Archive: December 2009

Leadership is About Giving People a Learning Curve

December 23rd, 2009

The world has lost it a little bit lately. Leaders are pushing for everyone to work harder, make more phone calls and produce more numbers. It is all direct effort to  a direct result. Few will trust the correlation of learning and knowledge to a better place or outcome. In leadership, you have to teach the right things and trust that people do the right things — it’s very simple. Because knowledge equals everything!
We all would rather run a 100 yard dash each day than train for the marathon! And today there is even less time. So we run like Forest Gump.  We just run and run without even knowing why.
We must trust if I invest in you as your leader that the business will get some inherent value from it.  But this is not the case as of late. The recession has depressed and altered the traditional career path, and with it, the importance of the learning curve. People want certain things in their career and we know it’s not only about money, it’s not only about benefits. With a learning curve we are challenged &mdash’ it means we are tested. It means we get to work at something. It means using your mind. We get choice projects. We get the difficult challenge. We get to do more than our job description says!  What happens when the learning curve stops? Everything stops. The person stops learning and soon the company stops too. As the saying goes, when we are not growing we are closer to death; this goes for the company and the employee! When the learning curve goes down, the company goes down. If the learning curve goes up, than the company results can go up too!
So one of the things that people really need is to continue to learn. Knowledge equals confidence and self-esteem. That’s what it means, and if people have that kind of confidence and self-esteem, they are more likely to do the things that produce results. If you have more knowledge you get more results. With confidence you make better decisions, take risks and you are more innovative, more creative, more tolerant, more disciplined. You trust that your results will be superior. You must trust that intangibles will turn into results!
This application also applies to more than business. It’s directly relevant to children doing better in school. The school system teaches kids to get a certain grade; it rarely teaches them to learn, retain and use the knowledge provided. Parents usually reward on just grades, not what is learned or applied. I have often thought about this with my son who is always “bored” with school and has the C’s and occasional D’s to prove it. As he leaned over my shoulder while I was writing this blog, he had a real light bulb go off. He might want to use what he learns some day!  And it might help him get the career he wants or to have hobbies that interest him.  And just maybe his grades will improve now!
If you are a small business owner or leader now is the time to differentiate and invest in the learning curve for your people and your organization!
Next post about how a leader can utilize the Holidays to their advantage!

What is Intrapreneurial Leadership?

December 14th, 2009

The worlds first management style was defined by the military institution.   Decisions were made at the top, information cascaded down throughout the ranks, and everyone is trained to know how to respond to those orders.  It was tough for information to flow back to the top however.  During times of crisis it is a good thing for all to know their role and to clearly know who will make the critical decisions for the organization right?  Well for business I am not so sure.  During difficult times we all appreciate a leader that will make the tough decisions.  That is when real leadership can be the most lonely right?  You are doing your job some days and your board, employees and other stake holders probably will not agree with some of the decision you must make. Everyone has their interest and their lens that gets applied to your decisions.
Business moves at a blistering pace. We know the story. The world is global and your customers and competition might not be across town anymore.  Technology has changed who has information and when and were they can access it. The decisions that must be made can be biased by an ever increasing flood of possible information. There is just so much today and it never stops. This knowledge-based economy requires different leadership. Why not Intrapreneurial leadership? How about giving staff the authority and the knowledge they need to help make the business better? Why not ask for help from those that are closer to the problem.
Intrapreneurial Leadership requires you to gave away authority. To push out decision making.  To give people access to the same information. Treat everyone as an equal and to have the fundamental belief that some employees want to feel like entrepreneurs. They may not want to risk their house like one; yet they understand and see how great it can be to work in an entrepreneurial environment.  Who would not want less red tape? More responsibility if they knew they could actually do something with it.  And great opportunities to make a difference? Over and over again in surveys to managers we think that staff wants money and benefits. Truth is even in this tough economy we all want a voice. We want to trust and know we make a difference. And that we will be listened to. And communicated with. We want to be treated as people. And we want the truth. Give someone more than they expect and they will do anything for the business. Give them less, well you end up without trust.
So this sounds hard? Not in small ways. Recently I was working with a customer on defining their organizational values. The management team was in on the project and they did their best to help the President complete the task. On a suggestion we asked a few front line staff to participate and we got a terrific result. The staff was honored to be apart of it. And ultimately their involvement contributed to completing the project!
We all know what is great about the small business experience. Employees are not a number. There is less bureaucracy. There are fewer rules and regulations. The business feels more pure. The goals of the company are very customer oriented. The business exists to serve the customer. There are less “artificial limits” created by the politics, internal agendas, and communication breakdowns to get in the way.
And as a leader it requires a special person to change. What got you here worked, right? Why change now?  Maybe your organization could be more productive?
Here are some suggestions on simple ways you can implement the basics of intra-preneurial leadership:

  1. Get your staff involved in a project that breaks down title barriers or department silos.
  2. Ask for help.
  3. As more questions than the answers you might provide.
  4. Get rid of titles and job descriptions for internal purposes.
  5. Meet with staff on a regular basis. Ask how you are doing and what can make their job better.
  6. Treat everyone equally.

It Is Time to Put the Focus on Service

December 1st, 2009

I think I know why they call it Black Friday. All of the surly clerks and frustrated shoppers. Even I spent a good part of Saturday out shopping for the Holidays with my wife. I have to admit, it was fun. There must be something to this gathering and hunting thing. But as I looked around questioning how we could actually be in a recession with all of this spending going on — it hit me. Service is a lost art. Many retail stores seem to try hard. Others don’t seem to care. Frankly, it is not a part of their business model. Cheap is good, yes. But a smile would be nice too.
This is a great time for me to dust off an important leadership notion and cultural value that I learned as a young leader, Take “service to the Nth degree!” What does it mean? Simple right. Put the focus on your customer, serve them with excellence. Raise the bar. But still it seems so absent in many businesses today.
Why? It is free. It is hard to copy by your competitors. It is intangible. It is a feeling. It is the gap between what you say and what you do. The most important reason to put the focus on service? It feels good. It is contagious. It is competitive. And customers will notice.
Here are a few simple ways to raise the bar on service to take it to the Nth degree:

  1. Call a meeting and focus on it. Ask people to think about how their job interacts with the customer.  Where can they bring something extra?
  2. Answer the phone. Turn off your voice mail. Insist the phone be answered in three rings. Or better yet two.
  3. Get back to me. Tell me by when and actually do it sooner.
  4. Change the way you answer the phone. CBI Group says ” I can help you.” This is our Purple Cow! Great book too!
  5. Reward customer service. As a leader catch me doing it!

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