Once again, take a look at the Seth Godin website and read his “Memo to the Modern COO” blog for some incredible thinking. Since most of us aren’t COOs, there will be the temptation to read this and say that I knew our leaders were wrong. I would challenge us to think that these words of wisdom were written for everyone today as we all have the challenge to lead regardless of our formal spot on the organizational chart.
Seth talks about our mission being a change from thinking business is about increasing productivity and decreasing cost to one of increasing alignment and decreasing fear. I am not sure we have been doing too good a job at that in our industry. Raising prices and increasing layoffs sure seems to me to be futile attempts at the productivity and costs angle. Seth would say we need to go at this quite differently. Working at creating alignment across the entire organization and with our customers and decreasing fear are significant challenges especially when the industry is struggling through difficult times.
Alignment is not about having senior leaders telling their people what to do and then measuring whether or not they follow orders and comply with all corporate directives. It is about hiring and developing talented individuals at all levels of the organization. It is about having shared vision and shared values. It is about having everyone feel they are important and they are doing their life’s work. It is about leaders setting the course and everyone else striving to play a role in making it happen. It is about total engagement from everyone.
Lowering the level of fear is about convincing people there is room for failure. It is about challenging people to reach higher levels than they ever imagined because they know there is a safety net below them that will prevent personal fatality. It is about challenging everyone towards personal improvement which is much more than just trying to stay above others in case there are layoffs. It is about always having fun and enjoying the positive side of work rather than dwelling on what more can go wrong. Fear is perhaps the most dangerous and debilitating thing that can creep into one’s career and an organization’s culture. It must be carefully guarded against.
These ideas are all well and good when things are working well and plans are being exceeded. Usually when a company is on top the leaders aren’t tightening their level of control and instilling fear across the organization. These things happen when things are not going well. It is precisely at these tough times when leaders need to make sure everyone recognizes their personal value to the organization and how everyone is in this battle together. The organization will win with everyone pulling in one direction rather than through some internal competition that tries to weed out the weaker individuals. This is a real challenge for leaders at all levels of the organization.
Take a couple to minutes to analyze your recent activities and those of your organization. On the continuum from cost reduction and productivity to alignment and reducing fear where do you stand? How about your organization? Can you think of action steps where you can personally push yourself and the organization in the right direction? Maybe it would help your thinking if you wrote, or at least pretend to write, a letter to the COO outlining your thinking.