Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

“I’m going to leave the room. When I come back, you will each need to be able to introduce five of your classmates to me.

"You have five minutes, starting now.”

This is frequently how I start a class at its first meeting of the semester. Sometimes, but not always, I stick my head back in the classroom after a minute or so if I don’t hear robust conversation and yell, “Get talking! You have three more minutes!”

The outcome is predictable. It’s a breath of energy and fun that kicks off the semester in a wonderful way. 

But the action itself is certainly not predictable. And that’s part of why it works.

Most of the time, 

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DO YOU HAVE YOUR 2017 AGILITY CHECKLIST?

Most precision operators have checklists to insure that the critical activities, conditions, events and resources are in place, fully functioning and properly executed.  Would you want to fly on an airplane, submit to major surgery, live near a nuclear reactor or even drive your next rental car without the confidence that the responsible crew or team had not used a rigorous checklist to insure safe and effective operations?  Not me.  Checklists are essential whether you are NASA launching a rocket ship into outer space or a project manager looking to launch the next product improvement initiative.  The complexity and speed of play in today’s operating environment can be overwhelming.

We are in the season when many organizations are heading off to strategic retreats to hopefully stop the merry-go-around for a few days and reflect on three classic strategic questions to help them and their organizations get re-centered for 2017 and beyond …

  • Who are we and where are we today … really?
  • Where are we going?
  • How do we get everyone aligned and focused on what matters to get there?

Shaping the Future involves helping your leaders, teams and total enterprise to be focused, fast and flexible on the things that matter in your vision and strategy map for success.  Here are a few checklist questions you might use with your teams as you go to the mountain top for a few days or even just progressively pause for a few hours of meaningful, reflective discussion as a team – big or small.

ARE YOU FOCUSED?

  • What does that mean for you anyway – as a leader, team or total organization?  Maybe you have an aspirational vision statement that provides everyone meaning, purpose and energy – that’s great.  Maybe you don’t. As a true leader you can (must) help your team identify and understand the team’s mission, goals and roadmap for success.  The absence of this clarity results in many false starts and organizational collisions.  In the Navy SEALS, they call this clarity understanding the “commanders’ intent” – it helps guide decision-making down the line.
  • How do we translate this down the line?  Clarity must radiate beyond the senior leadership circle if any chance to become a truly focused organization … it must go top to bottom and across all functions.  Focus cannot be complicated, confusing or contradictory.  Those organizations who are concentrating on building understanding and skills in core “operating principles” are navigating better and faster than those organizations trying to be overly prescriptive and controlling.

ARE YOU FAST AT WHAT MATTERS?

  • Where must you have strategic speed? This question can create important and provocative conversation.  More likely than not, it will lead you to some discussion about cross-functional collaboration of one sort or another.  In some organizations, this often naturally leads to fingers getting pointed in several directions.  Just as dysfunctional are those organizations that operate in benign neglect for fierce conversation.  Strategic speed has a dependent relationship to this notion of being focused which is why we ALWAYS talk about being FOCUSED, fast and flexible – with focus first.
  • How do you get and stay FAST? This is often the tougher question – how to change the metronome standard in your organization.  The speed of play is getting faster all the time – how does that play out in your organization?  Are you using the same age old cadence and expectations for product development e.g. it normally takes us three years to launch a new product?  The key is getting all the stakeholders to up the tempo together just as talented jazz or bluegrass musicians are able to do in a jam session.  It doesn’t work if only part of the team is willing or able to step up the tempo.

ARE YOU FLEXIBLE?

  • What does flexibility mean for you?  Flexibility is a strategic capability for agile organizations, teams and leaders.  Really does start with a leadership mindset of positive adaptability and possibilities.  The simple leadership realization that “there is more than one right answer” is powerful and liberating as National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones shared in his video on Everyday Creativity.  The paradox to be effectively navigated is how to create clarity in strategic direction and operating principles AND to be open to idea diversity and new possibilities.  Agile leaders polish, feed and grow this capability as they continuously inform their capabilities to anticipate change better and faster.
  • How do you get and stay FLEXIBLE? Agile organizations are oriented to operating principles of speed, fluidity and synchronicity among others.  Those factors that are constraints to those principles also limit flexibility.  Each is an opportunity for teams discover the “next right answer” that doesn’t sacrifice on your customer centric value equation.

Yes – the magic comes from the ampersand … when we are Focused, Fast & Flexible then we are well on our journey to making Agility a real advantage while creating the kind of organizations where talent flourishes and grows.  These are but some of the key questions that might be on your checklist.  If you would like to explore more, you might check out our book FOCUSED, FAST & FLEXIBLE.  You can acquire from Amazon or click here www.focusedfastandflexible.com to get copies for your whole team at our bulk discounted rate.  It will help equip your team for some provocative discussion about some critical success factors for Shaping Your Future in 2017 and beyond.

What LeBron James Gets About Leading in Adversity

What LeBron James Gets About Leading in Adversity

Both the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and their opponents in the 2016 NBA finals, the Golden State Warriors, are extraordinary professional basketball teams. 

But on Thursday, June 16, the Cavaliers became only the third team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals to force a seventh game in the series. Clearly, Cavaliers star LeBron James is central to their performance. They’re one win away from taking the championship, but even if they don’t win, there are some interesting insights we can take away from how James has led his team in the midst of adversity.

