At C-Level #13: Pre-Transformation Analyses

 

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is also the president & COO of Metcalf & Associates, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

 

In At C-Level #10-18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model like the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below.

 

Analyze Situation & Strengths

 

To plan your transformation journey, you really need to know where the organization is at the start. In planning a family trip from Atlanta to San Francisco, isn’t it important to know how much time you have for the trip, what your vacation budget is, if you can afford to go by plane, train, or automobile, and if all your family members can withstand the rigors of the transportation you choose?

 

I’ve always found that great SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), if done thoroughly, candidly, and by a knowledgeable team, are a good place to start to understand where your organization is today. Further, SWOTs of individuals in your organization (including yourself), competitors, and just about any other entity that could have a significant impact on your business round out that understanding even more. I’ve performed SWOTs on each of these entities at one time or another in transformation processes for the following reasons:

  • to help in idea generation and decision-making;
  • as a baseline to understand where the transformation is starting and what the priorities are coming out of the gate;
  • to help decide if the right people are in the right seats on the bus for our journey, and
  • for developing competitive strategies, both short and long term.

 

What is your vision? What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities could be most impactful for your organization? What are the threats?

Here is how we analyzed our situation and strengths in the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

 

  • Large Manufacturing Company. Leading a transformation to upgrade basic financial reporting controllers into true financial business partners began with a lot of analysis during my discussions with the plant controllers, general managers, and corporate people as well. The vision was a result of those informal interviews, discussions, research and analyses.

 

Early members of the transformation team then did a SWOT analysis on the company’s controllership function to help put the interview results into more of a framework and to help justify the project. Improving the skills and utilization of our controllers to reach our vision included the need to expand their training and upgrade their tools with a new integrated financial system. To properly evaluate software platforms, we needed an in-depth understanding of what we were getting out of the then current systems to understand the minimum functionality we needed the new platform to be able to provide, plus what new functionality we wanted. We used a standard template from a Big 4 accounting firm to do that evaluation.

 

With our vision clearly in mind, we also needed to take a forward look at our need for controllers in several large new steel processing facilities planned over the next several years (investments of $100M to over $200M in size). Evaluating our current controllers and up-and-comers and the development they needed for this transformation, as well as what we should be looking for in potential new controllers, was required as well.

 

These analyses of situation and strengths took around nine months to complete while still performing our regular jobs.

 

If you lead an organization within an organization, what are your internal customers telling you about your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities? Is your vision aligned with your internal customers’ needs and the company’s best interests?

 

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. As a new CEO in this $75M electronics manufacturing company, leading a transformation “to be the best in the world at what we do” required evaluating literally everything we were doing, starting with a deep dive SWOT analysis on what we did as a business! Our engineering talent and capabilities were our biggest strength. Our good margin OEM electronics repair business having only one location, our recent focus on the growth of our low-to-no margin integration business, and our overall negative morale were weaknesses. The opportunities for international expansion of our OEM repair business and building high-value engineered products with higher margins were exceptional. But low-funding and our timing in the economic cycle for these kinds of changes were threats to our transformation journey.

 

On the other side of the equation, we also did a SWOT on our operations. Our strength was the desire for new leadership and change throughout the organization. Our weakness was our lack of structure, discipline, and processes for continuous improvement. Becoming our customers’ most trusted partner was a huge opportunity. Our biggest threat was turning all this around in a reasonable time frame before we started losing our much larger and more demanding customers.

 

Having this knowledge in a well-rounded framework, gave us the ability to develop new strategies and new priorities, and really get creative about how we were going to move into the future to become “the best in the world at what we do.”

 

Think about your vision for the organization and the transformation required to get it there. How long could it take? Will you have the needed resources and funding for this transformation? Look at your competition. Does your vision propel you ahead of the competition? What do you think they are working on?

 

  • Global Internet Payments Company. Our mission was providing the highest value to our clients (the sellers using our payment services), growing the company’s financial value, and getting everyone working in harmony and enjoying their jobs working toward those two goals.

 

This team of very talented individuals who had grown up with the company from its start-up roots were now encountering growing pains and industry changes they just didn’t have the background to effectively work with. The business model that the company was founded on was becoming outdated and less profitable, and significant changes in the model were required to remain competitive and increase profitability again. In addition, the global payment industry’s rules and its application of them were also changing rapidly. The company’s whole operating environment was in a constant state of change and what used to be strengths were now becoming weaknesses.

 

So, we did some, but a lot of group analysis on situation and strengths up front was a challenge. We had to prioritize and improve our capacity to collaborate, innovate, and change so we could start to figure out and do what we needed to do to keep the organization moving forward on its mission. Planning for the unknown was a little unsettling at first, but also exciting at the same time!

 

Is your business and industry in a constant state of flux? Welcome to the future! Is your organization prepared for perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth? If not, where will you start?

 

Key takeaways from these transformations

 

You need to know where you are to plan how to get to where you are going. That’s a very logical and structured approach to transformation (current state versus future state) that has worked very well in the past and is still relevant in larger, more complex, slower evolving and/or more mature environments today. I’ve used it many times and it has worked.

 

However, in cases where the organization is extremely challenged, the pace of change in the operating environment is extremely rapid, resources are scarce, and time is of the essence, there may not be enough time for long protracted analyses and planning before action.

 

In the case of the Global Internet Payments Company above, the pace of change in technology, global e-commerce, and the payment industry was so fast that we could not pin down the current situation and strengths fast enough to go into a traditional planning process. We had an idea of where we wanted to be, but we were running out of time! In many industries, more and more, we see strong high level missions and visions, more on-going analyses of situation and strengths, and more agile planning and execution becoming the norms.

 

To better understand how much of the world has gotten to this point and what it will take to lead in this kind of fast-paced environment going forward, please refer to At “C-Level #9 – Evolving Leadership for an Evolving World.” And I hope you’ll keep up with the rest of the At C-Level #10 through #18 series on transformation to see how these three very different transformation journeys played out.

 

What is the pace of change like in your organization and its environment today? What does that mean for its ability to assess its situation and strengths, as well as its capacity for perpetual innovation, evolution, and change going forward?

 

In “At C-Level #14: Transformation Planning,” we’ll look at how planning for the transformations of these same three organizations was approached and what the key takeaways are that you may need to think about in preparing for your own organization’s transformative journey.

 

Thanks for following us! For more information or help, please visit us at www.Metcalf-Associates.com.

At C-Level #11: Creating a Vision and Sense of Urgency

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is also the president & COO of Metcalf & Associates, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

In At C-Level #10-18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model similar to the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below. This blog is about the first step in the process.

 

Create a Vision & Sense of Urgency

“Starting with the end in mind” is important when beginning any new transformation. However, having a vision of what is at the end of a transformation is not enough. The vision must be so compelling to those leading the transformation and those in the organization being transformed that all involved are impassioned and feel an intense sense of urgency to make it happen.

Do you and your team have a vision you are passionately working toward in your organization? How urgently is everyone working toward that vision? What drives that urgency, or lack thereof?

