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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Building Effective Teams

Newberry Blog | Building Effective Teams Exceptional individual performer, or team player; which is more rewarding and which is more valuable?  Most organizations talk “team” but unfortunately many primarily recognize and incentivize individual performance.  Further, some organizations unwittingly go out of their way to attract and promote people who actually resist the idea of linking their performance to someone else or the “greater good.”  They seek out the lone wolf with the gaudy numbers for that silver bullet fix and regrettably those gaudy results are often achieved at the expense of others and the long term health of the larger organization.   It is a fact in both team sports and business that a seamlessly executing team is the best way to accomplish complex tasks and sustain long term exceptional performance.  Effectively integrated teams are also central to cutting across boundaries to get things done - - truly becoming organizationally agile and successful.

So in a short-sighted world that glorifies and rewards the individual in spite of the proven negative consequences to sustained performance, how do you assure the building of effective teams?  Fortunately experts like Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger have some ideas:

Practice #1:  Have a Plan.  A clearly articulated plan energizes, aligns, brings focus, encourages efficiency, and empowers.  Involve team members in creating that plan and you will only enhance their energy and commitment to “The Plan”.

Practice #2:  Run Interference.  An effective team leader has made the effort to become a “Maze Bright” organizationally agile person and is therefore an extremely good advocate for their team.  As discussed in my July 28, 2013 blog on Organizational Agility, no skill is more respected by your team. When you can go off into the wilderness of the organizational maze and consistently come back with results that benefit your team and make their professional lives easier, their loyalty to you, the team, and “The Plan” is assured.

Practice #3:   Make a Concerted Effort to Communicate and Inspire.  Show an interest in the work of your people, adopt a learning attitude toward mistakes, celebrate successes, have visible measures of success.  Invest time in understanding each person uniquely.  You don’t have to agree with them, you just have to understand them.  Give them the benefit of your thinking, particularly with respect to key objectives.

Practice #4:  Build a sense of joy and fun in the team.  Learn to celebrate wins.  Use humor and support it in others; look for opportunities to build group cohesion outside the office.

Building a “Dream Team” is not an easy task.  Blending individual talents and ensuring that you are taking advantage of each person’s strengths and avoiding unreasonable exposure to each person’s weaknesses is hard.  However, it is very much worth the effort.  High performing teams establish an uncommon trust between the team members in which individuals value the team above their own singular objectives.  Weaknesses are not considered “bad.”  They simply represent opportunities to cover for each other for the good of the team and take part in achieving a shared ultimate objective.  When the team is at its best, this exceptionally valuable behavior happens without any ill feeling, it just happens.  In the words of John Wooden, the immortal College Basketball Coach, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

Posted by: Christopher Steinbach
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Creating Organizational Agility

Graphic for Organizational Agility | Newberry Group blogEvery upwardly mobile professional has a copy of the Organization Chart within arms-reach - - straight lines and boxes mapping accountabilities and authorities depicting the easy and “sanctioned” routes to get things done. But is this really accurate? Organizations are staffed with people. These people all have their own preferences, insecurities, personal desires and goals hidden behind the boxes on that chart. So there is a big difference between how an enterprise is organized and how it functions. There are friends, foes, good Samaritans, gatekeepers, resisters, expediters, naysayers, influencers, etc., etc. The organizational “Chart” is a maze of personalities and ambitions at best. The key to success is to accept this reality, not resist it, and work diligently to become a “maze bright” person in the organization. As discussed last time, this starts by working hard to develop effective peer relationships but as described by Lombardo & Eichinger and others, there are additional approaches you should use to become truly agile within your organization:

Practice #1: Become more self-aware. Try and do the most honest self-assessment of your skills “getting it done” in your organization. Identify at least one person within each group you work with and ask them for feedback what you could do better working with that group.

