William Armstrong

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:01

Management Letter

Employee involvement and empowerment are important keys to improving organizational performance. Many examples exist of how these programs have helped organizations become more competitive. But without a strong sense of stewardship among all employees, progress toward even the most critical changes can be slow, or, at times, almost nonexistent.

Stewardship isn't inborn. It's learned. It must be in the head before it's in the heart. And while it must be learned, there are barriers that interfere with its being put into practice-even after it's understood and accepted.

Remember the parable in the Bible of the master who gave his servants gold coins to care for while he was on a journey? Two servants practiced good stewardship with the coins entrusted to them. They invested them well, received a good return and were given great wealth and positions of increased responsibility as a result.

Why, then, did the third react differently? Why did he bury the coin and not practice good stewardship?

Perhaps he thought he was being a good steward under the circumstances. He buried the coin to protect the resource. To him, that may have been good stewardship. Remember, he wasn't told specifically what to do with the coin. He wasn't told the objective was to enhance the value of the resource. He only knew that it had been entrusted to his care. And he saw his master as a hard man ... an exacting man ... a man who reaped what he didn't sow.

That servant's experiences and perceptions were different from the others. He had a different frame of reference. He simply may have done what he thought he was supposed to do. He protected the resource, but it didn't increase in value.

So perhaps the master should have shouldered a portion of the blame. He provided little guidance. He didn't provide an overview of the objectives, or a game plan, or a focus. He only gave the coin to the servant with instructions to "care for it".

"Wait just a minute," you say. "The other servants had the same instructions, and they had the good sense to invest the coins and allow them to increase in value." And you're right. But as managers, can we assume that good stewardship-as we define it, will always be uppermost in the minds of our employees?

The distinct analogy to this parable is this: In many of our organizations today, billions of dollars in collective resources aren't aggressively being enhanced. Add to this the billions of dollars worth of resources in the charge of those who, by the nature of their jobs, just don't care. This includes the many "bureaucrats" in the public and private sectors who are isolated from scrutiny and accountability and who have been allowed to let the resources under their control atrophy. A billion dollars here, a billion there-pretty soon we're talking about some real money.

As a leader, you must recognize that there are any number of factors which can limit a person's propensity to put good stewardship on the front burner. Here are several that are especially critical:

  • a lack of a clearly defined focus, or mission statement;

  • complacency;

  • a concern over job security;

  • a lack of trust within the organization;

  • organizational politics.

The primary barrier to good, effective stewardship is a lack of proper guidance by management. Like the master in the parable, many managers assume the mission is clear. But it's pure folly to make this assumption. In most organizations, the mission isn't as clear throughout the organization as it is to the management team.

Research has shown that, quite often, even some of the management team isn't in complete accord about the mission. Think of it this way: In every organization, people view problems and opportunities from completely different perspectives. It's as if they are looking through the opposite ends of a telescope. People who look through in the conventional manner see problems and opportunities as very close at hand. They feel a heightened sense of urgency and the need to take immediate action.

At the same time, some look through the opposite end and see these same problems and opportunities as far away and less critical. They feel no sense of urgency and no need to make what they consider hasty moves. The result is a difference of opinion which, at times, can cause serious conflicts within the organization.

At the very least, it interferes with the application of proper stewardship. The only effective focus is one that everyone in the organization can see, understand and accept. Until a proper focus is in place, the question of stewardship may remain in doubt.

This leads into the second most important factor affecting stewardship: complacency. People "bury coins" because they are too comfortable. They are satisfied with the present level of performance. They see no reason to take any action that might place themselves, or their people, in jeopardy. Their passivity is more likely to put the resources at greater risk than simply burying them. In this dynamic era, the organization can most effectively deploy resources that will gain the lion's share of the rewards.

Complacent people are the last to recognize the need for change. They are satisfied with the status quo and unlikely to make a move of any kind until they're sure it's absolutely safe and their positions are secure. As long as they are "getting by," they won't take action. Like the third servant, they have a different perspective, and need the explicit directions provided by the focus to provide necessary guidance.

As for concern over job security, when people are worried about their well being, stewardship is the furthest thing from their minds. It's difficult to be concerned about enhancing organizational resources when you feel you may not be part of the organization for long.

