Top Leadership Challenges – The Results

Mark Conway

Thanks to those of you who took the time to complete the recent Top Leadership Challenges poll. The top 3 challenges as voted for by Gung Ho! readers are:

1. Creating a high performance culture

How leaders believe things should get done is a key driver of culture. Leaders establish culture consciously, or unconsciously, through their own personal motives and actions. Leaders care about what it takes to succeed, and their perception of those needs will impact their behaviours and expectations.

External forces can forge culture change, also. The most obvious external impact today is technology. Nothing is going to impact how we behave more than the current transformation brought on by the internet, unified communications, collaboration tools and other advanced forms of technology emerging in our homes and workplaces.

In the UK today, huge spending cuts are transforming the Public and 3rd sectors, forcing these organisations, some for the first time in living memory, to make radical changes to work practices and their interactions with the public. The result of this new pressure is that government leaders are coaching and teaching their people to run their programs competitively, measure results, build business cases for change, plan strategically, create customer value and so on. There are clearly impacts on the culture, and therefore, the management systems and practices.

Culture provides consistency for an organisation and its people, a critical need in organisations where leaders change due to the marketplace, mergers and acquisitions and down-sizing. Knowing ‘what matters around here’ and ‘what I do is important’ helps people feel they are working with some stability and predictability in a changing workplace.

Since the idea of change being constant is becoming more and more evident, people need help in understanding the vision and their part in it. They also need to be involved in making the change happen. At KC we’ve invested huge amounts of time and energy involving our people in our vision and values and this is not a one-off activity. Every member of every team needs to understand and be engaged in your vision, understand how they can contribute to it and what support they’ll have in getting there.

Two of my favourite brands are Walt Disney and Innocent. Just read a couple of their ‘Corporate’ statements to understand culture and what sits at the heart of these very successful businesses.

Walt Disney

“From the beginning, starting with Walt Disney, we have had five things that make me proud to be part of this Company: high-quality products, optimism for the future, great storytelling, an emphasis on family entertainment and great talent, passion and dedication from our Cast Members.”

 Marty Sklar, Vice Chairman and Principal Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering

Innocent

Purpose: ‘Make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old’

Vision: ‘The Earth’s favourite little food company’

Values: ‘Create a business we can be proud of – be natural, be entrepreneurial, be responsible, be commercial and be generous’

Changing a culture in an established business as opposed to creating one in a new business is arguably much more difficult. Maybe that’s the shift in mindset required – collaborating on creating a new one could be a better course of action!

2. Reducing costs and increasing revenue

Every business leader that I’ve met faces this challenge and at a detailed level the actions you take as a leader will be different dependant on your business market, your product / service portfolio, your position in the market and the cost profile of your business.

Developing a cost-reduction strategy that maximises efficiency without compromising growth potential is not straight forward. You have to resist pressure to make indiscriminate cuts or slash headcount across the board. You need to identify core competencies where efficiency can be improved, trim and consolidate non-core functions, and reinvest the savings in critical business assets. And before you start, you need buy-in from your employees, especially those in senior and middle management.

Outsourcing might seem to be an easy answer. In many industries, contracting out non-core business functions such as human resources, billing, or payroll to third-party providers is gaining acceptance. Many companies outsource parts or all of their operating processes. But once a company decides to outsource, it also exposes itself to new forms of risk. For example, an inferior supplier of outsourced services can, overnight, inflict lasting damage on a company’s relationship with its suppliers and customers, that is to say its brand.

A strategy for driving profitable revenue growth is much more complex than controlling your costs. (That’s just my view – I’m sure all the commercial accountants will disagree and the Sales and Marketing people will be 100% behind me!)

I’ll keep it really simple. Focus on delivering the best possible experience you can afford for your customers at every stage of their time with you. Every interaction a customer or potential customer has with your brand is an opportunity to change their buying perception of you. Customers can share information about your products and services in a ways unimaginable 10 years ago. Fortune 500 and FTSE businesses have seen >10% share impacts of influential customers through social networks – Positively or Negatively.

3. Keeping employees motivated and focussed on results

I’ve listed a few thoughts below, but read Gung Ho! if you really want some great insight into employee motivation.

  • Lead by Example – NO EXCEPTIONS
  • Involve them – when people are involved in fleshing out visions, plans and projects, they buy-in faster and resist less. This means you can implement the change(s) more quickly and easily.
  • Set challenging goals. My experience has taught me that people strive to achieve what is expected of them. If you set challenging goals your team will work hard to accomplish them, providing of course, they are realistically attainable. It is amazing what people can accomplish when they are given the opportunity to perform.
  • Communicate – Your people need and want regular updates on the progress of the business and their personal performance. Talk to your team members regularly, letting them know if the business is on / off track.
  • Celebrate individual and team performance. Catch people doing something right and focus on recognizing excellent performance.
  • Give people the tools to succeed. No team will stay motivated if they do not have the necessary tools required to do their job.
  • Manage poor performance. While poor performance and conflict are seldom enjoyable to deal with, you have a responsibility to your team and the company to manage it.
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Teams and Teamwork 2.0

Team 2.0

Teams and Teamwork have changed

The make-up and nature of teams have changed significantly in recent years. Organisations have become more distributed across geography and across industries. Closer relationships between people inside an organisation and those previously considered outside (customers, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders) have become more important. Organisations have discovered the value of collaborative work and with the advent of new tools and technology, the ability to work more efficiently, effectively and more competitively is a reality. There is a new emphasis on knowledge management – harvesting the learning of the experience of members of the organisation so that it is available to the whole organisation, quickly and easily. Used effectively across a business this knowledge and information flow can add a real competitive advantage to your business and create a better experience for customers.

