Have you ever watched ant work? Watching the ants learn how to operate and adapt to the environment is fascinating. Ants are powerful little creatures. Left unchecked, a colony of ants can cut a fairly large swath through a jungle. Ants seem to subscribe to a specific set of rules, processes, and guidelines that apparently are hard-wired to their biology and allow them to create engineering marvels.
Generally, ants live in large colonies that possess an internal structure of roles that enable them to share their food and their work. Some ants act as housekeepers, picking up trash and depositing it in a trash room; some act like the police and maintain order. Other ants are nursemaids that watch over the nursery room in the colony, and others are tunnel miners, gardeners, and herders. We find that watching the work that goes on in an anthill is the most interesting dynamic in the insect world.
In many ways, ant colonies are similar to human organizations: they work, play, and keep pets. Although small, they are incredibly strong. Often, ants will team up, two or more, to drag a caterpillar that is several times their weight back to the colony. Female ants do all the work. The males do nothing except mate with the queens (unfortunately, after mating, they die). The workers (females) clean, gather food, nurture the young, and defend the colony against external threats: lizards, toads, spiders, birds, and weather. Without question, the queen is the leader in the ant hierarchy. She starts the organization and calls the shots. Ants are so effective in their work that some scientists believe that without natural predators, there would be far too many ants to deal with on earth.
If an ant stumbles upon a good food source (grubs, sugar, honeydew, a crumb, etc.), it grabs all it can carry and heads back to the colony. Often, the ant will stop a colleague passing by; the two have an ability to communicate with their feelers. The fortunate ant—the one that has discovered the food source—seems to say, “Hurry up and leverage the opportunity.” The teammate then picks up its pace and joins in.
Other ants are like supervisors: they urge the workers to carry as much food as possible back to the colony in their extra stomachs. These are sometimes called the “social” stomachs because ants are willing to feed others in the colony from their team stomachs. It makes the point that even lower life forms create organizations and teams with roles, structures, and processes for their leaders and members.
The word process means different things to different people. Webster defines process as something that is happening (progress or advancement of some kind). Webster also indicates that a process can be an “organic or natural series of changes leading to a result; in an organization it means actions or operations directed toward a particular outcome.”
A process is a protocol, mechanism, or operation that enables the team to function at peak performance. A team’s processes are helpful and agreed-upon activities, procedures, or methods that have been incorporated into the team’s way of conducting business. They represent a unique way of accomplishing its work or mission. Processes govern how a team goes about doing team task requirements and how team members collaborate, innovate, and achieve synergy through coordinated effort.
Processes are like the intellectual property of a team. If all the teams in an organization are brought together, along with their processes, the result is the makings of an organization’s unique, competitive advantage.
After carefully studying Strategic Thinking and strategically successful people, I have found that these people see their organization and the business environment differently than most people.
For instance, they have an excellent grasp of what they are working to accomplish and how they contribute to the organization long term.
They also possess a clear sense of their talents and abilities, as well as the resources they have to work with. These people seek out feedback and strive to learn from others.
But their most valuable trait is their ability to conceptualize in their mind who their “customer” is. In fact, they see a whole network of customers, both internal and external to the organization.
Because they know who their customers are, strategic thinkers are focused on satisfying their customers’ short- and long-term needs. This requires the ability to think broadly and into the future.
It also requires the ability to think about how you want to position yourself in your customers’ minds, how you want to stand out from other options they have to choose from to meet their immediate, sometimes burning needs, and their long-term, mostly unarticulated wants.
In some ways, these strategically successful people are like a company, only they are a company of one within the company (or team, department, business unit, etc.). Having a clear picture of who it is that you are in business to serve brings a healthy balance to your approach to work.
This way of thinking creates more alignment between you and the rest of the organization. Decision making becomes easier because you can evaluate decisions based on strategic direction or goals. In short, you work smarter, have greater impact as you deliver your services to the customer, and add value in distinctive ways that helps grow the business.
The key to all of this, of course, is to make sure that your capabilities are relevant to the needs of internal and external customers. Your success now, and in the future, is linked to their success. Strategic thinkers and leaders must understand this concept and reinforce the connection in the customers’ minds. Hopefully every customer will see you as the preferred solution to their needs, goals, priorities, and problems.
