Thursday, July 30, 2015

Timing of the Devil's Advocate

As this blog's readers know, I'm a proponent of Devils advocacy as a mechanism for enhancing decision-making effectiveness.  However, some teams make a crucial mistake with regard  to the timing of the devil's advocate.  Specifically, they allow one or more people to begin playing the role of devil's advocate too early in the decision process.  That early critique actually suppresses idea and alternative generation.  The best teams wait to critique ideas.  They begin by focusing on generating a wide range of options.  Then they begin engaging in critical analysis.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

Stanford Professor Yossi Feinberg has identified five common traps that trip up entrepreneurs.  There's one trap that I think applies to any business, startup or large corporation.  Here's Feinberg describing this particular trap:

Don’t try and reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to.

The Internet has democratized access to all kinds of information, and if a successful process or structure exists for a non-core element of your business, use it.  This can be anything from administrative office functions to technical elements on the periphery of your central business proposition. If an effective solution exists, then the chances are it will not add value to your business to develop it from scratch.

Far too many companies fall into the "not invented here" trap.  They build out their own systems and processes when an "off-the-shelf" alternative already exists.  They fail to learn from what others have already succeeded or failed at doing.  They conclude that their business is unique, and that outside solutions simply don't apply.   Of course, you can't just copy others.  You have to adapt what they have done to fit your business.  However, simply starting from scratch and not leveraging what others have done is a big mistake.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Preparing and Rehearsing for a Meeting with Your Boss

Patti Johnson has written a good Fast Company column titled, "8 Ways to Get the Most out of a Meeting with Your Boss."   Johnson explores how you can prepare effectively for these meetings, as well as how to conduct yourself to get the most out of these interactions.   Here's an excerpt:

Think less about your slides and more about the discussion
I once watched a colleague of mine endlessly tinker with the wording on his PowerPoint slides right up to the moment before his presentation. Of course you need solid content to grab your audience’s attention, but when you’re speaking to senior leaders, you need much more than a striking PowerPoint show. Instead, think of it as a tool for spurring the right conversation.  What decisions will be made during the meeting, and what information will be needed to make them? Pin down those objectives first, then plan your presentation accordingly. And stick to what's essential. Too many slides can signal that you plan to do all the talking or even that you can’t manage your time effectively. 

Focus on your audience, not yourself 
Anticipate the issues your audience cares about most. Put yourself in their shoes, and make a list of potential questions from your listeners' perspective. What do they want to know? Do they want in-depth details or just the headlines? How much time do they want to spend listening to you? If you base your presentation around your audience’s needs and interests, you can align your time and content to fit them.

I think the best part of this advice is that it encourages employees to anticipate how the meeting will unfold.  Putting yourself in the other person's shoes is so crucial.  I would even encourage employees to rehearse how they might respond to certain questions.  You also need to think about timing.  You won't have time to cover everything that you would like to discuss.  That's almost always the case.  So, be clear in advance about what your priorities are.  What must you absolutely cover in the meeting, and what can you defer? 

Friday, July 24, 2015

There is No Optimal Organizational Structure

Many senior executives seem to obsess over organizational structure.   They love to move the boxes and arrows around on organization charts.  Today we are a functional organization; tomorrow we will organize ourselves by product line.  That will solve our problems!  It will make us more customer-focused!  We will improve speed to market!  One year later, they shift to a geographically-focused organization chart.  That will solve our problems!  We need to think globally, but act locally!  We will adapt more effectively to local customs and cultures!   Executives should stop obsessing over the boxes and arrows on those organizational charts.  No "optimal" structure exists.  Each type has its strengths AND its flaws. 

Executives should recall the old adage coined by Rufus Miles, Jr. - a senior government official in the administrations of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. Miles coined the phrase, "Where you stand depends on where you sit." In other words, your stance on key issues depends not simply on your own judgments, values, and beliefs.  It also depends on your position within an organization.  Your views will represent the interests and goals of your unit. 

