Monthly Archives: June 2011

How Healthy are You?

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

In their new book, Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage (Wiley, 2011), Scott Keller and Colin Price make the case that organizational health is vital for sustaining high performance. They posit that “Organizational health – the ability of your organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster than your competitors can – is just as important as focusing on the traditional drivers of business performance.”

They’ve done the research that demonstrates that healthy companies outperform unhealthy ones and that focus on performance and health increases the success of change efforts across multiple industries. I welcome their research and their results. They are demonstrating quantitatively what we’ve known qualitatively for a long while.

Focusing on driving business results is important; but it’s not enough. Smart leadership focuses on facilitating engagement as well as driving performance. This happens when leadership creates the conditions that make an organization healthy: clarity (which results in alignment), atmosphere (which enables smart and swift execution), and talent (which results in the aptitude and attitude for resiliency, adaptability).

Organizational health is always important. It is especially critical in times of organizational transformation. Keller and Price report in their research that 70% of change efforts failed due to poor organizational health, the symptoms of which include negative employee attitudes and unproductive management behavior. Those companies that focused on performance and health were “twice as successful as those focusing on health alone and nearly three times as successful as those focusing on performance alone.” (“What successful transformations share” McKinsey Global Survey, March 2010).

When we apply the CAT Scan model to assess change efforts we find that failure is due to the narrow focus of so many change efforts. Leadership tends to focus on changing structure and systems in the hopes that people will magically engage the change and perform at a high level in spite of a lack of clarity (no alignment), an insufficient atmosphere (no guidance on what/how to execute), and disengaged talent (“negative employee attitudes and unproductive management behavior”/lack of aptitude). Successful change requires us to address the needs of people, teams, and the organizational culture in addition to structural and systems and processes.

If our organizations are going to deliver value and maintain competitive advantage, leadership needs to get better at this balancing act of focusing on both driving performance and facilitating engagement (ensuring organizational health). When we accept our responsibility to create clarity, shape a positive atmosphere, and develop talent, we drive performance. We remove barriers to high engagement. Leadership that accepts this and works on getting better and better at it can only have a positive impact in both the short and long term.

Leadership Lessons from My Father

 |  Leadership

This week I’d like to share an excerpt from a book I’m working on that captures leadership lessons I’ve gotten from my father. From time to time I’ll post a new excerpt. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and comments about them.

My father was a presence; though short in stature, he was a very big man. At least that’s how I remember him. He was larger-than-life. The larger-than-life aspect of his life begins with his birth.

Neil Anthony Giuliano was born in 1928 to Maria and Albert Giuliano. According to the legend, my father was born at home and weighed in at 16 pounds and 10 ounces. He was the fourth of, what in the final tally would be, nine children, all of whom were born at home except the youngest. My grandmother was pregnant 14 times in her 17 years of marriage; only with my grandfather’s death when my dad was 10 did the baby-making cease. My grandmother was only 34 years old when she was widowed. Anyway, that’s another story. I tell you this because these experiences – being one of nine in an Italian immigrant family, being dirt poor through the Great Depression, witnessing the strength and generosity of his mother through those difficult times, and losing his father at 10 helped shape who my father was to become.

Growing up during the Great Depression my father learned to do what it takes to survive, to pitch in to help the family, and to be grateful for what you have. He worked to help the family even though he was very young and looked out for his younger brothers and sisters. He told my brothers and sister and me of how at Christmas each year they would be thrilled to receive an orange for a gift. Every year, until his last Christmas, we gave my father oranges before bringing out his other gifts. I think he always liked the oranges best.

Fiercely patriotic and service-oriented, I think my father always regretted that he missed World War II by a year. He joined the Marines right after high school in 1946 and spent two years on an aircraft carrier peacekeeping in the Mediterranean. This was another experience that shaped who he was. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” was an oft-repeated phrase in our house.

