Igniting Champions

Organizations profile prospective employees and leaders for a number of vital characteristics – business acumen, management capability, interpersonal skills, etc. Rarely, if ever though, do they look for the organizational equivalent of a “spark”. They usually don’t look for that natural born catalyst. Someone who can initiate great amounts of growth through people. Someone who can see through the bureaucracy and decide what must be done, right now.

Organizations need catalysts now, more than ever. With many employees paralyzed by the rapidly changing economic conditions, organizations must tap into a catalyst’s natural abilities to kick-start action and lead change.

Chemical Reaction

In tough times, catalysts are what you need. Just as importantly, though, you are also wise to seek out and listen to your catalysts in the good times.

Catalysts are wired differently. They understand what it takes to achieve an organization’s growth target, and how to get around roadblocks that might get in the way. They innately know how to speed up the processes that are necessary within an organization.

The organization’s leaders may know what needs to change, and what they must do to reach their target, however, it takes a catalyst to cut through the analysis and bureaucracy to get the process started – now.

Mental Models

Trapped. You can’t do it. There are too many constraints. Bureaucracy, corporate policies, you name it. There is no way you can reach your new, higher targets with this impossible number of constraints.
This attitude may be all in your head!
In many cases, organizations teach – or better yet brainwash – managers into believing they are not able to take control and make the changes necessary to achieve long-term substantial growth. In the organization’s eyes, the key is to minimize risk and maximize control. In other words, maintain the status quo.

As a catalyst, you need to see through this trap. If you spend the time and energy (sweat equity), and if you can build a sound business case to achieve the company’s goals, you will get the permission you need. As a catalyst, you can change the company.

Keys to Becoming the Catalyst in your Organization

The good news is that catalysts can be profiled. Here are some of the traits they exhibit:

Dominance – As a catalyst you are likely frustrated with the here and now, and are always looking for the next big thing. Catalysts are also very task focused. If the growth target is “meaty” enough, a catalyst will get to work on it immediately.

Influence – Catalysts know that they can’t do this alone. You must influence others in the organization to get on board with you, and pursue this new approach together.

Steadfastness – Choose uncharted waters for your change plans, learn as you go and don’t let rules and regulations get in the way.
Conscientiousness – Do not be shackled by your organization’s past, understand its importance, but don’t be constrained by it.

How to Avoid Failure in Judgment and Decision Making

All of our decisions are based on a well researched and proven “value chain” that helps determine both the nature and the quality of the choices we make. In short, all of our decisions, especially those we make in business, are based on a premise (right or wrong), which in turn shapes the assumptions we make, which lead to the conclusions we draw and the actions we take – or do not take. It is a little more complicated than that but, for our purposes, let’s simply say that premises and assumptions are the raw materials of all decisions, and the chain of events that make up this process are fundamental to the success of any organization.

Taking care in your decision making

It has long been bewildering why leaders do not seem to take either enough care of, or pay enough attention to, the decision making process within their organizations. The same leaders who will spend millions of dollars to improve the efficiency of an outdated IT system, or an inefficient manufacturing system, or a faulty sales process have, generally speaking, never really considered spending any money on improving the corporation’s decision making process.

As leaders, it is our obligation to do justice to this one vital element of organizational effectiveness which many of us have been afraid to address for far too long. A good place to begin, in our view, is redefining what it means to fail.

We have all heard the phrase that we “learn more from our failures than our successes”. If that is true, then you have to wonder why we have not done a better job of formalizing the “learning from mistakes process” in order to improve the learning itself. In this case, like so many other urban myths, the words are nice and the thoughts somehow comfortable and reassuring, but the reality is quite different.

In short, we will have to apply more rigour and scrutiny to our failures if we want to create new opportunities to reinvent our organizations, the products we offer, the value we create and the people we chose to be our leaders.

We need to examine failure not just through the lens of failed outcomes, but also in terms of:

  • Failure of Opportunity
  • Failure of Trust
  • Failure of Will
  • Failure of Priorities
  • Failure of Respect

Think about it for just a minute.

The “value” created by any leader, team or organization is really the sum total of all of the decisions made by the leader, the team or the organization over time. The improvements we make, the breakthroughs we have, the innovations we spawn, and the outcomes we achieve are all, ultimately, based on the quality of the decisions made, both large and small. While much has been written on the importance of execution (which we do not deny or dismiss), the fact of the matter is there can be no more important attribute for defining individual or collective success than the ability to make great decisions.

In others words, while executing the decision is important, the things that govern the decision and the decision making process itself are equally important.

Embracing New Mindsets

Organizations everywhere (at least those not lucky enough to be born a Google or an Apple) have been struggling for years to find ways to instill an ethic of innovative thinking into their workforce. In far too many instances, the emphasis has been on improving the effectiveness of their brainstorming activities. Research has shown, however, that the most effective “phase” of the thinking process may lie at the very beginning – in what is called the “framing” stage.

Author John Naisbitt takes it even one step further, and teaches a new method of approaching the framing stage by adopting new mindsets. Think of mindsets as the foundation of the box. In many cases, the foundation is a foot thick and made of solid concrete. The worst part is, if you look down, you’ll find that your feet are embedded in the concrete (no wonder you can’t get out). The answer is to crack up the foundation, so the walls fall down by themselves.

The central part of Naisbitt’s approach lies in his proposition that the thinking process shouldn’t be limited to just one mindset. Instead, he has developed eleven different ways of looking at the world. This should be a breath of fresh air for organizations that have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to their thinking, and have failed. The idea is to free your thinking, and just let your mind flow.

