Leading Cross Functional Collaboration

As organizations mature, the tendency to operate in silos and wage turf wars is a natural phenomenon. This usually results in weak, if not non-existent, cross functional collaboration on just about everything except really pressing matters. And then, it’s only to solve really serious problems in a reactionary fashion.

Truly healthy organizations have productive lines of communication and constantly engage in robust and productive discussions between departments and within departments.

Cross functional collaboration has its benefitsAn excellent way to foster productive communication is to engage employees in a collaborative process to help keep expenses in check. Have them spend half a day to two days in a structured session talking about how to manage expenses. This is best done in a group of not more than 24 people with one to three individuals from each department.

During the session, have them address problems or challenges that THEY see can be corrected or improved. An outside facilitator can greatly enhance the results. He or she can cut through the politics and create an environment that lets innovative ideas to bubble up. This is hard to do with an internal facilitator leading and coordinating the process.

During a public half-day event of this type that we led for individuals from different companies, one realtor found $60,000 in savings. Multiply those savings by the 20 or more realtors in her office and you begin to see the possibilities.

We have also seen two industry–leading firms, one an animal feed company, the other a construction firm, identify more than $1.5 million each in ongoing annual savings. These two sessions involved two full days with staff from various departments and senior executives of the organization. Both firms have more than 200 employees.

Obviously, some planning is required, as is an understanding on the part of the organization’s leadership about what is important in the process and why. It’s also important to identify up front what long term outcomes are possible from a cross functional collaboration exercise. Part of the process includes ensuring that accountabilities are established during the session – not afterward.

This example isn’t just a cost-cutting exercise. It’s a motivating process to get your workers thinking and acting creatively on a daily basis. And it’s a way to open up communication across and between departments. This benefits everyone and directly affects the bottom line in a positive way.

Regardless of the age of the organization, creating an environment for cross functional collaboration focused on problem-solving is your big benefit. This includes the topic of cost-cutting. Helping your employees learn how to actually communicate across departments is excellent preventive medicine.

Please contact me if you would like to learn more about how your business can benefit from this type of workshop.

Millennials Will Change the World

Oh to be young again!

When I watch Ted Talk videos by Millennials who are smart, confident and know what direction they want to take with their lives, I wish I were 30 years younger to share in that future. WOW! I mean, really, WOW!

Stacey Ferreira - Millennials are ScrewedThese young people like Stacey Ferreira have it together. They aren’t stupid or lazy. They have different expectations based on the world they’re exposed to. These Millennials have a different outlook on work/life balance. They want to be productive. Millennials want to have an impact on changing what doesn’t work. They aren’t afraid to share their opinions and ideas with top executives. If you don’t like what they have to say, so be it. If you do, use it. These 2 billion Millennials are out to change the world.

That’s so different from when I was starting my career. Those were the days of learning corporate gamesmanship. Remember the book, “Games Mother Never Taught You”? It’s about all the terminology women need to know and the game-playing that goes on in traditional corporate workplaces run predominantly by men. That was about understanding the football and baseball strategies and terms and applying them to what was happening in the work place. If you wanted to get ahead, you learned to play those games. And I got so tired of it. What a waste of time!

Millennials have a totally different outlook. It’s not about who plays the game best, it’s about doing it together to improve the product or strategy or workplace or world. These are collaborators, working together in open offices, not turf warriors protecting their kingdoms. I would love to play in that world instead of the one I grew up in.

But the future is about the younger generation. We adults who have been there and done it differently, need to stand aside and support them, nurture their creative spirits, and help where we can.

What an amazing generation this is!

The Art of Possibility: Rule Number 6

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “Kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again 20 minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and a n apology. When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so god damn seriously.’” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”

           “There aren’t any.”   

