Many leaders are simply not good at communicating their business strategy to the people who will execute it. That can be fixed with good coaching. But when your senior managers and middle managers don’t communicate the strategy, you’ve got a serious problem.
The top leader plays the most important part in setting direction and articulating the strategy to the organization. But it must be effectively communicated throughout the organization by managers who can apply it local challenges.
Many managers are like black holes: they suck in all information and it never comes out again. One of the problems is that they do not understand, or value, their roles and the responsibilities that come with managing people. Peter Drucker wrote that when you need to improve organizational communication, don’t work on the pumping station, work on the pipes. A lack of effective communication is a clear indication that the management development needs improvement.
Pay for performance took on new meaning with revelations about the New Orlean Saints and their bounty program for intentionally injuring opposing players. Greg Smith resigned from Goldman Sachs last week with an expose about their incentives, a toxic culture, and treating customers in a less than respectful manner. Politicians during elections are known to promise things they don’t intend to deliver because they need the votes. Incentives, whether they’re designed to do so or not, can cause aberrant and even unethical behavior.
One of the keys to effective strategy implementation is having a sharply-focused organization, and that usually entails incentives for executives and managers. Incentives are powerful things: Aligned well, they create value for customers and shareholders. Aligned improperly…you know what I mean.
Leaders are responsible for the ethical actions of their people. The Saints’ head coach will sit out all next season with no pay, and their defensive coach is suspended indefinately from the league.
Does your organization have its incentives aligned properly and are you effectively monitoring behavior?
Early in my consulting career, I worked extensively with Wilson Sporting Goods. One day I interviewed an elderly gentleman who was the wood head designer. He worked closely with Wilson’s PGA professionals (Sam Sneed, etc.) to create custom clubs. He took a liking to me and at one point, lowering his voice and looking me in the eye said, “I want to tell you a secret.” He said, “Before each shot, the best pros visualize how they’ll hit the ball, how it will go through the air, and how it will land ending up exactly where they want it to be.”
Too many companies have uninspiring vision statements that follow a form:
“(Name of company) will be the best (nature of the business) in the world, providing world-class (product or service) to our customers.”
What’s the point of that? It lacks energy, enthusiasm and meaning, it’s uninspiring, uninteresting, indistinguishable from competitors, and worst of all, it doesn’t provide a vivid picture of the future.
A vision is a clear picture of where you want to go and how you’ll get there. It is what you are striving to accomplish. It is vitally important for two reasons: First, it is the heart of strategy. Second, done right, it is a powerful way to get your organization focused on the strategy.
The experiment was simple. The scientists put a few bees and a few flies in a glass jar, and placed the jar against a window with the jar’s opening facing away from the window, to see if the bees or the flies escaped first. Their hypothesis was that the bees, having more smarts, would certainly be the first to get out. But they were wrong – the bees spent nearly all their time at the end of the bottle trying to reach the light, and they never escaped. The flies instead flew around haphazardly and all eventually escaped.
There’s a lot to be said for putting your head down and running in one direction with what you do best. That’s a strong attribute in operations. But leaders need to be constantly looking at the competitive situation and environment. A change in either one may well require innovation, a new strategy or a new competency.
You don’t have to be the first to spot a trend — being second or third is a great place to be. Apple, for example, didn’t make the first digital music listening device, nor the first smart phone. And their first tablet wasn’t at all successful. But they’ve been very good at spotting a trend and jumping on it with the best solutions. Make sure your strategy sessions have an external focus on how your industry is changing and the opportunities it presents.
The management team was unable to have a productive discussion. They kept going in circles because they were using words such as “strategy” and “tactic,” “goal,” and “objective” interchangeably. Identifying this as a barrier to meaningful discussion and an impediment to planning, I provided working definitions they could agree on and use.
The CEO said, “My definitions of goal and objective are the opposite of those.”
“That’s fine,” I said, “let’s use your definitions – the important thing is for everyone to have the same working definitions of those words, otherwise you’re not communicating.”
Successful planning depends on simple agreements, not just formulating a competitive strategy. Be clear and specific on such things as working definitions, which planning process to use, and especially what success will look like.
“We want to go from good to great,” a prospective client recently told me. “That’s wonderful.” I remarked, “Can you tell me what in particular will be better when you’re a great company?”
“I want to be a better manager,” my new coaching client said. “That’s laudable,” I replied, “but tell me: What specifically will be different when you are a better manager?”
It is very difficult to work on generalities. Identify specific objectives.
The reaction of Afgans to the treatment of religious materials is alarming but it clearly illustrates two points affecting organizational behavior: Emotion is at least as important as logic in getting people to act, and actions speak louder than words.
While rational analysis and management pronouncements are key to managing a business, effective leadership necessarily includes both demonstrated action and emotional appeal to successfully move an organization forward.
This is every bit as relevant at executive levels as it is at lower levels in an organization.