In this age of downsizing, people are concerned about their futures. Organizations can no longer accept employee loyalty as a given. Recent research has shown people will change jobs several times during their working careers-some will change careers several times. With conditions in a state of continuous flux, looking out for No.1 often is a worker's highest priority.

However, the ultimate success of the organization will continue to be determined by how well its people can enhance the value of the resources for which they are responsible. How important is this? Over the years, I have noted that at least 20 percent of the activity that takes place in any organization doesn't add value. Recently, another author set the number at 30 percent. Downsizing, without specifically addressing these activities, tends to exacerbate the problem of wasted resources, rather than eliminate it.

One of the most effective ways to recover some of your coins is to have each employee, including the bosses, review each activity to determine its value-adding impact. To add value, an activity should:

  • increase profitability;

  • reduce costs:

  • improve throughput;

  • address a specific customer need.

Activities that don't meet one or more of these criteria should be eliminated or revised so they do add value. Of course, there are a few exceptions. People involved in training and safety have a less direct impact on performance in these areas, but an impact nevertheless.

And certainly some administrative functions are critical as well. But it's difficult to justify the many bureaucrats who act as 'gatekeepers' to the implementation process. These are the people who spend most of their effort justifying their positions and precious little time enhancing value.

Then there's the matter of trust. I was recently asked by a major corporation to assess one of its facilities to determine why the level of employee enthusiasm and involvement was so high. When I went back to the facility to present my final report, a union official stood and, with immense pride, pointed out to everyone that I had used the word "trust" 17 times in the report. He felt the high level of trust between labor and manageme nt was the major contributor to the work environment.

Trust, like employee loyalty, should not be assumed to be a given. Team building, quality circles, and other programs aimed at increasing employee involvement have worked wonders for some organizations. But any program that isn't fully implemented and well maintained can do more harm than good. Over a short period of time, programs based on the "book of the month" can fragment trust. A consistent focus greatly enhances a sense of trust throughout the organization.

Another major deterrent to good stewardship has always been-and always will be-organizational politics. Any organization that tolerates or encourages politicking between functions, or within levels of the organization, will suffer greatly from buried coins. People won't have the inclination to fully enhance all of the resources if they see games being played within the organization, or evidence of favoritism.

When this happens, and it's commonplace, people will sit on the coins rather than invest them. There is too much concern that the "other side" will benefit more than the "home team". These conditions seem to be especially prevalent in large companies, or where the facility is located some distance from the headquarters.

To make certain your "coins" continue to increase in value-and to maximize your effectiveness as a leader- make certain that every person in your organization is practicing good stewardship, and that every resource is carefully invested in a way that will continue to enhance its value.

William Armstrong is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. The second edition of his book, "Catalytic Management: Success By Design," is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and WaldenBooks Stores. He can be reached at (412) 276-7396.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:00

Management Letter

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Quite often, you hear comments that certain people are ""born"" leaders-the implication being that a true leader must be born with an innate talent that separates him or her from the masses of people who aren't destined to direct the efforts of others. Having seen any number of people rise to the status of leader through sheer grit, determination and hard work, I must take issue with this notion.

Someone once said it was attitude more than aptitude that ultimately determines a person's altitude. Good leadership begets good leadership.

Here are a few techniques for developing ""born"" leaders:

  • Clearly communicate the organization's values and objectives, as well as its expectations and responsibilities. Let your people know ahead of time exactly what they will be held accountable for. Time spent spelling out what the organization wants to accomplish and the values it will employ to achieve these goals is time well spent.

  • Set high standards. Refuse to accept mediocrity. When standards are high, the better people will work harder to achieve them. Too often today, we're afraid of offending the underachievers if they aren't given the same rewards as the top performers. This only serves to pull the organization down to its least common denominator. When extra effort is rewarded, good leaders rise to the top.

  • Encourage and reward innovation and creative thinking. Let people know you're always open to new ideas and approaches that will improve performance. Good leadership keeps people focused on the present. People who dwell on the ""good old days"" or think in terms of ""this is the way we've always done it"" will find it difficult to be creative or innovative.

  • Define what constitutes a ""done"" task. A good worker/leader will complete a task and move on to the next one. A perfectionist will continue to work on a single task until he runs out of time. The definition of a ""done"" task will always include a description of the appropriate standards of performance. Any work above and beyond that point is usually unnecessary and a complete waste of time and resources.