Practice #2: Pay attention to how the “Movers and Shakers” behave. If things you are doing appear to not be working, try things you generally don’t do that have proven successful for others. You have to look beyond the surface and see what is going on in the background. Who do others rely on to expedite things? Who are the major gatekeepers who control resources and information? Who appear to be the guiders and helpers? These are people you need to know better.

Practice #3: Think equity. Understand the personal “balance of trade” within the organization. Don’t just ask for things; find some common ground where you can provide help, not just ask for it. What do people need in the way of problem solving or information? How does what you’re working on impact them? What can you “trade” in return?

Practice #4: Patience. Some people know the channels to work and the steps to follow to get things done but are too impatient to follow the functional “people-driven” informal process. Developing the ability to maneuver through the organizational maze includes giving things time to run their course; taking deep breaths; and practicing serious self-control. Don’t get frustrated, lose your cool and force the agenda. Focus instead on diagnosing new paths and developing counter-moves if things really are not moving. Be mindful that personal the bridge you burn today, you may desperately need in the future.

Make no mistake, becoming “Maze Bright” and organizationally agile is not easy. That said, once mastered, the dividends are tremendous. You will be seen as a person who get things done where other fail, as someone who is committed to the organization and the good of others as well as yourself. Most importantly, you will find that no skill is more respected by your team. When you can go off into the wilderness of the organizational maze and consistently come back with results that benefit your team and make their professional lives easier, their loyalty is assured. Further, the knowledge gained by developing this skill within yourself will allow you to truly build and prepare your team to perform most effectively in the future. I look forward to discussing this critical skill next time.

Posted by: Christopher Steinbach
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Developing Effective Peer Relationships

Developing Effective Peer Relationships graphic | Newberry Group BlogBeing “Action Oriented”, having “Career Ambition”, being excellent at fostering a “Boss Relationship”, maintaining “Customer Focus”, and excelling at “Directing Others” are critical to growing into a management role and being effective in that role.  However, these vital competencies can often get in the way as one moves from being an effective manager to becoming an effective leader.  Career growth early in one’s profession often is dependent on being effective “up and down”.  Building trust and credibility with clients and bosses (up), and effectively directing those junior to you (down) to achieve superior results is of paramount importance.  However, as one’s responsibility begin to expand to support scale within an organization it is imperative that individuals begin to work “across” and foster effective peer relationships.  Learning to work “across” is in fact the essence of organizational leadership.  Leaders are able to achieve positive results for the organization even when they do not have direct power and control over all resources involved in the activity.  Leaders are able to work through influence; trading on mutual respect and goals, share credit and rewards, and build and grow trust.  This highly valued ability leads to a more efficient use of time and resources by easing the exchange of ideas and talent across the organization.  Managers direct their people.  Leaders make the whole organization better.  Certainly this requires putting one’s ego on the back-burner but the rewards for those that do are huge.  You become recognized for being someone that can work and be effective well beyond your direct span of control for the good of the organization.  How do you make this transition?  Fortunately, Lombardo & Eichinger and others offer some suggestions:

Practice #1: Curb your Competitive Nature.  If peers see you as excessively competitive, they will work to cut you out of the loop and sabotage your efforts to work across organizational boundaries.  Always offer an explanation for your thinking and invite others to explain their point of view.  Resist “staking out a position” and focus on generating a variety of possibilities.  Invite, and accept, criticism of your ideas.

Practice #2:  Separate working smoothly with peers from personal relationships.  Remember, you are not forming friendships, you are avoiding “one-upsmanship” and the “not invented here” phenomenon in all your organizational interactions.  You are keeping your ego and pride in check for the good of the organization.  That is the reputation you seek to build.  You don’t have to “Like” everyone.

Practice #3:  Avoid the water cooler banter.  If a peer does not play fair, avoid talking about it with others.  Talking about conflicts with others will often backfires on you by undermining the trust you are attempting to build with other peers.  Confront the peer directly, privately, and politely and give them a chance to save face.  Explain the unfair situation and its impact on you.  Even if you don’t totally accept what is said, you have set the stage for an improved relationship going forward.  More importantly, you will reinforce your reputation as a person who can be trusted even when there is a conflict.

