Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Building a Diverse Team-A Tipsheet

Today I'll concentrate on "above the water line"issues when building a diverse team.  I've got five things I consider.  First, where's the business?  By that I mean physical geography.  You need members of your leadership team from your business "centers of gravity".  Second, what is the business?  You need leaders who are deeply proficient in the business....competent and knowledgeable.  Staff will follow leaders who demonstrate they know what they are doing..  Third, get a wide range of work experiences among those you select.  If everyone on the team has had similar work experiences they are more likely to approach problems in a similar way.  Fourth, select both men and women.  My experience is not exactly "Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars" but I do believe men and women often think differently about the same challenge. The variety of thinking is what I'm after when I pick a team.  Last, pick complementary personalities.  I'm not suggesting you use Meyers-Briggs or any other instrument as a screening technique...just use your background, experience and intuition to pick a mix of personalities.  Great teams are not characterized by a lack of conflict.
It's relatively rare to be able to pick a new team from scratch, so often  you will be making individual selections to replace departing team members.  It's also rare that you can satisfy all five dimensions I've outlined when picking a team; you'll need to make trade offs.  If in the in final analysis, you end up with a gap...a geography not covered, a single gender team, a shortfall in business's important to make that gap visible to the team.  Then the group can be conscious of their vulnerability to risks inherent to their team's thinking....and develop means to pause, reflect and adjust if necessary.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cultural Awareness tipsheet

There are a number of things to consider when thinking about your global team and how to lead.  Just this past week Tom Doctoroff wrote about the emergence of "American style individualism" in China.....or not.  Yesterday I mentioned Hofstede and Trompenaars work and won't repeat it here.  My own list of things to consider goes something like this:
  1. Respect for authority
  2. Expectations about decision making- Leader, Majority or Consensus
  3. Personal Freedom
  4. Self Interest
  5. Tolerance for Open Debate and free expression 
  6. Ethics, codes of conduct
There can be huge differences in national culture among Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians, South Americans....really any nationality.  The obvious lesson is the importance of a leader developing behaviors that take these cultural differences into account.  There are also a couple of traps here.  First, although there are national cultural attitudes about these things, it's also a mistake to assume everyone from that culture all hold common beliefs.  Its seems self evident but there will always be differences among individuals.   Stereotyping all people of a national culture can be just as
de-motivating to a team as treating them all as if they were from a single culture.  Second, company culture can trump national culture among long serving employees of some companies.  Understanding the way we do things here can be just as important as understanding national culture.
So, yes a leader must be very aware of the influences different national cultural tendencies can have on their team AND the skilled leader has to understand the degree to which their team members reflect those differences.  Appreciating those differences and being inclusive of them when leading  will result in more effective team performance..

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tips on Leading a Diverse team-Deepen your Cultural Awareness

There are many types of diverse teams.  The kinds I'm referring to in this blog are globally diverse least three different countries, multi-gender, multi-cultural, multi-racial teams.  The first team I led like this in Shell had a Danish expat male based in London,  a French male expat based in The Hague, an Australian woman  based in The Hague, an Australian woman based in Melbourne and an American woman based in Houston.  Later we added a Malaysian male based in Singapore.
First, a leader has to develop their cultural awareness.  Many will be familiar with the iceberg model, an example of which I've posted.  Those things above the waterline are those that are visible but actually represent a small percentage of the things that drive behavior that are represented below the water line.  I also believe there is some self study required.  Geert Hofstede's work and Fons Trompenaars work are both examples of research that can help leaders understand those things "under the water line" that are critical to successful leadership of a global team.   So tip #1 is Deepen your Cultural Awareness.  How?  Study, Reflect, Travel outside your home country.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Diversity and Inclusion-The Business Case

Let me state up front, I am an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace. Over and above the basic issue of human dignity, I think there is a strong business case that has three elements to it. First, global companies need access to the best talent in the world. In the war for talent, no company can afford to exclude talented people for any reason. That also means that you have to create a meritocracy...a work environment where success is based on performance. Second, diverse teams can work better...reduce the risk of "group think" and increase opportunities for innovation . A key point is that diverse teams don't automatically work better just because they are diverse. It takes skilled leadership to realize that potential. The third element of the business case is that customers and key stakeholders want to "see themselves" in companies they deal with. It's important to be able to put a local face on a global business. Since the subject of this blog is leadership, I'm going to spend the next few days exploring the second point. What's it take for a leader to realize the potential of a diverse team?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review-The Leadership Pipeline

A lot of the books I'll review in this blog aren't exactly "new".  This particular book is over 10 years old but stands the test of time.

