Five lessons for leading remote employees [ Infographic]

Lessons From The Big WFH Experiment [Infographic]

In just over 2 months, organizations everywhere were forced into an overnight digital transformation of their workplace and processes.

We reviewed some of the first research studies and put together an infographic to share what we’ve learned so far about what it takes to lead remote employees successfully.

Lessons From The Big WFH Experiment [Infographic]

In just over 2 months, organizations everywhere were forced into an overnight digital transformation of their workplace and processes.

We reviewed some of the first research studies and put together an infographic to share what we’ve learned so far about what it takes to lead remote employees successfully.

How to cut costs to thrive, not just to survive

How To Cut Costs To Thrive, Not Just To Survive

Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

In times like these, you frequently hear leaders talk about right-sizing their company in response to the economic downturn. Perhaps you have already received an email from the c-suite with the missive that “the company as a whole needs to find 30% in savings across the board to keep costs in line with the projected lower revenues.” But making cuts “across the board” is a dangerous knee-jerk approach. While it may feel more “fair,” that is not the goal. 

The goal is to realign the company’s cost base in a way that better enables it to weather the storm and position itself to rebuild afterward. So, the aim is to be strategic, and in this week’s post, we will discuss a two-part framework to ensure you cut costs in a way that will enable your organization to thrive again in the future – not just survive.

 

Part 1: Re-validate your direction

Following such a significant shift in the overall business environment, each company needs to first conduct a quick strategic review of their business portfolio because the route to future success isn’t necessarily “the same strategy but at 30% less cost.”

After a crisis, the route to future success is most likely not 'the same strategy but at 30% less cost.' Click To Tweet

Hence, one needs to answer the following five questions to identify which aspects of the business portfolio strategy need to be revised in response to the new business environment:

1. What are the resulting shifts in the needs and overall demand for our products & services?

Example: As all live sports around the world are on hiatus until further notice, attention has turned to e-sports. This provides previously unthinkable opportunities to e-sports companies such as Take-Two Interactive Software, the makers of NBA 2K and Electronics Arts, the makers of American football video game Madden NFL 20, and Psyonix’ Rocket League, the car racing game.

2. How does this shift affect how we differentiate ourselves from other players?

Example: Fitness is moving online en masse, rapidly commoditizing the “on-demand” aspect of existing online fitness offerings such as Peloton and Mirror, and requiring them to rethink how to differentiate their value proposition to remain competitive.

3. How does this shift affect our customer segments?

Example: Previously, Zoom focused on providing video conferencing services to business customers. Now, due to personal distancing, it has been adopted by new segments of customers, including personal users and schools. This has resulted in unexpected revenue growth for Zoom, yet it also required the company to make changes to address the differing needs of personal users and schools.

4. How does this shift affect how we produce & deliver our products or services?  

Example: The shelter-in-place order closed down cinemas around the world, throwing a wrench in the wheels for the release of several new movies. While some have decided to wait until the fall, like Universal Pictures with the new James Bond movie, other film studios are rethinking their distribution strategies now and selling their films directly to online streaming services such as AmazonPrime and NetFlix.

 5. How does this shift impact our various sales channels?

Example: Before the current health crisis, 79% of wine was sold through grocery stores and wine shops, 19% was sold through restaurants and bars, and just 2% was sold directly to consumers. However, in light of the new normal, winemakers will have to increase their focus on developing their D2C sales channel to replace the projected sales decline through restaurants and bars.

 

Part 2: Cut with surgical precision, rather than blunt force

Not all costs are created equal. Some expenses are critical to your organization’s ability to differentiate itself. At the same time, other costs are necessary to pay for basic operational activities to operate in your industry and yet other costs are not strategically required but nice to have’s. So, rather than cutting across the board, you need to safeguard the alignment between your expenses and your strategy. I.e., you need to carefully weigh which costs to cut and which to keep based on what you need to do to execute your plan going forward successfully.

So what’s needed?

1. Get specific about which exact capabilities underpin your company’s ability to deliver a differentiated value proposition.

