The Power of This Year’s Graduating Class

If you are a graduate celebrating this month or next, you have a lot to be proud of. You put in a lot of work to make it to the end. Congratulations! You should feel great. In fact, you should feel powerful. The power of this year’s graduating class is unconventional.

Power is traditionally associated with superiority, authority, title, position, and control. But in my view, this association is perhaps one of the biggest problems—and opportunities—we have today. Too many people are looking for the easy way out by asking others for answers to important questions when they should instead own the responsibility to take their own position.

I believe power is a choice available to everyone. My definition of power differs from conventional thought and aligns with what power really is today. To me power is clarity, influence, energy, confidence, and impact.

I created the Power Compass to show you how to increase real power in five main ways:

  1. Increasing discipline leads to increased clarity.
  2. Increasing support for others leads to more influence.
  3. Increasing insight and self-understanding leads to improved energy.
  4. Increasing alignment with your values leads to higher confidence.
  5. Increasing alignment of your creativity choices makes a bigger impact.

Members of the class of 2018 understand what real power is. And more importantly, whether you are a high school or college grad, increasingly you are using your power to effect change.

College campuses in the United States have long been places where individuals have challenged conventional power centers. More recently, high school students have joined the fight to challenge the status quo. My hope is that you keep it up. We need your clarity and energy to make us all better.

As you celebrate your accomplishments, remember to thank those who taught you what real power is. And wherever you go from here, please pay it forward.

The rest of us need you to be powerful.

Congrats to the graduating class of 2018!

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The Avengers Are Powerful—You Can Be Too

Many are enjoying the latest, record-setting Avenger blockbuster movie because it’s great fun to escape into a world where fantasy figures can wield a shield or a hammer, or wear a suit to fly, turn invisible, or display super-human strength. Who will reign supreme? We are fascinated by power.

In the real world the power that fascinates is also a form of perceived supremacy, but in the form of title, position, authority, or control. People are captivated by the power of others: who has it, how they got it, and how they use it.

In my work, I’ve been fortunate to learn from some of the most powerful people on the planet. These amazing individuals have taught me not only a different definition of power, but also a means to increase mine. One was a six-year-old girl with special needs.

These wise individuals taught me that real power is available to everyone by the choices they make in five areas:

Real power is influence, and it increases as we offer more support to others. Being powerful is more about giving support than getting support. Contrary to what you may have thought about power, service is the highest form of leadership. Serving others is a key to sustainable growth. And it creates the kind of influence that truly powerful people wield—the kind that resonates and uplifts.

Real power is clarity, and it gets stronger with discipline. Having power is more about creating an environment that encourages every individual to engage in their own form of self-discipline. That’s not to say discipline never comes from above, but by empowering each member of an organization to be accountable, discipline from above will not be required as frequently. Discipline brings clarity to any situation, increasing an individual’s power.

Real power is energy, and it intensifies from inside as our insight grows. Insight is an integral element of being powerful. A person with real power does not influence the world around him or her without consideration of the bigger picture that begins inside. From my experience with this vantage point, true growth—both personal and professional—is far more likely. Insightful individuals are able to tap into an internal energy that is felt by others as power.

Real power is impact, and it grows as we focus on our creativity. Creating the future is not about waving a magic wand. It is a concrete practice that serves the purpose of being powerful with a purpose. Creative solutions make an impact—on people, organizations, and societies. Real power sometimes comes from the unlikeliest of places.

Real power is confidence, and it rises as we better understand and live our values. What do you stand for? When you speak about your values and act accordingly, you increase your power because you are confident in your assertions. The power is palpable—and effective.

I hope you enjoy the Avengers if that type of movie is fun for you. Either way, I also hope you’ll think about the (super) powers of people in your life. Reflect on their energy, clarity, influence, confidence, and their impact.

You may want to ask yourself two questions: How powerful do you want to be? And who would you like to share your (super) power with?

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Working in the Key of Change

Rick Miller featured in Bentley Magazine article:

When business leadership expert Rick Miller ’80 imagines employees of the future, he sees an orchestra. That is, musicians with very specific talents: playing multiple instruments, harmonizing in a diverse group, and being able to work with sheet music and improvisation at the same time. The key, he says, is depth and breadth of skill sets, ability to connect into teams and adaptability to constant change.

Experts of every kind are making predictions about workplace trends in the next decade. Navigating issues related to technology, gender and age comes down to how well people can prepare for change, adapt to change and be the change that is needed.

Miller’s company, Being Chief LLC, helps senior executives develop their potential to lead. His three decades at Fortune 10 and 30 companies, nonprofits and startups have offered a front row seat to the forces of change. These days, that seat is typically not around a board table. An afternoon meeting might involve Miller’s avatar in a cloud campus, interacting with top managers and board members, half of them women, from around the country.

“That would have been unthinkable 20 years ago,” he says. “Today, diversity of all types matters; leveraging technology matters. Companies who get that are already outperforming those who do not.”

