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Friday, April 30, 2010

How Many Futures Are You Considering?

by Holly G. Green

How Many Futures Are You Considering?Have you ever noticed how when people talk about what lies ahead we always say the future? As if there is one, and only one, immutable future that will come to pass.

Fact is, there are an unlimited number of possible futures, and it's up to us to create the one we want. This is especially true when engaging in strategic planning.

Many leaders and managers mistakenly see strategic planning as a process of predicting the future. In reality, it's a process of creating the future, one that will provide ample rewards to the organization and all its stakeholders. Assuming that only one future exists can lock us into a course of action that may not serve our organizations well.

Despite the dangers, it's easy to see how we fall into the pattern of thinking there is only one future.

We start out by investing a lot of time and energy in crafting a strategic plan, which is nothing more than a blueprint for achieving a certain destination at some point in the future. In other words, we write a plan for creating the future we want. Once the plan is finalized and in place, we then devote all our organizational resources toward achieving that future exactly as planned.

The problem is that strategic plans never unfold exactly as written. The world simply doesn't work that way. Too many factors, both internal and external, are involved for any plan to unfold without some degree of change along the way.

But instead of making adjustments in response to changing circumstances, many leaders insist on sticking to the plan as written. They either see the changes as temporary blips to be ridden out. Or, more often, they get too locked into the future as spelled out in the plan, and fail to respond to significant changes in markets, customers and global conditions.

How can you avoid falling into the single-future trap?

Start by automatically assuming that your market is constantly changing (it is!), and monitor it on a regular basis. Then develop a formal process for managing your strategy.

Select a time, preferably once a month but no less than once a quarter, to review your strategy. During the meetings, identify any changes in your environment, review how your strategy is unfolding compared to how you thought it would, and make any necessary adjustments to the plan.

When monitoring the environment, pay close attention to uncertainties. For example, what assumptions are you making about your markets and customers, and are they still valid? What are your customers and suppliers uncertain about? What are their customers and suppliers uncertain about?

When reviewing your strategy implementation, ask questions like: What has changed, internally or externally, that might alter or undermine our strategy? Is our strategy working as expected? Are we executing correctly? If not, what do we need to refine or change in order to get back on track?

If envisioning multiple futures seems like a waste of time, consider the current plight of Toyota and General Motors. Do you think Toyota envisioned a future where they would face $16 million dollar fines and billions of dollars in lawsuits? Did GM imagine that one day they would need a massive government bailout to keep from going out of business?

Certainly they did not plan those outcomes. Yet they happened anyway. We can only wonder where Toyota and GM might be today if they had taken the time to consider many different futures rather than just the one where they reign as unchallenged market leaders.

When thinking about possible futures, I'm always reminded of the old Star Trek show (yes, I am a closet Trekkie) where the crew members of the Enterprise used a 'holodeck' to act out various possible scenarios. Obviously we don't have the technology (yet) to create fantasy simulations of that caliber.

But I would suggest that leaders and companies strive to create virtual holodecks in the minds of all employees so that they practice thinking and considering on a regular basis. Help people get in the habit of pondering what seems unreasonable, impossible or even incredulous. That way, when sudden market changes throw your strategic plan for a loop, you won't get stuck following a plan of action that no longer makes sense.

The future always seems to get here sooner than we expect. The question for business leaders is, "Which one will it be... One you created or one you have to deal with?"


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Are You Going to Innovate?

by Holly G. Green

Are You Going to Innovate?Are you sick and tired of hearing about the constant need to innovate in today's markets?

If so, I have some bad news. Innovation is not just another catchphrase of the day. It's a new business imperative, and it's not going away any time soon. The good news is that most leaders and managers are finally starting to accept this fact, although some more grudgingly than others. They understand the need for innovation, and they see the wisdom in coming up with new products and services that add more value to their customers as well as in gaining efficiencies for processes and approaches.

The problem is that most leaders and organizations don't know how to do innovation very well. At least, not on a consistent basis.

I recently came across an insightful report from the consulting firm A. T. Kearney, entitled "Best Innovators: A Synopsis of the Second Annual European Best Innovators Roundtable." The report looked at how five global companies are successfully making innovation an integral part of the way they do business.

Although these were all very large, international companies, the principles distilled from the report apply to companies of all sizes.

Aim high. First and foremost, strive for disruptive innovation. Most companies settle for incremental innovation, which does little more than tweak existing products and services. Disruptive innovation redefines your market and the value you bring to customers.

Have a vision and set clear goals. Innovation doesn't just happen. It requires planning, follow-through, and hard work. As with anything in business, it helps to know where you're going and what you need to do to get there.

Don't rely solely on customer research for new ideas. By itself, customer research is not sufficient for generating disruptive innovation because it only uncovers expressed, or known, customer needs. Stay in close contact with your customers, and listen closely to what they say they want and need. But don't depend on customer feedback as your only source of new ideas.

Develop a culture of communication. This is especially true in larger corporations and in those that seek new ideas from outside the company. Innovation isn't cheap. The last thing you want is duplication of ideas and/or efforts because different parts of the organization weren't talking to each other.

Provide full management support. Innovation can't succeed if employees see it as just another 'flavor of the month' management fad. Management must have the ability to distinguish between disruptive and incremental innovation, and commit sufficient expertise and resources to deal with both.

Develop an appropriate reward system. It takes more than lip service to instill a culture of innovation throughout a company. If employees don't get rewarded for new ideas, they won't come up with any. The reward system also needs to match the innovation model you adopt.

For example, Proctor & Gamble uses an innovation model that seeks new ideas from outside the company as well as inside. To support that model, all successful innovations are equally rewarded, regardless of whether the product idea was internally or externally generated. This ensures that the best ideas rise to the surface no matter where they come from. It also helps to shift the culture away from the old 'invented here' model, which typically leads only to incremental innovation.

When people think about innovation, they usually picture a bunch of 'creative types' sitting around a boardroom table and having brainstorm sessions to come up with all kinds of wild ideas. Although brainstorming can certainly help to generate new ideas, developing an ongoing process of innovation requires much more.

Start by identifying the innovation model that best fits your business. Develop strategic targets to guide your innovation process. Understand the value of customer relationships, but actively seek ideas from many different sources. And train your management team to recognize and skillfully handle breakthrough ideas that lead to disruptive innovations. Learn how to use the power of your own brain to create new possibilities and ways of doing things. Push yourself and others with "What if...?" thinking constantly.

