Author Archive for Susan Diehl

Discipline: Are You Focused On Your 95%?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 by Susan Diehl

I was shocked recently as I read a blog entry on change by Tony Schwartz on the Harvard Business Review Online. In it, he states that 95% of our behaviors are habitual, and only 5% are consciously self-selected. How can this be? Are we so programmed that we literally only choose to do things 5% of the time? This hit home for me in particular, since I believe so strongly that we must be intentional in our behaviors, our decisions, our choices. No wonder why companies can so easily stagnate! Even when leadership teams have hired the right people, formed a high-performing leadership team and articulated a compelling strategy, results can still suffer. When it comes time to executing our strategy, we can so easily fall back into the habits of disengagement, politics, and stagnation. What can we do to make sure we don’t fall into the trap of (bad) habits?

First, it is about working to change your bad habits into good ones. So, you need to identify what are those unintentional behaviors that you want to change. I suggest you put together that “stop, start, continue” list for your department or organization. Recognize that you may be doing things just from habit and they no longer may be creating value in the way they once did. So, stop doing them! Don’t allow yourself to think “well, we’ve always done that” or “it is tradition” if no positive benefit is coming from what you’re doing. Start doing things that are necessary to your organization’s success, for example, setting objectives regularly, holding yourself accountable for achieving goals, acting on lessons learned. And, where you are doing things right, continue to do them intentionally and with purpose. You can enhance those good behaviors by recognizing them and actively working to increase their positive impact.

Second, stay focused and precise relative to what you want to change. Some clients repeatedly say “my goal is to increase sales”. Well, we all would like to increase sales, but it is more effective to identify precisely what specific actions you intend to take to help improve the likelihood of that outcome. For example, set a goal to spend some time as a team developing your value proposition, identifying your key customer segments and selling more to your high-value accounts. Set one critical goal at a time, work to achieve it and then go on to the next one. This will help you to identify the change you want to happen and increase the success rate.

Third, as Tony Schwartz observes: “Put simply, the more behaviors are ritualized and routinized — in the form of a deliberate practice — the less energy they require to launch, and the more they recur automatically.” If your strategy has become “credenza-ware,” you need to make sure you set aside the time to meet with your team and work on your execution together. Having a routine meeting rhythm will create the opportunity to change the inefficiency of your team members operating in a vacuum, or, worse yet, functioning at cross-purposes to the other groups in the organization.

Finally, take it one step at a time. These habits didn’t all start the same day and they won’t disappear overnight. It is all about setting priorities, knowing what makes sense within the culture of your organization, and recognizing that change takes time. I’m encouraged to start paying attention to my 95% and producing the high value change I’m after!


3 Disciplines That Drive Alignment

Monday, January 31st, 2011 by Susan Diehl

How does an organization achieve the alignment necessary to improve enterprise value?  It does so by committing to a process-driven approach to alignment.  A pursuit of sustained alignment is driven by three disciplines.  First, the team must work to develop cohesive functional teamwork.  Second, the team must agree on a compelling strategy that sets the direction for the future and captures the hearts and minds of employees.  Third, the team must execute the strategy with disciplined thought and action. 

I recently had an article published in The CEO Advantage Journal that examines these three disciplines in greater detail.  Please read it and let me know what you think!


Living Your Values

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by Susan Diehl

It seems that many employees are increasingly disgruntled by their employer’s failure to “walk the talk”. When an organization proclaims it believes in something, but then behaves in a way that is contrary to those beliefs, the results are dire. Just today, I heard an example of a company communicating to its employees that it had instituted a process for global sales to promote fairness and transparency; however, when the process was not followed and worse yet, employees were hurt financially, the company turned its back on its values by not enforcing the policy against the offending employees. The reaction to this lapse, predictably, was that the negatively impacted employees did not want to follow the process the next time (and perhaps even to sabotage it!). Morale plummeted, trust in the process was lost, and no incentive remained to pursue similar sales in the future. In one fell swoop, the organization created a credibility gap.

Living your core values is more than putting a poster on the office wall, or holding a session to “embed” the values in the organization. Indeed, even if you are successful in aligning your employees around the values of your organization, it only takes one misstep (like the one above) to unwind all the good work that the organization has done to create that alignment. Put simply, the organization is just one behavior away from destroying a positive reputation that may have taken years to build. So, how can an organization ensure that it is walking the talk consistently?

First, and foremost—ensure that all members of your leadership team demonstrate your organization’s core values in everything they do. If they do not, you might as well not read any further. Leaders are like amplifiers: if they are aligned they will produce resonance, but if they are not aligned, the organization will hear static and will block out what is being communicated. Second, empower your employees to raise concerns about behaviors that are inconsistent with your values, without fear of backlash. You can designate someone in your organization or on its leadership team to champion these values. Encourage your employees to share their views and call out inconsistent behaviors, even if these behaviors originate with your leadership. Third, make sure that you follow up and follow through on these legitimate concerns. This will create credibility with your employees and promote an ethic of accountability. For example, if you value “respect for all people”, then allowing harassment or demeaning conduct in any form would not be tolerated. Finally, only hire and retain employees who demonstrate the core values of your organization. People are who they are—either they share your values or they do not. So, hire and keep people who reflect, rather than detract, from who you are. As Patrick Lencioni teaches, your values should be the immutable parameters of your hiring decisions.