  • Clarify ambiguities. If people don't understand any aspects of their work (and in most cases, you'll find at least a few, even for long-term employees) make certain they are clarified to everyone's satisfaction. The more you can resolve these gray areas, the more often people will feel comfortable being creative.

Developing leadership from within your organization means modeling effective behavior, giving formal training and providing opportunities to practice leadership skills. Effective leadership in the workplace is often correlated with creating high expectations, communicating clearly and effectively, providing relevant feedback and maintaining focus on those things that are really important to your company and its customers.

Some people may be ""born"" leaders, but the majority of the really effective leaders come from among the people who find inspiration and satisfaction in their work and are willing to invest part of their energy in the development of others. SBN

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, ""Catalytic Management: Success by Design"" (McGraw-Hill), is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders & WaldenBooks stores.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:58

To motivate or inspire

Following a recent workshop, a young woman asked me an interesting question. She wanted to know if I considered myself a motivational speaker or an inspirational speaker. I have given that question some thought and, after discussing it with friends in the speaking and training profession, concluded that, while it is generally perceived that a motivational program can get people fired up, the overall effect tends to be short-term. An inspirational speech can have a deeper impact, possibly causing a life-long change.

This is a point often overlooked by leaders. It’s relatively simple to motivate an employee in the short run, whether via a contest, performance bonus, additional perquisite, or pep talk. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve performance using these incentives.

But if these programs are misused and people begin to feel manipulated, the positive impact is diluted. Studies have shown that employees often resent motivational programs when they feel the employer is just trying to get more work out of them.

An effective leader should attempt to inspire people — to bring about the conditions that will cause positive, long-term changes. Today, too many people see their jobs as boring and unfulfilling. Employee loyalty and involvement are not as prevalent as they once were. Even jobs that might appear exciting and desirable may prove unsatisfactory to those who have them.

Logan Piersall Smith once wrote that “the test of a true calling is the love of the drudgery it requires.” With a little effort, an effective leader can help make almost any job seem more gratifying.

A meaningful vision, combined with a strong sense of purpose, can be instrumental in helping employees recognize the value of their efforts. Objectives that help the employees stretch and grow can be beneficial. Developed properly, they can truly inspire.

Some leaders may say, “But I’m not a motivator. I’m not the outgoing, gregarious type. I can’t jump up and down and get people excited!”

You don’t have to. Besides, that behavior tends to wear thin after a while.

Here are a few tips to help you “inspire” your people over the long-term:

  • Build credibility and trust. Let your people see that your word stands for something. People like working for a leader they can believe in. An organization built on a sense of mutual trust can usually sustain itself, even during difficult times.

  • Help people understand the importance and value of their work. People become enthusiastic when they realize they can make a difference.

  • Provide opportunities for people to master new tasks and expand their skills. People grow when they are called upon to continually overcome new challenges. Ronald Osborn once said, “Unless you try to do something beyond that which you have already mastered, you will never grow.”

  • Help people learn good judgment. The most recent issue of the Boy Scout manual points out that “good judgment can’t be taught, but through the gathering of many experiences, it can be learned.” An inspirational leader is one who takes the time necessary to help his people learn the skills needed to exercise good judgment. These skills include the ability to recognize all available options, to select the best solution, and finally, to effectively implement the decision.

The inspirational leader guides his people through a variety of situations, allowing them the opportunity to make critical choices, to see the results of their decisions, and to learn to live with their choices, or to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, they will make some mistakes along the way, but when they have the responsibility for making the decision — for exercising judgment — they will learn from their mistakes. And they will have more of a sense of ownership because of the decision.

The leader benefits by having stronger, more flexible people, but even more importantly, he has the satisfaction of knowing he may have contributed to enriching his employees’ lives.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, “Catalytic Management: Success by Design” (McGraw-Hill), is available at local stores. Reach him at (412) 276-7396.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

The intuitive workplace

One of the most valuable assets you can have as a leader/manager is your intuition. The organization is further enhanced if you can develop an organization of intuitive people.

In his book, “The Intuitive Manager,” author Roy Rowan writes, “Intuition is knowledge gained without rational thought ... from some stratum of awareness just below the conscious level. New ideas spring from a mind that organizes experiences, facts and relationships to discern a path that has not been taken before.”

