When we drain power from a car battery it runs down. If we do this long enough, the battery will eventually become totally dead. In physics we call this “entropy”, which means that anything left to itself will eventually disintegrate until it reaches its most elemental form. Entropy happens when there is neglect. Neglect your body, and you will deteriorate. Neglect your car battery, and it will eventually die. Anything that is not attended to and renewed will deteriorate over time. That is why we have an alternator in our car. The alternator recharges the battery. It combats entropy. All things need caring for—and your employees are no exception. Nothing neglected will remain productive over time.
Employees are like car batteries. If you are always taking from them, but never “charging them up” emotionally, eventually they will run down. Stephen Covey and others use the metaphor of the Emotional Bank Account (EBA). Negative actions and neglect can become withdrawals against a person’s EBA. On the other hand, courtesies, celebrations, and affirmations are deposits to the EBA. If there are a lot of withdrawals, and few or no deposits, a person’s EBA will become so overdrawn that the relationship will become bankrupt.
Effective leaders understand this concept and recognize the importance of giving encouragement and positive feedback on a regular basis. Such feedback should not be manipulative in nature, but should flow from a genuine appreciation and belief in their people. Effective leaders are obsessed with finding something good about an employee. They are very alert to opportunities to celebrate the achievement of others. These acts of encouragement are a real key to releasing the potential in people and promoting the use of their gifts and talents.
Few employees receive more affirmation from superiors than Southwest Airline employees. Southwest Airlines is recognized year after year by Fortune magazine as one of the best companies to work for in America. They are also famous for recognizing employees and celebrating their achievements. One token of this is a giant T-shirt hanging in the headquarters building of Southwest Airlines at Love Field. Imprinted on the shirt is this message:
“How many Southwest employees does it take to change a light bulb?” At the bottom of the shirt is the answer: “Four. One to actually change the light bulb and three to design the T-shirt to celebrate it!”
Southwest Airlines says that it uses thousands of small gestures to send big messages. The halls of their corporate headquarters are literally covered from floor to ceiling with photos, plaques, certificates, awards, honors, and various memorabilia that capture the spirit of their culture. Some have even accused Southwest executives of constructing more office space just so they could gain additional wall space in the halls to hang photos of employees and their families.
In the fall of 1999, I was selected as the Honor’s Seminar faculty member at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. I had proposed teaching a course entitled Personal and Organizational Leadership, with an emphasis on studying the top companies on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list. That year Southwest Airlines was the number four company on the list.
Toward the end of the semester the class took a field trip to visit the number one and number four companies on the Fortune 100 Best list (Synovus Financial and Southwest Airlines). Southwest had donated four round-trip tickets for our trip. We also used two round trip tickets from my Southwest Airlines frequent flyer program. We still had to buy tickets for one leg of the trip. I called the Southwest Airlines reservation number and got a very nice and helpful young lady on the line. I explained that making the reservations would be complicated since we had frequent flyer miles, free tickets from Southwest, and we also needed to buy tickets for one leg of the trip. However, I didn’t know which flight to buy, since we wanted to purchase tickets for the least expensive flight—applying the free tickets to the more expensive flights.
She searched diligently to find the least expensive flight of the trip. There was just one problem. That flight did not have enough seats left at the rock bottom fare. We needed two additional seats at that fare. She suggested that since I was working with the executive office at Southwest to arrange our tour that I should call and ask if they could authorize her to sell all the tickets at the lowest fare!
I was so impressed with this reservationist and her attitude of service. She had worked almost a half-hour to book all the flights and now she would hold the two seats until I asked the executive office to release the seats at the lower fare! She was truly working to save us money and I really appreciated that. I got her name and phone number. I discovered that she was working at a phone center in Oklahoma. I thanked her and hung up.
I then called the executive assistant to the executive office at Southwest and told her the situation. She said there would be no problem lowering the fare for the two seats and that she would take care of it immediately. I gave her the reservations’ name and phone number. Then I mentioned that the reservationist had done an outstanding job helping me. I suggested that someone should mention this to her supervisor.
About ten minutes later my phone rang. It was the reservationist in Oklahoma. She sounded very excited and said, “You can’t believe what just happened to me! I just received a call from Colleen Barrett. She personally thanked me for giving you such extraordinary service!”
For those who don’t recognize her name, Colleen is the Executive Vice President of Southwest Airlines, and the Chair of the corporate Culture Committee. Within five minutes of my suggesting someone should recognize the fine work of this reservationist, the Executive Vice President of Southwest Airlines—a company of over 29,000 employees—had made a personal call to express her appreciation to the reservationist! I can tell you for certain that this reservationist received an incredible deposit to her Emotional Bank Account that day! This affirmation was like a powerful charge to her battery.
Such small gestures certainly do send big messages at Southwest. They can also send big messages within your organization. Do you look for opportunities to celebrate employee accomplishments, both great and small, or do you focus on finding fault and criticizing? Are most of the transactions you conduct with your employees considered “deposits” or “withdrawals” to their Emotional Bank Accounts?
Too many organizational cultures are still driven by criticism, fear, and punishment. (The floggings will continue until morale improves!) Celebrations and affirmations inspire, motivate, and reenergize people. Isn’t that what effective leadership is all about? Are you a “battery drainer” or a “battery charger”?
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About the author:
Dr. J. Howard Baker is Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Last year Dr. Baker taught an Honors Seminar at ULM, which included a field trip to the top servant leadership companies in America. Dr. Baker has been a Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People certified facilitator for seven years, and has served the University of Texas at Tyler as their facilitator for four years. During the summer he offers a graduate and undergraduate course at U. T. Tyler in personal and organizational leadership. He holds a B.S. in Management from Samford University, a Master of Accounting (MAcc) from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington.
When we drain power from a car battery it runs down. If we do this long enough, the battery will eventually become totally dead. In physics we call this “entropy”, which means that anything left to itself will eventually disintegrate until it reaches its most elemental form. Entropy happens when there is neglect. Neglect your body, and you will deteriorate. Neglect your car battery, and it will eventually die. Anything that is not attended to and renewed will deteriorate over time. That is why we have an alternator in our car. The alternator recharges the battery. It combats entropy. All things need caring for—and your employees are no exception. Nothing neglected will remain productive over time. Read More >Dr. J. Howard Baker Articles
It happened to me again the other day! I was writing a memo on my PC to the manufacturer’s representatives that I manage and it suddenly appeared. It has been happening to me for years but not quite as often as it used to. There I was typing away, allowing the words to eloquently flow like melting butter, and jolt…the “blue screen of death”. If you have ever worked on a computer that has a Microsoft Windows operating system, you know exactly what I mean. This terrifying blue screen can come with a number of startling messages. The two I have become intimately familiar with over the years proclaim inspiring statements like, “a fatal exception OE has occurred. The current application will be terminated.” Why does it have to always be fatal? Why can’t it just sometimes say, “Excuse me, we have a minor problem here?” Or there is a second type of message with the ever nebulous proclamation that “your system has become unstable, you may press any key and wait [forever!], or press CTRL*ALT*DEL again to restart your computer. You will lose any unsaved information.”
Of course, Gregie’s Law states that these messages are most likely to occur just as you are completing the last sentence of an unsaved document. Gregie’s Law is a lot like Murphy’s Law except it is based on the premise that Murphy was far too much of an optimist! As leaders, there is much we can learn from these commonly dreaded scenarios. It should not surprise us that software written by men and women can possess the same characteristics or weaknesses of the humans that created them. However, before I discuss the things we can learn regarding leadership, please allow me to draw an analogy. I will discuss why a few of these blue screens happen to the WindowsÒ operating system in layman’s terms. I am not a programmer or software designer, but I believe I can roughly explain some of the reasons for the infamous “blue screen of death”, even though it may not be technically correct in all aspects.
A software program interacts with the computer hardware to become a working tool for an individual. Combined together, this interaction between software and hardware is designed to be compatible and is often referred to as system resources. Depending on the motherboard design, CPU, RAM, and other design qualities, system resources are limited. I am told that these resources can often be expanded but still always have limitations. Even with a mammoth hard drive and abundant RAM, resources can still be limited because of the operating system design, BIOS or motherboard characteristics. One of the reasons for a blue screen can be the operation of too many programs at the same time. One presently may be maximized while the others are minimized in the background. As we work on the PC, we may be switching back and forth between them. This is known as multi-tasking. For example, sometimes I have a word processor, spreadsheet, web browser, email program, FTP program and file manager all open at the same time. While I am working on one, the others are still minimized in the background and taking up system resources. Because so many resources are utilized, switching from one program to another can cause the system to become unstable, resulting in the blue screen blues!
Another potential problem lies in memory swapping. One program may reside in a certain portion of RAM memory. Another program may then become maximized and attempt to place its memory in the same address space. A previous program that occupied a portion of address space may still claim it while the new program attempts to use it. The result…you guessed it, the ”fatal exception error” blues! Many PC users also notice a reduction in PC performance if too many programs are allowed to start at system boot-up because they were placed in the start menu or system tray. These start-up programs may run minimized but take up system resources, slowing down the computer.
It is not my intent to criticize the most popular operating system on earth or point out its flaws. Actually, it is getting better. Even the most recent advertising by Microsoft proudly proclaims that its latest operating system is “13 times more reliable than Windows 98”. Of course being in sales and marketing for most of mycareer, I understand this probably means it is a littler better than its predecessor. So what does all of this information have to do with leadership? It actually gives us a lot to think about as we apply this information and draw an analogy to ourselves. As I stated earlier, it should be no surprise to us that the humans who created these machines designed them with flaws similar to ourselves.
Here is lesson #1. Everything physical has limited resources. Just like PC’s, we also have very precious and limited resources. It is the tendency of good and hard working leaders to take on many different tasks. As a matter of fact, the ability for a leader to have multi-tasking capabilities is essential in our modern age. During any given workday, we may be jumping from one important task to another constantly. The CEO may have the luxury to sit in the corner office and ponder the joys of a corporate vision, but the rest of us have multiple duties and functions to perform that require a rapid exchange of focus, ideas and projects. It is certainly preferable to have the skills and expertise of multi-tasking, but remember that every one of the tasks we decide to address drainsour own personal system resources. Unlike a PC, our system resources consist of our physical energy, mental sharpness, ability to focus, emotional well-being, and coworker relationships. Yes, our ability to effectively address various issues and projects has limitations!