Innovation does not come naturally to most of us. And if you are a manager, it is typically beat out of you early on. You have to give yourself and others the skills and tools necessary to ponder possibilities, generate ideas, value them against your strategies, and implement them quickly.

The next generation of market leaders will do more than just brainstorm their way to success. They will make innovation a way of life. Isn't it time you got started?


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Are You a Helicopter Manager?


by Holly G. Green

There's been a lot of talk in the media lately about the dangers of over-protective parenting. In fact, it's gotten so bad that psychologists have coined a new phrase - 'helicopter parents' - for the moms and dads who get over-involved in their kids' lives.

These are the parents who yell at the soccer coach when Emma doesn't get enough playing time during the game. These are the parents who intervene at school when Dylan receives a B instead of an A, even though he turned the assignment in late and poorly done. And these are the parents who constantly hover over their kids and swoop down to rescue them any time it looks like they might stub their toe or suffer some minor distress.

Helicopter parents mean well. But they end up doing real damage to their children by being way overprotective and micro-managing every aspect of their lives. Their kids never learn how to solve problems or deal with the harsher realities of life. So when they go off to college or enter the workforce, they struggle to deal with everyday challenges in the adult world (especially when those parents hover in those worlds as well)!

Unfortunately, the business world has its share of helicopter managers as well.

These are the managers who make most or all of the decisions for their employees.

They tell people what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. They withhold information for fear of upsetting people, and tend to avoid conflict rather than addressing the underlying issue. Worst of all, they solve problems for their employees rather than letting people figure it out for themselves.

Like their parental counterparts, helicopter managers mean well. But the result is the same. By micromanaging every aspect of people's jobs, they stunt the growth and development of their employees. And in doing so, drastically limit what the organization as a whole can achieve.

Helicopter managers aren't bad people; they're just stuck in the past. They're using management concepts and techniques that no longer jibe with current market realities. In a world where everything you know about your customers and your industry can change in a flash, you can't afford to get stuck in the present, much less the past.

In the old days managers got results by hovering and micromanaging. Today's market conditions require a very different approach. For starters, employees will no longer put up with being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. If you don't offer them some input into how they do their jobs, they will go elsewhere.

More important, to succeed in constantly changing markets you must have a flexible, adaptable organization that can change direction on a dime. And you get that by having empowered, enabled employees who can perform at high levels and achieve goals and objectives without someone constantly hovering over them.

As a manager, your job isn't to make decisions for employees. It's to teach them how to make decisions that are good for the customer and the organization. Your job isn't to solve problems for employees. It's to coach them to creatively solve problems on their own. Your job isn't to micromanage every aspect of your employees' jobs. It's to give them the information and resources they need and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs!

And don't confuse this approach with withholding answers if your employees ask you for them. There is nothing worse than a manager who thinks he/she is teaching an employee how to think by asking questions versus telling them what you know. If you know the answer or have strongly held opinions about how something needs to get done, give the answer and expose your thinking process to get it. Your employees learn more that way and won't talk bad about you in the break room or on twitter!

If your company is struggling to respond to changing customer expectations and market realities, land your helicopter, turn in your pilot's license and start learning a new and more flexible way of leading your organization. Helicoptering works great during police chases and traffic reports. Not so much in parenting. And in today's markets, it won't get the results you need for your business either.


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Are You a Great Leader?

Or are you just running with the rest of them?


by Holly G. Green

Are You a Great Leader?If you were to compile a checklist of attributes for great leaders, it would certainly include the following:

Visionary? Check. JFK's powerful vision of "We will put a man on the moon by the end of a decade" is a classic example of great leadership through a compelling vision.

Great communication skills? Check. Ronald Reagan's ability to inspire others through passionate oratory earned him the moniker "The Great Communicator."

Focus? Check. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln saved a nation (and changed the world) with his relentless focus on keeping the United States whole.

Courage under fire? Check. When things looked their bleakest for England in the early days of WWII, Winston Churchill rallied the country with his personal courage and bulldog tenacity.

Personable? Check. Despite his other character flaws, Bill Clinton had a charm and charisma that attracted people to him in droves.

Strategic thinker? Check. The business landscape is full of great strategists who have guided their organizations to positions of market leadership. Steve Jobs of Apple. Gordon Moore of Intel, to name a few.

If you asked people which of these is most important for a leader to have, many - at least those in the business world - would probably say strategic thinker. With so many competitors in every market and with change happening in the blink of an eye, it takes a great strategy to come out ahead. It takes someone who can look around, make new connections, and connect the dots faster.

But creating a winning strategy is only half the battle. In fact, it may be the easier part. Leading effectively in today's business environment requires the ability to think strategically and to implement according to that strategy. And that's where many leaders and entire organizations are falling short.

I firmly believe that the #1 job of today's leaders and managers is constant focus on both strategy and implementation. This represents a huge difference from a generation ago, when it often took several years for a good strategy to unfold. These days, speed, the rate of change, and universal access to information have created a whole new set of demands that require your daily attention.

The key is to balance your energy and attention across strategy and execution. Find a tool (or tools) that will enable you to develop the same sense of urgency around strategy and focused implementation that you normally devote to putting out all the "emergencies" that occur throughout the day.

These tools can be as low-tech as a sticky note reminder or as sophisticated as an automated "task ping" from your PC or laptop - anything that keeps you focused on the activities necessary to turn your plan into reality.

To stay focused on implementation, pause for a few minutes and plan out your time for the week ahead. Segment it into separate activity blocks, such as collecting data on strategy X, hands-on work on initiative Y, feedback sessions, customer meetings, communication events, etc. Really think about where you are spending your time and how much of it correlates to actually achieving your strategy.

Review the percentage of time you allocate to each activity block and ask: Does this align with getting us to our destination? Am I ignoring or missing critical areas? Are there areas taking up too much of my time for the anticipated return? Of what I am doing right now, what will have an impact a year from now?

Spending all your time contemplating the future might work for think tanks and ivory towers. But in the business world, it's the day-to-day actions (communicating, providing feedback, realigning behaviors, recognizing others, etc.) coupled with the strategic thinking and doing that equates to success.

Many leaders can come up with a winning strategy. It's the follow-through and focus on getting the right things done that separates the great leaders from the good ones. Don't just run, run in the right direction!


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Show Them Some Love!

Three Strategies for Creatively Recognizing Employees


by Holly G. Green

Show Them Some Love!Usually we stay away from the topic of love at work but we're talking about positive recognition here, not the stuff that gets you in a sexual harassment lawsuit!

