Lessons from Clarence B. Jones

November 22nd, 2016 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Change Leadership, Leadership No Comments »


Have you ever struggled with the politics involved in creating change?

In the picture above is Clarence B. Jones, attorney, strategic advisor, and speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King. Among his many achievements and contributions, he assisted King with his iconic speech, I Have a Dream.

Kirk and I met Dr. Jones on November 6, when he gave a talk at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. His subject was Waging Peace in a Violent World.

I suppose I expected an idealist’s inspiring sermon, but of course, Dr. Jones is an attorney, strategist, and former Wall Street executive. His perspective involves painful but important realities about large scale, transformative change, realities that we may want to ignore, but that we ignore at our peril.

Here are three of his key points, along with some thoughts about applying them to changes you wish to make.

There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

clarencejoneswithmlkIt’s natural to believe that someone more powerful than you is your enemy. When he first began advising MLK, Dr. Jones viewed white men as the enemy. Friends and enemies, however, are not guaranteed for life.

Your friend may be your enemy tomorrow. Your enemy may be your friend tomorrow.

Your interests, however, are unchanging. You must be clear on your interests.

What are your interests?

You will not prevail unless the powerful majority sees that what you want is also in their interests.

It’s not enough to be right in principal or right on moral grounds. Change will happen when they see that their interests will also be served.

How do your ideas serve the powerful majority’s interests, not just your own team’s interests? Who stands to lose face, lose power, or lose money if your ideas are implemented? What can you offer? How can you align your idea with their interests?

For example, after working with a client and his direct reports over several weeks, I concluded that one of his VP’s was never going to get in alignment with the business strategy. He was also never going to believe that he should report to my client, because he thought he should be the GM himself.

The VP was very close to the COO and had been for the past decade. This is a classic political powder keg, a powerful and non-aligned leadership team member who has the ear of the boss’s boss and refuses to get on board with the rest of the team.

The client agreed with my perspective. It echoed his own.

So what did he do? How did he handle this constant threat to his success?

My client could have chosen to follow accepted processes to try to obliterate the guy and get his BU aligned. Had he followed proper nine-box talent matrix methodology, for example, he would have marked the guy as high potential but low performing because of his poor teamwork.

He didn’t. Instead, he searched for a way to get the VP’s interests aligned with his own, by finding a better-fit opportunity for him elsewhere – heading a newly-formed BU — instead of fighting a protracted political war that put the BU at risk.

You might be thinking, “But that’s not fair! The VP was rewarded for bad behavior!” You’re right. Sometimes the best outcome involves someone getting what they want, even though they don’t deserve it.

You must identify the strongest ally from the powerful majority and make him or her a leader in your cause.

Martin Luther King and his closest advisors came to the conclusion that only a powerful white man from the South would have the credibility with the white majority (over 85% of the population at that time) to push their movement forward. He was right. Civil rights were not enacted into law until Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Imagine what it must have been like for them to realize that as the leaders of their own movement, they would never “be enough” to drive forward the transformative change they envisioned. What must it have been like to see that their ally was someone who had voted against every civil rights bill from 1937 to 1956, and who held racist beliefs even as he drove forward the Civil Rights Act?

Who are your prospective strong allies?

Sometimes your prospective strongest ally is a person you like and respect. That makes for a great day, week, month and year at work, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, however, the prospective strongest ally is a person you don’t like or don’t respect. In these situations, let your purpose and the relative importance of your goals and commitments drive your decisions. You may decide to hold your nose and form the alliance for the greater good after all.

Dr. Jones had a goal that to him was worth the alliances he made, however difficult those relationships proved to be.

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How to Keep Employees from Jumping Ship

September 17th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Change Leadership, Hyper Growth No Comments »

QuitorStayHigh attrition is frustrating, expensive, risky – and 100% curable.

In a recent conversation with one of the panelists for the upcoming MBTI Users Conference, I was reminded of the situation we had faced, the intensity of it, and how dramatically things changed in just a year. It’s a great example of how you don’t have to live with undesirable attrition just because the job market is ferociously competitive.

The client was a new law firm that had exploded onto the scene after stunning their peers with an asbestos litigation settlement that eclipsed those achieved by the largest firms with the most famous lawyers in the country. Almost overnight, the firm quintupled in size, and would go on to double again over the next 18 months. Amidst constant recruiting and hiring for new positions, the managing attorneys and small HR team found themselves constantly seeking replacements for the staff who kept quitting.

Unlike most other types of law, asbestos litigation requires a very large staff with a high level of interdependency. The typical law firm is essentially a cluster of mini-firms, with each attorney having his or her own staff who mostly work with each other instead of across the organization. You can, I’m sure, already see the challenge shaping up: young partners and even younger managing attorneys, with no exposure to – let alone experience in — leading matrixed organizations, suddenly found themselves trying to manage a complex start-up in midst of hyper-growth.

It was the worst of all worlds. Staff attrition was approaching 50% a year. Attorneys with asbestos experience often left in under a year, leaving behind only those with little experience. The partners and attorneys essentially never left the office, which had boxes and boxes of files piled up in every workspace and out into the passageways between the cubes.