Most business leaders, at one time or another, have made a major decision based largely on their intuition — with no empirical data to support the decision. It just felt right. Even so, many organizations frown upon discussions of gut feelings and intuition when it comes to making business decisions.

Before a decision can be implemented, they reason, it must survive several rounds of intense market research, focus groups and internal committees, and pass several layers of the management team before it is considered “safe” enough to implement. By that time, of course, the competition may have completed its implementation and passed on to the next project.

I’m not suggesting that intuition replace analytical thinking. They both are important to good, effective decision making. While linear thinking tells us what has worked in the past, intuition helps factor in current conditions, timing and the decision’s relevance to the organization’s strategic initiatives.

Intuition is often critical to the innovative organization, which prides itself on its ability to adapt quickly to an ever-changing marketplace.

No doubt you can think of at least one occasion when you ran an idea past your staff without receiving any critical comments, only to hear, when it didn’t work that several people had reservations about the idea. They just “didn’t feel right.”

But failure to encourage the expression and examination of even intuitive concerns results in moving forward without the full advantage of both the intellectual and intuitive wisdom of the group.

Everyone should feel free to offer his or her input — especially when it comes to gut feelings. Here’s how to encourage intuitive thinking:

1. Ask. Before making a decision, think about how you feel about what you’re about to do. Does it “feel” right? When working with a group, encourage everyone to express their real feelings. Don’t hesitate to talk openly about the group’s intuition — even though it may not be supported by hard facts.

2. Be attentive. Often the first impression is important because it might be the most insightful. It’s critical to capture that first impression. It may be the first impression your customers will get — which may be an indication of how successful that new product or product change will be.

3. Keep track of intuitive impressions. Keep a journal of your personal intuitions. Encourage your people to pay more attention to their intuitive impressions as well — to record their own feelings and first impressions.

4. Take time to collect your thoughts. Begin meetings by asking people to take a few moments of silence to collect their thoughts and to focus their full attention on the agenda.

Intuition is not a product of education or years of experience. It has more to do with insight and awareness. I have seen a great number of people with little or no education who had tremendous insight and intuition about even complex problems related to their working environments.

As a leader/manager, invite your people to share their insights. In a short time, you’ll recognize the value of their intuitive powers.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or via e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Creating fire-walkers

According to my research, the practice of fire-walking began as a part of religious ceremonies. Many years ago, a number of religious beliefs centered on the worship of fire.

Some cultures believed fire was a gift from the gods. Fire-walking is still practiced in Tahiti, Trinidad, Mauritius, the Fiji Islands, India and Japan, among others.

In a typical fire-walking ceremony, a procession made up of a priest and other celebrants walks barefoot over a bed of hot coals. Any number of explanations have been offered as to why they’re not burned, or why they appear to suffer no pain. The general belief is that their extraordinary faith allows them to walk over flaming coals without suffering.

More recently, several prominent people in the motivational field have offered seminar participants an opportunity to fire-walk. The spectacle is intended to demonstrate mind over matter ... that it’s possible to mentally block out pain. I know of several people who claim to have participated, and they swear they experienced no pain — not even singed feet.

However, the fire-walkers I’m referring to here are the people in your organization who would willingly walk through fire for you and your company. I have never walked through fire, but I have worked for a few people who could probably get me to give it serious consideration. What makes these leaders so special?

First , they have earned a high level of trust. It’s difficult to unconditionally support a leader you don’t trust. Trust and respect go hand in hand, and trust is a two-way street. Unreciprocated, it offers little value. It can’t be developed through the use of tricks and gimmicks. It must be built on a solid foundation, and one of the best is to eliminate rules and regulations.

Rules and regulations tend to limit individuality, initiative and creativity. Even your better employees will often challenge rules in the name of their individual rights. In working with clients, I find that leaders who substitute values and principles for rules and regulations are far more successful in building a higher level of mutual trust and understanding.

In addition, most people would at least consider fire-walking for a leader who gives recognition for actual achievements. Too often, leaders believe they are motivating their people if they extend a generic pat on the back to everyone, regardless of the effort put forth and/or the results achieved. They are concerned they might offend the underachievers if they recognize individual accomplishments. This isn’t very effective, even in the short-term. If you acknowledge individuals for specific achievements, the recognition is far more effective, longer lasting and more appreciated.