Companies frequently get this part wrong by defining this too broadly. This is not about saying, “Marketing is a core capability.” Instead, this is about getting specific. For example, one of Apple’s distinctive capabilities is its exceptional supply chain management, which is a capability that includes a variety of activities, such as supplier management, warehousing operations, demand management, inventory control, production planning, and sourcing. Note, how we did not say that “operations” is one of Apple’s distinctive capabilities, but that we got specific around which set of activities creates that unique supply chain management capability. When you’re this specific about which activities help deliver a company’s differentiated value add, then you can also, during a cost-cutting exercise, protect the particular expenditure on people, technology, tools, and processes that are required to maintain those capabilities that underpin a company’s competitive edge.

During a cost-cutting exercise, your need to protect the particular expenditure on people, technology, tools, and processes that are required to deliver your company's competitive edge. Click To Tweet

2. Distinctive capabilities don’t tend to fit neatly into budget lines.

Once you have a detailed definition of what your differentiating capabilities are, then you need to unravel your budgets to isolate the activities and resulting costs across functions that support these capabilities. If you don’t do this and just cut your budget by a certain % across the board, you risk cutting the very expenditure that you need to maintain your company’s competitive edge.

3. Rather than taking the traditional approach of asking what to cut, start from a place of what costs to keep.

To do this, you first have to categorize each cost into one of four cost categories, based on the Fit for Growth cost-optimization model developed by Vinay Couto, John Plansky, and Deniz Caglar.

  • Differentiating capabilities: Expenditure for activities to develop and maintain distinctive capabilities
  • Table-stakes:  Costs to enable activities to be a viable player in your industry
  • Lights-on:  Expenses incurred to operate your organization day-to-day, such as legal and facilities costs
  • Not required:  Any expense that’s not needed, including executives frills, nice-to-have employee perks, non-strategic initiatives, and pet projects

Once you have categorized all your costs, the next step is to re-evaluate the optimal level of expenditure for each cost. Given that we want to protect our distinctive capabilities, the aim should be to find opportunities to save in the other three categories. However, when doing so, be aware that our own bias can get in the way of making the tougher calls. 

For example, when considering cutting initiatives that are no longer deemed strategic, leaders often struggle to pull the trigger because of what economists call the sunk cost fallacy. This is our tendency to continue investing in a losing proposition because of what it has already cost thus far. Instead, the only real question should be, “knowing what I know now, would I still make this investment.” The answer is generally no.

When considering cutting initiatives that are no longer deemed strategic, leaders often struggle to pull the trigger because of what economists call the sunk cost fallacy. Click To Tweet

Also, businesses tend to over-invest in table stake activities – those technologies, processes, and tools that are part of the “cost of entry” into an industry. Instead, when reviewing what we spend on those activities, we would do well to remember that they do NOT differentiate us because EVERYONE has to undertake these activities to play in this industry. That’s why it would be much wiser to try and find ways to spend as little as possible on them. 

Lastly, don’t overlook the many crimes that are hidden in your “lights on activities.” Lights-on costs include costs such as utilities, office supplies, and legal fees. The reason why they often are overlooked is that, when allocated by department, they look like small-fry budget lines. However, when aggregated across departments, lights-on costs can be significant and provide fertile ground for cost savings.

 

In Summary

Taking an across the board approach to your cost-cutting may sound fair, but tends to gloss over the need to review whether a company’s long-term strategy is still valid in the new environment. It can also ultimately end up doing more harm than good by cutting in areas that are critical to your company’s ability to regenerate growth. Instead, taking a more strategic approach will help your company not just emerge with savings but also with clarity about your revised strategy and distinctive capabilities to succeed in the new normal. 

Taking an across the board approach to your cost-cutting may sound fair, but can ultimately end up doing more harm than good by cutting in areas that are critical to your company's ability to regenerate growth. Click To Tweet

About Brenda van Camp

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time. (View Brenda’s LinkedIn profile)

Plan B? Decision making in the fog of crisis

Plan B? Decision-making in the Fog of Crisis

Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

“Business-as-usual” went out the door about three weeks ago. Yesterday’s assumptions no longer apply and, we haven’t the foggiest idea how all this will unfold. So how the heck do you make the right decisions when things are so unclear? Well, in this week’s post, we’re providing you with a 6-step roadmap for smart decision-making in uncertain times.

