Organizations must continually change and adapt. And while managing may help identify what needs to change, it is not what moves an organization… that’s the role of leadership.
Further, and as I have written before
, leadership is getting people to move in a particular direction.
There are three critical steps:
1) Communicate a clear vision of where you are going. It is much easier for people to stay on track when they understand what they are working towards.
2) Make sure people know what they must get done in order for everyone to reach the goal.
3) Get out in front — and stay there — visibly.
Here is an example…
Many years ago, I was brought in as the Chief Operating Officer of a technology company. For various reasons, a Federal Judge prevented the owner from showing up on the premises and running the business. But the company had a flat organizational structure — nearly everybody reported to him.
One business was being sold to the winning bidder at an auction; another was to be shut down. Many employees were loyal to the founder and were inclined to obstruct any progress. So, I told them: “The assets of one business will be sold and the rest will be wound down and liquidated. I need your help.” I was very clear on where we were going.
The supporting technical infrastructure of the business being sold was intertwined with the business being shut down. There was no documentation, just the owner's knowledge (and he couldn't help). There were all sorts of external, Internet-based attacks on the business being sold and customer service was a shambles. Meanwhile, the owner was thought to be encouraging employees to obstruct the sale. The situation was untenable and all the employees knew it.
I laid out a path of the steps needed to close the sale, appointed a new head of customer service who reported to me, and elevated the key technical customer needs with engineering. Yes, there was skepticism at first, but soon everyone followed. With the strong leader physically gone, the employees chose my path to close the sale over the owner's desire to block it. The sale was closed and the other business shut down.
All along, I stayed true to the three critical points described above.
Here are a few more specifics…
#1. Make sure where you are headed makes sense, and that getting there is feasible.
Do a thorough situation assessment,
as explained in my earlier newsletter, “Five Proven Steps to Problem Solving
.” Ideally, your organization will have undertaken these five steps (i.e., Situation Analysis, Objective, Strategies, Action Plans, Tracking) and the need for and means of getting there have been addressed and are feasible.
By involving the organization broadly in this assessment, you will decrease resistance that may be present regarding a new direction.
#2. Make sure people know what they need to get done.
If you don’t tell them, how will they know? Beyond that, focus on “done” not “how.”
The how is their job and employees will often pick the best path to goal completion. After all, they know in detail how the company works and the players involved. Your version of how, on the other hand, will likely run into practical problems along the way.
#3. Make sure the necessary employees are empowered and enabled (they will likely fail if they are not).
- There is a mutual understanding of the desired goal, objective, or outcome.
- The charged person has the time to do it.
- The charged person has or has access to the resources that are needed.
- The organization understands that the charged person has authority to do what he/she is charged to do.
- The charged person knows what he/she can't do without proper permission or approvals.
#4. Conduct periodic status checks.
Even the best thought out plans require modification when reality arrives on the scene. So, make sure you have incorporated periodic status checks along the way. Are things going as expected? Have new, previously unforeseen obstacles arisen? Do resources need to be reallocated?
If you go into the process with the expectation that changes will have to be made, you’ll be less surprised when they arise and quicker to adjust as needed.
#5. Listen, listen, listen.
Leading an organization requires it. And the best way is the
Tom Peters way
: using your feet.
Sometimes called “management by wandering around,” this approach to hearing, unfiltered, what is going on in your organization, is no more complicated than getting out of your office and talking to those who are closest to the work itself.
Years ago, I was brought on to consolidate finance and accounting on the East Coast into one central office. The first week on the job, I learned that my arrival and mission had been announced 18 months earlier. The second week, not surprisingly, I learned that the accounting centers had been losing staff since the announcement. They were crumbling and I needed to consolidate before the accounting and finance function collapsed entirely. In other words, there was no time for my detailed Five-Step Approach, let alone a thorough situation analysis.
So, I quickly chose the heads of the key consolidated functions and told them to consolidate now, including what to consolidate and what not to. They had carte blanche to hire, travel, and set priorities. I spent most of my time, not in the new consolidated office, but on the road with the general managers and staff whose accounting functions I took over. I listened and learned and flushed out the consolidation plan on the fly. This is not my preferred method of operating, but nine months later, everything was consolidated and working (albeit, not yet smoothly).
Overall, in situations requiring leadership, I have found that what matters most is describing the goal sufficiently (i.e., the “where”), so that people can see it flushed out in appropriate detail and from there, figure out the how. Then, I listen while wandering around, course correcting along the way.