Practice #4:  Keep a balanced Scorecard.  Watch out for “winning” too much.  Look for appropriate opportunities to grant concessions you can live with even if they are not what you wanted ideally. You want to foster a desire in others to work with you again and again.  If you are seen as leader who has a strong point of view but is willing to cooperate and compromise with others that favor will be returned when it matters most.  You will create an army of influential peers who are all to ready to support your position because you supported theirs in the past even when you did not totally agree.

Make no mistake; learning to achieve results through influence alone is a tough skill to master for ambitious people.  However, the fact remains that those who leave positive impressions get more things done more efficiently than those who leave cold impersonal impressions.   Learning how to build and sustain peer relationships is the cornerstone for developing organizational agility.  I look forward to discussing this this vital skill next time.

Posted by: Christopher Steinbach
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Making Quality Decisions

Making Quality Decisions GraphicYou have worked hard to become a confident decision maker, even in the face of ambiguity.  How do you ensure that you hit the target more often than not and, more importantly, get closer and closer to the bull’s-eye over time?  You must practice.  Making good decisions requires the right amount of patience, humility, and ice cold nerve to step up and make the call.  As I discussed last month; no one is right all the time, it’s being more right than wrong over time that matters.  You must develop a highly refined sense for the right amount of data, analysis, intuition, wisdom, experience, and judgment required for each decision opportunity.  Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger and others have proposed some ways to refine that “6th Sense”  that is so recognizable in people renowned for their decision quality.  A few of my favorites include:

Practice One: Know your biases.  We all have them; attitudes, beliefs, opinions, prejudices, favorite solutions or ways of doing things.  The key is to not let them influence your cold objective point of view.  Before you make any significant decision, step away.  Examine your motives; look at your past decisions; talk through the consequences of various decisions with a trusted third party.  Look for patterns.  Do I see every problem as a nail demanding a hammer as a solution?  A great decision maker is constantly, humbly, examining the source of his intuition and challenging himself to recognize each problem as new while eliminating his own prejudices and biases.  Much of what we learn is relevant to the next problem, but a lot is not.  Work to know yourself first, then the problem, and then decide.

Practice Two: Holster your gun and sleep on it.  Life is a balance between waiting, and doing.  Clearly in business a premium is placed on doing over waiting.  However, decision quality can often be greatly improved with just a small amount of additional data and/or reflection.    Challenge yourself to gather one more piece of data relevant to a meaningful “Why?” question.  Let the subconscious brain aid your efforts.  Get a good night’s sleep and get back to it in the morning.

Practice Three: Understand the difference between “Thinking”, “Understanding”, and “Knowing” when defining a problem.  Do you ever represent (or more accurately, misrepresent) as fact your personal assumptions or the opinions of others using the expression “I know that…”?  I personally believe this common tendency of people, to mischaracterize personal thoughts and the conjecture of others as “known” facts, is the leading cause of poor decision making.   There is a very simple formula to get out of this trap:  When you “think” something (created between your own two ears), seek validation from a credible third party or obtain first-hand knowledge of the critical facts.  When you “understand” something from a credible third party, seek first-hand knowledge of the critical facts.  Only when you “know” the critical facts through direct first-hand exposure - - act.

So quality decision making is born first of self-knowledge.  Being humble enough to examine our motives and tendencies as a starting point and building a framework of the problem through careful consideration and seeking to understand cause and effect; asking “Why?” a lot, as we discussed last month.  The final step is to have the patience to seek relevant data and most importantly having the guts to seek first-hand knowledge of the most critical facts.  In doing so, you elevate your perspective and attain that “6th Sense” for the right call.  You will become recognized as someone who is willing to own their decisions and the basis upon which they are made.  And that is the first building block for effective peer relationships and effective team building, which are the essence of leadership.  I look forward to discussing those skills next time.



