Business

Turning “Weaknesses” into “Strengths”

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strengthWhile reading the latest Malcolm Gladwell book, David & Goliath, I couldn’t help but think about how many of the concepts presented also applied to business. The most interesting lesson that emerged for me was that strengths and weakness are all relative. In other words, when viewing through the same lenses, most will agree as to what are the strengths and what are the weaknesses. However, when assessing from differing perspectives a variety of outcomes can emerge. This is why having a diversity of opinion in problem solving and planning is so important.

This was most profoundly demonstrated in the book when Gladwell recounted his understanding of the famous David & Goliath story from biblical times. Goliath was supposedly this larger than life warrior, with a massive sword and shield while David was a mere shepherd boy with a sling shot. When looking at it relative to typical warfare for those times, David didn’t stand a chance. However as Gladwell describes, it was really Goliath who didn’t stand the chance. David was nimble and fast, remaining at a distance, while Goliath could hardly move; weighed down by the heavy protective armor he was wearing. As for weapons of choice, supposedly the slight shot in the hands of an expert could dispense a rock with a similar velocity as a modern day gun. So who really had the advantage?

Similarly within our organizations, it’s also critically important that we assess the needs relative to the people you have and whether their skills and abilities are being truly optimized. In a previous blog I spoke about how people have a tendency of viewing their own training needs in terms of technical skills but, for somebody else, it’s often thought of in terms of so called “soft” skills.

And so when we look at our teams and assess what might be their strengths and weaknesses, be careful of what you are comparing to. More importantly, be mindful of popular business “myths” and don’t be afraid to challenge them; just because it was a weakness in the past could make it the strength for the future, when viewed through different lenses.

The 5 Questions For Every Business

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For anybody familiar with the Toyota Manufacturing System, Lean Manufacturing, or Kaizen Events, the “5 Whys” is a pretty familiar tool. It is used as a diagnostic for digging deep into what might be the root cause of a particular problem. The rationale behind this is that the more you dig the greater the understanding and therefore the more likely a successful outcome. So let’s extend this even further and challenge us as to another variation of the 5 Whys as it might pertain to a business. The following are the five critical “why” related questions, the answer to which should help uncover your true business proposition.

  • Why do you do it? People are drawn to what the Leader’s underlying motive is and whether there is absolute belief in what you offer.
  • Why should I choose you? Customers buy on emotion and justify based on fact. So as much as we espouse the features and benefits of what you sell, what is the true emotional carrot that influences customers to buy from you?
  • Why do people work for you? Is your Staff engaged and happy in what they do? The benefits in terms of efficiency, turnover, innovation, etc, are huge. Remember sustainable success is a function of happiness.
  • Why are you better? What is the one characteristic about your business that sets you apart from Competitors? Is it a unique technology, marketing strategy, charismatic leader or something else? What is your key differentiator?
  • Why would I invest in you? Shareholders would be very interested in the answer to the first 4 Whys. What is it about your product, customer base, team or something else that would inspire somebody take the risk and invest in your venture?

Try it out – the honest answers you come up with will either be confirming, or perhaps a sign of an area that needs more work.

 

The Changing Landscape of Work

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workWith the advent of technology and globalization the manner in which business is conducted has dramatically changed over the last 20 years. Dan Pink, in A Whole New Mind refers to the transition from Agricultural to Industrial to Information and now to what he describes as the Innovative or Creative Revolution. The advent of technology and globalization has very much driven this changing landscape, particularly here in the US, and this can be somewhat illustrated by considering the following shifts:

From Repetitive to Creative

Whether its automation or outsourcing, the traditional blue collar work is in decline. In a recent USA Today article it was reported that 80% of new jobs in the US are now created in white collar positions. Even within this work category the traditional financial and analytical jobs are also leaving our shores. What’s left is a melting pot for innovation and having an ability to be continuously improving and looking for the next generation product. We have truly transitioned from the physical (repetitive) to the intellectual (creative).

From Directive to Autonomous

Primarily driven by this “new” type of work, leadership styles and how business operates from a people perspective has had to change. A repetitive, mass production environment might be more conducive to a directive style of management but when you are trying to motivate and manage creativity it just does not work like that. The new approach is based on supporting the autonomy of the individual in executing the task but ensuring that they are still accountable for results.

From Tactical to Strategic

Work is also becoming ever more complex. To support the creative mind and autonomous worker there is also a greater need to understand the bigger picture. Even though individuality is valued it must be in the context of a greater purpose; one that connects with the strategic intent of the business. Organizations need to provide appropriate training, develop open communications and engage employees like never before in order to optimize performance and retain their key people.

Quite apart from the social implications of all this what does it mean for the employee of today? Certainly they have to be more adaptable and flexible in their working arrangements. Interestingly what can be quite a challenge for the boomers is an expectation of the Gen X people. The later are growing up in this “changing” landscape and will clearly ensure its continuity and sustainability.

Success and Happiness – which comes first?