Meanwhile, the dot-com boom provided hundreds of nearby companies that offered better salaries and the promise of stock options to any attorney or staff person who could fog a mirror, so the firm was losing lots of people to a different industry.

It was a vicious cycle.

So, what did it take to turn it around and cut unwanted attrition to the low single digits?

1. Shore up the basics.

The first order of business was to find out how the fundamentals compared to the competition. By fundamentals I mean the non-sexy stuff that you don’t read about in engaging Harvard Business Review leadership articles: salary, bonus, benefits, and perks.

Smaller organizations don’t generally have access to reliable comps, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a reasonable estimate through exit interviews and tapping their networks. Sure, exiting employees will probably exaggerate their new compensation a bit (or a lot), but by using good old common sense, you can get a reasonable ballpark.

In the case of this particular firm, they figured out the approximate mid-point for each job and in most cases this meant giving the employee a raise. This set off a nice morale boost.

They also recognized that their vacation policy was too skimpy, so they bumped it up.

I can’t emphasize enough that if you are in a service business today, you have to keep pace on all of these fundamentals, even if you’re worried about how to pay for it. You don’t have to pay the most, but you have to stay competitive.

2. Develop the dickens out of your managers.

If you remember only one thing, make it this: employees don’t leave companies. They leave bosses. 

This reality makes it much simpler to focus your attention when both time and money are tight. Develop your managers, and leave it to them to develop their people.

For this firm, I conducted a needs assessment. The assessment was thorough but relatively brief. The dynamics of a smaller organization should not take long for a reasonably competent management consultant to interpret and assess. If your firm is small, run away from anyone who says it will take weeks.

Based on the assessment, I worked with the founding partner and the HR team to design and implement leadership development for all of the managing attorneys and functional staff managers. We focused on three areas: understanding the partners’ vision and what it means in terms of your day-to-day choices, how to lead as a team, and what competent leaders do.

Because this was a highly specialized law firm, we collaborated to create this leadership competency model rather than use a commercially available model.

3. Embed feedback everywhere.

We designed feedback into everything in the firm that we could possibly utilize for this purpose. Feedback given, considered, and acted upon ultimately creates a self-improving system.

It extended from a 360-degree feedback process for the partners and managing attorneys to 1:1 coaching and feedback for the partners, to ensuring that thoughtful feedback was a critical part of the HR director’s role.

As the firm was so new, we were able to design a simple performance review process that gave staff their first opportunity to hear well-articulated, more objective feedback and to focus their individual development. Were I working with them on this today, I would simplify it even more, and focus on real-time feedback on an ongoing basis. This willingness to give and receive feedback in real time has proven a game-changer for many of my clients.

4. Restructure and reorganize if it helps the workflow.

One of the things I most enjoyed about working with this firm was that they had no preconceived notions about professional management and leadership. They hadn’t been exposed to anything. So without overthinking it, the partners would restructure and reorganize either because they saw a better way, or because one or more managers came to them with the idea.

By tinkering with and sometimes overhauling the workflow, they were able to drive out a great deal of the inefficiency and errors that employees had found discouraging. As the employees experienced this improvement, they stuck around.

5. Build the culture by acting on your values.

Culture is shaped by behavior and behavior is shaped by values. Employees need to know what you stand for. Interestingly, in part because they had not had exposure to the types of discussions and development that managers in big companies receive, they were in some ways even more clear, and they acted quite decisively.

For example, when an employee behaved in a way that felt harassing and hostile to another employee, the HR director interviewed both parties and others who had been present, and brought the data to the partner. He fired the employee immediately, without notice and without severance pay.

I’m not suggesting that such decisiveness is always the best call (at times, it wasn’t), but his actions made it utterly clear what his values were, and those who agreed with his values decided they wanted to stick around and give him a chance to grow as a manager and a leader.

What have you found to be most essential to keep valued employees from jumping ship? Do you agree, or vehemently disagree with my advice? I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line at jennifer@selbygroup.com.

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Should You Quit Your Job?

August 24th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Change Leadership, Professional Development No Comments »

JumpingShipAs we head into back-to-school season, many professionals find themselves thinking about changing employers to progress farther, faster, or just differently in their careers.

There’s certainly no shortage of opportunity at the moment, but that doesn’t mean a change is right for you. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t.

The biggest mistake most professionals make is to inadvertently focus on near-term discomfort (frustration, boredom, overwhelm – take your pick) at the expense of long-term strategy.

I made this mistake myself when I was in my mid-twenties, and so exhausted from my demanding (yet remarkably boring) job that I pounced on the first unsolicited offer that came my way. I wound up in the backwaters of a company that would have been perfect for the movie Office Space.

This is a big decision, so here are four tips to help you make the right one, not just for today, but also for your success and happiness in the coming years.

Is the company growing?

Companies that are stagnating are full of employees with nowhere to go. This doesn’t bode well for you, unless you love your role and don’t want anything to change, in which case, you’re probably not reading this article, anyway.

On the other hand, some companies are exciting because they are failing, which always makes for a certain amount of drama. A failing company is only a good place to stay if you want to take a stab at honing your turnaround skills or find the financial incentives to be utterly irresistible.

