By the Numbers – Capturing Lessons Learned

Much institutional knowledge in companies is lost through turnover and poor communication. Such institutional information is often critical to successful operations and execution of company goals. One way to preserve and share knowledge and expertise is to actively capture, store and share “lessons learned”. However, for most, it’s easier said than done.

This infographic compiles the numbers related to capturing, retaining, and sharing lessons learned:

lessons learned

 

 

Align Your Leadership Spine

leadership alignmentRemember the 55-38-7 communication rule? Even though its specifics have been disputed, there is truth to the idea that the messages you send are muddled when your words don’t match your behaviors. The same confusion can occur between your company’s strategy, initiatives, and daily work. To avoid confusion, align this leadership “spine” by adjusting your intention, attention, and actions. When you do, strategy and initiatives inform daily work and flow together. When you align these leadership activities, you bolster your capacity to lead. Here’s how:

Clarify Your Intentions

Intentions set the course for what you want. Your intentions seem obvious to you, but they aren’t necessarily obvious to everyone else. Without the benefit of knowing exactly what is in YOUR head, others interpret your messages based on what’s in THEIR heads. For example, from your perspective, if you’re hesitant to move forward on something, you might be concerned about identified risks. However, others might interpret your slow decision-making as a lack of know-how or of confidence or interest in moving forward with an initiative.

Your intentions are unclear, when:
1) your decision and resulting action plans are disconnected from your company’s vision, mission, values, and strategy and/or
2) you haven’t communicated your decision and proposed action plan in a way that explicitly ties them to the company’s broader strategy.

To clarify your intentions, create a clear line of connection between company vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities/goals by highlighting the decisions you made and actions taken. Communicate these connection to direct reports and others before you start moving your decisions forward.

Move From Distraction to Focused Attention

With clear intentions, your employees will follow your lead regarding where to put THEIR focus. Thus, you must limit distractions and model an ability to focus your attention on the things that will help your company stay the course.

To determine your level of distraction versus focus, look at how much time and effort you give to people and tasks related to what you say are the company’s most important priorities. The 80/20 rule serves as a general guideline. That is, strive to spend approximately 20% of your weekly working time performing tasks that are appropriate to your role and that relate to your team or company’s important initiatives.

Check yourself by looking back at how you’ve been using your time over the past couple of weeks. If you’ve been distracted from the company’s most important priorities, look at what’s getting in your way (e.g., allowing unnecessary interruptions, unclear work processes for direct reports that create dependency on you, failing to take time to analyze data or to plan next steps, etc.).

Take Deliberate Action

With clear intentions and focused attention on important priorities, you’re ready to “walk the talk” and to take action, appropriate for your role, to move things forward. You could . . .

  • spend time following up with direct reports on progress in their respective roles,
  • communicate with a broader group of employees about what’s happening and how progress is being made,
  • spend time fostering internal and external relationships that will further those initiatives, and/or
  • ensure direct reports develop new competencies that support the initiatives.

The bottom line is to do the tasks and strengthen the relationships that will further the original intention of the strategic and tactical plans.

It seems so simple to make sure your words and actions are reflecting company priorities. Yet, if you don’t consciously maintain that aligned focus each day, you can easily become reactive and find yourself distracted by events that aren’t worth your time and attention. In the end, you will see how powerful it is to align the leadership “vertebrae” of intention, attention, and action.

 

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 corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics during rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Be Unpopular During Strategic Plan Execution

executionCreating a strategic plan is such an accomplishment. After all, you spend tons of time, energy, and money going through the planning process. However, the work has just begun. Now, as the rubber meets the road, things can easily fall apart. Many employees will resist changing what they have always done. Yet, others will be excited at the prospect of going in a different direction. If, as part of your strategic plan, you don’t have a specific plan to execute your strategy, you will be a very unpopular leader.

Here are 10 surefire ways to become that unpopular leader:

1. Never mention your big-picture vision.

Employees need to be reminded of the big picture your company is working towards. However, some leaders rarely or never refer back to that vision during the execution of the strategic plan because they get so focused on “doing” the plan. Realize that keeping that vision fresh in people’s minds helps guide them through the excitement and the drudgery of change.