Here is how the visions were created and the sense of urgency developed in the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

  • Large Manufacturing Company. Early in my career as a new financial analyst at a $2B heavy manufacturer with over 60 operations worldwide, I wanted to learn all I could about the business and the people in it. I visited plants and met with plant controllers and general managers, I asked lots of questions to better understand their businesses and their needs. The controllers were still using antiquated accounting systems and spreadsheets to produce their monthly financials and had little time for much else. The general managers were anxious to better understand the financial aspects of their operations and the potential new investments they were proposing to Corporate. They wanted more resources, but didn’t understand that they had the right resources in their controllers—they just weren’t using them very efficiently.

The vision became clear to me and I began sharing it with everyone who would listen. The controllers spending most of their time in their offices working on accounting and financial reporting needed to be upgraded to financial business partners in their business units. That vision resonated with both controllers and general managers and catapulted me into leading a significant organizational transformation that affected a large part of the corporation and, up to that point, was the largest transformation project in my career.

What are the challenges in your organization that would have the greatest positive impact if things were changed? Do you have ideas on what those changes should be? Will people see the urgency in making those needed changes?

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. As a new CFO in this company, I led a financial turnaround of an unprofitable $25M company to a $15M profitable one. Three years of significant revenue growth later, we had become a $75M company. However, we were making about the same profits as we did at $15M! I was then promoted to my first CEO job to “fix” it. I immediately jumped into talking with people across the company to get a sense of the challenges we were facing. We were still trying to run a $75M company like we ran the $15M company. Overall people liked the company, but they were lacking general direction, goals, motivation, processes—and more than a little structure. There was a lot of work to be done, but toward what? …and where should we start?

Having never been a CEO, I employed a leadership development coach who made me go deep into myself and define my personal purpose in life, as well as my own personal vision, that I could very closely link to a vision for the company. After much soul-searching, I also wrote draft missions and general operating philosophies for the whole leadership team to help me refine so that all could buy in. Knowing what we were doing was not working, and, with a downturn looming, we could be in serious trouble again, a very high sense of urgency drove us to a vision that was essentially “to be the best in the world at what we do.” As vague as that vision was, being the best in the world (not the biggest) mostly meant we needed to be a vastly different company than we were, in everything from leadership to strategy to execution. It opened people’s minds to substantial change.

The vision was a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) and it drew people in. Do you have a BHAG that could energize your organization?

  • Global Internet Payments Company. As a management consultant in this business, I could see that the company was vastly underperforming despite having some great talent and a significant global business opportunity. The business had grown to processing over $200M in payment transactions per year in 200+ countries and was still operating as startup with the same culture it started with for most of its ten years in existence. The organization was operating in silos and simply just tossing their problems over the wall for other departments to fix, which never seemed to happen. People were no longer as happy working there as they once were. A significant cultural transformation was needed to get the company back to higher levels of profitability and prepare it for a possible sale. But what would that look like? And where should we start?

After a few months, I was hired as COO. I immediately drafted missions, visions, and operating guidelines for the executive team to further develop and adopt. We eventually dropped the idea of a stated vision and adopted a mission of “We help our Sellers sell more!” That mission really helped the leadership team focus every day, week, and month. But frankly, it was the combination of the mission, improvement in leadership (we brought in a leadership development coach for the entire leadership team) and the operating guidelines that drove the entire organizational transformation. While not stated, the vision was of a company providing the highest value to its clients (the sellers using its payment services), growing in its financial value, with everyone working in harmony toward those reaching the first two goals. We talked about these three things all the time.

If your vision is not stated, what might be the “behind the scenes” vision for the company? Could it be stated to rally the troops and reach it faster together? Do you talk about your mission and goals on a regular basis?

Key takeaways from these transformations

The larger, more complex and/or faster-evolving an organization’s environment is, the higher the need for a stated vision that everyone can rally around and work toward in transforming the organization to get it to the next level. Does your organization need a stated vision?

To develop a great vision, you must know yourself, your organization, and what will stir deep passion and a sense of urgency within you, as well as the people you will be leading on this journey. Involve the leadership team in the process and get out and talk to others in the organization who have been, or will be, key to the success of the business. If you don’t know where you are going, what path do you follow? How will you know when you’ve arrived?

You don’t have to be a top leader of a large organization to start a transformation. If you can create a vision that…

  • you and others are passionate about,
  • is well thought out,
  • leverages your area(s) of expertise,
  • is widely recognized in the organization,
  • is supported by your leaders, and
  • is believed to be an urgent need with a real return on investment (in other words, a priority),

…and you have the confidence to step up, then you will have the opportunity to lead it. Is there a transformation in your organization waiting for someone to step forward and lead?

And lastly, if there is no sense of urgency, progress will be slow, at best. There is urgency as in a challenge that must be overcome, and urgency as in a destination everyone can’t wait to get too. What drives the urgency of your organization’s progress today? Can you combine the urgency of the challenges you face along the way with the urgency of getting to your destination to speed that progress up?

In “At C-Level #12: Building Transformation Teams,” we’ll look at how the teams were built in these same three organizations and what the key takeaways are that you may need to think about in building your transformation leadership team.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills. You can download the first three chapters of the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Emerging Leaders and Managers for free.

Thanks for following us! To learn more about transforming organizations and/or get help, visit us at www.Metcalf-Associates.com.

10 Executive Leadership Insights from a CEO: Dwight Smith

This blog is a collaboration between guest Dwight Smith, experienced CEO and board member of several high-profile organizations, and Maureen Metcalf, CEO Metcalf & Associates, and is a companion to the Voice America Interview with Dwight discussing his executive experience, insights, and the “My Special Word” program.

At this juncture in time, we need great leaders and great leadership! Most of us, at one time or another, have been in the presence of a great leader and can recognize the characteristics of a great leader when we see them—and recognize when they are absent. Leadership development has become increasingly important. As the pace of change accelerates there is a call for a different sort of leadership than leadership of the past. The good news is that this transformational leadership can be found in all sectors. During difficult times, truly exceptional leaders rise to the occasion and take the reins.

According to the PwC CEO Survey for 2017, globalization has brought many benefits but also downsides. With greater convergence has come greater divergence in beliefs, values, and systems. CEOs are concerned about uncertain economic growth, over-regulation, and skills shortages. The focus in 2017 on CEO talent that can address these uncertainties reflects the continuation of a trend over the last several years.

As part of our discussion, Dwight described his top 10 list of beliefs and behaviors that great leadership requires. Although this blog began with referencing the current challenges we face today, these fundamental principles are timeless.

