Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Executive Presence, Addition by Subtraction, and Duke Basketball's Next Play

Talk of Executive Presence, Power Posturing and the like is everywhere. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on Body Language and Power has been viewed an astonishing 28M times. A recent study by Sei Jin Ko, Melody Sadler and Adam Galinsky, The Sound of Power: Conveying and Detecting Hierarchical Rank Through Voice, highlighted a person’s voice changes as their power increases and how those voice changes can be detected by others even through very minor manipulations of relative power. Finally, there are classes out there on posture, voice inflection, presenting, eye contact, handshake grip to help people develop that je ne sais quoi vibe.

I am not knocking the utility of training in this area. I have personally witnessed the before and after power of training people to be more aware of these issues.

Moreover, make no mistake: people form impressions and they form them quickly. At the very minimum, many of these adjustments can be “jacks or better” to help keep you in the game until your knowledge and experience have a chance to form more deeper, lasting impressions.

There is an aphorism that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Similarly, the opposite of Presence is not super boring or being unnoticeable or unremarkable. The opposite of Executive Presence is Executive Not Presence. And when are we not present? When we are preoccupied with something else or in reaction mode because in both cases you are responding unconsciously and that is decidedly not present.

In reaction mode, you are not aware of your posture and voice, not attending to your own inner feelings, not attending to the dynamics in the room, not thoughtful and reflective. You are out of sorts, often saying and doing things you probably will wish you hadn’t, making decisions you would like to have taken more time with.

So while working on your posture and voice and rhythm of speaking, a simple strategy for increasing your executive presence is to change your response to the things that cause you to go into reaction mode. Addition by subtraction.

Here is something to try for a week. Make a list of the key people you interact with throughout the day, boss, key employees, functional peers, significant other, etc. For each one, keep a list of the triggers…things they do or say that throw you off your game. By that I mean, you react behaviorally in a way you wish you didn’t or you have an inner “argument” with them for way too long afterwards. An argument that usually goes something like, “I know I am right about this. And here are all the reasons why. If I asked 5 other people they would all agree with me. How can this person be so stupid?”

What we want to do with this list of triggers is try to develop better, less reactive, responses.  By this, I am not suggesting to avoid dealing with a significant interaction that you feel is or was not right. Far too often, we react badly or withdraw when the correct response is to invite the person aside and ask if they are willing to talk about what happened.

What we want to eliminate is getting caught up in the moment and reacting vs. being present, thoughtful and reflective. So once you have this list, pick each trigger and mentally rehearse a different response. When your boss makes another of his off-handed comments, what would be a way to write that off so you can avoid a 20 minute dialogue in your head about him or coalition building with others after the meeting on what a boor he is? When a direct report brings you news of more delays and you find yourself raising your voice, what would be a better response that would keep both of you in the moment working towards solutions?

Keep rehearsing the responses until you can actually do them in the moment. See what effect that has on your ability to be present and project that sense of power and presence. Because we all know we perform better when we are focused, aware of ourselves, and aware of the dynamics around us.
This is such an important attribute, not just for executives, but for all of us in all situations.  In fact it is actually a pillar of one of the most successful college basketball programs of all time. Year after year for decades the Duke Basketball Mens team has been one of the top teams in the nation, with multiple National Championships under their belts.

One of their key rituals is to declare “Next Play” after every single play, good or bad.  No matter what just happened…turnover, three pointer, blown coverage, terrible call by the officials, or a monster dunk…it’s time to focus on the task at hand…the next play.  Because they know when players allow their minds to linger on what just happened, they lose their intensity and performance plummets.

What is your “Next Play” reminder that helps you be more present with the task at hand no matter how uplifting or maddening what just happened was?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ans: An Elevator Pitch. I'm Not Kidding. (Part 1 of 3)

If the Answer is: “An elevator pitch. I’m not kidding,” then what’s the question? What is a fast and easy way to improve how you and your team execute?

I am guessing you’ve heard the recommendation to have an elevator pitch ready to go. The idea is that if the CEO or a senior leader stops by your office or you run into them at a function or yes, in an elevator, you can impress him/her with how articulate you are and that has the potential to be good for your career.

Better for your career is effective execution in every position you are in and an elevator pitch has to be the fastest and cheapest ways ever invented to improve the way you and your organization gets it done.

Here are the components of an effective elevator pitch. The good news is there is not much to it and there can’t be. Though it only has a few parts, each element is essential.