Even many “corporate teams” have the potential to be effective tools of change and accomplishment. However, often the various team members are forced to become far too involved in multiple daily “meetings” (babble sessions) with other teams or groups and the results are mediocre performance. The resources of these individuals or groups are so drained by frivolous projects and blather that their decisions are typically poor and ineffective! Again, lesson #1 is to accept and realize that your resources are limited and precious. James O’Toole comments on this multi-tasking problem confronting leaders today. He remarks, “that the process of leadership is a never-ending struggle to balance the constant and never-ending demands of those with different objectives.” He later contends, “the task is to lead through the processes of design, composition, tension, balance and harmony.”
Here is lesson #2. Take a few minutes to think about the many activities or tasks you are involved in. How many are really essential? How many are we involved in because we forgot to decline involvement or didn’t want to say “no”. Remember, every one of these is reducing your effectiveness and draining at least some of your precious system resources. Maybe it is time to shut down some of these projects or totally “bow out” of them. When working on my PC, I often find programs minimized that I used earlier and should have shut down. There they are residing in the background and taking up limited resources! As leaders, it is often difficult for us to say ‘no” to yet another challenge. Many of us were trained to simply accept what we are asked to do. Saying “no” has been considered refusing to be a team player. The question is do we want everything we do to be mediocre? Do we want to do only a few things well and most things poorly because our resources are taxed to their limits? Or, do we want to do fewer tasks, yet all of them well because we are focused and truly able to be effective? A hallmark of leadership is to recognize our own limitations and learn to say “no” or to admit this is not the best time to get involved in another menial task or function. I once heard a CEO mention to his executive team, “When you add something on to the priority list, something else must come off the list.” He was on to something! We simply must stop majoring in the minors and make quality decision-making the goal of leadership rather than quantity. However, we may face a mental conflict by saying “no” or stepping back from projects of little real value. Researcher Gary Yukl appropriately points out that some types of positive supporting behavior by other peers and coworkers can reduce the amount of stress on the job. Other types peer support can even help a person cope with stress. But, stepping away fromsome tasks will not eliminate the support or camaraderie of others who respect and value our dedication and efforts. Again, lesson #2 is to reduce the number of non-essential tasks and projects you are involved in.
Here is lesson #3. Stressing your limited resources with too many endeavors inhibits the things you really want to do and value most! While working on my PC, I typically receive the blue screen while I am working on the immediate task at hand. Usually it occurs while I am doing the most important project to me at the time. The same thing occurs in business or our personal life. When we allow ourselves to be involved in too many projects, it saps our scarce resources. Remember, these consist of our physical energy, mental sharpness, ability to focus, emotional well-being, and coworker relationships. When something of real value or importance arises, we are not at our best when our personal resources are exhausted. Much like the infamous blue screen, many sincere individuals have lives that have lost their stability or are virtually frozen in inaction because of depleted personal resources.
Don’t allow this to happen to you. Many years ago I had an elderly friend who previously worked at the NASA Lewis Research Center near Cleveland, Ohio. He told me to never forget the difference between an amateur and a professional. The difference is…attention to detail! If you think about it, this is true of almost every area or our professional and private lives. When our own limited vital resources are taxed to the limit, we lose the ability to concentrate on detail. The end result is poor decision-making and inadequate leadership. Next month I will discuss some of the important ways we can all protect, balance and even nurture our own personal resources. We will discuss how we can avoid our own intellectual “blue screen of death.”
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About the author:
Greg has over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within the electrical distribution industry. Some of his positions have included being a National Sales Manager, National Marketing Manager and for the past 9 years that of Regional Sales Manager. He also has extensive experience in public speaking and has written articles for various publications. In August of 2000, Greg completed his studies for a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University. He is the founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
O'Toole, J. (1995). Leading Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pp.257-258.
Yukl, G. (1998). Leadership in Organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. pp. 95.
It happened to me again the other day! I was writing a memo on my PC to the manufacturer’s representatives that I manage and it suddenly appeared. It has been happening to me for years but not quite as often as it used to. There I was typing away, allowing the words to eloquently flow like melting butter, and jolt…the “blue screen of death”. If you have ever worked on a computer that has a Microsoft Windows operating system, you know exactly what I mean. This terrifying blue screen can come with a number of startling messages. The two I have become intimately familiar with over the years proclaim inspiring statements like, “a fatal exception OE has occurred. The current application will be terminated.” Why does it have to always be fatal? Why can’t it just sometimes say, “Excuse me, we have a minor problem here?” Read More >Greg L.Thomas Articles
I remember my first project as a newly promoted project manager. While I had received academic training in business administration and economics, I had begun my career among the technical ranks. My promotion to project manager was largely due to my ability to code programs in CICS assembler, Cobol, and at the time the newly emerging programming languages called “4GLs”. What I soon found out was that technical roles do little to prepare a person to advance into a management level position. I was not yet aware of the leadership required interacting with a team. In many ways a technical person is even hindered from making such a transition.
There are stages that a person with a technical background will visit while transitioning into management. The first stop is typically project management, the natural progression for a person who has spent considerable time as a successful project team member. A successful experience in project management may eventually lead to the next stage of a senior staff management position such as a department head, divisional manager or even vice president. It is during the first stage, project management that a technical person begins to encounter the issues that arise when making the transition into management. How well one adapts and begins to demonstrate leadership will likely determine the pace at which they progress through management.
In my experience I have witnessed many people make the same transition that I made, moving from programmer, to analyst, to project manager (PM, as we call it), to department head. Some succeeded, but many if not most either failed or became average PMs. The ingrained habit of personally defining specifications, designing and implementing solutions, and solving technical problems becomes a hurdle to overcome during the transition to management. In short, it is difficult for a “hands on” person to suddenly find themselves “hands off” in a similar way that a new coach finds it difficult to stay off the field. Here are some tips to help a “propeller head” traverse the path to project management.
Jump ahead – define the objective
When I found myself a project manager for the first time I was shocked to find that I had no idea how to get started. I knew how to execute but had never planned, motivated, and driven a project as the PM. I knew how to enter information into a project plan but could not seem to get the project off the ground. What was being required of me were the essential qualities expected of a leader. Frustrated and struggling, I sought advice from a seasoned PM in my company. He advised me simply to, “jump ahead of them and they will follow you”. Good advice and still effective. How do you jump ahead? By defining the project in terms of the overall objectives and benefits to the team members as well as clearly spelling out the roles, responsibilities and expectations. My mentor immediately helped me prepare a meeting to define the project objectives and assignments. My seasoned PM was telling me I needed to create a vision!
An important consideration when establishing an objective is its level of difficulty and how it could contribute to the team member’s need for achievement. If the objective is perceived to be too easy, the team member is not motivated. If the objective is perceived to be unattainable, the team member is again not motivated. It is only when the objective is perceived to be both challenging and attainable that motivation of the team is achieved.
Before the team can begin the project, they must know exactly what they are expected to do. Clearly articulated objectives, team participation in goal setting and action planning, and objectives that are challenging but attainable are the keys to driving a project team forward and maximizing performance. Key steps required to jump ahead as an effective leader include:
1. Define the project objectives and clearly communicate how successfully completing the project will benefit the company and the team members.
2. Working with each team member, determine his or her project role, responsibilities, and objectives.
3. For each team member, develop an action plan to achieve project objectives and ask the team member for his or her commitment.
4. Offer your confidence and support to the team member and set up a follow up time for progress review.
Stay at a high level
One of the first tasks that I assigned to myself as a new PM was to code several programs that needed to be developed by the project team. I was intending to help the other team members by being “one of them”. Not to mention that I enjoyed programming. Big mistake. When the coach grabs a helmet and lines up on the field there is no one coaching, adjusting the game plan to adapt to on-going changes, planning new plays, making the decision whether to go for it on fourth down, etc. But the urge for a technical person to delve back into the details is great. It is essential that the PM stay at a high level and direct the project or the project will go undirected. Change management, issue management, navigating obstacles, and leveraging the team by coaching the members is essential to success as a leader. In addition, there is momentum produced by team members as they progress on a project, achieving each milestone to completion. This energy is sapped as the leader interferes with or micromanages areas in which other team members are responsible.
One way to stay at a high level is to prepare a “project notebook” at the outset of the project. The project notebook will keep the PM at a 30,000-foot view. The project notebook contains all project documents, status reports, Gantt charts, project plans, issue logs, change control forms, etc. Constantly and accurately maintaining this information will force the manager to stay at a high level while also adding to his or her efficiency. Many companies possess web based software running on their intranet that will serve the same function as a repository for all project related documents and greatly enhance the usefulness of the information.
Leverage the team
Effective managers always lead with a coaching style. They find the key to leveraging other people in order to get a project completed successfully. And that key is to identify and maintain the proper balance between supporting employees at appropriate times when they need support and not intruding on the force they generate by self-reliance and self-direction. Leaders with a technical background tend to want to direct others much like they directed themselves to achieve technical assignments. A technical person wants to “do it themselves”. Though unnatural at first, it will make management a great deal easier and will drive success more quickly if the technical person learns to leverage the team as contrasted in the following table.
Directing the team
Leveraging the team
Holds Back Information
Allows Less Autonomy
Allows More Autonomy
That first project that I had the opportunity to manage was a real learning experience about leadership. Having had primarily a technical background, I had not been prepared to let go and rely on others achieve success. Since then I have made it a practice to jump ahead immediately by defining the clear objectives, maintain a high level big-picture view, and leverage the talents and abilities of the team that I manage. In a nutshell, I have learned the value of providing a vision! And I haven’t coded a program in years.
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About the author:
Dave has over 17 years of experience in information technology, technology services and management. He has provided management and technical consulting to numerous Fortune 500 companies and is currently Senior Vice President of services for Computer Associates, International. He has a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems and Economics from Bowling Green State University and an MBA in systems management from Baldwin Wallace College.
I remember my first project as a newly promoted project manager. While I had received academic training in business administration and economics, I had begun my career among the technical ranks. My promotion to project manager was largely due to my ability to code programs in CICS assembler, Cobol, and at the time the newly emerging programming languages called “4GLs”. What I soon found out was that technical roles do little to prepare a person to advance into a management level position. I was not yet aware of the leadership required interacting with a team. In many ways a technical person is even hindered from making such a transition. Read More >Dave Hooper Articles
Leadership is a wonderful opportunity. You have your hands on the controls of your organization. If you don’t like what is going on, then look in the mirror. You are setting the standard on what is expected, what is acceptable, and what is possible. If you ask for it, you can get valuable feedback from your employees, customers, and owners that just might change your perspective.
People are your organization’s most valuable resource. Many leaders say it, but too few leaders act like it. People are street smart. You can’t fool them very long. People don’t forget what you do or how you act, but they will quickly forget what you say unless it is contrary to your actions. The old saying is true – ‘Talk talks, walk talks, but walk talks louder than talk talks’!
