Human Operating System?

These 6 business sub-systems must be fully aligned and integrated to enable flawless execution.

I bet if I asked you what your company is all about you’d give me that same ol’ rehearsed elevator pitch. You’d be able to tell me what it does and why it’s important. But, if I asked you how. You just might stall. The answers on “how” a business does what it does lies in its unique combination of systems that governs how it executes its mission.

I like to call this collection of systems the organization’s “Human Operating System.”

Your firm’s Human Operating System is, of course, informed by your vision, enabled by your strategic plans and is translated into company culture. Here are the key parts of every Human Operating System:

1. Work Design Systems – These systems define how your business is organized. It determines your reporting lines, you workflow and the nature of your production and service delivery processes. These systems must be optimized and aligned to achieve your vision.

2. Communication Systems – These systems include, both, the formal and informal ways in which your business communicates within and without. Time must be spent to design these systems in a deliberate fashion. You want to achieve transparency and to field the necessary tools that make open, honest and ease of communication as simple and straight-forward, as possible.

3. Decision-making Systems – Decision-making support systems take many forms and provide many functions. They can be underpinned by “Big Data” and sophisticated analytics engines which crunch data and present it in meaningful ways. These systems also include the style in which decision-making is done by a firm, including such “soft” subjects as collaboration tendencies, empowerment levels and problem escalation principles. Care must be taken in the design and implementation of these systems because you want to ensure synchronicity with other desired company culture objectives.

4. Change Management Systems – These systems include all of the processes and procedures used to set direction and manage change. How well your people handle the natural evolution of your business environment is dictated by the change management systems that you put into place. These systems should be carefully developed to enable the “preparedness” of your organization.

5. Talent Management Systems – These systems entail the acquisition, retention and development of your human capital. Also included in these systems are training, career path design, job classifications and skills prerequisites. These systems must be fully integrated into your strategic thinking to ensure that the organization is hiring and developing for the future and not just filling its current open positions.

6. Measurement and Reward Systems – These systems must be tied to the work design systems so that measurements are done as work is performed and not counted and tallied after the fact. Additionally, rewards systems must be based on the achievement of desired outcomes, at both, company and individual levels, and not on effort or tenure.

To close, what does your organization’s Human Operating System look like? Is it fully aligned with your vision story and does it enable the execution of your strategies? If so, count yourself lucky – few businesses can claim full alignment and integration of the critical systems that comprise its Human Operating System. If not, keep the faith, there’s plenty of help available to assist you in re-imagining how to make them work in unison and achieve your greatest business goals and objectives. Don’t be afraid to reach out for what you need.

This article was published by Inc. on 5 December 2016.

C-Suite Tip Number 1 – Focus on Middle Management Leadership

Engage your middle management to secure your strategic success.

We all know about the pyramid structure. It’s a generic way to think about an enterprise and how most are organizationally design. Divided into three layers, the top layer of the pyramid is comprised of the senior-most leaders. These are the people responsible for setting strategic direction and guiding the enterprise towards its future. While certainly concerned with quarterly performance, the leaders at the top of the pyramid must also have a forward-thinking, “Where will we be in 5 years?” kind of mindset.

The middle layer of the pyramid is comprised of the middle management of the organization. These people must be able to interpret the strategic direction set forth by the senior leaders and translate it into actions that the units that report into them can understand and act upon. While these managers certainly care about strategy, their primary focus is this year. Can we do what we need to day this year to reach our goals and objectives?

The lower layer of the pyramid is comprised of supervisors and rank and file. This layer is responsible for execution. Their time frame is much different from the managers and senior leaders. Their point of reference is today. Can we do the work that must be done today, on-time and on-budget? And, they inherently understand, that they will suffer the consequences of poor performance, if they don’t.

So, when it comes time to roll-out your next key strategy, where do you begin? In the middle, of course!

The middle management team makes or breaks strategic execution! As mentioned, they’re the ones that must interpret the strategies and translate them into something that is actionable by the rank and file. If they fail to do this well, the organization falters, resources are squandered and, unfortunately, many times heads roll.

