New Beginnings: How to Gain Credibility in a New Role Without Slaughtering Sacred Cows

Sacred CowWhether you were recently promoted to a leadership position for the first time, or you are a seasoned leader hired into a new company, stepping into a new role is exciting . . . and it can also be fraught with landmines and interpersonal dynamics you never dreamed of. If you transition to your new role thoughtfully, you increase your odds of making a great impression on others, avoiding critical errors that come from underestimating the power of corporate culture, and laying the foundation for getting results later on.

The biggest tendency is to jump right in to show how good you are, regaling others with your knowledge or solving problems that you can’t wait to address. Unfortunately, those who have been around awhile might see things different and might even take offense at all of your new-fangled ideas.

Unless you were hired into a desperate situation with the expectation that you would clean house from Day 1, you would be wise to ease in to your new role and be a bit circumspect. For the first three to six months, here are 6 things to do or keep in mind when you are the new kid on the block:

1. Take it slowly.

Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to “fix” everything you see that is wrong (in your eyes) all at once (unless that’s why you were hired). Let people get to know you first. Slowing down also allows you to more fully understand why things are the way they are. If you rush to make changes, you’re sure to step on toes that you can’t afford to offend.

2. Clarify what will make you “successful”.

To do this, look at what would make you successful based on the role, what your boss is looking for from you, and what you want to personally accomplish long- and short-term to be successful.

3. Make your boss shine.

Need I say more? It’s always good to make your boss look good, so what can you do in your new role to support your boss’s agenda?

4. Foster a relationship with each direct report.

The better your team knows you as a person, the easier it is for them to put your ideas and suggestions into context. Get to know what’s important to them and for their careers. They will already have trust in you and know you have their best interests at heart.

5. Don’t risk being labeled an “outsider” from the get-go.

Align with the company’s values and behavioral expectations. Figure out how things get done. Get a feel for the sacred cows, pet peeves, superstars, and outsiders. In short, adapt to your new surroundings. You can point out when and if the company doesn’t “walk its talk” later once others know and trust you.

6. Observe and uncover issues without solving them immediately.

Especially in your area of responsibility, get to know other players, learn about current and on-going issues, and just listen and observe. Spot patterns, learn the history of things, and tune into where there are alliances and feuds. Quietly hypothesize about root causes and possible solutions.

Sometimes less is more, and that seems to be apt when starting a new role (and especially in a new company). Ease into your job in the first 3-6 months and let the company adjust to you before you attempt to impact the new culture. Once you are a better-known quantity and accepted as part of the group, you’ll have the credibility to voice your observations, concerns, and solutions and have them taken seriously.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more  atfirebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Payoffs of “No-Excuses” Leadership

Know Align InfluenceToo many leaders are quick to make excuses for why their companies aren’t performing to expectations by blaming others or circumstances outside themselves when things don’t go as planned.  However, if you are a true leader, you make no excuses and accept the responsibility for the results you get. By honing your own ability to lead, you will experience three payoffs that lead to success:

Payoff #1: You Know Yourself. As a leader, you have a life-sized laboratory or playground for exploring who you are, what you really want in life, and what you do to get what you want. As you become a more intentional leader, you shift to more deliberate, conscious choices and see more alignment between your intentions and impact. With this level of intentionality, you get the results you intended and don’t make excuses for the results you get.

Feedback is a primary way to get you to a place where you know yourself better, whether this feedback comes from assessments, other people, or the results you get from your actions. The trick is to be able to reflect on this feedback and to integrate it with your experiences. This allows you to know yourself better, which puts you well on your way to becoming a no-excuses leader.

Payoff #2: Align Your Business. Once you are more deliberate in the personal impact you intend, it follows that you would create that same alignment in your business. This alignment is about using your company’s intention (its mission, vision, goals, and values) to craft plans, procedures, processes, and systems that guide your employees to “walk the talk” regularly.

