admittance 12 years later doesn’t seem like a huge mea culpa…it nonetheless isn’t an anomaly. There are many corporate leaders out there (some of you are reading this post) feel the same way I did but thought it was the “RIGHT” thing to say in trying to develop rapport with employees. Let me just say up front it’s awful if you are “Lucy”  encouraging “Charlie Brown” to kick the football…only to pull it back before he goes to kick it. The very idea of open communication seems too idealistic, and in many cases people don’t adhere to it. Then there’s the political questions surrounding open communication on how much should I share? Do I really want to risk my career being transparent? Creating an environment where communication is sincerely “Open” is not easy. It takes time, trust, effort and most importantly courage. Who’s going to just prance down the hallway and knock on the door of the CEO? Most likely NOBODY….and you may get body slammed by the executive assistant. Most people who know me know that I hate “Ambiguity” and I’ve written a whitepaper on that insidious communicative disease, and the “Open Door Policy” is a classic ambiguity marker. We all agree that open communication is absolutely necessary in today’s business climate, but the behavior from such a policy is not clear and it leads to a lot of problems. An organization that voices the “Open Door Policy” but behaves in secrecy is the ambiguity I’m referring to and it breeds an untrusting culture that’s toxic. In the corporate world there’s so much talk about how you keep employees motivated (by the way I hate the word “motivated”) or inspired, and every leadership book out there has a recipe on the “can’t miss” way of getting employees to smile every day at work. Recipes range from paying more money to free dry cleaning and yet…..most people just want to talk to someone openly. I once had an exit interview with an employee who decided out of nowhere to leave the company and he was an “A-Player”. The #1 reason why he decided to leave wasn’t about money, his boss or job….he felt he couldn’t talk to someone about a personal matter he was experiencing. I was of course floored and ashamed all at once because we voiced the token “Open Door Policy” but he knew we really didn’t mean it and was afraid of the outcome if he shared his personal information. You see, promoting something that doesn’t match the behavior is just plastic words that melt in ambiguity. I decided to write this article because as we move closer to the middle of the business calendar year you are starting to see many doors close in….when they should be opening wider.

“Open Door Policy Behavior”

I’m big on “behavior” because it’s the truth serum that tells you just about everything you need to know about an individual or for that matter company. Effective corporate communication results from an environment that practices routinely the behavior and execution of transparent communication. When people know their feelings, opinions and ideas are respected and listened too they’re more apt to believe in the “Open Door Policy”. For a company to foster such an environment, corporate leaders have to make a conscious effort to establish vehicles, methods, and processes for open communication (this is the “Behavior” of the company). Valuing feelings, opinions and ideas of employees let’s face it is not often high on the P&L spreadsheet yet most companies understand that an engaging employee makes for a profitable company.  Let’s be clear NO company can afford or even set aside time for a “kumbayah” fire side chat every day at the office to ensure employees are happy, but there are ways to demonstrate behavior that an “Open Door Policy” will be a sincere and enforced policy:

  • Build communication strategies into your business plans. What type of information sharing and feedback do you need to accomplish corporate goals?
  • Review and analyze how your company currently communicates. Is it like a spider web, where there are too many communication points with ambiguous direction?
  • Communicate with employees about….communication. Ask people how the current communication system helps them perform their jobs. Discuss your current communication culture and whether or how it should be changed. This is a GREAT way to encourage involvement in the process and demonstrate “behavior” that this will be a sincere effort.
  • With your employees develop a communication philosophy that EVERYONE will be held accountable too. Every person in the organization will understand and be able to explain the corporate’s communication mission and goals.
  • Develop corporate advocacy where there’s governance around contributing ideas and knowledge is a part of everyone’s job, regardless of function or level of responsibility.
  • Build an environment where ideas from EVERY level, from the CEO to the parking lot attendant are captured and importantly followed through on.
  • To reiterate, build “Follow up” mechanisms that respond to all feedback, and ideas. Employees should feel that they’re being heard and that their correspondence isn’t placed in a black hole.
  • Finally, as a company leader be receptive to the ideas you hear….even the ones that are several feet “out of the box”. Showing a willingness to hear about an idea demonstrates once again the “behavior” of practicing “Open Door Policy”, and importantly doesn’t shut off the flow of potentially great ideas.

Companies who set up processes and ultimately an environment where interaction is open and direct have very little ambiguity. Warren Bennis an American scholar and organizational consultant noted in his research that effective leaders/companies are consistent and predictable. He found that those companies that had infrastructures where interacting with others openly and directly helped to build stronger internal relationships. Importantly, he uncovered once there was a predictability that ALL communication would be open and direct….there was profound respect between employers and employees. In an environment of open communication where “Open Door Policy” is an integral part of the culture, people feel reasonably comfortable sharing any and all information whether it’s good or bad news, agreement/disagreement. To have the most flexible culture, most effective problem solving, and most adaptable workforce, the open sharing of ideas and thoughts are critical. Without a safe environment that encourages transparency, people will monitor their communication, judge whether it is safe to say something, and perhaps withhold contrary or different ideas when those very ideas and “out of the box” approaches is exactly what’s needed. It also encourages “Silo” behavior.

No longer should we as leaders just espouse an “Open Door Policy” we should be about an “Open Door Policy” not only through our words but in our “BEHAVIOR”. The reality is that the employee who works several floors underneath you will never just pop up at your office door unexpected, but if he/she does  please have a pleasant welcoming smile….that may be all they are expecting.

“OPEN DOOR POLICY”….that’s half closed

Thanks!

Take a look at our whitepaper: “Value Proposition”….addressing customer outcomes

http://www.slideshare.net/aharrell2000/value-proposition-addressingalue-proposition-addressing-customer-outcomes1-s

http://bit.ly/1sgdtjc 

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

www.ah2andbeyond.com

 

Being better than…..GREAT!

