Leadership is “The” Lead Factor” Rest are all Lag Factors

Narisho & Nashipae.jpg

Pic Details: Copyright @YashMahadikPhotography. Two Lionesses, Nashipae and Narisho of the Enokoyani pride emerging from the bush after their afternoon rest. Nashipae means attractive and a beautiful lady and Narisho means a skilled and ferocious huntress. Their names are given to them coz that’s what they are. These two were were protecting their seven cubs from a lion war that was on in Maasai Mara for their Pride and territory take over and hence had broken away from their pride. This image was created on 24th August, 2016 at 4.31 pm local time. Shot with my #Canon1DXMarkII Lens Canon f2.8 70-200mm @110mm f5.6, ISO 400, WB – Auto, 1/400s, Handheld shot, Zone cluster focus on AI Servo mode. For more details and images from the wild visit @yashmahadikphotography

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time in the wild observing, understanding and photographing wildlife. I have learnt many valuable lessons from mother nature. One for example is about Lions. The Lion may be “The King of The Jungle” but it’s the Lioness who is “the True Leader”. The Lion is big, masculine, roars loudly and plays a very important role in protecting its pride and its territory and is called the King of the jungle. However, the Lioness plays even a more important role which includes hunting for the pride to feed it, raise the cubs successfully (especially with very high mortality rate for lion cubs in the wild), methodically coach and train the future lions and make them adept for staying at the top of the food chain. Lioness are the ones who keep and grow the pride and ensure its perpetuity. Hence it’s not just the Lion who is the King or is more important, but it’s the Lioness who is equally if not more important to its pride. I give this analogy of Lions not because of its gender traits but to tell a story of hierarchy and its relative importance to leadership.

Similarly in an organisation it’s just not the CEO but it’s the CXOs and leaders at the middle of the pyramid that are crucial and important to organisations success and perpetuity. 

If engagement, performance, culture, values pertaining to an organisation and it’s workforce are an outcome (also known as lag factors) then leadership is the most important lead factor. There is a lot of wisdom shared on how to develop and grow leadership in large enterprises and many inspiring examples come from the armed forces too. In my perspective and experience the essentials of leadership to become an effective lead factor within an organisation are as follows:

1) Define:

As an organisation clearly define your leadership framework. Framework consisting of – Values, Competencies and Behaviours that you expect you leaders to imbibe, role model and develop themselves and in others.

2) Assess and Build:

First help leaders assess their capabilities and styles and identify gaps. Use validated assessment techniques and experts – avoid a home-made and untested remedy when it comes to leadership assessments.

Then, start to shape, influence, build and develop leadership competencies and capabilities from the top. CEO and CXO group should be totally aligned and committed to role-modelling and living them.

I would emphasise more on “shaping” and “influencing” by ways of coaching as compared to the traditional class room training methods to build leadership competencies and capabilities. Please remember, people are cast into unique and diverse moulds depending on the background of their upbringing and that’s mostly reflected in their style preferences. Never try to break and re-mould people, instead shape, influence and help them understand the effect of their behaviour on others. Educate them on how they should  best flex their style depending on the situation. Remember diversity of leadership traits and styles can be a strength. Don’t allow the CEO to start cloning people to match or look like his DNA.

3) Cascade Leadership building:

Most organisations in my opinion make the mistake of focussing their development effort only at CEO, CXO and their direct reports level (the top of the pyramid). Some call it their “top 100″ and other ‘top 300” depending on the size of their organisation. I have said it in point no.1 that top down approach is important but don’t restrict your leadership development to the top of the pyramid.

When it comes to leadership, “the fortune is at the middle of the pyramid” and I say this, coz of two main reasons:

a) Leaders at the middle level of an organisation have the maxim performance and productivity impact on people whom they lead and influence.

b) Middle level leaders are the pipeline of the future leaders of any organisation and they need to be disproportionately invested into.

