Getting Action From Your Team: COLLABORATION

Tom Peter’s book, “In Search of Excellence,” recognized Hewlett Packard Co for emphasizing teamwork, delegation, and collaboration. HP created a brand synonymous with quality by requiring product teams to understand and exceed all expectations a customer might have regarding product performance. HP introduced an acronym to their employees, called FLURPS (functionality, localization, use-ability, reliability, performance, and supportability), to aid evaluation and review of requirements documents for their robustness and completeness.

For HP to obtain these robust designs, multiple departments in the organization had to lend their expertise. Collaboration is the cooperation among multiple parties with diverse perspectives to achieve a common goal. Product development, process design, and Kanban quality improvement are business examples where collaboration can deliver a solution greater than the sum of the parts. Achieving collaboration requires a manager to master the management skills that create a culture with a high value on leadership and accountability.

The greatest inhibitors to collaboration are inadequate communication and lack of trust. A “smokestack” organization is one where the departments or functional areas are managed independently with communication channeled through management or data structures. These organizations develop by managers limiting the interactions between departments to reduce the complexity of management. Significant performance improvements can be made by these managers ceasing to manage complexity alone and starting to involve their teams. Clear communication of expectations and status will sustain trust and allow collaboration to flourish.

Clear goals, willingness to share data and recognition, and the ability to negotiate timely decisions that self-direct a team are other key elements that encourage collaboration. Goals need to be clear, tangible, results-oriented, and preferably SMART. Teams that do not share a common view of the end goal tend to generate more meetings and distraction than results. A perceived scarcity of opportunity and confusion about their value can cause workers to hide information and knowledge. A possible solution is deploying technology that improves access to information while keeping data secure. Technology is no replacement, however, for making employees feel valued. One caution: imposing security barriers that separate people from information they need is just another way to hide information.

Achieving effective negotiation within a team is perhaps management’s greatest challenge.  It’s rare that a corporate culture emerges that is truly egalitarian. During my years in information technology, designers held disproportionate power over production engineers, field support, and technical writers. Teaching appreciation of other players’ roles and structuring incentives and performance measures to reward cooperation will boost collaboration. I observe when designers have too much sway, the product usually flops.

Developing a collaborative culture is a complex topic. If you want to learn more, let’s talk and get your questions answered.

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What Would Cause You to Change?

What would you have to do to really change in 2017? We’re all filled with wishful thinking. But, what would it take to change attitude and those habitual behaviors? Amy Morin, in her book, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” suggests that repeating mistakes is one of those behaviors mentally strong people don’t do. Here are my suggestions for the committed:

Spend 5 to 10% of your time planning I have concluded there are two types of people: those who avoid change and tell themselves they don’t have time to plan and those who believe they don’t need to plan. Both attitudes are equally ineffective. Nobody plans to fail; but 95% of those who fail, fail to plan. Taking time to assess what’s working, what’s not working, and what has changed will invariably lead to achieving goals faster.

Set change-focused goals Committing to stop smoking is a change-focused goal. In business, I often see goals written that are not linked to specific behaviors. For example, “get more sales” leaves open how to get more sales. Goals that are difficult to achieve have obstacles that must be overcome for success. A strategy for better goal setting is to focus on what will be done to overcome the obstacles.

Know what motivates you It’s important to know what gets you excited and engaged. While some people are money motivated, more people respond to opportunities to work more independently, exercise self-expression, or be of service to other people. If a goal or project is not linked to a strong motivator, it will likely languish or be a source of stress.

Build your network Highly-effective people have no issue with asking for help and often know exactly the right person to call when an issue pops up. Drawing on assistance from others will invoke the Law of Reciprocity. When someone who provided their services needs your services, they will think of your name first. A good network can provide invaluable perspective and feedback.

Find a coach or mentor People seeking to offer unique, creative solutions benefit from having a trusted advisor serve as a sounding board and offer outside perspective. Besides being your advocate, a good coach can reframe perspectives, offer ideas, and preview plans to enrich possibilities and results.

Accelerated Achievements offers coaching services. If you want better understand how a coach can help you achieve real change, contact us.  Happy New Year!