Here are 3 essential tips to get them on-board (and, by doing so, improve your chances for success in the launching your firm’s next strategic initiative):

  • Tell and Teach: Think about it, you’re asking your mid-tier managers to act as teachers. And, to teach well, they must first understand. So, commit to establishing the understanding that they’ll need to help the rest of your organization grasp and commit to your vision and strategic plan. Do all that you can to help them comprehend all of the content and nuances of those strategic elements so that they can do a bang up job of translating them for your people.
  • Jump-Start The Messaging: Don’t leave it up to your middle management to determine how they will go about the work of interpretation and translation for their teams. Instead, take the time to think about all of the implications and likely actions that you would want them and their people to tackle in helping the organization execute its strategies. Craft a template for them to use to deliver the message.
  • Orchestrate The Cascading: Once you equip your managers with the requisite know knowledge and messaging content they can begin to cascade the message throughout the rest of the organization. However, they may not do this in an disciplined and rigorous way. So, be sure to orchestrate cascading of the information by establishing a roll-out schedule that details when the managers will will do the work of strategic messaging.

After all, you want to make certain that all of your organization understands the company vision, strategies and, most importantly, their roles in the subsequent execution and achievement of your goals and objectives. If you can do this, you will have done your job.

To close, senior leaders need to focus on the middle of their organizations in order to achieve their strategic intentions. If you can engage the middle management, they will do the rest. If you don’t, your strategic execution will fall flat. It’s really as simple as that!

Note: If you like this article, which was published by on October 31, 2016, please subscribe to my Inc. column.

8 Tips for ‘Keeping It Real’ During Your Cultural Transformation Effort

Driving cultural transformation is always a challenge. Here are 8 tips to smooth your journey and make landing at your destination a little easier.

Whenever I consider the pain and toil that goes into every deep, cultural transformation effort I recall the words of Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Indeed, transformation work is always challenging. You’re asking people to change and to move out of their comfort zones. Resistance, misunderstanding and confusion abound! But, managing through change doesn’t have to be an exercise in unbearable misery.

Here are 8 considerations worth bearing in mind when you undertake your organization’s next major cultural transformation:

1. Leadership Style: Whatever the prevailing leadership style is within the organization will certainly be called into question. Adjustments must be made that properly align with the future vision and strategic framework of the enterprise. Misalignment leads to misery as staff begin to recognize that they’re being asked to change, but, management is not willing or able.

2. Strategic Planning Practices: Regardless of how planning was done in the past, post-transformation direction-setting had better be formal, regular, transparent and communicated. Your staff will expect to be able to comprehend the strategic plan and understand what their role in helping you achieve it.

3. Communication Protocols: Nothing kills transformation quicker than a lack of communication. Whenever there is a communication vacuum, your staff will fill it with some form of “information”–sometimes accurate, but, usually incorrect. Work to put the communication mechanisms in place and use them keep your people informed on both the changes coming and the rationale for making those changes a reality.

4. Brand Proposition: Your brand must be aligned with you culture or your change efforts will fail. For example, consider discount airline carrier, their brand denotes low cost provider and their culture should be all about cost reduction. Trying to establish a rich service delivery will not work for them. The costs that come with delivering industry-leading service would run them out-of-business. Brand, product and service all must match culture and culture must support the delivery of of the brand promise.

5. Technology Integration: Can’t overemphasize the importance of supporting cultural change through the proper leverage of technology. Technology is an enabler. Let it enable your transformation by providing your people with the technical tools that they need to succeed.

6. Staff Preparedness: You have to be sure that your people are ready to perform. That said, all of your practices aimed at recruitment, retention, reward and engagement must be aimed at getting the right players in place to knock it out of the park. If your team is not prepared to do what must be done to transform the organization, it simply won’t happen.

7. Performance Measurement Alignment: Your measurement programs have to measure the “right” behaviors and reward the “right” outcomes. After all, people do what they’re measured on. So, failing to establish a program that perfectly allies with the guiding principles of your transformation is a recipe for failure.

8. Organizational Design: The organization design that you develop must support the culture that you’re promoting. Flatter is faster, as bureaucratic layers are replaced by a structural design that is more responsive and decisive. The only caveat, your front-line staff must be properly trained and educated to make the kind of informed decisions that your supervisors and managers would ordinarily make. Invest in your people and they will pay dividends.