The first component: The Mission. Why does your organization or department exist? What are the key outcomes the company is depending on you to deliver? I’m guessing I don’t have to say too much about why knowing the mission is crucial. If you, your team, your boss and your peers are not aligned on what your organization is there for, it is going to be forty miles of bad road.

Second: The Current Score. Here you have to say something about how you keep score, what is the score, and are you winning, losing, or treading water…an eyes-wide open look at how you are doing. Knowing the score and publically stating the score is crucial. It shows you see reality. It shows you have the courage to talk about it. At a minimum, this buys you time to address your organization’s performance challenges.

Third: What does winning look like? There needs to be a statement of how much better you are going to be and in what time frame.

And finally: how you plan to win. Here you need to state the two to three top priorities that are going to lead to those improved results. Elements three and four together telegraph that you are reaching beyond where you are and you have specific plans to get there.

That’s all there is too an elevator pitch because you have to keep it short. Beyond 30 seconds, people suspect a soliloquy and will start checking their phones.

In Part II, I will give you an example of an elevator pitch that pulls together these elements and a pain free way of developing one that won’t add any demands to your already impossible to accomplish To-do List. In Part III, I’ll share the key to ensuring your elevator pitch actually does lead to improved organizational results.

If Necessary, Use Words

Some argue that Buddha was the first psychologist. And even though the Buddha predated psychology by a couple thousand years, there is an argument there. He talked about what caused suffering and how it could be avoided and a big part of that prescription was getting a grip on the functioning of our own minds, which is, of course, the primary focus of many modern day psychologists.

In a similar vein, it could also be said that St. Francis of Assisi was the first Organizational Development (OD) practitioner. Now St. Francis of Assisi is known for a lot of things (most recently he has garnered a reexamination because the current Pope of the Catholic Church took his name), but I am guessing that OD practitioner is not one of them, especially since St. Francis also predated OD by almost a thousand years.

But there is one quote of his* that suggests he knew a lot about OD: “Preach the Gospel at all times. And if necessary, use words.”

What on Earth is the connection?

A good OD practitioner, in my mind, has a theory of organizational effectiveness that guides his/her interventions. Most that have such a theory recognize that an organization’s culture is as important to success as the organization’s strategy.

For many, corporate culture is a source of endless confusion and misunderstanding. I am dismayed when I read articles where the CEO of the latest Silicon Valley Unicorn says his company has a great culture and follows that with: “We have air hockey tables on every floor, free food and free bikes, and an full service bar open all the time.” To me, he has listed some interesting amenities, but said nothing about his culture.

For my money, culture is simply the behavior of the leaders. Period. End of story. If the behavior of leaders supports the strategy, you are well on your way to creating a culture that supports the strategy and if that strategy is also sound, you have a good chance of achieving your objectives.
Is amazing customer service a cornerstone of your strategy? Fine. Then how do the leaders behave with respect to customers? Can people tell stories about when the CEO or a senior leader bent over backwards to serve a customer or did something that created a “customer for life?” Do they take calls in the call center? Do they prioritize customer metrics before the review of financial metrics? Do they stop what they are doing or get on an airplane to handle an escalation? Do they dig deep into operational problems that are creating customer pain points and make quality improvements that permanently resolve the issues? Are resources aligned to support great service?

This is why I love that St. Francis quote so much: If the purpose of your gospel is to get people oriented in a certain way, you’ll make more progress achieving that alignment through what you do than by what you say.

Here is a test: Think of the kind of behaviors you are going to need from everyone in the organization if you are going to execute the strategy effectively. Now ask 5 people if they can tell you vivid stories about the CEO or someone else in senior leadership role modeling those critical behaviors. If stories like that don’t pervade the organization and roll off the tongues of people at all levels, I’m willing to bet your culture doesn’t support the strategy. It doesn’t mean you won’t succeed, but it is going to be tougher sledding.

In your organization, where are you leading from the front and where do you think you still have work to do?

* The quote in this post is widely attributed to St. Francis, but I am not certain definitive proof exists that he actually said it.  It's a good quote, whoever said it.

When Roses are Not a Good Thing

Roses have been a profession of love through the ages. They are beautiful. They are thoughtful. They are heartwarming. They can express sympathy. And they have been getting men out of the doghouse since they invented doghouses.

But, believe it or not, they are not always a good thing.

