Turning up the heat

Senior leaders have a choice in how they portray their business environment; whether they lead with opportunity or fear based management. Some choose to paint the most optimistic view possible, while others maintain a “sky is falling” backdrop whenever possible.

The implications of both choices are significant, and there are multiple schools of thought on whether motivating through opportunity or fear is more effective in a given situation. The real questions at hand are:
• How far is the organization willing to go in order to achieve the vision or strategy?
• What are the implications on practical decision making at all levels of management?
• What options are available if you decide to become more aggressive? (turning up the heat)
• Why are you choosing the temperature that you are currently at?

Immediately, it sounds like we’re crossing over with enterprise risk appetite statements (question 1), and to some degree perhaps we are. However, a lack of consistent management clarity on this issue could cost you real opportunities to push your organization forward.

So think about how you’d describe the temperature in your organization. Would you describe levels of engagement, urgency and motivation as “high”? What does being a bit higher get you? What does it cost you? What keeps you from turning it up or down a notch?

Considering populating each of these categories, then trying it on with your team:

100 degrees: Country Club• The organization is operationally focused
• Decisions are made based on what is comfortable and preferred
• “Strategy” is a nebulous term, but there is no applicable sense of what it means to align below the C suite
• There is no sense of organizational urgency, in terms of what is key to higher levels of performance (customer dis-satisfiers, strategic opportunities or operational barriers)
• The organization loses high performing individuals because it’s “too cold”

200 degrees: Starting to focus• There is a strategy, and half of the company is paying attention to it
• “Sacred cows” are allowed to exist
• Internal processes aren’t well linked to the strategic goals
• There are pockets of urgency, but the organization doesn’t have critical mass
• Occasional performers may stay for a while, but are somewhat frustrated

300 degrees: Look out, these guys are serious• The “hard decisions” are made in a very timely way – the organization acts with singular focus
• Senior leadership all have a clear role in activities that are transformational
• The strategy is the center of the known world within these organizations
• This environment attracts high performers, and repels those that aren’t because it’s “too hot”

400 degrees: Life and death focus• The organization is focused as though it’s an alien invasion scenario
• Nothing that isn’t critical to the strategy is pursued
• The vision is creating both excitement and a hint of anxiety, but people like it
• There is a sense of being part of something truly important

This is a complex topic, the application of which has to be personalized to the organization’s history, culture, vision, values and strategy. The central idea here is to understand the degree of urgency and clarity surrounding your strategy and begin to talk honestly about what it would take to go further down that road.

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