3 Steps for Improved Leadership Development

Dysfunctional management teams slow down, derail, and eventually paralyze an entire company!

Human dynamics dictate that few teams will ever work as well as they should.

Three crucial priorities for constructing and managing effective top teams will help drive better business outcomes in areas ranging from customer satisfaction to worker productivity and many more.

1. Get the Right People on The Bus..

.. and the wrong people off! As a CEO, any breakdown under you is eventually 90% your fault and only 10% of the respective party! Sound too harsh?

Well, you’re the one with the “fire power”.

Over my lifetime, more than one-third of executives have said their top teams did not have the right people and capabilities. The key to getting a top team’s composition right is deciding what contributions the team as a whole, and its members as individuals, must make to achieve an organization’s performance objectives and then making the necessary ongoing adjustments to the teams. This sounds simple, but too often CEO’s don’t ensure the necessary pulse-checks and agile processes are in place to combat under-delivery for an extended period of time.

The solution could be as simple as moving from a geography based to a customer-focused structure. Another tough, but smart, choice should be removing anyone who strongly resists cross-organizational collaboration. Ironically enough the solutions have typically been staring you in the face for quite some time. This solution alone recently moved one company’s customer service index (7-point scale) from 2.3 to 4.3 within one year & then to 5.4 within two years.

2. The Right People in the Right Seats on Your Bus

Many top teams struggle to find purpose and focus. Only 38% of executives typically say their teams focused on work that truly benefited from a top-team perspective, and  only 35% said their top teams allocated the right amounts of time among the various topics they considered important, such as strategy and people.

What’s wrong with this picture? Management layers are often doing all of the wrong things, and typically because they’re confusing strategy with tactics, failing to set and or enforce S.M.A.R.T.E.R. priorities & finally failing to distinguish between things they must act on vs. those they should merely monitor (delegation).

A Strategy in a Day exercise is typically all you really need to get your people sitting in the right seats again.

A company who recently took this measure, in addition to 180% growth year-on-year, found that employee satisfaction scores improved from 54% to 79% in only one year. Does that sound appealing to you?

3. Team Dynamics, Interdependencies & Process

Team dynamics is a frequent problem, with studies showing that on average only about 30% of a management teams’ time was spent in “productive collaboration”. But wait.. that figure that dropped even further when teams dealt with high-stakes topics, and where members had differing / entrenched interests.

Steps to remedy problems with team dynamics include working with the team to develop a common & objective understanding of why its’ members aren’t collaborating effectively. There are several assessment tools available for this purpose, including Core Ideology / Values Gap Analysis within team members. It’s key that your team take ownership of the changes in the company’s performance and culture, holding one another accountable for living up to this (their) commitment.

A New Bus & Profitable Journey

Correcting dysfunctional dynamics requires focused attention, regular interventions, and transparent communication across the board.

Get that right and you will witness with clarity of direction doubled to +70%, operational improvements bringing down costs by +20% over the same period, and finally, work completed on time rising by +8%.

What would those numbers represent for your organization?

4 Steps to More Creative Teams

What if you had access to the collective power to help your company generate new ways of tackling problems? What if you had the capability for developing potential game-changing growth opportunities for your business?

Practical insights from neuroscience make teams more creative, thus becoming better equipped to generate breakthroughs that stimulate growth and performance.

The Science

Leading neuroscientists, such as Gregory Berns, have identified the key is to focus on perception, which is intrinsically linked to creativity in the human brain. To perceive things differently, we must bombard our brains with things it has never encountered. This kind of novelty is vital because the brain has evolved for efficiency and routinely takes perceptual shortcuts to save energy; perceiving information in the usual way requires little of it. Only by forcing our brains to recategorize information and move beyond our habitual thinking patterns can we begin to imagine truly novel alternatives

Let’s explore 4 practical ways to shake-up ingrained perceptions & enhance creativity.

Step 1; 3rd Party Perspective

Academic research suggests that even when presented with overwhelming facts, many people (including well-educated ones) simply won’t abandon their deeply held opinions. Therefore, it’s extremely valuable to start creativity-building exercises or idea generation efforts outside the office in real world environments where your teams’ experiences directly confront their ingrained assumptions.

