Friday, December 10, 2010

Awards: Beware of Committees Bearing Gifts

Ok, let’s admit it: we all like recognition. Awards and honors are nice. They’re especially rewarding when they come from outside the organization. Even more so when they come from a professional organization or sanctioning body.

Awards are a nice way to tell your story of hard work and accomplishment. They tell everyone within earshot that you are doing a good job. They sum up affirmation of what you thought – that you are doing a good job. It’s a nice addition to the discussion of your performance.

It is also a contributing factor to the evaluation of team efforts, such as putting the budget together or building an energy efficient building. Everybody wins when a meaningful award is won.

Mike Reagan, who was the Commissioner of Human Services in Iowa when I worked there, was the best I ever saw at leveraging awards and telling that story of our ‘award-winning services’. It played very well in the legislature – especially if we didn’t have any performance information! The impact of that story was emotional and impressionistic. Of course, the most persuasive arguments are those that both appeal to emotions and values -- and are informed with performance information.

But there’s a serious caution about awards - use them sparingly and thoughtfully once received. As much as awards can affirm good or even high performance, awards can also be used to justify and sustain the status quo.

Let’s think about the message being sent when awards are referenced in testimony or presentations. Is the message that “our efforts were recognized and here is what we are going to surpass that next time”? Or is the message that“our efforts were recognized, we are very good at what we do, we don’t need to change, now leave us alone”?

The first message presents a leadership style that is continuously improving performance. The second is a leadership style focused on defending our record and status quo. The trajectory of the first is that, well, the sky is the limit. The trajectory of the second is little or no progress past where we are today.

This is somewhat a personal style question for leaders. Do you wish to manage to the status quo or manage to the next leap forward in the performance of the organization?

Our observation is that, too often, the more often awards are referenced the more likely they are being used to defend the status quo.

A few questions to help you evaluate awards:

1.Does the award do anything for our customers?
2.Did the effort to achieve the award improve our performance?
3.How have we used the award, after receiving it, to improve performance?
4.What’s the long term benefit of receiving the award?

Good luck in winning lots of awards and putting them to limited use!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ship of State Planning

Newly elected officials and their appointed managers are about to take office all over the Nation. And many incumbents – though fewer in number this time around – are set to continue to work on their priorities.

We think of this beginning point in an administration as a time to do “Ship of State Planning” – that is, what do we want to be able to say we accomplished when we are done and ready to pass the baton to the next set of leaders?

We are elected/appointed - Now What? This is always the question when we cross the bridge from politics to policy, from campaigns to governing. What to do now with the Ship of State/County/City/Town? What to do first?

First, as quickly as possible, fill the key positions with the best possible people. People are Job One.

For Job Two, I have an unequivocal recommendation: get very clear about your Priorities and the measurable Strategic Results you want to achieve within this election cycle.

You will be asked: Why do we need to mess around with strategic planning when we have all this work to do?

Think of where you want to be at the end of your term. What story do you want to be able to tell about your leadership? What achievements do you want to be able to point to as proof of your performance?

A Strategic Plan will guide the trajectory of your term in office. Think of it as your Leadership Agenda. Think of the work NASA does to calculate a mission to the moon. The work of governing is not nearly that precise, but you will stand a greater chance of landing on your moon – that is, of achieving your Priorities – if you start out knowing where you want to go. Knowing your destination will minimize mid-course corrections and wasted energy.

We have had the privilege of working with hundreds of elected officials over the past twelve years and they have taught us so much. One of the key points of learning is that incumbents need to make two cases for re-election. One is that you are aligned to the right issues and the right people. The second is the value proposition - I spent your money in this way and achieved these results. The first is a political case for re-election and the second is the business case for re-election.

Priorities and Strategic Results will define your agenda and fuel community and employee participation in achieving your Priorities. The Priorities can easily transfer from a well-developed campaign platform; we’ve seen this happen many times.

Measurable Strategic Results will give direction to the organization to begin right away aligning the budget, departmental plans, initiatives and people to achieve your Priorities. You will have a very limited number of budgets to align to your agenda so get started early. The Strategic Results will provide measurable accountability back to the community for results achieved and give departments specific, measurable goals to shoot for.

In cities and counties across the Nation where we have worked, elected officials have relentlessly used their Strategic Plans to rally community support, align their budgets and communicate expectations throughout their organizations.

I encourage you to take a look at Maricopa County’s Strategic Plan, an excellent example of a jurisdiction-wide plan --

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is the future a priority for your organization?

How much time do you spend doing strategic planning?

Awhile back I was speaking at a national conference which included executives from both the public and private sectors. We were focused on management initiatives that make a real difference: strategic planning, performance measurement, process improvement, performance budgeting, and so on.

After my presentation, the Director of Strategic Planning for Sprint Nextel Corporation led another workshop. He shared his company’s strategic planning process, who was involved, how and why they did it and what they got out of it. I asked a question and remember his answer all too well.

I asked how many days his senior management spent each year in strategic planning. He said that his senior management spent 16 days per year doing strategic planning. As the CEO of Weidner, Inc. – obviously a much smaller company – I spend 3 weeks or 15 days per year doing strategic planning.

By contrast and with a bare few exceptions, the government executives we have worked with over the past twelve years have felt uneasy spending more than a day or two away from operations to do Strategic Planning. This is usually a cue that strategic planning is not viewed as part of the job.