Miller’s musical analogy about tomorrow’s workforce resonates with Bentley management professor Tony Buono, who chaired the university’s 2017 faculty research colloquium on the future of work.

“In the past, if you had significant expertise and depth in a particular area, that was sufficient,” he says. “Today, industry is also looking for a broad understanding of the cross-functional realities of an organization.”

A ROBOT CHORUS?

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked debate on whether humans will be replaced by robots on the job. Research by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company suggests it is misleading to focus on how AI will impact specific jobs.

“Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term,” according to the report, Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation. “Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined.”

Susan Brennan, associate vice president for university career services at Bentley, sees promise in leveraging human traits to work alongside robots. “Computers will never have the heart, courage and brain for future-based thinking.”

Brennan’s must-have skills: empathy, critical thinking, humility, judgment and collaboration. 

Otherwise, she says frankly: “You will not survive the artificial intelligence revolution. Those competencies are what will allow humans to take technology to a higher level through decision-making and risk-taking.”

PLAYING IN PARITY

Melanie Foley, MBA ’02 remembers starting work at Liberty Mutual in 1996. The Internet and World Wide Web were growing but not omnipresent. Cellphones were expensive and anything but mobile. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 19 percent of women in the U.S. had four or more years of college.

Foley is still at Liberty Mutual, but points to changes such as “the speed and ease of global communication and an increasing number of women not just in the workforce, but who hold leadership positions.”

Over much of her career at Liberty, Foley took on sales and marketing roles of increasing responsibility within its U.S. personal insurance business. Her current work, as executive vice president and chief talent and enterprise services officer for Liberty Mutual’s 55,000-plus employees worldwide, focuses on talent, procurement, communications, real estate, and workplace services and strategies.

One constant: her support for gender equality in the workplace. Liberty itself has strong female representation overall (55% of all employees), on the board (30%) and across management (50% front-line managers; 35% midlevel; 30% executive/C-suite).

But that isn’t typically the case. According to a study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org (Women in the Workplace 2016), while women account for almost half of entry-level professionals in corporate America, they fill only 19 percent of C-suite posts and 5.8 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies.

“That’s a lot of talent not being fully utilized at many companies,” Foley says. “By revisiting and revising their approach to recruiting, hiring, development and promotion, companies can affect the changes needed to bring more women into senior executive positions.”

Leadership development early in a woman’s career is a key factor in later success, according to Deborah Pine, executive director of the Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business (CWB) at Bentley. Research by McKinsey finds that, among young professionals in the initial step up to management, men are promoted at a 30 percent higher rate than women.

“Women are not only significantly underrepresented in the C-suite, they are also primarily in staff roles and not senior vice president line roles,” says Pine, noting that, in 2015, men accounted for 90 percent of CEOs promoted from line roles.

Training and development must cross genders and generations. Ernst & Young LLP, for example, is “constantly training and retraining employees,” according to Ellen Glazerman, executive director of the EY Foundation.

The organization aims to develop three mindsets it considers essential for the modern workplace. First, she says, is the embrace of analytics to manage data that “everyone is going to confront regardless of their job and location”; next is the adoption of innovation to “fail forward and fail quickly, then get up and keep going — but not without a risk assessment to ensure that your failure is never big and brings you closer to a better answer”; and finally is a global approach to “work with people from different backgrounds and abilities in a way that will find the best answers.”

GIVING DIVERSITY A VOICE

As workplaces become more diverse — by age, gender, race, ethnicity, lifestyle and more — Buono says that people will have to get comfortable with change.

“It’s going to be very different, for example, as people in their 20s work with people in their 70s. There will be different expectations, learning styles and work styles.”

Reverse mentoring, through which younger people help older colleagues work with the technology that is changing organizational practices, will require some senior managers to put ego aside. Conversely, millennials and Gen Z will need to develop confidence to make suggestions — which may include taking advice from more seasoned coworkers.

“There will be much more decentralization and egalitarian relationships in organizations,” says Buono. “The ability to manage interpersonal relationships, understand our own feelings and exhibit self-control is going to be crucial.”

Foley sees many organizations starting to fully embrace diversity, which includes not only demographic factors but also backgrounds and experience.

“A different perspective is a fresh perspective, which can often generate innovation for a team, particularly if current members have overlapping skill sets and perspectives,” she says. “Embrace diversity, and you’ll usually end up with a high-performance ceiling for a team.”

CREATING HARMONY

Managing diverse teams poses special challenges for leaders, according to Miller. “There is an art to bringing talented people together, helping them feel good about what they do, giving them input into what happens, recognizing them and retaining them.”

Succeeding in the innovation economy also requires some soul searching. “As people learn more about industries and their skill sets, they will also need to focus more on learning about themselves,” he says. “Power comes when you develop and listen to your own voice, not the voice of a spouse or a well-intentioned friend or advertising. In a very left-brain dominant culture, the ability to better understand ourselves can really unlock a power that will accelerate great things.

