Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Are you Coachable?

Not everyone is. Those who are un-coachable often think they have no performance issues and believe everyone “out there” is the cause of the unfounded accusation. In these cases, coaching isn’t a very good option to produce positive results. It’s kind of like one spouse dragging another to marriage counseling in the hope that the counselor can “fix” the partner. (Ever see how well that works?). The sticking point here is a mindset that doesn’t allow one to reflect on personal behavior, a desire to change it, or mutual responsibility for a relationship. Forcing someone into a coaching relationship isn’t the best organizational solution for certain individuals.

If you are considering being coached or having someone on your team coached below are five attributes I’ve observed in people who successfully “own” their part of the coaching process. You might want to use this as a quick diagnostic tool.

1. Committed to Change. Individuals who don’t think they are perfect, that want to improve, exhibit responsibility for their lives, and are willing to step outside of their comfort zones are good candidates for a successful coaching relationship.

2. Open to information about one’s self. Be willing and able to listen and hear constructive criticism without being defensive; then, synthesize their coach’s suggestions with their own personal reflections on the issue.

3. Open about one’s self. Willing to engage in topics that may be uncomfortable but are getting in the way of their professional growth and development; talks about “what’s really going on” so the coach can have a complete and honest picture of the total situation.

4. Appreciate New Perspectives. People who get excited about hearing someone else’s take on a situation and figure out how to learn from it can really benefit from coaching.

5. Awareness about one’s self and others. Coachable people already have at least a fair amount of awareness about themselves. Equally important, they use it to reflect on their behavior and how it impacts other people in the range of situations that come their way.

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Successful Mergers Part I of II

So, What makes a Successful MergerHaving been through many successful and a few not so great mergers and acquisitions, I gathered some of the most important aspects to share with you.  Today it’s about people!

Statistics indicate that approximately half of all mergers are successful, but why not the rest? The process starts with detailed analysis and valuation of the acquired organization(s) and high expectations of increased productivity, share value, profit, and eliminating potentially redundant tasks.

One reason for failure can be that people working in the merged organizations who must implement the planned changes are normally disregarded during the pre-deal stage.

However, once the integration starts people begin to play crucial roles in the execution of the plan. Managers should not underestimate the people issues that might arise during this period.

Communication through the company can create either an effective or discouraging working environment. It is a difficult task to keep people motivated and engage people in the business particularly when those people are at risk of losing their jobs. It may be that individuals least well equipped to contribute in the new organization will be released whilst holding on to the best people. Apparently ‘the best’ are evaluated as having the best fit to the needs of the new organizations.

A solution to keep the best in the company is to be honest to the people and remember that we all appreciate frankness. People may not like to discover that their job no longer exists, but they would rather know it up front than to receive limited notice to leave the company. Mergers need good people to accomplish their goals. Consider specific communication for key talent.

Identify as many obstacles to success.  This will reduce the wasted time in later stages. Being frank to people and involving them in the brain storming sessions and gathering true and frank feedback from employees can increase the effectiveness of the process. Management should allow staff to express their worries, fears and anxieties about the merger, as well as their ideas, suggestions and possible roles that they may be interested in assuming. This helps people to be motivated and encourage commitment to the process.


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Real Leaders Don’t Boss

Real leaders are rare in today’s fast-moving, financially driven world. In their place are fast-track wannabes and imposters, intent on instant gratification in the form of quick (and unsustainable) bottom-line results.  Real and effective leaders today—from the executive suite to the assembly line–quietly and consistently follow the seven principles of effective leadership “Real Leaders Don’t Boss” as written by Ritch Eich.

Eich observes, there are far too many bosses and not enough leaders. Bosses who are too narrowly focused, see employees as tools, respect positions and controls rather than empowering, and sets expectations for others that they wouldn’t wish on themselves.

Real leaders inspire others to lead wherever they find themselves in the organization. Eich identifies and then dedicates a chapter to each of eight essentials of effective leadership:

  1. Rea leaders don’t boss. They are calm in their style, yet have zero tolerance for bullies, who, in any capacity, undermine performance and morale.
  2. Real leaders have a central compass. They aspire to do what’s right and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
  3. Real leaders communicate with clarity, honesty, and directness, and know how to listen.
  4. Real leaders have a unique make-up. Their passion translates into a strong corporate culture.
  5. Real leaders value and support everyone they lead, out front as well as behind the scenes.
  6. Real leaders know when to get out of the way.
  7. Real leaders are accessible. They are humble and easily approached.
  8. Real leaders know the difference between character and integrity, and why it takes both to succeed.