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Harvard researcher Shaun Achor has demonstrated through his various studies that happiness does not necessarily come from success. In fact, he goes as far to suggest that it’s the other way around. He contends it is only by being happy that you can achieve true success. So if this is the case, how does one become happy in the first place?

super heroAn interesting study conducted by Michael Norton from Harvard Business School proposed one possible solution. His hypothesis was that money can in fact buy happiness. However the caveat to this very much surrounds what you actually do with the money. Over the course of his research, they gave $50 to a variety of different people and one group were told to buy something for themselves and the other had to be spend it on somebody else. Post this activity through a variety of questions used to assess a relative degree of happiness, an interesting finding emerged. On a consistent basis those who spent money helping people they knew or even total strangers derived a far greater sense of happiness from this versus spending it on themselves.

This has also been validated in research on lottery winners who very often, through their self indulgence with their winnings, lose all their friends and family and very often end up extremely unhappy.

So what can we extrapolate from this that might be pertinent to the world of work and business? Money is one way we can give of ourselves but there are also many other ways such as supporting colleagues, praising others, helping out with challenging situations or volunteering your time. It is the actual process of giving that is so gratifying from which comes a sense of happiness.

In fact there is also a positive knock on or reciprocal effect to all of this; one that builds positive relationships, teamwork, alignment and the pursuit of a common goal. So rather than think how you might achieve success, how about unconditionally giving first, realizing the happiness it gives you and then seeing where it leads you?

Corporate Coaching Culture – Part 3

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In Part 1, we talked about what a Coaching Culture might look like.  In Part 2 we reviewed what is necessary to initiate this transformational change.  In this article we will review how, once effectively implemented, it is then sustained over a period of time.  Very often new initiatives start off in a blaze of glory but then dissipate with time.  Here are some things you can do to prevent this from happening.

1. Mentor Leadership – As leaders acquire the appropriate skills of coaching the traditional model of mentoring (been there / done that) gets replaced.   Past experiences still hold a value in terms of ideas and education, but the emphasis has to be on what is best and most appropriate for the person being coached.  This empathetic leadership style then needs to percolate down through the organization so that every leader / subordinate interaction is of this supportive nature.

2. Business Process Integration – Most disciplined organizations have processes and procedures which ultimately prescribe what is to be done.  This is only half the picture and what needs to be incorporated into this is how things get done.  Placing a clear and concise emphasis on the behaviors required in the new coaching culture will solidify the organizational expectation.

3. Success Outcomes / Accountability – as above what constitutes success will need to be articulated relative to, not only what is achieved, but also how it is achieved.  Accountability around these outcomes then must be built into this so employees clearly understand the broader expectations and behaviors that come with this type of culture.

4. Continuously Reassess and Reinforce – As with any initiative, small or large (and this one is large) there is a need to continuously review what is working and what is not.  Organizations need to be adaptive and maintain a constant hunger for what might make it better and be willing to subsequently make the necessary changes.

Corporate Coaching Culture – Part 2

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In Part 1, we talked about the importance of and what a Coaching Culture might look like.  In this article we will review how such a culture can begin to manifest within an organization?   To create such an environment everybody from top to bottom must be exposed to coaching and then these skills, tools and methodologies can become embedded into the fabric of the organization.  In order to engrain this culture, specific training must be provided based on the various hierarchical standings within the organization.

1. Senior Leadership – As with any major cultural initiative it starts and can very easily end at this level of the organization.  Through a combination of group teaching and individual one to one coaching, leadership can acquire the necessary skills to begin the appropriate role modeling that is essential for this type of change.  This will be the anchor for such a cultural transformation!

Training Recommended: Team Classroom + One on One Coaching

2. Support Function (HR) – The role of Human Resources must become redefined as strategic partners in supporting the creation of a coaching culture.  They need to receive formal coach training so that they have the confidence and credibility to support senior leadership in the implementation process.

Training Recommended: Formal Coaching Program

3. Mid Level Management – This group will be heavily influenced by the leadership role modeling and the support that will come from HR.  They also have the potential to sabotage the change process but with appropriate team training they can acquire the necessary skills to achieve buy in and support for the initiative.

Training Recommended: Team Classroom

4. General Staff – Training via an online virtual platform will be necessary to provide a basic understanding of coaching skills.  This will allow for “coaching style” staff interactions that are consistently understood throughout the organization.

Training Recommended: Virtual / Online

As with any major change initiative, the upfront investment to providing the necessary training will act as a compelling motivator for most and it will also test the commitment of leadership to see it through to completion.

Corporate Coaching Culture – Part 1 (What to do)

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Within businesses today, organizations are continuously seeking alternatives to create differentiation from the competition.  Innovation, technology, asset utilization and cost control are all seen as key drivers to business success and sustainability.  However, management practices and reward systems have done little to truly advance the potential than exists within its people.  Very often employees show up but are not fully engaged, complete tasks but could have done better, and perform as individuals rather than functioning as effective teams.  A massive opportunity exists and some would argue that the creation a “Coaching Culture” is the key to unlocking this potential.