Creating a partnership with your customers comes by listening to, talking with, and observing them. Too many of us get irritated by our customers. We complain about them and struggle for more respect and appreciation for what we do for them.
This paradigm will limit your strategic outlook. Being truly customer-centered, seeing the big picture, and having a strategic point-of-view, regarding your work and contribution, is what it takes to be a strategic force in today’s competitive world.
Strategic people understand that in order to be relevant and vital to the organization, you must supply your internal and external customers with a reason to want you around and not out-source your services. Once again, you have to be seen as different, special, and value-added by your customers and stakeholders.
To do so requires strategically positioning yourself, your team, and the group’s capability profile. Unfortunately, what keeps people from being able to shift into this strategic frame of mind with an eye on the customer is when we slip into the “coma” of operational thinking. The “coma” begins when you trap yourself by performing and focusing only on your routine activities, all-the-while trying to survive from one high-pressure assignment or crisis to the next.
Numerous comatose professionals learn to work very hard and become proficient at putting out fires. In fact, many people study and learn their profession better than anyone else, but fail to have much of an impact because they become trapped and enamored with their knowledge of a narrow field of expertise.
In far too many cases, they end up becoming irrelevant to the business and fall by the wayside. A strategic thinker, on the other hand, is able to look at how they can make an important and relevant contribution to the organization and their customers. When a person or team can see what is truly expected and valued, they begin to move themselves into a position that makes a significant strategic contribution over the long term.
The danger is getting complacent by focusing on short-term tactical issues. This causes you to remain in a reactive, problem-solving mode that creates artificial limits on yourself and your strategic capabilities. To move into a more strategic role, you have to step back from the action.
You can’t allow yourself to think that customer satisfaction now will lead to customer satisfaction in the future. You have to start looking for cues in the environment that signal the bigger opportunity trends and transformations occurring around you. You have to ask yourself tough questions about your ability to thrive long-term. Start by simply reflecting on questions like the following:
What are the possible changes that would upset today’s status quo and change the rules of the game for you, your work, and/or your customers?
What will render you irrelevant to your customers tomorrow?
How will you add value to your customers so that your capabilities don’t become obsolete, out-sourced, too expensive, etc.?
How can you and your team be a force for positive change in your field to ensure that you will be in business and needed by the organization?
Where is your company going?
What strategic imperatives are critical to the company’s success?
What challenges will the company face in the future?
Strategic thinkers broaden their perspective, skills, and relationships, and avoid irrelevance, substitutes, or obsolescence. They understand the business and how to serve and contribute in a meaningful way—not just perform efficiently.
It is easy to feel satisfied with short-term performance and proficiency and fail to adapt, stand out, capitalize on opportunities, and transform ourselves to meet the future requirements of our customers. Don’t misunderstand my meaning—those who fail to grasp the strategic perspective are not bad people. They are simply not accustomed to thinking ahead and will eventually suffer the consequences of failing to anticipate.
Do not be afraid to shift your perspective to one that is forward-looking. Work at it each day and imagine the possibilities that can unfold as you take on the future, deliberately focus on your customers’ needs, and be an agent for strategic change. If you don’t proactively lay groundwork for tomorrow’s opportunities and solutions today, who will?
Even the most experienced managers need a reminder, now and again, of the potential goldmine they’re sitting on in the form of latent employee talents.
Daily demands often get in the way of “development,” with many team members logging hours working in dull, uninspiring roles simply because no one has taken the time to ask whether they’d like to do something more.
And although the employees themselves are also to blame if they are dissatisfied at work, the responsibility for gathering information about an employee’s skills, assessing employee-development needs, and understanding individual career goals still seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of leadership.
But even if you know that employee development is your responsibility, what is the best way to go about it? It depends on who you ask. The “best” approach is in the eye of the beholder, but to help you on your way, we’ve provided a few tips below:
1. Talk to your people. Ask them about their personal and professional goals and how they see themselves attaining the future they envision.
Developing the talents of your team is essential to the continued success of your organization because it provides leadership bench strength, opportunities for succession planning, and an ample talent pool that affords organizations the luxury of promoting from within.
Most managers know that training is essential to the development of a high-performing team, but many don’t bother to understand the specific needs, goals, or motivations of the individuals who comprise the team.