The big day has finally arrived.  All your hard work has been recognized.  You are being promoted to the next level of management.  You call your spouse.  You make reservations at that favourite restaurant.  This is a cause for celebration.  Within a few weeks, you discover something isn’t right.  Many of the skills and techniques that worked in your last job don’t seem to be working anymore.  You keep pulling the levers that made you successful, those that got you promoted in the first place, and they don’t seem to be attached to anything anymore.   

This bewildering and slightly frightening scenario is not uncommon.  Most managers will admit to experiencing this at some point or multiple points in their career.  Ram Charan and his co-authors describe this common phenomenon and how great organizations deal with it in their book The Leadership Pipeline. 

The theory of the book is that there are what the authors refer to as six passages, or turns, in the leadership pipeline of all organizations.  The passages are from managing self to managing others, managing others to managing managers, from managing managers to functional manager, from functional manager to group manager and from group manager to enterprise manager.  Their hypothesis is that each of these passages represents “a shift in organizational positions- a different level and complexity of leadership- where a significant turn has to be made.” 

The book contains chapters on each passage and its unique characteristics, helpful hints to identify when someone is having difficulty making the passage, and coaching tips on remedies to keep the pipeline from getting clogged. 

Managers who discover themselves at one of the turns in the pipeline, leaders coaching others through a career transition and HR talent managers will all find this book extremely practical and helpful in the day to day practice of building leadership capability.     

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Innovation/Standardization-Opposite sides of the same coin?

Not long ago I was watching a Travel Channel show about how US fast food franchises had adapted their menus to different cultures.  McDonald's had beer and spatzl in Berlin, the McFalafel in the Middle East, and Kosher offerings in Israel.  The show demonstrated similar adaptations for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut.  Does this erode the standardization argument?  I think not.
The show also made the point that each restaurant offered their "classic menu" in addition to the local customized offering.  The standard classic menu was the start point for local adaptation.  I've long felt that standardization is the source of innovation.  Without a common base there is no way for an overall system to improve. 
Clearly, there are differences between fast food franchises, retail activities and other enterprises.  That said, I found the same theme true in the US Army.  In a series of progressive leader development interventions that punctuate an Army officer's career, one is taught doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures...approved ways of accomplishing common tasks.  Of course when one gets to the field the "school solution" might not work....often because the situation is so different.  A great strength of the US Army is it's ability to adapt based on the skill and inventiveness of its officers and non-commissioned officers and not be handcuffed by rigid adherence to the "school solution"....but it all starts with the standard baseline.  In fields as varied as fast food and military operations standardization is the source of innovation.
What does this mean to the global leader?  I think it means that the leader has to relentlessly drive toward standardization....absolutely insist on the base case... AND be prepared to adapt to a local situation.  Knowing when to adapt is one of the elements that makes leadership an art and not a science.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Trap of Customization

I started this series of blogs on standardization with a story of how a leader of a manufacturing activity standardized his maintenance management systems into one...and dealt with the "we're all for a single long as it's ours"  The epilogue to the story is that a year after finally agreeing a common system, the same business leader was asked to double the investment in the system.  The reason?  Everyone wanted their own version of the standard system!  The impulse towards customization is a strong one.  At a site level, there are a number of legitimate reasons...the local leader wants data arrayed in a certain way, some countries have regulatory requirements that drive unique solutions, Joint ventures pose a particularly difficult problem when the "minority shareholder" doesn't agree. In addition, there is often a legacy of those in the center trying to design solutions that businesses request...a genuine desire to respond to an articulated business need and therefore get buy-in.  There's a trap in these impulses towards customization.  When it comes to supporting IT systems in particular...HRIT, Finance IT, Procurement, Maintenance Management, Learning Management Systems(LMS)....etc,   customization drives complexity. The complexity creates instability and unreliability in the system and the instability/unreliability erodes confidence.... reinforcing resistance.  To deal with this dilemma, I think a leader has to do a couple of things.  One, you have to be explicit up-front that everyone won't get everything they want out of a standardized system...and in fact, in many cases, won't get everything they currently have..  Second, you have to listen hard and sort out legitimate issues, from smokescreens intended only to delay or derail the initiative.  Third, you need a  set of trusted colleagues with an enterprise first mind-set to help make tough calls.  Last, to reinforce a point made a few days ago, you have to get the governance aligned toward global, so that  "no" answer to a customization request will stick.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Global standardization-What's a leader to do?