The sweet spot for many people is a company that’s in rapid growth after a strong market position has been established, with the exception of those of us with a more entrepreneurial bent. Even if you consider yourself “not a businessperson,” take some time to learn about your employer’s market position in order to understand the bigger picture.

Are you still learning something that will be useful to you five years down the road?

Believe me, I hated working for a global accounting firm in my first job, but as a liberal arts grad, I learned the nuts and bolts of business and how to do detailed, accurate analysis of business problems. If I had quit too soon, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge to land a much better job down the line.

If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask several people who are already doing what you want to be doing in 3 – 5 years. Sometimes it’s worth sticking it out a little longer to master a skill or acquire essential knowledge that will be hard to get elsewhere.

Often this advice is stereotyped as applying only to young professionals, but with careers now spanning almost five decades, I encourage all professionals to view their current role through this lens.

Are you in a company that promotes on merit or are there a few too many signs of favoritism?

“Bro culture” is real thing, for example, and if a woman is getting consistent indirect messages that her career isn’t going to go anywhere, she should consider taking her skills to a company with less cultural bias. Companies that have less bias overall perform better, too, providing more interesting and exciting opportunities for their employees.

Bias exists in more benign forms as well, such as when the founders of a small family business provide more opportunities to their own children than to other employees because they want to pass the business on to their kids some day. Whether you agree with that choice or not, it’s theirs to make, and you are very, very unlikely to talk them out of it. If their business can’t provide the opportunities you want, it’s time to let go and move on.

Be careful to check your ego when reflecting on the very touchy subject of bias. It exists in many forms, but it’s not always at play as a powerful driving force.

For example, I have seen people utterly furious that someone else was promoted, when in fact the other person had performed far, far better in the role and voluntarily taken on many additional responsibilities. Yet, the furious coworker remained convinced that it was entirely due to bias.

I’ve also been in painful conversations in which I had to break the news that the individual who wanted to be promoted was not responding to the coaching and feedback that would bring him or her up to the standard for the current role, let alone the desired role.

It’s easy to look at someone else and ask how he or she could be so delusional, and to assume that you’re not that way, but to some extent we’re all at risk of being a little delusional. The only process that consistently prevents delusions is to seek out feedback and listen to it carefully. It can help you balance out your own perspective when you hear the perspectives of others.

Have you been job-hopping far more than your peers?

It’s worth taking a look around to see how your job-hopping track record compares to others who are in your profession and age group. If you’re on the far end of the bell curve, it’s time to ask yourself why you are quitting so often, and what impression this may leave with the best potential employers.

By the time a professional is in his or her late 20’s, most employers want to see more stability, at least 2 – 3 years each at two or more employers. Recruiting, hiring, and training are expensive processes. They don’t want to hire someone who seems to have a hair trigger as soon as the honeymoon is over.

A resume with several short stints during rough economic times, however, or during a significant transition, will not send up a red flag. Most employers understand that if your employer went under in 2009, six months after you started, those two events are unrelated.

In short, examine the current and potential growth of your employer, assess the long-term relevance of the skills and knowledge you’re amassing there, look for signs of bias in yourself and others, and get the tempo right for changing jobs, and you’ll be in a great position to confidently make the best choice for your needs.

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Are you frustrated with your peers?

October 9th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication No Comments »

whiteboard_meeting“How do I get my peers to speed up decision-making?”

“How can I get the rest of the C-suite to agree to my recommendations for strategic investment? What worked at my old company isn’t working here. No one will commit.”

“How can I get these people on board? Even though I don’t report to them, I need to have their buy-in to move forward. They don’t have the authority to say yes to the budget, but they all have the influence to block it.”

What do these three questions have in common? In each case, the leader wants his or her peers to change, or more accurately, to change their behaviors. Peer-level influence is often the most frustrating persuasion challenge, since you have no hierarchical authority to fall back on if data and logic don’t convince them.

Let’s look at several techniques you can use to become less frustrated and more effective at influencing your peers.

First, make it real for them (and yourself) with action verbs.

Before influencing your peers, be sure to get behavioral and specific in your assessment of the challenge or problem as well as what would happen if the challenge or problem were successfully addressed.

In business, we often talk about the need for specific outcomes, but a specific noun or number isn’t enough. It turns out those boring English grammar classes back in your school days taught you something useful after all: an action verb is an action another person can see taking place. If you use action verbs to communicate with your peers, you will eliminate 80%+ of misinterpretation.

Using the first example, above, the leader would ask questions like this to get to action verbs and specifics:

  • What is the team doing or saying (or not doing or not saying) that leaves me with the opinion that decision-making is too slow?
  • Which specific behaviors do I think are causing decision-making to be slow, and what consequences are there to the business? (Don’t worry about the causes at this point, because the question is strictly about what you see happening.)
  • If I had a camera and I were recording everything that happens, what would I see people doing, saying, not doing, and not saying if the problem or challenge were successfully addressed?

Abstract observations are fine as a starting point for your thinking, but you have to get down to the level of the action verb to be convincing to others.

Next, consider the possible cause or causes of the current situation.

Everything in a business is the way it is because it made sense to somebody at the time, given the information and resources available to him or her.

Start with an environmental scan. Is this behavior or approach more or less the norm in this industry? If you’ve moved from a different industry, you need to get a handle on this before determining how you will influence peers. If this behavior or approach is the norm for the industry, you could be fighting a losing battle if you frame up your suggestion as an idea that’s important because you see it as important.

