Unshackle from the Past to Move Your Company Forward

velocity
This is a guest post by Jack Bergstrand. Jack is the author of The Velocity Advantage, on the board of the Drucker Institute, and the leading expert on improving the velocity of cross-functional business transformation initiatives.

 

Move Your Company Forward

We compete in a world that is very fluid, as fluid as knowledge itself. Our work is ever changing and often ambiguous, yet we continue to manage like we did during the Industrial Revolution—with highly detailed and preplanned work, managers who try to do the thinking for the workers, and strong functional and organizational silos. Our work has changed, but how it is managed has not adapted. We simply use more advanced and expensive tools, too often doing excellently what shouldn’t be done at all. Scientific management, which was designed for factories, lives on because it is the devil we know. Even though we live in a world of constant change, companies continue to cling to practices that were designed for the predictable and repeatable nature of assembly lines and blue-collar work processes.

 

“Even though we live in a world of constant change, companies continue to cling to past practices.”

 

The nature of today’s organizations is very different from factories. With physical work, people who are carpenters and assembly-line workers work hard for a living. When they finish the day, it is visibly clear to them and to others what they have accomplished. In modern companies, people who are researchers, subject-matter experts, analysts, and managers also work hard for a living. Yet at the end of each day, their achievements are not always as clear. People can work on something that was urgent in the morning but is no longer important by dinnertime. With physical work, we can visibly see the waste that comes from not working (or from working on the wrong things). When people work with their knowledge, this waste is often invisible. It is costly nonetheless.

Working with knowledge can be extremely productive because an idea can be used and kept at the same time. It is unproductive, however, to manage it using approaches that were designed for industrial work. Knowledge is different in that it is invisible; it happens inside our heads. Activities often expand to fill the time available, resources tend to calcify around previous priorities through historically based budgets, and workers too often rise to their levels of incompetence. Similar to the old advertising adage, half a company’s knowledge is wasted—we just don’t know which half.

Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders

Tales from a Reluctant CEO

Maxine Harris and her partner Helen Bergman started a business and grew it to $35 million through trial and error and constant change. In her new book, Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders: Tales from a Reluctant CEO, Maxine shares lessons that can benefit all of us starting something new. She shares how they overcame obstacle after obstacle to succeed. I recently spoke with her about the lessons she shares in her new book.

 

When should a start-up start thinking about culture?

Culture is not really something that you think about when you first start a business. You might say, we want to be casual or formal, or we want to maintain an air of professionalism, but short of being doctrinaire, you can’t really control what organizational culture will become.  More than anything, culture evolves from the personalities of the founders. I happen to be very chatty and like to ask a lot of questions.  Some employees see that as friendly; others see it as intrusive.  When I push people to “think smart” and try to do things in better and more creative ways, some people see me as demanding and judgmental, others feel that I am encouraging and stimulating. In both cases, it is the employee who identifies culture based on how they interpret what is going on.

Culture is one of those things that exists in the eye of the beholder.  An employee, an outside consultant or a business colleague takes a step back and sees the unspoken rules and nuances of the organization.  Sometimes people are only aware of the organizational culture when they are asked what they like or don’t like about their jobs. When we asked people who were joining the organization what they were looking for in their selection of a job, we got a glimpse into the kind of culture in which they would feel most comfortable.  And while many said they were looking for an environment in which their opinions were valued and respected, others wanted a cultural milieu in which the boss would tell them what to do and they would have clear guidelines for performance.

Over the years, as Community Connections grew in size and diversified in its programs, culture changed. You could feel the difference. A business with three employees can’t help but be informal and casual.  But as we grew and increased our size to over 400 employees, it became impossible not to have some hierarchical structure. You can remember the names of three people, but when the size gets big, and leaders are rushing from one meeting to the next, it’s hard to be as friendly as you’d like to be.

 

“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” –Thomas Wolfe

 

You wrote fairy tales for each chapter. That’s unusual in a business book. Why did you decide to do that?

Understand the New Rules to Stay Competitive

growth

The Rules Have Changed

In a world of constant change and disruption, it’s important to stay agile and courageous. Whether you’re leading a small team or a large company, you will need to be bold and to act without fear.

That’s easier said than done.