Creating and using a living, breathing strategic plan and current company goals, you and your leadership team ensure that daily work aligns with the company’s most important priorities. Every action taken, every promise made and acted upon reflects what you intended and wrote in the mission statement, your vision statement, and the strategic plan. You cultivate this same alignment with individual employees and teams throughout the company. With the business aligned, you decrease the need to make excuses for the outcomes you get.

Payoff #3: Express Yourself Clearly and Powerfully. The final payoff as a no-excuses leader is clear and powerful communication.  To achieve this, you see communication as a powerful, unifying process throughout your company. You check your own actions and words as well as your company’s systems to ensure the important communications employees need to hear are sent without mixed messages.

As a no-excuses leader you use a mix of stories, facts, and images to engage employees’ hearts and minds. You also learn to use influence more often than coercion to get stakeholders to join with you to accomplish you most important goals.

Socrates is attributed with saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Are you ready to examine your leadership to become a no-excuses leader?

 
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Reasons Your Strategic Plan Could Be a Waste of Time and Money

strategyMost people agree that having a plan for the future is a good thing. That’s why most leadership teams create a strategic plan. Yet most leadership teams do little or nothing with the plans they create other than referring to them from time to time as they gather dust on the shelf.

Why?

Simply stated, the plan they created was incomplete.

There are huge costs associated with an incomplete planning process:

  • Losing market leader status and falling behind;
  • Getting poor or lackluster financial and operational results;
  • Wasting time, money, and resources on a strategic plan that went nowhere; and
  • Losing credibility as a leadership team.
Useful strategic plans include three components.

If your leadership team omits or fails to execute any of these 3 key components, you won’t get the results you planned on. In the end, your strategic plan will be one big, costly “fail”.

One: The plan answers the “big” strategic planning questions in plain language without using jargon from an overly expensive consultant. These “big” questions include:
  • What legacy do we want to leave when all is said and done?
  • Who are our customers and how can we better serve them?
  • Who are our competitors and how can we beat them or do what they’re not doing?
  • What do we do best and how can we build on that edge?
  • What opportunities can we seize?
  • How will we recognize and respond to potential setbacks?
  • What are potential scenarios that we need to consider for the future, and how will we prepare for them?

Unfortunately, many leadership teams get mired down in philosophical discussions about these issues. Others come up with brilliant answers to these questions, but can’t quite bring their ideas into reality with clear, concrete, actionable initiatives that get done.

These big strategic planning questions are worthless if they don’t result in a few clear, compelling strategic initiatives to move the company forward.

Two: The plan must set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme.

A critical outcome of the beginning stages of the strategic planning process is to determine the most important priorities for the organization. After generating what might be a very long list of potential priorities, your leadership team must determine the relative value of each and hone in on only a few key priorities. The discussion that pares down the list of possible priorities can lead to greater clarity about the big strategic planning questions, especially about what the organization actually does best.

Once a list of no more than two or three priorities is agreed upon, the leadership team can come up with a unifying strategic theme. This is a one-line statement that conveys the overall strategic push for the organization, such as: “Beat ABC Corp.!” “Expand to India.” “0% medical errors.” “Become a magnet for talent.”

Here is one big mistake to avoid during this phase of planning: Trying to please everyone by settling on a long list of priorities. While a long list of “priorities” makes everyone feel included and valued, it makes it highly unlikely that you will get anything done completely if at all. Be a leader and make strategic choices.

Three: Have the guts to implement it.

The biggest complaint I hear about strategic plans is that no one really knows what the plan is because they never seem to get executed. There are a few reasons why:

The leadership team . . .

  • Neglected to commit essential resources to the plan, including capital, training, technology, and people.
  • Failed to take things off the plates of busy employees, and instead just stacked more work on them.
  • Lacked the will to call a halt to old initiatives that compete with the new.
  • Failed to set clear roles, responsibilities, accountability, and rewards systems in line with the plan.
  • Wimped out after a few setbacks or initial resistance.
  • A sound strategic planning process spends as much time on implementation planning as it does on the more lofty work of answering the key strategic questions and setting priorities. Otherwise, the plan stays in your head and never becomes real work with measurable results.