A coaching culture is one in which people are empowered in a very supportive environment, have all the necessary interpersonal skills to collaborate effectively and are fully engaged in what they do, all of which drives optimum business performance.

According to a survey conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), respondents believe that a coaching culture increases the following:

  • Focuses on developing others and managing performance
  • Increases sharing and utilization of knowledge
  • Leads to more participative and transparent decision-making and
  • Makes learning and development a top priority.

CCL also contended that in order for this to be effective one needs to seed the organization with leaders and managers who can role-model coaching approaches.  In addition it is also important to link coaching outcomes to the success of the business and develop a competency model with strategic coaching goals, tactics and measures around coaching behavior.  Finally, everything mentioned very much hinges on recognizing and rewarding coaching-culture behaviors and also highlighting role models and the positive outcomes produced by these new behaviors.

This very much explains “what” needs to be done.  Check out Part 2 of this article to understand “how” this strategy can be executed.

Entrepreneurial Dilemma – What is Enough

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In a recent Inc. Magazine article, contributing author Norm Brodsky spoke about the mistakes that entrepreneurs make when they get bored with the business.  Inevitably what happens, he declared, is that people venture into doing things that they are not familiar with or perhaps not even good at.  More often than not it leads to mistakes but this dilemma I would suggest has more to do with just addressing boredom.

A friend in an effort to grow her business decided to make the investment in hiring additional sales people.  It seemed like the right thing to do but the fact of the matter was that these new people could not sell the product / service like she could.  So she ended up spending a lot of money with very little return and she had to let them go; however not before it almost got her into very serious financial trouble.  However if you asked her did she regret doing this her answer is no.

The key message here is that sometimes you have to go through adversity to realize what’s most important.  Entrepreneurs will claim that they want to create and grow a successful business.  But that’s only part of the picture which can sometimes obscure the other equally important “quality of life” piece.  And interestingly, it’s often not until you make a “bad” business decision and compromise the lifestyle piece that the light bulb actually goes off.  Suddenly you have less money and time together with more anxiety.  This typically prompts an evaluation as to what truly matters and “what is enough”.

Too many entrepreneurs get caught up in thinking they want more when they already have enough.  True success lies in when you have the time and money to do what you want to do.  When you figure this out, then your business will prosper to the degree that you want and your quality of life will improve in parallel.

Turning “Weaknesses” into “Strengths”

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While reading the latest Malcolm Gladwell book, David & Goliath, I couldn’t help but think about how many of the concepts presented also applied to business.  The most interesting lesson that emerged for me was that strengths and weakness are all relative.  In other words, when viewing through the same lenses, most will agree as to what are the strengths and what are the weaknesses.  However, when assessing from differing perspectives a variety of outcomes can emerge. This is why having a diversity of opinion in problem solving and planning is so important.

david vs goliath This was most profoundly demonstrated in the book when Gladwell recounted his understanding of the famous David & Goliath story from biblical times.  Goliath was supposedly this larger than life warrior, with a massive sword and shield while David was a mere shepherd boy with a sling shot.  When looking at it relative to typical warfare for those times, David didn’t stand a chance.  However as Gladwell describes, it was really Goliath who didn’t stand the chance.  David was nimble and fast, remaining at a distance, while Goliath could hardly move; weighed down by the heavy protective armor he was wearing.  As for weapons of choice, supposedly the slight shot in the hands of an expert could dispense a rock with a similar velocity as a modern day gun.   So who really had the advantage?

At a time when we mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela, one can’t help that but think that he too was like a modern day David up against the might of the Goliath like apartheid government.  And when released from prison he demonstrated all the leadership qualities (respect, dignity, humility, inclusion, etc) that were the very antithesis of the supposedly “strong” government at the time.  And we all now know what happened there.

And so when we look at our respective business models and assess what might be one’s strengths and weaknesses, be careful of what you are comparing to.  More importantly, be mindful of popular business “myths” and don’t be afraid to challenge; just because it was a weakness in the past could make it the strength for the future.

People or Processes

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When something goes wrong, human nature is such that we immediately ask, “Who is to blame?” Whether it is political, legal, at home or at work the natural tendency is to look at the people component and attribute responsibility.

In his book The New Agreements in the Workplace, David Dibble builds on the original Four Agreements by his mentor Don Miguel Ruiz. Dibble speaks about “Shifting your Systems” and by this he is alluding to the fact that we should first look at our processes before attributing blame on people because, more often than not, it plays a much bigger role with what is actually happening.

What do we mean be processes or systems? It really is the context or environment and might best be illustrated using a classic work example when it comes to perceived poor performance. The tendency is to label the individual as being lazy, non committal, not motivated, doesn’t care and so on. But what if you knew that this person had received poor training in the first place, management was fear based and was receiving minimum wage but expected to do the work of two people, would your perception change? Of course it would, but without knowledge of these processes, or absence thereof, you naturally make assumptions. Read more