How to get an organization working as a whole

In the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. military attempted to “synchronize” all forces–getting them all to work together in order to concentrate forces.  While it may have appeared to be working for the generals at the top, officers further down the ranks were smothered with procedures that reduced effectiveness by slowing down operations and limiting the ability to be opportunistic.

That is very different from aligning an organization where everything, from a clear strategy, functional objectives, and incentives are all focused on the same desired outcomes, but with the parts having the freedom to act and move responsibly and quickly.

Synchronization involves overly complex and convoluted managing of doing things right.  Alignment involves both leadership throughout an organization and an overall mindset of doing the right things.

How to spot real accountability

One of the most misunderstood, misused, and yet important factors of organizational success is accountability.  I find that tough-talking leaders are often the worst at building accountability in their organizations.  Defense secretary Donald Rumsfield is a prime example.  He was loud, critical, and often abusive to subordinates.  His actions resulted in fear, blame, and micromanagement , none of which leads to accountability.  When Robert Gates took over, he restored accountability by being clear about direction and objectives, and reacting quickly when performance lagged with minimal emotion and a focus on problem solving.  Strong accountability systems develop self-confidence, responsibility, and leadership.

Four reasons you’re not developing leaders

In my experience, many companies are not effective at developing leaders for one or more of these four reasons:

  • Senior management doesn’t talk about leadership development
  • Everyone is too busy getting work done
  • Internal politics get in the way
  • Leadership is perceived as something that comes from training programs and personality assessments

Really successful companies — those who are known for their ability to grow leaders such as GE, Merck, Proctor and Gamble, Honeywell, Marriott, and others — do many little things that add up to making them highly effective at leadership development. The primary BIG thing is having a senior management mindset that developing leaders is a key to sustaining competitiveness.

How Strong is Your Leadership Pipeline?

Recently I gave a talk at the New York Bankers Association Senior Management Conference about how to sustain a high-performance organization.  One key to sustainable performance is having a strong leadership pipeline to ensure management continuity and strengthen leadership at all levels.

A leadership pipeline begins with how you bring people with leadership talent into your organization, then how you challenge then, develop their skills, give them leadership experiences, and model leadership for them.

Rate Your Own Leadership Pipeline

On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you doing on the following right now?  (10 being fabulous, 1 being abysmal, and 5 being right about in the middle.)

  1. We have a strong talent mindset among our management team and each manager is a role model of the kind of leaders we need.
  2. We pay attention to attracting leadership qualities for every job opening, rather than just filling positions.
  3. We consciously work to develop skills and abilities all the time; instead of just focusing on managing tasks, judging performance, and correcting problems.
  4. We know the kind of leadership potential we have at each level of the organization and work to develop it further.
  5. We have a well-defined system of leadership development which reflects our own company beliefs and business strategy.
  6. We train our managers and supervisors in what our leadership development system is, how it works, and their role in its effectiveness.
  7. We provide training and coaching to managers and supervisors in how to provide performance feedback and career development discussions in-line with our overall leadership development system.
  8. We provide regular opportunities for people to exercise leadership skills on project teams, opportunity teams, and innovation teams.
  9. We pay particular attention to the unique leadership challenges at each level instead of a one-size fits all approach to leadership development.
  10. At all levels of the organization we have a strong bench of people who are ready to step into greater leadership roles when needed.


A score of 95 or higher is excellent.  85-95 is commendable.  75-85 needs improvement on several important factors.  Below 75 shows a significant deficiency.


My work improves individual and organizational performance and includes strategic planning, strategy execution, change management, and executive coaching. If you or anyone you know can use this kind of help, I’d greatly appreciate a referral.

On performance, motivation and engagement

People improve their own performance.  It’s an individual accountability.  Leaders can provide the ways and the means for people to do that, but leaders cannot do it for them.
Similarly, people motivate themselves.  Leaders cannot motivate individuals.  People can be forced to do something by fear, peer pressure, or incentive, but that’s not motivation — it’s control.  It’s what Harvard professor Herzberg decades ago called a “KITA” (kick in the ass.)  KITAs are effective at getting movement, but not high-level and sustained performance.
While many managers and companies continue to use KITAs, others are obsessed with employee “engagement”–a term that has made the rounds since the mid-1990’s.  Much of what passes for engagement is control in one form or another, or entitlements that may increase employee moods, but which don’t translate into better performance.
The best way to improve performance, motivation and engagement is to make the work itself meaningful, stimulating, challenging, and rewarding.