  • Go through the process of purchasing your own product or service (as a real consumer would) and record the experience.
  • Visit  competitors as a customer & compare them with the same experiences at your own company.
  • Conduct online research and gather information about one of your products or services (or those of a competitor) as any ordinary customer would. Try reaching out to your company with a specific product and or service-related question.
  • Observe and talk to real consumers in the places where they purchase and use your products to see what offerings accompany yours, what alternatives consumers consider, and how long they take to decide.
Step 2; Back to Basics Questions

Break the assumption pattern by asking yourselves, as an organization;

  • What business are we in?
  • What level of customer service do people expect?
  • What would customers never be willing to pay for?
  • What channel strategy is essential to us?
Step 3; The Art of Association

A Harvard Business Review article by Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Dyer, and Hal Gregersen entitled “The innovator’s DNA” noted five important “discovery” skills for innovators: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. The most powerful overall driver of innovation was associating—making connections across “seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”

  • How would Google manage our data?
  • How might Disney engage with our consumers?
  • How could Southwest Airlines cut our costs?
  • How would Zara redesign our supply chain?
  • How would Starwood Hotels design our customer loyalty program?
Step 4; Constraints Theory

Try imposing artificial constraints on your business model to encourage creativity.

  • You can interact with your customers only online.
  • You can serve only one consumer segment.
  • You have to move from B2C to B2B or vice versa.
  • The price of your product is cut in half.
  • Your largest channel disappears overnight.
  • You must charge a fivefold price premium for your product.
  • You have to offer your value proposition with a partner company.

By placing your people in 3rd party environments, confronting ingrained assumptions, using associations, and challenging your organization to overcome difficult constraints, you can dramatically boost their creative output.. as well as your own.

This post was inspired by Sparking creativity in teams: An executive’s guide @ McKinsey Quarterly

4 Keys to Heightened Employee Engagement

“The Customer Comes Second: Put Your People First and Watch ’em Kick Butt.” (Hal Rosenbluth) And once you’ve recognized the role your people play, keep in mind that “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” (Sam Walton of Walmart)

Jack Welch is noted for saying “The essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important – and then get out of their way while they do it.” And Peter Drucker (Business Guru, Author & Professor of Business) has affirmed that “Employees will only complain or make suggestions three times on the average without a response. After that they conclude that if they don’t keep quiet they will be thought to be troublemakers or that management doesn’t care.”

These 4 quotes are evidenced in every successful company that can claim to have heightened employee engagement.

The four keys that enable these quotes to come to fruition are;

1. Clear set of Core Values

Ensuring that most of your employees know, understand and are aligned with the (core values) rules of engagement with both internal & external customers when representing your company is the corner-stone to success.

2. Transparent and Consistent Communication

Regularly measuring customer satisfaction, continuously measuring quality and regularly sharing these quality metrics with your employees will guarantee their participation in perfecting your results and projecting your company forward.

3. Objective & Periodic Performance Appraisals

It’s not enough to do it once per year if you want to grow at a rapid & agile pace. At minimum you should formally provide objective feedback every six months, and ideally you’re doing this every quarter.. mixing up Top-Down and 360º reviews.

The best-companies-to-work-for typically have a performance measurement practice that gives employees a real-time assessment of their performance & productive contribution on an ongoing fashion that requires minimal management intervention through the use of tools like WorkMeter.

4. Continual Development & Growth

What are the company-sponsored opportunities for personal and professional development & growth you’ve given your teams within the last twelve months? We said at the outset that “Put Your People First and Watch ’em Kick Butt”. Give your people the skills to outperform and they will do just that.. taking you along for the ride, outperforming your competitors, and ensuring that your customers continue to do business with you.

Increasing Your Impact Under Pressure

When you’re under pressure, it’s critical you’re able to rapidly target and action the activities that’ll deliver the most impact.

An ability to calmly weigh up the options, complete a key tasks and then move on to the next is greatly valued by those around us. The alternative is often not pretty – feeling panicked, paralyzed, and like a rabbit caught in headlights, uncertain which way to run.

Don’t Panic & Stay Calm

Your first instinct might be to start several tasks, eventually leaving all incomplete and feeling frustrated by your lack of progress. When you’ve got too much to do, and not enough time to do it in, it’s tempting (and often more comfortable) to start the day by tackling the small items on your ‘to do’ list. It’s natural to enjoy a quick ‘feel good’ buzz by ticking them off as you go.

This is a big mistake. NOT focusing on the important items means you’re in danger of reaching lunchtime, even the end of the day, having just tidied up your email, responded to unscheduled interruptions from others and maybe attended an irrelevant meeting or two. But you’ve made no headway on the main tasks that deliver the greatest value, and for which you’re really employed to do.

Especially in the current tough & competitive climate, it’s more important than ever to direct your time and energy towards activities that either make money, save money, and or have a the greatest impact on results within the shortest timescale.

If you want to multiply your personal productivity and impact, here’s what you can do immediately;

Write it down

List everything you want to remember to do, in one place. Without an easy way to remember everything you must do, how can you possibly prioritise effectively?


