Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Keeping the Right People on the Bus

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I’m the guest author in the June edition of the STRe Solutions Newsletter. You can find the entire newsletter here, or read my article below.

What’s your secret for keeping your best employees engaged and motivated?

In the classic business book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins states that to be effective, organizations need to first get “the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive.” In essence, who you have on your team, is more important for the organization’s success than where you are headed and how you get there.

While I agree that getting the right people on the bus is as critical today as it was back in 2001 when “Good to Great” was first published, today’s leaders are faced with more complicated challenges.

Most companies have done a good job hiring highly talented, super-smart people. Especially in today’s economy, finding the “who” is not the problem. Where they struggle is keeping them engaged and focused on the “where” and the “how”. To say it another way, you can have strong individual players, but unless there is an overarching purpose that requires them to become a team, little will be accomplished.

For this to happen, organizations need to be two things.

First, they need to be smart. Smart organizations have the basics: Sales, Finance, HR, R&D, Product Development, IT, Services, Support, etc… — all the bits and pieces that keep a company running. The truth is most companies are plenty smart. In today’s world though, that’s not enough.

Organizations have to be more than smart — they have to be healthy as well.

Healthy organizations have low politics (not no politics — but politics that don’t get in the way). They have high morale, engaged employees, and no surprise, they have high productivity. Another thing I see in a healthy organization is a lack of confusion about where the company is going and how what every employee is doing fits.

I saw this time and time again in my 13 years with Federal Express where employees would regularly do amazing things to ensure that our customers were getting the service they expected — delivering critical payroll checks in a blizzard and completing customer pick-ups during the Loma Prieta earthquake are just two of many examples.

The trap that many companies fall into is that you can’t do one without the other and you can’t think about them separately. For organizations to be effective, you must embed the smart stuff with the healthy stuff, keeping the right people engaged and productive.

Employee engagement happens when four things occur:

* The Leadership Team is aligned and cohesive
* There is absolute clarity about the organization’s direction (strategy)
* Every person in the organization understands how what they do fits with the strategy
* Organization policies and practices support the above (this does not happen nearly enough)

One of my favorite quotes is from General Norman Schwarzkopf, who I heard speak not long after Desert Storm. He said: “Great leaders never tell people how to do their jobs. They set the goals and establish the framework. Lousy leaders think they know it all, and all the while, their organizations sit there, aquiver with potential.”

What are some of your best practices for keeping the right people on the bus? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Is Your Strategy MOSTLY Right?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

In the 1987 classic movie, “The Princess Bride,” there is a scene where the hero, Westley, is thought have been killed by his nemesis, Prince Humperdink. His friends bring him to the home of Miracle Max, who proclaims that in fact, Westley is not completely dead, but merely MOSTLY dead.

Perhaps an odd transition to organization strategy, but it was the analogy that leapt to mind when reading a recent blog post from Harvard Business Publishing entitled, Lessons Learned from 30 Years of Leadership .

While I am getting uncomfortably close to that milestone myself, I will let Tony Tjan, CEO of Cue Ball and Dick Harrington, former CEO of Thomson Reuters speak for me as they talk about the three most important lessons Harrington has learned over his long career:

First: Having a ‘directionally correct’ strategy (Lesson Learned: Don’t get caught in the minutia)

Second: Execution focus – alignment and communication (Lesson Learned: Organizational clarity around a small number of ‘must do’ objectives is crucial)

Third: Build in systems to ensure true customer intimacy (Lesson Learned: Never assume that you know everything about your customer’s needs)

Simple yet eloquent points that never go out of style; worth communicating over and over again.

Many years ago, as a young Managing Director with Federal Express, I attended a meeting for Sales and Operations Directors and above. I can’t remember the purpose of the meeting, but do recall an impassioned speech given by our COO Jim Barksdale (who subsequently became CEO at Netscape). I vividly remember him saying at one point, “You people are always looking for the 100% solution and nothing gets done around here. Give me 80% every time”.

In other words, get it MOSTLY right, focus, execute, and iterate as necessary.

What leadership lessons are important to you? Is getting it “mostly right”, good enough for you?

Thanks, Amelia