Smart leaders and managers know that it's a good time to show your employees some love as well. In other words, let them know how much you appreciate their hard work toward achieving your organization's goals. (You did set the goals in January, right?)

Recognition doesn't have to be big, time-consuming, or expensive. In fact, the most meaningful recognition often comes simply from saying thank you for a job well done. But there are times when the situation calls for more than just a simple verbal acknowledgment. There are a lot of things that get in the way, but you do need to do it.

Here are three strategies for letting your employees know how much you care:


1. Start Small

Start by saying thank you on a regular basis. Over time, change what you say and how you say it so that it doesn't become routine. Be specific. Instead of, "Nice job," say, "Nice job on the quarterly audit. I know you worked incredibly hard to get it in on time."

Recognize individual accomplishments with a short e-mail note or comment in a team meeting. Send the employee a handwritten note of appreciation, and send a copy to your boss. How many of us have those handwritten notes saved away because they are so rare and really do mean something? Leave a sticky note with a snack thanking the person for his or her efforts. Leave a message on their desk that the employee will receive first thing in the morning.

Give small gifts such as cards, desk toys, picture frames, gift cards, or chocolate. To make sure your gift will truly be appreciated, check out the employee's work area to see what types of things they display. Or find out where they go for coffee in the morning or lunch at noon. A gift card to a favorite coffee shop or restaurant shows that you are observant and thoughtful.


2. Get Personal

For performance that requires more than your basic pat on the back, orchestrate a thank-you letter or e-mail from senior leadership. Have the company leader call the employee with personal thanks. Make sure the employee is recognized publicly perhaps in a company e-newsletter, on the intranet, or at an all hands meeting. Send flowers or a gift basket on behalf of the company to the employee's home.

Offer the employee an assignment or project that will stretch their current skill set. Give them an increase or change in responsibility and authority. Offer them an opportunity to shadow someone in a job they want to have next. Increase flexibility of work hours and/or occasional comp time (hint: employees really like this one).

Give employees a relevant book inscribed with a message from leadership recognizing their accomplishment. Allow them to observe a team or project that would represent a big promotion (and thus a learning opportunity to observe). Arrange for your manager or a senior leader to take your group out to lunch or dinner to celebrate a team accomplishment.


3. Use Peer Recognition

It is just as important for employees and teams to recognize each other as it is for leaders and managers to acknowledge good work. One good way to recognize a team, department, or organization is to establish a 'Caring Credits' program.

At the beginning of the month, give everyone three cards. Employees write notes acknowledging their colleagues for going above and beyond their job requirements, and submit the cards to a designated individual (someone in HR, the team leader, etc.). At the end of the month, the person with the most cards written about them earns some sort of recognition. Distribute all the cards collected to employees acknowledged so people can see the praise they received from co-workers. That way, everyone gets recognized, not just the winner.

Another good strategy involves setting aside some wall space for public recognition. Pick a Friday afternoon to engage employees in creating their own (and your own) "What's Great?" wall boards.

Employees use the boards to write a brief note about something great that occurred during the week. Notes can include professional or personal achievements or events. Encourage people to contribute to each other's boards as well as their own, and watch how easily they begin to add to the boards without weekly prompting. The different handwritings and colored markers will brighten up the workspace. And others will stop by just to see what's new on the boards.

So take a few moments to show your employees some love today - the legally appropriate kind! Then look for simple and effective ways to do it throughout the year. A little bit of recognition goes a long way toward maintaining a happy, motivated workforce. Remember, recognition doesn't have to be big, time-consuming, or expensive. It's not brain surgery... sometimes it's harder!


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Innovation Perspectives - Excellence Only Happens in Context

This is the second of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?'. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Holly G. Green

Excellence Only Happens in ContextExcellence only happens in context. Think about the last time you had a cruddy boss or your client forgot to give you information on something you were working on. Did you produce or deliver as well as you could have? Of course not.

A system has to work together. And your current system produces exactly what it is set up to produce. So if you want to be more innovative, you have to think about and address the whole system. Just addressing one piece of it will not serve you well.

In our work with organizations, we believe it is critical to think through and get clear on:
  • How being innovative helps you more effectively achieve your strategies

  • Why creating or refining a culture of innovation including the leadership behaviors that support it will serve you well

  • The benefits of creating management practices (everyday ways of working) that generate ideas

  • What tools, systems, and platforms will best enable you to achieve innovation

Too often, companies think they need to focus on just generating more ideas. This is only a piece of the system and it is highly likely everything else in your system is set up to shut down idea generation. Have you ever heard or said any of the following:

"It's too much work. Don't rock the boat. Yeah. We've tried that before. You have a point, but... It costs too much. We don't have the time. It won't work. It would take too much effort. We did fine without it before."

These are common refrains in most organizations and they stop innovation in its tracks.

Gary Hamel, business strategist, enjoys shocking audiences by asking about their corporate sperm count. If you need 10 million sperm to fertilize a single egg, then you are unlikely to come up with a winning idea unless you have lots of material to work with. Create an environment where ideas are free flowing, but pre-filtered by the focus on customer value and clarity of strategies. Constantly ask "What if...?" in meetings. Use tools like stakeholder analysis to pause and focus people on considering new perspectives, new lens through which to view the world.

Leaders must model the behaviors necessary for innovation to thrive. It is their responsibility to build and encourage diversity in thought, approach and style; to use supportive language and behaviors themselves; to communicate and acknowledge ideas even if they are not pursued; to use a goal oriented management style so that everyone is clear on how ideas link to achieving the strategies and objectives; and to encourage informed risk taking.

Create a team, a process, tools, etc. to work within your environment. Often, employees don't know what they don't know. Make sure you provide the tools and understanding of how and when to use them. Develop and implement ways of using them in standard, ongoing operations (business unit reviews, quarterly board meetings, all company presentations, etc.) to generate ideas and value them against strategies and objectives.

Without constant focus and specific people responsible, your efforts will quickly fade - remember everything within us works to keep us in our comfort zone. Most of us have great ideas. It is whether they link to the strategy, get heard, evaluated and acted on that are the real hurdles today.


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You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.
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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Are Your Thought Bubbles Killing Your Strategic Plan?

by Holly G. Green

Are Your Thought Bubbles Killing Your Strategic Plan?Those who follow my blog or have heard me speak to business groups and conventions know that I constantly talk about the dangers of MSU, or making stuff up.