~ from The Sixth Practice in The Art of Possibility

 

I’m re-reading The Art of Possibility by Dr. Rosamund Stone Zander and Boston Philharmonic Conductor Benjamin Zander. The chapter, Leading from Any Chair, discusses the “silent conductor” in all of us – the importance of leading from wherever you are in life or work. We don’t need to be managers, CEOs, and senior executives in order to lead. Everyone can be a leader, regardless of age or position. We lead by helping others do their best. If we know how to perform a task, we demonstrate and explain the process to another person trying to learn it. We don’t wait for “the boss” to tell everyone how it’s done. We don’t hold back from showing someone else because we want to be better than him or her. We help them learn so we can all do our best. In this manner, we are all leading as “silent conductors” from any seat.

The art of being a “silent conductor” is to listen and watch for passion and commitment from others. In The Art of Possibility, Zander suggests the leader look in the eyes of those individuals and invite them to share. Speak to their passion. Ask yourself, “who am I being that they are not shining?” That gives you, as the leader, the opportunity to be a “silent conductor”, to ask for feedback, and pass the leadership baton.

Even children can be leadersIn The Art of Possibility, the chapter on Rule Number 6 is about humor and lightening up. Often we take ourselves too seriously. As leaders we frequently try so hard to prove our worth, to succeed against all odds, to be better than everyone else, we forget that the goal is “together we all win”, not “I win, and therefore you lose.”

Our “Calculating Self”, as Zander calls it, wants to survive in a world of scarcity. It’s the voice that tells us take actions that get us noticed, to be strong, to be right, to win at all costs. It’s the voice that drives us on, always striving for something just out of reach. We’re never satisfied.

It takes many forms: the parent who acknowledges his child’s B+ and says, “That’s good, but with a little more work, you could have gotten an A.” Or the boss who tells his people, “I expect your work to be perfect; regardless of what it takes to achieve that.” Or the educator who tells her students, “Follow the outline exactly without deviation.”

Rule Number 6 reminds us to “lighten up” and stop taking ourselves so seriously. There are many paths to success and we each have different approaches. Rarely is there only one “Right Way”. So when you find yourself falling into the trap of the “Calculating Self”, stop and ask yourself:

What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?”
“What new possibilities might emerge if I were to change my thinking?”

Is it the situation or the people you are with? Is it an expectation you have that others can’t live up to? What change will bring about peace of mind to you and to others? Perhaps it’s merely to interject a little humor into the situation.

Laughter is a powerful tool for dispelling tension and opening up possibilities; such as . Zander’s comment to the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra when they were practicing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The students were tired and tense, having just taken standardized tests, and were missing notes and key entrances in the music. He said, “Take it straight through the second movement, and NO MISTAKES. If you make a mistake…..a five-hundred pound cow will fall on your head.”

And that’s what The Art of Possibility is all about….seeing possibilities where none seem to exist. You can find the book on page 4 of our Strategy Book Store.

Employee Rewards Can Be Motivational

Recently, I came across a book I haven’t opened in a long time. It’s called 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, by Bob Nelson. The book (which was updated in 2012 to 1501 Ways to Reward Employees) lists a variety of ways to use employee rewards as a way to recognize achievement. These include no cost ideas such as one-minute praises and bravo cards, to low cost ideas like bringing the person a bagged lunch for a week from a gourmet sandwich shop. It also lists ideas for more expensive rewards, such as trips, dinner for two, and various types of gift certificates.

In my experience, how the employee rewards are delivered is critical. If the praise isn’t heartfelt and the recognition is done to fulfill the requirements of a weekly recognition program, the staff will not feel appreciated. It won’t feel authentic and they will grow to resent it.

Employee rewards must be authentically delivered and heartfelt.So before you launch a recognition program, be sure to clearly define the scope of the program, and the types of behavior you want to recognize and why. Are you doing this just because you heard from others that employee recognition is important? Or are you doing this to try to shift behavior, create a new culture, and/or work towards a long term organizational goal?