2. Attempt to eat the elephant all at once.

One way to decrease the awkwardness and the anxiety of any change is to break the overall plan down into manageable pieces. If you do not look for quick wins that are easy and map out milestones to focus on along the way, you are likely to overwhelm employees who will give up before they even start.

3. Discount stakeholder interests

Can you believe that not everyone is going to be psyched about any new direction mapped out by your strategic plan? You’ll be extremely unpopular if you fail to leverage the enthusiasm and support of those who are on board. And you’ll be “toast” if you fail to influence the “resistors” or neutralize those who are outright antagonistic.

4. Ignore potential risks.

Hopefully all will go well with your new strategy; however, you’ll lose support if you don’t plan for the worst in at least some respects.

5. Overlook current company processes, structures, and systems that get in the way.

Ever been subject to a process or system within a company that seemed to be at odds with what the company said was important? If you change your strategy, your employees will loathe you if you don’t also update and align the way things work.

6. Remain silent and aloof.

The most common way to be unpopular while executing your strategic plan is to rarely if ever speak of it. Employees get disgruntled without almost constant references to why, what, who, and how things are proceeding.

7. Fumble new insights and ideas along the way.

If you don’t have a way to capture new insights as you go along, your employees will lose respect for you and what you’re trying to accomplish. Without a way to vet and champion unanticipated new ideas, you will miss out on new innovations that could make you a hero.

8. Allow employees to dodge adopting new conduct and attitudes.

You will surely become unpopular if you don’t require everyone (including yourself) to adjust your thinking and conduct to support your strategic plan. When conduct and attitudes don’t align with new goals, old patterns will sabotage what you’re trying to achieve.

9. Fail to resolve setbacks and remove obstacles.

Your popularity will take a nose dive if you fail to follow up on setbacks and obstacles. Tracking and tending to these issues is critical.

10. Forego recognizing and celebrating achievements.

Employees feel dejected if you forget to acknowledge the attainment of milestones or even the final goal before jumping immediately into the next phase or initiative. Don’t be the leader who forgets to acknowledge and celebrate success and achievement throughout the journey.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can. Simply include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Add Wisdom to Your Company’s Strategy

leverage, key performance indicatorsIf your company is like most, you set goals then wait to see what happens — as if merely stating the goal will bring it about.

In reality, for goals to make a real difference to your company, you need to pay more attention than that. You must pay attention to what you and your employees will do differently to move an ambitious goal forward. And this often requires infusing some wisdom into the process – wisdom that comes from using data that drives and measures progress toward a goal.

How do you gain the wisdom to get the results you want? You get it from past experience and intentional trial and error now. It is wisdom, rooted in the experimentation of science in the form of “independent variables” and “dependent variables”.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – E.O. Wilson, entomologist

In science, an “independent variable” is a condition or value you change to see what effect it has on something else. That “something else” meant to be impacted is the “dependent variable”.

Think of a science fair and the ubiquitous experiments involving growing plants. Usually, kids varied one of many growing conditions to see what would support or inhibit plant growth. Some of the things they would vary included amounts of sunlight, amount of water, etc. Each condition changed was an “independent variable”. Plant growth is the “dependent variable” because it would depend (hypothetically) on what was done with the chosen independent variable.

A straightforward business example would be a desire to decrease production time for a widget by minimizing manufacturing downtime to while maintaining current quality. Manufacturing downtime is the independent variable and production time is the dependent variable.

Applied to your company goals, independent variables are called Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or “lead measures”. Thus, independent variables are to a hypothesis as KPIs are to strategic goals. They are the key to gaining real wisdom around what will allow your company to successfully achieve its goals.

To gain such wisdom regarding your goals, run the experiment by simply restating your goal in the form of a question to more easily identify relevant KPIs. For example, if the goal is to decrease production time by 10% by December 31, restate it as a question. “How can we decrease production time by 10%, by December 31, without sacrificing quality?” The answers to your business question will point you in the direction of possible KPIs. Then, you can vet further for potential impact and your ability to control them.