In addition to the above, other important things to consider whilst you build leadership to be the powerful lead factor include as follows:

  1. Make sure the performance and rewards in your organisation are equally balanced on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the results. Many organisation recognise and reward their people on parameter that are more biased towards the what (High Sales numbers, low-cost of operations, brand ratings, etc) and nothing wrong in that. But giving equal weightage to how these results were delivered (compliance to standards and laws, by being ethical and honest, by coaching and developing people) is very important. Top-notch organisation always focus equally on the “What” and “How” the results were delivered.
  2. Lessons on leadership from armed forces are valuable and inspiring and there is a lot to learn from them. But, remember that the context and rules of the game in the Army and a Corporate organisation are very different and hence not every leadership capability and its context can be applied as it is. May be a separate blog later on this topic!!
  3. Dont overwhelm early in career leaders by expecting them to act and deliver like highly evolved senior leaders. Let them make mistakes, learn and evolve as leaders with their original style.
  4. Coaching and creating a culture of learning for leaders by action-learning is key. Traditional classroom training doesn’t teach corporate leaders much. The slum-dog millionnaire learning style is crucial.
  5. Attitude, character and thinking ability differentiates good leaders from others. Skills and capabilities as a business manager become threshold. After a point skills and capabilites do not differentiate leaders to be effective. Its attitude and charachter of the leader which comprises of many things such as honesty, ethics, sensitivity to people and cultures, ability to develop and grow more leaders, to be a life long learner, etc, etc.

We assess, hire and develop leaders based on their experience, skills and capabilities with such little focus on knowing their attitude, character and thinking ability. Hope there is better balance in every organisation on this front.

True Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders – J Sakiya Sandfifer

How To Successfully Lead a Culture Transformation

Having led a few Culture Transformation programs in my career, including the one that I am leading in my current role and organisation, in my experience and perspective “U” as the leader of change and culture transformation “R” most critical to its success.

I believe, the following to be rudimentary and essential for a successful cultural transformation.

1) Indepth “As-Is” analysis of the current organisation culture – Understanding clearly what works well and why? and what’s not working well and why? What’s needs to change and why?

2) Clearly articulate a case for change and transformation. Define the “From-To’s” Detail and describe the values and behaviours of leaders and workforce that you want to see as an outcome of your intended culture.

3) Cast and define the culture proof points in terms of; a) voice of customers and other stakeholders about your organisation, b) stories and coffee machine talks within your organisation, c) How the Hero’s of the new culture will look like and what will be their values and behaviours, etc, etc.

4) Design and roll out a structured and innovative culture transformation program (with varied initiatives keeping in mind the organisational complexity in terms of company’s geographical spread, employee levels, etc). Be an executive sponsor and appoint a full time program manager to manage the culture transformation. Manage it like a proper program and not like an initiative or a small project.

5) Develop a robust change, communication and engagement – management plan. Involve and include all stakeholders. Make sure that the stakeholders understand their role in making it happen and own the transformation.

7) Lead from the front – Facilitate and shape an organisation-wide dialogue, listen to employees, challenge them, support them, create and nurture a”Network of Culture and Change Champions” they should be your critical mass… your extended team.

8) Design a measurement framework and process for monitoring progress and success of your transformation program. Change and transformation specific surveys based on Net Promoter Score (NPS) methodology are very effective. In addition, conduct dip-stick surveys, coffee corner discussions and keep measuring and feeling the pulse of the people and the organisation.

9) Refine what’s not working and reinforce what’s working. Do not add additional or new initiatives – bear in mind the change fatigue and keep it simple but engaging and exciting.

10) Celebrate success, recognise the new culture Hero’s, emphasis and reward them for the desired behaviours and values that they role model. Share success stories via the Hero’s and inspire others to follow the role models.

Culture building in organisations is a journey, your perseverance and commitment to the program as a leader will define its success. Make sure you manage expectation and not fall in the “overnight result trap”. Continuous improvement is key, as soon as you think your program is successful and the job is done – you will need to ready yourself for the next sumit or phase of the journey.

In my opinion good leaders lead and manage people effectively, but great leaders do that and build a culture.

Culture can become a ‘secret weapon’ that can make extraordinary things happen ~ Jon Katzenbach

Get off that dead horse….