To be more influential, either determine how this change would support something your peers already see as very important (such as empowering their entire workforce, or providing the highest level of customer service) or begin seeding the idea that your company’s best chance at breaking away from the competition may be to pursue your recommended course of action.

If your peer group doesn’t want to break away from the pack or feels secure in their current market position, you’re going to have to be patient because this is going to take a while. In most organizations, it’s more difficult to get big changes off the ground when there is no immediate threat. You’ll have to work to get the momentum going.

Your peers may understandably be concerned about breaking something that isn’t broken by introducing the significant change you have in mind. One of the simplest and most often overlooked tools is putting yourself in their shoes and truly seeking to understand their perspectives, even allowing their perspectives to influence yours and further shape your thinking.

Take an honest look at potential trust issues in your peer relationships.

After conducting an environmental scan, it’s time to consider other factors, such as trust:

  • Are they experiencing low professional trust with you? Professional trust involves worries about your competence in the job, such as worries that you don’t know what you’re doing at this scale and that your decisions will sink the business.
  • Are your peers experiencing low personal trust with you? Personal trust involves concerns about your personal ethics, such as concerns that you will stab them in the back.

Do you see signs of trust issues? It can be very, very hard on the ego to really see these issues. Still, seeing a trust issue and acknowledging it are clearly prerequisite to working on the relationship and modifying your own behaviors in ways that will deepen trust and make you more influential.

Consider the possibility that you may need to adapt to extreme style differences.

Are you experiencing extreme style differences on the team, far more than you’ve experienced on other teams? It happens often on cross-functional leadership teams, because the leaders come from different professional backgrounds. This is considerably less common with teams of individual contributors, who often have more similar styles because they have been shaped by the same profession or business function.

If you’re new to being on a cross-functional leadership team, it can be quite a shock to find yourself attempting to influence people who seem to approach every challenge differently from you and differently from each other. Likewise, if you’ve always been able to bridge style differences on previous leadership teams but find yourself on a team with style differences more extreme than you’ve experienced, it can become discouraging.

The great new here is that style differences can be addressed more easily than the other issues, above, through the consistent, pragmatic, and ethical use of a style inventory and debrief.

The biggest challenge in the C-suite is rarely in the execution of this approach – it’s in getting everyone in agreement to do an inventory in the first place.

This is where your outside advisor can play a valuable role. I’ve found that style inventories are often more effective when integrated into a more business-focused meeting or off-site so that leadership team members can practice style adaptations real-time, working together on real business challenges, with their coach nearby to provide feedback.

Of course, none of these techniques are a substitute for your analytical chops. These techniques won’t help you if your fundamental assessment of the business problem or challenge is weak or your idea just isn’t a very good one. Hey, we’ve all had ideas that weren’t very good. There’s no shame in it and sometimes you just have to accept that your idea was a dog, after all. It’s o.k.

However, when your analysis is excellent but your peers just don’t seem to “get it,” try these techniques and then adapt your approach based on what you learn from exploring each of these three factors. Soon, you will be a much more influential peer.

What have you done to improve your influence with your peers? Let me know in the comments below.

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Who’s Afraid of Power?

February 6th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication, Management 2 Comments »

switchI bet if I asked, you could rattle off dozens of examples of people who caused great harm from being drunk on power. It makes for great movies and it arguably was responsible for triggering the Great Recession.

But I see a different and equally destructive pattern at least as often: fear of power and ambivalence about power. Though it seems counterintuitive, these relationships with power can create as many problems as being drunk on power.

You may be thinking, “I’m an enlightened leader. I don’t think about petty things like power.” That might be true. However, if you aren’t attuned to power, it’s also possible that you are unaware of your own reaction to power and your relationship to it. Even if you are attuned to your feelings about power, and are at ease with it, are the managers who report to you as comfortable with their power as you are with yours?

How do you know there’s a fearful or ambivalent relationship with power in yourself or others? Let’s look at the some of the most common symptoms. Do any of the following statements describe you or any of the managers who report to you?

  • Tossing it away like a hot potato – Do you seek someone else to make a decision or broker decisions similar to those that your peers make for themselves or negotiate without a broker?
  • Schizophrenic leadership style – Do you swing back and forth from empowering your people to bringing down the hammer on them when they screw up, because you are not at ease with empowering them and holding them accountable in a constructive manner?
  • Acting like a friend – Do you talk with your employees as if you are peers and pals instead of recognizing that as their boss, you are more powerful and need to be more thoughtful about what you do and don’t share?
  • Accountability dumping – Do you delegate to your employees both the decision and the full accountability for the decision? Bosses who are at ease with power share accountability and know that their employee’s failure is also their own failure.
  • Excessive collaboration — Do you frequently seek collaboration and consensus on decisions that are relatively simple, straightforward, and noncontroversial? Simple, straightforward, and noncontroversial decisions should simply be made and executed, not turned into collaborative discussions.
  • Passive/Angry style with peers and your own boss – Do you not reach out and put effort into being included in key decisions, yet get angry when these decisions are made without you?