Making stuff up occurs when we listen to the thought bubbles inside our heads that tell us the world must be a certain way; when we fill in the voids of information with our own interpretation or beliefs. We get into trouble when we make decisions or take action without testing to see whether the assumptions underlying our thought bubbles are actually true. Or when we forget to pause every now and then to question the thought bubbles that we have had for awhile.

Thought bubbles come in all shapes and sizes, and contain all sorts of half-truths and misinformation. Here are two that frequently wreak havoc with efforts to implement a strategic plan.


Killer thought bubble #1: "Once the strategic plan gets written, it will get done exactly as intended."

I can't tell you how many times I see this thought bubble undermine well-meaning strategic initiatives. It's almost funny, considering how most plans end up in binders or tucked away on the shelf never to be looked at again. But even those companies that refer to their strategic plans on a regular basis frequently succumb to this fatal mistake.

The hard truth is that even the best strategic plans do not unfold exactly as planned. As you progress towards your destination points, you will encounter surprises. Some will come from changes in the external environment that you couldn't possibly foresee.

Others will result from internal forces, such as old ways of doing things, resistance to change, and unspoken beliefs that underlie stated goals. Expectations that plans will not require fundamental organizational changes are dangerous because they can prevent you from properly managing the current state. Never underestimate the amount of change that might be required to see your plan through. And be careful of minimizing the difficulty of implementing that change.


Killer thought bubble #2: "We just have to execute and everything will turn out fine."

On the surface, this seems to make sense. Upon closer inspection, thinking that all you have to do is execute can lead to the assumption that alignment with and commitment to the plan already exist within your organization. Not so!

Most companies do a lousy job of communicating the strategic plan to front-line employees. When people don't know or understand the goals and objectives, they end up working on what is important to them rather than what is important to the organization. Without ongoing communication around the plan, you can throw any hopes for alignment right out the window.

Similarly, management often assumes that employees are committed to the future when in reality they remain much more committed to the past. The past almost always seems more compelling because people at least think they understand what happened and why. There is some comfort in knowing, even if they do not like what they know. Gaining commitment to the plan requires making sure that the future is more compelling than the past.

To avoid suffering the consequences of these thought bubbles, ask questions like:
  • How does the expected pace of getting to our destination points compare to the actual pace?

  • What new initiatives have we started in the past year? How have those progressed? What initiatives have we stopped?

  • What proportion of our resources is focused on maintaining and enhancing the status quo versus new initiatives?

  • How much time do we spend promoting and moving towards the destination points?

  • Are near-term problems and opportunities consuming everyone's time and preempting our longer-term progress?

  • Do we have clear champions who will keep others focused on making progress for each significant initiative?

  • Are there consequences for missing deadlines or other obligations?

Never mistake a written plan for reality. And don't assume that you know how everything will turn out, even if you have a beautifully documented plan.

Be prepared to adjust and communicate those adjustments as necessary, and those misleading thought bubbles will no longer derail your carefully crafted plans.


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Are You Killing Innovation in Your Company (Without Even Knowing It)?

by Holly G. Green

Are You Killing Innovation in Your Company (Without Even Knowing It)?In today's world, innovation is a business imperative. You either find new and better ways to add value to your customers, you play follow the leader with those who do, or you go out of business as others change the game and you lose.

Most business leaders intuitively know this. Which is why more and more are making sincere efforts to encourage innovation in their companies. Unfortunately, these efforts rarely produce the desired results.

According to a recent Forbes article, "Why The Pursuit Of Innovation Usually Fails," when it comes to business innovation, failure is the norm rather than the exception. Most "innovations" are little more than thinly disguised reformulations of existing products or services.

What's behind our systemic inability to innovate?

It's not a lack of creative ideas. People and companies come up with these in abundance. Instead, Forbes attributes the dismal results to how we go about trying to innovate.

Today's business leaders are trained to defend and extend the existing core business, not create a new one. This is especially true in successful companies. Instead of looking for the next breakthrough product, leaders seek to lower costs, improve operational excellence, and develop customer intimacy with the biggest clients.

As a result, most innovation efforts focus on making the innovation process efficient and effective rather than actually developing something new. They try to leverage the company's core brand, which may lead to incremental innovation but greatly reduces the odds of coming up with anything that transforms the market or industry.

At the same time, innovation initiatives rarely receive sufficient budgets or resources. In most companies, the lion's share of the resources go into supporting existing products and services.

These are all valid reasons for why companies struggle to innovate. But sometimes I think the reason is even simpler and more insidious. In the corporate world we are trained to kill good ideas. Instead of looking for ways to make new ideas work, we look for reasons why they won't work. And most of the time we're not even aware we're doing it!

How do we kill good ideas? Simply by the way we talk about them. This process is automatic and mostly unconscious, and it happens countless times every day on the shop floors and in cubicles and boardrooms everywhere.

How many times have you heard these phrases (and others like them) in your organization?
  • We already tried that.
  • That's never been done before.
  • We don't do things that way.
  • It will cost too much.
  • Management won't go for it.
  • That will never pay for itself.
  • The customer won't buy that.
  • Nice idea, but too far ahead of its time.
  • You're such a dreamer.

These are innovation killers! They sound reasonable. They sound practical. In some cases they may even be true. But they stop new and promising ideas dead in their tracks before they have any chance to blossom and grow.

Here's the interesting part - most of us do not intentionally set out to stifle innovation. When we hear a new idea, we don't consciously think, "That's a bad idea, I'm going to kill it." Instead, our response occurs at the unconscious level. A new idea contradicts what we believe is true, so our brain perceives it as a threat. This triggers an automatic response, and the innovation-killing phrases come out of our mouths before we even know it.

Don't believe me? Watch what happens the next time a new employee joins the company. Part of the reason we hire new employees is for their fresh energy and new ideas. Yet, when they start suggesting different ways of doing things, you'll hear things like, "Oh, we've always done it this way." Or, "That'll never fly!" Or, "You might want to learn how we do things around here before you go rocking the boat."

People say these things all the time! And we never take notice because they are so ingrained in our thinking and our culture.

I agree that we need to train our leaders better on how to manage innovation. And we could certainly allocate more money and resources in that direction. But it can start with an even simpler approach of identifying and eliminating all the different ways we unintentionally shut down good ideas with the way we talk. Of course, this does require we become aware of our own thinking process and reasons for our auto responses first.

The language we use to describe the world has a powerful impact on the way we see it. As long as innovation killers remain part of our lexicon and culture, our chances for meaningful innovation are greatly diminished.