Ken Blanchard has written a great deal about the subject of leadership and building high performing teams. Praise needs to be authentic and heartfelt. Don’t praise just to go through the motions. In his book, The One Minute Manager (recently updated), he talks about catching people off guard doing something right. Then giving them praise at that moment. Those are the “one-minute praises”. Don’t wait until the staff gets together for a team meeting and then give the praise. It will come off as not authentic and something the boss is doing to prove what a great boss he or she is. The staff will resent it.

On the other hand, if it’s appropriate to give praise in a public setting such as a staff meeting, do so, but make sure you gave the individual a one-minute praise beforehand, even if it was days before. The public recognition will be an additional and more well-received reward; especially when the behavior being recognized fits within the scope of the rewards and recognition program you’ve established.

All that being said, here are some unique ideas I came across in the book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees:

  • Close a few hours early one day and take everyone to a shopping mall. Give each person $25 to spend and tell them to gather together in one hour. Then share and compare what each person bought with their $25 and why they chose the items(s) they did. This could be instead of a holiday or sales bonus.
  • Hold occasional fun contests. These should be planned by the managers, not the staff. If staff members are assigned on a rotating basis, it becomes another chore or work-related task, not a fun event. Contests can include St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween costume contests, or themed pot luck dish competitions. Rewards can be cash and/or gift certificates for restaurants, movie theater tickets, sporting events, etc.
  • Celebrate a Day of Excellence once a year with fun learning activities for all employees. Or let each staff person choose a day during the year that is their “special day”. Managers then surprise that person with fun activities during lunch or late in the afternoon of that day.

Let us know your thoughts about employee rewards programs and any unique ideas you have implemented in your organization.

The CFO Role – Cost Control or Value Added?

By Eric A. Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International

There are some interesting future trends to be tracking regarding the the CFO ROLE and the business domain he/she leads. Technology and in particular shared technology is one of the key drivers in how their role will be changing over the next ten years.

cross fuinctional teamsShared data and cross-functional training give employees and their teams more real-time access to data and the acumen to use the information, they can assess the financial impact themselves, instead of relying on finance to do it for them. The consulting group, Accenture, estimates that by 2020, “more than 80% of traditional finance services will be delivered by cross-functional teams.

Traditional communications and control centers are becoming more nimble and responsive. They are consolidating previously separate in-house financial reporting services such as compliance, treasury and investor relations. This is resulting in task-specific professionals being able to better focus on optimizing their areas of responsibility in support of their company’s strategies.

How is your business reacting to these changing trends? Is your CFO more involved in creating and driving strategy? Are new technological and cross-functional training tools being deployed to stay ahead of the competition? Have your systems become too complex, creating new “siloed” systems? Does your CFO understand how to deliver strategic initiatives through project and program management? Does your organization have the core competencies to transition from transaction-based activities to value-added tasks?

All of this implies a shift to finance teams being more involved in planning and analysis with more advanced digital platforms. A key outcome is reduced complexity, increased productivity and reduced costs.

The strategic impact of these trends significantly affect long-term growth and viability for all types of organizations. As you consider how you might address the challenges of these trends, one valuable solution is to evaluate your organization’s competencies to address these challenges and take steps to improve skill sets, create strong cross-functional capabilities and deploy the needed technological tools.

For further details on this topic you can click here to read an article in CFO magazine.

Build Successful Teams by Improving Your Conversational Capacity

Eric & Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International

Conversational CapacityRecently we attended an afternoon workshop with Craig Weber on the topic of improving your Conversational Capacity to build successful teams. He brought up a recurring topic that we often see when working with teams, boards and organizations overall. The missing piece in many organizations is leaders’ understanding of how to maintain open, balanced dialogue among team members. This also applies to those who are following the leaders. A more open dialogue leads to greater understanding and teamwork.

That doesn’t mean the dialogue can’t be passionate or heated at times. In fact, that’s good. But the goal is to stay in what he calls “the sweet spot” between Minimizing and Winning.  What we find useful and different about this “sweet spot” concept, is that it makes it easier to focus when you have that “sweet spot” target.