Unlike power hunger or power drunkenness, power fear and ambivalence are not obvious to others, so their destruction is quiet, passive, insidious, and pervasive. If any of these statements apply to you or to someone who reports to you, you need to understand the situation better and take action to improve it. There’s no easy answer and no one-fits-all solution, but here’s where to start:

  • If you see these behaviors in a manager who reports to you, share with that manager the behaviors that concern you and how you see these behaviors negatively impacting the team or the business results. Since this manager may have an ambivalent relationship with power, it’s particularly important you enter into this conversation in the mode of helping him or her be more successful and be certain that you’re not in the enforcer mode for this first conversation. Be ready to offer support for improvement in the form of mentoring, coaching, and/or training.
  • If you see this in yourself, the most important first step is accountability. You are solely responsible for the way you react to power in the workplace and for developing comfort and ease with power. Own this accountability.
  • Own your discomfort. Pretending you feel differently about power than you currently feel isn’t going to get you anywhere.
  • Once you have accepted your ambivalence or fear (or both), reframe power as merely something that is there, and that you are responsible to use wisely and ethically. You can’t make it go away. Managers hold more organizational power than individual contributors. Directors hold more organizational power than managers, and so on, up the chain. Hierarchy is part of the human condition. No matter how you are organized or what you call the different roles, some people will be more powerful than others. If you’re one of them, that simply is the situation. To pretend it’s not there is to deny the fundamental humanity of yourself and your coworkers.
  • Track situations in which you find yourself tempted to let your fear or ambivalence drive your actions, and note what triggers that temptation. Choose to respond differently to the trigger. You can’t change the trigger, which comes from outside of yourself, but you can change your internal response. A different internal response can lead to a different choice.

It’s by no means the whole solution, but it should be enough to get you or your direct report started on this important shift.

What are your thoughts about fear and ambivalence around power? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Secret Trick of Highly Persuasive Leaders

November 7th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Change Leadership No Comments »

MH900435893Lately I’ve been thinking about persuasion every day. With the Bay Area in the midst of an economic boom, it seems everyone is energized and eager to get others on board with their business ideas.

In the past two weeks alone, I’ve been asked to give feedback to:

  • start-ups, on the persuasiveness of their VC pitches
  • managers at a midsize company, on the persuasiveness of their roadmaps
  • executives at a large multinational company, on their persuasiveness in situations where opinions differ and emotions run high
  • one fabulous young relative, who is applying for a four-year undergraduate scholarship for high-potential leaders

I began to reflect on what was unique to these very different situations and people, and what, if anything, was universal. Time and again, there was one piece of feedback I gave to every pitch, conversation, presentation, or written communication that was not yet persuasive enough. It’s the secret trick every highly persuasive leader knows.

The secret to being highly persuasive is to:

  1. start with a human being
  2. understand what gives him or her a bad feeling
  3. make darn sure that your product, service, or idea will turn that bad feeling into a good one
  4. communicate it

If you skip any of these steps, you will not be a highly persuasive leader.

As I wrote in September, human beings are hard-wired for stories, and in particular, for stories that resonate with our emotions. If you are crystal clear in your communication about the human being who has a bad feeling and who will have a good feeling if your product/service/idea is utilized, you will be exponentially more persuasive.

Let’s look at an example, a start-up pitch:

“Our product acts as a server that collects data and serves prediction results through REST APIs/SDKs.”

This pitch is o.k. if the investor or other listener already understands how this product can ease pain and create joy in the buyer of the product.

Now let’s try thinking of it from the point of view of a business leader who would buy this product, and see what happens:

“Business leaders who need big data to stay competitive must recruit, hire, and retain data scientists who know how to build the smart applications that provide this data. However, there are very few of these highly specialized data engineers, and most of them are employed by very large companies. They are extremely rare and extremely expensive.

There are exponentially more programmers than data scientists. Our product eliminates the need to have a PhD data scientist design every smart application in your business because programmers can use our smart machine learning server themselves, by writing simple-to-learn code.”

This is much more persuasive because we can see that the business leaders feel pain. They feel pain (a negative feeling indeed) because there is something important to their business that they can’t do with the resources they have available to them. The product can turn this pain into relief and joy (very positive feelings), because it takes away the impossible challenge of recruiting enough data scientists and allows the businesses to do this important work with the resources they have and can more easily find.

Think about a situation in which you need to be more persuasive, and try starting with the human being who is feeling a negative emotion, understanding what gives him or her a bad feeling, making darn sure that your product, service, or idea will turn that bad feeling into a good one, and communicating it. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

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Five Ways to be More Entrepreneurial

October 3rd, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Management 1 Comment »

entrepreneurIn any given year, I spend 50 – 70% of my time working with entrepreneurs. This happens for several reasons. Sometimes their businesses were successful and were acquired by one of my mid-size or larger clients. At other times they hire me directly to help them address the challenges of rapid growth and scale. I also work with entrepreneurs in my role as a mentor in WebFWD, Mozilla’s start-up accelerator.

This frequent close-up interaction with entrepreneurs, many of whom have launched multiple businesses, has given me a unique perspective on who makes a successful entrepreneur and the cultures they create. The two are inseparable. If you lead a start-up, you can set the culture you want from scratch. If you lead an established business and want to create an entrepreneurial culture, you must become an entrepreneur in your heart, mind, and day-to-day habits.