What is the implication of Miles' perspective?  It means that leaders should focus on getting their team members to understand how the structure of an organization often drives its strategy.   They should challenge the executives to consider this important question:  How might we look at this strategic decision differently if we were organized differently?  In other words, are we allowing structure to drive strategy (rather than the other way around)?   Leaders need to encourage team members to stand in each others' shoes.  They need to be able to understand why people in other units, regions, or lines of business have different beliefs, positions, and perspectives.  They need to understand how current structures might be leading to certain biases in decision making.  In the end, no optimal organizational structure exists.  However, the best firms understand the limitations of their particular structure.   The best companies do not allow the organization chart to drive decision making. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Risks for High Potentials If They Switch Jobs

In today's Wall Street Journal, Joann Lublin writes about the "stay or go" decision for high-potential leaders.  These folks often find themselves in demand these days.  Should they stay at the company that has designated them as a high potential and invested in their development, or should they go to a new employer promising better opportunities, faster promotions, and/or a slice of equity?  Lublin identifies several risks associated with moving to a new employer: 

Job-hopping stars usually lose the extra attention to their leadership development needs. “That’s often when they need it the most,” says John Beeson, author of “The Unwritten Rules,” a book about landing executive promotions. “If you jump ship while a high potential, you may never get those issues addressed,” Mr. Beeson warns. “And they can derail your career.”  Departing high potentials also risk burnt bridges with an employer that has invested time and money grooming them. A surprise exit may harm the reputation of internal advocates who fought for their advancement.  “You need to handle those relationships carefully to avoid causing a rift,” recommends Mike Travis, head of Travis & Co., an executive-search firm in Newton, Mass

I would add that high potentials need to assess the "supporting infrastructure" at their prospective employers.  You cannot succeed on your own.   Therefore, you need to ask these five questions:  
  1. How strong will your new team be?  
  2. Are employees throughout the organization highly engaged?   
  3. Will your peers be supportive and collaborative, or will they constantly compete with you?
  4. How effective are the systems that you will need to do your work? 
  5. Will the firm provide you with continued coaching and development?  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Is It Time to Rethink This Standard HR Practice?

This week Forbes contributor Liz Ryan takes on some standard company policies and procedures that she thinks are outdated and counterproductive.   Among them, she criticizes the rule in many firms whereby employees must notify their manager if they wish to apply for another job within the organization.  Here's an except from her article:  

Most large and many medium-sized organizations still have policies in place that require an employee who wants to apply for a different job in the company to get his or her manager’s approval first.  Any person with three functioning brain cells can instantly think of plenty of good reasons why a manager might prevent a qualified and eager employee from moving into another job.  It’s a pain in the neck to replace a key employee. You might want to keep a great person on your team to boost your own chances at getting promoted... HR people working together with your employees should arrange transfer and promotion interviews. If an employee doesn’t get the job he applied for, his or her manager never even needs to know about it. If s/he gets the job, the manager can be brought into the loop at that point.

I'm curious what readers think about Ryan's recommendation.  I can see both sides of this argument.  In many firms, this rule does inhibit employees from pursuing new opportunities at times.  Some managers do horde talent to the detriment of employees' personal development and to the detriment of the organization's effectiveness as a whole.   On the other hand, Ryan's idea puts human resource professionals in an awkward spot. Moreover, it leaves managers - perhaps very good ones - completely in the dark.   Ideally, human resources should be facilitating career development conversations between managers and subordinates, rather than sidestepping supervisors in this manner.  They should be encouraging and facilitating each manager to talk to their people frequently about their goals and aspirations (not just at an annual performance review).  Moreover, human resources should be talking to managers about employee engagement data, so that they can proactively address situations where people may be frustrated on a particular team.  Finally, human resources should be facilitating discussions at more senior levels about key job openings, so that the organization can proactively identify key talent that it may wish to move into a new opportunity.