I’m not suggesting you should actually expect anyone to walk through fire for you. But if you have even a handful of people who are completely committed to you as their leader, and to the organization’s purpose, you have a cadre of ‘champions,’ people you can depend on in an emergency and when you need them to take a leadership role in the implementation of a critical change.

So nurture your fire-walkers. They will be key ingredients in your long-term success.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:07

Creating a value-adding organization

All too frequently the pattern is repeated. The organization has a quarter or two of poor performance, and the obvious solution emerges—get rid of some people. Wall Street loves you, and the poor performance is brushed aside—as long as you can reduce the head count.

Organizations often overlook the fact that, once those employees are gone, they no longer can earn a nickel’s worth of profit for you. If these people are really excess baggage or the cause of poor performance, then, as the manager, you should be looking for ways to make them more valuable. And as their value increases, they can help you become more profitable.

One way to make your company more attractive to the investing public is to make your people more knowledgeable and thus more valuable. According to an article in Fortune magazine (June 22, 1998), “In an economy based increasingly on intellectual capital, a company’s assets are in the employees.”

Personal observations and research by writers like Michael Hammer and James Champy, authors of Reengineering the Corporation, indicate that at least 20 percent of all activities add little or no value to your products and services. If you and your people were to place an emphasis on just finding and eliminating those activities, your bottom line would greatly improve.

These non-value-adding activities include non-productive and unnecessary meetings; the preparation of redundant reports and studies no one reads; outdated work practices; checking and re-checking a person’s work; ineffective communications, etc. These problems are present in nearly every organization and can be eliminated if all employees, at all levels, would look at their tasks and ask these four questions:

  • Does this activity increase profits?

  • Does it reduce costs?

  • Does it increase “throughput”?

  • Does it address a specific customer need?

If the activity meets one or more of these criteria, it adds value. If it doesn’t, it should be eliminated.

There is another benefit to this exercise. A recent study reported that two-thirds of the employees in this country leave their places of employment at the end of the day with lower self-esteem than they had when they went to work. This loss of self-esteem accounts, at least in part, for poor morale and the reduced loyalty they feel toward their employers.

I find that self-esteem is greatly enhanced when people feel they are doing work that is important. When useless work is eliminated, and people recognize their roles in improving performance, their self-esteems increase along with their productivity—a double boost for the bottom line. When these areas of waste are eliminated and the bottom line grows, you will begin to see the folly of downsizing as an answer to each problem.

Any way you look at it, value-adding employees are a good investment.

William Armstrong is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. The second edition of his book, “Catalytic Management: Success by Design” is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and WaldenBooks stores.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

Outplacement advice for "The Chainsaw"

The following conversation is alleged to have occurred between an executive outplacement consultant and "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap, who was recently "downsized" at Sunbeam.

"So, Al, I've been reviewing your file, and there are several changes I think we might make to help you get re-employed. First of all, take the name for instance. You need to change it from 'Chainsaw' to...oh, let's say, 'Smiling Al' or 'Al the Benevolent,' something to appeal to the public. Something to help them see your softer side. What's that? Well, you might have a point there, but we have to find a way to distinguish you from the flock of wannabes you have created.

"And Al, in those television interviews, play down that notion that even the people who lost their jobs got rich because of your downsizing efforts. Remember, not all of them had as many shares as you had...their parachutes were more like little umbrellas. Now, now, Al, don't get upset. I'm sure you are worth every penny. Yes, yes. I'm sure you're a bargain at any price. But to the people who lost their jobs and are a little concerned about mortgage payments and putting their kids through college, it might seem a tiny bit insensitive.

"Al, maybe it's time to show the world there are some alternatives to your approach. You know, like maybe you could come up with something different. What's that? You don't know any other approach? Hmmm, that makes it tougher.

"We also need to work on your timing. It's not a big problem...even the great Houdini miscalculated on one escape. What? Oh, that's just a little joke we in the executive outplacement game use from time to time to add a little levity. What's that? You don't think it's funny? Yeah, everybody says that.

"But, seriously, you've always been able to get away before the results of your efforts caught up to you. Maybe you're a bit out of shape...maybe you should start running a few laps to improve your speed. Maybe chase a chicken around your estate like Rocky did that time. What? Rocky Balboa...the boxer in the movies. He got in shape by chasing a chicken...oh, never mind.