These eight essentials are about treating people right. They also reflect an extended range of responses to people and situations that “bosses” either don’t possess or exercise.

Leadership isn’t something you are necessarily born with; it is something that is thoughtfully developed throughout life.  Most real leaders aren’t born with some innate ability transforming them into magnets that attract others to follow them. They may have expectations placed on them to rise above their present situation or environment; they may even have an inborn strong desire to serve others and accomplish something unique. In most cases, however, leadership skills are developed and honed in the battlefield of life, where leaders discover their drive, passion, and wisdom.  It is these opportunities to rise above our present situation and environment that we should be seeking out and providing for our children—the next generation of leaders.


Can Corporate Culture be Changed?

Organizations seek out my assistance in helping them make their organizations better. “Better” might mean more effective leadership, higher performance, improved employee retention, effective compensation plans, improving team performance or simply creating a more cooperative, positive work environment.

After a thorough assessment of a client’s current operation and needs assessment, I am in a better position to present solutions that will address their gaps. Some of those solutions involve  policy changes, process changes, some involve personal coaching, and some involve proactive culture refinement — culture change.

When considering culture change, many senior leaders believe that corporate culture cannot be changed. I’m not surprised at this belief.  In my experience most senior leaders, throughout their entire careers have not lived through successful culture change. Even fewer have led successful culture change.

But here’s the question: Can you change how an organization performs?  Absolutely! By changing how individuals perform, leaders can change how the organization performs.

Leaders can change the way individuals perform by:

  • Setting clear performance goals.
  • Directing, supporting, coaching and delegating where needed.
  • Measuring progress and accomplishment.
  • Celebrating progress and accomplishment.

These activities, done consistently with a service approach often lead to increased employee performance which almost always affects service quality and commitment which leads to happier customers and growing profits. This is the service profit chain at work.

Changing your organization’s culture is no different from changing how your organization performs. It requires intentional definition of, communication of and accountability for your company’s:

  • Purpose: The reason you are in business.
  • Deliverables: Your committment to high-quality products and services.
  • Culture: Values you stand for and live by daily with stakeholders, peers and customers.

Corporate culture is the most important driver of what happens in organizations, and senior leaders are the most important driver of their organization’s corporate culture.

To change an organization’s culture, leaders must change how they spend their time and what they communicate and reinforce on a daily basis. They have to change what they pay attention to.  Their focus shifts from great performance to great performance WITH great citizenship.

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Driving Change

Nobody likes change and some of us hate it. As a leader, your job is to get others to want to change. I remember when I had a Palm as my smart phone and tried to transition to a blackberry. Didn’t work for me. My husband suggested an iPhone, I wasn’t even going there. However, when I needed to upgrade, he bought me an iPhone and gave it to me as I was boarding an airplane for a business trip. I went a little crazy, but I had several hours to play with it on my flight without any pressure and I knew I would return it when I got back, but, I began to see the value it offered. I learned to use it and have loved it since.

Getting others especially other leaders to open up to change is hard. You have to help them understand what’s in it for them, because suddenly you are changing something in their very comfortable lives. They are going to resist and find every reason to point out that your conclusions and recommendations for change are wrong. If you want change to happen, you have to help them understand that change is in their best interest. Show them you are trying to drive results or metrics they care about. Help them understand that they stand to benefit from the changes you are recommending.

Here’s an example of what I mean: When I was part of a large call center, there were very different sets of metrics that people received incentives on. There was the call center, which was receiving incentives based on operational efficiency. They were rewarded for how many calls they were handling an hour, their abandon rate, their customer service scores, and how many dollars were they collecting while they were on the phone (it was a credit card collections call center). On the other side of the fence, there were people like me who were looking at the long-term customer satisfaction and retention. Sometimes we were advocating for treatments in the call center that met short-term operational goals but missed the long-term goals. The leaders in the call center wanted their teams to get you on the phone and say “you owe us $100. Please pay now.” All they wanted to do (and what they received incentives for) was to get you to say “yes, I will pay you,” take a payment, and then get off the phone and move on to the next one as quickly as possible.

My team was concluding that the long-term value was building a relationship with the customer and understanding their financial situation. If we better understood how we could help the customer and what his long-term goals were, we found those accounts were more profitable than others. The operational effect of this approach, however, was that those phone calls started getting longer and longer and longer.

In the short-term we were messing up the call center’s metrics, but long-term building a more profitable relationship with the customer. What we had to do was sit down with the call center leaders, and help them understand the long-term behavior we were trying to drive. We had to explain why it was in the best interest of the broader organization and of the company as a whole. We were pretty up front with the call center leaders and we told them we understood how we were going to mess up their metrics. We knew if we wanted to achieve the long-term changes that drove profitability we had to blow up our call center operating efficiency metrics.