You become isolated from the realities of working in your organization. People filter what they tell you. But, in a very short period of time you can get valuable input from all of your employees to recalibrate your perspective. This input will help you get a picture of how people view working in your organization compared to what you think or how you might want things to be. It is difficult for you to get straight-forward, objective feedback through the normal chain of command. Getting feedback that is politically correct or feedback that your people think you want to hear only serves to build your ego, not your business. Time is money. Any process, any practice, or any behavior that wastes your people’s time or contributes to non-productive energy wastes your money.
If you want to get a quick feel for what your people think, what frustrates your people, and what is being filtered in the communication to you, then commit to do a few simple exercises. The time it takes is minor compared to the insight you will gain.
Answer each the following questions with one of three choices -- good enough, needs improvement, or hurting us:
1) In the customer’s eyes we are leading all competition in understanding and addressing their future needs.
2) Our customers choose our products and services because we provide more value and higher quality than our competition does.
3) We are keeping our resources focused on the important things because we have very few distractions that divert key manager’s time.
4) I know that our processes are effectively aligned to support our vision, mission, key values, key business objectives, and results measures.
5) Our processes effectively integrate to get maximum, focused value from our resources.
6) We aggressively seek to compare and to learn what other organizations may do better than we do.
7) We put considerable effort into developing and retaining a skilled, motivated, productive, and happy workforce to achieve extraordinary results.
8) We routinely achieve results that meet or exceed our strategic and tactical business objectives.
Now ask yourself ‘how do I know’ for each question. What process do you have in place that measures and supports your answer to the above? How do you collect the information, validate the information, analyze the information, process the information, and manage by the information? Too many leaders have to admit that they do not have the key measures or processes to really support their perceptions to these questions. This is your first look in the mirror.
Next, go out to your people – all of your people. Give them a presentation and interact with them on a topic that is of interest to them. Ask each person attending to give you two suggestions right then on something they would do or change to make things better if they could take that action right now. You do not need to know who provided the recommendations unless your people elect to put their name on the paper. Collect the suggestions before they leave the meeting area. Read every suggestion and summarize them. You will gain tremendous insight on areas within which you need to think, reflect, and dig further. These suggestions will hit right in the heart of your organization’s culture, processes, people, and alignment. This is your second quick look in the mirror.
Make some changes immediately based on the input. Show your people you listen and changes can happen quickly.
Go out and ask all of your managers, supervisors, professionals, and as many employees as possible to list for you in writing the following. You may have to let the people submit this anonymously if there is questionable trust in your organization.
1) the top five roadblocks and barriers to getting things done
2) the first 3 changes they should make in their department
3) the first 3 changes they would make someplace else in the organization
4) the 2 things they would do immediately if they were king for a day in your organization and their action could not be undone
5) the top 3 concerns they have as an employee of your organization
6) a list of any perceived sacred cows or things that cannot be changed or touched
7) a list of any perceived double standards in the organization where people are not treated the same
Read and summarize all of the above. Categorize the input into culture, process, people, or alignment areas. This is your third quick look in the mirror.
Makes some changes immediately based on the input. Again show your people that you listen and changes can happen quickly.
Now you are armed with information to conduct a fast-paced, simulation exercise with a good cross section of your organization’s leaders, natural leaders, hourly employees, bargaining employees, and professionals. You will not personally participate in the exercise but will engage a facilitator that has run an organization at least as large as yours to challenge and drive your people out of their comfort zone during the exercise. Your focus during this exercise will be to watch the group dynamics, thought processes, contributions, and basic skills to address a difficult problem. In less than 2 days you will gain tremendous additional insight into keys of what makes your organization tick or sputter...
The purpose of the simulation exercise is to quickly be able to determine how well your people understand your environment, products, customers, processes, bureaucracy, capabilities, barriers to progress, and what it takes to get something done. Many times people will see and understand only a small percentage of what must be done to take on something challenging. Time is a crutch. Normally meetings are scheduled days or weeks apart but no new, substantive information is obtained. Precious time is lost. In the simulation exercise your people must make decisions and sequentially act on those decisions. They quickly learn that you may not have all the information you maybe need or want but that is reality. People will soon learn the value of teamwork, diversity, and collaboration when they are accountable for making something happen in less than a perfect situation.
Pick a problem that could be real to the group and one that they have not tried to address. For example, the price on an item must be reduced at the actual cost level by 30% within 4 years. Your people can reduce cost by cutting cost, increasing revenues upon which overheads are charged, or other permeations and combinations. An agenda should be developed to challenge their skills and their business knowledge. Divide your people up into small working groups. Each group will provide answers to each exercise. Then all participants will discuss the input received and explained from each group and agree upon one response that best represents their collective knowledge and thinking. Your people will quickly see that not everyone sees things the same and that collaboration is a powerful tool to move forward.
You should answer questions like the following first and then compare your answers to the answers your simulation participants agreed upon. Set specific times for the working groups to answer within the group, discuss with all participants, and then collaborate to agree on their best response to tasks like the following:
1) Describe your competitive environment and its impact upon your organization.
2) List the three most important competitive variables for your organization to increase revenue. Rank the variables in highest to lowest order of importance. Determine key milestones. State in months how quickly these significant milestones can be achieved for each variable.
3) List the three most important specific actions that need to happen for each of the top four ranked competitive variables to increase revenue. Rank the actions in highest to lowest order of importance.
4) Using the collectively agreed upon top four ranked specific actions, give two examples that demonstrate your organization has accomplished such actions in the past 12 months.
5) Grade your organization using school grades (A,B, C, D, F) on each of the following:
a. Having the knowledge of what it takes and the competency to execute to compete and beat the best
b. Focus and knowledge-based strategy to increase revenues
c. Energized commitment to total quality excellence
d. Timely, aggressive, and consistent challenge to status quo that delivers results
e. Enthusiasm for rapid change
f. Total team orientation and absence of different functional or personal agendas
g. Communication with understanding on needs, strategy, and plan
h. Management leads by example and eliminates behavior inconsistent with performing at customer-acknowledged excellence levels
i. Sense of urgency and ability to get results for competitive variable #1
j. Sense of urgency and ability to get results for competitive variable #2
k. Sense of urgency and ability to get results for competitive variable #3
6) Describe in five bullet points or less, each bullet point six words or less, the specific challenge to your organization presented in this simulation.
7) Provide the top three summary solutions (six words or less) of what needs to be done in order to meet the specific challenges.
8) List the top three barriers to these solutions
9) List the top five specific cost reduction opportunities and estimate the total dollar savings for each of the five opportunities. Rank the opportunities in importance from most important to least important.
10) To realize each opportunity, list the top three changes that must take place. Rank the changes in order of importance from most important to least important.
11) Make a pie chart to summarize the percentage of total cost reduction that would come from the special cost reduction opportunities. The initiatives must add up to meet the 30% reduction target and pie chart slices must add up to 100%.
12) Using the two biggest slices from the pie chart, prepare a top level project plan and time line, in three-month increments, beginning today, and indicate how much of your savings will be realized in each three-month period. The total savings must add up to the total saving projected on the pie chart for these two slices.
13) Group discussion on what was learned, what you did right, what you could improve, and action assignments.
This is your fourth look in the mirror. In an exercise like this, you would like more facts and more time. You will never have all the facts and you could always use more time. What is more important though is learning what and how your people think with what they know today. That is why all answers are short and concise. You get the point without the usual accompanying explanation, clarification, and caveats.
Don’t be surprised if the discussions get lively. Don’t be surprised to see suppressed feelings rise to the surface. Don’t be surprised to see a lack of knowledge, skill, and basic understanding of issues and solutions. Don’t be surprised to see right in the room some of your fundamental roadblocks and barriers to progress.
Seldom does a group of people get to work together on such a challenging and mentally stimulating exercise. Seldom do people at all levels of your organization get to appreciate what you do and the decisions you have to make as a leader. Seldom do you get the opportunity to get so much non-routine information and see your people under fire when decisions must be made and positions negotiated within short time periods.
It is time to reflect. Compare your answers to the simulation exercise with the answers of your people. What have you learned? Take time to think. Pull out your strategic and tactical objectives. Where do you have gaps in your processes? Where do you have alignment challenges? What do you need to adjust to address fundamental capability, training, hiring, behaviors, procedures, processes, systems, or approach? What performance measures do you need to put in place? What is your next step?
Take the challenge. The steps forward with your new information and perspective are fun and invigorating. Now you can see why it must be you. You have your hands on all the controls. Open up communication. Stop, look, listen, and learn together. Your people will be more ready to work together to get the important things done. You will be better able to lead and remove the roadblocks and barriers in their way. Your metrics will show your progress and encourage everyone. These and future looks in the mirror will pay tremendous benefits. Try it!
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About the author:
Rick Loghry is President of Actions Speak, LLC, a firm providing custom, affordable education and training focused on aligning culture, processes, and people to improve operating results. Rick has 30+ years experience working as a change agent to improve operations. Prior to starting Actions Speak, LLC, he was President of a Forbes top 500 privately held company. He holds a B.S. in Science and MBA from Rollins College.
Leadership is a wonderful opportunity. You have your hands on the controls of your organization. If you don’t like what is going on, then look in the mirror. You are setting the standard on what is expected, what is acceptable, and what is possible. If you ask for it, you can get valuable feedback from your employees, customers, and owners that just might change your perspective. Read More >Rick Loghry Articles
Big plans are already underway for next year’s festivities and celebration! Many believe that next February 2nd will not be a routine February 2nd. Why? It is 2/2/02! All those two’s certainly must signify that next February 2nd will be a very special occasion!
If you haven’t figured it out yet, here is a hint. It has to do with predicting the weather. Yes, that’s right! February 2nd is Groundhog Day! It is the day the groundhog, also called the woodchuck, is supposed to come out of its burrow after a long winter sleep and look for its shadow. Groundhog Day has been a tradition in the United States since 1886, when it was first reported in The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper. (www.groundhog.org/history/tradition.shtml)
The origins of this tradition are clouded, but it appears that it originated in Rome and was passed on to the Teutons, or Germans. The original European tradition taught that if the hedgehog casts a shadow on Candlemas Day, which occurs on February 2nd, there would be six more weeks of bad weather.
Over the years the legend of Groundhog Day has been growing. Much credit is due to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. As many as 30,000 people now gather at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, PA to observe the most famous groundhog in the world—Punxsutawney Phil. Over the years Phil has not only predicted the weather, but has also met the President of the United States and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show! The Club even has its own web site (www.groundhog.org).
