Should You Lower Your Standards?

GEN Shelton notes in his book, Without Hesitation (p 112), that “an effective leader is not a hands on micro-manager; in fact the freer reign you give your people, the more they will excel-as long as you’ve communicated your objectives and expectations, and surround yourself with good, independent thinkers who are not afraid to speak up.”  He’s talking about how a values based leader has high standards. The values based leader always strives to do what is right.  Yet, he also discusses that a values based leader mixes in generous dose of compassion with the standards.

“You have to understand that for a certain reason,  individuals might have certain things they are wrestling with in life.  For example, you may be on a school bus riding to school and the person next to you is having a bad day.  For whatever the reason, they’re not their self.  But you’ve got a compassion for them because you recognize that something is going wrong. When you have someone who has had a tragedy in their family, you recognize that you know they’re a great employee, but they’re not having their best day or their best week because of this tragedy. ”

The lesson for me is that you don’t lower your standards. You expect everybody to do their best and achieve their personal and organizational goals.  You do recognize, however, that you have to get to know the members of your team, to know what is going on with them to the extent that you and the other person feel comfortable sharing. That knowledge helps you to understand how much they have on their plate and whether you need to adjust and give some additional time, if possible, to help them reach their 100% goal accomplishment for themselves and for the organization.  That’s compassion.

 Where have you seen a values based leader keep the standard high while simultaneously demonstrating compassion?

Does Your Team Look Just Like You?

GEN Shelton views leading with diversity as a great attribute for values based leaders. When we listen to GEN Shelton talk about his strong belief in diversity, we come to understand that he views diversity in a much broader sense than what is traditionally viewed. He talks frequently about how the differences in people-different qualities, attributes, and perspectives bring a much better solution than having an internal echo chamber where everybody is alike.

He notes that there are multiple differences  (for example-age, education, ethnic background, nationality, gender, work history, and perspectives) that we need to embrace and bring to the table to identify the challenge or opportunity and come up with the best solution.  GEN Shelton likens this to his work as the 14th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He notes that “…the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force are all different. They have their own different cultures and ways of doing things, yet they come together to create the greatest fighting force in the world.”     He’s also seen that on his work with corporate boards, where an effective board comes from different perspectives to help the organization continue to move forward. Each board member’s diverse expertise is tapped to help shape the direction of the organization.

One key point I take away from GEN Shelton’s ideas on diversity is that a key role of a values based leader is to, as he states,  “merge and meld the talents and complimentary capabilities of people from a diverse point of view”. When we do that, we grow a much stronger, capable, and nimble team than we would if we only selected and worked with people who were just like us.  I’ve learned and re-learned that a key function of a leader is taking the time to bring people in from different points of view and backgrounds and then listen.   In many cases, it’s difficult, precisely because we’ve thought through the idea and have a point of view.  Yet, even though it is difficult, the decision is, in many instances, much better than if you have everybody who is just like you weighing in on the decision.

An analogy I’ve picked up is the idea of a of the leader needing to serve as a host or hostess at a large party. The host or hostess finds to first learn each guest’s interests and backgrounds are, then connecting them with other people to create an interesting conversation.  Similarly, I think a values based leader needs to consciously and continuously look for ways to connect and bring people together from different backgrounds and interests to solve large and complex challenges and opportunities that cross the organization.

Where have you seen diversity work as a strength in your personal or professional work?

Looking at your Organization and Culture as a Lens for Strategy

Many strategic thinkers look at strategy from two perspectives: the external environment, including industries and competition (PEST or STEEP analysis is a well known tool for examining the external environment) and the internal environment, focusing on what resources and capabilities the organization has to deploy (SWOT analysis is a standard tool for the internal environment). Peng and his colleagues suggest a third leg as a tripod for strategic management and execution. They suggest that a main element to think about is in situations where formal constraints are unclear or fuzzy, institution-based norms (culture)  and informal  networks will play a much larger role in guiding individual’s behavior.

How does this impact you as a strategic leader?  Especially in times of turbulence, the informal signals you send about what is important and valued (or punished) will have a large impact on the success of your strategy. One example I heard in programs focused on whether people get promoted or punished for risk-taking. No matter how much senior leaders talk about wanting to be bold and take risks, one of the clearest indicators of how much senior leaders value risk-taking comes from whether people who take risks and do not achieve the hoped-for success, or fail.

(Source: “The Institution-Based View as a Third Leg for a Strategy Tripod”, Peng, Sun, Pinkham, and Chen, Academy of Management Perspectives, August 2009.)

How Top Innovators Keep Winning

Nearly all innovative companies pursue one or more of these main innovative strategies:

  • Need Seekers actively and directly engage current and potential customers to shape new products and services based on superior end-user understanding, and strive to be the first to market with those new offerings.
  • Market Readers watch their customers and competitors carefully, focusing largely on creating value through incremental change and by capitalizing on proven market trends.
  • Technology Drivers follow the direction suggested by their technological capabilities, leveraging their investment in research and development to drive both breakthrough innovation and incremental change, often seeking to solve the unarticulated needs of their customers via new technology.

The success of each of the strategies depends on how closely companies, in pursuing innovation, align their innovation strategy with their business strategy and how much effort they devote to directly understanding the needs of end-users.  The capabilities required to pursue each strategy form a systematic set of skills, processes, and tools that companies must focus on to succeed at each stage of the innovation process.

Focusing on a systematic set of capabilities means that companies must first choose the capabilities that matter most to their particular innovation strategy, and then execute them well.  Their innovation efforts must be in sync with their overall corporate strategy: They must integrate the right innovation capabilities with the right set of firm-wide capabilities, as determined by their overall strategy.

Source: Strategy + Business, Winter 2010

The Great Repeatable Business Model

As budgets contract while missions expand, one way to accomplish the mission might be to look at how businesses innovate their expertise to grow and become more successful.  Zook and Allen offer some insights below:

  1. Most very successful organizations do not reinvent themselves through periodic “binges and purges”.  Instead, they focus relentlessly on their fundamental strengths, and moving from strength to strength.
  2. Successful organizations learn to deliver their differentiation to the front line, creating an organization that lives and breathes its strategic advantages day in and day out, and sustaining it through constant adaptation from the market.

Four actions you can employ to sustain your competitive advantage:

  1. Ensure  you and your management team agree on differentiation NOW and in the future-ask your top team: what do our end users see as our advantages over others? How do we know?
  2. Ask the same question to those who are on the front lines interacting with end users, customers, and partners. Are the advantages similar?
  3. Write your strategy on an index card-does it include and center on key sources of differentiation?
  4. Translate strategy into a few non-negotiables. Can you describe the simple principles that drive key behaviors, beliefs, values?  Are they adhered to on a daily basis?

The article also has some key categories you can use with your team to describe and distill areas of strategic advantage and innovation.

 (Source: 2011, Zook and Allen, Harvard Business Review)