If it doesn’t come naturally, there is no way to transform your culture without transforming yourself first. It’s true that some people are more naturally entrepreneurial in their thinking, but luckily, it’s mostly about choices. Any leadership team who is willing to make changes in attitudes and behaviors, and to keep it up until they themselves have transformed, can create a far more entrepreneurial culture. It takes effort, but it can be done.

I’ll skip the obvious things that successful entrepreneurs do right, like perfecting the pitch, hiring great intellectual property attorneys, and managing on a shoestring in the early days. Instead, I’d like to share the five more subtle leadership choices that successful entrepreneurs make day in and day out:

  • They create and emphasize a powerful vision and mission for their business, with relatively little emphasis on annual financial targets as compared to the leaders of most mid-sized to large companies. Financial goals are communicated and strived for, but are not the main emphasis in communication with employees. The successful entrepreneurs know they need to keep their own focus on the finances, but they understand that their people aren’t going to put in the extra hours because they’re excited about hitting a revenue target, so they communicate the financial targets in context and not nearly as often as they talk about progress toward the big vision.
  • They convey tremendous optimism and are not driven by fear. They have their moments of great fear, but fear is not their primary trigger. They have a lot of passion, heart, and drive, and they show it. That’s why people follow them.
  • They are massively empowering. With so much to do and so few resources, they don’t have the option to micromanage and solve their people’s problems for them, even if they wanted to. They manage by exception, focus only on doing what is appropriate to their role, and encourage employees to stretch and do many things that are unfamiliar to them.
  • They are not technical perfectionists and they are not at all in love with or attached to their technology. They focus on finding out what the customers want, quickly tinkering with their product to be what the customers want, seeing how customers like it, and quickly changing the product again. They can do this in part because they don’t have multiple product lines, yet, but it’s also because their people are so massively empowered at the individual contributor level that they can make decisions quickly, together, without escalations. Who would they escalate to, anyway? There aren’t too many layers in a small, fast-growing company, and the successful entrepreneurs find multiple escalations to be repulsive, a sign of something that needs to be fixed or improved.
  • They care a lot about their cultures. I cannot emphasize this enough. They dedicate time to maintaining the culture on a very frequent basis, through their everyday choices and through routine events that come to signify the culture, such as Google’s Friday afternoon all-hands with the founders, which began when it was a very small business. They view it as more important than spending that same time on managing the business functions. They trust that the people they hired can manage the business functions effectively. They know that if they don’t personally create a particular type of great place to work — the exact type of great place that attracts and retains the talent they want and repels the talent they don’t want – no manager or HR function can do it for them. They see the culture as a key intangible asset.

When you think about it, the successful entrepreneurs offer very little money, very little job security, long and unpredictable work hours, no obvious career paths, and very little that the best talent can get in an established company. Yet, they are massively dependent on the people they hire, each of whom carries massive responsibility due to their relatively small numbers. Entrepreneurs have to be able to attract and retain talent based on vision, mission, sometimes their actual technology (sometimes not), and culture. Established mid-sized and large competitors hold all of the other cards in their hands.

To those of you leading small and start-up companies, how do the daily choices you make compare to this list? Where could you stretch a bit to grow your leadership?

To those of you who lead more established companies, what would happen if you adopted more of the successful entrepreneurs’ choices in combination with the mid-sized or large company advantages you already hold?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Are You Interesting?

September 5th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Change Leadership, Communication No Comments »

Mother and Daughter Reading Together --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisWhether you lead an organization or team, are launching a start-up, or working as a professional working in a company, your ability to tell a compelling story is essential to the success of your product or service. It makes you infinitely more interesting than your competitors.

Why? Because human beings are hard-wired for stories. Stories capture our attention and evoke powerful feelings that rational arguments and lists of facts simply cannot do. There is a reason that the ancient paintings in caves tell stories rather than simply making rational arguments. Stories are persuasive.

(Myers-Briggs fans, this applies even to those who prefer Sensing and Thinking. It is universal.)

So, what are the elements of a complete story? It’s all there in a classic fairy tale:

  1. Once Upon a Time
  2. Dilemma
  3. The Journey to Resolve
  4. Denouement (that’s a beautiful word for plot resolution)
  5. Lessons Learned

Too often, when asked about our product, or company, or even our profession, we answer with too much information, or information that just isn’t interesting to the other person. Often, a story is so much better, but we don’t think to tell it.

Likewise, if you are pitching, a pitch with a story at the beginning or interwoven throughout is infinitely more compelling than a pitch with only facts and figures.