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What Would Jason Bourne Do?

We had been in the meeting for about three hours. It was scheduled to be a day-long session and had been set up by the CEO who attended with his eight direct reports. The CEO’s goal was specifically to introduce his senior team to the idea of building a more powerful organization.

We had started the session with what I considered three easier topics of the five I wanted to introduce: discipline, creativity, and support. As expected, the group of nine had no problem linking increased focus in these three areas to being more effective. But it was time to pivot.

My experience has shown that companies are more powerful if their people are more powerful, and that people are more powerful if they can connect what they do to who they are. We had spent the morning focused on employees at the company and it was easy for attendees to talk about “others.” My early afternoon objective was to switch the conversation away from making others more powerful to making each of the nine individuals in the room more powerful. It was about to get uncomfortable.

The next topic was insight, and I shared that each leader would be more powerful if they could connect what they do to who they are. Insight is another way of saying self-understanding. This was more touchy-feely than some in the room were comfortable with. I saw people squirming. But when I introduced the importance of being “present” and one of the attendees asked a question I’d never heard before: “Is being present some of that Oprah crap?”—I had my opening.

I asked if anyone in the room was familiar with actor Matt Damon and the Jason Bourne character he played in a number of successful movies. Everyone’s hand shot up. I told them I had a favorite scene from the first Bourne movie I wanted to share.

At one point in The Bourne Identity, Jason is sitting at a diner table with his female accomplice who questions whether all his recollections of violence are real. Jason’s response is epic Bourne: “I can tell you the license numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy up at the bar weighs 215 pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is in the cab of the grey truck outside. And at this altitude I can run straight-out for a half-mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that?”

I asked the audience why would he know that?

The individual who asked the question had an answer. He said, “Because Jason Bourne is a badass!” and everyone laughed.

I said “Jason Bourne knew those things because he had trained to be present. When he walked into any situation, he wasn’t focused on the past or the future. He was all-in to learn all he could in the present moment.” Our group went on to discuss how this skill set could benefit those around the table and those they support.

For example, we discussed all that goes on in the team meetings that each leader held with their direct reports. They all agreed they would benefit if they were more focused on and attuned to the dynamics between their team members. Also, they all admitted to “meeting hangover,” when they often brought negative energy from one meeting into the next. I asked how many wanted to be more like Jason Bourne. For the second time, every hand shot up.

We went on to discuss other ways to build insight and wrapped up with an important discussion on values.

And when the CEO asked the members of his team at the end of the day what each took away as immediately actionable from our session, the Oprah guy said, “I’m going to be like Jason Bourne.”

 

The topic of being present is among other tips about how to be more powerful and build a powerful organization offered in Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title.

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Was Fred Rogers a Chief?

If you believe, as I do, that Chiefs are people who impact others in their behavior, then TV star Fred Rogers would qualify as among the more impactful Chiefs during his 31 seasons in the spotlight.

The power of Fred Rogers will be in full display in an upcoming film on the 50th anniversary of his first TV show on PBS in 1968. The soft-spoken Rogers taught countless children both the importance of being the best they could be and how to do it. He was the antithesis of the hard-charging and domineering character of Chief Executive Officer Gordon Gecco presented in the movie Wall Street that many to this day would associate with the word “power.”

With a calming demeanor and an ever-present cardigan, Rogers created a place where millions came over decades to learn about their potential. He taught us self-reliance, and he helped us build lives in the real world by taking us to his Land of Make Believe. Working with hand-puppet characters that we came to know and love, Rogers helped us understand that everyone has doubts, and that everyone can work through those doubts and become confident. The characters in the Land of Make Believe showed us that while self-reliance is important, it is just as important to stay connected and serve others as a member of a community.

He also offered specific lessons on how to do it: Be generous. Be grateful. Be present.

But perhaps Fred’s most powerful lesson was that of acceptance. He taught us to accept ourselves and do the best we can with what we’ve got, and that we are okay as we are. He also taught us to accept everyone around us even though they may not look like us, talk like us, or believe what we do. Everyone else is okay as they are, too. These insightful lessons taught children to be powerful in the best possible ways. With this complete flexibility, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood felt like an inviting place for anyone to learn and grow.

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Charity Partner Announced—Sammy’s House, a Special Place for Children

In my TED talk I shared a story about how a six-year-old girl in a wheelchair reminded me what a truly powerful Chief can look like. To this day, “Melissa” remains one of my most memorable teachers. In Melissa’s honor, I proudly share that Sammy’s House, a Special Place or Children, has been selected as the exclusive charity partner for the Be Chief book project. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book will go to Sammy’s House. Learn more at BeChief.com.

Sammy’s House operates as a nonprofit and provides services for children with and without special needs. The organization operates a child development center, a respite care program, a summer camp, as well as family support services to fill the gaps in services for children and their families. Sammy’s House believes that all children have the ability to learn and to contribute to the community. The organization is particularly focused on supporting children who are medically fragile and/or developmentally delayed, as well as their families.

