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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Can’t or Won’ Let Go of the Business? Succession Must be Well Planned!

One of the most vexed issues of leadership is the perennial one of when to hand over the reins to the next generation.

Perhaps that should read “when and how” because so often the problem is one filled with emotion and a reluctance to lose what has been a major part of a life.

Worst of all is the leader who will be damned if he/she is going to move over to satisfy the jumped up ambitions of a young Turk with a jumped up idea of his/her abilities.

By the way, the age of the leader may be a factor but it is not necessarily so.  The emotional ties to a business stem from so many psychological factors and are often difficult to pin down.

I have experienced the father who will not give up to a son who he considers to be wayward and shallow, a leader who thinks that without him the business will go into terminal decline, another whose life revolved absolutely around the business and who could not even contemplate being parted from it, and perhaps the worst of all, a leader at the age of 70+ who even refused to consider how succession could have a positive effect on the business.

Over the years I have seen so many instances which seemed insoluble but which, in time, were resolved satisfactorily with perhaps only a few bruised egos and  several sighs of relief.

The problem is usually the stickability of the in-post leader and their insistence on persuading themselves that only they can run the business as it needs to be run.

It all comes down to a feeling of rejection and even a loss of power even though the pill can be sugared to some extent by, for example, the leader moving up to Chairman (non-Executive) or by taking on pro-bono positions outside the business.  In the end it is all about feeling wanted and needed and to lose that can be very painful.

There are, of course, some leaders who really can’t wait for the next generation to take over so that they can reap the rewards of a lifetime of work. Sensibly that would demand good planning of the eventual wind-down, handover and retirement.

I have something of a vested interest in the subject and I often refer to my wonderful colleague in Vistage USA, Pat Hyndman, who at the age of 90+ still runs a Vistage CEO group and says that he intends to go on until they have to carry him out on his own flip-chart.  I know just how he feels.

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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Want to Improve the Team’s Performance? The Leader Must Learn to be a Coach!

One of my Vistage CEO members said to me recently:

“My team seem to expect that I will come up with all the ideas and don’t appear to have any original ones of their own”

So, what is remarkable about that?  It all comes down to the role of the leader.  One of the primary functions of the leader is exactly that; to bring up ideas in terms of products and services, operational practice and working with the people. 

Of course, it is important to encourage all the members of the team to bring up new ideas, however bizarre, and most importantly for the team to be able to asses them and then put a plan into execution.

Perhaps it is hard to accept but it is not the function of the leader necessarily to implement the ideas.  It is far better to have a dedicated team who will latch on to the pearls of wisdom and then put them into action, always provided that a little effort at the beginning will determine whether it is a goer or not.

The differing roles can be likened to the difference between research and development.  Original research discovers new ideas and subsequently, development will permit these ideas to be exploited commercially.

So how can the leader straddle both of these requirements?  It should not be part of the role of the leader to be actively involved in development – rather it is to monitor, measure and evaluate progress.

Crucially, however, the leader must act as a coach to his/her team.  What is wrong in the leader having great ideas, communicating them to the team and then helping them to develop the ideas into practicality?

Many leaders have come up through the development function and know how it works and how it can be improved.  The role of the coach is not to direct, not to impose solutions, but rather to assist the team to improve their performance.  The relevant word here is “assist”.

In a hierarchical organisation, the structure is a conventional triangle with the leader at the apex sending down messages from on high.  In other words, a “top down” solution.  What is better from every aspect is to reverse the triangle so that the apex is at the bottom.

The top line now represents the interface between the business and its customers and the reversed apex at the bottom is the leader, supporting the whole structure and helping the people to do their jobs in the most effective way.

The Green Bay Packers football coach, Vince Lombardi said with great prescience:

Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work”

He knew, above all else, that the function of the leader/coach is to help his players to achieve self-motivate so that their contribution is raised from that of the talented individual to that of a team player where one and one makes significantly more than two.

Remember, “no-one is as smart as all of us” and it behoves the leader to coach the team to go from good to great to exceptional.

Visit www.vistage.co.uk
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Sunday, 15 April 2012

Is Your Image Being Compromised? You Need the Pursuit of Excellence!

Some years ago I visited, as a customer, the new premises of a software company with whom I had done business ever since they worked out of a back bedroom at home.

Time and hard work had brought great success and they had moved consecutively into refurbished offices and now into a purpose built gin-palace in a prestigious industrial park.

The reception area was beautifully appointed with comfortable armchairs and plenty of reading matter.  The receptionist was considerate and offered me a choice of drinks and sandwiches (vegetarian) to pass the time until I could be seen by a member of staff.  All in all, a great experience.

That is, until I had to answer the call of nature and where I was shocked to see that the facilities were unkempt, untidy and unclean; a mile away from the image which the company was obviously keen to promote.

The significant word here is, of course, image.

The sad thing is that having had the experience of the scruffy toilets, this is what I tend to recall about the company (long since demised by the way) when in truth, there were so many plus points about their attitude and service.

The search for excellence must go right through everything that the business says and does.  If the image is that of an excellent company then everything in the business must be angled towards that goal.

It is completely valueless to promote a constructed image (which will always be positive, naturally) if the underlying actuality runs contrary to the image.