  1. Know your values and live by them—without exception. Values drive decisions and action, and ultimately your legacy. Servant leadership is unselfish, and aims at success for others and win-win situations in which everyone is uplifted. This is where leaders are about the greater good. When we think of the many leaders whose reputations went from positive to negative very quickly, it is often based on a values issue. These leaders sidestepped their values and used their positions of power to intimidate, harass, misappropriate an organizations research, and so on. It is hard to recover from a tarnished reputation because of a values violation.
  2. Find a mentor whose values match yours. We never succeed alone. Success is always a result of learning from those who were role models and who supported us. Some are formal mentors and others modeled who we want to become or avoid becoming. Find people who uplift you, care about you, and have passion for life. Think of the people who don’t see the glass as half full but completely full—it’s just that part of the contents include air.
  3. Find ways to respect and embrace differences. Being with people who are different—in beliefs, in ways of doing things, who have a different perspective—provides us with learning opportunities. Be personal learners. Acknowledge and accept and embrace differences and learn from others who see the world differently. Seek to understand why others see the world differently, but most importantly, respect the differences whether you understand them or not. Multiple perspectives generally create more “durable” solutions.
  4. Act with grace and kindness. Find the goodness in others especially when they are most frustrating to you. This is not to say we lack discernment; we must be both discerning and kind. We must show respect to get respect. When we agree to value differences, we will be stretched into areas that are uncomfortable and, in some cases, frustrating. It is important to be gracious with ourselves as well as others.
  5. Make time to reflect. Set aside time, optimally every day, to dial back electronic connections and replace these with personal reflection, human connection, and inspirational activities such as meditation and prayer. We need time to recharge and refresh our physical bodies and our spirits. We need to reconnect with our values every day—even if it is simply quiet time during a commute.
  6. Be forward thinking and strategic. We are facing dramatic change in our world. It is critical to stay abreast of trends that will impact you directly and tangentially. When you see trends, face them head on, try to understand the impact and identify the opportunities these changes may create for you and your organization. Change always creates opportunity for someone, will you find ways to leverage it?
  7. Find passion and follow it wisely. Whether as a vocation or as a hobby, passion recharges us and gives us purpose. We may find that passion in our full-time jobs or in other areas of life. Dwight is heavily involved in an organization called “My Special Word.” In addition to his demanding work, Dwight invests his time and energy in this program because he is passionate about children and the impact his program creates.
  8. Be personally responsible and accountable. Everyone faces adversity in life. It is unavoidable. How you respond defines who you become. You are responsible for your reactions to events and their impact on yourself and others. We chose how we respond. We have the choice to take responsibility or become victims. How can you develop the capacity to own your situations and make the best of them? Think how many small decisions in life impact your day. Are you responding based on your values and your best self?
  9. Align words and actions. Whether you are aware or not, people are always watching what you do and if your words align with your actions. If your words and deeds conflict, you lose credibility and the trust of others. This can be tricky sometimes because others may not see the nuances you see or understand why you changed course. Communication is a deciding factor. Because others don’t know or see what we see, it is our job to help them understand when they perceive a misalignment. If trust is gone, people are less likely to be engaged and perform at their best for the organization.
  10. Take the time to thank people. Success and the success of an organization are built on team efforts that are the engine driving success or failure, satisfy customers, and deliver value. Make sure that all the members of your team feel appreciated.

Leadership is an honor. We serve an organization’s mission, its employees, its clients, its financial stakeholders, and our communities. We balance many requirements while keeping pace with trends and adjusting our offerings. When done properly, it is as beautiful as a well-rehearsed symphony. How would you score your performance on this top 10 list?

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills. You can download the first three chapters of the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Emerging Leaders and Managers for free.

About the Authors:

Dwight Smith is an experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. Skilled in Budgeting, Business Planning, Analytical Skills, Sales, and Entrepreneurship. Strong business development professional with a MBA focused in Finance from The Ohio State University. Dwight serves on several Boards including the Federal Reserve Board of Cleveland and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Dwight created the “My Special Word” program and organization. My Special Word is a not-for-profit program with the aspiration of inspiring our youth to think about the wonderful people they are and that they hope to become using positive words. Their vision is to encourage, inspire and excite our youth to become the amazing people that they are meant to become and to strive daily to reach their greatest potential and aspirations.

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

At C-Level #9: Evolving Leadership for an Evolving World

Acceleating ChangeThis blog was written as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview between Mike Sayre and Maureen Metcalf on May 23, 2017, Characteristics of Leadership 2020 – A CEO Perspective.

Mike Sayre is the president & COO of Metcalf & Associates, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike is highly experienced and a successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director.

Waves of change in technology are advancing at an exponential rate—20,000 times more than in the last century according to Google CTO and futurist Ray Kurzweil. So are waves of change in society, global and local economics, as well geopolitics. These incredible rates of ongoing change are driving…

  • the evolution of your customers’ needs and your competitors’ offerings faster than ever,
  • the obsolescence of technologies your offerings depend on today,
  • your most capable employees’ desires to leverage new technologies to innovate, grow, and evolve themselves, and
  • a vastly accelerated pace of change in your business.

Are you evolving the way you and your team lead to continue to ride these waves of change? If not, you may be swept beneath them.

Over the course of human history, there have been six major shifts in societal/cultural norms (eras) with corresponding leadership development and advancement. The first four were driven over tens of thousands of years by increasing populations, the continued need to feed and protect growing population centers, and a primal power base:

  • ARCHAIC: nomadic clans hunting and foraging for food
  • TRIBAL: the formation of tribes and villages and the developments of horticulture and shepherding
  • WARRIOR: the building of city-state empires using serf or slave labor to establish early agricultural practices
  • TRADITIONAL: the growth of city-state empires to wide-spread kingdoms and monarchies battling over turf and power

Next came the MODERN Industrial Scientific era where leadership spent more time and energy on perfecting tasks and processes (think assembly lines) to support mass production and distribution of traditional products, but also products based on new technologies, like automobiles, mostly in developing nation-states with access to the required resources. Commercial success translated into new power bases. The Modern era developed over a period of approximately two-hundred years and many people and organizations are still functioning at this level.

Then came the POST-MODERN era where leadership became much more introspective, thoughtful, and systems oriented, where the information age and the internet have spanned virtual transnational networks. This era has really only developed over the last 20-30 years with the advent of the internet.

Note that the first four eras developed over tens of thousands of years and that some parts of the third-world still may be functioning at some combination of the Tribal, Warrior and Traditional eras. They co-exist in close proximity to parts of the world where the Modern and Post-Modern eras developed over just the last couple of hundred years. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that  the incredible rate of increasing technological advancement over time so far will only continue to increase exponentially going forward, and Kurzweil’s predictions are not so far-fetched as they may seem! It has become more and more difficult for leaders and organizations to keep up.

So now, we are beginning to experience the seventh societal/cultural/leadership shift into what we call the INTEGRAL era. In this era, technological change, economic change and geopolitical change outpace the abilities of most Modern and Post-Modern leaders who think in terms of tasks, processes, and systems. Integral era leadership must consider the constant evolution of entire ecosystems in which we operate, and evolve ahead of the curve—or at least with the curve—to just survive, let alone thrive.

When today’s foremost leadership experts were doing research for the book Leadership 2050, they looked at five recent global studies on organizational leadership needs for the future. All five studies generally concluded that there are not enough leaders in our current leadership pipeline that have the higher-ordered skills and capacities to meet the complexity of today’s challenges, not to mention those needed for 2050.

What are those higher-ordered skills?