This week has been mostly about global standardization, why it's important and why people resist it.  Today, I want to touch on some techniques, tools and approaches leaders of global teams can use to successfully tackle global standardization of anything...fremeworks, portfolios, processes, systems.  At the outset I'll acknowledge that much of this is about leading change.  John Kotter and Robet Quinn have both published excellent books on this subject.  I've studied them and practiced both approaches.  You'll see both their books on my recommended reading list.  I won't try to replicate either but highlight what I've learned in practice in global teams.  The first point is you've got to get the governance aligned toward global.   Simply, this means where the hard reporting line is on the org chart.  Most global organizations of which I'm aware operate in some sort of matrix with a "hard" reporting line and a "dotted" reporting line.  The hard line usually means who writes the annual performance appraisal and determines the variable portion of pay...more commonly known as the "annual bonus".  If your organization has a history of local autonomy and a history of optionality toward corporate center initiatives, unless and until the governance changes, global standardization initiatives will struggle.  This doesn't mean it can't be done through influence, shared vision, building guiding coalitions and so does mean it will be a long, hard, uneven, and painful slog until the governance is aligned.  My second point is the leader has to set stretch targets.   A good rule of thumb is double what most think is achievable.  The stretch target forces people to fundamentally rethink approaches to a particular challenge.  If the target isn't stretching enough people will gravitate to solutions that are incremental changes to what they are already doing.  A third point is around engagement and communication.  Kotter's work in this area is especially instructive here.  I'll emphasize three elements.  One is sheer scale.  Its not 10X what you estimate it's more like 100X.  This means you have to use every tool in the, webcasts, video conference, small group engagements, large also means the leader has to listen.  Engagement isn't only about communicating a message, sometimes the concept of what's standard changes as leaders better understand local issues.  The last point for the day is that the scale of the engagement challenge means one leader cannot do it alone.  Kotter calls this the guiding coalition.  In a global team this means leaders in every country or region communicating a consistent message.   In addition to the formal leader role, there are huge influencers in the informal networks.  Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" and Rob Cross's "Driving Results through Social Networks" are especially useful in this regard.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why people don't like standardization.

At the outset, I must say I've learned to "assume good intent."  By that I mean I assume everyone wants to succeed as an individual and wants their organization  or company to succeed.  I assume no one is deliberately trying to sabotage an initiative just for the heck of it.  I guess computer hackers do that but I'm interested in people working inside a company with the company's best interests at heart.   The question of the day is why people don't like it. I've got a couple of hypotheses that come from my own experiences. One is what I've called the dark side of learning. What I mean by that is people have learned a way of solving a particular problem, it works and they are reluctant to change. Physician practices in health care are a good example. Doctors learn a particular surgical method or proper prescription for certain symptoms, it works, and they are reluctant to change something that works. Getting doctors to prescribe medications from a fixed formulary rather than the ones they are used to is another manifestation of this.  Un-learning previous success isn't easy.  There's also often a belief that my circumstances are unique and demand unique solutions. "Things are different here....". There is usually a deep mistrust of corporate center initiatives. "They really don't know what it's like down here".... "They are just pursuing their own personal political agenda"...There can also be trust issues related to cultural stereotypes on teams with different nationalities.  Then there is the pride of ownership issue. Sometimes a business leader has encountered a problem, a local solution has been designed and implemented and been highly successful and an employee has gotten high praise and reward. There is an understandable unwillingness to give that up for a different solution that has worked elsewhere.  I'm sure others could add to this list but I think the core issue for a leader is "What do I do to deal with the resistance?"  We'll tackle that tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Global Standardization-Why is it so hard?

In Robert Kanigel's brilliant biography of Frederick Winslow Taylor there is a really interesting comment about worker's resistance to standardization of their job tasks.  On p.209 of the hardback edition it says "The work itself might be no more physically demanding, but somehow, by day's end, it felt as if it were.  Going strictly by somebody else's say-so, rigidly following directions, doing it by the clock, made Taylor's brand of work distasteful  You had to do it in the one best way prescribed for you and not in your old, idiosyncratic, if perhaps less efficient way.  And many workmen didn't like that."

