Posts Taged cross-discipline

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 32 :: Leadership :: Environment for Growth

If I’m listing the top five (maybe the top three) responsibilities of a leader, creating an environment that fosters growth absolutely makes the cut. An organization will most likely never grow beyond the person who leads it and individual divisions and departments will most likely never grow beyond the people who lead them. Unfortunately, we human being are wired for stasis. We run smack dab into Newton’s first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force.” As a leader, it’s your job to be that external force.

During this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge exercise, I want to you to craft a framework that inspires and enables growth in your organization. The growth you want spans personal and professional, individual and team.

Use the ideas below like tools for your toolbox. Some of them I’d consider mandatory (like the first one) and others might or might not work in your organization. Pick and choose, add your own, then execute. Make lifelong learning part of your organizational culture (learning orientation is in my list of cultural imperatives. If you want to see my full list of culture imperatives, you can find it here).

Set the Example for Personal and Professional Growth – You should be hearing phrases like this come out of your mouth frequently, “I was just reading…”, “In the past, I would have…, but with what I’ve learned now, I’d…”,  “I had to apologize for…, because I found out I was wrong”, “My gut feel was…, but when I examined the data…”, “Swing by my office because I’d like to get your thoughts on…”. Spend time reading, taking a class, listening to a TED talk, journaling, and writing.

Embrace and Communicate that “Ego is the Enemy” – I’ve probably co-opted the title from Ryan Holiday’s excellent book a thousand times as I’ve talked and written. However, the real issue is whether or not I’ve embraced the message. We must never succumb to the temptation of thinking we know all there is to know about our job, our company, our customers, our people, or our processes. The minute we think we’ve arrived, the clock counting down our personal and professional destruction starts ticking. Advocate for personal and corporate humility. I often think about the encouragement from Gary Keller in his book, The One Thing. We don’t want to do our job the “best we can do it” (implying that our present capacity is the pinnacle). Instead, we want to do our job the “best it can be done” (implying that there’s more to learn and we’re going to drink it all in and apply it in our work).

Create a Mentorship Program – Pair mentees with mentors who will talk with them about professional growth, career paths, navigating office politics, balancing work and family responsibilities, moving from staff to supervisory roles and more. The mentor will learn just as much as the mentee. And you’ll automatically be building a couple of the factors that employees identified as indicative of solid management (see First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham). If potential mentors feel like this is outside their comfort zone, help them by creating a curriculum with discussion topics and resources.

Create an Environment where Good Risk is Embraced and Subsequent Failure after Good Risk is OK – If you never fail, you’re more than likely never doing anything that’s a stretch. People and organizations should do hard things. When the uncertainties surrounding hard things are pondered, good decision-making skills should be employed. Good decisions frequently result in bad outcomes (the batter frequently swings unsuccessfully at pitches that are low and away, but this time he hit a double). If your good risk appears to end in failure, you’ve at least learned some things (faulty product development, faulty delivery, faulting messaging). It’s never a bad thing to get an education.

Encourage Independent Work and Collaboration – Current research in productivity shows that neither bullpens nor private offices are optimal for the best outcomes. We need both. Employees need uninterrupted spans of time and privacy to do deep work (achieving flow). They also need engaging conversation with people who can challenge and sharpen the ideas they crafted working alone. Design workspaces and work schedules where both can happen.

Cross Discipline Knowledge is Golden – We have erroneously equated deep subject matter expertise with greater problem-solving ability in that discipline. For the sake of time, let me cut to the chase and say that thinking is wrong. In his book Range, David Epstein tells the story of two labs working on the same problem at the same time (proteins they wanted to measure would get stuck to a filter, which made them hard to analyze). One lab, staffed by only E. Coli experts, took weeks to solve the problem – experimenting with multiple methodologies. The other lab, staffed by scientists with chemistry, physics, biology, and genetics backgrounds, plus medical students, figured out the problem in their initial meeting. Deep subject matter expertise should be celebrated and leveraged, but to maximize peer-to-peer learning in an organization, utilize cross-disciplinary teams.

Make It Not All About Work – I know people who will come into an organization and do a Lunch-and-Learn on – Understanding Mortgages for First-time Homebuyers, Dog Training, Personal Finances, and Sleep. When your environment for growth includes growth opportunities for the whole person, you demonstrate another level of commitment to your team members.

Do the Traditional Stuff – Down through the years, employers have sent team member to seminars, enrolled them in online classes and paid for college degrees. Some of these might make less sense now, but there’s no reason to dismiss them entirely.