"What do I think of your prospects for getting another job? Don't worry, Al. As long as the marketplace remains enamored with the slash-and-burn mentality, you will always be in demand...by someone. There will always be a board somewhere interested in making a quick buck.

Your only concern should be that, some day, the stockholders will begin to realize once again that real wealth can only come as the result of growth. And that only managers with vision and the capacity to lead people and build strong organizations are worth the money you've been getting. When that day comes, Al, old buddy, you will have a lot more time to work on your golf game."

Bill Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, Catalytic Management: Success by Design (McGraw-Hill), is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and WaldenBooks stores.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:02

Yes, but do they get it?

In the next few years, business as we have come to know and accept it will change. The world of business will begin to realize just how ineffective it is to continually downsize. The business world will begin to realize once again that prosperity-real prosperity-only comes through growth.

Basically, business is pretty simple. It's about making things and selling things. And yet we continue to invent "stuff" in an attempt to make business seem more sophisticated and esoteric. When you fall prey to some of these notions, you take the chance of limiting your success.

Smaller organizations often have several advantages over their larger counterparts. Theoretically, at least, they can move faster and initiate changes more quickly. However, a shorter reaction time depends heavily on the ability to communicate more effectively. And herein lies the problem.

Moving quickly is one of the most neglected advantages the smaller organization has over its larger competitors. It's neglected because leaders in smaller organizations take for granted that they are effectively communicating with employees to the point that everyone in the company knows his or her role and fully understands exactly how it fits into management's "vision" for the organization. This can be a dangerous assumption.

More than a year ago, I sent an article I had written to several prospective clients. One plant manager liked several of the ideas and distributed copies to the corporate leadership team. Last week, the company president was meeting with employees at each plant to discuss a rather ambitious plan to double the size of the organization.

Several employees stood up and asked what they could do to help. A young engineer made several suggestions based on his recollections of my article. Some of the other managers also recalled the article, and it became the focus of the discussion.

The title was "Buried Coins," and it discussed the importance of stewardship as it applies to all organizational resources, including the human resources. It emphasized the importance of involving people at all levels of the organization when attempting to implement change.

All employees should know their specific roles in the organization and what they need to do to make those roles more successful. But in many cases, as the organization begins to grow, the corporate leaders often assume that the changes have been adequately communicated. This includes not only major course corrections planned by the organization, but sometimes even the small changes and how they will affect individual roles and expectations on the job.

Relying on articles in the company newsletter is not enough. You would be surprised how rarely some of these articles accurately communicate their intended message. Studies have shown that, in nearly 60 percent of cases where communications was not a priority, the employees tended to put a negative spin on the message.

The best method for getting the message across is still face to face. It's time consuming, but it allows two-way communication, essential when the organization is attempting to facilitate the implementation of critical changes. It's also the quickest and most effective way to increase employee involvement and build commitment for the change.

Remember, it's not the strength of the strategy, nor the size of the organization, that will ultimately determine the success of the strategy. It's the degree of commitment exhibited by the people involved in the implementation process.

Armstrong's Law For Successful Implementation: A strategy of average potency, with everyone behind it, will always defeat a more powerful strategy with fragmented support.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, "Catalytic Management: Success by Design"(McGraw-Hill), is now available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and WaldenBooks stores.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:59

Managing diversity

The most important skill any leader or manager can possess—regardless of the size of the organization—is the ability to continually raise the organization’s level of performance. It’s the key to sustaining long-term growth and prosperity.

One of the greatest challenges, then, will continue to be keeping your people on the same page. People bring a range of perspectives to the table and an effective leader must learn to channel them in a way that complements the organizational mission.

Think of it this way: In every organization, people view problems and opportunities from completely different perspectives. It’s as if they were looking through opposite ends of a telescope. People who look through in the conventional manner see “problems and opportunities” as being very close at hand. They feel a heightened sense of urgency and the need to take immediate action.

Those who look through the opposite end see the same “problems and opportunities” as off in the distance and far less critical. They feel no sense of urgency and no need to make what they consider hasty moves. The result is a sharp difference of opinion which, at times, can cause serious conflicts within the organization.