Programs serve children 0 to 16 years old. The “house” is located in Austin, Texas.

Children at Sammy’s House learn the values of acceptance, compassion, and the art of caring for one another. These wonderful individuals each have a lot to teach all of us.

 

Pre-orders for Be Chief are NOW available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The book will be published on September 4, 2018.

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CEOs to employees: Take a vacation, already

Rick Miller quoted in FierceCEO.com article:

CEOs are increasingly touting the importance of employees taking time off, but the message may not yet have reached the rank and file among U.S. workers, who are taking only half of their eligible vacation time per year. The reasons point to a need to change the work culture within companies, according to one human resources expert.

“Employees should take advantage of available vacation time for a variety of reasons. In today’s very fast paced environment, the idea or concept of work life balance has slowly been shrinking away and employers have recognized that,” said HR Florida State Council Vice President Jennifer Gunter. “And with so many competing priorities workers face, it’s time to evaluate internal time-off policies and create a culture in which employees are encouraged to take their vacation time as opposed to leaving multiple days, weeks or hours on the table. By successfully promoting and encouraging employees to utilize vacation time, employers can combat low productivity, employee burnout and improve employee morale.

Vacations have devolved from getaways to brief respites where the office is just a phone call or a text away, a survey said. According to a 2017 Glassdoor survey the average U.S. employee only took about half (54%) of his or her eligible vacation time/paid time off in the 12 months prior to the survey.

And more Americans (66%) today report working when they do take vacation compared to three years ago (61%).

Of employees who receive vacation/paid time off, 9 out of 10 (91%) report taking at least some time off in the last 12 months, up from 85% in 2014. Over the same time period, 23% reported taking 100% of their eligible time off, while another 23% of employees reported taking 25% of their eligible time off (both down two percentage points from 25% in 2014). Nine percent reported taking no vacation or paid time off at all.

Despite slightly more employees taking vacation time overall, it doesn’t necessarily mean more are getting away from work. Fewer employees who take vacation/paid time off report being able to completely “check out” while they are on vacation, while more than one quarter (27%) are expected to stay aware of work issues and jump in if things need their attention while they are away, up from 20% in 2014. More than 1 in 10 (12%) employees who take vacation/paid time off are expected to be reachable, deliver work and/or participate in conference calls etc. while on vacation (compared to 9% in 2014).

It’s a situation that routinely raises eyebrows across the pond, where vacations are practically enshrined in the work culture. “It’s not that Americans do not want a vacation—it’s that they are afraid to take it,” an article in The Guardian noted back in September.

The article cited a U.S. Travel Association survey that said that 28% of workers passed on taking a vacation because they didn’t want to be seen as slackers, but as dedicated employees instead. And another 40% didn’t want to deal with the pile of work that would be waiting for them when they returned from taking several days off. 

With the surveys beginning to pile up, some CEOs are taking the situation in hand to make sure their employees get the rest they need and recharge.

Employees should feel comfortable requesting time off, said Mike Flaskey, CEO of Diamond Resorts. “Leadership can promote this type of culture by encouraging team members to plan their vacations early and let their teams know if they’re thinking about taking time off, so everyone can prepare,” Flaskey said. “It’s easy to be consumed with work emails or phone calls even when on vacation, but if teams are well-equipped and updated beforehand, it’s also easier to unplug knowing everything is under control. Taking time for oneself to recharge is crucial not only for the individual, but the company’s productivity overall.”

“The importance of restoration is rooted in our human physiology,” said Susan Kuczmarski, co-founder of Kuczmarski Innovation. “Employees are not able to expend energy continuously. Rather, it is best to pulse between spending and recovering energy. Vacations allow us to restore, re-energize and re-generate—so we can begin fresh again, ready to positively impact our work agenda.”

And, while taking time off may be counterintutive for many workers, and is at odds with the prevailing work ethic in many companies, “it renews our energy level—and this makes us able to do our work more efficiently and effectively,” Kuczmarski said. “Energy is finite, but renewable. Vacations are not wasted time, but prescriptions for maximizing our productivity. They are entirely necessary.”“I want all of my employees to take vacations and when they do, I want them to turn off I don’t bother them,” said John Crossman, CEO of Crossman & Company. “I want them to have fun and relax. Vacations are crucial to overall health and creativity.”

Vacations are not only essential, but also more important than ever to corporate productivity, given the influx of millennials in the workforce and their priority on work-life balance, said Rick Miller, principal of Being Chief. “On an even broader scale, numerous studies by the American Psychology Association and others clearly show the myriad benefits of taking time off. For employees, vacations are proven to alleviate stress, cut risk of cardiovascular disease, and boost sleep. For companies, this means lower health costs and turnover from employee burnout, as well as greater engagement and productivity.”

