Friday, June 26, 2020

Assessing Your Personal Brand

Dina Smith, a leadership development expert, has written a Fast Company article titled, "How do you overcome a bad job market? Groom a dynamite personal brand."   Smith argues that many people have misconceptions about the concept of cultivating a personal brand.  They think that focusing on your brand is unnecessary, since they deliver great outcomes for their organization.  Or, they shy away from the notion of engaging in excessive self-promotion.  However, Smith points out that we all have personal brands, whether we focus on them or not.   We should be aware of how others perceive us, and how it may help or hinder our ability to achieve our goals.   She offers three questiosn to help us understand and assess our personal brand:

To clarify your desired personal brand, ask yourself these straightforward, though not necessarily easy, questions:
  • What do I want to be known for?
  • What value or results do I want to deliver through my efforts?
  • How do I want colleagues to describe me?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Scenario Planning: A Useful Tool in Today's Environment

In today's environment, companies need to rethink their approach to strategic planning.  Many firms continue to rely on very traditional planning exercises.  Frankly, most of these processes assume that managers can accurately predict the future.  Many plans are characterized by high amounts of false precision in forecasting and budgeting.  

Scenario planning represents a useful tool for reshaping the planning process given the turbulence and ambiguity in today's world.  This technique involves imagining different ways the future may unfold and challenging some of our most basic assumptions and tenets of conventional wisdom.   We envision multiple, differentiated scenarios and then build strategies to fit those environments.  Finally, and most importantly, we think about early warning signals or leading indicators that we should monitor becuase they may help us detect the emergence of one of these scenarios at an early stage.  For more on the usefulness of this technique, see this short video. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Underestimating our Creativity

We are all generally familiar with the notion that people tend to exhibit overconfidence in their abilities across a variety of domains. However, some recent research suggests that we are not at all overconfident when it comes to assessing the originality of our own ideas during the early stages of the problem-solving process. We underestimate our own creativity. Ella Miron-Spektor of INSEAD writes,

"The results of three studies we conducted on this little-researched facet of creativity were striking. We found that people systematically underestimate their originality – a defining characteristic of creativity – throughout the ideation process. Such bias in the evaluation of our originality stems from the belief that other people think like us."

Professor Miron-Spektor notes that individuals become overconfident when they invest a great deal of time, effort, and energy into refining an idea that they selected from among many they may have considered initially.  However, early on in the process of generating ideas, we may actually underestimate how novel our possible solutions are.   What, then, should managers do with this finding?  How should it affect their behavior as they lead team members in a problem-solving process?   Miron-Spektor writes:

As a manager, make it a point to invite your team members to share their ideas which may otherwise never see the light of day because they assume their ideas are not innovative enough. By acknowledging their creativity, you can reduce their bias, at least to some extent.

 For more about my own research on creativity in organizations, see the short video clip below: 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ensuring Your Team Feels Valued

Aytekin Tank, founder of JotForm, has crafted a useful column for Fast Company titled, "4 ways to ensure your team feels valued without in-person connections."  Tank acknowledges that it can be very challenging for leaders to make team members feel valued when so many are working remotely, resources are scarce, and the stress is very high.   The article notes that, "A recent Gallup report showed that only one in three U.S. workers 'strongly agreed' they received recognition for their work in the past seven days. Employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year."   Given this reality, Tank offers four strategies for ensuring that team members feel valued.  

GIVE YOUR TEAMS THE TOOLS THEY NEED:  What technology, supplies, and other resources do your employees need to work effectively in a remote mode?  Like a good coach, put your team members in the best position to thrive and win.  

MAKE TIME TO LISTEN AND CONNECT:  Keep up the informal check-ins with your employees.  Don't just inform them about what you are doing or what the organization is planning.  Make sure to listen to their concerns, questions, and needs.  Open up about yourself a bit; let them see a different side, perhaps a bit about your personal/family situation.  Letting them see you as human can be very important for connecting with them, and encouraging them to be candid with you.  

