Leading Teams to Greatness – Part 2 – Making a Plan

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“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
General George S. Patton

After all the instruction and practice on the beach, it was time to actually put my board into the ocean and paddle out to the break. I knew how to surf—well, I knew what my instructors taught me–but I’d never actually put my board into the water and paddled it before. I was a little intimidated. The waist high waves weren’t particularly big that day, the sea was smooth and glassy, and the wind was light. I had no reason to be nervous yet there I was hesitating on the beach pretending to continue to watch the waves. My surfing buddy and instructor walked past me and shouted over his shoulder as he put his board in the water, “C’mon Mick! Can’t surf on the beach!”

In my previous post I wrote about the process of understanding the environment to lead change. This month, we’re going to talk about making a plan. Great teams understand the world changes and they need to lead the change to be achieve and remain at the top.

Know Where You’re Headed

Effective leadership requires we establish a clear vision of what future success looks like. Having a vision gives you a clear focus, and can stop you heading in the wrong direction. The world doesn’t stop spinning because we’re planning, so remaining aware and flexible during the planning process is key. Returning to my surfing analogy, once we know where and how the waves are breaking, it’s time to paddle out. When paddling out to the lineup, conditions can change–it’s the ocean after all–so we have to be ready for it. We might go over or under a wave, depending on its size, and we have to be alert for other surfers. This is analogous to the planning process.

The Planning Process

The process of planning a change involves taking the intelligence we developed during the Survey the Environment phase and creating a specific plan with milestones and planned decision points to reach our goal. There’s many methods for planning, but the simplest and most commonly used in the US military is creating a Plan of Action and Milestones–POAM for short. To create a POAM, we need to follow the following steps:

  1. Write a clear definition of your endstate.
  2. Break the job into tasks.
  3. Map the tasks from start to finish
  4. Establish intermediate milestones
  5. Establish intermediate decision points
  6. Establish criteria for passing the milestones and decision points

A couple of those steps are worth a little emphasis: (1) writing a clear definition of your endstate and (6) establishing criteria for passing milestones and decision points. Besides the obvious project management benefits of smart planning, the leadership benefits are what I want to emphasize. Leaders cannot lead if they don’t know where they’re going. You absolutely have to have the end in mind when creating a plan–and believe me no one will follow a leader who doesn’t know where he’s headed! The same is true for establishing intermediate criteria. To effectively maneuver the change once you start to implement you’ll need to be able to know if you’re on track. For example, proceeding with a project might be contingent of raising a given amount of money, or securing the concurrence of local officials, etc.

Prepare for Disruptions

Finally, understand the world will change while you’re planning so be prepared for disruptions. Key to leading teams to greatness during the planning process is anticipating and mitigating problems. Planning for the unexpected and leading through the planning process is an important part of leading change. One of the best illustrations of this idea comes from General Norman H. Schwarzkopf’s memoir It Doesn’t Take a Hero where he wrote about his technique for planning for the unexpected. After he and his staff were caught completely unprepared for helicopter crash, he began to write down each day three bad and good things that might happen based on the day’s activities. It was his way of anticipating trouble and preparing to lead through it.  Planning ahead for road blocks is central to leading teams to greatness.

In my next post, I’ll wrap up the series with a system for implementing the change we’ve planned using this process.

Be sure to check out my “Change Management” Resources Page

Originally posted on General Leadership.com

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Leading Small Teams to Greatness, Part 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com, How To Change

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“I don’t know whether this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I assure you it’s the only time you’ve got.” – Art Buchwald

Standing in front of the assembled group of more than 150 staff to tell them they were being reorganized–again–was a little daunting to say the least. Everyone was clearly nervous about the change, but the leadership team assured them we would seize this latest change as an opportunity. However, embracing the change and looking for opportunities to make that change work for us was key to turning a potential disaster into success. Using a three step process we turned the reorg into an opportunity to chart our own future.

Just like the waves in the ocean, change is a part of life and a part of business. Technology, organizations, products, and even demographics change on a regular basis. Leaders who don’t actively plan for and lead their organizations through change, will be swamped by the wave of change. Leading change effectively is a three-step process:

Step 1 – Survey the Environment
Step 2 – Plan for Change
Step 3 – Implement the Change

In this three part series, I’ll teach you the basics so you can lead your teams through change and be ready for the next “wave” of change.

Step 1 – Survey the Environment.

The first step is to look out at the environment and take stock. Just like a surfer checking out the ocean waves, leaders have to be able to understand their environment before even making a plan. It is wasted effort to make a plan for something that doesn’t exist or for an environment already different. Effective leadership entails defining success and understanding what you’re dealing with before taking action. Not only does this give you the opportunity to generate options, but it provides you the chance to gain perspective and involve other stakeholders who can also help lead the change.