I'm tempted to stop right there and say that tells you everything you need to know about why global standardization is so hard.  Over the last 100 years Taylor's  approach to efficiency, initially applied to standardize the ways workers performed the same task in a manufacturing environment, has become deeply embedded in management practices in every business sector in almost every part of the globe. 

I don't intend for this entry to turn into a business management MBA-like history session and won't touch on the Hawthorne studies or  to McGregor's theory X and Y.  You can go there and explore if you are interested.  The point is that standardization of work is ubiquitous in every business sector, workers don't like it, resist it and have for over a hundred years.  It really doesn't matter if you are standardizing an individual worker's tasks, or like processes in multiple locations in a country, or across multiple countries...the resistance will be there.  That still leaves open the question of WHY don't people like it, and WHAT can leaders do..  We'll start on those questions tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Case for Global Standardization

This issue of common leadership frameworks leads me to this broader subject of global standardization....really standardization of anything...frameworks, IT infrastructure, well design, performance appraisal systems, armies crossing rivers.  Over a decade ago I was asked to help with a business improvement project.  It was a manufacturing business and the issue had to do with their maintenance management system.  As a result of mergers and acquisitions over time they had three legacy maintenance management systems.  The leader of the business chartered a team, much like a GE work-out team, to recommend a single maintenance management system. The team dutifully engaged with stakeholders, all of whom pretty  much said "We're all for a common long as it is ours. Go get those other guys to adopt our system".  Faced with this resistance, the team came back to the business leader and reported that they weren't sure there was a business case for a common system and they would rather explore "e-procurement".  The business leader insisted they recommend a common system, not for the benefit of any one site but for the benefit of the whole.  He explained that the same suppliers were selling them materials ten different times in different geographies. Without a common system he could not leverage his scale to drive down the unit costs.  In addition, they were often facing the same kind of maintenance issue in different parts of the business but had no data that could help them learn from successful practices at different sites.  This particular leader was experienced, wise and skilled enough to know what the team was up against and threw his full weight behind sponsorship of the initiative.  He eventually got his common system, but it was hard.  I've observed this difficulty in implementing standard approaches in a variety of settings.  It's worth setting out why I think it is important to achieve standard approaches.  First, as in the example above, is the issue of economies of scale.   This plays out in any supply chain activity, whether materials or services.  One business leader I worked with asserted he could drive down costs by 20% just by managing costs at the enterprise level rather than at the site level.  As an aside, he routinely challenged teams to get 40% and was happy when he got 20%.  The second reason is for health, safety or environmental reasons. Shell, the company I left last year,  implemented 12 life saving rules, as an example...  "What employees and contractors must know and do to prevent serious injury or death."  You could derive similar examples from pharmaceutical companies, health care practitioners, aviation...just about any large enterprise.  The Deepwater Horizon accident is a really good example of the importance of adherence to a common global standard for safety and environmental reasons. The third reason is for organizational learning purposes. . Global companies are facing the same challenge multiple times...let's say five... in different parts of the world and finding three different good solutions to that particular challenge.  There is value in sharing those three different good things that work, but everyone needs to be working from a common base.  Last, it is important to have a common language around a topic to achieve a shared understanding.  To go back to the leadership framework example, if one part of the organization is using Kouzes and Posner as a reference point, another the Be-Know-Do framework and yet another a locally developed framework there isn't any way to consistently develop globally deployable capability.  Given all these reasons, why is it so hard?  More importantly what's a leader to do about it?   Those will be the subjects of tomorrow's blog.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A little more on frameworks

First of all, I got feedback from two trusted colleagues that doing this daily might be a bit much.  We'll see.  I got the frequency suggestion from someone who writes a very successful blog on similar subjects.  If it becomes too much of a burden to me or I don't have anything interesting to say, I'll do it less frequently.

Second, I don't want to leave the impression that I think frameworks are THE answer to effective leader development. I'd suggest they are "necessary but not sufficient".  I do think they need to be standard across the enterprise.  You cannot deliberately build leader capability over time if different business units or countries or regions have their own.  I'd also suggest that a systemic approach to leader development includes not only competence frameworks, attributes and behaviors, but also a process to identify leadership potential, a deployment and succession planning process that provides
on-the-job development opportunities, a performance appraisal process that includes an assessment of leader behaviors,  and portfolio of programmatic interventions at key career transition points.