Some training requirements are universal, of course, but once an employee has completed new-hire orientation and has a firm grasp on the requirements of the job, the personal development plan that follows should be as unique as the individual it’s meant to shape.
Each person has different roles, responsibilities, objectives, talents, levels of understanding, and personal capacity. It’s crucial that leaders provide the right training to the right person at the right time and in the right way.
To begin, ask your team members questions like:
What are the challenges that you face every day?
What do you find to be the most frustrating aspect of your role?
Which areas of your role or the organization do you wish you knew more about?
What would you like to see yourself doing in the future?
What is preventing you from maximizing your effectiveness?
What kinds of skills or additional training would help you do your job more effectively or productively?
The answers to these questions (and others like them) will give you an entry point into a deeper conversation, one that will help you to better-understand the employee’s perspective and ways that further training and development activities might be aligned with this person’s personal and professional goals.
2. Align development efforts with clear expectations about the roles, responsibilities, and required skillsets of your team members.
Review job descriptions and/or develop “core competencies” for each role. Once you have done the initial legwork, brainstorm with your colleagues about the kinds of work projects and professional-developments activities that are likely to help employees develop the requisite skills associated with each position.
Use the job descriptions and/or competency model(s) supplied by your organization to inform the decisions you make about the scope and complexity of the developmental assignments and responsibilities you will entrust to your team members.
Don’t allow competency models to dictate the development schedule or the manner in which certain skills should be developed. Instead, analyze the skills of your team members on a case-by-case basis, identify any gaps that exist, and discuss these opportunities for improvement with individual team members in a non-threatening manner.
Approach the conversation from a problem-resolution perspective and position yourself as an ally rather than an adversary by working collaboratively with the team member to identify or create appropriate developmental assignments.
Though many organizations’ “core competencies” are intentionally generic, they can be used as the underlying framework of a developmental assignment and then individualized for the needs and interests of each person.
In fact, if these assignments are to make a meaningful impact on team members’ abilities, the developmental approach you take really needs to be tailored to each individual.
3. Make “professional development” part of the culture, and make sure that your team understands exactly what you mean by the term.
For some organizations, professional development may be evidenced, in part, by a visible commitment to lifelong learning, the tendency towards insatiable curiosity, and a personal determination to constantly evolve, transform, and progress.
For others, professional development may follow a prescriptive, easily measurable track along a well-worn career path. However, in either case, professional development isn’t just about building relevant job skills—it’s about being driven to be better today than you were yesterday and finding new ways to contribute intellect, energy, and creative ideas to the organization’s collective talent pool.
Establish performance expectations that support the development of a high-achieving, high-performance culture throughout the organization, and provide team members with support and guidance as they work to achieve challenging goals.
4. Show your team members that you support them and are committed to helping them realize their goals.
The importance of demonstrating to team members that you truly care about them as individuals, that you want to help them improve their professional skills, and that you support them being architects of personally satisfying careers simply cannot be overstated.
Leaders who ask for their employees’ input when constructing development plans will gain commitment, loyalty, and respect from their team members. Leaders who treat their employees as extra bodies, on the other hand, will not manage to retain talented people for very long.
It’s crucial for leaders to listen, and listen well, to what employees really want from their jobs and their perception of how they can contribute to the organization.
Although it seems like a small gesture, leaders who ask employees to be actively involved in the creation of their personal development plans show these employees that their opinions matter and that they are at least partially responsible for ensuring that their careers are challenging and meaningful.
Sharing responsibility with employees in this way also frees leaders up from acting as enforcers who drag unwilling employees down career paths that they had no hand in designing.
Professional development is an ongoing responsibility for both parties, not a “once and done” task. As such, it’s important for leaders to remain available to employees once a mutually acceptable, challenging development plan has been developed and put into place. Providing guidance and genuine support all the way through the plan increases the likelihood that employees will achieve success with their development goals.
When beginning a conversation about professional goals and skill attainment, it’s important to ask open-ended questions that will help employees develop their own solutions. Having this kind of conversation encourages autonomy and provides employees with the opportunity to drive their own growth.
The twenty-first century has brought about rapid change that has resulted in many businesses experiencing financial difficulty and failure. These difficulties can be directly linked to a failure to respond to the changing environment and increased global competitiveness at the organizational level.