In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the humorous movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Bill Murray plays a grouchy weatherman, also named Phil, who has been assigned to cover the Punxsutawney Phil groundhog event with his producer, Rita.
After covering the event, the weatherman gets caught in a traffic jam and decides to spend the night in Punxsutawney. He wakes up at 6:00am to his alarm clock playing the exact same song from the day before. In fact everything is exactly the same. It is Groundhog Day all over again! Everything he does begins to repeat itself. Somehow, only Phil, the weatherman, remembers anything about what has to happen from the previous cycle of the day. No matter what he does, every day is a repeat of Groundhog Day! After going through many cycles of the same Groundhog Day, Phil begins to tire of living. He tries ending his life by jumping off a building, but to no avail. He wakes up the next day at 6:00 to the very same song on the radio! Nothing stops the repetitions of Groundhog Day!
The movie reminded me of a dark side to life within some organizations. Such organizations exhibit what I will call Punxsutawney leadership. No matter who is in charge, everything remains the same! Leaders come and leaders go, but nothing really changes. Phil’s repetition of Groundhog Day is like the daily grind most of us experience within modern organizations. The leadership may change over time but the underlying culture remains the same. There are the same old situations with little variation. We keep repeating the same old things hoping for different results. Just as this weatherman was about to go crazy with the repetition, so many within these organizations feel like going crazy over the lack of new and better ideas. The leadership in these organizations is like the constant repetition of an old 78 rpm record that is scratched—constantly going over and over the same groove. The messages from Punxsutawney leaders sound like a “broken record”.
In the movie theater, when Phil’s alarm clock goes off at 6:00am for about the twentieth time, the audience groans, hoping that somehow Phil can escape from the daily grind of Groundhog Day. So it is within many organizations. As a new leader appears, you can hear the groan of employees hoping that the “groundhog day” cycle can be broken. However, it is a rare occurrence to break the Punxsutawney leadership cycle. That is because culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin. When an organization’s culture is formed, based on certain assumptions, then the next generation of leadership is usually determined by the existing culture! This is especially true when times are good.
Once an organization’s culture is formed, it is usually the case that those who are considered for future leadership positions must support and conform to the existing culture. The culture survives by passing itself on to newcomers and by selecting the next generation of leadership. Organizational culture is the mechanism for social control, determining how current and future leaders will perceive, think, and feel.
Organizational culture is formed from assumptions. However, assumptions grow from experiences. When a solution to a problem seems to work repeatedly, it comes to be taken for granted. It becomes a shared assumption. It becomes the organization’s reality. Leaders within the organization will then find it inconceivable to see things in any other way than the way the culture dictates. Those who challenge the culture stir up challenges and defensive behavior. Cognitive defense mechanisms allow the organization to continue to function as it has in the past.
Edgar Schein, considered one of the founders of the field of organizational psychology, has this to say:
“Rather than tolerating such anxiety levels we tend to want to perceive the events around us as congruent with our assumptions, even if that means distorting, denying, projecting, or in other ways falsifying to ourselves what may be going on around us.” (Schein, 1992)
“It was Machiavelli who said, you know if you really want to see people at their worst just try to change the existing order of things.” (Nathan & Tyler, 1987)
An organizational culture does not form spontaneously from nothing. The original leader(s) of an organization creates it. Schein says that there is little doubt that the initial shaping force is the personality and belief system of the founder. (Schein, 1987) Leaders create a culture by articulating their assumptions about reality. Sometimes these assumptions are false or incomplete. Some may be based simply on fantasy or habit. (Kilmann, 1986) False assumptions may appear correct in the short run, or under certain conditions. However, false or incomplete assumptions can be very dangerous to the health of the organization in the long run.
Often the assumptions upon which a culture rests remain unstated and untested for years. For leaders to be truly effective, they must recognize their role in cultural modification and face the difficult challenges such action presents. It will require considerable humility and the exercise of personal listening skills. Often those most blind to incomplete or incorrect assumptions are those who have risen to the top of their organization. In fact, that is why they are at the top—because they have been so loyal to the current culture and its underlying assumptions!
Effective leaders must examine their own taken-for-granted assumptions, which can be a very painful process. However, this process is absolutely necessary if they are to make things happen that will move the organization forward and allow it to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
Successful cultural changes are typically made incrementally. This is why it is so important that cultural changes be made in good times. This allows sufficient time to complete the evolution of the cultural change. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” People who fear sweeping changes may exhibit sufficient courage to make one small change. Once the change has been successfully completed, be sure to celebrate it. Celebrate each small step. Don’t wait until your entire vision has been accomplished before celebrating.
Be aware of the tendency to allow things to just “rock along” during good times. The human tendency is to ignore those who challenge the culture and its underlying assumptions during good times. When new leadership positions open within an organization lead by Punxsutawney leaders, such positions are typically filled with more Punxsutawney leaders—those who will do things the same way as in the past—based on the same assumptions that the old leadership held. Punxsutawney leaders embrace the most deadly assumption of all—erroneous extrapolation. (Kilmann, 1986) They assume that by changing nothing, the good things that have happened to the organization in the past will continue to happen in the future! They react to cultural change like the groundhog seeing its shadow. They become scared and quickly scurry back into their corporate burrow for six more weeks of inactivity! By the time bad times arrive, it may be too late to change!
Too much change too fast will bring on the wrath of those who desire the status quo. Those attempting to change the status quo are almost always viewed as “troublemakers.” The more drastic the change, the more preparation needs to be made ahead of time to counteract the human tendency to counter change.
When accepting change means admitting that the way things were done in the past was wrong, people are certain to resist. People do not like to lose face or feel embarrassed. Therefore, to be effective, cultural change must be both incremental and presented in a way that shows that what was believed or done in the past was done under very different conditions—and therefore perfectly understandable. Those who are willing to change must be portrayed as strong, flexible, and exercising vision. Effective leaders will focus on the positive benefits of the future rather than what went wrong in the past.
To facilitate cultural change, pick out individuals who are “on-board,” and encourage them to be cheerleaders and coaches to the fence sitters. Change will require considerable effort and determination over time. It will not come automatically or over a weekend. Patience and determination are critical characteristics of change agents. Cultural change is never a “quick fix.”
When positive cultural change does occur, don’t forget to publicly support and compensate those who have helped you overcome the resistance. Cultural change is usually personally disruptive—and is never easy. Those who help you in your mission will certainly pay a personal price. If you ignore the sacrifices they have made you will weaken future change efforts.
Once change begins to take place within the culture, there will be a tendency to lapse back into the “old ways.” For change to be lasting, it must be made in such a way that it will be self-perpetuating. However, while blocking the tendency to relapse, one must never make the new way the “only way.” As an effective leader you must not allow a new generation ofPunxsutawney leaders to arise. The last thing that needs to happen is to start believing that the new culture is now the ultimate culture.
Effective leaders must always be reexamining their assumptions. They should always be diagnosing the present strengths and weaknesses of their organization. Such leaders set a positive example of humility, learning, and personal growth. They make it clear that there is “no going back,” but there is always” going forward!” Those following such leaders will not groan like the theater audience watching the twentieth cycle of the same Groundhog Day, hoping that the “groundhog day” cycle can be broken. Rather, they will be energized to challenge their own assumptions and think creatively. “Creativity breeds enthusiasm; and enthusiasm, correctly focused, breeds productivity.” (Smith, 1985)
Comments to J. Howard Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. J. Howard Baker is Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Dr. Baker has been a Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People certified facilitator for eight years, and has served the University of Texas at Tyler as their facilitator for four years. During the summer he offers a graduate and undergraduate course at U. T. Tyler in personal and organizational leadership. He holds a B.S. in Management from Samford University, a Master of Accounting (MAcc) from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Kilmann, Ralph. “Beyond the Quick Fix: Five Tracks to Managing Organizational Success”. Executive Excellence. Executive Excellence Publishing, 1986.
Nathan, John & Tyler, Sam. “Entrepreneurs: Excellence in Action”. Executive Excellence. Executive Excellence Publishing, 1987.
Schein, Edgar. “Leadership as Managed Cultural Change”. Executive Excellence. Executive Excellence Publishing, 1987.
Schein, Edgar. Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992.
Smith, Hyrum. “How To Build Your Own Pyramid of Productivity”. Executive Excellence. Executive Excellence Publishing, 1985.
Big plans are already underway for next year’s festivities and celebration! Many believe that next February 2nd will not be a routine February 2nd. Why? It is 2/2/02! All those two’s certainly must signify that next February 2nd will be a very special occasion! Read More >J. Howard Baker Articles
It was a warm summer day in the 1930’s and one of the greatest American baseball players of all time was at bat. The quiet, gentle man was Lou Gehrig, one of the best hitters ever to wear the uniform of the New York Yankees. His durability as a first baseman and consistent hitter earned him the nickname of the “Iron Horse”. During this day Gehrig would do something totally out of character. As the first pitch came at him, he swung and missed. “Strike One” bellowed the umpire. Then came the next pitch.
Again, the “Iron Horse” swung and missed. “Strike Two” intoned the umpire once again. On the third pitch Gehrig stood by and watched the ball pass by him without even an attempted swing. “Strike Three…your out!” the umpire shouted. Then something unusual happened! Lou Gehrig, one of the classiest men ever to play baseball and a solid gentleman slammed down his bat in disgust and was seen having a few words with the umpire. After the game, a shocked media reporter asked him what he was complaining to the umpire about. “Oh…I didn’t complain,” stated Gehrig. “I simply told him that I would give one thousand dollars for a chance at that last ball again!” Within this story is a powerful lesson for leaders to consider. Constructive accomplishment requires decision. For a leader to rely on chance or luck to be a deciding factor is to court disaster. Sometimes, the only risk is not taking one.
It is understandable that we should want to avoid making decisions for a number of reasons. First of all, it is often risky. Risk is defined as the possibility of suffering harm, loss or danger. We tend to be comfortable in our patterns and expectations. Often times making a decision means we must step out of our “comfort zone” into the unknown. Through past experience we know that even a slight shift in our course can have dramatic effects on what our lives will be. Secondly, leaders often make decisions while they are slightly ahead of the prevailing group or culture. It is often a lonely, thankless experience with little visible support. This situation is compounded when the leader has not taken the time and energy to build a strong consensus among others. Even on a personal level, we may avoid or delay making decisions about our family, careers or finances because of an aversion to risk and fear of failure.