Unfortunately, many leaders fall short when it comes to gaining wisdom. They don’t develop and track KPIs in an intentional and deliberate way. Instead, many leave it to chance that employees will make the adjustments needed to get to the company goal. Or if they do identify the KPIs, they don’t work with their teams to design “experiments” to prove or disprove that the KPIs are affecting the goal.

How are you adding wisdom that informs your company’s strategy? Which goals and related KPIs is your team focusing on now? How are you showing a correlation or causation (or lack thereof) between those KPIs and the goal?
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can. Simply include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Create Better Focus by Reframing Your Approach to Achieving Goals

experiement goalsBased on a 2011 McKinsey study, only 10% of executives were “very satisfied” with how they spend their time. Also, 50% of executives were not allocating their work time on activities tied to company goals. Why weren’t these executives focused on the very goals they were setting for their companies? Are goals intimidating, bringing up fears of failure or success.

Not sure but maybe the way most of us approach goals needs reframing.

What if you saw those same goals more like hypotheses that allow you to set up experiments? When you approach company goals as experimenting, it seems to create a sense of taking action, giving permission to fail, and learning from mistakes. Additionally, framing your approach as experiments gives permission to take time to identify and control variables, so that you more intentionally focus your efforts. It is that focus that is key to moving your company goals forward.

So, here are some thoughts on how to do that:

1. What control do the employees in your area of responsibility have toward achieving the hypothesis / goal?

Think about (a) what’s within your employees’ control as far as achieving the goal and (2) to what degree doing those things will have an impact. Once you ferret out these variables, you and your employees can decide with which variables to experiment. Then, it’s a matter of designing work experiments and measuring the results. Implicit in this is also the ability to change the variables and the approach if desired results don’t happen.

2. Which work activities for YOUR role are “high-value” because they directly affect the chosen variables and experiments?

Based on the experiments you and your employees have selected, determine ways you can ensure the experiments occur, the variables are tracked, and results are interpreted for successful outcomes and possible adjustments. Maybe there are things you already do. Maybe they are things you should start doing. Either way, these activities have “high-value” for your leadership role. And you don’t have to go overboard re-tooling your weekly calendar: using the 80/20 Pareto Principle, you should consider spending only about 20% of your working time on them.

Include meetings, reviewing data, celebrating success, following up with direct reports, mentoring your employees, your own professional development, and activities that build and nurture relationships that are important for achieving the goal.

3. Commit to making goal activities happen.

One of the best ways to make sure you do your “high-value” work activities is to commit to them by scheduling them on your calendar with the right frequency and duration. Once they are on your calendar, you have carved out space to dedicate to them. What do you do if something else comes along for a particular time slot? You have to decide what’s more important or can be done at a different time. If you displace a scheduled high-value activity, make sure to re-schedule it or have it covered by someone else.

If goals are important enough to set, they are important enough to work towards. Make it more palatable to work towards goals by changing your mindset about them, then focus on what you can do to make them happen, and keep the commitments you make.

 

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 business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Leadership Qualities Critical to Achieving Company Goals

goal, executionWouldn’t it be great if you could simply share your latest company goals with employees and rest assured they would automatically achieve them without further ado?

Most of the time that doesn’t happen, though. Yes, your leadership does come in handy. But you have to know what you must bring to the table to catalyze employees to achieve those company goals. In fact, you must draw on 5 qualities to move your company goals forward:

1. Clear Intention

Clear intention is the ability to hone in on what you are really seeking to accomplish. By doing so, you create an unambiguous target for your company to shoot for. You can use the SMART Goals technique or some other goal-setting methodology. In any case, it’s your job as leader to ensure the goal is distinctive and well-defined. This allows anyone to easily recognize when the goal has been achieved.

2. Clear Communication

Research shows that 60% of employees don’t know about their companies’ strategic plan, including current goals. To counter this, once a goal is set, it’s your leadership responsibility to ensure it is disseminated and discussed throughout the company, so everyone can contribute to achieving it. Goals don’t achieve themselves; employees must act to make them come to fruition. So, make sure all employees know current goals and progress made along the way. Additionally, work with department heads to translate company-wide goals into meaningful and related sub-goals for each company area.