All these changes in organisations over the last decade have changed how teams are formed and how they operate.

Teams have morphed over time:

  • From fixed team membership to flexible and temporary team members
  • From all team members drawn from within the organisation to team members that can include people from outside the organisation (customers, suppliers, partners)
  • From team members that are dedicated 100% to the team to most people are members of multiple teams
  • From team members that are co-located organisationally and geographically to team members are distributed organisationally and geographically
  • From teams that have a fixed starting and ending point to teams form and reform continuously
  • From teams that are managed by a single manager to teams have multiple reporting relationships with different parts of the organisation at different times

Although the technology that supports these new teams gets most of the attention when we talk about virtual teams, it’s really the changes in the nature of teams – not their use of technology – that creates new challenges for team managers and members. Most “virtual” teams operate in multiple modes including having face-to-face meetings when possible. Managing a virtual team means managing the whole spectrum of communication strategies and project management techniques as well as human and social processes in ways that support the team.

Managers of small and large organisations have known the importance of communication and facilitation for successful team process, but few people have really grappled with the issues of trying to manage teams that are connected by distance in space and time.

While there are some obvious problems and disadvantages of distributed teams, these teams also provide some advantages such as:

  • Developing and spreading better practices faster
  • Connecting “islands of knowledge” into self-organizing, knowledge sharing networks of professional communities
  • Fostering cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration
  • Increasing ability to initiate and contribute to projects across organisational boundaries

Certain things need to happen in order for organisations to make effective use of virtual teams:

  • Processes for team management and development have to be designed, defined, piloted, tested, refined
  • Team managers have to be trained in new team management strategies
  • Team members have to be trained in new ways of working, understand your vision and how they contribute
  • The culture of the organisation has to be reshaped to support new structures and processes
  • Organisational structures have to be modified to reflect new team dynamics
  • Rewards systems have to be updated to reflect new team structures
  • New information technology (IT) systems have to be built to support teams
  • New management, measurement and control systems have to be designed

New technology requires us to rethink these dynamics because we don’t have the option to use familiar approaches. It gives us an opening to change the way we manage the people and work process in general. The critical part of the question, “How can we manage teams operating at a distance?” is really “How do we effectively support the collaborative work of teams? Managing virtual teams is not about taking our old management techniques and transposing them for delivery using new media. Rather, it’s about expanding our available tools to create new dynamics aligned with the best thinking about supporting collaborative work.

Virtual Team

A New Management Mindset

There are some critical aspects of a virtual team manager’s mindset that must shift in order to be effective in the modern workplace:

Different kinds of environments can support high quality interaction. What matters is how you use them.

  • Collaboration happens in an ongoing, no-boundaries way.
  • Using technology in a people-oriented way is possible, desirable, effective and efficient
  • When the communication process breaks down, evaluate our management and interaction strategies, not just the technical tool.
  • Learning to manage virtual teams is about understanding more about teams and the collaboration process

 Some of the key ideas to keep in mind to make sure a virtual team works effectively include:

  • Teamwork is fundamentally social
  • Knowledge is integrated in the life of teams and needs to be made explicit
  • It’s important to create ways for team members to experience membership
  • Knowledge depends on engagement in practice, people gain knowledge from observation and participation
  • Engagement is inseparable from empowerment
  • “Failure” to perform is often the result of exclusion from the process

Strategies for Supporting Virtual Teams

Virtual teams form and share knowledge on the basis of information pull from individual members, not a centralized push. Knowledge based strategies must not be centred around collecting and disseminating information but rather on creating a mechanism for practitioners to reach out and communicate to other practitioners.

The goal is to find ways that support the transformation of individuals’ personal knowledge into organisational knowledge. That goal requires designing environments where all the individuals feel comfortable (and have incentives) to share what they know. It’s important that this activity not feel like a burdensome “overhead” task, which is why doing it in the process of what feels like informal conversation works well.

In order to have productive conversations among members of virtual teams, you need to create some kind of common cognitive ground for the group. Even teams from the same organisation can have a hard time developing conversations deep enough to be significant without some kind of specific context as a beginning frame. Contexts can be created by guest speakers, training courses, requests for input to a specific project/question or special events.

Managers of virtual teams can support their teams by:

  • Recognising them and their importance
  • Encouraging members to explore questions that matter including questions about how they are working together
  • Supporting the creation of some kind of shared space (the feeling that there is an infrastructure where people are working together)
  • Facilitating the coordination of the technology, work processes, and the formal organisation
  • Recognising reflection as action and as legitimate work (getting the infrastructure of the organisation to support the learning process)
  • Supporting activities which make the informal network visible

Technology for Virtual Teams

Different communication technologies can be used to support different purposes and participants.