Posted by: Christopher Steinbach
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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dealing with Ambiguity

Graphic of words: Dealing with AmbiguityHow does one survive - - and thrive - - in this modern world? In my experience, it starts with learning how to effectively deal with ambiguity. This critical skill, which I introduced at the end of my last post, is important because; congressional leaders are unable to make tough budget decisions; good people can sometimes do bad things while bad people can also do amazingly good things (consider Lance Armstrong); Getting great at anything runs straight through being awful at it; The solution for today’s problem may not be the solution for tomorrow’s problem. In fact, for 90% of business it’s not clear what the problem even is, let alone what the solution could be; the only constant is change.  We live in a “grey” ambiguous modern world.

Let’s be honest. Most of us would prefer to be 100% sure - - about everything!  We prefer to know everything that is going on around us because it makes us feel like we are in control.  Most of us get really uncomfortable if we can’t wrap up everything we start into nice neat packages with a bow on top.  Unfortunately, the cold truth is that success and rewards go to those who develop the ability to make more good decisions than bad in less time than the other guy, using impartial information and few if any precedents or examples of how similar problems were solved before.

Please note that I did not say “make only good decisions...”  I said “make more good decisions than bad...” All successful people today have learned to live comfortably in the “Grey Space” by cultivating a well-developed tolerance for errors and mistakes - - both for ourselves and others - - and absorbing the heat and criticism that might follow.

Make no mistake, this is a tough but extremely valuable skill to learn and develop.  In the words of English Statesman George Savile - - “He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few ill things, but will do very few things.”  And we all know that “doing very few things” just won’t cut it in today’s world of work - - and especially not in a dynamic, energetic, and empowered culture like we have here at Newberry Group.  We must learn to thrive and act effectively in the “Grey Space”.  So how do we learn and develop this tough skill and effectively deal with ambiguity?  Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger propose some of the following in their book “For Your Improvement”:

Practice One: “Incrementalism”.  Research indicates that we do not grasp the essence of a new problem until the second or third attempt at solving it.  Plan on making a series of small decisions, get feedback, correct course, and get a little more data moving forward until you have solved the problem. Start small so you can recover quickly and build confidence that you can “handle the heat” and course correct.  You will not build this confidence if you start with “the” problem.

Practice Two: Recognize your Perfectionism for what it is - a roadblock to success.  Perfectionism is born of an obsessive need to collect more information than the other guy, thus limiting your personal risk.  Try to decrease your need for data and your need to be right a little every week.  Pick small decisions and try to act on them with little or no data at all, trusting your gut.  As discussed before, the real test in the world of business is who can make a good decision on limited or no data in a reasonable time frame.  That takes practice so start with the small stuff - - you will likely be surprised how often you are right.  (And if you find that you’re not more right than wrong, you need to read next month’s blog  :).)

Practice Three: Ask “Why?” a lot.  Evidence from decision-making research makes it clear that the better your problem definition, the better chance you have at finding the solution quickly.  Focus on causes, not fixes.

Practice Four:  Develop a philosophical stance toward failure/criticism.  Learn to crave feedback.  The faster and more frequent the feedback on small problems the faster and greater our learning.  Teach yourself by letting others “off the hook” when a mistake is made by focusing on what we can learn from the mistake, not the consequence.  In doing so, you will bolster your own ability to handle failure and criticism.

Practice Five:  Become Process focused, not results focused.  To work well in uncertain times means that you must recognize first and foremost that your work is never done.   If the only constant is “change” then that constant will demand that you jump from incomplete project to incomplete project. You must alter your internal reward structure so that you feel good about moving things forward incrementally instead of finishing it. In taking this approach, you will not only cease to be easily frustrated, you will also find that the critical few things that need to be finished – in the sea of insignificant many things - will be.  Trust that “through the process” the results desired will be derived from completing the critical few, not everything you start.

