Ahead of the Curve

Is it just me or does business seem more competitive and difficult than it used to be? ABC Printer experienced this challenging business atmosphere firsthand. After dominating the marketplace for years, the print service provider suffered staggering losses in the previous fiscal year. It became blindingly apparent that what had worked in the past was no longer effective, and the company’s leadership had no idea how to fix things.

It was time for a change. That’s when ABC engaged a firm that identified the root causes of its problems. After two years, sales and profits dramatically increased.

The results came from a seven-step process based on sound principles that put a focus on leveraging their internal talent. If you find your business falling behind, you can follow ABC’s lead by putting these seven steps into practice:

1. Employee alignment
When a significant percentage of duties performed by employees don’t fit their innate characteristics or core nature, they won’t perform well. For example, people low in detail-oriented doing work that requires high detail. Training and development, management encouragement and other well-intended efforts will not fix alignment issues. As Peter Drucker said, “A manager’s task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”

2. Strengthening your culture
In truth, personal growth results in professional growth. It results in a greater capacity to handle life challenges, accomplish long-term goals and work well with others. Personal growth and development includes an increased awareness of self and others, the ability to manage one’s ego, ability to manage emotions and development of innate talents to maximize productivity and effectiveness. Most performance issues that managers complain about relate to one or more of the above. These are fundamental character traits of success.

3. Engaging your employees’ performance
We have an innate need for meaning and purpose in what we do. This means we care about how our efforts affect the world outside ourselves—people, the environment, etc. Engagement and performance are directly affected by people’s connection to the outcomes of their work.

4. Aligning your employees with your culture and values
People need to feel they fit in with their social groups. Employees who are significantly out of sync with an organization’s culture and values will never make their highest contribution. Having perfect alignment is not the goal, since diversity of thought and behavior allow a culture to adapt and thrive. But significant misalignments are damaging. It’s also important for leaders to consider whether they should change their culture. Without the ability to attract and retain needed talent, organizations will fail.

5. Aligning roles and responsibilities with your strategies and goals
In today’s environment, organizational goals and strategies must change to adapt. Frequently, roles and supporting job duties do not adequately change to align with these shifts. When this occurs, some or much of employee work efforts are out of alignment and can impair the ability to achieve the desired outcomes. For example, a company changes strategy to shift most customer communications from telephone to online, yet the employees’ duties and training continue to focus on telephone communications.

6. Assessing personal and professional weaknesses, from the top, down
Weaknesses are the negative side of strengths. It is impossible to have a strength without its vulnerable side. We have been taught to hide or deny our weaknesses despite them being obvious to others. Our ego’s impulse to protect our self-image is normal but counterproductive. It hinders our true potential from being realized—a loss to the organization and ourselves. When leaders openly and honestly acknowledge “challenge areas,” this sets the example for others. The organization opens the door to growth and development.

7. Committing to work on the personal/professional challenges discovered in assessment process
Studies on human potential and positive change demonstrate that self-awareness is the first step, but it’s not the last. Committing to take steps (starting with baby steps) and taking them allows for the development of positive habits that create lasting positive change. Deliberate change intended to meet the needs of your environment creates a flexible, adaptive organization—one that is poised to thrive despite the torrent of unpredictable/unwanted change that defines your world. Thriving in an unpredictable world is about you. Your willingness to acknowledge change that you don’t like, openly discuss it and consistently take the actions to remedy it are required to adapt and emerge stronger.

At the end of the day, leaders are simply making choices that define the present and future of themselves and their organizations. There is nothing magical about the most effective leaders. They are just making more effective choices. These choices encompass how they decide to see the world, their openness to challenge their beliefs and their willingness to experiment with innovative ideas that can capture breakthrough advantages.

Equally important choices include their willingness to objectively look at themselves and take actions to grow in certain areas. They choose to become a greater, more effective version of themselves. They know that what they demonstrate (not what they say) is what has the greatest impact on the entire organization.

As a leader, the question is, “What choices are you going to make?”