But here is an important fact about decision-making and risk. We will frequently come to a crossroads in life or business where an important decision mustbe made. We have a choice to make. Either we make the decision, or “time and chance” will decide for us what we were unwilling to decide for ourselves! Either way, a decision will be made. The question is, will we take charge and assume greater control of the outcome, or will we allow luck or fate to determine the outcome for us? There is an old story about two men drifting on a raft traveling down the Niagara River toward the ominous Niagara Falls. They began to argue about how far they were from the falls and when they should go ashore. The argument continued…far too long. While they delayed making a decision, time made the decision for them, with unfortunate results.
An example of this situation can be seen in the recent terrorist event experienced in the United States. For many years, one event after another warned American leaders that terrorism was at our shore. The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing was a “wake up call” to a sheltered nation about the real threat of terrorism. Six people died in the blast, which caused an estimated $600 million in property and other economic damage. Trials that followed convicted six people of carrying out the attack. In 1995, an American citizen bombed a Federal Building in Oklahoma City causing the death of 168 people and injuring more than 500, making it the deadliest terrorist attack at that time in the United States. Other attacks again Americans included hijackings, embassy bombings, and assaults against American ships in harbor. It was time for leadership, and the courage to make some difficult decisions. American leaders did what democratic leaders often do in this kind of a situation. In 1996, the American Congress passed, and the President signed antiterrorism legislation to strengthen the power of the federal government to respond to both international and domestic terrorism. It was weak legislation intended to show citizens that something was being done. But it should have been time for decisive action and commitment. It would have required an enormous investment in resources and greater government scrutiny. Political leaders were unwilling to make the tough decisions. On September 11th, 2001 time decided for us what we were unwilling to decide for ourselves.
The purpose of this article is not to encourage you to lurch into ill-advised or poor decision making. Leaders should seek the facts, get advice, do the research and build support whenever possible. But there does come a time when a decision…the decision must be made. It has been said that former American President and World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower once commented, “A wrong decision is better than indecision”. Think about why a military General would have made this comment. A wrong decision is at least a choice, and if that choice is wrong there if often enough time to retrench, regroup and alter the course. However, indecision only erodes precious time and often removes the option of real choice from the decision maker. Again, sometimes the only risk is not taking one. As author and educator Gary Dessler states, “Very few decisions are forever; there is more “give” in most decisions than we realize. While many major strategic decisions are hard to reverse, most poor decisions won’t mean the end of the world for you, so don’t become frozen in the finality of your decision”. Even Lou Gehrig got a chance to bat again the very next day!
At the heart and core of leadership is also the willingness to take personal responsibility for a difficult decision. On June 6, 1944, in World War II, General Eisenhower agonized over a difficult decision to allow Allied forces to land in Normandy, France. The weather had been poor and threatened to derail the Allied assault. A window of opportunity was closing and it was time for decisive action. Eisenhower gave approval for the landing. However, he also took the time to write an announcement to be broadcast in case the landing failed and the Allies were unable to secure a beachhead. In the handwritten announcement, Eisenhower accepted full responsibility for the failure. Thankfully, it was never needed!
Many experts in management believe that not all decisions are the same. They differentiate between what they call programmed and nonprogrammeddecisions. Programmed decisions are defined as ones that are repetitive and can typically be resolved through rational analysis and mechanical procedures. It is believed that the overwhelming majority of decisions we make are programmed decisions. Standard rules of deduction can be applied to these decision types. Of course this is easier said than done! This assumes one’s thinking is rational and that the “standard rules of deduction” are sound and valid. On the other hand, nonprogrammed decisions are defined as novel and unique in nature. This includes crisis situations or when we are at a personal crossroad in life. These decisions rely heavily on our judgment and values rather than clear-cut analysis. They are typically more urgent and require greater focus. These are the tough agonizing decisions that may need to be based on incomplete information and unknown criteria. Sometimes there is no clear choice of what is right or wrong. There may be little “black and white” and mostly shades of gray. This is where we need to muster all the creativity and intuition we can find deep within ourselves. Because these nonprogrammed decisions are usually strategic, the risk and consequences can be greater.
Here are a few tips to improve your decision-making ability. Recognize the facts as they really are and not how you want to see them. It is easy to ignore or reinterpret the facts because we are looking to support a conclusion we desire. For example, those who study theology often fall prey to a problem called proof-texting. This is where the theologian first comes to aconclusion, and then looks for scriptures to support a preconceived belief. Maintain your objectivity so your decision is based on an intelligent analysis of the actual facts and not a preconceived decision. Don’t be afraid to use your intuition. This is where you unconsciously make a decision based on accumulated experience and knowledge. Having firm personal values and strong ethics add to the benefit of good intuition. Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud stated,
“When making a decision of minor importance I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of our personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”
Obviously if the deep inner needs of our nature are based on a foundation of integrity and genuine concern for others, our intuition will serve us well. Another decision-making tip is to be careful not to use shortcuts to save time. A common shortcut is called heuristics. This is used to speed up decision-making by applying “rules of thumb” to quickly reach a conclusion. For example, a senior manager may say, “I only want individuals with advanced degrees to apply for this position”. This may speed up the selection process, but may also mean the bestqualified individual is rejected. The final tip I offer is to avoid anchoring. The trait of anchoring is where we give too much credence to the first information or set of facts that we hear. This first bit of information then becomes the benchmark by which the decision will be made and later information that is contrary is minimized.
The next time you are confronted with the need to make a decision, I hope you will remember the story of Lou Gerhig. It is better to choose your own course and perhaps even go down “swinging” than to sit idly by and allow luck or chance to make the decision for you. A leader’s calling is to make the hard decisions when they are needed. Yes, there is a risk to decision-making, but there is often a greater risk when we do nothing and allow fate to decide for us. So be sure you gather the facts, get sound advice, do the necessary research and try to build support from others. Then make the decision, because sometimes the only risk is not taking one!
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About the author:
Greg has over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within the electrical distribution industry. Some of his positions have included being a National Sales Manager, National Marketing Manager and for the past 9 years that of Regional Sales Manager. He also has extensive experience in public speaking and has written articles for various publications. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University where he presently serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching courses in management. Greg is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Dessler, Gary. Management – Leading People and Organizations in the 21st Century. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001
Fitzgerald, Ernest A. Keeping Pace: Inspirations In The Air. Greensboro, North Carolina: Pace Communications, Inc., 1988
Heilbroner, Robert. How To Make an Intelligent Decision. Think, December 1990, pp. 2-4
It was a warm summer day in the 1930’s and one of the greatest American baseball players of all time was at bat. The quiet, gentle man was Lou Gehrig, one of the best hitters ever to wear the uniform of the New York Yankees. His durability as a first baseman and consistent hitter earned him the nickname of the “Iron Horse”. During this day Gehrig would do something totally out of character. As the first pitch came at him, he swung and missed. “Strike One” bellowed the umpire. Then came the next pitch.Greg L. Thomas Articles
My grandmother is a gardening guru. Ever since I can remember, she has always been able to grow and cultivate any type of plant. It’s really quite amazing. I will never forget the day she was able to get a rose bush to grow in hot Florida. If you know anything about the dirt in Florida, it is not a conducive environment for rose bushes. However, here she is with a blooming rose bush in the front of her yard. This achievement was not without a string of challenges. After all, she was trying to get a rose bush to grow and thrive in South Florida. The plant went through all kinds of changes, but my grandmother knew if she kept trying and gave it enough thought she would figure out what was needed in order to make it work. Eventually she was successful. She merely had to create the right environment for the plant to grow and prosper. Twenty years later, the roses are still there.
Isn’t this what some of our organizations are like today? Many times organizations are trapped in an environment that does not allow for a free flow of its gifts and talents. Thus, there is no growth and prosperity. Some of them are on the brink of an innovative plan that will catapult their business to the next level. This is not a bad thing. We want our organizations to thrive and prosper. The challenge that presents itself is much like the challenge of trying to get a rose bush to grow and prosper in South Florida. The soil isn’t cultivated properly and the environment is out of order. As a leader in your organization, it is your responsibility to examine the environment of your organization to ensure the soil is properly cultivated for a harvest to produce. Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce write for the McKinsey Quarterly. They state, “Today’s organizations must redesign themselves to remove unproductive complexity while simultaneously stimulating the effective, efficient creation and exchange of valuable intangibles. They must be able to mobilize mind power as well as labor and capital.” This is true.
Is Your Soil Right for the Harvest?
As in the previous example about the rose bush, the soil for an organization is its design. Without the proper design, the organization cannot apply the proper strategy to reap the necessary harvest. Right Management argues, “There are some fundamental relationships between organizational elements that work together to deliver a well-executed strategy through an engaged workforce, resulting in a great customer experience, high performance, and profitability.” Gill Corkindale further supports this argument by sharing the following thought regarding poor organizational design, “Poor organizational design and structure results in confusion within roles, a lack of coordination among functions, failure to share ideas, and slow decision-making.” When I think about this, I can see two plants growing together. One is wheat and the other is tare.
Tares are uncultivated seeds. The tare represents poor organizational design. When an organization’s design is lacking, it produces seeds of further destruction (just like the tare). Tares literally choke the life out of wheat. It takes years of labor to completely eradicate tares. Wheat, on the other hand, represents prosperity and a thriving organization with proper design. An organization with a wheat mentality bends with the wind at full girth because its seeds are heavy, properly rooted in the soil. In order for the wheat to thrive, the tare must be destroyed at the root or it will continue to grow and suffocate the wheat. Unfortunately, before this can occur the organization must wait until the proper time to do so. Just like the farmer must wait until the wheat is at full harvest in order to remove the tares (unless he risks the loss of his harvest), organizational leaders must assess the proper time to remove the tare from their midst. This means the organization must be prepared to experience a pruning process.
The purpose of pruning is to produce strong, healthy, attractive plants. As an organization, you want to have a strong, healthy, attractive organism that can produce a sustainable harvest. To do so, you must be willing to do some cutting and preventive maintenance across your organization.
1. Perform a SWOT analysis of each department. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each area of your organization can be the crucial element in recognizing the wheat from the tare.
2. Meet with your Strategic Human Resource Manager and review the roles of the managers and leaders in your organization. Are there duplicate roles within the same department? How can you be more strategic in your hiring practices? Where can you trim the fat? Where can you gather the fragments to sow elsewhere in the organization?
3. Meet with your senior leadership and discuss the health of the organization with respect to its vision.
There are so many dynamics that impact an organization. As such, organizations must ensure their design addresses those dynamics. For instance, in the current economic climate, an organization must ensure there are proper measures and strategies in place to not only remain on the cutting edge but also to ensure the quality of the product / service is sound. Before an organization can achieve this, it must ensure the soil (the design) is properly cultivated. What do I mean by cultivated? To cultivate something means to prepare and work on or till. It also means to promote or improve the growth of by labor and attention. It means to foster. Therefore, an organization must promote or improve the growth of their design structure before it can expect to reap the benefits of the talent housed within.
