Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Why leadership is so hard

Monday, June 11th, 2012

There are a ton — a ton — of embarrassing anecdotes of business leaders gone wrong. The idiot complaining that the employee parking lot is too empty after 5 o’clock and on the weekends. The moron sending flamemail to the whole company. The dipstick complaining that their compensation is down, too.  What the?

We surely are at the point when everyone knows what effective leadership looks like. It’s authentic, honest, accountable, human, skillful and/or brilliant. It’s giving not taking; gentle not harsh, and visionary AND operational.  Of course, all of these characteristics are measured by anecdote, so how real are they?

Leadership is bloody difficult, not least because leaders need to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders.  Owners  want profits, communities want good citizenship, employees want security and differentiated pay, and the leaders themselves have their own needs and wants. Leaders who do well at balancing these needs seem to do well, and others…we read about when they screw up.

Leadership is making decisions, often with just enough information, and in a snapshot of time bereft of intelligence about the future.  Sometimes it works and sometimes not.  All the adages about hindsight being 20/20 are true – you try to learn from your mistakes, almost using experience as a form of crystal ball. We want to believe it’s a science – especially leaders who hail from the financial and technical disciplines. Those are the leaders who love processes!  We also want to believe it’s an art — inspirational, aspirational.

The reality is that it’s a series of difficult decisions, of instinctual judgement calls, of switching between intellectual and more emotional action. That’s why the good leaders are so good. And why the bad leaders are so bad.  In my own career, I’ve had to make decisions without all of the information almost all of the time. For the most part, it’s worked out fine, but the risk of failure never leaves me. What have I forgotten? What salient fact is missing that would make me change my mind? If I’d only known!

Most people who do not lead have no concept of what it’s like, particularly at scale, when it’s not just your own skin in the game, but others’.

One small business person told me that as successful as he is (and the path to wealth increasingly winds its way along starting one’s own business), the fact that other people are depending on him to be the smart guy weighs on him every day.  The challenge to build something, the desire to achieve isn’t present in just anyone. And even the best will come face to face at some point with the reality that leadership is decision.

That’s hard.


Collaboration – 3rd “C” Toward Integration

Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Copyright, Creative Commons

The essence of collaboration

We think of integration as logical for organizational communication. But there’s resistance to integration as well, from budget jealousy to outright turf wars preventing even the low-hanging fruit from being plucked.   As I wrote earlier, we can realize a lot of the benefits of integration by adopting a step-by-step process, starting with communication, proceeding to coordination and finally to collaboration. These are the 3 C’s.

Collaboration is working jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor (adapted from Merriam-Webster). The key difference between coordination and collaboration in our context is discrete effort: when we collaborate, we decide to combine our efforts toward completion of an activity. Here are two examples from my own history.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company operates a decentralized communication team, with the geographic business units in Asia, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Latin America and North America each operating its own communication team.  The heads of comms for each have a dotted line back to the chief communication officer, but budgets and functional reporting is to the business unit, usually to the unit president.

Goodyear moved along the 3 C’s spectrum slowly. It used to be that sharing strategy and plans was strictly ad-hoc; some units would forward a couple of pages to the CCO, some would give only the broadest outline. That made it very difficult to represent for the function with any sort of context, let alone establish common processes.  Best practices among units didn’t circulate well, and even budget visibility was limited.

By establishing an HQ position dedicated to increasing both communication and coordination, Goodyear was eventually able to establish a common planning process, combination bottom-up and top down.  With the intranet circulating best practices (often just a short story detailing what PR event had occurred and the results), in short order teams within units began to collaborate, borrowing event strategies and communication content from one another and working on cross-functional projects. Members of the corporate communication team were even invited to speak at regional communication meetings.

At National City Corporation following a determined effort to increase communication and collaboration across the communication function (see my posts Use 3 C’s to Work Together and The 3 C’s Toward Integration: Coordination), Marketing reached out to the retail communication group for assistance with a new campaign.

Corporate Communications worked with other units on materials development, retail asked for Corporate Comm help for a retail investing project, and Corporate Communications, Legal and Investor Relations formed a cross-functional team to work on financial PR releases. Even the measurement program benefited from collaboration, with marketing asking Corporate Communications to research the impact of news media coverage on a direct mail campaign, and corporate comms working with marketing to include unpaid media in its regular brand research (See “Measuring Company A”), and the Risk group asking for Corporate Comms help in understanding the impact of media on reputation.

Both of these cases marched steadily from communication to collaboration.  At both companies, there also were situations where they got stuck — a business process optimization team struggled to get past the communication stage, for example, and never made it to collaboration. But even in that case, the visibility of budget spend and the decision to coordinate several business unit and function-specific process improvements still demonstrated value.

It’s hard to truly integrate departments for a lot of reasons — the desire of executives to control their expense profiles top-to-bottom, among them.  The financial folks will want to add a fourth C — consolidation — which often seems like a synonym for integration. No leader wants to give up either headcount or budget willingly, regardless of the benefits — alignment, consistency and efficiency among the most frequently noted.

However, if we apply the 3 C’s effectively, we can gain all the benefits of integration except the financial ones.  For a lot of organizations, that’ll work just fine.






CEO Transitions Need Employee Attention

Monday, June 14th, 2010

When you’ve worked most of your life in big companies, as I have, it’s easy to forget that major change is a huge employee issue regardless of the size of company.  Big company complexity can be daunting to contemplate, and I’ve heard people pine for smaller firms with the idea that big change would be easier. News flash: It ain’t necessarily so.

Central Federal Corp and CFBank — a four-branch bank headquartered in suburban Akron with 66 full-time employees, according to Yahoo! Finance — is going to find out how easy it will be, now that former kahuna Mark Allio stepped down. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, Allio offered his resignation at the company’s annual meeting, and now the firm is searching for a new leader, with General Counsel Eloise Mackus steering the ship in the meantime (and “indicating interest”, per the Crain’s piece).

During any big change process — and a CEO transition is usually a big one — employees get distracted; it’s human nature. There are at least 65 people at that company wondering 1) Who’ll be the boss? 2) What will he/she change? and 3) What will it mean for me. It won’t help matters that the company’s financial performance (as with many banks) has suffered during the recession. Now the boss quits and there’s going to be a “process” to replace him.

Employees are ripe for worry, and worried employees seldom give great service, which ostensibly is the raison d’être for community banks.

The tendency of the board and leadership team is to look inward to themselves and the shareholders. Yes, they have a fiduciary responsibility to those owners, but they must not ignore their wider team. I don’t know that they have or have not — but they will need to ramp up the contact with the ordinary employees and be sure they’re equipped with the right tools to manage the customers and prospects.

Here are three “must-dos” —

1.  A note to employees with a draft customer letter — explaining the change and next steps, including a basic timeline.

2.  Questions-and-answers document anticipating what customers, community leaders, friends and family will want to know about the change.

3.  Commitment to a weekly email note and a twice-monthly conference call for managers updating everyone on progress.

It’s not a hard thing to do at all, and following these steps can make it a whole lot easier to glide through the transition.