I just spent four days in Shanghai, China working with one of my global clients. We were focused on supporting a group of key leaders and managers in thinking differently – to try new approaches to cut fixed costs from their multibillion dollar organization. I have now worked with this client in numerous locations around the world and continue to be fascinated by both the similarities in cultures and how they impact the ways we work at work.
In my experience, similarities globally for leaders and managers today include:
- Getting stuck in our thinking process especially when we are successful
- We appreciate the comfort and presumed certainty of doing things the same way over and over and achieving the same results we always have (especially when it works well for us). The dilemma is that everything around us is constantly changing. Just imagine for a moment that you are running your business, your team, your department the same way it was being run ten years ago…highly unlikely you would be successful. We have to constantly update our mental models (our beliefs, biases, and ‘thought bubbles’) about almost everyone and everything to be a great leader or manager today. Learning and unlearning have become critical to success. We must incorporate the new (including things like social media, shifting consumer expectations, new technology, changing competitive environments, etc.) while maintaining our core values and beliefs. It’s a tough juggling act around the globe.
- Losing focus on the right things to spend our time on
- I have yet to meet anyone in the global workforce today who is not stretched too thin, doing too much with too little. And we are surrounded by so much noise (hundreds of emails, constantly changing data, continuously shifting priorities, etc.) that it is increasingly difficult to focus. We get our emails on our PDA’s but don’t keep our top goals and strategies in front of us. We get clear in our head on what we expect or want to happen, but forget to communicate it to all of the stakeholders involved. I often find employees working hard on initiatives and strategies that are outdated or should have been abandoned. But no one told them or for some reason they chose to stick with what they knew even if it was the wrong thing. Or worse, individuals continue doing things because “that is the way we have always done it…I know leader X thinks this is important because one time, in a meeting two years ago she asked about it…”
- Believing we have communicated enough and gotten others engaged in what we are doing
- By the time most leaders and managers have communicated where you want others to go, you have had the opportunity to really think about and process it. You have worked out all the reasons for the journey and destination and rationalized away most of the fears or hurdles you might have. Unfortunately, you have to slow down just a little and get your whole team up to speed. Otherwise you are like the runner breaking through the tape at the end of a race, but your team is at a different stadium or just starting to warm up – you are in different places. Inform others and then work constantly to inspire and engage them. Remember, they have a lot competing for their time and attention too!
Get back to basics even when everything around you tries to divert you into complexity. We are living in a time when there will always be more to do than you can. Things are only going to get faster – today is likely to be the slowest it is going to be as you move forward.
- Make strategic planning a way of life because it involves exploring the environment you operate in and considering different approaches. Ask yourself and others “what if…we considered a different angle, took a different approach, we are wrong, this information means something different to someone else…?”
- Set clear expectations of what excellence looks like so you and everyone around you can focus on the right things
- Communicate constantly about strategies and excellence so that you and your team are informed, inspired and engaged in doing the right things
- Constantly learn & unlearn. Test yourself every time you are absolutely, positively sure you are right or find yourself doing it exactly the same way you have always done it. Pause and ask “what if…I am wrong, there is another way, things have changed around me…?” Try to constantly update your mental models about the world, your work and everyone in it.
Although doing some of the actions noted above will feel a bit like you are going slow, remember: There is never time to do it right but always time to do it over is NOT the mantra of winners! Pause to think differently, focus, set clear expectations, communicate and unlearn every now and then to get it right the first time.