 

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How Spencer Johnson Helped Me Move My Cheese

In 2015, seven years after I began the first iteration of my book, I thought I was close to having a finished manuscript. I had just completed a major rewrite with editor Nils Parker and submitted the work to my agent at the time, Margaret McBride. In our first call after she had read the manuscript she said, “I have some good news and some bad news.” I asked for the bad news first and she confirmed that we weren’t “there” yet. My heart sank. But her good news changed my attitude immediately. Her client, Spencer Johnson, had read the book and wanted to speak with me.

Yes, it was the same Spencer Johnson who co-wrote The One-Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard and who wrote Who Moved My Cheese? A bestselling author for more than 30 years, Spencer was well known to be incredibly private, assiduously avoiding attention and publicity. He refused to have his photograph on his book jackets and rarely did interviews. But his focus on concentrated value in short, impactful stories was legendary. And this literary giant was inviting me to spend a day with him at his Wolfeboro, NH estate. I was elated.

After spending the day together, we sat on Adirondack chairs overlooking a lake while he summarized his feedback. First, he thought there were strong parts of the book that could be stronger. One example I worked in was expanding the story of Mike Willenborg, a clear example of a powerful Chief at the bottom of the organizational chart.

Next, he thought there were weak parts of the book that should be eliminated. I later removed several personal anecdotes that didn’t help the reader in proportion to the “real estate” they took up in the book. THIS was the brilliance of Spencer Johnson. He is a master of concentrating value in every paragraph, as evidenced in his books mentioned above. It’s much tougher to write a great short book than a great longer book.

Spencer mentioned that a few stories I had shared that day should be in the book. So I added the story about my Go Test and one about the quiet Chiefs I worked with at Bell Labs.

Finally, Spencer suggested that the title would be better as Be Chief instead of Being Chief. Overall, I was grateful for the amazing and invaluable feedback from this master craftsman. My next step—another re-write.

Spencer Johnson helped me move my cheese. That is, he helped me change just when I needed to. He taught me to keep working until the book was ready, even if it takes longer than I originally planned. Back then, I thought the book would be published in 2016, and here we are about to publish two years later! It wouldn’t be the book it is today if I hadn’t taken the long road to get there. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed bringing it to life, with a lot of help from others.

 

Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title is available for pre-order today on Amazon.

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10 Years to Published Author: Be Chief Available for Pre-order

Today is a really big day. My first book sold through a publisher, Be Chief, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released in September, 10 years after this whole process began.

This project actually started in September 2008 when I read O, The Oprah Magazine’s What I Know for Sure, a column at the back of the magazine where Oprah gives us a glimpse of her own thoughts. I was struck. “Leadership is the key to everything,” she reflected on the statement often shared by her longtime partner, Stedman Graham. I’ve kept the article close ever since.

Shortly after, I was inspired to write a book on a topic I had come to believe to my core—one that I had successfully applied in my business career over 25 years. Specifically, I wanted to write about how, yes, leadership is the key to everything, but with an important highlight—that leadership choices are available to everyone.

Fast forward 10 years and almost as many iterations and potential publishers later, and I have many people to thank. To Ann McIndoo, who helped me rewrite the first version. To Michael Black for creating the Being Chief brand and applying his creative gifts to all aspects of the project. To Jamey Jones for helping me hone my message and keep it consistent.

To Jack Canfield, who I shared the stage with as a speaker, for introducing me to his agent, Margaret McBride, one of the top literary agents in the country. To Nils Parker, one of Margaret’s preferred ghostwriters, who rewrote the book stem-to-stern. To Spencer Johnson, bestselling author for more than 30 years, who read the book and invited me to spend the day with him at his estate where I received invaluable feedback (more on that story soon) and the new title, Be Chief.

To Ann Maynard, who took over for Nils to bring the book where it needed to be based on Johnson’s advice. To Margaret McBride, for helping me get my book to where it is today, for bringing my book to Penguin, St. Martin’s Press, and Hachette, all three publishers that later declined, but not before showing enthusiasm that Margaret interpreted as leading to a possible “bidding war.”

To the many readers who provided additional feedback on the book to help me understand what they wanted from the book and how I could give it to them. And finally, to Justin Sachs at Motivational Press, who is publishing my book this September.

What a ride! I am grateful.

Be Chief is a manual for unleashing power—a power available to anyone—in your organization to drive sustainable growth. Pre-order it today.

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How the “Go Test” Can Help You Drive Transformation in a Turnaround

Experience has taught me that when starting a turnaround, you typically confront three distinct groups of employees: “Go-Go’s,” those who need little, if any, convincing to fully engage in the effort; ”Go-Buts,” those willing to enlist but who first need to understand why drastic steps are needed; and “No-Go’s,” those who will resist any and all attempts to shift the status quo.

This axiom tends to hold regardless of industry or company size, which I learned firsthand in two separate leadership stints—the first with AT&T, one of the oldest and largest companies in the world, and a second with OPUS360, an Internet start-up that wanted to “change the way the world works” via project-based labor. In each instance, I was recruited to drive transformation amid tough market conditions and sagging business performance.