This is only a starter list, but it should get you on your way to creating a strong environment for growth in your organization.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 16 :: Culture :: Lifelong Learning

None of us, no matter how skilled, can afford to stay the way we are. Our industry, employees and customers change and so must we. Even if the founding generation and current generations have done everything right in steering the organization to its current state, their work may not be applicable in the future. We must be lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning embraces the idea that we never will “arrive”. Our business acumen, industry awareness and personal skills can always improve. Gary Keller, in his book The One Thing, reminded us that we must commit to running our organizations “the best it can be done” not “the best we can do it”. The “best we can do it” imposes the limitation of our current capacity and intellect. “The best it can be done” introduces the possibility that we can seek out new information and new skills that will make us better managers and leaders.

Not only must we as leaders be committed to lifelong learning, but we must build lifelong learning into the culture of our organization. Every team member must see personal and professional growth happening in those who lead the organization and must have opportunity, tools and accountability to affect their own personal and professional growth.

Let’s jump in to this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. The goal this week is two-fold. Use your 30 minutes to –

  • Think through everyday tasks and recreate them as learning opportunities
  • Create tools and time for team members to deliberately grow personally and professionally

 

Reframe Tasks – Stephen Covey reminded us to “Begin with the end in mind”. When navigating the mundane, fixing the urgent problem or capitalizing on the immediate opportunity, work to identify and verbalize how that task pushes the organization towards overarching initiatives (strategic plan, new sales campaign, etc). To illustrate, let’s say one of our new long-term strategic objectives is to decrease product delivery time from four days to two days for 90% of all orders. Today’s issue has to do with billing for an order from a brand-new customer. The customer wants to set up an account and be billed since they plan on doing more business with us in the future. However, upon submission of their billing information, we find some problems with their credit information and even find some unfavorable credit reporting in an industry reference publication. We could work with the employee who reported the problem to get this new customer set up and billed (and we should), but it would be best to reframe this problem and examine it in the light of our strategic initiative. In order to get this new customer his or her order in two days (in fulfillment of our long-term initiative), do we need to make changes to our order process to identify problems like this earlier? Do we need to look for a way to programmatically check credit reporting when the order is submitted online? Do we need to change the sales process so prospective clients with credit problems are excluded from the sales pipeline? Reframing problems – and slightly expanding their scope if necessary – attaches larger meaning to the problem and makes solving the problem tactical instead of operational, moving the organization closer to reaching its long-term initiatives and making everyone involved in the process better equipped for the future.

Put Employees First – When urgent problems surface, they are, most of the time, screaming to be solved right now. Our natural reaction is to solve them ourselves or get them quickly to the person who can solve them best and fastest. What about using urgent problems as a training opportunity. Take an employee who has the requisite knowledge to solve the problem but has never had the opportunity and walk them through it as you solve it. Or pair them with the staff expert in solving the problem and let them walk through it together. It might take slightly longer, but afterwards you’ll have a deeper bench. If today’s urgent matter is an emerging opportunity, show the employee how you step through an evaluation to make the determination whether to pursue it further. This helps the employee to see how you evaluate opportunities in the light of the organization’s mission, vision, values and current long-term initiatives.

Go from the Outside In – In the press to make to make problems go away or make the internal processes behind our mundane tasks easier for us, we occasionally make decisions that generate unintended consequences. Many times, the recipient of those consequences is not us, but our customers. By making life easier for us, we make it harder for them. Amazon famously sits an empty chair in every meeting. That chair represents the customer. It’s a physical reminder to make decisions that get the customer better products and services, make transactions more frictionless and deliver more value for their money. When problems surface, start with the customer perspective and work inward, navigating through the company’s internal processes. Solve the problem so the customer wins. Team members engaged in this exercise build a stronger customer orientation.

Embrace Cross-Discipline Problem Solving – In his book Range, David Epstein tells the story of two labs working on the same problem at the same time (proteins they wanted to measure would get stuck to a filter, which made them hard to analyze). One lab, staffed by only E. Coli experts, took weeks to solve the problem – experimenting with multiple methodologies. The other lab, staffed by scientists with chemistry, physics, biology, and genetics backgrounds, plus medical students, figured out the problem in their initial meeting. Were the staff members in the latter lab that much smarter than those in the former lab? Unlikely. Those in the latter lab had the advantage of a much broader base of knowledge and a larger pool of diverse experiences. To build lifelong learning in an organization, leverage the knowledge of employees with diverse skills and experiences. Turn the finance people loose on an operational problem. Invite the IT people to weigh in on a sales problem. Create cross-discipline meetings and encourage collaboration to solve problems. Let team members experience the problem-solving methodologies of people from other departments.

Be Deliberate – Finally, provide resources for growth. Start a business book club inside the organization led by the CEO or GM. Meet once a month during lunch to discuss a chapter. Encourage employees to attend classes and webinars. Ask them to report back to the organization on ideas they found especially helpful. Encourage cross-discipline learning. Pay for a salesperson to take a Python or accounting class. Formally recognize those who are learning and growing both personally and professionally.

The goal is to bake the actions that promote lifelong learning into the culture.