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Thinking the Unthinkable

The New Leadership Imperative


by Holly G. Green

Thinking the UnthinkablePeople ask me all the time what I consider to be the biggest challenge facing today's business leaders.

I don't even hesitate on this one. It's the automatic assumption by most business leaders that we still live in a fairly predictable world.

Think about it. Six months ago, who would have thought that Toyota would be in the position it is today?

Here we have one of the largest, most successful, most respected companies in the world. And now it faces a crisis that is not just destroying its hard-earned reputation, but could well put it out of business.

That's unthinkable! And yet it's happening right before our eyes.

Sales of Toyotas are plummeting. The U.S. government is launching a full-scale investigation into the company's business practices. And a tidal wave of lawsuits around the faulty floor mat/throttle issue is about to be unleashed.

If Toyota is found to be at fault, and if it turns out they had knowledge of the defective design and did nothing about it, punitive damages could run into billions of dollars. Not even Toyota could withstand that kind of a financial hit and still survive.

I'm not saying the unthinkable will happen. But the possibility that Toyota could go out of business in the near term is very real. And that's the kind of world we now live in.

Leading a business in this kind of environment requires a new way of thinking. Considering that most business leaders still view the world as fairly predictable, the question becomes:


How do we train ourselves to think differently?


The answer is simple - pause, think, focus, run.
  • Pause. Make it a habit to back away from the day-to-day and evaluate what is happening outside your industry as well as inside.

  • Think. Constantly challenge your beliefs and assumptions about what you know to be true about your customers, your markets, your industry and the way you do things inside your organization. Take nothing for granted.

  • Focus. Identify opportunities to add value to your customers in ways that nobody else is doing. Identify significant initiatives that support leveraging those opportunities, and get and keep everyone in your organization clear on achieving them.

  • Run. Implement quickly, with focus and flexibility, knowing in advance that your new initiatives will not unfold exactly as planned.
    Then repeat this process.

During the think phase, develop the habit of engaging in scenario planning. Ask questions like:


"What would happen if our biggest competitor suddenly went out of business? What is taking place in other industries or other parts of the world that we could use to transform our industry?"


Many companies do this once a year during the strategic planning process. In today's world, that will no longer suffice. When a company as large and seemingly invincible as Toyota can have the rug pulled out from under them so quickly, it's clear the old rules no longer apply.

Pondering the imponderable should become an everyday occurrence in organizations. To be a successful leader today, thinking the unthinkable must become a way of life.


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Winning the Gold Medal

by Holly G. Green

Winning the Gold MedalI love the Olympics. I am fascinated by curling (although like most of you I can't quite figure out the rules). I love the thrill of the downhill, the luge, the speed skating, hockey, and the snowboarding events. And I am especially enthralled when I watch the Olympic athletes visibly get clear on winning.

Did you notice Lindsey Vonn at the top of the slope? Eyes closed, arms moving, legs bending as if she were already traveling down the slope in just the manner necessary to win? She was using a practice known as 'success visioning'. She was imagining the course, every twist, every turn... and how she would successfully meet the challenge of it and win the race. Olympic athletes have used success visioning for decades; since the time Roger Bannister broke the world record for running the mile in less than 4 minutes in 1954.

Premier athletes the world over know the power of getting clear on winning BEFORE they get in the race. They imagine it. They get clear on what it looks like, what it feels like, and what they must do. And it works because your brain is amazingly powerful. Once you are clear on winning, your body will follow. In many ways, it can't not follow. Your brain does not know you can't run faster, ski quicker, make higher jumps... it only knows what you tell it and your body steps up to deliver.

Winning also requires practice. Winning for an athlete means he/she is in top condition. It is likely they have practiced their race thousands of times. They are eating the right foods, taking care of themselves, and making progress almost every day towards their goal. Lindsey did not just sit around for a year, jump up, and ski her race. She got clear on goals, met them, and then set new ones. She spent her time and energy towards achieving them. She stopped doing things that got in the way. She stayed focused.

Are you clear on winning in your business? Do you know what it looks like at the end of 2010 when you have been insanely successful? What are the key operating achievements you will have accomplished; what will your company culture be including in regards to the attitudes, beliefs, values, and operating principles; what skills/knowledge/abilities will exist in your organization; what organizational structures will be in place; what work processes and metrics will be used; what tools, systems and technology are necessary; what products will be in market (existing and new); what products will be in development; who will the customers be; who will the competitors be/what types of companies will you compete against; what will the brand represent?

Get clear on winning, your body will follow.

Is it obvious to you and everyone on your team and in your company what it will take to win a gold medal? If not, what race are you running?


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Five "Must-Haves" for a Strategic Plan

by Holly G. Green

Five Must-Haves for a Strategic PlanStrategic planning methodologies are like shoes - one size does not fit all.

Some companies use a top-down, autocratic approach, where the plan gets created by a small group of senior managers and handed down to the rest of the organization. Some prefer a more democratic approach, with employees at all levels contributing their ideas and input to the plan. Most companies employ a hybrid of these two models.

The best approach for your company depends on several factors, such as size, industry, culture, type of workforce and management style. Regardless of which approach you choose, however, every strategic plan needs five key elements in order to achieve the intended results.

  1. Mission. This defines why you exist as an organization. Specifically, it tells others (not just those in the organization) why you exist. Ideally, it describes some noble purpose that is both inspirational and aspirational, so that it instills pride in all those connected with the organization.

  2. Guiding principles. Also called organizational attributes, these describe how you expect people to behave with each other and with other stakeholder groups. Guiding principles broadly define which types of behaviors are acceptable and which behaviors will not be tolerated. In particular, they describe how you will behave when faced with difficult situations or challenges.

  3. Value propositions. These explain the value you provide to your organization's different stakeholder groups, both internal and external. For example, why do customers buy from you? Why do employees come to work for your organization? What kind of return can shareholders expect? How does your community benefit from the work you do?

  4. Destination points. These identify where your organization wants to go within a specified time frame. This is perhaps the most critical element in the whole process because the more clearly you define your desired end state, the greater your chances of getting there.

  5. Areas of focus/strategies. These define, in a broad sense, how the organization will get to where it wants to go. They are the three to five areas everyone should be focused on to get to the destination points. What cuts across several destination points; where should the majority of energy be focused; what must everyone keep in mind as they make investments in people and other resources; and, what guides you on what to do and not to do are the core questions answered.

These five elements form an essential foundation for the strategic planning process. If even one of these bedrock elements is missing, your chances for success become marginal at best.