New technologies are being launched every day to enhance the way we work. At KC we use and sell Microsoft Lync integrated with our Intranet, MS Outlook and SharePoint together with Salesforce.com and integrated tools. These tools not only have transformed the way we work and collaborate but have saved huge amounts on travel and hotel bills!

Too often, technology is introduced to organisations as a solution looking for a problem.

DON’T:

  • Try to introduce collaboration tool as a strategy to re-engineer your organisation
  • Expect to open the box and roll it out – it’s not always plug and play
  • Start by choosing a particular type of technology and then trying to find a problem where you can use it
  • Just put SharePoint or CRM into the organisation and expect users to learn it on their own
  • Mandate the use of technology and punish people who don’t cooperate
  • Try to use software tools to change the politics of your organisation

DO:

  • Start by changing the culture, and then use the technology to support the change
  • Change the reward system and measure people on their teamwork and sharing of information
  • Encourage bottom-up, grassroots efforts
  • Make sure the software fits your processes
  • Start collaboration with face-to-face meetings when possible
  • Use role modelling for spreading the use of technologyTeam
  • Virtual Teams as Building Blocks for Organisational Learning

One of the primary reasons leaders set up virtual teams is to facilitate change in their organisation. The driver for real organisational change is organisational learning. Today’s organisation interested in tomorrow’s success will run on its ability to create and use knowledge, its ability to learn.

The emphasis on learning has two powerful implications for the design of communications environments to support organisational teams that can have a significant impact on the organisation:

Dialogues, not just databases

Until recently, organisations relied on large amounts of explicit knowledge available to them through huge databases. Quantifiable facts, formulas, and procedures were, and still are, available to anyone in most organisations. In contrast, today’s “knowledge” or learning organisations create environments where experiential knowledge is shared through dialogue and interaction. Communication technologies are needed which support this interaction.

Learning and change are facilitated rather than managed

For a business or a non-profit institution to become a learning organisation, a different environment needs to be created. This environment should stimulate and nurture the complex network of interpersonal relationships and interactions that are a part of an effective management communications and decision-making process. People must be allowed to make choices about whom they need to communicate with without regard to traditional organisational boundaries, distance and time. A collaboration infrastructure provides the advantage and flexibility of forming and reforming groups and teams as requirements develop and change. This entire process must be facilitated rather than controlled by providing easy ways for team members to be introduced to each other.

What’s Next?

Virtual teams are fast becoming more the rule than the exception in organisations. It’s time to stop thinking of them as a special case and start developing strategies for dealing with the new challenges they create. Virtual teams need the same things all teams need – a clear vision and mission, an explicit statement of roles and responsibilities, communications options which serve its different needs, opportunities to learn and change direction as well as clear measurement.

Selling with a small ‘s’

My day job is all about sales, but I’ve never had ‘sales’ on a business card in my career.

Before I continue, I would like to say that I have the best sales team that I’ve ever worked with. They’re fantastic people and very good at what they do – Sell….a lot! Thanks guys and gals!

This post is not about selling in the traditional sense. What I’d like to talk about is selling with a small ‘s’ and I guess that’s all about Customer Experience – The interactions a customer has with a brand.

Whatever brand you deal with, in whatever part of your life – at home or in business. every interaction you have with it creates a positive, negative or neutral reaction.

The more positive each interaction is with a brand, it increases your propensity to buy more / stay longer with that brand (yes, and there’s much more to it than that, but bear with me). There comes a point that you are so happy with the consistently good customer experiences you have with that brand, that you actively become a proponent for that brand and become a new channel to market because you will talk about them to others. It is no coincidence that I have called my blog, Gung Ho!. Awesome book, awesome authors – and yes I’ll happily promote their books because of the experience they have given me.

How do you engender the sort of ethos into a large organisation, especially an established service organisation, that will ensure that important word of mouth selling? It’s not easy! Especially in today’s world of social networking. There are many well publicised social media disasters – American Airlines to name one, where one poor customer experience has led to the opposite outcome. Very few businesses can get things right all the time, but when things do go wrong, you have an opportunity to turn around that poor customer experience and ensure that the customer is more than satisfied when you’ve resolved the issue.

Brand – At KC we have started a journey with our people, getting them involved in evolving and changing our brand values, our ways of working and people’s mindset about the impact of a brand interaction with customers. Brand is NOT all about a logo. Our customers know that, but many of our people needed some help to get there. We took 30 or 40 of our people on a brand journey, getting them to understand what a brand meant, what it could and should stand for, how to engender behavioural change amongst others through leading by example and some straight talking. We’re at the start, with a long way to go, but customers are already starting to see a difference in our behaviours and are openly talking positively about us – That makes me feel pretty proud of what the team have achieved. We can’t be complacent and must continue to work on every touchpoint we have with our customers, large or small, to make their experience great.

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