Here’s an example of a company story, based on a mash-up of Selby Group clients:

1. Once upon a time… the company was so good at what they did that they grew incredibly fast and everyone was so excited that they wanted to do a happy dance every day. It was a lot of hard work, but worth it. Yea!!!!!
2. Dilemma… Eventually everyone was so overworked and exhausted, the culture was starting to change for the worse, competitors poached key talent, and two much bigger competitors took notice and moved into their space and started to take market share. Boo!!!!
3. The Journey to Resolve…They tried hiring faster, offering free food and more parties, and giving everyone a raise, but it didn’t work. Sob!!!!
4. Denouement …Then a colleague told them about Selby Group. The consultants showed them how to create a long-term strategy for their business and their culture, how to manage the conflicting interests of their many stakeholders, and how to transform from within so the changes would be powerful and lasting. They took back their market, kicked the competitors to the curb, expanded the product lines, and their employees became totally stoked again. The entire business was transformed. Hooray!!!! (You knew that would be the plot resolution, didn’t you?)
5. Lessons Learned…The lessons learned were that when you are going through a rapid growth curve, get a solid strategy in place that fits the unique needs of your business, and lead both from the inside and the outside to make the changes last. And, of course, work with Selby Group! (Naturally!) Tah dah!!!!

Try it for your own business or profession, and see what I mean. Notice how much more interesting it is? It actually sounds as interesting as it is in real life when you talk about it this way.

Now, of course, I’m not saying that you should default to telling your stories every time someone asks about your business, team, or profession, but too many of us never share this beautiful, lively, and fun form of very human communication and so much is lost as a result.

This month, give storytelling a whirl. If you are the business owner or leader, your story is obvious; it’s about your product, unless your product is very, very dull. In that case, you may have to get creative and make it about your people or some other interesting angle. If you are a professional, you could choose either your individual role or the company or team to tell your story about. What have you got to lose?

Also try telling your story from the customer’s point of view. In addition to making you interesting, it can be enlightening to see how that changes your point of view, if you don’t work in sales or marketing.

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Oops! Are You Making This Mistake in Your Global Empowerment Strategy?

June 7th, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Change Leadership, Communication 2 Comments »

This month, I’m turning my attention to one of the biggest challenges in implementing a large scale change in multiple locations. As long time readers know, I’ve been using empowerment as an example this past year because you can’t efficiently scale your business unless you constantly move decision-making further down, further out, and often further away from executives.

Yet you can’t let decision-making become chaotic, without adequate controls or accountability, which is what leaders often fear as their businesses grow. Talk about a big, scary change! It’s one of the great challenges of success.

Efforts to empower employees often succeed when the company is small and everyone is in one location, but it gets tricky when your company gets bigger and you are in multiple countries. Each site has its own unique local characteristics, business needs, and culture.

This is not a new struggle. Empowerment and other similar large-scale changes have succeeded and they have floundered at different locations — even within the same business unit — for years.

Where empowerment has taken hold and become the normal way of doing business at a site, I’ve found there were always at a minimum four enablers that at least one strong-willed local leader owned and made sure happened on an ongoing basis over months and often years.

Where it floundered, the executive team failed to ensure that all four enablers were in place before requiring the site to get aligned with an empowerment initiative. This led only to cynicism, fear, or confusion, since people at the site didn’t quite ever understand what they were supposed to do and why they were supposed to do it, or trust that it was the right thing for them and for the business.

These are the four enablers:

1. Direct alignment with site-specific business objectives. An empowerment objective must be used quite directly to help achieve at least one business objective — and it must be clear how empowering employees enables the site to achieve the objective easier, better, faster, or make it possible for the site to exceed the objective.

If empowerment is just another separate objective to accomplish on top of the business objectives without being directly aligned in supporting them, it sometimes takes hold at corporate headquarters, where employees feel executives are paying close attention to it, but it rarely takes hold at sites. Site employees want something more immediate and pragmatic, not just aspirational.

2. Alignment with the shared values of the employees at the site, and with what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. “Share values” is another way of saying, “what is most important to people.”

Often issues that are categorized as cultural are more questions of shared values, meaning, and/or purpose because even within a culture, a particular site leadership team and business attract job candidates with a certain set of values, ultimately creating an even more specific culture and set of values.

For employees to truly choose to be empowered, the empowerment must happen in a manner which is aligned with their personal values.

3. Meaningful metrics for everyone – tracked for encouragement, not punishment, with achievement celebrated. For a machine operator, it might be freedom to learn to do a quality check so she can improve processes herself. For a particular customer advocacy team, it might be freedom to work directly with an operations team to clear holds that currently require escalation. Empowerment improves business outcomes, but it improves them through intensely personal transformations, so the metrics have to be personally meaningful – and everyone has to have them and be personally involved in setting them with their managers.

One of the most successful site managers I’m working with said his first big lesson was letting go of his own vision for empowerment at his fab and his own preconceived ideas for the metrics for his people. They came up with a vision and metrics that were just as good, but different, and they are working much more diligently to achieve the metrics because of their personal investment. It was hard for him to give up his personal vision, because he was emotionally attached to it, but it was the right thing to do to achieve the end goal of scaling the plant to meet demand.

Sometimes the individual metrics, when rolled up, turn out to be tidy and neatly aligned, and sometimes they look untidy and there are some real surprises. It’s o.k., as long as the means lead to the end you desire – scaling the site to meet rising demand.

4. Attention to effective daily management and leadership by immediate supervisors at each level. The top site leaders can go to great lengths to ensure that the previous three enablers are in place but without training, development, coaching, and support of the other site managers to constantly improve their empowerment skills, the rest won’t matter. You must invest in leadership at all levels. The very best companies invest in all employees as well as managers, but every reasonably successful company invests on an ongoing basis in developing scalable management from the middle to the top.