The degree of success you experience as a leader will be in direct proportion to your ability to identify and resolve conflicts between these contrasting perspectives. The problem is complicated because, in most organizations, 15 to 20 percent of the people will be at each end of the continuum. One group thrives on being involved in the change process and embraces almost any change. They enjoy the prospect of new experiences. At the other end, a group of approximately the same size will resist change with equal vigor. They are uncomfortable with change and prefer the status quo.

About 50 percent of the organization will remain open to change as long as they understand how it will affect their work. If the change is beneficial to the organization and doesn’t increase the complexity of their work, they will generally be supportive. While this group represents the majority, the other two require most of your attention.

It’s important to realize that people don’t arbitrarily line up on opposite sides of an issue. And differences in perspective aren’t rooted in employees’ races, genders or ages. The position they take is based more directly on their unique personal assessment of their experiences or perceptions resulting from their particular upbringing.

The problems occur because of the time and resources wasted while people at each end of the continuum lobby for their point of view. This can take the form of covert and overt acts. People lobbying for the change will begin to spend far too much time in meetings to “sell” their point of view. The other group will resist the change just as aggressively by dragging its feet and retarding the implementation process. In either case, the wasted effort will be costly to any anticipated performance improvement.

As the leader, you need to understand both perspectives so you can make the most effective decision. But once the decision is made, your effort must be directed toward making certain that both parties get behind the implementation process.

As with most organizational problems, an effective vision can help minimize the after-effects. The vision tends to close the gap between perspectives and resolve differences of opinion.

While differences of opinion, to some degree, will always be a part of organizational life, your ability to utilize them in your decision making and resolve them early in the implementation process will go a long way toward improving organizational performance.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, “Catalytic Management: Success by Design” (McGraw-Hill), is available at local book stores. He can be reached at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Workplace spirituality

On a daily basis, we seem to witness far too many problems with anger, violence, suicide, addiction, abuse, divorce, even the abandonment of children. These shocking events scream at us from every headline and fill every newscast. Perhaps the workplace is not the best arena for dealing with these problems, but it may be a good place to start.

Most people spend more time in the workplace than they do anywhere else, including their homes. Maybe a dash of spirituality in the workplace could provide the impetus to strengthen the individual, and even carry over to the home environment. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

First, we need to define religion and spirituality, because they are not necessarily synonyms. My favorite definition has always been that religion is when a person goes to church and thinks about fishing, while spirituality is when a person goes fishing and thinks about God.

Of course, spirituality in the workplace must allow for differences in belief systems. Still, it needs to be based on concepts such as the Golden Rule that are universally taught and accepted as core beliefs in all faiths.

I would never be so bold as to try to tell anyone what to believe. I only want to say that it should be OK to believe. There should be opportunities in the workplace that permit your employees to express their natural instincts to care, share and openly live their personal belief systems.

When the working environment allows people to live their beliefs, the result is usually less tension, more harmony, more cooperation, more enthusiasm and a higher level of trust. And, I might add, a higher level of productivity. It becomes a place where people can enjoy a sense of togetherness.

The biggest problem with trying to create an environment where spirituality can thrive is that too many people try to use it as a bully pulpit to convince others to believe as they do. This creates dissension and resentment. It’s far more desirable to create an environment where people feel free to live their own belief systems.

The primary purpose of spirituality in the workplace should be to promote better understanding and goodwill and to help people feel that they are important and that their lives are meaningful. But before attempting to create a working environment where spirituality can flourish, consider the following:

  • What are your motives? Never attempt to use this as an opportunity to sell your own beliefs or to promote something that might attract detractors and stir up unnecessary controversy.

  • Consider the desires and needs of your employees. Do they want a different working environment? If they are perfectly content, don’t rock the boat.

  • Establish a meaningful open door policy. As the leader, you should let your employees know that you are always available to listen to problems and concerns. The ability to really listen is a valuable leadership skill. Good listeners gain valuable insights into their organizations, which help them manage more effectively.

  • Carefully select your champions. Establishing this environment is not a one-person job; you will need the help of a few champions, who you can count on for support as you attempt to make changes in the environment. A key to success is to solicit help from average people who quietly live their belief systems. Avoid people who overly vocalize their personal beliefs.

  • Measure twice, saw once. For the most effective results, take your time in setting up a more spiritual work environment. If you create an environment where people feel comfortable, the rest will follow in due time.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

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