My father was always of man of deep, settled faith. He was proud of the fact that he served Mass up until the week before he got married at 25. His faith inspired him to live a life of public service. He never turned away from someone in need. He served on our town’s school board and eventually the town council. Everyone in our family and our town for that matter knew that if you needed help, you called Neil.

My father was also a dreamer and risk-taker. When I was twelve, my father announced we were moving. We lived in a small town in New Jersey a mile away from my grandmother (his mother). In fact most of his living siblings also lived within a mile or two of “Grandma’s” house. We were there all the time; so moving across the country to Phoenix was a big deal! He used to say, “The world is a checkerboard and God moves you around until He gets you in the right spot.” I guess Bloomfield, NJ was no longer “the right spot.”

My father was an optimist who always looked forward. I don’t think he’d mind me telling you that one of his favorite songs is “Tomorrow” from the Broadway show “Annie.” It sums up his firm belief that no matter what today may be like, “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

As I grew into adulthood and began shaping a life and career of my own, I did so in conversation with my father. I think that all of us, especially men, live out our lives in conversation with our fathers. The big questions we must answer if we are to make the most of our human experience (how to live, love, and lead well) are answered in dialogue with our fathers. The answers our fathers live by and share with us are the starting point for our own journeys into adulthood. The answers we settle upon are formulated in the give and take with what we learned from our fathers as we grew up in their shadows. Their shadow touches all parts of who we are even after they are gone.

My father died many years ago when he was 50 and I was seventeen. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have a conversation about living, loving, and leading. We did and we do; his death just complicated things a bit. My father has taught me many lessons through the years. Some of these lessons he taught to me directly while I was a boy. Some of these lessons I’ve derived from my own journey into adulthood and my ongoing reflection on the life my father modeled for me in his 50 years.

My conversation with my father over the 30 plus years since his death has been an exercise in trying to see things as he would have seen them, trying to imagine his take on life’s events. The man I have become and continue to become is the result of a continuing conversation in which I compare and contrast my beliefs and actions with how he would see something and what he would do. Some things I’ve tried to emulate. Some things I’ve tried to do differently. Either way, he’s been a great teacher.

As a husband and father, and in my work, the lessons my father taught me continue to resonate with me and teach me how to live, how to love, and how to lead. I know that when I take these lessons to heart I become not just a better leader, but a better man. Thanks, Dad. Talk to you tomorrow.

When Leading Change, There is No End Zone

Doing change work there always comes a point early on, when structural changes have been announced and are almost complete, that someone will say, “Okay, the change is done. Now let’s get back to business.” This is the moment when I tell them (after chuckling to myself) that now the hard work begins in earnest. When it comes to leading change, there are yard markers and milestones; but there is no end zone.

It is now almost cliché to say that change is constant. And, it is true. We need to adopt a change mindset that acknowledges this reality. When the change takes the form of a particular initiative (a reorganization, a merger, or acquisition), changing the structure or systems and processes is the easy part. The fact that some think that this is what change entails is indicative of what needs as much, if not more, of our attention if we are to lead change successfully.

Adopting a change mindset moves us to see change as normative and ongoing. A change mindset enables us to see that change efforts must address cultural issues and leadership and workforce development as well as structure and systems and processes. This mindset has built into it a flexibility and willingness to make adjustments to implementing change. It also has built into it an intentional and continuous curiosity about how people are engaging and performing in relationship to change.

Knowing that change is normative and ongoing also moves us to develop a skill set that supports our continuous work as change leaders. I think there are five skills we want to develop if we want to be adept at leading change.

Managing Complexity – We want to be able to find meaning in confusion, think strategically, and solve problems quickly.

Innovating – We want to be able to promote creativity and positive disruption.

Communicating – We want to be able to design, convene, and host necessary and important conversations.

Executing – We want to be able to set goals and objectives and direct operations to achieve them.

Transforming – We want to be able to generate awareness and promote growth in ourselves and others.

A change mindset and a solid leadership skill set will support us in leading change over the long haul. It’s vital that we are working toward this goal; because, change is never done. Getting back to business means getting ready for the next change. And the next. And the next. There is no end zone.