On a personal note, I lost my father about a week or so ago. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the support we received by the many, many people who loved him. I heard wonderful stories about how my dad helped people when they were down, how he made them laugh, how he taught them to love, how he made them feel special. These were my dad’s values: showing love, being a friend, helping others, and keeping his family safe and secure. He lived them every day. I saw these even more clearly after he died and realized that your values are what define you. It reflects who you are and who you are not. Organizations, like people, need to live their values each and every day. These values define who they and what their legacy will be. So, go be inspired to create your legacy. It is the foundation upon which your organization rests.


The Power of One

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 by Susan Diehl

One voice, one direction, one result. I am speaking of the power of one team–aligned and guiding those around them swiftly, purposefully and cohesively. The results of sustained alignment are dramatic. How often have you seen teams performing at this highest level of alignment?  Not often, I suspect. The reasons are varied:

  1. No shared objectives
  2. Highly political
  3. Low trust
  4. Inability to reach agreement
  5. Lack of leadership
  6. Lack of discipline.

I could go on as to how misalignment happens on a team. Teams also do not want to invest the time it takes to ensure that they are on the same page, to clarify roles, to confirm decisions. However, it takes far more time if you do not invest the time up front to align these things. It goes back to one of my favorite sayings: “if you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, you don’t have the time to do it over”.

The concept of time is misunderstood. Many executives believe that they are acting too slowly when they have too many meetings. Consequently, they don’t take the time to agree on objectives, actions and communications. However, the teams that fail to gain this upfront alignment may complete tasks, but they will not gain commitment or capture the hearts and minds of those in their organization in a predictable way. As a matter of fact, a regular meeting rhythm or cadence should take less than 10% of a team’s time. This is because many of the unnecessary meetings we attend are the result of a lack of up front clarity.

How can a team or organization gain the alignment necessary to speed up its ability to achieve success? It is by means of a consistent and process-driven approach to alignment, and a commitment to stay aligned. The team must work to develop greater team function, it must agree on a compelling strategy that sets the direction for the future, and it must engage in disciplined thought and action to set in motion the strategy. Sound easy? It is a journey that requires commitment and vigilance. However, its impact is great: think of what you can achieve when you can leverage the power of an entire organization and perform consistently well.

Alignment is the key–it is the power of one.


Emotional Intelligence is Key to a Culture of Collaboration

Thursday, August 5th, 2010 by Susan Diehl

The very first CEO for whom I worked consistently referred to the importance of the “Shadow of the Leader.”  His demeanor spoke of modesty and humility–no corporate jets, no extravagant cars or homes, and graciousness to all whom he encountered. Was he perfect? No, in fact he had tendencies towards micromanagement and, under stress, his graciousness bordered on paternalism. So, the emotional intelligence disciplines he practiced and the leadership characteristics he demonstrated created an organizational culture that encouraged respectfulness towards others, pursuit of a shared vision and high standards, but it stopped short of a high performance organization.

Why? Because emotional intelligence does not alone guarantee that an organization will exhibit collaborative behaviors. In this company, collaboration was sporadic and conflict frequent due to a lack of trust and transparency, perhaps caused by the leader’s micromanagement. Indeed, there was often in-fighting between departments (silo mentality), and frequent break downs in communication. 

Despite this, having emotional intelligent leaders is vital for a sustainable collaborative culture to exist. The valuable lessons I learned from this CEO (both positive and negative) really crystallized when I had the opportunity to contrast his style with other leaders. It was then that I came to understand that while emotional intelligence does not ensure collaboration, it is key to facilitate it. More importantly, the absence of emotional intelligence can destroy a culture of collaboration. Like a blast of dynamite crushing rock that took years to form, a collaborative culture can take years to develop and a single act to destroy.


Competition in the Workplace

Thursday, August 5th, 2010 by Susan Diehl

Competition has an important place in a supportive culture. There needs to be a catalyst to propel ideas forward or in an another direction, to react to new variables, or to innovate. 

Competition is paradoxical in that it is both isolative and collaborative at the same time. Football is a great example. Players compete against the other team, against their own teammates on the field, and those players who want to take their place. This helps to keep them sharp and improve their performance. Yet, much like in the prisoner’s dilemma-a seminal negotiation exercise, there is a time when competition becomes secondary to collaboration, and to pursue it as a strategy will sub-optimize results. 

This is true in business organizations as well. Without some competition, stagnation may set in. However, too much competition can erode trust and lead to divisiveness in the organization.