Cultivate Your Soil for the Right Environment
Today’s organizations are impacted by technology, globalization, demographics (social and political), and other external forces. Traditional hierarchical models of yesterday’s organizations have demonstrated their limitations in the face of the explosive change that is characterized by contemporary society. Some leaders still believe in the hierarchical, top down leadership paradigm where power is conferred upon a few decision makers. I agree with Jenner’s argument that the problem with this method is it tends to restrict the free flow of ideas and information and limit organizational flexibility, all to gain greater “control”.
Cultivating the right environment for your organization to thrive and prosper may take a lot of hard work, but it is worth it. Before you can cultivate your organization, you must be able to identify what kind of soil you currently have. If your soil is bare, it is suitable for cultivating (digging). This means you pretty much have a blank slate. You are ready to start fresh and establish an organizational design. Then there is the clay soil. Clay is difficult to work with and few plants survive in it. This means the design that is currently in place does not align with your vision and your workforce, most likely, is at odds with one another. Inter-departmental teams are not cohesive and little to no productivity occurs. Lastly there is the light, sandy soil. It is easy to till because the grains are fine. The problem with sandy soil is it dries out quickly. An organization that fits into this category has a good foundation. You may have the right design, but you are not properly watering the soil. You, also, are not mixing in the right organic matter to make it more conducive for what you are trying to produce. With a sandy soil, you definitely need to nurture your talent and knowledge seeds with training and development. You will also need to encourage innovation and feedback. With sandy soil, it will take a great deal of investment into what you have.
So what are some other ways your organization can cultivate its soil for the right environment? Bryan and Joyce offer the following recommendations:
1. Streamline and simplify vertical and line-management structures.
2. Deploy off-line teams to discover new wealth-creation opportunities while using a dynamic management process to resolve short- and long-term trade-offs.
3. Develop knowledge marketplaces, talent marketplaces, and formal networks to stimulate the creation and exchange of intangibles.
4. Rely on measurements of performance rather than supervision to get the most from self-directed professionals.
Organizational design should be about developing and implementing corporate strategy. When leaders keep this in mind, they will be better able to cultivate the soil of their organization so it is conducive for the seeds of innovation to mature and produce a harvest. Mike Bohlmann, Kelly Bridgewater, Mona Heath, and Sally Jackson wrote an article entitled “Connected and Permeable: An Organizational Design for the 21st Century Research University.” In the article they state, “The process of restructuring will provide many opportunities for shaping new attitudes and values, but these new attitudes and values will need constant bolstering within the context of day-to-day work as well as within professional development activities.”
As you work to separate the wheat from the tares in order to cultivate the right environment for your organization, you must remember why your organization exists. What was the fundamental basis for starting the organization in the beginning? When you keep your vision in mind, you are better able to pull on the talent and knowledge base housed within your organization. Then you can use the innovation that springs forth. Before you can reap the harvest, however, you have to have an environment conducive for the seeds that are being sown. Much like the rose bush, the soil has to be right. When you look at your organization, do you see an environment prime for a healthy harvest or a harvest that has been sabotaged and suffocated by the wrong seeds?
Bohlmann, M., Bridgewater, K., Heath, M. & Jackson, S. (2009). Connected and permeable: An organizational design for the 21st century research university. [PDF document]. Retrieved from: https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/CIO/www/ITatIllinois/Connected%20and%20Permeable.pdf
Bryan, L.L. & Joyce, C. (2007). “Better strategy through organizational design: Redesigning an organization to take advantage of today’s sources of wealth creation isn’t easy, but there can be no better use of a CEO’s time.” McKinsey Quarterly, 2.
Bryan, L.L. & Joyce, C. (2005). “The 21st century organization.” McKinsey Quarterly, 3. Corkindale, G. (2011). The importance of organizational design and structure. HBR Blog Network. Retrieved from: http://blogs.hbr.org/corkindale/2011/02/the_importance_of_organization.html
Dictionary.com. (2012). Cultivate. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cultivate Harrell Andrews, L.C. (2011). Wheat, tare, and weeds. Know the difference. Retrieved from: http://ladylashonda.hubpages.com/hub/Wheat--Tare--and-Weeds
Jenner, R.A. (1994). “Changing patterns of power, chaotic dynamics and the emergence of a post-modern organizational paradigm.” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 7(3), pp. 8-21. DOI:10.1108/0953481940063692. Nielson, D. (2009). Connections: Wheat and tares. Retrieved from: http://donna-connections.blogspot.com/2009/04/wheat-and-tares.html
Right Management. (2010). Organizational effectiveness: Discovering how to make it happen. [PDF document}. Retrieved from Leadership Insights: http://www.right.com/thought-leadership/research/organizational-effectiveness-discovering-how-to-make-it-happen.pdf
Royal Horticulture Society. (2012). Soil: Cultivation. Retrieved from: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=202
Susan’s Garden Patch. (n.d.). Soil types. Retrieved from: http://www.susansgardenpatch.com/soil.htm United States Department of Agriculture. (1995). How to prune trees. [PDF document]. Retrieved from: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/howtos/ht_prune/prun001.htm
Vanderlinden, C. (n.d.). Understanding and improving clay soil. Retrieved from: http://organicgardening.about.com/od/soil/a/improveclaysoil.htm About the author:
Latanya Hughes is a full-time faculty member at American Public University System. She received her Bachelor's degree (Hospitality Management) from Tuskegee University and Master's degree (MBA) from Strayer University. She is currently pursuing a DSL in Global Consulting from Regent University in the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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My grandmother is a gardening guru. Ever since I can remember, she has always been able to grow and cultivate any type of plant. It’s really quite amazing. I will never forget the day she was able to get a rose bush to grow in hot Florida. If you know anything about the dirt in Florida, it is not a conducive environment for rose bushes. However, here she is with a blooming rose bush in the front of her yard. This achievement was not without a string of challenges. After all, she was trying to get a rose bush to grow and thrive in South Florida. The plant went through all kinds of changes, but my grandmother knew if she kept trying and gave it enough thought she would figure out what was needed in order to make it work. Eventually she was successful. She merely had to create the right environment for the plant to grow and prosper. Twenty years later, the roses are still there. Read More >Latanya Hughes Articles
As a leader of your company, you may have developed strategies, but is your company’s organizational structure aligned in a way that such strategies can be fully achieved? Tom Landry, former Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys stated, “Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” The “main thing” mentioned by Landry requires more effort than merely developing a strategy. It involves a complete understanding of how strategy and structure work in tandem, and the ability to tailor both of these aspects of your company to achieve your objectives.
Strategies often change over time; however, structures are usually much more static. Strategies are often decided in a boardroom. In contrast, structural change can be mandated in the boardroom, but must be implemented throughout the organization. Compounding the difficulty of this challenge is when your company has strategic or structural changes imposed upon it. For example, automobile dealerships may have strategic changes forced upon them by automobile manufacturers when the dealership’s structures are not yet designed to augment this strategy. Such impositions are much more common today due to an increased number of companies having strategic alliances, outsourced services, and international competitors.
When your company’s structure is not aligned with its strategy, the effects on your organization are similar to when your automobile is not in alignment. Misalignment results in wasted energy, unnecessary wear-and-tear on the organization and personnel, fractured resources, and higher operating costs. How do you know when your company’s structure is out of alignment with your strategy? Richard Daft (2001) lists three symptoms:
1) Decision making is delayed or lacking in quality.
2) The organization does not respond innovatively to a changing environment.
3) Too much conflict is evident. (p. 120).
Daft further writes, “Organization structure must accomplish two things for the organization. It must provide a framework of responsibilities, reporting relationships, and groups, and it must provide mechanisms for linking and coordinating organizational elements into a coherent whole. (pg. 120). Daft continues, “Managers can choose whether to orient toward a traditional organization designed for efficiency, which emphasizes vertical linkages such as hierarchy, rules and plans, and formal information systems, or toward a contemporary learning organization, which emphasizes horizontal communication and coordination……The organization chart provides the structure, but employees provide the behavior. The chart is a guideline to encourage people to work together, but management must implement the structure and carry it out.” (pg. 121).
Bradford (2001) emphasizes the importance of aligning your structure with your strategy, “Aligning everyone in your organization with your strategy is one of the most important things you can do beyond formulating and implementing great strategies. Alignment will make it much easier for your management team to push the organization in the direction you intend. Without good alignment with the strategy, every bit of forward motion will be a struggle.” (pg. 1).
Daft includes an organization’s structural form (i.e. learning vs. efficiency) as part of the organization’s design, and couples this with a company’s information and control systems, production technology, human resource policies and incentives, organizational culture, and inter-organizational linkages. (p. 53). In this manner, Daft maintains that organizational design influences strategic direction, while also existing to implement such strategies. This tandem relationship reveals the importance of having everyone throughout your organization implement your strategy. Later in this article, we will discuss how your company can achieve on-going alignment by having your staff actively involved in balancing the strategic direction of your organization with your structure.
In considering each of the structural aspects Daft describes, what should your company’s structure look like? First, from your desired strategy, consider each component of your structure from four policy perspectives. Galbraith (2002) describes each of these policy areas, or dimensions:
1) Specialization…the types and number of specialties to be used in performing the work.
2) Shape…. the number of people forming departments at each hierarchical level.
3)Distribution of power….the vertical distribution of decision-making power and authority…..and the horizontal distribution of power.
4)Departmentalization……the choice of departments to integrate the specialized work and form a hierarchy of departments. (pp. 17-23).
Does each aspect of your structure augment your strategy? Based upon your current structure, what aspects of your strategy need to be adjusted? Once you have identified needed changes to your strategy or structure, this process continues until your organization has achieved alignment between your strategy and structures, and also a plan for needed changes to both. Bradford advocates five unique steps needed to implement alignment between your strategy and structure:
1) Employees must have the conceptual tools required for good strategic thinking about their work.
2) Employees must understand the strategy.
3) Strategic alignment needs to be built around the structure of the organization.
4) Strategy must be reflected in the structure of individual jobs – especially those in critical areas.
5) You must have buy-in to the strategy. (pp. 2-7).
Although the first three steps appear elementary, implementing these steps is analogous to an automobile technician fully diagnosing what corrective actions are needed to align an automobile. These steps allow you and your staff to completely understand your company’s strategy and structure.
