Thursday, March 28, 2013

Influencing Others: Cathedrals to Windshields

Yesterday I used the contrast of how two different stone masons building a cathedral approached their work to make the point about how leaders can create a broader frame....a line of sight between individual work and organizational purpose.  Today I'd like to re-emphasise the point by using another example with a less majestic purpose than building a cathedral.

Not long ago I had the windshield replaced on one of my cars. These days in the US a mobile repairman comes to your home and replaces it on the spot rather than taking it to a repair shop. I started a fairly lengthy conversation with the repairman as he did his work. I asked how he got into the windshield repair business. Answer: He went to work for a friend's family business when he got out of the Army. I asked how he was trained. Answer: On the job training, but now most training is provided by the company in exchange for a 3 year commitment/contract. I asked about certification/accreditation. Answer: Certification required every two years..combination of written and hands on demonstration of tasks. I asked about government regulation and audit. Answer: Federal OSHA(Occupational Safety and Health administration) audit certifications. I commented that that seemed like a lot of administration/regulation for the windshield repair business. The repairman stopped work, looked at me and said "Oh no, sir. Anytime you get in this car from now on, your safety is in my hands."

I couldn't help but be impressed by this simple explanation of vision and purpose. This repairman knew he wasn't in the windshield repair business but in the safety business. I have to believe that his commitment to excellence, attention to detail and professionalism are driven by that simple understanding that "from now on, your safety is in my hands".

You don't have to be a leader in a grand enterprise to create purpose and meaning that inspires people to their best effort.  It can be done in something as simple as replacing windshields in automobiles.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Influencing Others-Are You Carving a Rock or Building a Cathedral?

In this last of my blog series on influencing others I want to cover the category of creating a broader frame.  Creating a broader frame is all about creating a line of sight between individual work and an organizational end or purpose.  I've used the following example for many many years I cannot remember to whom I should attribute it and an initial Google search didn't reveal a source either.  All of that to say, this story isn't original to me and if I could attribute it properly, I would.

The story is told of two stone-masons working side by side in medieval Europe.  A visitor approached and asked one, "What are you doing?"  The mason's surly answer was "I'm carving this rock into a square block.  What's it look like I'm doing?"  The visitor moved on to another mason a short distance away.  He asked the second mason, "What are you doing?"  The second mason responded "I'm creating an important building block of what will one day be a magnificent cathedral that will serve as a beacon of hope and spirituality to tens of thousands of people for generations to come".

Two men performing exactly the same task.  Which one is more likely to do a good job?  Which one is more likely to pay attention to detail?  Which one is more likely to give his discretionary effort?  I think the answer is obvious.

Often these broader frames are captured as vision statements or purpose statements.  I've been part of some exercises where we spent a ridiculous amount of time "wordsmithing"....making sure every little word was exactly right on these statements.   Most of that is wasted effort.  They have to be more than a description of all the work being done.   It's also not important that they perfectly describe a photograph of a future state.  They've got to be more than an updated version of "I'm carving this rock into a square block."  They do need to motivate, inspire to excellence and call on the best of what every staff member has to give.  That's how a leader influences the action.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Charisma is a Skill

A few days ago I pointed out that charisma is that special personal quality that inspires enthusiasm or support. I also  provided a link to a Forbes article that suggested there were five qualities of charismatic leaders. Although it's true that these qualities come more naturally to some people more than others, charisma is actually a product of developable skills.

I'm also providing a link to a clip from the movie Ghandi.  In this clip, Ben Kingsley as Ghandi is making his argument for non-violent protests.  As I watch this clip, there are a number of things about Kingsley's delivery that influence how I receive his message.  His calm, confident demeanor, passion, commitment, and energy without being demonstrative all contributed to the effectiveness of his message.  Most of all, his demeanor almost screamed authenticityHis demeanor was a perfect fit between his message and his personality.

Few of us will ever be involved in as noble a cause as national independence.  We can, however, use the techniques that influence others. No matter how big our enterprise or scope of duty as a leader, we can all influence our organizations by drawing on the personal qualities or techniques these two examples demonstrate.

My overarching point is, don't fake it.  Develop the skills, yes.  Tailor your message to the audience, yes.  But don't act like you are passionate or committed or interested in the other person's view or listening....when you are not.  One of leadership's most important imperatives is to be authentic. 


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Influencing Using Data-An Example

Yesterday I wrote about the way leaders can use data to influence others.  Today I want to provide an example of how a skilled leader does exactly that.

The attached link is to a video and transcript of Proctor and Gamble CEO Bob McDonald during an interview at the Wall Street Journal's ECO:nomics 2012 conference.  If the video doesn't run on your computer there is a transcript below.  McDonald is answering questions about the environmental impact of Proctor and Gamble products and in one instance whether or not consumers are willing to make economic trade-offs for environmentally friendly products.