My final point about leadership frameworks is they all must contain values.  Things like honesty, integrity, respect for people, ethical business practices...all of these attributes and behaviors lead to TRUST.  At a really simple level, people will follow leaders they trust....and they won't follow leaders they don't trust no matter what other skills and capabilities they may have.

Friday, March 9, 2012

About Frameworks

I've been exposed to a number of leadership frameworks over the years.  The first in my development was the US Army's Be-Know-Do leadership framework.  The "Be" part has to do with values.  The principle being that one has to lead from a foundation of character.  The Army has seven core values: Loyalty, Selfless Service, Duty, Honor, Integrity, Respect and Personal Courage.  The "Know" component includes technical, tactical, and interpersonal knowledge.  People respect and follow those they believe are proficient in their role.  The "Do" part of the framework has to do with behaviors...those things leaders do to provide purpose, direction and motivation.  Kouzes and Posner had done extensive research and have what they call The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.
Companies like Shell have their own leadership competence framework.  They have nine leadership competences grouped in areas of Business Leadership, Personal Leadership and Relational Leadership.  Another company I recently worked with also had nine leadership competences grouped under the headings of People, Direction and Results.  So how does one or an organization make sense of all that is out there?  My own view is that these frameworks are all pretty good.  They are useful in that they GIVE YOU  A VEHICLE TO DELIBERATELY AND CONSISTENTLY BUILD LEADERSHIP CAPABILITY OVER TIME.  I think that for a global company it is important to do a couple of things.  First, pick ONE of the existing ones or agree ONE in your company.   The legacy of most companies probably means there are multiple ones in different countries or in different business segments.  Do not underestimate the challenge of getting a country or business unit to give up their framework in favor of a common global one.  My experience is most people are for a global common framework,.... so long as it's their own.    The second point would be to assess leaders in both performance appraisals and leader development frameworks against the chosen framework.  The third point would be to stick with it over time.  Frequent changes to the framework, especially during leadership transitions, erode confidence in the system.  This doesn't mean you don't strive for continuous improvement and tweaks to the framework but the foundations must be consistent.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Humility and Perspective

I come to this subject with a great deal of humility.  I come from what I believe to be the world's finest leader development institution,  West Point, and am the product of both the US Army's continuous and progressive approach to leader development and my experiences in one of the world's largest commercial enterprises, Royal Dutch Shell.  I've been influenced by a number of great leaders and there are many people who have led larger organizations than I or had greater scope of responsibilities.  The shelves of bookstores sag from the weight of all the books on leadership. The punch line of one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons goes something like "Doesn't the sheer volume of leadership books just prove that no no one really knows how to do it?"  All that to say, I realize much has been written on this subject and there are many skilled practitioners.  I intend to focus on those areas where I believe I can make a unique contribution.
I also need to make it clear I'm not an academic, but a practitioner.  I should say I've been a student AND a practitioner.  I've studied it, watched others practice it, practiced it myself and reflected on those experiences my entire adult life.  I don't hold a PhD in Organizational Psychology or a related discipline.  I haven't done the research of a John Kotter or Kouzes and Posner or had the consulting experience of a Noel Tichy or Ram Charan although I respect all their work greatly.  I'm also not a celebrity leadership name like a Jack Welch, Colin Powell or Larry Bossidy.  What I do have to offer is lessons learned, insights, rules of thumb and observations and a few "how-tos".  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In this third phase of my working life I want to share the insights I've gained being a leader in a variety of settings over the last 38 years.  I intend to first talk briefly about a framework for leadership in general and then talk about what I think is different in a global context.  Along the way it will be necessary to spend a little time on cultural awareness and how that affects leader behavior.  I'll also talk about Diversity and Inclusion, what those concepts mean to a leader of a global team and why I think it's important.  I'll share some of my own lessons learned and my personal "Top 20" leadership rules of thumb.   I will try to stay on topic but may drift into the broader learning space, energy policy or other topics as they arise, but I intend to always return to this global leadership topic.  I also expect to publish a book review about once a week.  I look forward to hearing from you all and exchanging views on this important topic.