In closing, “Yes,” there will be pain whenever you take on the hard work of driving cultural change within an organization. But, the suffering is up to you. By considering the 8 tips provided above, I hope that your suffering will be kept at bay, while your change effort runs smoothly and is lastingly effective.

NOTE: This piece originally appeared in Inc. magazine on May 16, 2016.  If you like this column, subscribe to email alerts and you’ll never miss an article.

Hurry! 10 New Inc. Magazine Playbook Video Shorts About Visionary Leadership

Here are 10 New Inc. Magazine Playbook Video Shorts Based on My Column about Visionary Leadership:

How to Avoid Mediocrity and Build a Winning Business
3 Easy Ways to Boost Productivity at Work
3 Secrets Your IT Department Is Hiding From You
3 Things You Need to Know to Manage a Team of Superstars
3 Steps You Can Take Today to Be a Visionary Leader
3 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Best Workers
3 Ways to Save Your Business From the ‘Fog of War’
3 Ways to Inspire Your Employees to Greatness
3 Ways Leaders Can Set the Right Tone
3 Ways to Create a Transparent Work Setting

Be sure to reach out to me, if I can help your business with any of these concepts!

5 Leadership Secrets For The Newly Minted Manager

These 5 simple management tips (or Leadership Secrets) are often overlooked and underutilized, especially among those new to leadership positions.

Business life certainly has gotten a lot faster than it ever was before. The evolution of the Internet and the widespread use of smart phones and other hand-held devices contribute to the need for speed. Consequently, leaders feel compelled to move fast, too. Sometimes, however, this can hurt more than help. So, allow me to offer these very specific and nuanced leadership techniques for managing the onslaught of demands that come your way as a senior leader.

Here are 5 simple tips, or “secrets of the trade“, which any leader can be put to use immediately:

1. Sometimes you need to go slow in order to go fast: An oxymoron, perhaps, this bit of advice is invaluable when in the midst of setting direction and managing change. Inevitably, once your course of direction is set, the thirst for change and eagerness to achieve the desired state can become too much to handle. Indeed, you and your team can come to be so impatient that you fail to put the infrastructures in place that are essential to bring the rest of your organization with you.

So, slow down and recognize that it takes time to do it right.

2. Just because “they” asked, you don’t have to answer: Bombarded with questions and issues from every direction, every day, many leaders become extremely reactionary–feeling compelled to immediately answer every question and address every issue that comes their way. It doesn’t have to be that way! You’re not always going to have the answers, nor can every question be answered. Instead, work to surround yourself with the best possible and competent team to help you address what needs to be done, then be sure to institute appropriate problem escalation and triage practices that enable your business to respond to issues and challenges in the most expedient ways.

3. Silence is a tool: As the saying goes, silence is golden! Think of this tip as a corollary to the one offered above. Sometimes a request doesn’t deserve a response. In fact, by not responding to some requests, you are sending a message. Just be sure that your use of silence is used deliberately and you’ll be on your way to using it as a tool to manage your messaging.

4. Less is often more: Another oxymoron for your consideration, this tip is intended to be a reminder that information is a valuable commodity. Give too much, and it can be used against you. So, be careful and thoughtful in your messaging. Yes, it is important to be clear and concise when giving direction and addressing issues. But, don’t be in a hurry to explain every nuance or implication of what you just said. Your community of stakeholders will ask another question is they don’t understand your response.

5. Time can be your friend: You want to be sure to give you and your team the time to think, to collaborate and to decide how to address issues and questions as they arise. Similarly, some of the challenges that you may ordinarily go about tackling, may work themselves out without much intervention on your part, if you just give the situation the time needed for the dynamics to change.

Indeed, time can be a friend if you use it wisely and not be in a crazy rush to immediately “fix” every trial and tribulation that springs up.

In closing, whether you’re new to the leadership ranks or a salty veteran, I hope that these 5 tips resonate with you. Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean that you have to have all of the answers all of the time. However, it does mean that you need to manage expectations and control the messaging as appropriate to ensure the continued success of your organization. So, be sure to put these 5 secrets into your leadership quiver. You’ll surely need them as you continue to fight the good fight!