Garvin defines a learning organization as “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring, and retaining knowledge, and at purposefully modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.”
Garvin also stated that intelligence gathering, or the gathering of any and all pertinent information on a given strategic topic, is critical for strategic development.
The competitive strategy of mutual learning, training, and development suggests that learning within an organization can have positive effects on productivity and success. A mutual learning environment provides opportunities for employees to share information and learn from one another without boundaries, accelerating organizational learning and creating more flexibility in the organization.
Mutual learning can contribute to a culture of collaboration by supporting work relationships and by assisting to eliminate duplication of mistakes and the perceived need to “reinvent the wheel.” In addition to mutual learning, a company can encourage self-directed learning.
Self-directed learning takes strategic thinking to a higher level by empowering workers to understand what drives success and how to personally contribute to the long-term viability of their roles in the organization through a better understanding of their own style of learning and how their role impacts the organization as a whole. Both mutual learning and self-directed learning increase effectiveness, aide in problem solving, help promote innovative ideas, and execute strategy.
A strategic organization is one that is not stagnant and solicits feedback and intelligence through a variety of sources, both internally and externally, then analyzes the data and acts upon the knowledge received in order to initiate growth and change within the organization.
Technological advances, increased globalization, and the need to stay competitive has forced companies to examine the knowledge base within the organization and keep tabs on what is available externally as well. A strategic business is one that has modified its behavior and embeds the learning organization model into its values and culture, encouraging trust and cooperation.
This collaborative interchange creates dialogue between stakeholders which allows for a strategic workforce where all levels within the organization work together to develop relationships and allow probing and the generation of new thoughts and ideas.
Such an environment encourages employees to seek out information and work together, thus eliminating silos and barriers and empowering them toward strategic action. By fostering a collaborative learning culture, an organization is in a position to make informed, strategic decisions in a fast-paced competitive global business environment.
As leaders, many of us have been trained in coaching skills. However, when we’re under pressure or have urgent demands, it’s easy to use those command-and-control tactics.
As a leader, it is important to develop and maintain a coaching culture. So how do you do this? This video will show you a few tips and suggestions to help you create a positive coaching culture in your organization.
In CMOE’s constant effort to provide the best business coaching skills products, we recently updated and reproduced the well-known “Gene and Jerri” Coaching Skills demonstration video. For those who are not familiar with Gene and Jeri, this training demonstration video illustrates what an effective business coaching conversation should look like using CMOE’s research-based Coaching Skills methodology.
In response to the interest we received about the new video, we thought it would be fun to provide you with an idea of what took place behind the scenes. Here are a few fun facts, along with a few pictures taken during the filming of our updated Coaching Skills demonstration video.
The character Gene, who served as the coachee, was initially wearing a blue dress shirt that was approved at the dress rehearsal. However, on camera and under the lights, it looked like an electric blue color designed for a disco dance. At the last minute, a wardrobe change was made when Chris Stowell, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, showed up in a blue dress shirt. The blue he was wearing looked much better on camera, and a swap was made.
It snowed two days in a row prior to the shoot, resulting in a very cold studio. The heater could only be turned on between breaks in filming, so it warmed up about every 2 to 3 hours. The temperature in the studio fluctuated between 50 and 70 degrees °F (10 – 21 °C).
Because of the heavy snowfall, the roof in the studio unexpectedly started to leak. A few 5-gallon buckets hung from the ceiling about 15 feet above the actors to catch the dripping water.
A lot of resources were required for this production. The following is a look is a look at what was required:
Cameras used: 3
Replacement cost of all three cameras -$80,000
Audio techs: 1
CMOE staff members: 4
Makeup artists: 1
Number of scripts: 2
Number of times each script was revised or edited: 7
Length of video shoot, from set-up to take-down: 8:00 am to 6:30 pm
Number of videos produced: 2
Length of the pre-planning phase: 3 months
Length of post-production editing phase: 2 days
Total production time, from initial concept to project completion: 18 weeks
Here’s a sample of the end result:
The CMOE team has extensive experience in producing custom learning and development videos that apply to a global audience. If you have a scenario or video idea you would like us to help you produce, contact us and we’ll be glad to get our expert team involved.