Amanda Setili is president of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates, a firm boasting clients ranging from Coca-Cola to Walmart. Her new book, Fearless Growth: The New Rules to Stay Competitive, Foster Innovation, and Dominate Your Marketsis packed with examples and tools to stay ahead of the crowd.

I recently spoke with Amanda about her work and her new book.

 

What is driving the need for fearless growth?

We all know growth is essential to a business’s health, but no matter what industry you’re in, you probably feel stress brought on by new technologies, changing customer behaviors and preferences, and new competitors that threaten your business’s ability to grow. Here are a few examples:

  • The food industry is investing to keep up with sometimes capricious trends in public perception regarding low-fat, low-carbohydrate, non-GMO, gluten-free, organic, alternative sweeteners and grains, and other choices.
  • The consumer products industry must continuously seek to find new and better ways to interact with their customers digitally. They must respond to changing consumer buying behaviors and even to consumers’ concerns about political, social, and environmental issues.
  • The entertainment industry is being upended, with companies that formerly were just conduits for content—like Netflix, Amazon, Google (via its YouTube subsidiary), and AT&T (via the Time Warner merger)—now creating their own original series.
  • The auto industry is changing gears to adapt to the way ride-sharing services, such as Lyft and Uber, are reducing people’s desire to own a car.
  • The banking industry is scrambling to adjust to new modes of consumer-to-consumer payment (such as Venmo) and new forms of lending and credit assessment.
  • The transportation and logistics industry is responding to trends in globalization, automation, and the rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba.
  • Industrial products companies are struggling with decisions about how best to deploy sensors and artificial intelligence to improve their products’ performance and reduce cost.
  • The energy industry is coping with low oil prices, new government regulations, and emotional consumer sentiment on both sides of the fracking, renewable energy, and coal debates.

If your business hasn’t felt the effect of massive market changes yet, it’s likely that you will soon. And if you wait until disruption occurs, it will be too late to respond effectively.

You must grow your business, but most growth initiatives entail risk of one kind or another. I often hear company leaders saying things like, “Our core business is at risk of disruption. We need to branch out into new businesses to grow, but we don’t have all the capabilities we need—they’re not in our DNA,” or, “We’re in unfamiliar terrain and aren’t sure that customer demand will materialize. There are lots of unknowns.”

To pursue growth, leaders and employees must learn to do things they have never done before, and they must grapple with new threats. All of this adds up to the fact that trying to grow a business in today’s turbulent markets is pretty scary—it’s perfectly reasonable and rational for company leaders to be worried. I developed the new rules of fearless growth to help leaders create organizations that have the courage, speed, and agility to succeed, no matter what the future brings.

 

“To pursue growth, leaders must grapple with new threats.” -Amanda Setili

 

Establish Forward Momentum

What can companies do to grow fearlessly, even when their business environment is changing fast?

When leaders encounter risks in their business environment, the natural human response is to hunker down, tighten the controls, and defend the existing business. What is needed, however, is not tightening controls, but the opposite. You need a fearless approach to learning and adapting to market change, and that means giving up a degree of control—to employees, business partners, and customers—in order to gain control. It’s like learning to ride a bike. At first, the bike seems tipsy and unstable, but once you start going, the movement itself creates stability.

What A Caterpillar Can Teach You About Growing Your Business

Master Near Constant Change

 

Many people think that businesses should develop a strategy and stick to it at all costs.

But Sid Mohasseb, serial entrepreneur, investor, venture capitalist, and former the Head of Strategic Innovation for KPMG’s Strategy Practice teaches an entirely different approach: It’s the ability to adjust your strategy, almost constantly, that brings success. The environment is uncertain and changing, and changing with it is vital.

Sid teaches that we must push for more and evolve from one approach to another.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his new book, The Caterpillar’s Edge: Evolve, Evolve Again, and Thrive in Business.

 

Prepare for Constant Flux

Why a caterpillar?

The caterpillar evolves many times over before it becomes a butterfly. It changes form until it turns into a completely different species. The caterpillar teaches us the wisdom of constant and incremental evolution and offers the promise of flying.  To compete, to advance and to win, in our businesses and in our personal lives, we must evolve constantly and purposefully, always.

 

“Things do not change. We change.” -Henry David Thoreau

 

How is the game changing? And how do leaders prepare for the constant flux?