Though the two situations warranted starkly different approaches to gain and retain customers, compete more effectively, raise capital, control costs, and build stronger stakeholder relationships, the centerpiece of my strategy at both was a simple singular tool that has yet to fail me. I call it the “Go Test.”

Empowering Chiefs with the “Go Test”    

To optimize organizational performance, you need empowered people at all levels. I call them Chiefs. In my case, I needed people I could trust and who could attract and engage others with the same attributes. When I arrived at AT&T, there was no shortage of HR data. In fact, the volume of personnel information was overwhelming; unfortunately, most of it was useless to me.

That lack of information utility became clear when I asked one HR manager, “How many of our employees are on performance-improvement programs?” He was startled by the question. “Why?” he asked. According to the files, everyone was doing a terrific job and had been for years.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize this was my first true glimpse of a culture that placed more value on internal relationships than those with external constituencies. “Okay,” I thought. “It’s time for the ‘Go Test’.”

In deploying the “Go-Test,” the first critical step is to identify your “Go-Go’s,” who usually make up about 25% of employees. They tend to be the most enthusiastic about taking a new direction and will not need a lot of encouragement to get going. They are your natural leaders. As a result, once you find them and learn what they need to be successful, you help remove internal obstacles and get out of their way.

A second group, the “Go-Buts,” usually represents plus or minus 60% of your team. They’ll require most of your attention. These individuals want to believe in a new future, but they first need some support—in the form of reassurance, additional data, or some time to accept, endorse, and engage in the effort.  Each individual will have unique needs, so it’s up to you to decipher what’s stopping each of them from going all-in, and then helping them fix such issues. Time with this group is well spent.

Finally, about 15% of your employees can be made up of the “No-Go’s.” They’ll have little, if any, intention of accepting change and will resist any appeals to join the effort to contribute what is required to drive a successful turnaround. The key with this group is to identify them as quickly as you can and eventually weed them out. Sometimes, that’s easy. At AT&T, anytime I heard the expression, “Whatever you say, Mr. Miller,” my internal radar indicators went off. If possible, offer these individuals the opportunity to do something they truly do believe in, either elsewhere in the organization or at another company.

At AT&T using the “Go Test,” we set records for employee engagement and customer loyalty. In turn, annual growth tripled from five to 15 percent. We delivered such growth for three years running, eventually transforming a $3 billion business unit into a $5 billion powerhouse. Following the same approach at OPUS360, annual sales jumped from $1 million to $10 million. Despite the NASDAQ crash and a bursting Internet bubble, we also completed a successful IPO, raising $85 million, while most other dot-coms were becoming “dot-bombs.”

Many people contributed to those successes at AT&T and OPUS360. The “Go Test” was key to identifying the Chiefs and removing obstacles to help them realize their skills and uncover their power to build sustainable growth. I trust it can also help you successfully navigate similar leadership challenges.

(This story was excerpted from Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title, slated for September 2018 publication. Pre-publication book orders can be made on Amazon, starting April 1.)

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Sharing Your Vulnerability—The Key to Power Is Not What You Think

I’m assuming most readers of my blog would believe, as I did, that the president of a $12 billion unit at AT&T—overseeing 10,000 employees and a huge budget—would hold the necessary levels of power and influence to successively drive a transformation and, more importantly, dictate the pace of that change.  If you believed that, you’d be wrong. At least, I was.

Upon my promotion, I followed a playbook that had served me well in other turnarounds. Initially, we focused on customers, competitors, costs, and internal communications. But just 30 days into my new job, word came of an unexpected reorganization that would split our unit into three parts. In other words, with one turnaround effort in its infancy, we needed to shed that effort, shift gears, and undertake a new, even more complex initiative.

One of my early challenges was to find a way to personally connect with my employees who increasingly viewed AT&T corporate officers as part of the problem, if not the problem. At the outset, a number of workers stepped up to lead. I call these people Chiefs—those who need little coaxing to embrace change and become fully engaged in such transformational efforts.

Uncertainties of the newly ordered reorganization, however, led many to hold back from stepping up to such critical roles. This was understandable. Some were just plain frustrated by the abrupt shift. To a certain extent, I was too.

To alleviate some of the internal anxieties, AT&T scheduled a number of town hall meetings as forums for frank and open discussion. Not surprisingly, the conversations often became heated. That certainly was the case at a meeting I led in New York City, where I was to unveil details of a new voluntary retirement program.

Things got a bit tense in the Q&A session when an employee asked if I truly understood the impact of losing health care benefits while a family member was battling cancer. From the question, I inferred that most of those in my audience assumed officers—like me—were somehow insulated from the layoffs and voluntary-retirement program. The question provided an opportunity to share a personal vulnerability to illustrate that all AT&T employees—including leaders like me—shared many of their concerns and anxieties.