Because the brain is hard-wired to remember a threatening experience far more than a supportive and positive one, employees will naturally revert back to escalations and passivity when their manager slips back into old habits, even if it’s only once in a while, saying to themselves, “Ah, yes, the tiger never changes his stripes. We can’t trust this supervisor when he talks the empowerment talk. He’s never really going to walk the empowerment walk.” This is why it’s not enough to just train them once, check off the box, and forget about it. Ongoing support for your managers is like food, water, and oxygen.

Take the time to put the framework in place for these four enablers to help sites succeed at empowerment, and give attention to improvement in each area on an ongoing basis so that each site can become a self-sustaining, growing organization that can scale to meet rising demand.

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Three Surefire Ways to Improve Your Relationships with Different Personalities

May 3rd, 2013 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Change Leadership, Communication, MBTI 3 Comments »

Last week, I was concluding a team-building series with a dynamite business team leader and his carefully selected team, which blended the best of the former team with newcomers from other companies and industries. We’d been focusing on understanding each other on a more personal level, with each team member sharing what he or she believed to be a common stereotype about their personality and why it wasn’t true.

The team had immersed themselves in a rich discussion getting to know the complex and competent individuals with whom they worked. Not a single text was checked. No laptops were opened. After two hours of completely absorbing discussions, it couldn’t have been clearer that personality type is a starting point for understanding yourself and each other, and not about putting one another into tidy, sanitary little boxes with no room for individual development, growth, expression, or differences.

The team was in a very good place that day. They’d done exceptionally well coming together as a team to turn around sinking sales figures, and even surpassing their quarterly goal a week early. Improving their interpersonal relationships was one of the keys to that improvement. They had worked hard at it and were still working hard at it and aiming even higher.

It wasn’t because the relationships were bad. They weren’t. They team already got along fine. It was because they realized that by getting to really know each other and understand their differences, they could leverage these to be stronger as a team, and build an enormous edge over their competitors, where each sales person was little more than a commission-driven island.

Still, in the midst of all this zippy, cheerful energy, the leader’s brow suddenly furrowed. We’ve worked together a long time, and I knew that look. Every time he reaches a goal, he looks back to see how to make to make the process more efficient. And like many TL readers, he’s not above having a little fun along the way. No wonder he is so successful. I could see that the process of improving interpersonal working relationships would be no exception.

Sure enough, out came the question, “So, Jennifer, how do you get better at this without practicing it a million times?!” Wow, a million times. I’m pretty sure I can improve on that. That’s a pretty low efficiency bar. But why do it myself? We put our heads together, and today I’ll share with you what we came up with, and one addition of my own.

1. Stop assuming you have to get better at interpersonal relationships alone. Instead, role-play with someone else. For example, since this was a sales team, they had prepared pitches to sell to different personalities, and I asked them pair off for role plays so that they got to practice their pitch on someone of that type and get feedback on how effective the pitch was, and what would improve the pitch. It was a very powerful coaching experience.

The team decided to add pitch practice to some of their staff meetings, and made an agreement to role play with each other on an ad hoc basis. You don’t always need an expert – your peers can provide feedback that greatly accelerates your growth. This was a great opportunity to gain an edge over their competition. They were a diverse team in terms of their personalities, so getting feedback from everyone would round out preparation for the most critical pitches, lessening the chance of a surprise during the real pitch.

2. First, focus on observing just one thing and adapting to it. For example, 25 years ago, when I first understood how many people actually gained energy from their inner worlds more often than from the outer world, it was amazing to me. I learned that someone like me could be exhausting just by coming in so close, talking a lot, dropping by their cubes, wanting to talk about projects in the break room, and all manner of other behaviors that I previously had not ever thought about.

So for two weeks, I didn’t think at all about anything else I had learned about interpersonal relationships. I just focused on that. I noticed who tried to get away from me in the break room. I noticed who leaned back when I leaned forward. I started reflected on how annoying I must be. At first I felt bad, and kind of embarrassed. Then I laughed at myself. Then I started adapting.

It’s not important that you understand the whole wide world of personality type and adapt to it every minute in order to improve your interpersonal relationships. Just pick something and notice it, and notice your own reaction to it, and then start adapting. Then pick something else, and as the shampoo bottle says, rinse and repeat.

When you’re ready and so inclined, you can go much, much deeper, but you don’t have to go much, much deeper in order to get much, much better. You just have to start doing it and keep doing it.

3. When it comes to personality type in particular, take what uninformed people say with a grain of salt. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) is one of the most popular personality instruments of all time. It’s also the most complex of the more popular instruments, and this leaves plenty of room for poor memory to combine with overenthusiasm to lead to absolute certainty about complete falsehoods.

Trust what your report, legitimate publications, and your certified interpreter have to say, or just ask me directly on the blog, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Even on the LinkedIn discussion boards, I see errors all the time. Trust me on this — if you tell your direct reports, “You can’t understand the strategy of the business because you’re Sensing types, so I’ll handle it” not only are you stating an error of fact, you’ve just worsened the relationship, not improved it!

How do you get better at this without practicing it a million times? What are your thoughts? Please join the conversation at www.jenniferselbylong.com.

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