Dangerous Circumstances

dangerI enjoy speaking with teenagers about their ideas of career and success. In this sluggish economy where it is difficult for young people to find work, I often hear teenagers complain that success is a product of circumstance or luck. These young people perceive acceptance to a top school or an exciting job requires a “parting of the Heavens and the appearance of a guiding light.” Adults associate these attitudes with teenagers who have yet to discover their worth and take responsibility for their lives. Adults, however, are not immune to resigning to circumstances at times and can pay dearly for the relapse. These are my three warning signs that you might be in danger of missing the next turn on your road to success.

Mid-life complacency: When starting out in life or business, the key goals are starkly obvious and centered on survival. But once you get to the point where you can cover the car payment and mortgage and have a little left over, setting new goals can be trickier. Climbing Masloff’s Hierarchy of Needs requires us to clearly understand what will bring us satisfaction and fulfillment while setting goals. And, more important, to believe we are worthy of such success.  When people avoid introspection and hope that life will continue just the way it is, they often get a surprise.

Ignoring our environment: Whether considering business, family, or ecology, it all changes daily. We can either accept change or change. Staying connected to the people and customers around you and understanding their evolving needs is critical to mastering change. By actively negotiating how to serve others’ needs and your own, you lower the risk of encountering new circumstances.  The key word is “actively.” It is a delusion that people can solve this complex problem in their head.  Only clear communication, deliberation and writing down identified goals will clearly guide successful change.

Yielding to unreal obstacles:  There are two types of obstacles: real and unreal. When people think about being hindered by circumstances, they usually think of real obstacles like money, education, and discrimination.  However, the more crippling obstacles are the unreal obstacles rooted in habits of thought.  Self-defeating attitudes and unwillingness to explore new possibilities are far more limiting. Simply put, you have to play to win.

A good coach can help clients discover possibilities and overcome circumstances. Please reply if you want to learn more or argue about circumstances.

The 3 A’s of Sustainability

The topic of sustainability has been a source of stress since the earthday_picbeginning of humanity. Around 600 B.C, Aesop wrote the fable of The Grasshopper and The Ant. The Grasshopper was the opportunist who lived for the day and enjoyed the summer sun while the Ant industriously stored food for the winter. The Greeks understood sustainability to be obtained only through the most moral and noble virtues.  The continuity of nations, civilizations, and institutions could be preserved only through sacrifice and the acceptance of change for the common good.

Whether your concern is for the planet, your business, or family, your attitudes toward change will determine your future. While some experience the Green Movement as an unwelcome intrusion on their lifestyle, “the Ant” understands that reducing, recycling, and reusing are the keys to preserving cash, growing the bottom line, and a cleaner planet. For me it’s not so much that I want to hug trees; rather it’s just that I want to have trees. I believe there are three key elements to sustaining the institutions and world around you.

Awareness:  It is vital that leaders succeed in building a shared understanding of what’s valuable, what’s essential, and what has the potential to disrupt. Like the Greeks, it is best that value be defined outside of yourself. Successful businesses give their customers exclusive purview over value. Enduring communities look at what its members commonly hold most dear. What’s essential is that necessary to build the value and what’s disruptive is that which can destroy the value.

Accountability:  Planets and businesses are sustained when each of their members allow examination of their actions and decisions by the rest of the community. If a business wants to improve the performance of a department, there’s no better way than to have the employees measure their individual performance and report the results to the department. Accountability is built on the clear, shared goals and values described in the previous paragraph.

Adaptability: Aesop wrote about the small reed that will bend in the wind to survive the storm. For planets and business to be sustained, the members of the community must be willing to undergo constant change. After laboring hard to create something we’re really proud of, most of us will succumb to the temptation to impede change in order to preserve the status quo.  We’ve all heard the expression, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The fact is that impeding change assures failure.

This Earth Day I hope that you will all pause to think about what’s truly precious and what changes you can make in yourself to best preserve what is precious. And then tell everyone who shares that precious thing what your intentions are and request they keep you accountable to your plan. Happy Earth Day!

In Pursuit of a Follower

Some of the most vexing management challenges I’ve faced involve leading enduring cultural change. Anyone who has attempted to change a complacent, hostile, or defeated culture will understand the difficulty of this endeavor. I was recently treated to a viewing of Derek Sivers’ video, First Follower: Leadership Lessons from a Dancing Guy. The video illustrates the dynamics of creating a movement by showing a young man dancing away from a crowd at a concert. After a time, the dancer is joined by first one dancer and then a second. Upon seeing three people enjoying a dance, a crowd of people join in and the movement is launched. As the title of Sivers’ video suggests, the key player in any movement is not the initiator. Rather it is the first follower who must take the greatest risk and exercise the courage to follow.

