Thursday, March 22, 2012

Do You Celebrate Wins, Even When You're Losing?

On a recent engagement, an auditor was reviewing the customer feedback process as part of the broader Quality Management process. Towards the end of the discussion the question was raised, “Where do you capture all positive comments from your customers?”.

What makes this question so important is that the business was going through significant change i.e. employees were reapplying for their roles, cost reduction initiatives etc.

Whilst the question may be related directly to a customer feedback capture process it nevertheless highlights a recurring theme I see in a number of businesses – everyone talks about celebrating wins but hardly anyone seems to do a good job of it.

When an organisation is undergoing sizeable change, particularly when the financials are poor and cost cutting is prevalent, the outcome of celebrating these small wins becomes a critical part of the building blocks in rebuilding the company. Managers, Business Owners, CEOs etc who feel as though the tide is up to their nostrils often lose sight of the importance of celebrating small wins. This is understandable when they may be coming to work and facing red ink and disenchanted employees. In a world divided by winners and losers, the employees may certainly not be feeling like winners with office gossip often centred on a "sinking ship"

However this is where Leadership takes a central role. By celebrating a win a number of critical forces come into play. As John Kotter, author of The Heart of Change, states, "These short term wins are essential, serving four important purposes:
  1. Wins provide feedback to change leaders about the validity of their visions and strategies.
  2. Wins give those working hard to achieve a vision a pat on the back, an emotional uplift.
  3. Wins build faith in the effort, attracting those who are not yet actively helping.
  4. Wins take power away from cynics."
Additionally Kotter adds, "Not all wins are created equally. In general, the more visible victories are, the more they help the change process."

Faking a smile does not help. Those Managers, Business Owners, CEOs etc who take control of the situation and display sold leadership characteristics will celebrate the win with empathy and genuine thanks to those employees, whether individuals or teams, ensuring positive momentum is established. 

Everyone wants to be a winner but the reality is that in the competitive world of business, almost all, if not every, company will go through some considerable change effort in its life. However even when times are tough and the proverbial has well and truly hit the fan, and losing seems the constant outcome, its then that feeling like a winner can make a material difference to the bottom line.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Aligning Values. Game On!

A number of years ago I did some work for a company who proudly told all employees that the core values  (there were 8 in total) included:
  1. Courage
  2. Integrity
  3. Unity
When it came to "Courage", employees were afraid to tell the CEO they (I am using 'they' instead of he or she) were wrong in case the employee got sacked. 

Every day employees would switch on their computers and low and behold there were the corporate values spinning around and around on the desktop. You see, if it is on the computer then it must be true!

McKinsey 7s
In 1980 an article appeared in Business Horizons, called "Structure Is Not Organisation" written by Robert Waterman, Tom Peters and Julien Phillips. In the article the 7-S framework first appeared. It was later (1982) made famous in the book In Search Of Excellence by Waterman and Peters.

At the heart of the 7-S model sits Superordinate Goals which was later renamed Shared Values. To quote the Business Horizons article, "The word "Superordinate" literally means of higher order. By superordinate goals, we mean guiding concepts - a set of values and aspirations, often unwritten, that goes beyond the conventional formal statement of corporate objectives. Superordinate goals are the fundamental ideas around which a business is built. They are its main values. But they are more as well. They are the broad notions of future directions that the top management team wants to infuse throughout the organization. They are the way in which the team wants to express itself, to leave its own mark."

Values are subjective. My values are not the same as yours. Likewise organisations may have very different values. Think PETA vs Exxon. Finally you may work at a company where your own values do line up with the corporate values.

As a Manager, Business Owner or CEO it is very easy to manage by numbers, but what about managing by values. Personally I have found this considerably more complex when an organisation is undergoing significant change. This is because not only are people losing their jobs, income etc which in itself may be misaligned with many peoples' personal values but at the same time new employees may bring with them a different outlook with their own values. Creating a culture aligned to the corporate values is  not only difficult but without doubt a hallmark of great leadership. In "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance" (2002) former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, the man credited with the mammoth turnaround of IBM wrote, "If I could have chosen not to tackle the IBM culture head-on, I probably wouldn't have. My bias coming in was toward strategy, analysis and measurement. In comparison, changing the attitude and behaviors of hundreds of thousands of people is very, very hard. Yet I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn't just one aspect of the game—it is the game"

Just as the Business Horizons article stated in 1980, "... a set of values and aspirations", so Lou Gerstner wrote about "...attitude and behavior" some 22 years later.

Back to the company first mentioned in the opening paragraph. Simply putting a list of the "values" on everyone's computer is not changing a culture. It is merely stating a wish list. Without the CEO living the values, how could they expect employees to embrace the words spinning around on their desktop? Interestingly enough, the company, like many other large corporations, has performed poorly over the last few years, losing considerable market value. Whilst many would blame various economic and other external factors, one could argue that a lack of value based leadership has had just as much influence on delivering the bottom line. As Lou said "it is the game", and clearly the wrong game was played!