Once these elements are in place, the next step involves action planning and breakthrough modeling to determine what it will take to get to where you want to go. Here is where you get down to the nitty-gritty to figure out what organizational capabilities (systems, tools, processes, people and technologies) are needed to reach your destination points. Effective strategic planning also requires that you set goals and define team and individual accountabilities, as these link the big picture to individual goals and competencies.

Ultimately, strategic planning is like a jigsaw puzzle - all the pieces must be in place in order to complete the picture. The mission and guiding principles inspire and energize employees, while creating pride and connection throughout the organization. The value propositions provide a touchstone for staying focused on what matters to stakeholders. The destination points provide clear goals and milestones that provide the big picture employees want and need. And the strategies/areas of focus create alignment and ensure that everyone in the organization is working toward the same goal.

Have you got your five must-have's in place? And is everyone clear on what they are?


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Are Best Practices Your Worst Enemy?

by Holly G. Green

Are Best Practices Your Worst Enemy?When I speak to CEO groups, trade associations, and industry conventions, this is one of my favorite questions to ask.

Why? Because I love the reaction from the audience. They look at me like I'm nuts!

Questioning the sanctity of best practices in a roomful of corporate leaders and managers is like walking into a Boston Red Sox convention wearing a New York Yankees cap. Or walking into a Microsoft Corp. strategic planning session with an iPad in your hand. I might as well criticize mom, apple pie, and puppies.

But I dont ask the question merely to provoke a reaction from the audience. I ask it because it may prevent someone from going out of business.

In the 1980's, when Japan was eating our collective lunches in one industry after another, best practices played a critical role in helping American companies develop better quality products. We wouldn't be where we are today had our business leaders not embraced the concept of studying what works best and applying what they learned in their companies.

Over time, however, best practices have become somewhat of a sacred cow. We rarely (if ever) take the time to re-examine them and see whether they still make sense for current market realities. And in today's high-speed business environment, accepting anything on blind faith - even a best practice - can be fatal.

Let me clearly state that I am not advocating that business leaders do away with all best practices. Just the ones that get in the way of achieving your strategic goals and objectives. Here's one that I see all the time.

During strategic planning, a common best practice involves conducting research in your industry to determine where the opportunities and threats lie. Who could argue against this practice? After all, in order to plan the future you have to understand the present.

The problem is two-fold.

One, this kind of research is almost always conducted by experts in their field who bring a boatload of preconceived ideas and assumptions about the way the industry operates. Two, this practice fails to take into account that your next biggest competitive threat may come from an area not even remotely related to your industry.

Do you know anyone who uses a fax machine anymore? Fifteen years ago, the makers of fax machines didn't worry about a little blip on the horizon called broadband Internet. They were too focused on important industry issues like baud rates, printer quality, and the cost of replacement ink. They never even saw e-mail coming.

So when I work with clients on strategic planning, I strongly recommend they make a list of everything they absolutely know is true about their customers, markets, and industry. Then I suggest they have a non-expert research each and every one of those truths. For example, have the CFO look at customer data. Or have the sales manager look at purchasing practices. It's amazing what a fresh set of eyes can see!

Each researcher shares their information with the management team. They explain the approach they took, the data they found, and any recommendations they have. Then I ask, "What questions do you have as a result of your research? What do you believe is possible to do that you aren't currently doing?"

Why is it so important to have non-experts conduct the research?

Because experts are human, and as humans we don't believe what we see. Instead, we see what we already believe. We constantly seek to prove what we think is right, and as a result we miss critical data and limit our success by getting locked into ideas and assumptions that may no longer be true.

So here's a new strategic planning best practice: research what you know to be true, both inside and outside your industry, and do it with non-expert eyes. My guess is that 50 percent of your "facts" will turn out to be wrong, especially if they're more than two years old.

The business world changes very quickly these days, and so should your best practices. Otherwise they may well become your worst enemy.

Which best practices are getting in the way of your success?


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Focus on Your Winners

by Holly G. Green


Four Ways to Keep Your Top Performers From Jumping Ship

Focus on Your WinnersHave you ever lost a top performer to a competitor?

I see it happen all the time, even in good companies. Surprisingly, it rarely has to do with money. More often than not, it's due to indifference, apathy, or neglect on the part of a leader or manager.

Why the neglect?

Because most leaders and managers focus the majority of their time and energy on the low performers. It makes no sense when you step back and look at it, but leaders are either trying to correct mistakes, deal with behavior issues, or simply get wayward employees back on track with the results they're supposed to be producing. As a result, they fail to give their winners the time and energy they deserve.

If you want to keep your winners, make sure they feel acknowledged and appreciated. Here's how:

1. Identify your winners.

Almost every company has the salesperson who regularly makes his numbers but leaves a trail of angry customers and disgruntled co-workers in his wake. And almost everyone knows the manager who gets the short-term results but drives good employees away with her abrasive personality. Clearly, there is more to winning than just producing results.

Performance consists of two distinct components - what employees do and how they do it. Many employees excel in one area or the other. Top performers excel in both. They produce outstanding results while demonstrating total alignment with the values and culture of the organization. They get things done AND do it in a way that respects, supports, and empowers others.

2. Show your appreciation.

The biggest mistake most leaders and managers make is taking their top performers for granted. Partly because they are absorbed in putting out the ongoing fires caused by problem employees. And partly because the winners are so busy getting things done that they rarely make waves.

To show your appreciation, recognize your top performers on a regular basis, both publicly and privately. Tell them how much you appreciate their hard work and ability to get things done, and hold them up as role models to other employees. Send them handwritten notes, small gift cards, or other incentives. They go the extra mile for you, so go out of your way to make them feel wanted and appreciated.

3. Remove their roadblocks.

For top performers and innovators, nothing is more frustrating than a lack of information, resources, or management support. Check in on a regular basis to make sure your best performers are getting everything they need from you and their co-workers to innovate and get the job done. At the same time, make sure their needs are getting met in the areas of training and professional development. Look for ways to give them new assignments and special projects that will broaden their skill sets and enhance their value to the company.

4. Get inside their heads.

When top performers leave to go to another company, it's rarely for more money. Far more often it involves dissatisfaction with something in their work environment. To keep your best people from jumping ship, get inside their heads and find out what really motivates them and what they enjoy most about their work.

Do they want increased authority or responsibility in their current position? Do they want more opportunity for professional development? Do they want to lead a team, department, or division? Perhaps they would like to have more time off to spend with family. Or maybe they want to get involved in some type of community service on behalf of the company.