Sivers makes two key points: the leader must be easy to follow and the leader must accept the first follower as a peer. The non-verbal elements of dancing clearly illustrate the movement concept. Leading in a workplace environment can be far less obvious and predictable. Before the ease of following a change can even be considered, one needs to be certain the lines of authority affected by the change and the performance incentives of the organization are supportive of the change. Either of these elements can thwart an organization’s ability to change. The ease of following a change can be broken down into how the organization perceives the change and the confidence those followers have in being able to execute the change.

The ability of followers to perceive value is closely tied to the clarity of shared goals, strategy, and system understanding. Even if an organization has a formal strategy, executives are often so pressed to create the strategy that they fail to give adequate attention to communicating the strategy. The messiest perception issue is whether the organizational values are compatible with what the individuals of the organization value and want. Organizations need to mitigate value differences as they often dilute the capability of the organization or lead to a top-down decision to replace members of the organization. Either consequence will diminish short-term results.  

Followers’ confidence in being able to perform the change is more often about trust rather than knowledge and skills. Sivers commented that the initiator needs to accept the first follower as a peer. In a business, a manager must grant followers time and attention to align expectations and collaborate on implementation. My experience is that patience is essential and that the desired change must be communicated over and over before followers will grasp the change. And most important, the manager must recognize and appreciate the courage of the first follower.

These are just some of the approaches to bringing about change. Please comment on your experiences with leading change. 

Just a Little Inspiration Goes a Long Way

When you think of premier brands, like Apple, Mercedes Benz, and others, there is something distinctive about their products, service, or social responsibility that inspires us. Apple has turned heads with astonishing product innovation that changed our lives. Long before computers and robots built cars, Mercedes was known for delivering products with every part engineered for perfect fit. There’s good chance you’ve been inspired by more than global and national brands. Perhaps you have an insurance agent who stays connected with you with a personal touch or a dry cleaner that makes an extra effort to fix a stain or loose button. The result is always the same. We return to businesses that inspire us to purchase their offerings again and again. And in turn, those businesses enjoy customer loyalty and stellar profit performance.

There are two ways you can influence other’s behavior: inspiration and manipulation.  Manipulation is the more popular mode of influence. In business, manipulation can be positive and have a shared benefit like discounts, incentives, and bonuses. Or, it can have negative and self-serving benefits like deceptions, threats, or unfair punishment. The problem with manipulation, even the positive kind, is that results are only achieved while customers feel a “real” reward is in place. If a business discontinues a discount or promotion, customers will look elsewhere. If the discount is held in place too long, the customer can come to expect it.  Businesses that use pricing as a competitive tool often struggle to sustain profitability.

Inspiration, on the other hand, happens when someone addresses a deep-seated, personal need that that goes beyond the benefits of a product. Examples of these needs are affirmation, justice, beauty, or prestige. The important distinction from manipulation is that inspiration is rooted in the values of people, and not products or prices. Inspiration often leads to an emotional connection that can be between customers and employees, customers and business owners, or employees and business owners. Inspiration is the root of all employee and customer loyalty.

One of the most satisfying aspects of my practice is helping people discover their ability to inspire.  Please comment if you have an example of how a business has inspired you. 

Dream Day

So much of the news this week has celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Dream Speech in Washington D.C. I consider it to be the greatest speech I’ve heard during my lifetime and am torn over whether Dr. King or Abraham Lincoln is most inspiring leader this country has ever seen.

The power of dreams is that they illuminate to us what is possible. Dr. King painted a clear vision of racial equality that set the country in a different direction. Several of the postings on this blog have touched on how personal dreams can reveal to us how much is possible for our businesses. While so much progress has been made with political equality, Dr. King’s speech also dealt with economic equality. It seems that we still have a long way to go with economic equality and that our country needs another dream. My dream touches the possibility that America turn its attention to inventing and building the infrastructure that will pave a better future. To me, if we’re going to put a lot of people to work, we’d better think on a grander scale. I’ve listed a few possibilities of my own. I’d love to hear your thoughts, as well.

  • America invents a form of sustainable, high-speed transportation
  • America designs a new power grid
  • America invents architectural solutions that protect your coastal areas
  • America invents robots that can think better than we can (or at least I can)
  • America’s schools inspire learning and creativity for all its people
  • America invites all its people to participate in and prosper in the resulting economy

Dream on. 