The fourth and fifth steps are to take the actual implementation steps to align, in tandem, your organization’s structure to your desired strategy. These steps are important and you must have the desire and tools necessary to take corrective actions. Aligning your company’s strategy and structure, while making your structure adaptable to future strategies often involves changes to hiring practices, motivation of personnel, compensation, policies and procedures, marketing, reporting relationships.
Alignment may be achieved by simply tweaking a few aspects of your strategy or structure, or may involve a complete top-to-bottom overhaul. Using the automobile dealership as an example, an automobile manufacturer that produces an automobile that orients itself to sales by utilizing very attractive financing options, results in a different structure for the dealership, than when this same manufacturer changes their offerings to more luxury automobiles, that are not sold on the basis of financing. If your organizational structure is aligned with one strategy, you must adjust your structure. In this instance, while the organizational chart may not change, the compensation and empowerment of sales people likely will. What about the service department? Owners of luxury cars will be much more inclined to scheduled maintenance, and be very demanding regarding appointments. Will hiring need to be changed to better serve these types of customers? Can existing personnel become what is needed?
Development Dimensions International (DDI) is a Human Resources consulting firm specializing in assisting companies by aligning structures with strategies. They emphasize that, “Developing business strategies is one thing; but executing it is another. The best and brightest can set strategy, but their efforts will be wasted unless they follow through with effective execution.” DDI further states, “To turn strategy into reality, leaders must be able to translate business strategy into action, align organizational capability, and leverage organizational systems.” (pg. 1).
Once you determine the need for aligning your organizational structure to your strategy, your leadership will be the key to effective change. Stalk et. al (1992) writes, “Because capabilities are cross-functional, the change process can’t be left to middle managers. It requires the hands-on guidance of the CEO and the active involvement of top-line managers. (p. 65). It takes leadership to align structures with strategy. Alignment will not happen unless you, as the leader, make it happen.
Once you have achieved temporary alignment, how can you create a method of continual alignment? How can you make your organization more adaptive going-forward? Gailbraith (2002) discusses the importance of adaptive organizations, stating, “In an era of temporary advantage, you compete with your organization.” (p. 3). Does your organization provide you with a sustainable competitive advantage? The answer to this question involves empowering your people to assist in creating and continually aligning strategies and structures.
Your people can make your strategies and structure adapt to needed changes, but only if you involve them in the process. Gailbraith writes, “Structure determines the location of decision-making. (p.2). For companies seeking to empower those closest to the customer, Gailbraith also writes, “Speed also means decisions must be moved to points of direct contact with the work.” (p. 6). As Mintzberg, et al. (1998) state, “Informed individuals anywhere in an organization can contribute to the strategy process….who is better to influence strategy than the foot solider on the firing line, closest to the action?” (p. 178).
What is the end result of achieving alignment? How do you know when you have finally gotten it right? Galbraith states, “Organization designs are effective when they achieve a strategic fit….A strategic fit means effectiveness because congruence among the policies sends a clear and consistent signal to organization members and guides their behavior. (p 171). Just as you know if your automobile is in alignment, so too do leaders know when their strategies and structures are in alignment. Various aspects of your organization work in tandem to get you where you desire to be.
In conclusion, Thomas Edison stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So too, is the relationship between strategy and structure. Are you ready to sweat to achieve alignment in your company? As a successful leader, you have likely found that changes in your organization regarding strategy and structure take your leadership. Such leadership is increasingly dependent upon you empowering your employees to make decisions affecting your company. It is up to you to make alignment happen. The process of aligning your company’s strategy and structure is the “main thing” as Landry described. This requires your leadership in determining how you will go about achieving alignment. You are the leader: now lead, sweat, and make it happen.
Bradford, R. (2001). Building Support for the Strategic Plan: Aligning Employees
with Strategy. Compass Points. Retrieved January 10, 2005, from http://www.strategyletter.com/cp_1001/cp_fa.asp
Daft, R. (2004). Organizational Theory and Design. 8th Ed. South-Western. Mason, Ohio.
Development Dimensions International. Retrieved January 10, 2005, from
Edison, T. Retrieved January 9, 2005 from http://ktornado.tripod.com/khs/id13.html
Galbraith, J. (2002). Designing Organizations: An Executive Guide To Strategy,
Structure, and Process. Jossey-Bass. New York.
Landry, T. Retrieved January 9, 2005, from http://ktornado.tripod.com/khs/id13.html
Mintzberg, H. Ahlstrand, B., & Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour
Through The Wilds of Strategic Management. The Free Press. New York.
Stalk, G., Evans, & P, Shulman, L. Competing on Capabilities: The New Rules of
Corporate Strategy. Harvard Business Review. March 1, 1992.
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About the author:
J. Hall C. Thorp is a partner of a private investment firm in North Carolina. Hall has an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill, and is currently pursuing Doctoral studies while working full-time. As a result, Hall brings a unique perspective to the topic of strategic/structure alignment.
As a leader of your company, you may have developed strategies, but is your company’s organizational structure aligned in a way that such strategies can be fully achieved? Tom Landry, former Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys stated, “Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” The “main thing” mentioned by Landry requires more effort than merely developing a strategy. Read More >J. Hall C. Thorp Articles
Success factors in business can be divided into two major categories: those that deal with things and those that deal with people. Although many organizations spend millions of dollars on capital equipment, human capital has the highest potential of value for the organization. Teamwork and the role it plays in dealing with people within an organization is a top priority for many leaders. This thesis will explore the positive and negative effects of teams, the value of teams in various venues, and both positive and negative issues that can influence adaptation of teamwork culture.
Understanding what a team is and how it works is the first step to implementing teamwork culture into your organization. According to Modern Management website (2003),
A team is two or more employees who are organizationally empowered to establish their objectives, to make decisions about how to achieve those objectives, to undertake the tasks required to meet them, and to be individually and mutually accountable for their results. (n.p.)
Teams are organized so that appropriate talents and skills are pooled together to accomplish a specific goal. This pooling of human resources requires team members to have an array of skills that individual or routine jobs do not demand. The benefits of pooling these resources include increased productivity, improved customer service, more flexible systems, and employee empowerment. The goal is that the sum total of the team is greater than the individuals themselves.
Building a team begins at an even more basic level than just choosing team members. The team environment is best served when the persons selected for the team have some similar and some diverse characteristics. Some similar characteristics to look for when forming a team are an ability to communicate with various people, share knowledge, collaborate, generate ideas, respect other persons, productivity, flexibility, commitment, and be enthusiastic. People must be able to think on their own before they can think as a team. Also, a level of self-confidence must exist for the team members to feel safe in the team environment to express ideas that may be discarded by the team. A type of safe zone must exist within the team to avoid stifling creativity and ideas. Treatment of team members as internal customers should be the norm. The diversity is best displayed in skills, critical thinking, and a “thinking outside the box” innovative focus. Members having a variety of job titles and seniority, and white-collar and blue-collar employees can also be a diversity factor. Diversity can also involve the technical and human needs of the team.
The best business strategy requires the best people strategy. For an organization to be successful, the skills needed by the employees are the behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge needed to be successful both on the job and as an individual. These personal management skills are the building blocks for good morale, a focused worklife, and greater organizational productivity. The employees drive an organization’s success. Employee’s skills must be aligned with the organization’s goals in an increasingly competitive market. As each organization is unique, customization of the specific requirements (hard skills) is needed, but the generalities remain the same. Soft skills are important to the success of the team and organization itself. This skill set involves proper communication, team building, conflict management, good supervision, internal and external alliances, relationship building with stakeholders, working with others to generate creative ideas and solutions, participatory management, and performance evaluation.
The individual employee may need some additional education and training to perform well in the workplace. Continual technological advances cause training to be an ongoing function in business. The ability to apply more efficiently new knowledge and skills will aid the organization in meeting and exceeding its strategic goals and competitive challenges. Seminars and corporate training sessions are convenient, relatively inexpensive ways to update needed skills. The education and training are important factors for increasing organizational performance.
Opportunities for lifelong learning should be provided to all levels of employees that will promote and increase organizational performance directly. Learning should become a habitual activity rather than an occasional event. Training must be tied to the organization’s strategic business requirements and maintain the organization’s core competencies in every field at every level. Workers should be held accountable for learning new skills. Many organizations are building the accountability into performance evaluations as a method of emphasizing its importance.
Some employees will shy away from or staunchly refuse training and learning. Reasons can be varied. According to Sparks (2004), learning requires vulnerability. It involves self-disclosure and risk taking. High-quality connections produce all three of these qualities. High-quality connections also enable individuals and the collective to grow in unanticipated directions. (n.p.) Learning is more than acquiring information. It is a social activity that leads to more complex ways of thinking. Professional development leaders can increase learning by actively cultivating richer, more positive connections among people. This would have a higher yield of professional learning than the importation of experts who dispense lots of information.
Enhancing the competency of the project managers and team members gives the organization more opportunity for success. Organizations need to leverage and build on the knowledge, skills, and competencies available within the organization. Competent people must be assigned to the team. The term competent means that the team leader or member is operating at acceptable levels of performance in his or her areas of training and experience. It does not mean that each member has perfect knowledge of all areas. Competence also involves acknowledging what you do not know and having the courage to express these concerns. The key is to know when to obtain assistance and expertise.
Communication skills are imperative in today’s workforce environment. Many business leaders estimate that deficiencies of communication skills cost employers millions of dollars of lost productivity and errors. The communication skills include interpersonal, teamwork, and negotiation skills. An employee interacts with other people to perform his/her work emphasizing the need for skills such as the ability to handle stress, interact easily with others, listen to others, and cope with undesirable behavior in others. Anyone who has been in the workforce for any period of time can attest to the fact that there is almost always at least one employee that is difficult to deal with and work around. Effective teams find that when positive talk exceeds negative talk, there’s a quality of connection among team members. This leads to the accomplishment of collective work that none of the individual team members thought was possible.
According to Zolgio (2003), a cohesive work team can add value to the organization if it pays attention to the ongoing development of three important connections: to the larger work organization, to team members, and to other work teams. (n.p.) Building the right team is as important as the teamwork culture itself. The culture must support and encourage teamwork for it to be successful. According toMontebello (2004), the work itself must be conducive to teams, a culture of cooperation must be crafted, and organizational systems must be engineered to reinforce collaboration. (p. 541) The work must be such that completion by a team can result in a better end product.
Before a group of co-workers can develop into a team, it must first be a team. Teams are a reasonably stable unit with a shared responsibility for a defined piece of work. Members develop familiarity with one another and with the task, so they can get to work more quickly. They learn who is skilled or knowledgeable in different aspects of the project. According to Hackman (2002), the National Transportation Safety Board found that 73% of all mishaps occurred on the flight team’s first day of flying together, before they’ve had the chance to learn through experience how to best work together. (n.p.) Stability of the membership allows for growth of commitment to the team and to each other. Competent teams learn fairly rapidly how to work together.
