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January 30, 2014

HOW: Retaining Leadership

We talked about WHAT in earlier post Challenges in Retaining Leadership. Having discussed Why and What, logical next step is to talk about HOW?

Let’s take a moment and look at logic of focusing on “Bouquet of Values and skills”. Given our Big Y (goal), the Critical Xs (key drivers) naturally are behaviour and processes impacting values and skill. 

“Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure to meet customer expectations are related to efficiencies in systems and process… rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.” – W. Edwards Deming
Answer to How is HOW!! Humane approach to being Objectively Worldly-wise.

Humane Approach

Embracing your organization’s humanity will move your company from the mindless management of numbers to the creation of customer and employee value, which ultimately will make your shareholders — the real ones who care about long-term performance — happy, as well. Companies can achieve this by accomplishing three things: First, they should spend more time, energy, and resources to find out what their customers really want. Second, they need to do a better job of treating their employees as people who need to be nurtured, not costs that need to be kept in check. Third, they need a motivating purpose besides the achievement of financial goals. SOURCE: Resolve to Make Your Business Human Again by Scott Anthony

Critical component to Humane Approach is an organizational culture supportive of owning mistakes, not merely tolerant of mistakes. We consistently hear “To err is human and to forgive is divine”. We forget to share, let’s start by being human, own up mistake and earn forgiveness, before we expect others to be divine. Leaders own up mistakes, they say “buck stops here”. They neither believe in entitlement nor finding someone to blame.

Competition as Inspiration, once we start seeing competitors as inspiration instead of enemies. Our communication, expected behaviors, rewards and recognition strategy undergoes a complete change for positive. The rhetorical statements, over zealousness and unnecessary aggression give way to desire for continuous improvement, sense of fulfillment and enjoyment. We spend so much time and resources in improving processes to remove non value added activities but we spend so little on improving human processes and take out non value adding emotions from people’ life.

Bring simplicity back to business. Everyone talks about importance of values. We love to quote great leaders, saints and sports personalities. But if you turned the argument around, say take example of biggest don/gang leader, do they expect anything other than loyalty, honesty, smart work, delivering the task assigned etc? So, even if most crooked people expect these values, why do we want to hide behind street smart, practically honest, this is how system works, life isn’t fair etc.; to be less than honest with   colleagues and customers? Simply put - mean what you say, say what you mean and do what you say.

No Stubbornness, sabotage and politicking. Managements (leaders, HR etc) tend to encourage these highly dysfunctional behaviors in name of being in touch with employees. Leaders are liberators and facilitator. Once we have trusted someone with a responsibility to lead or deliver an assignment, we can’t promote a culture where people use their access with management to constantly question decisions & provide information informally to meet their own agenda. This is easy to fix, my simple solution has always been to ask how are you contributing to the Solution? Or bring all stakeholders face to face. Yes, it may lead to less people coming to you with information, but it significantly cuts the biggest non value adding activity of organizational, gossip and politicking.

Adult to Adult relationship “Be the change you want to see in the world”- Mahatma Gandhi. Treat people as adults. Business is serious affair. Business needs grown up and skilled people, to deliver value proposition to customers. Accepting people as adults means paying attention to their ideas, thoughts and inputs. It means trusting them to be able handle good with bad, success with failure and so on.


Focus on reason d’ĂȘtre for existence of the Business i.e., Customer - This is not optional. Everything else is. Providing Value for money is best social service any business enterprise can do. If we think at deeper level, this applies to all human endeavors. Similarly, if we start seeing management as service to people instead of power over people, we can bring same focus while leading them.

Differentiation is constant – Straight out of Jack Welch’s philosophy. It has become fashionable currently to denounce bell curve and forced ranking. So many qualified and experienced experts are spending enormous time and energy trying to prove that Bell curve/forced ranking is not the way forward. However, completely side stepping real point – differentiation. Differentiation is a key leadership skill and responsibility. Doesn’t matter what tool is used in carrying out this responsibility. So, be sure that as Leadership Team and HR, you don’t allow the debate over a tool to take away focus from real issue.

Problem Solving vs. Innovation – Leaders stay ahead of curve and are able to find innovative solutions. Sounds right? True, however it is important to understand that single minded focus on providing best in class product and services, provides natural environment to encourage innovation. Same can’t be said for reverse. Institutionalize value, practices and skills with laser sharp focus on problem solving.  This will help unleash innovation and creativity all around. To quote Indira Nooyi, Chairperson PEPSICO, We look for people who are able to understand and work around geo political environment quickly and surround themselves with great talent. Who are agile, can work with scarcity of commodities (read resources) and make something out of nothing.”

Worldly-WiseWisdom is nothing but learning while applying the Knowledge.

Adaptability & Flexibility – The famous words repeated over and over again, “It’s not survival of the fittest but most adaptable”. This phrase also happens to be most inappropriately used. Mostly people using these words, take submission for adaptability or flexibility. True adaptability and flexibility comes from position of strength, courage and conviction. It’s not absence of strong opinion and ideas. We are adaptable and flexible, when we chose to follow/accept someone else’s point of view/idea.  As Leaders, you are flexible when you support a solution or idea while convinced of you own solution not when you didn’t have any. Same time team members are flexible/ adaptable when they rally behind agreed solution, while having stronger ideas or solutions.

When in doubt check, There are no perfect employees, perfect employer, perfect career, perfect organization or perfect managers. It’s only what is perfect for you, what makes you click and what makes your customers successful. Simple check is to use your values and goals to validate, if what you are doing is what you should be doing. (Click slides)

Peanuts attract monkeys, if you are in business, appreciate people are joining you for commercial reasons. Class has its prize, if you want to attract and retain good talent you have to pay them well and provide them with better eco-system compared to others.

Recently, I saw an update on LinkedIn, saying “B2B, B2C is out, Human to Human is in”. Let’s bring humane back to business. The difference between Steve Jobs’ two stints at Apple was, first time he engineered exceptional products with high cost and asked why people will not buy? He failed. Second time, he engineered exceptional products which people will like and believed they will pay premium. He ended up creating most valuable company in the World.

Warm Regards,

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