Some leadership teams are great at asking the big picture questions, but fail to follow up. Some set too many priorities, and can’t say “no” to good ideas, despite limited resources. Others are strong at executing, but lack the vision to develop compelling strategic initiatives.

Which of the above areas is weakest for you and your leadership team?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Tips to Increase Your Personal Productivity

personal productivity, time managementYou’re smart. You’re hard-working. You have the necessary resources and good employees. Yet, you feel as though you get nothing done during most days. Most of the time, you feel off-balance and pulled in a hundred different directions. You spend to much time feeling unfocused and wondering why you can’t get the “important” stuff done.

In short, you feel overworked and “unproductive”.

When looking to increase employee productivity, many leaders often look at the structure of their business, employee performance and engagement, and work processes. And these are excellent places to tweak to make sure the business is hitting on all cylinders. However, when it comes to your own personal productivity, it’s something you probably weren’t taught in school.

You might underestimate the impact you have on their employees, not realizing that your energy, habits, values, and focus radiate throughout your company or area of responsibility. For this reason, any productivity gains from improving company-wide work processes and employee performance can be hampered if you haven’t examined your own ability to be more personally productive.

Being personally productive doesn’t mean you need to be pitching in and doing the work that is assigned to and more appropriately done by others. Rather, it requires you to do the work appropriate to your leadership role effectively.

To maximize your personal productivity, start with these three ideas:

1. Design your calendar to reflect business priorities.

Your company’s current goals come from the strategic plan. In turn, your calendar must reflect these strategic goals and priorities. For example, if your company is aiming to increase revenues by 10% over at 24-month period, you must schedule the appropriate weekly activities that ensure you are doing your part to achieve that goal.

Examples of these types of valuable tasks might be (1)  recognizing employees who are going the extra mile toward the company goals; (2) meeting with your direct reports to monitor progress toward the overall goal; or (3) working with a team to help them determine how work processes can be improved to help achieve the goal.

It seems like such a simple concept. Yet it is easy to get caught up in the daily swirl of “administrivia” and lose track of the next steps you must do or follow up on to keep the larger goals and initiatives moving forward.

And you really probably need to concentrate on these goal-driven activities about 20% of the time you spend at work (or about 10-12 hours per week). The remaining hours of your weekly calendar will reflect the routine activities that normally consume your time – meetings, phone calls, email, keeping up on industry trends, reviewing financials, board business, meeting with key customers, processing through the information that lands in your office, etc.

2. Create a personal workflow system.

Make sure you are comfortable with the way information flows through your office. Then, consciously and intentionally dedicate time everyday to process through the information coming into your office via your physical inbox, phone, email, and other systems in use within your company. Again, the goals from your strategic plan help you prioritize the items to do or delegate to others.

3. Delegate more.

And speaking of delegation . . . .  Because your aim is to be productive rather than merely busy, make sure you are doing the work that is appropriate to you goal. Other tasks can be delegated to others. Be sure to fully utilize your administrative assistant and direct reports. Delegating to others will free up time for you and give opportunities to develop through delegated tasks to those who have the skills and expertise. Delegate work if it is not critical that you perform it and if it’s work that is appropriate in responsibility level for the position to which you want to delegate it.

You will find that putting these simple steps in place keeps your mind clearer and more focused and reduces stress by creating a framework that helps keep your most important work moving forward and in perspective.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more about her at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Are Your Meetings a Snoozefest?

employee motivation, meetingsWhat is the difference between a newsletter and a meeting?  You think this is a trick question?  It’s obvious, right? Apparently not so obvious to a lot of leaders.

Like a memo or newsletter, many meetings end up as simply a way to disseminate information.  Those attending go around the horn and update the others in the room about what’s going on in their respective areas of responsibility.  Or maybe during the meeting someone “trains” you on a new procedure, product, or service.  Thus, many meetings are simply newsletters in disguise.  If you are gathering others in a room or in a virtual meeting space to merely disseminate information, send a newsletter or memo instead.