Check in regularly to assess their morale. Ask questions like, "What do you like most about working here? What do you like the least? If you could change one thing about your work situation, what would it be?"

Obviously you can't make everyone happy all the time. And it may not be feasible to provide what your superstars say they want. But an honest effort on your part to understand and meet their needs will help your winners feel wanted and appreciated. And that can make a big difference the next time a competitor comes calling!


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Share the Love

by Holly G. Green


Three Strategies for Creatively Recognizing Employees

Share the LoveValentine's Day is for lovers. Usually we stay away from the topic of 'love' at work but we're talking about positive recognition here, not the stuff that gets you in a sexual harassment lawsuit!

Smart leaders and managers know that it's a good time to show your employees some love as well. In other words, let them know how much you appreciate their hard work toward achieving your organization's goals. (You did set the goals in January, right?)

Recognition doesn't have to be big, time-consuming, or expensive. In fact, the most meaningful recognition often comes simply from saying "thank you" for a job well done. But there are times when the situation calls for more than just a simple verbal acknowledgment. There are a lot of things that get in the way, but you do need to do it.

Here are three strategies for letting your employees know how much you care.

1. Start small.

Start by saying "thank you" on a regular basis. Over time, change what you say and how you say it so that it doesn't become routine. Be specific. Instead of, "Nice job," say, "Nice job on the quarterly audit. I know you worked incredibly hard to get it in on time."

Recognize individual accomplishments with a short e-mail note or comment in a team meeting. Send the employee a handwritten note of appreciation, and send a copy to your boss. How many of us have those handwritten notes saved away because they are so rare and really do mean something? Leave a sticky note with a snack thanking the person for his or her efforts. Leave a message on their desk that the employee will receive first thing in the morning.

Give small gifts such as cards, desk toys, picture frames, gift cards, or chocolate. To make sure your gift will truly be appreciated, check out the employee's work area to see what types of things they display. Or find out where they go for coffee in the morning or lunch at noon. A gift card to a favorite coffee shop or restaurant shows that you are observant and thoughtful.

2. Get Personal.

For performance that requires more than your basic pat on the back, orchestrate a thank-you letter or e-mail from senior leadership. Have the company leader call the employee with personal thanks. Make sure the employee is recognized publicly perhaps in a company e-newsletter, on the intranet, or at an all hands meeting. Send flowers or a gift basket on behalf of the company to the employee's home.

Offer the employee an assignment or project that will stretch their current skill set. Give them an increase or change in responsibility and authority. Offer them an opportunity to shadow someone in a job they want to have next. Increase flexibility of work hours and/or occasional comp time (hint: employees really like this one).

Give employees a relevant book inscribed with a message from leadership recognizing their accomplishment. Allow them to observe a team or project that would represent a big promotion (and thus a learning opportunity to observe). Arrange for your manager or a senior leader to take your group out to lunch or dinner to celebrate a team accomplishment.

3. Use Peer Recognition

It is just as important for employees and teams to recognize each other as it is for leaders and managers to acknowledge good work. One good way to recognize a team, department, or organization is to establish a "Caring Credits" program.

At the beginning of the month, give everyone three cards. Employees write notes acknowledging their colleagues for going above and beyond their job requirements, and submit the cards to a designated individual (someone in HR, the team leader, etc.). At the end of the month, the person with the most cards written about them earns some sort of recognition. Distribute all the cards collected to employees acknowledged so people can see the praise they received from co-workers. That way, everyone gets recognized, not just the winner.

Another good strategy involves setting aside some wall space for public recognition. Pick a Friday afternoon to engage employees in creating their own (and your own) "What's Great?" wall boards.

Employees use the boards to write a brief note about something great that occurred during the week. Notes can include professional or personal achievements or events. Encourage people to contribute to each other's boards as well as their own, and watch how easily they begin to add to the boards without weekly prompting. The different handwritings and colored markers will brighten up the workspace. And others will stop by just to see what's new on the boards.

So take a few moments this Valentine's Day to show your employees some love - the legally appropriate kind! Then look for simple and effective ways to do it throughout the year. A little bit of recognition goes a long way toward maintaining a happy, motivated, and innovative workforce. Remember, recognition doesn't have to be big, time-consuming, or expensive. It's not brain surgery... sometimes it's harder!


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Don't Be A Rule Fool

by Holly G. Green

Don't Be a Rule FoolWait your turn. No pushing in line. Yield to pedestrians. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Certain timeless rules are better obeyed than broken. But in today's topsy-turvy business world, many of the rules that informed and guided previous generations of business leaders no longer apply. If you're not breaking rules on a regular basis, your customers and markets have probably already left you behind.

Most business leaders intuitively know that they need to do things differently. But they struggle when it comes to determining which rules to hold onto and which rules to cast aside for newer ways of thinking.

In working with clients around the world, I have found two areas in particular where throwing out the old rulebook is essential for keeping up with today's frenetic rate of change. One involves the skills, attitudes and mindsets required to manage people and work processes. The other has to do with how you go about analyzing and assessing your competitors and your markets. In these two areas, I highly recommend forgetting most (or all) of what you think you know.

For example, from a people/process perspective:

Old rule: Strive to maintain the status quo, but react quickly when change happens.
New rule: Don't wait for change to hit you. Anticipate it, plan for it, and make it happen on your terms.

Old rule: Management's job is to make decisions.
New rule: Management's job is to facilitate decisions made by those closest to the customer.

Old rule: Avoid conflict.
New rule: Rock the boat! Purposefully create conflict and manage it in a constructive manner.

Old rule: Tell employees what to do, when to do it and how to do it.
New rule: Give employees the resources and support they need. Then stand back and let them do their jobs.

From a competitive analysis perspective:

Old rule: Focus your research on competitors inside your industry.
New rule: Stretch your horizons. The next competitor that causes your world to implode may well come from outside your industry.

Old rule: Markets have predictable life spans and earnings curves.
New rule: Today's markets can (and do) disappear overnight.

Old rule: Strategic planning involves creating a 5-year plan.
New rule: Look 12 to 24 months (at most) into the future. It's almost impossible to accurately predict what will happen after that.

Perhaps the most important new rule for today's chaotic market realities is to constantly challenge what you think you know about your business and the world in general. Don't allow yourself to get comfortable with the status quo. Don't allow yourself to get stuck thinking that what has made you successful so far will continue to make you successful in the future. And if you haven't re-evaluated your customers' wants and needs within the past six months to a year, do so now!

