A teacher and a student

Working in a consultative capacity, there are two distinct and critical roles that must be played. The teacher, and the student. This can be somewhat paralleled with the concept of balancing yin and yang, the seemingly contradictory forces that are actually interdependent. How much time do you spend learning new concepts, and how much time do you spend internalizing and integrating them? It is difficult to be effective at one if you don’t spend enough time doing the other. It’s a virtuous circle of learning, testing and internalizing.

I believe a good consultant is marked by the ability to consistently bring leadership to the resolution of other people’s problems. The more complex the problems, the more you are worth per hour. If you solve $500/hour problems, someone will probably pay you to do that. If you solve $10/hour problems, your options are linked to that reality as well.

In my experience, the best and the brightest have balanced these two dimensions of their lives. They may or may not live on campus, but they are connected with thought leaders that introduce new ideas, concepts and insights. This breeds flexibility, and open-mindedness. They are never done.

I am inspired by my own mentor and his thirst for knowledge, even after a successful career of many decades at a CEO level. What it has taught me is that people don’t succeed by accident. They become habitually successful through the discipline of self-improvement.

And so I ask:
– Have we optimized our ratio of learning and executing?
– Are we being influenced by the right people, and to the right extent?

Guest Post: Honesty is the Secret to Success

Honesty is the Secret to Success

The success of an organization is closely related to an honest company culture. And here’s the proof: A 2010 Corporate Executive Board study found that companies encouraging open and honest feedback among its employees experienced superior shareholder returns over a ten year period, outperforming others by 270 percent. In the study, from 1998–2008, companies with honest feedback among their staff. Impressive numbers, but do they hold up?

To find out, Fierce Inc., a leadership consulting firm, conducted its own research. The firm surveyed over 1,400 executives and employees, finding that the vast majority–99 percent–preferred a workplace where staff members were able to discuss issues truthfully.

Honesty may make a company a “happier” place to work, but the Fierce survey uncovered an even more important finding–70 percent of respondents believed that a lack of candor impacted their organization’s ability to perform at its best. There were various reasons for this belief, among them the argument that small problems could be identified early on, arming managers with the information needed to make decisions.

But, unfortunately, a culture of open and honest feedback doesn’t occur organically. In a recent article on the Software Advice website, the CEO and President of Fierce, Halley Bock, provided four key tactics to improve your company’s communication and encourage open and honest feedback.

1.Be Current and Brief. Resolve problems faster by addressing issues as soon as they arise.

2. Don’t Sugarcoat the Issue. Don’t cushion confrontational situations with compliments or small talk, tell colleagues or employees what’s at stake and review the steps required to address the issue together.

3. Keep Positives and Negatives Separate. Focus only on the positive or negative when it is warranted and don’t muddle the issues in a “compliment sandwich.”

4. Use a Social Networking Approach. Enjoy higher employee morale, improved productivity, better retention and increased bottom-line success through candid dialogues between managers, employees and coworkers.

These tips might not be easy to implement, but they’re well worth it. In the end, nurturing a workplace culture of honesty and open communication will not only increase the level of happiness your employees experience in the workplace–it may also increase your revenue. And what business wouldn’t want that?

This guest post was contributed by Erin Osterhaus of Software Advice, an internet company that advises organizations as they research new business software application purchases. Erin is the Managing Editor of The New Talent Times, a Software Advice blog offering tips on talent management and leadership skills to those in the HR space. To read Halley Bock’s original article, click here.

90% of strategies fail? Where to begin…

Strategy is how an organization chooses to reposition itself for greater competitive advantage within a desired market. It’s a collection of choices about how to compete for the future. Perhaps with enough information about the competitive environment, market share, trends, loyalty drivers and customer experience touch-points, we could guarantee success of implementation?

On the surface, strategy implementation seems pretty clear-cut, until we look at the staggering data that suggests that most strategies fail to achieve their goals (Dr. Kaplan and Dave Norton from Palladium / Harvard have consistently presented research that suggests that 9/10 strategies in fact fail). Are they asserting total failure? I don’t think so, and yet significant shortfalls. Fact: This is a widespread issue that most organizations haven’t nailed down.

A few classic Kaplan and Norton stats:
• Only 10% of your workforce understand the strategy
• Only 30% of your executives have their goals aligned with the strategy
• Only 60% of organizations align their processes with the strategy
• Most executives only spend 2 hours a week discussing strategy

So where do you start looking for opportunities to strengthen your organizational execution competency? We can point at research, formulation, adaptability, accountability, and many other things, they’re all part of the equation. But in my experience, the greatest challenge of managing strategy relates to people and leadership. If you look at any of the Kaplan/Norton stats referenced above you’ll see linkages to leadership failure in one form or another. The entire exercise of translating an idea into an organizational capability is driven through people.
• Board members are people who need to be engaged in processes that lead them to sound decisions
• Executives are people that need to be positioned to lead and inspire and consistently hold the organization accountable
• Employees are people who need to be engaged, and have opportunities to creatively contribute and align what they to do contribute to the big idea/vision
• Customers are people whose first and second hand experiences determine whether your organization exists (including the financials)

Here are some points suggesting why strategy fails from a 2011 Forbes article entitled “10 Reasons Why Strategic Plans Fail”. How many of these aren’t about effective leadership?
1. Having a plan simply for plans sake.
2. Not understanding the environment or focusing on results.
3. Partial commitment.
4. Not having the right people involved.
5. Writing the plan and putting it on the shelf.
6. Unwillingness or inability to change.
7. Having the wrong people in leadership positions.
8. Ignoring marketplace reality, facts, and assumptions.
9. No accountability or follow through.
10. Unrealistic goals or lack of focus and resources.

Leadership creates focus, inspires engagement, drives alignment of business models, and ensures relentless pursuit of goals at all levels of the organization. It takes accountability, it talks about the uncomfortable, and it serves the needs of the organization. Quite simply, your organization’s strategy implementation potential is totally defined by the quality of leadership. And because of this, the reach and audacity of your strategy will always be limited by the same.

Big, successful strategies always begin with big vision (leadership), big engagement (leadership), big clarity (leadership) and then total alignment (leadership). If you can get that far, almost everything else can be overcome by your collective creativity and will to win.