When I was in graduate school, I had a chance to interview a Fortune 50 CEO as part of a study on how managers grew and developed throughout their careers. He said to me at one point, “I have managers out there who could look up a bull’s butt (OK, he didn’t say butt) and see a vase of roses.” I don’t recall what the larger point was that he was trying to make but I do recall making a note-to-self to not be one of those guys.

Our descriptions of current reality need to be accurate. For the things that are going well, you need to say so. You get no points for false modesty and downplaying great results. In fact, more often than not, it drives people nuts.

For the results that are less than what they need to be, you should describe them unflinchingly. Sometimes you inherit a bad situation: a turnaround, for example. Or some key project has gone horribly South. An accurate description of the situation helps set expectations and garner resources, and it shows your willingness to face the music. That latter point often buys you the time you need to address the issues. It also helps avoid having to go back later with more bad news.

Most important of all, an accurate description of where you are helps you get where you want to go.

I remember when I was 16, a friend and I wanted to go to my grandfather’s farm to go fishing. I had been there many times, but I had never driven there. I got lost (this is, ahem, way before Google Maps and GPS) and so I called my Grandfather for directions. I was not able to describe where I was very well…country roads…no great landmarks…and after my vague description, I remember him telling me, “Well you go West. That's towards the sun, you know.” My friend and I had a good laugh about the lack of utility in Grandfather directions, but the problem was mine, not his.

Give this a try: Describe your current business reality, for now just to yourself. Describe everything that is going really well and also describe the bulls’ butts you are looking up. Be almost boastful about the good things and unabashed about what’s broken for your various stakeholders.
Maybe you are not ready to be fully public about this.

Maybe this is all you can do, but at least you will know where you are. And that gives you a fighting chance to get to a better place.

The Importance of Props

I recently had an extended consulting project with a company in Silicon Valley.  As I was frequently onsite, I developed a rapport with one of the receptionists, I will call her Barbara Lara-Johnson (not her real name).  She brightened my day every time I went there.  She was fun to interact with, a huge 49er's football fan, rode a motorcycle and was courteous and helpful with everyone. Unforgettable.

But an interaction with her made her even more unforgettable.  I never had to worry about remembering her name because she had a name plate on the counter.  So one day after I checked in and we caught up a bit, I glanced at her name plate and said, "Well thank you for your help, Ms Lara-Johnson."  To which she replied, "It's Lara.  Just Ms Lara.  I keep that name plate there to remind me not to do anything that stupid again."  We had a good laugh about less than smart relationship decisions we both had made in the past.

I tell this story to many of my clients because, well, it's kind of amusing, but also because it makes a bigger point about the need for reminders and props.  How many training programs have you been to where you can recall that it was a great class and you learned a lot, but you can't quite remember any of the trenchant insights you had during the class or the promises you made of what you wanted to do differently afterwards?  For most of us, training program and other kinds of insights often evaporate quite quickly.

It has always been challenging to remain focused on the most important matters in our lives and that has certainly not been made any easier by the myriad electronic distractions that are all around us.  If we needed reminders in the past to keep us dialed in, we need them more than ever now.

A further challenge in maintaining focus comes when we are trying to change something about how we show up or how we listen to others on the team or how we respond in pressure situations.  These orientations and behaviors we are trying to cultivate are new to us.  They are not natural and it is far too easy to fall back on inveterate ways of responding.  Here again props can help.

I had a client that was trying to slow herself down when speaking up in meetings and to develop more of an air of gravitas around her.  We ended up referring to it as a kind of Old Bull energy she was trying to develop.  I recommended she find and frame a picture of an Old Bull to keep in her office as a reminder of how she wanted to show up.  At a subsequent meeting, there sat the picture of the Old Bull on her desk.  She said that it was really helping.  Every time she glanced at the picture, she took a deep breath and reminded herself of how she wanted to be.

Sometimes useful reminders can be more episodic.  Another client was a force of nature in meetings with peers and people at lower organizational levels.  However, if more senior people were in the room, it was as if he got hypnotized.  He lost his verve and often failed to speak up.  We looked at his calendar to see when meetings with SVPs were coming up and he set alarms on his phone to vibrate during those meetings to remind him to stay present and focus on what needed to be said and done.

I am grateful about meeting "Ms Lara-Johnson."  Getting "it" right was so important to her, she was willing to put the wrong name on her desk and risk causing confusion in others and some embarrassment for herself. 

We probably don't need our reminders to be that extreme, but given how difficult behavior change is, it is unlikely that we'll be able to accomplish what we want without them.

How are you staying focused on the changes you're trying to make?