I was well aware of the idiom; “Beating or Flogging a dead horse”. Which means wasting time persevering with something that’s foreclosed, concluded, decided or dead.  While ago, I saw a viral email (source unknown), which shared the wisdom and notion of the dead horse theory, which is probably based on the same idiom. The viral email and its contents were as follows:

Dead-Horse-Theory

The tribal wisdom of the Plains Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that:

“When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

However, many leaders and organizations relent and persevere with the dead horse and more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And, of course…

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

I found the above satirical viral email (source unknown) rather interesting and thought provoking. Attempting to put the above in context, let me begin my post in which I will present some of my perspectives and opinions on  how the corporate world keeps beating some of the dead horses instead of dismounting them.

In the corporate world the dead horse theory is often seen at play in many areas but some of the prominent areas in my observation are; Strategy, Policy, Processes, Technology and People.

How often have you seen a dead and an irrelevant strategy being defended and persevered, dead strategies which aren’t delivering results or are making the desired impact. I have seen it a few times and I have confronted and challenged it as much as I can. Must say that, if not always, I have often succeeded in convincing people to stop beating the dead horse (persevering with the dead strategy) and instead mount a new one. About a decade ago when I used to work for a top company in the Asia Pacific region as their HR Business partner, I remember challenging my talent acqusition team on the old and irrelevant strategies of attracting talent from Engineering and MBA Schools. The old strategy included focussing on pre-recruitment season talks at the campuses, recruiting a few interns and some graduates. The war for talent had intensfied and if we had persevered with our old strategies then we would have lost the plot. The new strategy was not about just recruiting talent, it was all about building a employer brand which was valued internally and externally by the talent, it was about engaging with the talent in campuses throughout their academic period and not just before the recruiting season. Mounting a new horse did pay off as we were successful and managed to attract and retain very good talent. I often find many companies complaining about the war for talent and how the talent shortage is affecting their business. I say, look at your strategies and if they are a dead horse then  dismount and ride a new horse. Complaining and persevering with your old strategies is like beating a dead horse and it won’t help.

POLICIES and PROCESSES is another area, where we keep beating the dead horses. We often criticize our governments for its lack of sensitivity towards the needs of its people and how slow and beuracratic they are when it comes to changing policies and processes that are irrelevant. Now think about your organisation, do you see policies and processes that are dead and how long do we take before we revise or change them and make them relevant? Google as a company is a case in point where they have become a Top Employer in such a short time and it’s coz of their culture, ethos, people related polices and processes – they are very relevant to the needs of today’s top talent and hence they are able to attract and retain top talent. It’s more than just the free gourmet food that they serve to their employees, be it their paternity leave policy or their process of making work more meaningful, it’s a whole range of things. They fortunately don’t have a plethora of legacy polices and processes and hence what they have and ride are new horses in the area of their people related practices. It will be interesting to see how they stay ahead and don’t get caught up with their own legacy as they grow, mature and age. But this is one company which is a true benchmark. Read this blog on what makes Google a top employer as assessed and declared by Glassdoor in their annual list of “50 Best Places to Work,” http://goo.gl/04e3pE

TECHNOLOGY is another classic area where we live with and flog irrelevant and dead technologies and coz of various reasons we don’t upgrade the technology or the skills required to upgrade it. This causes serious efficiency and productivity issues as compared to competition and sets many companies back. Enterprise-wide, integrated, efficient, secured and standard technology platforms across the company is every corporations goal. But the pace at which the technology is changing and evolving, it’s rather hard to decide when you dismount the dying tech platform horse and mount a new one. And the horse of technology comes at a cost, which is difficult to capatilisze coz of its shorter life cycle even when compared to fashion. In my observation as compared to the cost of technology the bigger issue is the know how and competence of the leaders about the changes, evolution and real benefits of newer technologies. Hence most are often beating a dead horse of a technology platform, thinking it’s alive.

When it comes to PEOPLE – how and when to consider them a dead horse. The corporate world’s leaders and their beliefs, thinking, philosophy and ethos is basically divided in three categories. 1) There are leaders and organizations with a harder view and approach and as per them when people reach their level of incompetence (Peter Principle http://goo.gl/yGPUYe) then those people (“Dead Wood”) should to be separated and exited from the organisation – either on grounds of non-performance or in a wave of restructuring and downsizing. 2) Then there are those who have a more softer and socialistic view and approach and they believe that people can never be termed as “Dead Wood” or Dead Horse – until they retire or literally die. 3) Then there are those who have a blended view and approach of the earlier two explained, they are neither too hard nor too soft and socialistic.