Innovation is constantly approaching from every corner of the world. The speed of change fueled by unprecedented technological advancements and constantly increasing customer expectations are challenging companies to “stay relevant” – competitive advantages are temporary. The game has changed from, “How do I gain an advantage and defend it?” to “How do I change to stay relevant?”

To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and change their actions. First, by realizing their addictions (old assumptions, orthodoxies, biases, etc.). Next, by aligning with uncertainty – no plans can be permanent and no decisions are certain. Leaders must learn to live with probability and a portfolio of related plans – always ready to take the path that offers the most likelihood of success. They should also appreciate the reality of their capabilities and aim to build the future in increments; success cycles must be shorter and capabilities (people & systems) have to be created accordingly. Last, leaders must constantly look for the next advantage and aspire for more “Aha’s.” They should look for and discover the next challenge or opportunity, always; innovate, always (create new value), and evolve, always.

 

“To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and actions.” -Sid Mohasseb

 

How to Embrace Change

Why do we so often refuse to deal with change and uncertainty?caterpillar-cover

The refusal is more natural than intentional. We refuse to deal with change because of our fears of unknown (what is on the other side of change) and comfort with the status quo (comfortable routines we are used to and have served us well in the past). Most people embrace change when they i) realize the severity of the problem they face and ii) gain trust that what they can change to is a better state. We often refuse to change because we believe that the status quo does not present a major danger and/or we don’t trust the alternative paths offered by our leaders.

At business school and later at work, we are trained to look for certainty to plan to and execute against – assuming reduced risk. In our personal lives, we are comfortable living with probability and operating in uncertainly – there is a 40% chance of rain, and we decide, based on our risk tolerance, to take an umbrella or not. In our professional lives, we are expected to be certain and execute with confidence in outcomes. People, on a personal level, can innately adjust to uncertainty. However, they are reluctant operating with uncertainty at work because corporations expect and reward the illusion of certainty.

 

“The only thing that is constant is change.” -Heraclitus

 

3 Categories for Leaders to Plan in a World of Change

7 Practices of Authenticity

Wired for Authenticity

Henna Inam is the CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc. Her new book, Wired for Authenticity: Seven Practices to Inspire, Adapt & Lead, serves as a touchstone for leaders who seek both authenticity and adaptability in a 24/7 dynamic, fast-paced workplace.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Henna about the practices necessary to lead with authenticity.

 

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde

 

Practice 1: Befriend Your Body

Why do you start with the physical? How important is it to connect and befriend our bodies?

Befriending our bodies is foundational to the practice of authenticity. I define authentic leadership as the fullest expression of “me” for the benefit of “we.” In order for us to fully express our true selves, we need to know who we are – to experience what brings us joy, when our fears hold us back from full self-expression, and know what triggers prevent us showing up in our authentic selves. The truth of all of these questions lies in our bodies. In my executive coaching work, I use Whole Body Leadership ™ to get us connected to our bodies to give us answers to these questions. Our bodies can be great enablers because they can help us move in a direction that we know is right by transcending our fears and discomfort through breath, posture, and movement.

 

“Authenticity creates trust in teams.” -Henna Inam

 

Practice 2: Stay Curious

How do we “stay curious”?

Staying curious is critical in a world that is rapidly changing. Our brain likes to operate on assumptions to make the decision-making process easier. We make assumptions about people in the form of quick judgments. We often only see what we believe. Staying curious is about constantly asking ourselves and others broad, open-ended questions such as, “What’s happening now?” or, “What do you see here?” or, “What’s new? What’s changed?” and being open to new learning.

 

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

 

Practice 3: Let Go

Letting go is not always easy. What tips do you offer to let go of what is limiting us?Wired for Authenticity

The first step to letting go of what limits us (often our inner saboteur thoughts and behaviors) is to practice staying curious about ourselves. Once we’ve identified a place we’re stuck, we can ask ourselves, “Who am I being here?” Often it is a certain perspective on a situation or an attitude we are holding that keeps us stuck. It’s often based on assumptions we weren’t even aware of. Once we’ve identified these, we can consciously choose a different perspective, assumptions, or way of being that will get us closer to our goals. Neuroscience shows us how our body can be used to help us change our minds, so moving our body can help us to let go.

 

Practice 4: Give Yourself an A