  1. Being professionally humble – Astute leaders care more about doing the right thing than being right. Their focus is on the mission and they consistently give credit to their team and others when they succeed.
  2. Having an unwavering commitment to right action – A thoughtful leader consistently makes decisions based on what action will most effectively advance the organization’s mission, even if doing it is not the easiest path.
  3. Being a 360-degree thinker – A prudent leader consistently considers the industry, environment and trends driving future success, in addition to the organizations’ strategies, capabilities, and, most obvious, environmental factors.
  4. Being intellectually versatile – Creative leaders draw from a broad set of interests and involvement in activities outside their organization. Those activities also give them opportunities to recharge.
  5. Being highly authentic and reflective – Self-aware leaders who possess a strong sense of mission and are transparently guided by a set of consistently adhered-to principles build trust that promotes an environment of high performance.
  6. Inspire followership – Leaders strong in the previous competencies, with a sense of humor and mild self-deprecation, who are warm and empathetic, inspire a followership that appreciates the tough conversations required to maintain ever-higher performance and achievement, and are continually inspired to do more.
  7. Being innately collaborative – Exceptional leaders value input from experts and those impacted by key decisions, and promote the offering of differing points of view, knowing that multiple perspectives result in better outcomes, more support, and stronger execution.

How can you develop these higher-ordered skills?

These competencies generally take years to develop and are gained through both unplanned and planned life and career experiences.

Nick Petrie from the Center of Creative Leadership says what he calls “vertical ego-maturity development” is helping leaders move from one level of ego-maturity to the next (becoming less self-centered) to match leadership style with the demands of society. A similar leadership developmental process occurred to move between each of the societal levels referenced above, with the specifics varying according to life conditions. This transformation process occurs through:

  • Heat Experiences where a leader faces a complex situation that disrupts and disorients a habitual way of thinking. Through this experience there is a recognition that the current way of making sense of the world is inadequate. The leader opens up to different perspectives and starts searching for new and better ways to make sense of the situation.
  • Colliding Perspectives where a leader is exposed to people with different world views, opinions, backgrounds, and training that challenges existing mental models and increases the number of perspectives through which the world is viewed.
  • Elevated Sense-making where a leader uses a coach, or a self-developed process, to help integrate and make sense of these perspectives and experiences from more elevated stages of development. A larger more advanced worldview emerges and, with time, stabilizes.

At Metcalf & Associates, we work with our clients to create perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in their leadership and business by providing:

  • Individual or group Innovative Leadership training
  • Team/organization innovative culture development
  • Organizational transformation engagement, and
  • Ongoing consulting, coaching and/or follow-up sessions to ensure:
    • Growth in perspectives when unplanned heat experiences or colliding perspectives “barge in,”
    • Development of elevated sense-making with new perspectives, and
    • Sustainability of developmental goal achievement and/or transformation.

Thanks for following us!  Please look for more upcoming blogs and blog series at “C” level from Mike.

 

Inspiring Leadership and Organizational Evolution: We are Upshifting

I completed my 100th Innovative Leadership interview a couple of weeks ago aired on Voice America on May 30, 2017. In preparation, my host, Dale Meyerrose asked me to reflect on what I had learned and what I put into practice over the past two years—which was likely almost 1,000 hours of prep, interview and follow-up. The challenge was a bit more difficult than I imagined.

Here are a few thoughts about how I got started:

  • I ask listeners each week to experiment with their leadership. What most people don’t know is this show started as an experiment. Tacy Trump, the show’s executive producer called and asked if I wanted to do a show. It was a significant financial investment so I wanted to consider what was involved. Ultimately, I committed to a 3-month pilot. I treated it like a learning experiment with the hypothesis that it would help build on the work I had started with the book series. The show just passed the 100-show milestone, so it moved beyond an experiment. Yet, I continue to experiment with new content, different types of formats and different types of guests as well as build on the current robust group of guests. There were parts of the experiment that I refined because they didn’t work as well as I’d envisioned. If most of what we do can be refined and course corrected, then fear of failure is a much smaller inhibitor.
  • I selected shows that I found interesting with the hope they would be interesting to listeners. Initially, I wanted to find a theme, but it difficult to pin down what that should be. So at the beginning I just went for interesting, informative, and good to work with. It is only in retrospect that I see the theme and I can now parse it into three categories:
    • Strong content that helps people build knowledge such as understanding cyber security and analytics
    • Sharing content that helps listeners translate knowledge into ongoing practices and skills, that help leaders be more effective. Some of the most beneficial skills are mindfulness, resilience, and managing thinking—and improving interactions that help them deliver results.
    • Sharing a broad range of content that helps listeners build wisdom, by listening to shows that may not directly apply on the surface to a specific need, but that build intellectual versatility and wisdom.
  • I also want this show to be used in universities. It would be a shame to not use this robust set of interviews. The leaders who shared their time have offered insights and wisdom. It could be a valuable asset and teaching tool for students and research.
  • There were times I felt like Cinderella, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the ball and interview people whose work I had studied and who were winning lifetime achievement awards. I hope our listeners enjoyed hearing from these people as much as I enjoyed interviewing them.

What did you learn from your guests about leadership?

My biggest take away from these interviews is feeling hopeful. I talked to people from across the world working to solve some of the most complicated and intractable problems. They are making progress and they were willing to share their goals, insights, successes, and learnings with our listeners. Many are conducting action research, doing projects and reporting on the results. Practitioners and researchers are teaming up to provide research-based solutions and are researching new approaches to solve emerging challenges we now face.

One of the concepts that strikes me as I write this is that what sets these people apart is how they demonstrate wisdom in action and their willingness to share that wisdom. So, now the challenge is: How do each of us broaden our wisdom? I hope the shows are part of the many sources in your life that help you build your leadership wisdom.

In addition to having great guests, people are listening! We have listeners in 66 countries and the number of listeners increases monthly. I really wanted to make an impact with this show and if number of listens is an indication of success, we are going in the right direction. I would love to hear from our listeners how this show impacts you!

When I reviewed the interviews, six categories emerged.

