Sunday, February 10, 2013

Employees with digital influence have much to offer


Since shifting from a manufacturing to information economy managers and leaders have seen their job descriptions and annual reviews include the phrase “The ability to influence others” – sometimes without authority.  Developing trusting relationships combined with good communication skills and a healthy amount of emotional intelligence has helped manages and leaders sway opinion, gain consensus and collaborate on difficult issues.  
Today our “friends” and contacts have expanded beyond the four walls of our companies, to the world of social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, making the pool of people we can potential influence exponentially larger. We might have a few hundred people to influence within our organizations, and maybe a few hundred more with people we know in professional associations and acquaintances.   But, in cyberspace, the number of people to influence could easily be in the tens of thousands.
According to Thomas H. Davenport and Bala Iyer in their contribution “Wielding Digital Influence”, in the Harvard Business Review article “3 Skills Every 21-Century Manager Needs”,  “As companies become less hierarchical, the effective use of online networks will be crucial to success.”    Savvy digital influencers are adding great value to their careers and their organizations.   Let’s say Dave has an impressive online network, and during a hiring push, he tweets about his company’s need for talented engineers, and quickly receives hundreds of candidates, several of whom he hires. 
Most of us understand how to use online tools to build and expand our digital networks, but few know how to gather information and wield influence.  Davenport and Iyer say we need three things to build an effective online network; reputation, specialization and network position. 
In the virtual world you build your reputation by offering interesting content, drawing attention to your web presence and inspiring others to circulate and act on your ideas.  Services like Klout, Identified, PeerIndex, and Empire Avenue will score you on the basis of how many people you influence and how influential your contacts are. 
Like in the real world it is important to focus on key areas of expertise.  A “Jack of all trades” doesn’t get noticed, but a specialist, does. Overseas supply chain management, hotel revenue manager learning leadership skills and using performing arts to boost innovation in companies are examples of specialization. Demonstrating deep knowledge, establishing links with other experts and offering relevant information and referrals are keys to specialization on the web.
The best online networks build their position by acting as a bridge between unconnected groups.  This can increase your influence, because it gives you a change to identify potential collaborations and to accumulate quality information.  For example, Janet could connect her group of IT outsourcers with an association of young entrepreneurs. 
In the near future, the authors predict, “… organizations will begin to seek out employees with demonstrably strong online connections and a track record of wielding influence through them. The best networkers will become even more highly valued.”  Imagine that at your next job interview you’re asked what kind of digital influence you have?
Dean Newlund is President of Mission Facilitators International, Inc.  He can be reached at www.missionfacilitators.com

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The New Normal


There are times in history when conditions come together to create a large shift in economic, social and technological landscapes: The end of the Civil and second World Wars; the equal rights movement in the ’60’s the birth of the .com boom of the late ‘90s; and more recently the shift in the US political base come to mind. Although not always seen, what happens outside the walls of a business affects what goes on inside. To survive and thrive during these great times of change, leaders and their companies need to have their eyes and ears wide open to the trends affecting their businesses. 

Today, we are experiencing several large shifts at the same time.   For the next 19 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers will reach retirement age every day, turning most of them into savers instead of spenders.  Since 70% of our GNP is the result of consumer spending, this will most likely dampen economic growth over this period.  It is anticipated that this will put greater pressure on companies to grow their revenues and/or reduce their expenses to maintain profit growth – basically forcing them to do more with less.  Additionally, a growing minority population, concerns over the environment, and a shift away from conservative to liberal views is changing what customers want and how they decide to express their brand and company loyalty.  Further, digital influence is opening up new markets and new ways to hire and develop employees as well as engage customers.  This new chapter in the story of the US marketplace is expected to last for at least the next decade, if not longer.  

This “New Normal” is defined by five major challenges affecting leaders and their companies today: Maintaining worker productivity; adjusting to the changed economic environment; maintaining and increasing profit margins; adjusting to shifts in the culture; building tomorrow’s workforce.  (To get the full white paper go to www.mfiblog.blogspot.com). 

Many organizations typically falter and fail when there is such a significant seismic shift on how things get done.  Those that understand the changes and adapt can thrive (such as the story of Google and Microsoft), while those that don’t can fail.

We can look to the past and see examples of leaders and their companies undergoing great transformation through adversity. 

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 to rescue it from near bankruptcy the company was producing a random array of computers and peripherals including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh.  Microsoft, Dell, IBM and others flooded the market, making consumers hungry for something new and exciting. Biographer Walter Isaacson shares the time when Jobs told his team to focus on only four products, and to cancel the rest.  “… by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company”, said Isaacson.

With heightened awareness and a disciplined approach to setting and implementing strategies, leaders can address how their organizations can successfully adapt to the changed marketplace, and maintain high levels of engagement with both their employees and customers.  