Once again, it is the function of the leader to ensure that the image and hence the values of the business are driven down into every layer of activity and that it is made absolutely mandatory that the values are maintained without discussion.

It is a good idea, from time to time, to allow some respected outside observers to come into your premises, walk round,  talk to your people and then report to you what they have found.

One of the great advantages of membership of a Vistage group is that this can be done easily when the group visits a member’s premises and it can be a very fruitful exercise for the member.  It can also be a painful one if the group finds areas which need to be improved and say so.

The problem is that we cannot see the wood for the trees and things can deteriorate over a period of time without the change necessarily being noticed.  (note: the teenager’s bedroom?) The dreaded Health and Safety regulations can easily be contravened and in some cases, dangerously.

However, that is doing it to correct a negative situation.  The best action is constantly to insist on excellence throughout the business and many of the potential failings will, in fact, never ma nifest themselves. 

Make it mandatory that you conduct an excellence audit on a regular basis and watch how the business changes.

Visit www.vistage.co.uk
Email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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Monday, 9 April 2012

Having Culture Problems? It’s the Job of the CEO to Drive it Into the Business!

A recent discussion with one of my Vistage Group members brought to light an issue which regularly surfaces and is perhaps one of the hardest to solve.

In essence this particular problem involved two valued employees who had been with the company for a total of 50 years and who had seriously contravened Health and Safety regulations which the company takes extremely seriously.

What made the situation worse was that their line manager, also a long serving employee, defended them and effectively said that as it was a “one-off” happening, it could be overlooked in this case.

In another case, the Vistage member had instituted Drug and Alcohol policies which were transmitted to all the staff with the warning that any contravention would be taken seriously as Health and Safety considerations could be compromised.

After a random drug test, one of the best (wouldn’t you know) employees failed and was warned a to his future conduct.  He was tested again after six weeks, failed again and was subsequently dismissed.

The problem in both these cases was a level of indecision intruding into the situation simply because of the past records (as far as they knew) and because some very dangerous words had been inserted into the Policy document.

They were “at the discretion” which meant that a coach and horses could be driven through the policy by managers not wanting to lose a valued member of staff.

I have said on many an occasion that the definition of the culture of a company is the province of the Chief Executive and he/she is the one to drive in into business.  The culture is based on values which are, or certainly should be, immutable.

How can there be any compromise in honesty, integrity, commitment, communication and so on which are the bedrock of the values which underpin the culture?  How, then, does one deal with situations like those above?

The problem is that taking a generous view of the incidents and giving the miscreants a second chance undermines any policy never mind the culture and the values of the business.

Moreover, it could be seen by others in the business as a green light to behave in the same way.

This all sounds like taking a very tough approach to misdemeanours but it must be remembered that contravention of Health and Safety/Drug and Alcohol policies can not only be potentially dangerous but could also contribute to a relaxed approach to their compliance.

So how to deal with the two problems?  In both cases there was a disciplinary meeting and it was decided that dismissal was the only option.   That would maintain the values of the company and send a message out to say that contravention would not be tolerated.

Terrorists are members of staff who a great performers but have a bad attitude; in both these cases we had good performers with bad behaviour which is slightly different but just as difficult to manage.

Who ever said it was an easy job being a leader?

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Sunday, 1 April 2012

Do You Have a Cut and Paste Mission Statement? Go Write One That Means Something!

How often have you been in the reception area of a company and seen the Mission Statement, beautifully designed and printed and tastefully framed, on the wall for all to see? 

Have you ever thought in a mischievous moment that you could take it off the wall and replace it with one from the next door company and no-one would notice the difference?

More to the point, have you looked at your Mission Statement lately?  Could you recite it to anyone who asked?

Mission Statements tend to be a given, something that every company should have and a necessary message to customers and suppliers.  So they should be, but generally they do seem to have been written by someone who has drawn heavily on the Goldberg Encyclopaedia of Clich├ęs and Platitudes.

In other words, they usually don’t mean a damn thing.

All the warm words like “honesty”, “integrity”, “commitment”, “our people” and so on, are interchangeable with the one from next door and are consequently meaningless.  All those characteristics ought to be given and are only of value when they have all be demonstrated and are visible.

So what is a Mission statement and what should it look like?  It should say what the business is constantly striving to achieve for the benefit of its workforce, its customers, its suppliers and its community; in other words, its purpose.
The excellent Vistage Mission Statement says, for example, that “we are dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of Chief Executives” and that is one of the best that I have seen.   
It encapsulates exactly what the purpose is and what Vistage intends to achieve for its members.  It doesn’t harp on about honesty and integrity because those are demonstrated at all times by the behaviour and attitude of its people.
Take a look at another company which had the motto:
·       "Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence."
Its "Vision and Values" Mission Statement declared,
·       "We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves....We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don't belong here."
Very impressive and inspiring, I think you would agree; that is until you discover that the words in question were the Enron Mission Statement.
Need I say more?  Just take a look at your Mission Statement, tear it up (unless it is genuinely meaningful) and start again.  Don’t try to have the team do it; it must come from the heart of the leader and encapsulate the culture that the leader espouses.
Then you can safely put it on the wall in reception, because it is unique to you and your business and it really does mean something to everyone who reads it.

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