Audacious Sustainability

I always urge my clients to factor sustainability considerations into their vision and strategic planning. While reading in the July 8th issue of Time, I was delighted to see an article titled, “Farming the Desert” by Aryn Baker (,33009,2146442-3,00.html if you subscribe). The article recounts how Qatar, the richest nation in the world, had difficulty finding adequate food supplies during the 2008 Economic Downturn. Qatar has plenty of oil and cash. With tight credit squeezing international trade, food was simply not for sale.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization considers only 1% of Qatar’s land to be arable and Qatar is importing 90% of their food. Fahad bin Mohammed al Attiya, Executive Chairman of Qatar’s National Food and Security Program (QNFSP), has a goal to make 6% of the land arable and grow half of the nation’s food within the next twelve years. All of this comes at a price and enormous complexity. The Qataris will need to desalinate 91 billion gallons of water a day, generate 753 megawatts in solar power to fuel the desalination, and become a leader in agricultural water conservation techniques. Audacious, but feasible!

I find the Qatar story inspiring on a number of levels. The Qataris scaled their dreams and imagination to match the consequences of not being successful. The Qatari plan gathered the resources they had in hand to obtain resources and capabilities that seemed out of their reach. Business leaders are so often schooled to minimize risk and make incremental changes. In a world that’s changing so quickly, organizations that do not realize the level of innovation required, will go the way of the dinosaur.

The lessons I take away from this are:

  • Stay abreast of technology. Know what’s possible
  • Be objective and realistic in assessing threats
  • Dream success!!

For more information on sustainability in a business world, go to my website at

What if your Employees Were Volunteers?

I recently assumed a leadership position in a faith-based organization that is rebuilding after a terrible splintering of the congregation. I have volunteered over the years at numerous non-profits and have observed that they are more volatile than for-profit organizations because of the large volunteer population. People are more inclined to express themselves when they are not dependent on a position for their livelihood. My question is: What would happen to your business if the employees were all volunteers? Would they remain unwavering in their commitment to the mission or would they quietly withdraw from the organization.  Or, would they aggressively confront the leadership on the direction the mission is taking?

Successful management of volunteers requires clearly-defined, shared values, a clear mission, and a steady stream of appreciation and recognition. Volunteer organizations need goals that are clearly centered on serving the community they serve. Successful leaders of volunteer organizations focus on engaging their volunteers and developing them to fit the mission. In short, non-profit organizations are very aware that they can accomplish little without their volunteers. Likewise when volunteer organizations experience setbacks, it is apparent that reaching out to volunteers to reestablish the vision and mission is a first step on the way to recovery.

For-profit leaders can learn much from their non-profit counterparts. Maintaining excellence in a commercial organization’s employee base requires the same focus on engagement and mission. Failure to maintain this focus can result in turnover of top performers and employee apathy (on-the-job retirement.) My suggestion is that managers make a tune up of vision and mission an annual event and discussion and reinforcement of these goals with employees a daily occurrence. 

Credibility Is Essential for Change

I recently had to work through an issue with my teenage son. He was having difficulty in a math class and chose not to take corrective action until he had a full-fledged problem.  This problem was blocking him from taking an advanced placement class he wanted to take next year. Feeling the sting of disappointment, he wanted nothing more than a quick fix to make this problem go away. I decided to make a teaching point out his need to restore trust before he could hope to achieve his goal. So often, leaders ask their organization for their trust after a setback without addressing the issue of credibility.

In my mind, credibility has three components: intent, a meaningful plan, and necessary skills. When times get tight, employees can question whether the boss’ intention is to achieve his personal incentive goals or the wider goals of the team. Buyers question whether a salesman’s intention is get a quick sale or to follow through on a solution. A meaningful plan clearly identifies roles and the steps to be taken to achieve a goal. Obtaining proper skills and capabilities can only be achieved by identifying the skills the plan requires and making an honest assessment of whether the skills are in place.

Taking the time to build credibility has enormous rewards for a manager. Innovation and productivity rise. Credible leaders are often the difference between profitability and losses. Being closed about your intentions and plans or not giving employees an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be successful will demoralize a team.

For those interested, my son sat down with his teacher and found a mutually agreeable plan that will give him a second chance to get into the class. He will have to prepare himself to take a test at the end of the summer. But, it’s a great opportunity to restore credibility with teachers and his parents.