Although I never hid the fact that I was diabetic, I had never publicly shared that I was a cancer survivor. Years ago, while working at Sperry Corp., my doctor discovered a malignant tumor and recommended immediate surgery. At Sperry and later career stops, I had kept my cancer battle under wraps because I feared it would hold back my career advancement. Other than my boss and assistant, no one in my professional circles knew . . . until that fateful AT&T town hall meeting.

After I addressed the specific question (transition health care insurance would continue to cover his family), I took a risk. You could have heard a pin drop when I revealed, “I am a cancer survivor and know how important health insurance is.”

I deliberately put myself into a vulnerable position as a way to connect with my team. Brené Brown, a sociological research professor and author of the New York Times bestsellers, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, started a movement that’s changing the way we think about vulnerability. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, by exposing my vulnerability, I was actually being more courageous than muscling though my professional life without opening up about my bout with cancer.

The benefit of openly acknowledging the link between our personal and professional lives is huge. After my “aha moment,” more and more employees began to engage me in conversation. It was clear that the initial animosity I faced as an AT&T officer had eroded. As a result, more of my team members stepped up as leaders in the transformation.

From this experience, I was again reminded that title, position, and authority don’t automatically translate into power and influence. Rather, my vulnerability had made me more powerful and able to effect change. In turn, it boosted the impact and power of my team.

What choices can you make to become more powerful?

 

(This story was excerpted from Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title, slated for September 2018 publication. Pre-publication book orders can be made on Amazon, starting April 1.)

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Want Power? Build Your Own Compass

There are lots of ideas about leadership and where leadership should come from. I believe leadership in general, and being Chief in particular, is a choice available to everyone. But with today’s pace of change and increasing uncertainty, we could all use a tool to help guide us to be our best. That’s why I created the Power Compass.

Growing up, we didn’t travel much. My dad worked hard and so when it was time for vacation, the last thing he wanted to do was pile the family in the car for a long drive to a new sight or city. He just wanted to take it easy and relax. Rather than taking extravagant vacations, which we couldn’t afford, we took small day trips or simply drove to a familiar place using a different route. My favorite was a farm 20 miles from home that served the best ice cream on the planet. Maybe ice cream led to my love of roadmaps and my understanding of the importance of a compass.

Consider roadmaps. Your driving preferences may change during different times and under different circumstances, but a roadmap will always offer alternatives. At times the most direct way from point A to point B may not be the best way for you. Sometimes you want to go fast. Other times you may want to slow down and enjoy the ride. Or, you might want to take a detour and travel through certain communities to reach your destination. And sometimes you just want to take a new road. When things don’t go as planned, a roadmap gives you alternatives to fall back on. And tomorrow, when both your starting point and destination change, a roadmap will continue to serve you well.

Early in my career I relied on what I had learned about roadmaps as an analogy for life. I believed that no matter where I wanted to go there would always be a road to get me there. But the analogy let me down when I found myself wanting to go places where others hadn’t gone before—where there was no paved road. It was then that I came to appreciate a smaller component normally found in the corners of most roadmaps. I came to truly appreciate the compass.

I learned that a compass is really the best tool to use when you know what general direction you’d like to go, but you are faced with the task of blazing a new trail. You might get advice and counsel from others, but getting to this new place will have a lot more to do with your ability to do things your way. You find that you make better choices and are more successful as you get better connecting what you do to who you are. This is where your true power comes from.

I have found great utility in the link between choices and a compass. In fact, I developed the extensively road-tested Power Compass to Be Chief to help lead you, your team, and your organization to success—yes, even in tough times. Enabling a team of Chiefs starts with you.

 

(This story was excerpted from Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title, slated for September 2018 publication. Pre-publication book orders can be made on Amazon starting April 1.)

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Top Line, Bottom Line, and Power Line

Traditionally, startup companies have a different focus than more established companies. Because startups need to develop their ability to understand and meet customer needs, new companies are primarily concerned with top line (revenue) growth. Conversely, larger organizations generally acknowledge that after a period of time they need to demonstrate an ability to shift their attention to bottom line (profit) growth.

Today, however, startups and larger companies have more in common than not. The smartest of the bunch realize that only when they focus on the power that lies within their human capital, or what I call their “power line,” will they be able to achieve sustainable top AND bottom line growth. This is true for ALL companies of ALL sizes across ALL industries.

Here’s how leading organizations of all sizes support their employees and build a strong power line:

Model. We learn far more from a person’s actions than from their words. If your actions don’t align with your words, your team will notice. When you model the same work ethic, standards, and communication style that you expect from your team, you’ll be extremely effective. In other words, walk your talk.

Inspire. To take modeling a step further, when you align your actions with your values, your team will feel it. Your work becomes about more than just what you do, but also about who you are. People will connect to that feeling—and to you—and many will be inspired to do the same themselves.