Development of the Fittest

Who carries the “burden” for executive development and talent retention within an organization? Is it the executive or senior manager who aspires to greater things? Should they be spending their time planning their career path and seeking out new development opportunities? Or is it the employer who must take the lead in this process, through identification, selection, reward and recognition?

The central problem here rests with the fact the traditional mindset that underpins most executive development and talent retention must be changed. The “survival of the fittest” mentality that most organizations have relied upon since the end of WWII to validate who has the “right stuff”, must also be changed.

The new focus and approach has to centre on the overall “development of the fittest”, and that involves a more complicated dual-track approach. Simply put, if your organization fails to adequately provide its high flyers with both applicable work experiences and plentiful training and development opportunities, your top players will more than likely leave.

A core premise, within the new credo, and a very big philosophical change from even 10 years ago, is that an organization should not aim to treat all of its aspiring executives in the same way. In fact, the progressive organization should pro-actively “discriminate” when it comes to their High Potential Officers. Simply put, Talent Management means that the organization needs to find and create unique development solutions and streams for each and every manager with potential. There is no “one size fits all” approach, and generic formulae do not do enough to differentiate between capability, motivation and learning style.

There is another important point to make, and it has to do with the “soft middle” within most organizations. The fact of the matter is, while we may praise the “high potentials”, there is no question the “soft middle” plays a major role in keeping most organizations afloat. They may not have the same upside, or even the same work ethic, dedication or aspirations, but an organization that hopes to win in the market, has to make sure it’s “B Players” are better than the competition’s “B Players”.

In an important way, developing a new, stronger and more robust talent management process has two additional benefits. Aside from rewarding and recognizing your strongest team members – the “high potentials” – you send a strong message that will entice the moderate performers to rise to the occasion. In so doing, you pass ownership of that responsibility to the employees, and improve the overall fitness of the organization.

Become an Influencer

The fact is – modern businesses are constantly burdened by long-term problems. These problems don’t go away. They don’t change. They’re not getting any better.

The problem is – not that we lack the courage to confront these problems, we lack the skill. People tend to act like “copers”, rather than influencers.

The outcome is – we develop complex coping mechanisms and justifications to deal with these problems without creating lasting change. Our business plans do not execute as expected, and we have trouble motivating individuals to follow through with goals.

The solution is – to recognize our ability to influence problems. To be an influencer, we must focus on a small number of “high leverage” behaviours, and apply these to our interactions in order to develop superior performance.

The question here is influence. Why do some organizations seem to resolve their issues, while others remain stagnant? What does it take to influence employees in order to get a solution implemented?

The key is to understand that you, as a leader, have the responsibility to find out what motivates your co-workers and apply that knowledge to get results from them.

There are two kinds of companies in the business world. One kind of company has leaders who are continually meeting new challenges, while the other has leaders who resign to dealing with an ever-shrinking list of challenges “within their control”.

One set of companies is innovating and seeking to deal with its problems. The other is setting up barriers to its own accomplishments.

One organization has influencers, the other has leaders who develop coping mechanisms.

It’s so easy to be the second type of company. That’s the company that labels its challenges as “out of its control” or “impossible to resolve”. It is the company that accepts the status quo. It is the company with a group of leaders who don’t understand influence, and haven’t taken the time to see how they can motivate others to perform.

Dealing with Organizational Silos

All of this talk about paradigm shifts, and out of the box thinking, is starting to wear just a little bit thin. We have all heard it so often, for so many years, in so many different situations, that it has become a seriously depreciated asset whose value has plummeted with each subsequent uttering. The truth is, why are we so worried about getting outside of our box, when many of us can’t even get outside of our department?

Organization after organization – from Canada to Kazakhstan, from Albania to Australia – have become frighteningly compartmentalized, bent inward, shaped into neat little silos, the walls of which seem to have been reinforced with iron will. The risk is simply that the phrase “dismantling silos” holds about as much water today as other jargon words like – solutions, empowerment and transparency. The premise of the argument has been so slowly and so completely worked to death, that the term now lacks any sense of its original urgency or purpose. Call it what you may. Label it how you wish. The problem remains. Silos are still wreaking havoc on organizations day after day. Does anyone care?

We do. So, here are The Beacon Group’s Keys to Breaking Your Silos and Fiefdoms …

Invite the outside in – Why not simply flip things on their head. Rather than build walls – open gates. In every meeting you hold, from now on, invite at least one member from another department to attend.

Go walk about – In the same vein as inviting others to your meetings, go traveling. Invite yourself into “their” meetings. At a minimum, it will show you are interested, and perhaps even incite a reciprocal walk about by them. In addition, get out of the building. Go visiting. Visit suppliers, vendors, even competitors, as often as possible to learn how they conduct their operations, and then bring that knowledge back to your organization.

Demand super-fast technology – Want to break down the walls? Crank up the heat. Things moving too slowly? Turn up the dial. Information taking too long to get to you? Lubricate the channels. You should not only have information flowing to you, but it should be coming quicker and quicker every day. Out fox the fox.

Publish everything – Set the tone by becoming the best darn newspaper or magazine in town. Publish everything. We mean it. Open the valves to full steam. At monthly town hall meetings, devote a portion of your time to “Lessons learned from others”. Make it a priority to learn about new developments and procedures that work for others, and may work for you.

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How the Mighty Fall
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why CEO’s fail
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