INCREASE TRANSPARENCY: Provide regular updates on key initiatives and metrics.  Be honest about the challenges facing the organization.   Let them know exactly where things stand.  If you don't have everything figured out in terms of plans for the coming months, that's ok.  Let them know your decision-making process, how their input will be incorporated, and the criteria you will use to make final choices.  

OFFER TANGIBLE REWARDS: You might not be able to offer bonuses or raises this year.  What can you do to reward your employees?  Tank suggests offering time off in the future (days that they can bank now for future use), or providing new professional development opportunities.  Other forms of recognition and reward might include supporting causes about which the employees care a great deal, or perhaps providing paid time for team members to volunteer in the community.  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Empathize & Challenge

Source: Flickr
Over the past few months, we have read a great deal about the importance of empathy as a crucial leadership competency.  Here's one take, by Ruth Gotian on  
A pandemic brings out fears, frustrations and anxiety and many of us are feeling tired, unmotivated and incapable of focusing. As I previously reported for Forbes, this is the time to connect and empathize with our colleagues. One such way of doing so is with a ‘check in’ conversation. This chat is not about catching up on work related tasks, rather, to see how the members of your team are doing, really doing. The chats can be by any medium you have available including phone, text, Slack and Zoom. 

What is critical, AJ Duffy, Learning and Development Director, Corporate Groups at Microsoft explains, is to “Listen with intent. Don’t just ask ‘How are you doing?’ Ask and then hear them. Pause longer to allow all thoughts to come out. Sometimes people just want to be heard and not given advice.” Duffy encourages listening for specifics. “If a colleague or direct report says something specific about a family member or friend, next time you speak, check back in with them about that specific person.” Most importantly, Duffy explains is to model the behavior. If a manager or peers sees you doing this, it will get noticed and others will follow your lead.

I know some leaders struggle with the concept of empathy though.   They understand its value and would like to improve their skills in this area.  However, they also do not want to sacrifice their ability to challenge their people, hold them to high standards, and push them to achieve what they might not consider possible.   These conversations suggest to me that leaders often think that empathizing and setting a high bar are somehow mutually exclusive.   That view is misguided, in my opinion.  I think about what the best teachers do.  They clearly care a great deal about their students.  They seek to understand their interests, goals, perspectives, and struggles.  However, they also set a high bar, and they challenge students to achieve more than they ever could imagine.  One need not sacrifice one to achieve the other.  However, it is a delicate balancing act.  What I've found as a teacher, though, is that they will respond to your challenges if they know you care.  If they believe you have their best interests at heart, they will run through walls for you.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Micromanaging in a Crisis (or not)

I came across a very useful perspective on micromanagement during a time of crisis this week. Jeff Hyman is an adjunct lecturer of innovation & entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management. Hyman serves as the chief talent officer of the firm Recruit Rockstars Executive Search. Prior to that, he served as the CEO of a weight-management firm, Retrofit, that he also founded. Hyman explains his perspective on when to zoom in and when to step back in this brief excerpt of an article posted on the Kellogg Insight website

During this extraordinary time, there will be functions critical to the business that you will have to micromanage because, without your attention, there might not be a business to lead. At the same time, there are going to be some functions that you absolutely need to trust your team to execute on their own.

For example, under regular circumstances, a CEO would not spend time thinking about cash collections or accounts receivable. They have a CFO whose team handles that function. But if, say, half your revenue vanishes overnight, or your early stage company is not yet profitable, or the venture capital deal you had lined up falls through, cashflow takes on a new urgency.  So, micromanaging might include working with your accounts-receivable team to determine whether to negotiate creative, flexible deals that still keep cash flowing into your business, especially at a time when many of your suppliers may want to wait on paying you. “Cash is the oxygen of your business,” Hyman says. “If you’ve only got six- or three-months’ cash on hand, you may need to be way in the weeds on cash collections if your company is going to live to fight another day. You may require daily reviews with your accounts-receivable team to understand when you can expect payments from customers.” 

Just as you will have new roll-up-your-sleeves tasks, other projects may not demand much of your attention at all. That product that you had intended to launch next year, and on which you still want to keep moving forward, can be delegated to trusted team members.