  1. Building our resilience and well-being. I start with this section as the foundation because every leader I work with is looking to build his or her capacity to manage the increasing level of complexity and demands in both their personal and professional lives. Leaders across all sectors benefit from a focus on mindfulness, managing thinking, and managing overall health to build the resilience required to navigate the uncertainty and rate of change that is currently present for almost everyone in the world.
  2. Risk Management. The risks we face as organizational leaders have increased and multiplied. We now must respond to challenges that were not as common as recently as 10 years ago. These topics include how to navigate a smear campaign, cyber security, and building a better understanding of the geopolitical environment.
  3. Building knowledge, skill, and perspective. Several of the guests offer information designed to expose listeners to new skills and to rethink what they do, how they do it, and how to refine what they are doing. This category speaks to turning knowledge into skills and includes emotional intelligence, building influence, and telling stories. One of our listener favorites is Mike Morrow-Fox talking about the traits of bad bosses and antidotes for dealing with them.
  4. Becoming a global leader. Sixteen interviews focus on different facets of leading in a global and interconnected environment. These range from learning to manage a multi-cultural workforce to understanding how prejudice impacts leadership effectiveness. George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece talks about his experience leading Greece, and explores how these experiences relate to leadership in our communities and creating a more fair and just world. These interviews were part of the International Leadership Association Conference and the Global Ties conference. While not everyone works in a global organization, most of us are managing a more diverse workforce, have a broader group of clients, and have suppliers and partners from around the globe. A key theme for this group was building bridges to connect with people across a broad spectrum of factors, culture, and ingrained expectations.
  5. Realizing our leadership potential, managing your journey. There are several interviews that focus on identifying individual purpose and principles. The foundation for leaders knowing who they are and leading themselves, including Mike Sayre talking about how he used this self-knowledge to identify which CEO role to take and Paul Pyrz talking about identifying and living in possibility, geared toward young leaders. These interviews serve as the foundation for building the inner capacity and mindset to lead. When we think of the shift toward “Level 5” or strategist leadership, this transition involves an inner shift as the foundation for behavioral change. The conversations with Susan Cannon and Mike Morrow-Fox about Strategist leadership competencies and Leadership 2050 epitomize the goal for leaders to work toward. (It was our first show!)
  6. Creating the capacity to continually evolve organizations. Several interviews focus on how highly effective leaders build their organization’s capacity to evolve continually. They are not just leading a one-time-change initiative, they are building the ability to implement multiple concurrent changes over a period of years. They are transforming their organizations into self-transforming (or evolving) systems. Mike Sayre and Dale Meyerrose talk about navigating the bumps in creating this transformational mindset. Guru Vasudeva talks about implementing Agile and Lean processes and cultures. Joe Gallo talks about shaping companies to navigate industry wide changes. Jim Ritchie Dunham talks about creating vibrant organizations and agreements that serve as the foundation of effective operations in changing times. He also talks about building a team’s capacity to operate at its highest potential rather than the lowest common denominator.

I set out to experiment with hosting a radio show as a mechanism to help leaders develop. Our listeners ultimately determine the success of the shows by their choice to listen. It is insufficient to say that this show has been a learning tool for me. It has given me an amazing opportunity to meet and interview a broad range of organizational, government, nonprofit, and academic leaders. I am more encouraged now than ever before that, as leaders, we can continue to update our leadership “operating system” just like we update our computer software to enable us to meet the challenges we face and create a better world for the generations that follow.

About the author Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

At C-Level #7: Unprofitable operations – underutilized capacity, underperforming operations, logistical challenges

c-level 7At C-Level #7 is the seventh blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.

At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey. 

This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change.

As a first-time CEO with a couple of years leading and starting up new manufacturing and distribution operations in an operations leadership role, I was still not totally prepared for operational challenges we faced as I took on this role.

  • Prior to my new role as CEO, we had acquired a competitor across the country with the same large customer/small margin challenges that we had. However, the competitor’s leadership had not been willing to face those brutal facts and was about to close its doors when we acquired it. The primary reasons for the acquisition were increased sales, engineering capability, overhead reduction and profitability. Nonetheless, the circumstances and late timing had not given us enough time to sort that out and benefits from the acquisition had not yet been realized.
  • Both of our operations had significant inventory and production control, as well as quality and delivery, challenges – and neither operation was a very impressive place to walk a potential new customer through. Those challenges had also driven at least one of our largest customers to demand daily order status calls so they could pressure our customer service staff to improve shipping performance (our staff referred to them as “the daily beatings”), and, thus, we were about to lose one of our best program managers.
  • Our bid opportunities for additional work for our core service business were dwindling because we were doing work for global electronics manufacturers who began requiring operations in Europe and Asia to reduce transit time and logistics costs, and we only had a presence in the U.S. We had to expand globally.

Although I did not know all the theories I’m now writing about, I believe that I enabled our turnaround success on some key tenets of those theories that I now better understand. I am sharing them with you in this blog series because it has been easier to replicate my success since I understood the principles on which that success was based. And I hope this may be the same for you. Some of the principals:

  • The tenets from Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, referenced in At C-Level #1, the first blog of this series:
    • The right people in the right seats on the bus make all the difference;
    • Find the truth and act on it by facing the brutal facts of reality while maintaining an unwavering faith that you will succeed; and
    • Greatness comes from sustained commitment to disciplined people, disciplined thinking, and disciplined action that creates breakthrough momentum.
  • Additionally, I relied heavily on the Conscious Capitalism concepts introduced in At C-Level #3 that take into consideration all of the key stakeholders in making important decisions – in particular, the employee stakeholders in this installment of the series.
  • Remember the Strategist Competency model from At C-Level #4. It said that Strategists are unstoppable and unflappable when on a mission. This one was foundational for me in every difficult situation we encountered. I won’t say it was easy. While personally feeling the pain of making all these changes, I tried to make sure we were doing the “right thing,” and with that in mind, I mustered the courage to stay the difficult path that we, as a leadership team, had set.

Here’s how we approached those challenges. Our changes focused on people, process, and investment.

  • We faced the brutal facts, closed the acquired operation across the country and moved the work to our existing local operations, cutting our total combined expenses by more than 7 percent. Treating the people who were being laid off in the acquired operation as we would like to be treated (the Golden Rule) gave us three months of solid production and work transfer help from the people being laid off. They were awesome.
  • I called the customer and stopped the “daily beating” calls. With a Golden Rule philosophy, we could not allow someone to berate our people like that and I told that to the person who was making the calls. He was very upset and threatened to come into our operation from his European location to monitor his orders and manage our people. I told him he would get no further than the lobby. The news of our conversation spread quickly and had a tremendous impact on associate morale and engagement. Having said all that, we knew that his expectations were not unreasonable and we could not continue to miss our shipment commitments to our customers. So, I promised him a daily email with the status of any orders that were not on track to meet our commitment, and what we were doing to get them back on track. The customer could call us with any specific questions or challenges of course. That call and process change had three major effects on our organization:
    • It affirmed to our associates that I meant what I said about following the Golden Rule, showed them that I cared about them, and they stepped up. It took awhile to correct the shipping problem.
    • Although the customer’s shipments did see some early improvement, it took awhile to correct the shipping problems, but there were no more “daily beatings.” Because the e-mail I promised was sent out daily without fail, the customer always knew what was going on with their shipments and our team was more committed than ever to solve our shipping challenges.
    • It also saved us a lot of time…there were several people in those meetings and it only took one person to do the email! The rest could now work on the root issues of our shipping challenges.
  • As I wrote in the last installment of this series, At C-Level #6, we raised capital, bought an operation in Europe and started a new one with a partner in Asia.
  • We implemented Lean Manufacturing at all three of our operations that made our associates more excited about what we were doing and more productive, in addition to making our operations better organized and better run for existing and potential customer business and production audits.
  • We also used some of the capital we raised for our first Agile development process to build an inventory tracking system that was used at all three operations and gave our global customers one place to track all their products within our company.

It took a couple of years of intensely hard work with the team to reorganize and turnaround our operations. It also took the hiring of very talented and experienced operations and IT leaders to help implement the Lean Manufacturing and Agile methodologies that I wanted to help drive the turnaround process. The large customer that was holding the “daily beatings” was the same customer (not the same person) that later confirmed to me that we were indeed accomplishing our vision of being the best in the business (the world) at what we do.