This article was originally published by on October 12, 2016

Leadership or Management? 10 Important Distinctions That Can Help You Out

There’s a difference between leadership and management. Understanding these 10 key differences can improve your abilities to lead and to manage.

Last week’s article The Leadership Checklist: 10 Principles That Make Leading Easier, generated some interesting thoughts as shared through various social media outlets. Many readers tended to hone in on the point made in the piece about the difference between leadership and management.

As you may recall, I had noted:

“There’s a difference between leadership and management. Leaders look forward and imagine the possibilities that the future may bring in order to set direction. Managers monitor and adjust today’s work, regularly looking backward to ensure that current goals and objectives are being met. The best leaders lead and let their management teams manage the work at hand.”

Because of the interest, I thought I would explore the point a bit more in this article.

Clearly, there is a symbiotic relationship between those responsible for leading a business and those responsible for managing the work within it. While managers can certainly lead and leaders can certainly manage, the skills required to be good at either one are separate and distinct.

What follows are ten of the most important distinctions to note. Regardless of which role you currently play, understanding these key differences between leading and managing may help you become better at your job:

1. Leadership inspires change, management manages transformation.

A leader must set direction and inspire people to follow them. The process of following often requires great change. This is where strong management comes in. It’s the manager’s job to oversee the work needed to implement the necessary changes and realize the organizational transformation set forth by the leadership.

2. Leadership requires vision, management requires tenacity.

A leader needs to envision what the business is to become. A great manager must have the willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve the goals set forth by the leader.

3. Leadership requires imagination, management requires specifics.

A great leader can cultivate their imagination to inform their vision. It helps them to “see” what can be. Managers must understand that vision and drive their teams to do the specific work necessary to accomplish what has been expressed.

4. Leadership requires abstract thinking, management requires concrete data.

By definition, abstract thinking enables a person to make connections among, and see patterns within, seemingly unrelated information. The ability to think abstractly comes in very handy when reimaging what an organization can become. Conversely, a manager must be able to work with, and analyze, concrete data in order to ensure optimal results.

5. Leadership requires ability to articulate, management requires ability to interpret.

A good leader can describe their vision in vivid detail so to engage and inspire their organization to pursue it. A good manager must interpret that stated vision and recast it in terms that their teams can understand and embrace it.

6. Leadership requires an aptitude to sell, management requires an aptitude to teach.

A leader must sell their vision to their organization and its stakeholders. They must convince all concerned parties that what is envisioned is achievable and provides greater value than what is created by the business today. In keeping, a manager must be able to teach their teams what must be learned and adapted to attain the stated vision.

7. Leadership requires understanding of the external environment, management requires understanding of how work gets done inside the organization.

A leader must understand the business environment in which the enterprise operates so to better anticipate opportunities and evade misfortune, while a manager is relied on to figure out how to get things done using the resources available to the business.

8. Leadership requires risk-taking, management requires self-discipline.

A leader will take educated risks when setting a strategic direction for a business. Managers must have the self-discipline to stick to the plan for realizing that strategic direction so to ensure that the strategy comes together as planned.

9. Leadership requires confidence in the face of uncertainty, management requires blind commitment to completing the task at hand.

A leader’s life is filled with uncertainty. They’re setting a course for their company in unchartered waters. Once the course is set, managers are duty-bound to follow the stated direction and commit to delivering the results expected.

10. Leadership is accountable to the entire organization, management is accountable to the team.

Finally, leaders must consider the impact of their decisions on the whole organization. A misstep can bring an entire business to its knees. It’s a huge responsibility. Accordingly, managers are responsible for their teams. They must ensure that their teams are prepared to deliver and that each member is equipped to do what is required for success.

Indeed, there are important differences between leading and managing. The best leaders lead and let others manage; the best managers understand their leader’s vision and work with their teams to achieve it. Your business needs people with both kinds of skills and aptitudes to secure enduring success. Take the time to understand these differences so to build an organization that leverages each to the fullest.

This article was originally published by on August 10, 2015.