Working to develop your ability to deal with ambiguity will give you the will to confidently act when information is limited.  But like every well-developed competency, its over-use can become a weakness if relied upon too often or worse, exclusively.  A complete person or a complete organization fosters complementary competencies that provide balance and assure that strengths don’t become weaknesses.  One of the strongest complementary competencies for those that are comfortable with ambiguity is a strong sense for what is, and is not, a quality decision.  Developing this critical competency in our culture will be the topic next month!

Posted by: Chris Steinbach
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Monday, December 17, 2012

Building Culture through a Common Language

Wordcloud graphic of Lominger CompetenciesIn today's intensely competitive environment it is critical that organizations establish and sustain a corporate culture that reinforces the behaviors most important to maintaining a distinct competitive advantage.  The cornerstone of corporate culture is effective communication but how do you ensure that all are receiving the same message when you are talking about something as "soft" as organizational or individual behaviors?  When we say "patience", or "perseverance", or "compassion" what do these words mean in the context of the workplace and how do we ensure that all hear the same meaning?  Well, you have to establish a common language for the discussion of these "soft" skills, these competencies.  By establishing that common language, all are clear on which "behaviors" individuals are expected to be competent and in turn are valued by the organization for their contribution to organizational effectiveness and competitive advantage.
Fortunately, considerable research has been done over the years with respect to those behaviors most likely to lead organizations and people down the path toward success.  This research has produced a number of useful behavioral frameworks, taxonomies, of desired and undesirable behaviors in individuals and organizations.  I was fortunate enough to be exposed to one of the more popular and widely used behavioral taxonomies early in my professional career, the Leadership Architect, developed by Mike Lombardo and Bob Eichinger.  The Leadership Architect defines 67 competencies found in the most successful people and organizations.  In fact, I was certified in the use of this tool for facilitating organizational development and culture building, and as a tool to promote individual professional growth and development.  However, the art in successfully using such tools is in clearly determining and communicating which of the many "desirable" behaviors are most important to a particular organization at a particular place in time.
In this series I will introduce those competencies most vital to Newberry's success over the next 36 to 60 months.  I will endeavor to explain the competency, it's relevance to our business today and offer suggestions on developing or becoming more skilled in the desired competency.  It is my desire to contribute to the development of our own cultural framework for success by starting the dialogue about how our behaviors will shape our future success.  It is important to remember that as the market evolves so should the competencies of the organization.  What is important today may not be important tomorrow.  Which leads us to our first competency - - Dealing with Ambiguity; and our first developmental soon.  :-)

Posted by: Christopher J. Steinbach
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Newberry Group Website Launch

It is with great pleasure and pride that I announce the redesigned Newberry Group website, a project more than a year in the making. Our new website will showcase our portfolio as it continues to grow and diversify, and highlight the exceptional contribution our fellow employee-owners make to our Nation, our clients, our communities, and our company. As you know, being a Newberry Employee Owner (NEO) isn’t like being an average employee at an average company. At Newberry we have the unique opportunity to create long term wealth for ourselves and our colleagues, as owners, through the Newberry Group ESOP.

We tried to encompass the spirit of Newberry, the Signature Experience, in this website, our public face to the world. People often ask me, “What is the Signature Experience?” The answer is that it’s different for everyone. For our clients it means an excellent and consistent delivery they can trust.  In the marketplace, it means finding an excellent and trusted partner, as well as an extremely focused and tough competitor.  For our employee-owners, it means an inspiring workplace where personal and professional development are valued and encouraged. The Signature Experience seeks to enhance and enrich the lives of our employee-owners, our clients, and our communities.    

Newberry is an agile and evolutionary company that is far different today than it was a year ago, and will continue to mature into a far different company a year from now than it is today. Our employee-owners strive for more, refusing to remain static, embracing the kind of change that creates a unique and rewarding Signature Experience for all who come to know us and our company. I believe our new website embodies that spirit and tells that story.  


Posted by: Chris Steinbach
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