There is one more concept in play here that was essential to our successes: the resulting shift to a much higher level of “harmonic vibrancy.” The Institute for Strategic Clarity defines harmonic vibrancy as the overall quality of life people experience in their relationships with themselves, each other, and the various communities or collectives in which they participate. When harmonic vibrancy is high, they typically experience gratitude, joy, enthusiasm, creative capacities, trust, and social solidarity; when it is low, ingratitude, anxiety, apathy, mistrust, and anti-social competitiveness. The changes we made significantly raised the level of harmonic vibrancy in our company. Ironically, you can grow a business without it, but sustaining success is much more likely with a vibrant organization than one that operates by fear and manipulation.

Reflection questions:

  • What are the two to three major strategic operations challenges in your business today? What are some of the brutal facts?
  • Are you acting on them? How?
  • In your current situation, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest, how would you rate the harmonic vibrancy in your organization or company? More importantly, how do you think your associates would rate it?
  • How might you and/or your leadership team improve it?

If you identify with the leadership models I’ve been writing about in these blogs and need

  • Leadership assessments (including a harmonic vibrancy assessment) and development for you and/or your team based on these models, or
  • Executive advisory services on how to implement strategic, financial, operational and/or cultural transformations to turnaround and/or grow your company, please contact Metcalf & Associates or me for further information on our services.

In At C-Level #8, Mike wraps up this blog series about his experiences being a first-time CEO responsible for overall company strategy and execution during a steep economic downturn affecting the business.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.

Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients.  His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.

At C-Level #6: Unprofitable domestic sales, unsuccessful international sales, dwindling opportunities and turning lemons into lemonade

C Suite 6 Mike HardyAt C-Level #6 is the sixth blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.

At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey.

This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change.

At the time I took on my first CEO role, I hadn’t previously had responsibility for sales. Looking back with the experience I have now, I think we were facing some fairly daunting sales challenges, even for very experienced CEOs:

  • Our board and shareholders had demanded growth in sales – and we had increased sales over 400 percent – but had little increased profitability to show for it. We were winning large volume programs with little to no gross profit margin. It was largely domestic commodity service work, that we had to build a large and fairly expensive group of people and infrastructure to support.
  • Our bid opportunities for additional work for our core service business were dwindling because we were doing work for global electronics manufacturers who began requiring operations in both Europe and Asia, while we only had a presence in the U.S.
  • We had started an international sales initiative in Europe and Asia that we had hoped would help, but it was expensive, needed much more time to develop, and we weren’t sure that the margins would be any better (likely not with the Asian cost of labor being so much lower at the time).
  • We had a group of smart salespeople. However, they had come in under a sales leader who left the company simultaneous to my becoming CEO. They had come in under a different set of rules, and now we were changing them. And that does not happen overnight. They were unhappy, our transition was taking too long for them and many left the company before we stabilized.

Remember these tenets from Jim Collin’s Good to Great book written about in At C-Level #1 of this series?

  • The right people in the right seats on the bus make all the difference;
  • Find the truth and act on it by facing the brutal facts of reality while maintaining an unwavering faith that you will succeed; and
  • Greatness comes from sustained commitment to disciplined people, disciplined thinking, and disciplined action that creates breakthrough momentum.

Remember the Strategist Competency model from At C-Level #4? It said that Strategists are unstoppable and unflappable when on a mission.

My point here is that these were the qualities we needed during this challenging time. We were facing urgent issues on several fronts: we needed to identify the “right” people and get them in the right seats on the bus; address the brutal facts about our business strategy that was generating lower profit margins; address the lack of business process in qualifying “good” business for us; and I needed to have the courage to make some tough calls and stick to them when I met resistance. I’ve been told that my reactions were instinctively that of Level 5 and Strategist leaders, but not because I knew what those were and thought that I should emulate them. Rather, it seemed to me to be what we needed at the time, so I just moved in that direction, with the benefit of additional strong leadership and support from the rest of the team.

Here’s how we made lemonade out of the lemons we were handed with these challenges.

  • We did detailed cost analyses of large customer programs we believed might not be profitable as priced. We faced the brutal facts, took action and became a smaller revenue and higher gross margin company, with more discipline around our pricing and analysis of the business we committed to before we committed to it. That allowed us to weather a major economic downturn.
  • We stopped trying to sell internationally because there was plenty of global business that we could win right here in the U.S., if we had operations in Europe and Asia. However, we raised some capital and used relationships that were developed through our sales efforts in both areas to identify and work with partners. Those partners helped us acquire a small operation in Europe and start up an operation with a partner in Asia. Those two additional operations opened up new bidding opportunities for us and we grew annual sales 25 percent in the core part of our business in less than two years.
  • The salespeople who left had been selling business we were consciously now walking away from. They voluntarily helped us cut our sales cost, allowing us to rebuild a sales organization that could sell the new business that we wanted to target.
  • And, we were hit with a huge downturn in the economy that easily could’ve taken us under had we not made all of those changes in our business as early as we did. Unfortunately, we did need to make more cuts in our staffing levels to do that, but utilizing the Golden Rule (referred to in At C-Level #5) in doing so kept a lot of great people in the company that survived – a company that was eventually sold to a global giant in the industry.

Frankly, so far in my career, I have only seen a couple of leaders who exhibited many of these traits I am writing about. Maybe only one or two in CEO roles. So if you see these traits or even inklings of them in your own personal leadership style, I encourage you not to abandon them – instead nurture them! It’s easier to lead people in a style that fits you.

In their book Leadership 2050, Susan Cannon, Michael Morrow-Fox, and Maureen Metcalf, make a compelling case that these are actually the leadership models it will take for us to be successful in the future – relentlessly competitive, collaborative and caring, with a focus on the success of the company, not the leader. Business and leadership is evolving and we need more of these types of leaders to encourage and lead the innovation required for us to increase and maintain our strong competitive status in the world.

Reflection questions:

  • What are the two to three major strategic sales and/or marketing challenges in your business today? What are some of the brutal facts?
  • How is that information shared with your leadership team? Is it?
  • Does your team know the company mission and vision, what the company’s stakeholders want, and do you have a process for coming to terms with those brutal facts with the best collaborative solutions the team can come up with (understanding that you still have and reserve the right to override)?

If you identify with the leadership models I’ve been writing about in these blogs and need either

  • Leadership assessments and development for you and/or your team based on these models, or
  • Executive advisory services on how to implement strategic, financial, operational and/or cultural transformations in order to turnaround and/or grow your company, please contact Metcalf & Associates or me for further information on our services.

In At C-Level #7, Mike writes about operational improvement through consolidations, expansions, agile software development and lean manufacturing.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.

Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients.  His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.

Learning from the International Leadership Association Conference

 

ILA learning

At the International Leadership Association 18th Annual conference in Atlanta in October 2016, I had the great honor of interviewing key conference speakers. These interviews will be featured on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.”