Estimate how long each item on the list will take. Some forecasts will be accurate because you’ve done it before. Others you’ll not know necessarily so be generous in your estimate – it’s better to discover you have some ‘bonus time’ because you find it’s simpler than you expected.

Gauge Impact

Assess the impact of each item. Ask yourself; ‘Which could either make money, save money or have significant impact for my organization? Which tasks are on the critical path for a larger project?’


The fastest way to increase your impact and productivity is to prioritise effectively, and take action on the highest priorities!

Potential Problem Analysis

This doesn’t mean that these are all huge or complex tasks though – sometimes the ‘Devil is in the Detail’ as they say. Simple items, forgotten, can cause a crisis later. For example, booking travel, hotels or a conference room for an important Client meeting are easy – but the consequences of delay can be significant! These tasks are often the ‘enablers’ that make the ‘big payoff’ activities possible, either by you or a colleague.

Start a Major Task before email

Don’t let email dictate your schedule again today! Choose a few items that are high impact and can be done in the time available today. Do at least one of them as early in the day as you can… even before you open up your email. By tackling those high impact items first, you’ll be able to confidently handle unexpected crises when they occur (and you know they will).

It’s not that the other tasks are irrelevant, just don’t begin with them.

Culture Change & Rebuilding Company Morale; How to get it right

Inspired by my LinkedIn Group Activity on the Executive Roundtable this morning, I thought I’d highlight the most recent challenges I’ve seen regarding Company Cultures & Company Morale.

FACT; you don’t change a company culture or morale overnight! There are no quick-fixes. You can’t just give someone a shiny new suit or coat of paint & expect them to be a different person.

Trust takes a lifetime to build & a second to destroy!

Culture Change

We’ve all seen too many organizations that should have been a perfect fit suddenly go “pear-shape” after an M&A process. Why? To start-off with, too frequently the executive who pitched the perfect M&A process hands-off to more junior executives with note-pad & predefined process for the execution stage. Everyday human & business dynamics can’t be managed from a prescription, but rather from an inter-active give-&-take process where every action is measured against the ensuing reaction.. and the most effective adjustments are made. It is indeed just like a science project back in school.

You’re mixing human emotions, experiences & biases.. a very volatile cocktail. Turn your back for one second.. a simple lapse or breakdown in communication.. and your entire science project will blow you, your colleagues & “the lab” up in smoke.

The Perfect Marriage

The secret, just as in any relationship, is to find a way for distinct cultures to co-habitate at the same time that you foster continual development & growth. Look at any perfect marriage & trace its’ roots.. no matter how close or distinct the two personalities might have been when they met, there was a win-win perceived by both, most likely followed with growing pains as they felt their way into becoming a cohesive unit. Constant communication & adjustments fair to both sides (compromises) were critical for overcoming the moments of tension where everything could have broken down. There was negotiation and both sides recognized where they could benefit, at the same time that they carried along running their own personal & professional lives.

The perfect marriage has no resentment.. change is optional, and a buy-in process where all parties win as a collective unit is a must. Isn’t that the expected outcome from an M&A, that the joint parties end-up equaling more than just the collective mathematical sum?

Rebuilding Company Morale

Questions are the most powerful form of communication. You might start off with “where did it all go wrong?” There’s a trick I learned way-back-when I had my first Problem Solving & Decision Making training & that was “root cause analysis”. Wipe your mind clean of any assumptions and track your current situation back through the preceding events that led to your current state. Along the way remove or isolate all variables in order to determine the weight of influence they had on the course of action.

This actually a pretty simple process you can apply to every-day life. Just read each sentence in the previous paragraph out-loud, slowly.. and think through the words you’re stating. Now, objectively.. and this is the hard part because you may have to admit fault and attribute your own actions as “cause”.. think through what actions caused what reactions.

Once you’ve identified root cause.. now you can go about making reparations.

No Quick Fixes

I said earlier that “trust takes a lifetime to build & a second to destroy”. When rebuilding company morale, you must be conscious that somewhere along the line something went terribly wrong, and leadership is always at fault because they (you) allowed it to happen. As long as you are willing to admit your mistakes / short-comings, the things you didn’t intend to happen but did, and are transparent in communicating what you’re willing to do about it, who you’re wanting to engage, and provide a steady stream of communication & update.. I guarantee you will rebuild your company morale.

  • Iterative, highly interactive & agile response to distinct cultures coming together
  • Clear communication & focus on required ongoing business results in parallel
  • Always seek win-win engagement solutions
  • “Sell” the benefit of continual development & growth
  • Always seek alignment to personal passions as a key accelerator
  • Open communication.. dialogue vs. monologue..
  • Courage to make necessary changes

Last but not least, as Leo Tolstoy once said; ‎“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

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