Military leaders stress the need for agility because it gives them the initiative. When we have the initiative, we’re the ones driving the pace of operations–not the adversary. It’s the same in business. For any business to remain agile, leaders must anticipate and lead change so everyone else is responding to your agenda. As a mentor once told me, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the view never changes.”

Survey the business environment and the internal culture to look for trends or problems. A good understanding of the environment is crucial to making a plan to change, and leaders must have a plan for change. When leading change, you need to be asking yourself some pretty fundamental questions at the very beginning. The very first thing any military leader gets when we “launch” is a mission statement from our boss. We try to begin with as clear an idea as possible about where we’re going and why. When leading change, you have to know what you’re trying to achieve, what’s driving the change, and who’s involved in that change. Asking yourself these basic questions will enable you to begin to plan for that oncoming wave:

  • Is the economy changing?
  • Does our product need updating?
  • Is there a change in technology
  • Who is affected? Is this an internal change or are there external stakeholders?
  • hen will the change start? Need to be completed?
  • Why is the change needed? Can you simply ride out the environmental changes?
  • How will the change impact current operations? How about short-, mid- and long-term business strategy?

Of course, no matter how compelling the reason and logic of change, unless you have a good handle on the environment you’ll likely to meet significant resistance. During my very first squadron command I was responsible for construction services to the Air Force Intelligence Command. There were three units who did what we did–we were the largest of the three at 85 personnel–and so it made sense to everyone at our unit that we should move the overseas detachments under me. We did all their scheduling and most of their engineering design support. What I failed to do was properly survey the environment and understand that altering command relationships for these two other detachments would be an emotional subject with the commanders. The fact that I was a junior captain and the other commanders were lieutenant colonels didn’t help much either! To them, it looked like a “land grab” rather than a logical re-organization for greater efficiency. In the end, I failed to make the case for change because I had lost the initiative in the discussion early on. Truly, I never even had the opportunity to make the case for change because I was on the defensive from the start.

Had I properly surveyed the environment and fully understood the stakeholders’ concerns, I would have approached the proposed change far differently than I did. Appealing to logic was really the wrong tact–what I needed to do was form relationships so the enterprise would see it was to their benefit to off-load an engineering mission so they could focus on their operational mission.

Understanding the environment is an indispensable first step to any successful change!

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.


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Monday Motivation

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Monday Motivation

Monday Motivation - Hakuta

 

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

Sign up for Mickey’s mailing list and get  Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!

 

Monday Motivation: Change Happens

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Monday Motivation - Hakuta

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.


Subscribe to my mailing list and get my ebook, “Mickey’s Rules for Leaders” as a FREE gift!

* indicates required


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Agility Through Independence

Posted Leave a commentPosted in How To Change
Battle_of_Guiliford_Courthouse_15_March_1781
Agile networks of American militia overcame legendary British training and discipline.

The buzzword in modern business these days is agility. What does agility mean? It means networks of teams working independently but in unity to accomplish common goals. The hierarchical organization is sometimes a necessary way to structure a company or military unit, but there are very few organizations that can respond rapidly to changing environments if they operate that way.

Wiring Diagram vs Network of Teams

Since the advent of the industrial revolution, hierarchies have been the norm for organizing large organizations. These days the hierarchy is a hindrance rather than a help. Hierarchies are generally slow to change, slow to innovate, and slow to respond when the environment changes. Notwithstanding the ability of a “Great Captain” to inspire large bodies of people to unified effort in a hierarchy, the necessary fixed lines of communication and authority in a “stack of blocks” makes agility difficult.

On the other hand, networks of small teams who support each other and operate semi- or even fully autonomously are extremely agile. They can quickly share information and get to those in authority quickly for decisions they can’t make on their own. Networks with leaders vested with sufficient resource or approval authority can make decisions on behalf of the network and quickly respond to changing conditions.

How to Build a Network of Teams

To build an effective Network of Teams, we need two things: authority to make decisions and a shared purpose.

First, authority must be decentralized to the maximum extent possible. Individual team leaders or team members don’t necessarily need unlimited authority, but each “node” in the network needs sufficient authority to make decisions or commit resources to accomplish their team or organizational mission. It does no good to form a network of teams then vest all the decision-making authority at the C-suite. Each “node” in the Network of Teams is a contact point with customers, suppliers, and other internal nodes. They have to have the ability to respond to the “demand signal” of those they work with, and can’t be in a position of constantly referring to others to satisfy the demands of their customers.