As you read or listen to the interview think about what it took to decide what data to collect and why. For example, he gathered data on how many bucket loads of water it took to rinse clothes in the Philippines. He also knows that the average woman walks seven kilometers to get water every day...not just in the Philippines but globally...and he knows that this is a women's issue. The 'red thread" that ties this all together is the Proctor and Gamble purpose: "To improve the lives of the world's consumers". Reducing the buckets of water required to rinse clothes and the number of trips to get a bucket of water improves the lives of millions of women.  A byproduct of improving the lives of millions of women is that it also helps conserve often scarce and important resource of water..

The content of the answers is less important to me for purposes of this blog than the way McDonald deftly weaves data to support just about every answer to a question and to make each point.  In this example he's in an interview and not using any visual visualization isn't appropriate to the situation. His command of the data, and his use of the data create a a broader frame...he draws a line of sight his to the broader P&G purpose.... is an excellent example how leaders can effectively use data.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Influencing Skills- Mastering Data Presentation

Yesterday  I mentioned the use of data and its importance as an influencing skill.  Data presentation is such a big area it seems insufficient to merely mention it as a four line entry as one of the influencing skills.

Some of the basics need to be learned in university or formal training environments.  Data visualization tools...pie charts, bar charts, bubble charts, trend analysis over differing time periods, the use of scale to make a point, 3-D imaging, animation...all can be used to make certain points.  Also, a solid understanding of probability and statistics is a necessity...especially in manufacturing or engineering intensive industries.  Total Quality management(TQM) which has as its focus continuous process improvement and Six Sigma which focuses on eliminating errors/defects and minimizing variability both rely heavily on statistical analysis.  One simply cannot be a successful leader in one of those environments without mastering statistical analysis.

In many cases the leader won't be the person who gathers the data or creates the presentation of the will be a member of her staff.  It's important that the leader provide guidance in the following areas:
  • Define what is relevant to the audience.
  • Provide guidance on where to find the relevant data. This often isn't easy in global companies.  IT systems that have been developed independently often don't "talk' to each other.  In addition, there are often a data quality issues due to variability in data entry processes.
  • Determine how often the data needs to be updated. Is the data current enough for the situation?
  • Determine when and how often the audience needs to see the data
  • Use appropriate analysis, grouping, visualization, and other presentation formats.  This is again a non-trivial task and leads into the entire field of management information systems.
  • Create an effective delivery mechanism for the audience.  The audience location(co-located or distributed) and access to technology are important drivers.

  • It's hard to imagine a successful leader in any, government or military....... who hasn't mastered the ability to effectively present data-driven points of view.

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Developing a Portfolio of Influencing Skills

    In my last blog entry I addressed the role of the leader in "managing up".  On reflection, it's really part of a broader subject which is the category of "influencing skills".  It really doesn't matter the direction... up the hierarchy, down the hierarchy or laterally.... leaders need to be good at influencing the thinking and actions of others.

    In my experience there are at least five different dimensions to this skill set.  One way to influence is by position in the organization.    Designated leaders can draw on their experience, their access to information and the fact that they are accountable for results to influence the thinking of others.  In some cultures leaders are expected to tell others the direction, allocate resources and establish priorities.  In other company and country cultures the leader is expected to consult prior to taking decisions.  In some circumstances, when there is disagreement on the team, a decision must be taken and the designated leader must take that decision.  The point is, for a variety of reasons, the designated leader may influence others by the nature of their position in the organization.

    A second way to influence is by the use of dataChris Argyris, one of the best known US business theorists, would say we all, regardless of culture, have a need to be seen as rational.  The use of data in influencing others is a very powerful tool in the leaders kit because it appeals to a universal human character trait.

    A third influencer is by charismaCharisma is that special personal quality that inspires enthusiasm or support.  Forbes identifies five qualities of charismatic leaders.  Although it's true that these qualities come more naturally to some people more than others, charisma is actually a  product of developable skills.

    A fourth influencer is to be able to articulate "what's in it for me", sometimes referred to by its acronym "WIIFM."  In some circumstances the leader my be able to draw a line of sight between the desired action and personal benefit for any employee.  The benefit might be tangible or monetary or it might make difficult work easier.  The WIIFM approach by definition appeals to a personal benefit.

    Fifth is for the leader to create a broader frame by drawing a line of sight from the individual work to an organizational benefit....the opposite of WIIFM.  It's telling the story of how the individual work contributes to the greater aims of the organization.

    None of these stand alone as "right" or "wrong".  All have a place at different times and in different circumstances.  Great leaders understand this, develop the full range of skills and employ the influencing strategy best suited to the situation.