Most of the time, we have little insight into what happens behind the scenes within professional sports teams. Or when we do, it might be well after the fact, from memoirs of players, coaches or confidants. 

The case of the 2016 Cavaliers is different. 

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The AGILE Model®: A Change Agility Framework for CHROs

CHROs' Critical Role: Preparing the Organization for Change

How well organizations are prepared to survive in this turbulent business climate is becoming a fundamental issue and challenge for CHROs.  Organizations that are agile are the ones that quickly see opportunities, are shrewd in rapidly fine-tuning strategies, are able to meet customers’ individual needs, develop capable, flexible and project-based processes, and are fast at learning and unlearning. What is the role of the CHRO in equipping organizations to meet the challenge of the accelerating pace, volume, diversity, and scope of change?  Now, more than ever, CEOs and boards will demand that their CHROs become strategic partners in equipping their organizations to be change-ready (agile) to adapt and thrive to the challenge of the turbulent 21st century.

The practice of change management has been radically impacted by the continuing turbulent business environment characterized by 

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Leadership is a Game of Inches

Leadership is a Game of Inches

The 1999 movie Any Given Sunday tells the story of a fictional American football team, with much of the focus on the team’s head coach. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the plot aside from one scene.

In that scene, the coach, played by the actor Al Pacino, delivers a speech to his team. He says:

“You know, when you get old in life things get taken from you. I mean that's, that’s—that’s part of life. But you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because

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The Rise of HR … Agility

The Rise of HR … Agility

It’s easy to fall into patterns and comfortable routines. 

Some of those are great. Take, for example, dental hygiene. Or strength training. 

But if our routines too often keep us around the same people, we run the risk of stagnating. It’s even worse if we’re isolated—or insulated, depending on how you look at it—from other ideas. 

That’s one reason why I enjoy professional conferences. Even if you’re around people in a similar area of expertise or interest, you’ll learn a great deal from their different perspectives and experiences. 

Last week, I spent a few days at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in Anaheim, Calif. And in between all of the

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For Those About to Lead

For Those About to Lead

For those about to lead, I salute you. 

The vast majority of people go with the flow. Many people—even those whom we often dub “leaders”—fulfill their roles by finding out what others expect of them and meeting those expectations. This includes many heads of state—current, former and aspiring—military generals and admirals, university presidents and chief executives. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with going with the flow, depending on

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What HR People Need to Know About Change

What HR People Need to Know About Change

In a recent post and in some of my research, I’ve been exploring the role that human resources (HR) plays in organizational change. This includes both HR as a function and HR professionals themselves as they get involved (either proactively or reactively) in change efforts.

And there’s one key aspect of organizational change that I think is helpful for HR people to consider. 

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Leading Change and the Distribution of Loss

Leading Change and the Distribution of Loss

When I talk or facilitate a workshop with business leaders, making them all really sad isn’t part of the agenda.

But sometimes it’s exactly what they need. At least for a few minutes.

In particular, there’s an aspect of leadership that always requires emotional awareness. And when we attempt to lead change, there’s always an element of loss. When we lead change, people often have to alter their routines, give up responsibilities and work with new people—all factors that are different from what used to be life as usual.

That can make people

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A Lesson about Change from a Poet Who Died in 1827

A Lesson about Change from a Poet Who Died in 1827

For the British poet William Blake, many aspects of life in the late 1700s and early 1800s were bleak. In one of his favorite poems of mine, simply titled “London,” he wrote of such bleakness. It’s a short poem, only 16 lines, but it’s rather deep. Here it is:

London

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,

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Leadership to Change the World

Leadership to Change the World

Recently, I did something that changed the world. It might have been an encouraging word, a provocative question, a smile.

But honestly, I have no idea what it was.

Recently, you did something that changed the world. It might have been an offer to help, an attentive ear, a cup of coffee.

But you, like me, probably don’t know exactly what you did either.

You see, everything we do can either

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Feed Them Radishes! And 3 More Ways to Stifle Change

Feed Them Radishes! And 3 More Ways to Stifle Change

We are creatures of habit. We continually seek—or create—routines. The structures of our days and our weeks give us predictability, and that makes us comfortable. 

None of this is inherently bad. In fact, routines and habits let us free our minds to work on other, more complex problems. If we had to think actively about everything in our day, deliberately evaluating every decision from the time we roll out of bed until we return to the pillow, we’d be overwhelmed. 

What does this have to do with agility, human resources, leadership and change? 

Everything. 

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The Agile Startup Week 6: Building the Bridge as You Walk On It

The Agile Startup Week 6: Building the Bridge as You Walk On It

One of the ways that we can start to understand the complexity of organizational life is through metaphors. And one of my favorites to describe the reality of leading through uncertainty is “building the bridge as you walk on it,” which comes from a good book by the same name that I’ve used as part of teaching a course on managing organizational change. 

When we’re involved with a rapidly shifting landscape, we must move ahead while at the same time creating the path forward. This lack of structure and presence of potentially befuddling ambiguity can frustrate even the best of leaders. In a startup, entrepreneurs are by definition creating something ...

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