Second, teams must have a shared purpose so they’re aligned with the senior leaders and organizational strategy. To operate as a network, the nodes need to have as much of a defined “lane” as possible but still have enough “freedom of maneuver” to innovate. Multiple complementary nodes operating independently but towards a shared purpose is powerful indeed. The power of a thirty people all thinking, applying their unique skills and perspectives, and working toward a shared purpose is demonstrated–believe it or not–in the way military units operate. Modern military operations are networks of small units all working toward a common end, often over long distances. In some cases they never even see each other, but they share information and provide mutual support–innovating as they go–based on a common mission and commander’s intent.

Networks of Teams are Agile

The net result of using these networks is an organization that can rapidly respond to change, has “crowd-sourced intelligence,” and learns as it goes. That’s the very definition of agility, and that’s what the 21st century demands of leaders.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Overcoming Institutional Inertia to Lead Change

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(DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Greg L. Davis, U.S. Air Force)
(DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Greg L. Davis, U.S. Air Force)

Change is difficult–leading revolutionary change in large organizations requires overcoming institutional inertia.

At dusk, I watched four combat loaded F-16 fighters taxi out to strike targets on the first night of Operation Iraqi Freedom as my engineers were affixing the final solar-powered LED taxiway edge lights to the pavement of our desert air base. Had I gotten my way, that might not have been the case. You see, during the planning phase months before I had insisted on a traditional airfield system with wires. I didn’t want to risk the solution my team innovated–too risky. They had found solar-powered harbor buoy lights, and they tried to convince me to buy them rather than going with a traditional design. I turned them down.

Fortunately for me, and those F-16 pilots taxiing out on the first combat mission of the night, my team decided to risk my ire and bought a bunch of those buoy lights while I was away for a few days to brief our headquarters on our progress. When I returned, I was upset with them for disobeying me, but in the end their risk-taking enabled us to accomplish our mission rather than my reticence. It’s a lesson I took to heart.

Institutional Inertia

One of the reasons innovation is very difficult in large organizations is revolutionary change requires innovation, and that requires leaders to overcome “institutional inertia.”

“Institutional inertia” is my term for the resistance to change in groups, particularly in larger organizations. In physics, the “inertia” is a body’s resistance to the state of motion.  For example, if a body is at rest, you have to overcome its inertia to get it moving. “Institutional inertia” works the same way. It’s the collective weight of established processes, individuals’ self-interest, and even outside stakeholders’ pressure to remain at the status quo. The larger the organization, the higher the institutional inertia, and the harder it is to move that organization in a different direction. In the case of the buoy lights turned taxiway lights, I was the biggest source of that inertia–and when I was gone the team succeeded without me.

When discussing this concept with people, I usually revert to a nautical example. Consider two vessels: a giant oil tanker and a speedboat. The speedboat will turn on a dime, just like a small organization is easy to change. A leader of a small organization can “turn the wheel” of his “speedboat” and it quickly responds. The oil tanker takes a long time to turn, and it certainly doesn’t turn quickly–especially if it has a “full head of steam” on a given course. Just like the captain of an oil tanker, when the leader of a large organization wants to make a change, then he must plan out the change well in advance and it takes a long time effect that change. That’s “institutional inertia.”

21st Century Leaders Must Respond Rapidly

The challenge for large organizations in the 21st Century is to rapidly respond to changing conditions. Extending the nautical metaphor a bit, it’s like trying to move cargo like the big ships with the agility of the speedboat. Understanding and reducing institutional inertia is crucial to increasing agility. Time to Market for most market sectors is shortening–particularly in the tech and service sectors. One of the reasons we no longer use Blackberry devices is because Research In Motion passed on the opportunity to be an early adopter of the touch screen interface. Google and Samsung, on the other hand, saw the opportunity and despite being a large company, seized the chance to bring disruptive technology into the market. That example is less about capital or marketing, and more about leadership vision and agility. So what was the difference?

Examples of companies that failed to recognize and adapt to rapidly changing market conditions are legion, but the reasons for those failures to adapt are usually not because the CEO was a curmudgeon. In most cases large organizations who failed to adapt can attribute that failure to a slow recognition of a changing environment, and a slow response to the change when they finally saw it. Kodak inventing and then failing to adapt digital photography is another example–Kodak once had a camera or film in almost everyone’s hand. Today you’d be hard pressed to find one. Similarly, Swiss watch manufacturers failed to recognize the promise of electronic timing–how could a watch be anything other than gears and springs?