Warsaw_Throne_chair_of_Stanislaus_Augustus

 

Is it possible to be better than GREAT? Ask APPLE. I learned just the other day that APPLE has sold 700 million IPhones to date….yes, 700 million FREAKING mobile rectangle devices. At first I responded to hearing this with an “OK” then I thought about it for about 10 seconds longer and it hit me, APPLE is becoming greater than GREAT. Now, before you presume this entire post is going to be a pep rally for APPLE I’m only verifying the fact that I do believe there’s a possibility of being greater than great. With as many competitors there are in the mobile device space (e.g. SAMSUNG is no slouch) vying for your dollars, it’s truly amazing what APPLE has been able to accomplish with a product that’s NOT their flagship asset (remember their PC’s?). So, because I’m curious about anything that has to do with “Excellence” & “Leadership” I’m wondering if Jim Collin’s #1 Bestseller “Good” to “Great” is now obsolete. How can companies go from “Great” to “Greatest”? In an INC magazine article Mr. Collins stated that doing the following 10 steps consistently a company can drastically improve its performance outcome:

  1. Download the diagnostic tool at jimcollins.com, and do the exercises with your team. (Of course a little self-promotion doesn’t hurt).
  2. Get the right people in the key seats.
  3. Once a quarter, have a brutal facts meeting.
  4. Set a 15 to 25-year big, hairy audacious goal (BHAG).
  5. Commit to a “20-mile march” that you will bring you to your big hairy audacious goal.
  6. Place at least one really big bet in the next three years,based on having fired bullets first.
  7. Practice productive paranoia.
  8. Get a high return on your next luck event.
  9. Make a to-do list.“If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any,” says Collins.
  10. Commit to a set of core values that you will want to build your enterprise on, without changing them, for 100 years.

I think every single step Mr. Collins spells out are solid, and even today the most successful companies you could argue excel in at least 6 out of the 10 steps. However, for me there’s just one step missing….and that is building a “VALUE PROPOSITION” that’s inspiring. Since the “Good” to “Great” phenomenon hit the business market companies have tirelessly tried to structure their business model around its teachings. As always when a trend takes hold what happens is that it becomes the norm and thus watered down. Again, there’s no argument against the 10 steps to business success according to Mr. Collins I’m only stating that business excellence has moved to another level. That level is creating a brand that moves “Customer Value” to “Inspiration Value”. There is a reason why people stand in long lines for a device that will be obsolete in the following year….and it’s not because they can’t live without a $300 rectangle box. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs couldn’t have imagine we as human beings would replace food and shelter for an item that costs more than food and shelter….but some of us have made that choice. The culprit for all of this madness is the creation of a “VALUE PROPOSITION” that inspires. The reason in my humble opinion as to why I think companies near the level of APPLE who are approaching that “Great” to “Greatest” status (e.g. Starbucks, Tesla, Facebook, Google) is because their value proposition to the consumer has surpassed “the product” itself. It’s COOL to be the first to get the latest IPhone and now “Apple Watch”, to say “I’ll meet you at Starbucks” has a “it crowd” energy feel to it. So, like any competent company APPLE and Starbucks have fed off that “Status Play” by inspiring their customers with creative value proposition messaging. Back in the late 80’s early 90’s all the rage was getting to the right customers with the right frequency, a kind of throw it all against the wall and hope something sticks. Now, with the introduction of blinding quick technology getting to customers with frequency isn’t enough; even the messaging, if it’s not creating tremendous value and inspiring the customer it’s a FAIL. Building a strong value proposition and sustaining it is the secret to going from “Great” to “Greatest”.

“Value Proposition to Greatest”

One of the things I talk about in my latest whitepaper (“Value Proposition”….addressing customer outcomes) is that an organization’s foundation should be held in place by its value proposition. Building a corporate environment/culture that encourages a “profit sharing” mentality where EVERYONE feels valued and is an integral part of the company’s success, it stands to reason that a boomerang effect of that same mentality will land on the customer. A company that strives to be the “Greatest” has to demonstrate value propositioning behavior both internally and externally. Companies benefit from having a “VP” culture because it encourages employees to execute better customer service and not feel it’s a job requirement but overall normal behavior in their work. Looking back at companies like APPLE and Starbucks it’s been said that how their leadership treats their employees has had a profound impact on their success. The 2nd step of Mr. Collin’s secret sauce to success states: “Get the right people in the key seats”…..possibly should be altered to read “Get the right people in the key seats and DEVELOP them”. I’ve put together a few steps of my own called “Shared Responsibilities” that can possibly help build an environment that’s value propositioned rich:

  1. We have a responsibility to our customer : We must put our customers first, provide superior advice, products and services, and always act with the highest level of integrity.
  2. We have a responsibility to each other: We must provide outstanding people the best opportunity to realize their potential. We must treat our teammates with respect, champion our diversity, share the responsibility for our successes, and accept accountability for our failures.
  3. We have a responsibility to our department: We must put department A’s long term interests ahead of each department’s short term gains, and provide superior results for our shareholders. We must respect the local culture and take an active role in the communities where we work and live.

Taking nothing away from the “Good to Great” philosophy as I think many of its components are still in play during these ridiculous competitive times. However, as we move toward a future that measures company performance not just locally but globally…I’m wondering if just being GREAT is enough?

Being better than…..GREAT!

 

Thanks!

Take a look at our whitepaper: “Value Proposition”….addressing customer outcomes

http://www.slideshare.net/aharrell2000/value-proposition-addressingalue-proposition-addressing-customer-outcomes1-s

http://bit.ly/1sgdtjc

 

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting

www.ah2andbeyond.com