    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    Managing Up-The Leader as a Buffer, an Amplifier....and Teacher

    I've long maintained that "managing up" was one of the least appreciated dimensions of leadership.   At least part of the reason it is least appreciated is the actual practice of managing up usually is not visible to most employees.

    At its best "managing up" means being the voice of the organization to the next level.  One dimension of "being the voice" is for the leader to be a "buffer" between the things "coming down" the hierarchy.  An example of being a buffer might be to guard against "initiative overload"...  discourage new initiatives when there is no more organizational capacity to absorb them.

    Another dimension of being the "voice of the organization" is for the leader to be an "amplifier" of messages going up the hierarchy.  When things are difficult, staff want some reassurance that "they know how bad it is down here".

    Both of these dimensions are especially important in global organizations where the source of the corporate initiative may be in a different country thousands of miles away and a completely different national culture.  Staff count on their leaders to fulfill both buffer and amplifier roles.

    Mary C Schaefer's blog today talks to yet a third dimension...the employee's  "humble desire to do a good job."  Employees tell her:

    “I want to…”
    • Understand my supervisor’s needs and how to address those needs.
    • Communicate with my boss better.
    • Influence my supervisor to eliminate obstacles to doing my job well.
    • Learn what actions I can take to be viewed as a more valued and trusted associate.
    • Understand the type and level of communication upper management wants.
    • Garner support for ideas.
    • Be more successful and make the company more successful."
    So, yet a third dimension of the "Managing Up" leadership task is teaching others how to do it best.

    To be sure, there is a "dark side" to managing up.  We've all seen the self-serving, overly ambitious leader who manages to make himself look good at the expense of everyone beneath and around him in the organization.  That dark side possibility shouldn't deter good leaders from fulfilling their buffer and amplifier roles and in guiding their staff's efforts to humbly do a good job.

    Friday, March 8, 2013

    Working From Home

    A couple of days ago my wife and I went out for an early dinner.  In the restaurant we patronized there was a small group of people, perhaps eight or ten. It was obviously a work group enjoying some social time together.  The earnest conversation was periodically broken by laughter or gentle ribbing.

    As I watched them interact, I admit I was a little envious.  In this stage of my working life, as a part-time independent consultant, I miss the social component of work.  The relationships, friendships and camaraderie that are created when you meet shared challenges only comes when you are part of a team.  I miss it.

    It's funny that this encounter came in a week when the CEO and management team of tech firm Yahoo! rescinded their policy of working from home.  Electronics retailer Best Buy followed suit a few days later.  These decisions have ignited a firestorm of controversy that has spilled outside the USA and invited critical comment from none other than Richard Branson in the UK. CIO magazine actually supported CEO Marissa Mayer's decision citing a recent survey of tech workers and that she was trying to solve some problems specific to Yahoo!  "Of those nearly 10,000 workers, only 17 percent reported working from home two or more days a week. The takeaway is that working from home is not as mainstream a practice as everyone seems to think."

    Those two own observation of the relaxed camaraderie of a team in a social setting and the polarized public commentary on a corporate decision... caused me to reflect on what this might mean to leaders.  The last paragraph of the CIO article nails the leadership issue:   "How to effectively manage a productive, remote and distributed workforce?"  I believe this is especially pertinent to global teams that are by definition "remote and distributed".

    As leader of a global team, I very much appreciated the flexibility to make workplace working conditions decisions without being handcuffed by overly restrictive rules regarding where one worked.  There are just too many circumstances where it makes no sense to require specific office hours. The bigger problem I faced was the constant tension over work-life balance.  While technology enables flexible working it also blurs the boundary between work and non-work time.   As a leader I had to work harder to help people devise tactics to "turn off "from work....nights weekends and holidays...and to practice those tactics myself.

    I believed then, and still do, that employees want to be successful individually and they want their work unit to be successful. Given the choice, they will be where they need to be to get the job done without the leader dictating that location.   At the same time, I also respect the periodic need to establish time for a team to form those relationships, collaborate and innovate as people can only do when they are physically present together.  I can think of at least three occasions where I had to intervene when a staff member wasn't present enough. "We never see him" or "She's never here" was the feedback from colleagues. It wasn't just suspicion that they were taking advantage of flexible working policies, it was the lack of contribution to the team.  I've long maintained that technology makes face-to face time more important, not less important.  It's the face to face relationships that give you speed when not together.

    All that to say that, although I think it's important for leaders to have the flexibility to establish workplace policies that make sense, I also respect a leader's need to periodically intervene when conditions warrant.  I've got a hunch there will be more flexibility in Marissa Mayer's decision that it appears right now.