Dean Newlund is president of Mission Facilitators International, Inc., and can be reached at www.missionfacilitators.com

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Successfully Managing the Relationship with the Boss

Even with all the assessments, scorecards and performance reviews there appears to be a growing chasm between performance and perception.  Why just yesterday a coaching client of mine  - we’ll call him Tom - scratched his head when saying, “I thought my work would speak for itself. Now it appears, that in addition to my other roles, I need to be my own PR agency.”
He’s right.  Since most of us will change jobs 11 times in our lifetime, the employee has become, what Daniel Pink calls in his book by the same title, a member of the Free Agent Nation.  In such a world the employee / employer relationship is based less on loyalty and more on projects that begin and end; much like how temporary workers and small businesses operate with their clients.  Add to that, virtual meetings, email-addiction and the increasing speed of work, you get a growing distance between the value people create and the perceptions others have of that work.
In some distant fantasyland called the Good Old Days, business leaders had more time to understand and appreciate the full value of their employees.  Sure the employee / employer relationship had its own challenges back then, but chaos, uncertainty and the speed of change didn’t create a super-race of multi-taskers who can’t sit still and take full notice of those around them.  Today, we’re in what Thomas H. Davenport, expert in business process innovation, calls the ‘attention economy”.  Get noticed; good for you. Don’t; good luck.
Which brings up the question Tom asked: “How do I ‘manage up’ when I’m so focused on keeping my head down on my work? 
Treat your work like you would a small business owner.  In addition to your external customers, get to know the needs, whims and concerns of your internal customers, namely, your employees, peers, and most importantly, your boss.  What goals do your boss have for her department?  How are those goals measured? What expectations does he have of you? I asked Tom to ask his boss two additional questions: “What three things should I do that will provide great value to the department and to our working relationship? What three things would I do that would severely damage your impression of me?
Next, no news is not always good news.  In a communication-vacuum your boss will fill the void. Your job is to fill those voids with stories and impressions that accurately paint the picture of your performance and the value you provide to the organization.  So, shift your work priorities to match those of your boss, schedule regular meetings to provide updates, send emails, consistently, sharing your latest successes and setbacks.  Why share setbacks?  No one likes surprises.  Sooner or later mistakes will be known. Be up front with your setback, and share how you will remedy the issue.  No one expects perfection.  But pro-active problem solves are well respected. Lastly, you’re allowed to brag if you give credit to others. 
Dean Newlund is President of Mission Facilitators International.  He can be reached at www.missionfacilitators.com

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Neuroscience of leadership


Think of your brain as a gatekeeper for change: Give it what it wants and it will help you evolve and grow into an effective leader. Don’t give it what it wants, and it might make you feel apathetic, dull, fearful of the unknown and suspicious of new ideas.
According to David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz in “The Neuroscience of Leadership”, our brain rejects change when it’s overly tired or overly comfortable.   Like overloading a circuit, the brain gets overwhelmed when given a lot of new information, in a short amount of time.  It’s advised, then, to take a break every 90 minutes from mentally taxing work.   When the brain is overly comfortable, it is engaged in accepted beliefs and habits, and uses a lot less energy. Remember your first day learning how to drive a car and how much mental energy that took and how little it takes now?   However, some – overly comfortable - habits need to be broken. Most meetings, communications, managing others are so well routinized that we pay about as much attention to them as we do driving home from work.  
The brain is also like a two year old: It doesn’t like being told what to do.  It wants to discover the answer on its own, and when it does, it gives off an adrenaline-like rush at the moment of self-discovery.   According to Rock and Schwartz this rush of gamma rays creates links across many parts of the brain.  These connections can enhance our mental resources and overcome the brain’s resistance to change.   As a leader, ask more, tell less and bite your lip when you know the answer.  
When it comes to motivating others to change, Daniel Pink in Drive says incentive  / punishment attempts do more harm than good when applied to cognitive work.  Focus on giving yourself and others more autonomy, opportunities for mastery and a connection to a bigger purpose.
The brain delivers on what it expects.   If it expects customers to be overly demanding it will deliver guarded, rude or jaded behavior. Psychologist Martin Seligman was able to dramatically reduce the level of depression in 94% of chronic patients by having them focus each day on three things they’d done well.  Instead of focusing on the shortcomings, gaps, problems or issues with yourself or your team, identify, accentuate and expand on strengths and solutions.
A deeply focused brain taps into a network of mental resources and helps turn change into desired behavior.   Steve Jobs was famous for focus.  His biographer, Walter Isaacson described how he would often lead brainstorming sessions by eliminating a list of ten great ideas down to 4.  “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do” the biographer quoted Jobs as saying.
And finally, for the brain to master anything, it needs repetition.  A 1997 study by Baruch College found that a training program alone increased productivity by 28 percent, but follow up coaching to the training increased productivity by 88 percent. 
Dean Newlund is President of Mission Facilitators International, Inc. He can be reached at www.missionfacilitators.com

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stress: How it's holding companies back from moving forward


In an average week I may interact with 10-20 clients in my role as an executive coach and strategic facilitator, and it seems that everyone has been experiencing the same thing; increasing levels of stress.   One person I talked to last week admitted being addicted to stress; and then followed by saying “what am I suppose to do when I have nothing to do?”