Not only was I honored to attend and present at the conference, I was invited to interview several key speakers and board members. This one-on-one contact allowed me to ask questions I cared about in my own journey as well as framing a conversation I thought would be interesting for our listeners. It was an opportunity to stretch my own thinking, get uncomfortable in discussions, and question my own beliefs. My intent in this blog is to share a snapshot of my take-aways and, also, to invite you to listen to the interviews and do your own summary of what you heard from this robust group of thought leaders and role models. The first interview features Ajay Brandeo, African Union  Ambassador to the European Union and Cynthia Cherrey, President and CEO of the International Leadership Association. This interview focuses on Why Does International Leadership matter now?

Metcalf & Associates developed a leadership competency focused on the mindset and behaviors required to successfully navigate the complexity we face now and will continue to face in the future. This model was published in the ILA book Leadership 2050 in a chapter so-authored by Susan Cannon, Mike Morrow-Fox and Maureen Metcalf. One of the seven competencies is intellectually versatile, welcomes collaboration in a quest for novel solutions that serve the highest outcome for all involved. This competency includes the following behaviors:

  • Seeks input from multiple perspectives—valuing diverse points of view
  • Creates solutions to complex problems by creating new approaches that did not exist, pulling together constituents in novel ways, creating broader and more creative alliances
  • Understands that in a time of extreme change, input from multiple stakeholders with diverse points of view are required

I wanted to share some of my reflections as we kick off the series. Listening to the presentations and interviewing the speakers helped me identify several key themes. The following is my personal application of intellectual versatility in stretching my own thinking and reflects what I heard across the range of speakers (seeking multiple perspectives and synthesizing them to refine my own thinking). As I update my personal practice of leadership, I am thinking about what actions I can personally take to remain as effective as possible.

  1. The world is changing and some of these changes will change the trajectory as a species. How we navigate the turbulence is becoming a core competency—because chaos is not going away. We will not only face multiple concurrent changes; it is likely we will be living through turbulence the balance of our lives and some of that turbulence may change the trajectory of how humans navigate life on the planet. Climate change was mentioned frequently—not as a discussion of cause, but rather that we need to address the multiple impacts as a result of it. Some saw it as an opportunity to come together across borders to address the global issue.
  2. People are now emerging as global citizens. While we live in local communities, organized by countries and continents, we are also part of the global citizenry that must address key planetary issues like climate and migration as a collective if we are to create the most robust solutions. Part of the glue that will make this possible is identifying global values that can serve as a rallying point for everyone, such as transparency in governance.
  3. We are a group of scholars and practitioners who come together to address the greatest problems of our time by accurately identifying the adaptive challenges and working together to research and pilot solutions. While everyone acknowledges that we face huge issues, there was a sense of hope because we had great minds in the room committed to creating and implementing solutions.
  4. There was a strong focus on doing the work to create a peaceful planet. These conversations covered a broad range of topics such as, how do we identify ourselves, and how does that identity impact our mindset about in groups and out groups—all the way to the very macro discussion about national approaches to creating peaceful relationships across countries? These discussions were not whimsical or wishful, they focused on identifying actions we can each take to create peace in our own communities first. A couple of actions included learning about others and treating those who are different from us with respect rather than fear. The second is identifying in ourselves when we default, often unconsciously, to fear rather than curiosity. We know there are times when fear is appropriate to maintain safety; and yet, are we too fearful. Are we creating a culture in which, driven by fear, we miss the opportunities to break down barriers that no longer serve us?
  5. Are we creating opportunities to be a global community that cares for every citizen based on their humanity—not based on what those citizens can offer in terms of resources? This came out during a discussion on refugees, but also in addressing other groups that are underserved or are the “out” group. Again, these discussions were grounded in research, action, and compassion. There was a strong acknowledgment that leaving people behind causes unintended consequences that are not acceptable. We need to find a way to balance actions, as an example retraining, as the economic landscape changes to ensure citizens are employed and contributing to their own care as well as to society.

This exploration is most useful when put into action. During one of the interviews I made a commitment to examine my own thinking and biases more closely to see where I can revise my thinking as well as behavior. It also reinforced things I care about, but have not put into action in my busy professional life. I tried to include a discussion in each interview about how can we move to action in our own lives irrespective of the level of our role in our work, families, and communities.

I invite you to join me in these conversations and see how they inform your thinking. This is certainly an opportunity to build your intellectual versatility.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the author
Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

At C-Level #5: The power of a few stated operating guidelines

C Level

At C-Level #5 is the fifth blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.  

At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey.

This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change. .

As you know from my previous At C-Level posts, as a first time CEO of a manufacturing services company that was lacking in leadership and focus, I created a leadership tool in the form of a “philosophy card” containing a company mission, vision and operating guidelines that aligned with my own personal mission, vision, and operating philosophies.

An operating philosophy like the “Golden Rule,” which says you should treat others as you would like them to treat you, has always been simple enough. Then came the “Platinum Rule,” which says you should treat others as they would like to be treated. Both can cover a lot of ground depending on how literally you take them. I prefer to give people some credit for understanding these general concepts and believe either is a good place to start. But, in addition, I also think giving a few more specific guidelines (but not too prescriptive) helps round out what you mean by stating your operating philosophy is based on the Golden, or Platinum, Rule.
Here are the operating guidelines we decided to put on “the card” as our mission and vision:

guidingphilosophyclevel5

There are many more you can probably think of that you might put on this card. The truth is, just as I wrote about mission and vision in At C-Level #4, you need to do what best serves the company’s and your purpose and circumstances. And I’d add that your guidelines need to be broad enough to cover a lot of ground, but narrow enough that you do not have to worry too much about others’ potential misinterpretations.

In selecting these operating guidelines, our purpose was to turn around a somewhat ego-centric culture where respect, direction and transparency were lacking, and ambiguity and mistrust were the norm, all negatively affecting our overall performance. To be fair, there are many leadership styles used to “successfully” run and grow companies, depending on your definition of “success,” and this culture had evolved in the company over a couple of years of high revenue growth. This culture was just not consistent with my leadership style, and it’s revenue growth based strategies were not growing value for it’s stakeholders.

Here are some examples of how these operating guidelines helped us change our culture and improve our performance with much more teamwork and transparency:

The Golden Rule – Things like loud distracting radios, inappropriate pictures at workstations and porn surfing were no longer tolerated. They showed a lack of respect for others, constituted sexual harassment, contributed to an unhealthy work environment, and lowered productivity. Stopping those practices set a new and more positive tone in our operations that contributed to overall happier and more productive associates, and showed we meant what we said in our operating guidelines. It was not easy and required significant courage on the part of the leadership team. But, when one of our top performers was let go for one of these practices – as painful as that was – we and our use of “the card” gained a lot of credibility.

“Every day our goal is TOTAL CUSTOMER SATISFACTION…delivered at a FAIR PRICE.” – All programs suspected of losing money were analyzed in detail, and if we were losing money for no strategic purpose, we raised the pricing and talked with our customers, sometimes losing the business, but improving our overall financial position and strength. Over a previous two- to three-year period, sales had grown about 400 percent and profits had not grown appreciably with an economic downturn looming. Commoditized low margin work can quickly deteriorate in a down economy, but scaling down the people and infrastructure at the same rate is not so easy.