In contrast, you should use a meeting format when there is a topic to discuss that is critical to the long-and short-term success of your organization.  As proposed in Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting, every good meeting needs “conflict” . . . something that will spark all kinds of thought, discussion and disagreement, allow enough time to discuss the issue(s), and not mix administrative, tactical and strategic topics.

With multiple options for interfacing and communicating with others available today, it is even more important to determine whether or not a meeting (whether virtual or face-to-face) is really necessary. The main reasons to have a meeting:

1.       To check-in daily with those working with you.  This is a short 5-10 minute administrative meeting where a supervisor and her direct reports briefly huddle to exchange information regarding their top priorities of the day.  It allows for quick updates, coordination and coverage if needed.

2.       To report back on the progress of tactics that are being implemented and are based upon the goals generated during a strategy session.  This is a weekly meeting where an entire team meets to report on individual efforts to impact team and organization goals and to make new commitments for the coming week.  In addition to Lencioni’s book, I recommend The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris Chesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling for a practical structure to these types of meetings.

3.       To discuss the current strategy related to the organization’s current business goals and the progress being made.    These can be held monthly or as needed and usually last from 2-4 hours.

4.       To do more in-depth organizational planning, including to review strategy, industry trends, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  This can be a two- to three-day meeting held offsite and may include department heads and other senior leaders, who gather to brainstorm, analyze, prioritize, and discuss where the business is going with respect to its market, products, service, or structure.  Sometimes they also discuss internal talent and succession planning.

All of these meeting types require the participation of the attendees around a meaningful topic.

So reflect on the meetings you convene or attend.  If you lead the meetings, what can you do make them more engaging for the others in the room? What topics, central to your organization, need to be discussed more and would lend themselves to lively discussion and analysis?  Assuming little or no discussion is required, what straightforward information currently shared at your meetings can be shared in a way that doesn’t take meeting time?

In short, instead of holding a meeting where others are dragging in a few minutes late, dreading the time they will have to spend listening to the same old irrelevant information and hoping there will be someone else in the room they can text with under the table, what can you do to your meetings, so others can’t wait to come and participate . . . ?

Leader as Thinker

neuron thinkingIt’s the end of the day, and you’re beat.  You’ve been “on the go” since 7 a.m. and you’re ready to call it a day.  Most of your days seem to go this way. Do you make time to think rather than react all day?

When I ask my clients when they do their strategic thinking, I get predictable responses – everything from a look of “you’ve got to be kidding” to a question like, “Really?  It’s OK to spend my time doing that?”  I take the responses as a symptom of American culture that preaches “to be busy” equals “to be productive”.

But the higher up the corporate food chain you go, the less time you should spend on “being busy” and the more time you can and should spend on thinking.  Insufficient time spent thinking about your business can lessen the quality of the decisions you make about it.

In the Western world, the basis of good solid thinking goes back 2500 years to Socrates in Ancient Greece.  His method involved asking deep questions and probing for answers before accepting an idea of as worthy of belief.   Fast forward to our experiences today, where we spend hours on activities that are quick, immediate, and/or passively mindless, like texting, watching TV, spending time online updating our status, or engaging in various other forms of pure entertainment.  No wonder we find it hard to believe that we ought to spend time engaging our minds in a deep, intellectual pursuit.

“Thinking time” doesn’t have to be spent alone in a locked office working on your company or department’s strategic plan (although that could be very productive).  It can be time you spend walking around a competitor’s retail store, observing how they operate.  It can be lunch in a nearby park, observing the comings and goings of local flora, fauna, and people, which may lead to serendipitous connections later on.  You can walk around your own corporate office, retail store, or manufacturing facility to observe what’s going on.

Would you rather think in tandem with others?  Invite someone out to have a beverage and conversation.  You can even spend your commute time thinking.  Whatever will afford you time for meaningful introspection and reflection is the type of thinking activity that will be beneficial.

The point is that your “thinking time” will provide you with information when you need it later on.  From observations, come connections, and the more connections you make, the better prepared your mind is to draw upon seemingly unrelated information and events that might just provide you with that next brilliant insight.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.