As I look beyond the efforts of companies to engage employees, develop their leaders, provide service to their customers and create innovative solutions it becomes apparent that all of these well-intended efforts are being held back or even derailed by negative stress.  In order to survive and thrive in the 21st century we need to be more aware of the effects of stress on people and how to reverse it.

As Stephen Covey said in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, companies that push employees harder to increase output, without taking the time to examine and improve the process, create a cycle of diminishing returns.  New ideas for improvement happen during reflection and if employees are so harried and taxed, they don’t have the energy or motivation to do this important “thought work”.

According to an article by Dr. Kevin Flemming, more that 60% of work absences last year in the United States were attributed to psychological stress and other related issues.  This cost American companies $57 billion.

And if stressed-out employees alienate customers what happens when they aren’t overly stressed? According to a study by Frederick Reichheld and W. Earl Sasser, a 5 percent reduction in customer defection translates into anywhere from a 30 percent to an 85 percent increase in corporate profitability.

So if I step back from my own stress and do this reflective “thought work” Covey talks about, I wonder what part of negative stress is self-imposed? In our efforts to pursue our “unalienable Right to happiness” do we need to re-discover what really makes us happy? Are we trying to find happiness in the wrong places and is our unmet need for happiness the cause for some of our stress?  Jacob Needlemen thinks so in his book The American Soul when he asserts we often seek happiness through the acquisition of things. “Materialism is a disease of the mind”, he says, “starved for ideas about our inner and outer world.” 

Individually we need to remind ourselves of what truly makes us happy: Probably not cars, furniture and shoes but family, friends, adventure, learning and play. And by spending as little as 20 percent of our time doing what we love to do we reduce the risk of burnout. Having a balanced life also needs as much importance as finishing projects at work.

Companies need to place employee stress on their risk management radar.  It is hurting the bottom line, strangling innovation and derailing all the great ideas that come out of strategic planning sessions.  Movement forward cannot be achieved without addressing the stress that is holding us back.

Dean Newlund is President of Mission Facilitators International, Inc. He can be reached at www.missionfacilitators.com









Monday, August 20, 2012

Moving from Expert to Agile Leader.


Appeared in the August 15, 2012 edition of the Arizona Republic.
The first question I was asked during my first day of college was “what’s your major?”  I thought the purpose of college was to explore ideas not limit options. I was given a college advisor who got the unenviable assignment of dealing with us misfits he labeled “undecided”. The pressure to specialize extends into business as well.  We get trained and hired to be electricians, teachers, nurses and restaurant managers. Being a specialist gets the job.  But growing a career requires a diverse set of skills and attitudes.
Jeff is a cardiologist and an emerging leader in a local hospital.  He's been successful treating patients and doing research.  Now the organization he works for sees him as a future leader.  But a 360-degree assessment reveals Jeff is weak in communication, setting a vision and collaborating and engaging with peers.  As Marshall Goldsmith, a noted Harvard Business Review author and executive coach has said, what made you successful in the past will not be what makes you successful as a leader in the future.   
Jeff is not alone.  Mike Lombardo and Bob Eichinger say in the book FYI: Learning Agility “Less than 30% of an organization’s high performers have the potential to rise to and succeed in broader senior-level, critical positions.” So what does Jeff do? How does he abandon being the expert and take on unfamiliar roles of collaborator, communicator and networker?
Know thyself.  According to a 2010 Cornell University study, self-awareness was found to be the #1 predictor of executive success.  For Jeff that means developing the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to new situations.
Expand the network.  Jeff spent so many years focused on his clinical and research work his world now only consists of other cardiologists.  He needs to know the needs and concerns of others outside his specialty and expand his network to areas he’s not the expert, and by so doing, risk looking vulnerable.
Think Medici.  The wealthy Medici family in Italy fueled the outpouring of knowledge, culture and ideas that flourished during the renaissance.  Financial support was a big contributing factor, but so was the intersection of artisans: Painters learned new techniques from their interactions with sculptors; musicians came up with new ideas by learning from actors. Jeff will gain new insights by his interaction and learning from pediatricians and ophthalmologists, as well as marketers and finance managers.  Learning from outside our industry or specialty increases the possibility for innovation and opportunities.
Market Me, Inc..  Jeff thinks his work will speak for itself.  But what he doesn’t realize is everyone is too busy for them to fully understand and appreciate all the great things Jeff has done.  He may wait a long time before someone taps him on his shoulder to indicate he’s been promoted.  Instead, Jeff should send updates to leadership, actively pursue opportunities and initiate new projects.  Jeff needs to devote 5% of this time as the PR Agency for Jeff, Inc.
Dean Newlund is President of Mission Facilitators International, Inc. He can be reached at www.missionfacilitators.com