Another key element to the team’s success is the team members. According to Mason (2003):
The team leader seeks to attract all the people who really know something about the issue and bring their ideas together as a way to structure discussion. At their best, these leaders make scenarios a way for people to work new ideas into the planning and decision making system with out-of-the-box ideas and inputs. (n.p.)
Teamwork culture can be defined as a network of skilled employees who support each other in the achievement of corporate goals, and the delivery of exceptional products or services. According to Teambuildinginc.com (2003):
Whether we realize it or not, a workplace is a community. A team is also a community. The town has a culture, a common language, a process of operation, rules for order, and a purpose for being, i.e., safety, security, and efficiency in living. In the same way, a workplace is a community. (n.p.)
As I have worked in Accounting for 20 years for several companies, I have experienced first-hand the workplace community. Accounting has its own common language such as P&L or 2290. Only a few outside the department know the vernacular used within each department. I have also personally noticed a culture among staff members. Culture can include similar hobbies or sports, such as golf, or similar taste in clothing or choice of restaurants. The rules for order and a purpose for being have also been identified. Accounting rules of order and purpose for being include producing monthly financials and tasks accomplished in a specific method. Personally, I would conclude that not only does the business itself become a community, but also the departments within the business are a segment of the community.
It is hard to find work places that exemplify teamwork. A teamwork environment tends to flatten the traditional pyramid-style hierarchy. This step can foster a more collaborative staff. It can also be a threat to managers that tend to place their personal value in their job title. The isolation of the hierarchy and its power is being replaced with partnering, team relationships, common goals and visions, and a large change in the organization’s dynamics. Teambuilding is a work culture that values collaboration. In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decision-making, and actions are better done collectively. This is an exception to the way most business has been done in the past. According to Mason (2003), rank-and-file employees expect management to set the direction the organization is taking, but resent detailed task planning. If given some direction, they expect to be trusted to get it done. (n.p.) This is the very root of teambuilding. According to Chien (2004):
Performance is one of the key terms of modern organization. Performance means the transformation of inputs into outputs for achieving certain outcomes. Performance is the equivalent to the famous 3 E’s of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. Some elements of successful organizations doing total development work include selection of cohesive teams based on sentiments of mutual liking and respect for each other’s expertise, controlled convergence to solutions that everyone understands and everyone accepts, organize vigilant information processing and encourage actively open-minded thinking, avoid the facile, premature consensus, maintain the best balance between individual and group work, and initiate generation of new concepts. (n.p.)
According to Plato (427-347 B.C.), “The excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction.” Polarity between employers and employees can occur without proper presentation of the goals and rewards of supporting a teamwork culture. Opposition to the teamwork culture surfaces in a variety of ways through various stages of life.
One of the negative points to consider when teambuilding or promoting teamwork culture begins in childhood. According to Grazier (2003):
Most of us in the workforce today were taught that teamwork is associated with play, while achievement and work were associated with individual performance. Overcoming ideas gained in childhood can be a challenge. Old paradigms die hard. Another negative point is that changing the work group structure without changing the organization’s culture to support this, it will not work. (n.p.)
Individual achievement is almost an American ideal. We are taught that ideal from early childhood. Much of our educational processes are based on individual learning and achievement. In school settings, teamwork is considered cheating. After 12 years or more of this type of conditioning, buying into a teamwork setting will probably take change management and transitional thinking. In order for this change to succeed, we must first understand the dynamics of change. Three basic elements in creating successful change are both personal and organizational. The elements are: the desire to change (personal), the ability to change (personal), and the permission to change (organizational). Many organizations consider their people as expenses, rather than assets with intellectual property. This idea must be among the first to change. According to Grazier (2003), the reasons we resist change are very personal and unique, so changing the thinking of many people in an organization will probably require a variety of approaches. The three elements involve motivation (desire), ability (skills), and authorization (permission) by the organization. (n.p.) According to Bateman (1999), management must enlist the cooperation of its people to implement a change….with education, communication, participation, and involvement. (pp. 613-614) With successful change management, teambuilding can begin.
So just what is teambuilding? Teambuilding is a process of awareness building. It’s helping people become aware that they are greater collectively than individually. People become aware that our decisions and their results can be better with collaboration and an honest appreciation of each other’s interaction. The simplistic definition of teambuilding is helping people understand this. We must shift our thinking and perception of others to an honest value of other’s skills, knowledge, and abilities.
Some advantages of teamwork culture are promotion of talents, skills, and creativity of diverse people. It also utilizes skills, time, and resources for benefit of the employee and employer. According to McGraw (2004), “without creativity we are nothing.” (p. 30) A trait common to creative thinkers is their perseverance in solving a problem. Teamwork encourages collaboration, which, at its core is co-labor or working together toward a common, meaningful goal. It combines collective knowledge so that the sum total of the collaboration is greater than what could have been achieved individually. People who understand the power of collaboration seldom make a unilateral decision willingly. These people know that any decision they make will be improved in some way by the thoughts of another. According to McGraw (2004), the need to work in teams seems to be an essential part of the creative process. (p. 30) According to Chien (2004), teams, which are increasingly being used, are organized in the workplace so that appropriate talents and skills can be pooled to accomplish vital tasks and goals. (p. 289)
According to Dyer (2002), another advantage is with the increasing pressure to be “first-to-market” with a new product. First-to-market organizations with dedicated team structures were quantifiably faster while maintaining a measurably higher percentage of quality in their products. (p. 16) Competitive arenas require quick decisions by knowledgeable employees who work close to the source of problems. Teams enable knowledge-based and innovative decision making in a much shorter time period. This reduces product cycle times.
Some of the negative impact of teamwork culture remains that asking people to work together while simultaneously placing them in a competitive system often results in inaction rather than action. If it is a team in name only, it will not be successful. According to Grazier (1999), in that situation, inaction occurs rather than action. There will be little energy to move forward. (n.p.)
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About the author:
Debbie Garrison is the Controller for Lesco, Inc., a regional truck leasing firm in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a graduate of Bellevue University, Bellevue, Nebraska, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management as well as an Associate’s Degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, making the Dean’s List at both schools. She currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband and their two dogs.
Success factors in business can be divided into two major categories: those that deal with things and those that deal with people. Although many organizations spend millions of dollars on capital equipment, human capital has the highest potential of value for the organization. Teamwork and the role it plays in dealing with people within an organization is a top priority for many leaders. This thesis will explore the positive and negative effects of teams, the value of teams in various venues, and both positive and negative issues that can influence adaptation of teamwork culture. Read More >Debbie Garrison Articles
Peter Senge, MIT professor and author of The Fifth Discipline, said:
“No one in the past 30 years has had a more profound impact on thinking about leadership than Robert Greenleaf.”
Robert Greenleaf, author of the classic series of essays on the theme “the servant as leader,” was a powerful advocate of mentoring. In The Power of Servant Leadership, edited by Larry Spears, Robert Greenleaf proposed that there are psychic rewards to be gained by oldsters who take the time and trouble to mentor the young to become servant-leaders.
He stated, “What could bring more satisfaction to oldsters than helping some of the young to become servant-leaders?” (page 54)
As an oldster himself at the time of his writing, he saw the need for a more caring society, but had little confidence that many of the leaders of his generation would actually meet the challenge. He was definitely not persuaded that much progress toward a caring society would “be initiated by those who are now established as leaders.” He stated that he did “not expect much” from his contemporaries. (page 53)
Robert Greenleaf saw that once an individual rose to a position of power and influence with a nonservant mindset, it would probably take a metanoia (a profound transformation or conversion) to change such a leader into a true servant-leader. He stated:
“For the older ones among us who are ‘in charge,’ nothing short of a ‘peak’ experience, like religious conversion…seems to have much chance of converting a confirmed nonservant into an affirmative servant.” (page 23)
Although many influential leaders consider themselves effective mentors and servant-leaders, the fruits often do not bear this out. Often the person who is energized and inspired to be an able mentor of the young is not a person of great formal power and influence. In fact, a very successful mentor is likely to be one who has not risen to the top within his or her organization, but has remained in a lower level position in order to have greater access to young people.
Superiors may consider these effective mentors as oddballs. This is because such persons may not want to conform to the organization’s culture and rise to a position of prominence. Many organizational cultures place little value on truly growing people and helping young people internalize a lifestyle of service. You can see this in academia, where senior faculty may pay lip service to mentoring junior faculty and students, but in reality there is a spirit of competition and a “scarcity mentality” driven by self-interest. Institutional rewards often go to those most driven by such self-interest, rather than recognizing and rewarding those who are highly effective mentors.
Able mentors often prefer to spend their time and energy preparing and inspiring the next generation to become effective mentors and servant-leaders. They see their mentees as those who will become the builders of more serving institutions in the future. These visionary mentors are often very talented at growing people. They are driven by a vision of the future. They believe that there is tremendous psychic reward in giving themselves to make a difference in the lives of others.
Robert Greenleaf provided this striking example in an address he made to a gathering of university students: (page 102– The Power of Servant Leadership)
“Thomas Jefferson had such a mentor in George Wythe, the Williamsburg lawyer under whom Jefferson apprenticed. Without the influence of George Wythe, there might not have been a Jefferson to write The Declaration of Independence or draft the statutes in Virginia that shaped the Constitution. He might have settled for the role of eccentric Virginia scholar. Find such a mentor if you can.”
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About the author:
Dr. Howard Baker is Director of Education for INSPIRE! Learning Systems. He holds a B.S. in Management from Samford University, a Master of Accounting (MAcc) from the University of Southern California and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington. He has been a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) since 1989. He is an adjunct professor in both Business Administration and Public Administration at the University of Texas at Tyler. Dr. Baker is a lifetime charter member of weLEAD and the founding editor of the weLEADInLearning web site’s E-Journal of Organizational Learning and Leadership located atwww.weleadinlearning.org. His weLEAD email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Senge, MIT professor and author of The Fifth Discipline, said:
“No one in the past 30 years has had a more profound impact on thinking about leadership than Robert Greenleaf.”
Robert Greenleaf, author of the classic series of essays on the theme “the servant as leader,” was a powerful advocate of mentoring. In The Power of Servant Leadership, edited by Larry Spears, Robert Greenleaf proposed that there are psychic rewards to be gained by oldsters who take the time and trouble to mentor the young to become servant-leaders.By Dr. Howard Baker Articles