“It’s very tempting in times of uncertainty to find this false sense of certainty by trying to micromanage everything,” Hyman says. “But you can’t micromanage virtual teams. So you have to trust that you’ve hired well. They may get things done almost the way that you would have done it. You have to be okay with that. It’s much more important right now to get the few things right and get them right enough versus getting them perfect.” Be clear with your team about who has responsibility for these new projects, as well as on how (or if) you would like to be involved in any decisions.  “You can let them know, ‘I’m letting you run it. Keep me posted. Let me know what you need from me,’” he says.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Asking for Help at Work

Many people refrain from asking for needed assistance at work.  Why?  They do not want to appear incompetent, or perhaps they do not want to admit failure.  Sometimes, we don't ask for help because we don't want to burden others.  Cornell Professor Vanessa K. Bohns wrote about the issue this week in Harvard Business Review.   She argues that many people hold beliefs that prevent them from asking for help, yet these beliefs turn out to be misguided.  Here are Bohns' three myths about asking for help.  In each case, she cites research demonstrating that these beliefs are indeed myths, not reality.  

Myth 1: Asking for Help Makes You Look Bad
Myth 2: If I Do Ask for Help, I’ll Be Rejected
Myth 3: Even if Someone Agrees to Help, They Won’t Enjoy Doing So

While I agree that people ought to reconsider the reasons why they might be hesitant to ask for help, I do think workers should contemplate HOW they ask for help as well.   Sometimes, reaching out can be done in a highly ineffective manner.   Here are a few tips.  First, be clear about what you are trying to accomplish and why.   Second, explain what you have already done.  What have you tried?  What's worked? What hasn't?   Third, describe how you think the person may be of assistance.  What expertise or skills do they have that might be helpful?  Finally, be sure to encourage them to identify others who might be better suited to assist.  Don't make them feel bad about acknowledging their own limitations.   Of course, be sure to thank them in advance for their help as well!  

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Unforced Errors & Competiive Rivalry

Source: PGA
31 year old Rory McIlroy is a four-time winner of a golf major, and one of only three men to win four majors by the age of 25.   He was #1 in the world in the fall of 2015.  However, he hasn't won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship. Brook Koepka overtook him at the top of the golf world, coming on strong to win four majors from 2017-2019.  The rivalry has been intriguing. In the 2019, Koepka said, "I'm not looking at anyone behind me. I’m No. 1 in the world. I’ve got an open road in front of me – I’m not looking in the rearview mirror.”  However, in February 2020, McIlroy reclaimed the #1 spot in the golf rankings.  However, Koepka notes that McIroy still hasn't won a major since 2014.   What can we learn from these types of intense rivalries in sports, and how can they help us understand competitive dynamics in the world of business?

Niro Sivanathan, associate professor of organisational behaviour at the London Business School, recently wrote an article in the South China Morning Post about his research on "unforced errors."  He argues that this research may explain, in part, the type of actions taken at Boeing leading up to the Boeing 737 MAX crisis.   Sivanathan has studied tennis and chess players, and he's found something quite interesting about how competition affects their behavior.  Here's an excerpt from his article:

In a recent study of more than 117,000 professional tennis matches, we found professional tennis players, such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, perform worse and commit more unforced errors when they compete against players who have recently risen in their rankings, compared to those with similar rankings but who lack the same momentum.  When we abandoned tennis courts and analysed more than 5 million games from online amateur chess platforms, we found that when competitors are evenly matched, chess players perform worse against opponents they know have been climbing in the rankings.

Drawing on this research, Sivanathan asks the question about the Boeing-Airbus rivalry: "Is this a classic case of a younger rival intimidating an older, better established competitor, resulting in the established player making mistakes and, in this particular instance, losing a long-held leadership position?"  Of course, there's much more to the Boeing story than this type of unforced error effect, but it is an interesting causal factor.   I'll have more to say about the Boeing case soon, as I have a new case study about the 737 MAX crisis under review at the moment.  Stay tuned.