In my perspective PEOPLE whom we term as HUMAN RESOURCES are the most valuable resources of any organisation and it’s the responsibility of any good organisation and its leaders to invest in developing and growing their people and keep them employable. However, the responsibility of the PEOPLE towards themselves and their organisation is to ensure that they take a lead and co-ownership of their development (Knowledge, skills, values and attitude) and ensure their own employability.

In my opinion a person can be termed as a dead horse in an organisation when they are consistent non-performers and makes no effort or shows no willingness to improve their performance and skills. People who are dis-engaged and are uncapable of engaging others and creating value for their organisation are like horses that are about to die. Last but not the least, people with lack of integrity and or unacceptable standards of ethics are serious dead horses. Organizations and leaders should definitely dismount these type of dead horses and find and mount good ones.

Would love to hear your views, opinions and perspectives on this.

 

Can Culture Eat Strategy for Breakfast?

I came across this statement which said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It resonated with me and I thought of writing a blog post based on my experience and learning’s on how organization’s go about identifying, building, measuring and communicating their culture.

We have learnt a lot about strategy and there is a lot of experience, academic research and content around it. However, in relative comparison to strategy, culture as a subject needs to be understood a lot better. From my experience and learning, I would suggest that “Culture is an Organizational Capability” There are four big buckets of organizational capabilities and most organizations have traditionally focused on the three big buckets; “People”, “Processes” and “Technology” the fourth bucket “Culture” is probably yet not focused upon much. Most progressive organizations and their capability building models that I have seen (whilst working for some top companies and of other benchmark companies practices) have figured out well how to identify, build and measure capabilities in the first three buckets and not so much yet in the “Culture” bucket.

To begin with it helps tremendously if you first agree within your organization that next to People, Processes and Technology the fourth bucket of Capabilities is “Culture” Once you agree then your capability building framework will require you to look at “Culture Building” in a holistic manner. Some may argue and say that “Culture” is a sub-bucket of “People”, as people are the ones who construct, live, represent and communicate an organization’s culture. It’s not an invalid argument, but from my perspective culture goes beyond just people (Behaviors and Style), for example it involves the ways of working, physical environment and design of the workplace, social mechanisms and rituals of an organization, stories that are discussed etc. Hence it may be immensely helpful to look at “Culture” as something beyond just people capabilities (knowledge, skills, competencies, behaviors and attitudes).

Culture is a modern history concept based on a term first used in classical antiquity by the Roman orator Cicero “cultura animi” (cultivation of the soul).

However, one of the many definitions of organizational culture is the behavior of humans who are part of an organization and the meanings that the people attach to their actions. Culture includes the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders. And now you can see the rationale why some argue that Culture is all about just people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_culture

Anyway my perspective is a bit different, but it strongly builds on this traditional definition.

How to go about building a strong organization culture, which, despite the sustained uncertainty of the economic and social environment and the ever changing strategy – can become a major pillar of strength. My 10 recommended practical steps for leaders and organisations are as follows: 

1)    The first step should be to assess and identify what your current organizational culture is. It takes finding out what your culture is and how you culture is perceived by internal (employees) external people (customers, talent, investors etc). There are various tools and methodologies that are there to identify your culture. One of the most powerful techniques is facilitated focus group discussions, which are similar to identifying the brand identity of the company. Also you need to asses if your culture is something that’s kept in mind by people when designing strategies, processes, systems, workplaces, policies etc

2)    Ensure that there is a clear articulation and shared understanding of the organizations vision, mission and values. Then compare the “Current Culture” and clearly articulate the “Required Culture” for achieving your vision and living the values. Do a proper gap analysis and planning of “FROM” – “TO” This is most effectively done via the process of LSIP – Large Scale Interaction Process. If this is done in isolation and only at the top of the organisation or just by the HR function it well could be a false start.