On the Minimizing side, we tend to shut down, cover up our opinions, ask leading questions or withdraw from any discussions. We do this with our body language as well as our verbal interactions. We may show agreement in the meeting and then afterwards start an email dialogue with colleagues expressing just the opposite viewpoint.

On the Winning side, we want to be right. We raise our voices, get defensive and aggressive. Our speech gets rapid and animated and the volume goes way up.

Achieving that “sweet spot” is maximizing Conversational Capacity. Among the tips Craig mentioned that we see working best are building skills in candor and curiosity. Candor to ensure you are being understood clearly and doing so by dissenting with respect when appropriate. Curiosity to ensure you are seeking the root cause of problems or issues and not pre-judging. Another tip we liked is to keep a journal of triggers that take you far into Minimizing or Winning and away from the “sweet spot”.

The skills involved in achieving high Conversational Capacity can be fun to practice in work teams and can yield rapid and good results, improving team performance.

If you would like to learn more please contact us.

Fall Weather Causing Writer’s Block?

Have you ever run into “writer’s block”? Seriously, I usually don’t have trouble finding things to write about and share, but this month I’ve been stymied!

Perhaps it’s the change in weather. While September is ending on a warm note, fall is definitely in the air. The leaves are turning. The mornings and evenings are cooler, and there’s a crispness to the air.  I just want to sit out on the porch and read.

Then again, maybe it’s because I’ve been preparing for the late start of the social media marketing class I teach online through Yavapai College. The college changed learning platforms over summer, from Blackboard to Canvas, so I’ve had to re-build the class in the new platform. It was a bit time-intensive, but it’s fairly intuitive, and I think it will prove to be a better learning platform for the students.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been immersed in speaking Spanish with some friends from Argentina. They’ve been visiting with very close friends who speak very little Spanish. Since Eric is natively fluent and I’m quite proficient, we’ve spent quite a bit of time conversing with them in Spanish. As a result, I find I’m talking to myself in Spanish instead of English! That’s a good thing, but it’s derailed my thought process a bit.

TIPs to overcome writer’s block

glass of water and skyA quick internet search for tips to overcome writer’s block turned up this link: 7 ways to overcome writer’s block, by Chuck Sambuchino, writersdigest.com.

One suggestion is to stop trying to write and do anything creative. Paint, draw, write poetry, design pictures in PhotoShop or Illustrator, etc. (I may have to try this, although it makes me feel unproductive, and I hate wasting time).

Another is to get up and move – do tai chi, exercise, go for a walk (been there done that already this morning). Another tip is to write early in the morning. Now that I agree with! I am my most creative in the morning, and it helps to read or watch stimulating, creative, motivational quotes or stories to get my mind flowing.

His #7 technique is the most interesting though – the glass of water technique. Before bed, fill a glass of water and speak an intention to the water. When you wake up in the morning, drink the water and then sit down at the computer and start writing. I may have to try that!

What’s your favorite way to end writer’s block?

 

Digital tools modernize change management

Our line of work in creating strategic plans, coaching executives and managers through implementation, and change management in their organizations is constantly under pressure. there is an ever-present desire to find ways to simplify how it’s done, and shorten the time frame in achieving measurable results.

Business leaders resist the amount of work and time typically devoted to creating and updating strategic plans. The increasing pace of change in our business environment throws monkey wrenches into our well-laid plans. Yes, we are always seeking that silver bullet that will magically keep our plans on track, shorten the time frame to success, and basically keep everyone happy and productive.

Intuitively I know no such silver bullet exists, but in my own continual search for it, I occasionally come across a nugget, not a bullet, like this one that might actually help me and my clients.

An article from McKinsey by Boris Ewenstein, Wesley, Smith and Ashvin Sologar titled Changing Change Management, provides a compelling insight about one strategic element common to some recent successful change efforts.

Two clear challenges

The McKinsey article’s sub-title mentions two clearly visible issues or challenges for implementing change:
1) “Research tells us that most change efforts fail.”
2) “Yet change methodologies are stuck in a pre-digital era.”