“We do not lie, cheat or steal” – Instead of auditing customer-owned inventory counts for our largest customer, we discovered we were just giving them their own numbers back instead of verifying their counts! We were concerned about how the customer might react when we told them, but we told them quickly once when we found the problem. And we remedied it. Over time, the relationship actually grew and we won more business.

To be clear, I do not believe that any of the people involved in these situations were trying to hurt the company or anyone else. They did not understand the negative effects of what they were doing to the business and had never been told otherwise.

If you went back to the earlier installments in this series, I think you would find elements of all three leadership models presented so far (Good to Great, Conscious Capitalism and the Strategist Competency) in the formalization and following of those few operating guidelines we put in place. For us, the stated guidelines reduced distractions, took a number of variables out of our decision-making processes, allowed more decisions to be made by more associates in the organization, and increased the capacity of our leadership team by spreading out decision-making capability and authorization.

Reflection questions:

  • As you assess your current situation, what are the top two to three questions or problems that repetitively come up in your organization that today can only be handled by you or another member of your leadership team because no one else either knows how or is authorized to respond and/or resolve them?
  • For each of those, is there an operating guideline that could be formalized so that everyone would know the answer and could just respond or resolve it without having to come to you or your leadership team?

In At C-Level #6, Mike writes about his first significant sales challenges as a new CEO and how he and the team were able to turn lemons into lemonade.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.

Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients.  His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.

At C-Level #4: Missions vs. Visions, and measuring achievement

At C-Level #4: Missions vs. Visions, and measuring achievement

At C-Level #4 is the fourth blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.

At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey.

This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change.

As you know from my previous At C-Level posts, I was a first time CEO of a manufacturing services company lacking in leadership and focus, who created a leadership tool – further refined by the company’s leadership team – in the form of a “philosophy card” containing a company mission, vision and operating guidelines. “The card” was often referenced by the leadership team and employees, now referred to as “associates,” to keep everyone focused in the same direction and reduce a lot of first level noise around decision-making processes.

When I first set out about writing the company mission and vision, I was confused about their definitions and the real difference between them. Because everyone seemed to have a different opinion, I settled on mission as being the on-going everyday goal of the journey. My personal mission is “To improve as many lives on this Earth as I can before I leave it.” The company’s mission started with “To improve the lives of all the stakeholders in the company…” Everyday, the company and I could work in alignment to carry out both of those missions.

My definition for vision was a destination for the journey, somewhere out in the distant future, that the entire team could focus on to keep everyone rowing in the same direction. The company’s vision was “To be the best in the business at delivering collaborative technology solutions to industry-leading technology companies.”

Wow, that’s a pretty nebulous vision isn’t it? Why wouldn’t we put together something more definitive, concise and quantifiable?

The truth is, just like the definitions of mission and vision, you need to do what best serves the company’s and your purpose and circumstances. And you do not want to change it every time a shiny new object catches your eye! People need – and want – consistency and stability in order to focus and improve.

Our company was in need of a transformation – specifically, in leadership, strategy, and focus. Our core strengths included our engineering capability with many computer hardware and operating system technologies in the field at the time and our unique ability to collaborate with our customers at the engineering level of their products. In addition, the company had a lot of manufacturing capabilities, so which products and services should be offered to which markets for the best return for the shareholders was not readily apparent. More specificity was not really an option at the time. Leadership and the next level of focus were needed first.

The company’s associates also needed a positive vision they could aspire to. In talking to our associates about our vision, I often replaced “being the best in the business” with “being the best in the world.” It was a more exciting destination for our team and, without that positivity, it was evident to me that many were just working for the money and were otherwise not that engaged with a higher purpose.

Your next question may be “How did you know if you were achieving your mission and/or your vision without more specificity?” Plain and simple…our stakeholders actually told us!

Operational and financial planning, metrics, goals, reporting, analysis, and actions are all objective, and I am a very big believer in all of those. They played a large role in the company’s transformation.

However, achievement of our mission and vision was more subjective, both internally and externally.

With regard to the mission, I saw an immediate shift and improvement in internal attitude, respect, involvement and collaboration among leadership and the associates, aided by the expectations set with the new operating philosophies and guidelines all aimed at improving their lives.

Over a two to three year period, we worked towards our vision by improving financial performance through customer profitability analyses, consolidating domestic operations, honing and executing new business strategies, implementing Agile and Lean methodologies across the organization, and expanding internationally into Europe and Asia. Major external validation that we were on track to achieve our vision finally came from the company’s largest customer. That customer’s head of global engineering and top decision-maker on supplier selection visited the company’s main facility and took me aside to tell me:

“Although smaller, your company is way ahead of your larger competitors around the world.

  • Your engineers actually help us save money by solving problems your competitors don’t even recognize.
  • Your facilities all operate the same, talk the same language, and use the same systems so we can see all of our inventory around the world in just one place. Each facility of your “global” competitors has to be treated like a complete separate supplier, even though they all are under the same ownership.
  • And, lastly, in my 18 years of inspecting manufacturing facilities worldwide, I’ve only see one facility that might be run as well as your main facility here, and that was years ago in Japan!”

The customer’s statements were absolutely an independent affirmation that the company was beginning to achieve it’s vision. After the customer left, his comments were shared with the entire company.

Leading researchers and educators in the field of leadership development write1 that the future of leadership development lies in the Strategist Competency Model, and identify the seven traits exhibited by Strategist leaders. Strategists

  1. care about getting it right ahead of being right;
  2. are unstoppable and unflappable when on a mission;
  3. have the “Balcony View” and are 360 degree thinkers;
  4. have developed interests, expertise, and curiosity beyond the job and organization;
  5. are not constrained by personal appearance but are highly focused on personal behavior;
  6. have the special ability to connect with people at all levels of the organization to create a shared vision; and
  7. welcome collaboration in a quest for novel solutions that serve the highest outcome for all involved.

I aspire to the Strategist level of leadership and have been told that I exhibited many of these traits as a leader in my first time role as CEO. But, I am still developing too, and from time to time, based on the challenges and circumstances, I will also drop down one or more levels in my leadership maturity to fit the situation. I understand this is common.

Reflection questions:

  • As you assess your current situation, on a scale of 1–5 with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, how would you score yourself on the seven traits above? For example, using the first trait, how would you rate yourself on soliciting and selecting the ideas or solutions of others that may be better than your own?
  • How can you use your scores on the seven traits to shape your leadership development plan?

If you scored below a three on any of the factors or scored an average below four, please consider creating a personal leadership development plan with us. Metcalf & Associates and I offer leadership development support and executive advisory services, including transformational change and turnaround consulting.

In our next installment, At C-Level #5, Mike writes about the power of a few stated operating guidelines for the company and how they increased decision-making capabilities and quality, and expanded the CEO and leadership team’s capacity.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.

Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients.  His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.

1 The Strategist Competency Model: The Future of Leadership Development – a chapter in the book Leadership 2050 by Susan Cannon, PhD and principle, Evolucent Consulting, Michael Morrow-Fox, principle, Metcalf & Associates, Inc., and Maureen Metcalf, CEO of Metcalf & Associates