3)    Avoid evolving complicated culture building frameworks, keep things simple, build on and align to existing capability building framework of the company, with clear alignment to the vision, mission and values of the company. Having a clear plan of initiatives and activities to build culture is more important than having just frameworks and models. Ensure the the main components of the culture you are building are well integrated into each and every strategy, process, system, practice, policy design of your company.

4)    Integrate culture building strongly with the company’s existing learning practice and function, design and detail initiatives and activities (learning offerings, coaching, mentoring etc) and make them leader led. Avoid too much of classroom and e-learning offerings around culture building – leverage the 70-20-10 learning principle. Don’t make culture building a separate and an isolated activity.

5)    Whilst designing and activating culture building interventions, don’t focus only on soft part – people and their behaviors and styles. Focus also on designing and changing the hard part – workplace design, policies, social mechanism’s (meetings and its structure, rewards and recognition platforms, etc), hierarchy (Org structure and its levels), rituals (how is success celebrated, how is news communicated, etc).

6)    Make Leaders lead the culture building, but make everyone responsible and accountable for it and celebrate reward and recognize success stories and role models. Don’t make the mistake of making just HR responsible for Culture building, its every leader’s responsibility. HR should facilitate the process.

7)    Have a clear measurement methodology, process, tools and techniques for knowing and understanding how progress is being made and what needs to be further improved. Custom designed surveys and NPS (Net Promoter Score) are two powerful methodologies.

8)    If your organization culture is your strength and a differentiator, then make sure you have a good communication plan (internal and external) to further strengthen and build on your employer branding.

9)    Use your culture building plan to profile, attract and develop talent which will help you strengthen and build the riht culture. Dovetailing your culture building plan with the talent assessment, development and acquisition strategy of the company is very important.

10) Last but not the least, culture building needs investing of some money and lots of leadership commitment and their personal time. Without this investment you will achieve little.

In my opinion and perspective, if you get the above 10 steps right, you will be able to create a culture in your organization, which will eat your competitors strategy for breakfast!!

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Here is some content that, I have aggregated from my favorite HBR Blogs on Culture, I have learnt a lot from reading them and critiquing them in my own mind. Hope you enjoy reading them too:

Michael Watkins on “What Is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care?” suggests that, If you want to provoke a vigorous debate, start a conversation on organizational culture. While there is universal agreement that (1) it exists, and (2) that it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior in organizations, there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behavior and whether it is something leaders can change…. read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/05/what-is-organizational-culture/

John Coleman on “Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture” suggests that, what makes a culture? Each culture is unique and myriad factors go into creating one, but I’ve observed at least six common components of great cultures. Isolating those elements can be the first step to building a differentiated culture and a lasting organization….  read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/05/six-components-of-culture/

Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller on “Three Steps to a High-Performance Culture” suggest that, senior executives tend to think about corporate culture as a topic that’s hard to measure and hard to change. As a result, many choose not to invest in it despite all the evidence that, when skillfully managed, culture can be a powerful and enduring source of competitive advantage…. read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/01/three-steps-to-a-high-performa/

Deidre H. Campbell on “What Great Companies Know About Culture” suggests that, even in this unprecedented business environment, great leaders know they should invest in their people. Those companies who are committed to a strong workplace culture tend to perform well, and now they are featured prominently in a new ranking recently released by Great Place to Work Institute. Among the top performers on the 2011 World’s Best Multinational Companies list are culturally-strong technology companies such as Microsoft, NetApp, SAS, and Google….read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/12/what-great-companies-know-abou/

Amy C. Edmondson on The Three Pillars of a Teaming Culture” suggests that, today’s leaders must build a culture where teaming is expected and begins to feel natural, and this starts with helping everyone to become curious, passionate, and empathic. She says, building the right culture in an era of fast-paced teaming, when people work on a shifting mix of projects with a shifting mix of partners, might sound challenging – if not impossible. But, in my experience, in the most innovative companies, teaming is the culture….read on http://t.co/5wkbbaou2G

Jason Sylva on “The Culture Cycle” James L. Heskett‘s book The Culture Cycle describes how an effective culture can account for up to half of the differential in performance between organizations in the same business. Heskett discusses how to calculate the economic value of culture through the “Four Rs” of referrals, retention, returns to labor, and relationships with customers… read on http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/06/culture-cycle-the-unseen-force/