The article’s main premise is that our traditional approach to change management is outdated and that using digital tools is the key to modernizing that approach. Aha! I say. While digital tools are not a new nugget for me, I did reap some new insights on the approaches to implementing those tools for more effective change management.

It has not occurred overnight but we have seen global companies that are now clear industry leaders disrupting their industries, experiencing astronomical growth and generally, success. Amazon, Uber and Facebook come to mind as examples of those who have employed digital tools to create their footprint in the world of business.

The McKinsey article mentions some of the digital tools many companies have employed and all have one thread in common. It is the result of closer, more rapid communication with their customers primarily and their other stakeholders as well. All brought about by the use of digital tools. That communication is now rich with data, tons of data, and not just junk data. Useful data that drives better, faster and more focused responses to fix problems and leverage successes.

Out with the old?

Does this mean we toss out our traditional methods and approaches for planning and executing change initiatives? I say no. We still need the training, practice, and discipline involved in the planning retreats, applying the best practices we can uncover for leading and managing people and for ensuring sustained continuous improvement in everything we do. Only now we must apply these digital tools to accomplish that faster, better and create more lasting change in our organizations.

I know I can’t tackle rewiring my home’s electrical system on my own without training in basic and advanced principles and practices. But, possibly, I can get that training faster with digital training tools. However, the practice is essential to prevent a disaster to myself or others, so a wise move would be to apprentice the work. Likewise, I know a business can’t avoid the work required to create long term plans and deliberately create the processes and systems to support the resulting change initiatives. They can only enhance the speed of achieving results and sustaining those results with the digital tools mentioned in the McKinsey article.

In our business, we are using more and more digitally-based communications with our clients, such as webinars, online courses, feedback resources, and more regular communication. We are still working on finding more effective touch points that are not intrusive. These all involve changes in practices and the culture of our business, just as it does for everyone else.

Feedback Moments can Lead to Root Cause Solutions

One of the things we talk about in our practice is the importance of accepting, and in fact, seeking out feedback, both positive and negative. Without feedback, you have no idea of how your project, idea, or behavior is impacting others. Feedback is also an important part of your strategic plan, for without it, you don’t know if you’re progressing down the right paths to achieve your future desired outcomes.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall GoldsmithMarshall Goldsmith, in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, talks about looking for feedback moments as a method for improving your personal behavior. Here are some of the ways he suggests to get feedback by paying close attention to how others react to you both verbally and physically.

1. Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you. For one day, write down all the comments you hear people make about you, both positive and negative. At the day, review the list to see if there are areas you need to address. Do this for a week, both at work and at home and see if there is a pattern that you need to change.

2. Turn the sound off. When you enter a meeting, observe everyone as though you couldn’t hear them. What are they doing? Where are they sitting relative to you? Do they make eye contact with you? Look for the subtle behaviors that might be obscured by their voices. Get to meetings early so you can see where people sit and how they acknowledge you when they enter the room. This will give you important feedback about what they think of you and areas where you may need to improve your interpersonal skills.

3. Complete the sentence. Pick one area where you want to improve; then list the positive benefits you’ll get by improving in that area. This method will help you get at the root cause of the behavior you want to change. The first few sentences will be more corporately focused or correct, but by the time you get to the fifth or sixth sentence, you’ll start to get at the heart of the issue. Keep doing this until you have no more sentences to complete.

Getting at the root cause of a problem

This last exercise is an excellent one to do with a team when problem-solving an issue. Go around the room and have each person complete the sentence, writing each one down on a flip chart. Continue doing so until everyone runs out of sentences to complete. Then review the sentences and see if there is a pattern or theme that is actually the root cause of the problem.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can begin to work on resolving the problem by asking, so it this is the root cause, what do we need to do to change it? Ask each person for ideas and write them on a white board or flip chart. Prioritize the answers in terms of 1) what can be done immediately, 2) what can be done in the next 3-6 months, and 3) what can be done in a year. If there are costs associated with the solutions the team has chosen, identify them, or assign someone to research what the costs will be.