Leadership and Culture Drive Innovation—Or Not

So how do agile organizations manage to rapidly adapt to changing situations? Two words: leadership and culture. It’s leaders who create a culture of innovation and agility by empowering people to take risks and make decisions. A corollary to this idea is that senior leaders have to be willing to listen to new ideas, and take reasonable risks by adopting new ideas. Just like my engineering team’s innovative solution to the taxiway edge lights, people need to be willing to present and tenaciously defend innovation. Furthermore, leaders must be willing to step out and accept those risks. When I returned to my desert air base and found out my team disobeyed me, I had a choice. I could have reversed course and forced my own solution after-the-fact, but in the end I decided to accept the fait d’accompli and accept the risk. When leaders allow innovation and accept risk beforehand then organizations can be agile. If agility is the ability of an organization to innovate and take risks, then the measure of an organization’s agility is in direct proportion to leadership’s committment to innovation and acceptance of risk taking. When leaders encourage innovation and reward risk taking, then organizations can rapidly respond to changing conditions.

The key takeaway is leaders drive innovation and agility.

The Courage to Innovate in Large Organizations

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

10-Hardest-Life-Fish-BowlInnovation in any large organization requires courage–courage from senior leaders right down to the front line worker. If done with courage and clear vision, then leaders can develop a true culture of innovation–a “startup mentality”–even in the public sector. Is it really possible to have a “startup” in a huge global enterprise? The answer is “yes,” and I’m actually running one today. Furthermore, the “startup mentality” is absolutely vital if our massive, global operation is going to succeed in the next 50 years. Let me explain.

About two years ago, the Air Force embarked on a massive reorganization. We created a new global Center headquarters to centrally manage all the resources for all 77 Air Force bases around the world. For a military force so tied to their bases–land based air power needs bases to operate–this as an enormously complex undertaking. Culturally, organizationally, and operationally, the reorganization of the Air Force was a big risk. The opportunities to improve how we manage Air Force bases, to save money and ensure we meet the Air Force’s the highest priorities are equally enormous. We have a tremendous opportunity to something truly amazing.

My piece of this global enterprise is located here in Hawaii, and we serve alongside our teammates from several other regional “business units” with the same parent headquarters. Our mission is to be “solutions architects” for our primary customer (Pacific Air Forces), as well as the other Airmen in the Pacific. Our headquarters is in San Antonio, Texas, five times zones and 3,700 miles away. To be sure, we’re not entirely breaking new ground: the other uniformed Services embarked on similar centralization efforts a decade ago. Also, we have the benefit of working within the umbrella of a very large organization–the Air Force.  As an optimist, I see even drastic change as an opportunity to do something amazing. Even well conceived and managed change breeds chaos–it disrupts people from their routines, establishes new communication and resource lines of authority, and forces us to look at delivering products and services in new ways. As painful as it is, disruption is a necessary catalyst for innovation in large organizations, especially in the public sector.

Starting from Scratch is an Opportunity

Rather than seeing change–even tumultuous change–as a reason to give up, we have to look for the opportunities when change happens. Each of us has those moments when we think, “I could do this so much better”, change is our opportunity to bring those ideas to life. In our case, being 3,700 miles from our nascent headquarters and co-located with our primary customer were also benefits because we could implement change on our end and then prove it worked before pitching it to the enterprise. When we had good ideas and shared them with our teammates around the globe we became influencers to the entire Air Force. Because our team was and is agile in turning our ideas into reality, and then sharing those ideas with our off-island teammates, we have the chance to be a big influence on the way our enterprise does business.

Having the Courage to Innovate

Of course, nothing happens without strong leadership supporting a culture of innovation–and that must come within and without. Most importantly, our “C-suite” leadership back in San Antonio allowed us to innovate and share. It is a courageous choice for the CEO of a new global organization to provide broad guidance and give us all freedom to innovate. We are very lucky to have leadership with that courage. Secondly, our teammates around the world had the courage to share ideas with us and each other. Big change breeds stress and the natural human tendency is to retreat to protect what’s left. Not so with our global teammates: they constantly share ideas, proposed solutions, and challenged the status quo. Finally, our own Pacific team had to overcome our own distress at successive “reorgs” and look for opportunities to lead. Our little, but mighty, diverse team of sixty professionals came together to take a proactive stance. This sort of courage and collaboration can be very powerful. The result was people were free to take some risks and look for alternatives to the status quo. That is the heart of innovation: the willingness to try something new and seek a better solution to an old problem. It takes courage to innovate, courage inspired by courageous leaders.

Change is Hard-It’s Harder if You Don’t Innovate

Innovation, then, is led with courage by leaders willing to accept some measure of risk. That leadership can’t operate in a vacuum; all our good ideas would have been meaningless if we’d kept them to ourselves. Furthermore, if we’d have gone beaming off on our own instead of seeking solutions to problems common across the enterprise then our off-island teammates would be justified in writing us off as kooks. But we didn’t. We took good ideas from others, we shared successes and failures, we fought for feedback, and we took risks. Massive change is incredibly difficult, but it’s impossible without courage from leaders at all levels to try something new and take risks. That’s a lesson for any large organization, no matter what you do.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world.  He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.