Letting go of rules that have served you well in the past can be difficult, but holding on to them can be fatal. What rules are you holding onto that you should be letting go?


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Keeping Employees Informed - A Step-by-Step Guide

by Holly G. Green

Keeping Employees Informed - A Step-by-Step GuideIn my last blog, I talked about the importance of communicating your strategic planning framework to employees at all levels of the organization. And not just once, but over and over again so that people never lose sight of the goals. I also noted that most employees prefer to hear this information directly from their boss or manager.

But face-to-face communication is not the only method for keeping people informed about where you are going and what you need to do to get there. Smart leaders use a variety of communication tools and methods to keep their most important messages top of mind with employees throughout the year.

Start by setting up a system to remind managers to discuss the goals and strategic planning framework elements with employees on a regular basis. Provide tools and templates managers and team leaders can use in monthly team meetings and in one-on-one conversations. This will take care of the face-to-face communication that employees want and need.

To complement this personal communication, develop some creative ways to keep information in front of everyone. For example:
  • Include elements of the strategic planning framework in newsletters, e-mail messages, on your intranet, and within presentations used at team and company meetings.

  • Look for things employees use on a daily basis and find ways to turn them into ongoing communication vehicles. Put your mission and values on notepads, paper cubes, and/or mouse pads.

  • Develop table tent cards for the cafeteria tables, posters for public areas in the offices, and screen savers that list the company's three most important strategic objectives.

  • Use paycheck stuffers to remind employees of the goals and update them on progress made towards those goals.

  • Post a blog on the company intranet that explains your view of the goals and why they are important. Also, use the intranet to highlight examples of people who have achieved significant progress toward the goals and/or performed in a way that "lives" the company's values.

  • Use Twitter to send daily or weekly "tweets" - short, concise reminders of what employees need to focus on or what winning looks like for your organization.

In addition to communicating with current employees on a consistent basis, make sure all new hires receive information about the strategic framework as part of their introduction to the company. For those components of your strategic framework that may change more frequently (such as operating metrics and significant initiatives), update all employees every time there is a change. In addition to what is changing, tell people why. Do this for changes to your innovation strategy and goals too!

There is almost no limit to the simple things you can do to communicate the most important messages in the company. Change it up every month so that people don't tune out your messages because they look like the "same old stuff" they always see. But just keep doing it!

I have yet to see an organization that over-communicates its goals. Instead we start running, and in our busy-ness forget that others aren't privy to all we are exposed to. When a change becomes evident and employees have not been informed, they are much more likely to fill the void with negative information, which is typically far worse than the truth.

Pausing to communicate frequently will save hours attempting to correct the myths, half-truths, and inaccurate information that spring up when you don't communicate enough. More important, it will increase understanding of and commitment to the goals you and your management team worked so hard to create.

What are some ways you keep employees informed?


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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Good Acting can be Bad for the Business

by Holly G. Green

Good Acting can be Bad for the BusinessWhen Shakespeare said that all the world's a stage, he probably didn't have employee performance evaluations in mind. But for anyone who has ever endured a less-than-candid performance appraisal, his words definitely ring true.

Giving and receiving feedback is a complex process made infinitely more complicated by our human emotions and reactions. In particular, our fears, uncertainties and doubts about the feedback process can make us very uncomfortable. So when we give or receive feedback, we often appear as though we are on stage, performing a role.

Performance evaluations often feature two primary roles: lead actors (the person providing the feedback) and supporting actors (the individual receiving the feedback). Do you recognize any of the following performers in your company?

"...and the Oscar goes to..."

Leading Actors (providing feedback):

  • The Magician disguises her feedback so that the employee can only guess about the real message. "You did great & here's one thing to work on, but you did great..." In order to minimize conflict and keep the employee guessing, she only slips in negative comments when the employee isn't looking. The magician typically appears when a manager is afraid of hurting the employee's feelings or worried about not being liked. The receiver walks away wondering what the show was all about.

  • The Corporate Enforcer's main goal is to protect his "good guy" status. His impersonal "I'm just doing my job and delivering the message; it's not like I wanted to or that I even believe it is necessary" approach gets him off the hook for having any negative thoughts of his own or opinions about the employee.

  • The Hero plays the part of protector while delivering the feedback as if he is there only to help. "Don't worry, I'll do it." He may pretend not to agree with the feedback while backpedaling out of the discussion, and will frequently step in and offer to resolve any issues for the employee.

  • The Interrogator asks a series of tough questions, trying to get the employees to figure out what they might not have done well. "Do you think it went well? What do you think others thought? Do you think that was the best approach?" She remains in control by never providing the answer and by not offering any specifics on the behavior(s) in question.

  • The Game Show Host prefers a guessing game in which the employee doesn't really know what the manager is thinking but is expected to play the game anyway. "Guess what I think is your strength? What do you think I want you to focus on?" As with the magician, the employee leaves the meeting wondering what it was all about.

Supporting Actors (receiving feedback):
  • The Victim is so hard on himself that any feedback is taken way out of context. "It's always my fault. I knew I would fail at this." He often perceives the feedback as a personal condemnation and overreacts.

  • The Sheepherder believes there is safety in numbers. "Everyone does it that way." She finds or at least identifies other employees who engage in the same behavior. This is a perfect way to avoid responsibility & accountability for personal performance & it can be intimidating to a feedback giver since it feels like the whole organization is suddenly against you.

  • The Con Man (or woman) creates tangents and diversions by bringing up other projects, issues or behaviors. "Did you hear about what is going on in X department?" The goal is to get the manager off track and avoid the real issues at hand.
  • Ex-Spouses blame the other person for anything less than perfection. "It's your fault. No it's your fault!" In this scene, the lead and supporting actors both become defensive and stop listening altogether.

Do any of these casts of characters remind you of anyone? All of these lead and supporting roles require sophisticated acting skills. Yet, most people are not consciously aware of when they are performing. So when any of these actors appear on stage, it's time to yell "Cut!" and re-shoot the scene.

Start by recognizing that the role being played is nothing more than a way of avoiding fears. If you're the one doing the acting, take a look at the behavior getting in the way of your valuable feedback and try to develop a better understanding of why you do it. If the employee is the one on stage, show some empathy for their fears and then gently redirect the conversation back to the issue at hand.

In Hollywood, a best actor award will definitely advance your career. When it comes to being a great leader or manager and assessing your employees, not so much. Keep the acting to a minimum on both sides and you and your employees will enjoy more honest and productive performance evaluations.



Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

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