3. Inclusion

The employees who do the work know a lot about what works and what doesn’t. That’s why it’s imperative to be inclusive. Inclusion means you readily and willingly tap a variety of perspectives regarding what it will take to achieve the goal, including the employees who perform the work. When you tap into the perspectives of direct reports, they can suggest which work activities to leverage to affect the desired goal outcomes.

4. Unwavering Focus

It is said, “What is expected must be inspected.” In other words, keep the goal and related activities in front of employees. Make sure you do so with your direct reports, so this focus cascades to the front lines in your area of responsibility. You might hold a short weekly meeting focused on goal-related work activities and projects to check progress. Regularly display and discuss graphs tracking progress of related activities, sub-goals, and the overall goal. Whatever you do, keep employees focused on what they must do to achieve the goal and the progress being made. This allows adjustments to be made timely, as needed.

5. Recognition & Appreciation

If you’re like me you are probably used to a “no news is good news” approach in life. What we’ve learned, however, is that acknowledgement and appreciation go a long way with employees. Remember to recognize and appreciate individual effort, contributions, and progress toward sub-goals and the overall goal to keep employees engaged in the effort. Employees need to know you see their efforts.

If you’re like most leaders, you are distracted by a thousand different things that vie for your attention. It’s good to remember the simple leadership qualities that you must demonstrate to achieve your company goals. An intentional, inclusive focus on your goals, bolstered by clear communication and recognition of effort and progress is the basic job of any 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 great focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Converting an Abstract Vision Statement Into Concrete Reality

vision-achieve-goals-high-performanceI once worked for an organization where, even with an inspiring mission, its inability to convert its vision for the future into concrete reality made going working lackluster and frustrating. The employees had no clear direction for how to bring the vision (and consequently its mission) to life despite knowing their work was important.

Your company might have an aspirational 10-year vision statement. But are you really using it to propel your company forward? Do you have the courage of your convictions to turn that inspiring but abstract collection of words into concrete reality?

Many leaders stumble when it comes to turning any idea into tangible results, and it’s no different with a vision statement. It does take thoughtful intention and attention to bring an idea into physical form. Here are some ways you can do just that:

1. Chunk it down.

Your grand vision might be a 10-year projection, which makes it seem too large and too remote. Make this distant dream easily digestible and immediately relevant to employees by focusing on what you want to do in only the next 2-3 years. Thus, create a shorter-term vision for your current company goals (which tend to go out 18-36 months). By aligning the stepping stones of your overall vision with company goals meant to measure progress toward the vision, you start to connect the dots that allow employees to see how the longer-term vision is becoming reality incrementally.

2. Talk about the vision in all employee gatherings.

Give weight to the long-term vision by referring to it frequently. Whether there are 2 or 2000 employees gathered together, use the company’s long-term vision to remind employees why the topic at hand is relevant or important. This works in weekly meetings, project launches, employee performance review sessions, milestone achievement celebrations, employee recognition gatherings, etc. Referencing the vision when discussing, planning, or reflecting on what has been done helps others to see how the vision influenced and continues to influence decisions, conversations, and physical outcomes.

3. Tell stories.

Tap into our innate love of stories to illustrate ideals, concepts, or principles related to the vision. The stories you use can be timeless parables, “legends” from your company, or actual experiences that have happened to you or other noteworthy individuals and companies. You will find you often can convey an idea better with a story than with a mound of data.

4. Walk Your Talk.

Not much to elaborate on here. Based on the vision (and corresponding goals), start bringing that vision to life by acting on it. Use it to structure how you spend your time and attention. When employees see you altering your actions and attention based on the vision, they see you mean it and are more likely to do so themselves.

5. End interactions with a call to action.

Ask employees to take specific, vision-related action before ending any interaction. You might think that employees should be able to figure this out on their own. Some can. But don’t leave it to chance. Overtly ask employees for what you want them to do next to move the vision forward. And even better – hold them accountable to do so.

Nothing happens just because you think it. That goes for your vision statement, too. To bring your abstract vision to life, you must drop a bread crumb trail from the abstract to the physical for your employees to know how to breathe life into it.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman shows business leaders how to increase productivity and retention with their employees focused on the daily tactical work, so they can focus on the strategic work required to move their businesses forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.