We as leaders knew if we wanted to make those changes happen, we had to be willing to stand side-by-side with that call center leader in front of their boss and ask that boss for relief on those operating metrics. He had to say “if you want to make a change that’s good for the long-term business, this is going to be bad for the short-term for operating metrics. We need you to change the operating metrics incentive plan.” As soon as those call center leaders knew we were willing to go to bat for them and they weren’t going to get penalized on their personal incentives, they were much more willing to support the changes.

In the end, we made the changes, changed the incentive plan, and improved the overall profitability of the business. If you want to get other leaders to change, you have to be willing to stand side-by-side with them. You have to help make their case for change and do what you can to protect their interests while simultaneously pursuing your own. When you partner with others in change, change can actually happen.

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Composure – A key leadership skill

In my opinion composure and self-control are very necessary leadership attributes. I will take it a step further to say that without it, one can only go so far in a professional business environment.  For some, composure is effortless, seems like it comes as second nature to them. For others, it must be cultivated — and not easily. As I coach leaders, I urge them to explore different techniques or methods to help them control their emotions, especially when the going gets tough.

A good example is a Fire Battalion Chief on the scene of a major fire. Amid the smoke and fire and heat, they typically radiate sheer calmness. Emotions might be roiling inside, but outwardly they are cool as a cucumber.

Their coolness leads to something I call the clarity to see complexity. By not succumbing to the mayhem of chaos, they keep their heads clear to think through the possibilities. In this instant if the Battalion Chief gives into emotions, lives are at a greater risk.

Your situation may not risk lives but letting your emotions get the best of you, limits your ability to focus on the options.

Some techniques that may help:

  • Breathe deeply.      In the heat of the moment, there is a tendency to breathe rapidly. So take  a deep breath. Feel the breath come into your lungs. Exhale, than repeat      a few times. It slows things down, really!
  • Relax your facial muscles. Tension is evident on our faces. So be conscious of how      you look. Rub your cheeks and flex them. Smile if appropriate, as a means      of reassuring others.
  • Keep your voice lower. When tension rises, people speak more quickly and with      more emotion. A leader’s job is to keep calm. So speak slowly and at a      lower pitch. Others will notice and maybe follow suit.

Remaining composed under pressure is not the answer to all leadership challenges, but for my money, I would rather follow an executive who keeps it together than one who is wild-eyed and restlessly pacing.

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Navigating through a new company

Getting ahead in your career isn’t just about understanding your business and mastering your daily tasks. You also need to learn your office’s informal networks, the personality clashes and synergies among your co-workers. How do you learn these things if they’re not in the orientation and new hire paperwork you received your first day? Through mentors, of course. To make the mentoring as painless as possible for office new hires, Tough Guide to Work recently offered three common mentoring pitfalls and how to avoid them. 

  • Searching for ‘the one’ Obi Wan. Gandalf. Dumbledore. Watching movies and reading fiction gives us the deep impression that we should be seeking some prodigious figure in our professional lives. Instead we end up having coffee with an exhausted executive who as it turns out has a couple of good ideas and a bunch of neuroses. We expect one person to embody everything we want to become, advise on all areas of our work and life and then it turns out instead we’ve been paired with a human being instead. How unfair. Instead of seeking one perfect mentor, I strongly advocate getting a “Board of Advisors”. Seek out a selection of mentors who can offer guidance on a specific topic. Want great advice on work-life balance, career goals, navigating politics, professional growth, building a network, influencing senior management? It’s unlikely that you will find one genius that gives you everything.
  • Needing to make it official: Senior executives I have spoken to say that they fear the junior employee who asks them to be their mentor. They worry that they don’t have the time, that it will involve having to go for long dinners in trendy places with loud music. They’d prefer to be playing tennis, or spending time with their friends and family. Some of the best mentoring I have had has been in the backs of taxis, during small talk at the end of work meetings and at friend’s weddings at drinks before the long dinner. The other person probably doesn’t see it as mentoring, just a friendly conversation with a younger person. The key here is to remember to ask for informal advice. Try this: “In your experience, what mistakes do you see people like me make?” or how about “What career advice would you have for someone like me?”.
  • Confusing mentors and sponsors. Mentors offer “psychosocial” support for personal and professional development, plus career help that includes advice and coaching. On the other hand, sponsors actively advocate for your advancement. They give protégés exposure to other executives, they make sure their people are considered for promising opportunities and challenging assignments.