How many days this year will you devote to strategic planning? The inherent value of that number alone, as an output, is limited. But what it says is invaluable. If we take a close look at how we spend our time, we will have a pretty clear picture of our priorities.

  • How much time do you spend considering the issues and trends impacting your customers and your organization, then developing goals and strategies for staying in front of them?

  • How much time does your executive team spend on setting strategic direction that informs short term decisions to create that future or achieve those longer term results?

  • Are you clear about the results you want?

  • How much effort do you put into communicating the strategic direction of the organization to your workforce?, Without this, how can the people in your organization use their creativity to contribute to the future goals of the organization?

  • As we all know, the pace of change is staggering and is only increasing. Governments are truly challenged to stay abreast of those changes, let alone stay out in front and lead them. Strategic planning helps to ensure that we are regularly and systematically “looking around the corner” at what is emerging and deciding what to do about it. Strategic planning helps us be clear about how we focus that rarest of resources: our attention.

    Governments struggle to make decisions that keep pace with the needs of our community or state. Strategic Planning keeps us looking forward and making decisions today that will create the future we want.

    So, how much of a priority is strategic planning for you and your executive team and is it part of the job?

    Strategic planning – it can only be as timely as the time you give it.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Executive Coaching Translated

    Now, more than at any time in my decades of working in and for government, public sector executives are experiencing extraordinary levels of stress and pressure. Some are feeling under siege. There is so much pressure to do more with less. Doing more with less is not an altogether bad thing, of course (but staying sane is a good thing, too!).

    Being a senior executive and leader in government today is an incredibly difficult job – and it’s made even harder because it’s too often a “solo” gig. There’s little, if any, support and coaching.

    The spoken and unspoken expectation of public sector executives is that they should know their job, their business, and therefore don’t need any coaching.

    It’s funny, though, that almost no one in the private sector believes that. Nearly all of the top executives in Fortune 500 companies – and indeed, many leaders in the private sector – have one or more executive coaches.

    (I certainly have my own coaches. Two of the most active of my coaches are Terrell Blodgett, former leader with the City of Austin, a lifetime member of the International City-County Management Association (ICMA), and a Professor Emeritus at the LBJ School for Public Services; and Joel Fleschman – psychologist, facilitator and regular “in my face” guy.)

    I’ve had the opportunity to work with some distinguished government leaders as an Executive Coach. My approach begins and ends with listening.

  • First, listen, and listen good! And by that, I mean listen deeply – listen deeply to what is really going on for the executive and for the organization. The focus here is on the executive. If a coach can help the executive be more effective, the entire organization will become more effective.

  • Second, listen for the solutions. My experience is that the answers are more often within you than not. It sometimes takes a little playback, some thinking-out-loud, and a few of the right questions to get a handle on the issues and the solutions/strategies.

  • Third, listen for results. What do you need to make happen? All effective strategies begin with a clear, complete understanding of the needed results. A coach must be sure you are very, very clear about what results you are after – otherwise, you may get to a different result than what you need.

  • Fourth, listen for the worst enemy: yourself. We all have self-defeating thoughts or behaviors that limit success. What we believe often becomes reality. Recognition of those self-limiting thought habits and patterns – and working with the executive to ensure they are understood and addressed – is critical.

  • Fifth, listen for the obstacles. There are always impediments and barriers to progress in the environment. Those have to be managed, including difficult relationships. An effective coach is experienced enough to help develop short and long term relationship strategies.

  • Sixth, listen for the culture. Successful coaches can pick up on markers of the organizational culture and the history of the organization, and then use that information to help leaders see how to make things move forward in your particular environment. This will help create the road map for leading and managing change. This is something my coach, Joel Fleschman, has taught me and is particularly skilled at doing. The language, beliefs and behaviors of the organization are what we have to work with – so we had better understand it quickly, and well.

  • Seventh, listen for partners. No leader accomplishes results that truly matter by herself or himself. They seek out and enlist the help of performance partners inside and outside of their organizations than can help the executive achieve his or her results.

  • If you’re a government executive dealing with some of the extraordinary pressures and challenges in the field, get some reinforcements! I’m happy to talk with you about how I can help, or you may choose to work with someone else – but regardless, enlist an effective coach who can strengthen you. Your work is only going to get more challenging, not less – and people are depending on you to be as effective as you can, so that you can make your organizations as effective as they can be.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    "This Old Guy Knows Results!"

    Over the past 12 years our company, Weidner, Inc., has worked with 50+ governments at the city, county, state and federal levels. That means I have worked directly with the executives who lead those governments, their elected officials, the hundreds of department directors and thousands of program and activity managers, along with their staff, manage those governments.

    I was tied to the hip of most of the executives and many of the elected officials in those customer jurisdictions as they developed and implemented Managing for Results. Listening and understanding those leaders’ desire for change was a natural. Experiencing those challenges and opportunities side by side with leaders in 50+ jurisdictions gives me perspective that few people have.

    This builds on years of senior government service in Iowa State Government where I held three positions over 20 years – Working directly with the Governor as Director Strategic Planning and Policy, Administrator Economic Assistance & Director of Welfare Reform in the Department of Human Services, and Director Office of Refugee Resettlement, also reporting to the Governor.

    So, why this website now? More than at any time in my 30+ years of working for government, appointed and elected officials are looking for answers, advice and perspective to navigate through these times, to make decisions that will have economic, political and organizational implications for years to come. Our customers have engaged me in all three service offerings as part of Managing for Results. Creating the web site will make both me and the services that much more recognizable and easier to access.

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