Focus first on what can be done immediately; identify specific tasks for each solution, and assign a person to lead each one. Once the most pressing solutions are completed, focus on the next list of those that will take 3-6 months to complete, and so.

This way you have identified the root cause of a problem, the solutions to resolve it, and taken action to create change.

Volunteer Burn-Out is a Non-Profit Dilemma

Takeaways: 1) Age demographics and volunteer burn-out are dilemmas for member-based non-profit organizations, 2) Why clear and concise communication is paramount, 3) Why change must be embraced with a revolutionary approach.

Member-based non-profits inherently are subject to the dreaded disease of volunteer burn-out. As I scan the world for member-based non-profits and consider their membership age demographics, two things are crystal clear.

First, the most obvious one is a seriously older demographic, from the few members left of those who were adults in the mid 1900’s to the huge population of baby-boomers worldwide.

Second,  very few of those organizations are working really hard at recruiting and engaging new members of ages 25 to 45. Those that are, struggle to connect across the generational chasm that has generally tripped up humanity for centuries.This has deepened in the last 170 years with the rapid cultural changes brought on by technological advancements.

Balancing planning with action is a common struggle for non-profits, and if they are membership-based, perhaps even more so. This may be more evident among organizations that are 30 years or older, but it also affects those that are newer and have instituted some mature processes and structures.

I am looking at two very worthy member based non-profits. One is experiencing continued success but mild growth in membership. All of its programs are very well received by the communities it serves and its members are overwhelmingly deeply engaged. The other is experiencing membership decline, slow action among its leadership, a lot of activity in planning for the short and long term, and is struggling with its value proposition and member engagement. The first one is over one hundred years old, the other a respectable 15 years young.

A common thread I find in successful organizational development continues to be that of clear and concise communication. Communication of vision, values and goals in a timely and simple manner continue to be the key ingredients to successful member engagement. Why? Because it provides key support and direction to the leaders of the local groups to keep everyone moving toward the same overarching goals.

I see a number of aspects to what I call The Maturity Dilemma. One is that mature member-based organizations generally have a long-established way of doing things that worked for their generation of members. This creates a culture that is comfortable for that age group but likely misses the mark with other age groups. Another aspect is human nature’s normal resistance to change. Throughout our lives we have been taught to seek long-term conformity and stability, in spite of things changing around us all the time. We are not taught to thrive in change and therefore continue to hold this aversion to it. We have not developed the skill sets to thrive in change. So the organizations we lead tend to suffer from the same shortcoming.

Like all systems in the world, yet another aspect to this Maturity Dilemma is entropy. Our member-based non-profits are becoming so comfortable in our “way of doing things” that we simply never respond to the changes taking place OUTSIDE our organization.

I propose that like nearly all for-profit organizations, we must stay more in tune with our “markets” and our external environment. We must establish the processes and structures that will embrace change and help us thrive. We must, in a word, become “revolutionary” from within.

What does that really look like? To me it looks like making change happen fast, like in most revolutions. It looks like planning quickly, acting decisively and being prepared to adjust quickly to the changes we are creating. It looks like we must rapidly evaluate how to leverage the positive results of the changes we make and just as rapidly mitigate the negative results of those changes. It looks like we must not fear failure but instead react quickly to correct it.

I am not suggesting this is easy. In fact it is counter-intuitive to human nature and how we have been taught. We have to be, as author James B. Swartz so eloquently put it, “Seeing David in the Stone”, a reference to the courage displayed by those who pursued a vision without a manual to show them the way. We have many, many tools at our disposal to start us on our way. Planning strategically or tactically is key among them, but balancing that planning with rapid, decisive action is what will win the day. Forcing ourselves to maintain that balance will also drive us to communicate those plans in a timely and concise manner, thereby short-circuiting the entropy that creeps up on our organizations in uncanny mimicry of Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you would like to discuss this topic further, please contact me. My expertise in accelerated change management and deep knowledge of non-profit organizations may be helpful to you!