Enable. Within every individual is immense potential. Look for opportunities to bring out that potential whenever possible. That might mean giving someone the freedom to take the reins when he’s passionate about a certain project, or letting someone take on a new role that she expresses interest in.

Encourage. Don’t miss an opportunity to tell someone that you appreciate their contribution. We thrive on encouragement. It can increase the confidence and improve the attitude of the recipient, and increase your own happiness as well.

Question. To better understand your team, ask questions with the intention of being genuinely curious. The manner in which you frame your questions will either put the recipient on the defensive or encourage an open dialogue. The choice is yours.

Individuals who work in this type of powerful organization feel a sense of clarity, energy, confidence, and influence that increases the impact of every member of the staff. Organizations that drive consistent and sustainable top and bottom line results understand the importance of the power line.

Does that sound like your company?

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3 Ways Neuroscience Can Help You to Build a Powerful Team

The NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) is a leading global research organization and a pioneer of bringing neuroscience to leadership. NLI advocates “using hard science to transform leadership effectiveness.” In my words, they make organizations more powerful. Neuroscience can help you build a powerful team, too.

Listening to Joe Wittinghill, GM Talent, Learning, and Insights at Microsoft will give you a glimpse of the organization-wide impact that other companies including Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Disney, Marriott, Prudential, United Technologies, KPMG, and Travelers are seeing as members. These organizations rely on NLI not only to supply great research, but also to apply key findings to create powerful organizations.

NLI applies research in three key areas to help companies answer important questions:

Performance Management

  • What truly motivates people?
  • What drives better conversations?
  • How does ‘no ratings’ really work?
  • How do we fix feedback?

NLI advocates the importance of focusing on a growth mindset, which emphasizes progress over time as opposed to a fixed mindset, which is primarily/totally focused on a final result. Their research also indicates that intelligence (and power) can be expanded over time and refutes the view that intelligence is static.

Diversity and Inclusion

  • Why are diverse and inclusive organizations smarter?
  • How can we reduce bias?
  • What truly lifts inclusion?
  • How do we hire “the right fit”?

NLI advocates that bias is natural, normal, and part of the non-conscious. To mitigate bias in decision making, research shows it is important to not only create awareness, but also to label biases when they surface and develop behavioral habits to offset them, particularly given their non-conscious nature. Teams become more powerful with varied behavior.

Leadership and Change

  • What is the science of behavior change?
  • How do we foster a growth mindset in everyone?
  • How do we drive effective learning at scale?
  • How do we fix leadership development?

NLI advocates that fostering a toward/reward state of mind versus an away/threat state is essential to motivating others and creating psychological safety. In other words, the strategy of managing by “FUD” (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) is demotivating and not effective in helping an organization grow.

Truly powerful organizations manage human capital with the same rigor and intensity that they manage financial capital. These organizations understand that the “softer side” of people management is really the “hard stuff” that matters most. Companies that rely on hard science to optimize their human capital will continue to lead the rest.

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12 Ways All-In Leadership Increases the Value of Any Team Meeting

The biggest opportunity for growth in any organization is to harness the power in its people.

Here are 12 tips that any leader (I call leaders ‘Chiefs’) can use to increase the value of any team meeting. All team members are Chiefs, and when they are treated as such, the potential within the team is amplified. Here’s how to concentrate that power:

Diversify – Chiefs with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives working together deliver the most value. Could your teams be more diverse?

Balance – Gender-balance increases the chances that a group will produce optimal decisions. Where is the balance in your organization?

Decentralize – Empowering teams that are closer to the issues to actually make decisions, as opposed to recommendations, will increase the energy in a meeting. Who makes decisions in your organization?

Organize – Establishing clear objectives with adequate time for thoughtful input from all participants will produce expansive and productive discussions. How organized are your strategies? Do all participants have time to give input?

Educate – Make sure new employees and extended team members (customers, vendors, strategic partners, and other guests) understand expectations about how your organization conducts meetings when they are asked to participate. Do you make it easy for newcomers to fit in?

Communicate – Acknowledge that a transfer of knowledge requires active participation from both the speaker and the listeners. Does everyone both listen and speak in your organization?

Accommodate – Group chats alone may inhibit great input from introverts. Do you get one-on-one input from introverted team members?

Integrate – Assimilating different perspectives to find common ground can move a group forward in their work together.

Mediate – Recognize when tensions arise and deal with them directly. Do tensions ever get ignored among your team members?

Document – Capture and distribute the action items and agreements from a session to ensure accuracy. How well do you document your plans and intentions?

Recognize – Bring attention to, and show appreciation for, individuals who go above and beyond in their support for and contribution to the team. Who do you recognize, why do you recognize them, and how?

Evaluate – Regularly assess not only the quality of the output of a meeting but also whether or not improvements can be made in the governance of the meeting. How can your meetings get better for all involved?

In my experience working in different industries with groups of different sizes, these simple habits contribute greatly to unlocking the potential for All-In teams and creating a powerful organization.

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