For the last six months, the CMOE team has been hard at work updating, refining, and reimagining its suite of Coaching products, particularly our popular Coaching Skills program.
Coaching Skills was CMOE’s very first flagship program, conceptualized over three decades and grounded in the research that CMOE’s President & Founder, Dr. Steven J. Stowell, conducted while completing his doctoral dissertation.
During the recent redesign, Coaching Skills has lost none of its original potency in terms of its core content, practical tools, or impact on participants. However, one of the most important aspects of the program, a Coaching Skills Demonstration video, has been completely reworked, re-shot, and updated to more accurately reflect the challenges and concerns of the rapidly evolving 21st century workforce.
Used in conjunction with an exploration of the coaching skills, behaviors, and techniques employed by world-class coaches, these video tutorials are a powerful tool that supports positive change in the organization. The video provides examples of desirable (and less-desirable) behaviors that are ever-present in coaching discussions with team members, giving workshop participants a realistic and practical formula for using coaching skills effectively in their own situations.
Here’s an excerpt of the video:
Thousands of organizations have implemented the lessons learned in the Coaching Skills workshop, and by participating in this experience, their members have changed for the better.
To learn more about CMOE’s time-tested Coaching Skills workshop, click here.
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Innovative and rapidly developing technologies have created a “need for speed” in society. As leaders, we are faced with incredible pressures to deliver immediate results, to do more with less, and to manage an ever-increasing personal workload.
The pace and urgency of daily demands can make it difficult to see more than a step ahead. Now, more than ever, leaders and individual contributors alike must be able to look beyond immediate needs, gain a strategic perspective, and act on that perspective.
What is strategic thinking? It is nothing more than the ability to anticipate, prepare, and get positioned for the future. It is the ability to mobilize and focus resources and energy and be better able to arrive at creative solutions and overcome obstacles.
Human beings have the capacity to think broadly and beyond the immediate; therefore, we can choose to think consciously and deliberately about the future and the big picture.
Unless we change the current knee-jerk mentality so prevalent in business and develop our thinking capacity more fully, our level of success will remain flat and may even come to an end.
Strategic leadership means being responsible for the future, as well as for what is happening today. A primary goal of a leader is to gain a better understanding of current business conditions, the environment (markets, customers, competitors, etc.), and leading indicators that identify new trends and transformations that will arise.
A leader must be tuned in to the signals that provide insight about the needs and wants of team members, senior management, and suppliers.
As a leader, you must know who your customers are, why they come to you, what they will be looking for in the future, and how your field is changing.
A leader must understand how each competitor affects the strategic landscape, what products they offer, and how customers see them.
Yet, society in general, is addicted to short-term thinking, and many of knowledge workers think productivity equals how busy we are (high productivity = being busy).
Too many are personally caught up in a short-cycle, stimulus/response mode of thinking and working. We worry more about managing our to-do lists, what will happen this week, whether we’ll make our numbers, getting a product launched on time, or how to get equipment fixed to meet a deadline.
We see sales numbers on a certain product decline and react quickly with a short-term focus and perspective. We put out the urgent fires and fail to think about the longer-term impact of our behaviors and attitudes. This perspective removes strategy from our thinking.
We continue to do what we’ve always done, without regard for the changing conditions that may make short-sighted solutions irrelevant to tomorrow’s problems. We simply overlook opportunities and do not provide time for innovative, strategic solutions.
Too often, our goal is only to survive the next crisis. We manage today at the expense of the future.
The general challenge knowledge workers face is that no one will give us the time, or encourage us to take the time, to consider strategic issues. The reality is that we have to make a conscious choice to carve out a regular opportunity to look to the future. We have to shift gears, slow down, and regularly focus our minds towards the future.
When you develop a strategic mindset, you establish a pattern of discipline, allowing you to think and plan ahead of the curve. You anticipate and prepare a planned and orchestrated response when a competitor threatens your strategic position.
You eliminate unpleasant surprises, firefighting, and adverse consequences. You identify new technologies, methods, or approaches that will increase your effectiveness and reduce costs.
With a strategic approach, you will confidently set aside your daily urgencies and look to the horizon, creating numerous advantages for yourself, your team, and your entire organization.