Before we dive in let me give you a quick preview of the six stops on this roadmap:

1. Hold your horses

2. Use history to provide perspective

3. Harness the collective wisdom

4. Find & talk to the “Cassandras”

5. Develop your options

6. Don’t be a wimp! Yet, don’t bet the farm either

 

 1. Hold your horses!

For us to make any smart decisions on how to respond to the impact of COVID-19 we first need to know exactly how this public health crisis is impacting our industry on a macro level and organization on a micro level. We have to resist the urge to focus on the knee-jerk reaction of “doing something right now” and instead, take the time to get a firm grasp on what’s happening, what we know and how this will impact our employees, our customers, our supply chain, our competitors, and even our regulatory environment. To do this, we recommend creating and maintaining a running fact sheet for each of these stakeholder groups. On this fact sheet, answer for each stakeholder group the following questions:

  • How are they affected by the crisis?
  • How does that impact their role in our business?
  • What are the likely consequences of that?
  • Can we quantify, even if just a best-guess estimate, the impact and consequences?

When developing these fact sheets, we have to take great care to discern rumor from fact by verifying our facts through multiple reputable sources. Remember that we never have all the facts immediately and rarely at any one time. We need to be keenly aware of all that we don’t know yet and  keep re-evaluating the facts as the crisis unfolds. Lastly, we need to resist the urge to immediately jump to ideas on how we can remediate some of those effects or consequences. In a crisis, not all impact and consequences are created equal, and we have to prioritize ruthlessly later what to focus on remediating first.

Using such a structured fact-finding approach with your team to create a clear and shared mental map of the new environment will provide a critical foundation for your ability to lead your team expertly through this crisis. It shouldn’t take more than 90 minutes – 2 hours to work through this. Skip it at your peril.

 

2. Use history to provide perspective

While this COVID-19 health crisis is a rare event, it can be very instructive to look back at how previous external shocks impacted your organization and other players in your industry. What lessons can be learned from how your organization and industry were affected and how you or someone you admire responded to it? How did customers respond? How long did it take for things to stabilize? What measures did your organization take in response to the crisis? What measures did competitors take in response to the crisis? What worked? What didn’t work? In hindsight, what could have been done better?

For example, if you are in the airline industry, it might be informative to look at how long it took for people to start travelling again post 9/11. And what did it take for your organization to implement the new security protocols to both prevent future attacks as well as help make people feel safe again?

In these uncertain times it behooves us to heed the words of writer and philosopher George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

 

3. Harness the collective wisdom

The fall-out of the current health crisis will impact your industry, organization, and function in many unexpected ways. And not one leader can grasp all the repercussions alone. This is essentially a vantage point issue.

To lead effectively through this uncertainty, you’ll need to talk things through with people who have different perspectives. And we don’t mean just talking to your peers at the same level from across the organization as none of them are on the front lines. To really know what’s happening, talk to people in your industry, organization and functional departments who are in direct contact with customers, vendors, regulators and other key stakeholders . Only then can you learn how these stakeholders are affected by the crisis, how they are reacting to it and how it changes their need for and expectations of your products or services. As Andy Grove put it in his seminal book “Only The Paranoid Survive.”

“The more complex the issues are, the more levels of management should be involved because people from different levels of management bring completely different POVs, and expertise to the table.”

To do this effectively, help everyone shift from discussion to dialogue and debate. This is not about pitting people with different ideas against each other and seeing who wins the discussion as not one person has the “correct answer.” This is about using dialogue to leverage the combined brainpower of all relevant parties in order to compare, contrast, and elicit different viewpoints and arrive at the best possible set of options under the existing circumstances.

Note, however, that engaging people in dialogue is hard, because it requires us to

  • Push away our inherent biases and really work to see things with new eyes
  • Be willing to be influenced by the contrary opinions of others to gain a broader perspective
  • Question our existing assumptions
  • Have the courage to speak our truth irrespective of other influences
  • Replace our underlying desire to win with a desire for continuous learning
What teams need right now is dialogue to leverage everyone's combined brainpower in order to compare, contrast, and elicit different viewpoints and arrive at the best possible set of options under the existing circumstances. Click To Tweet

Even under normal circumstances, maintaining impartiality and objectivity requires emotional maturity and effort. Given the heightened stress levels of today, it will likely prove even more difficult. As a leader, you need to safeguard the conditions for good dialogue. Call people out when they become defensive when someone’s different viewpoint challenges their beliefs, assumptions, or opinions. Make it safe for everyone to honestly share their views without having to fear being disliked, looking stupid, or being seen as a troublemaker. And help your people to stay open to looking at things through many different lenses by stopping them from looking for the “one right viewpoint.”

Upwardley-logo-in-white

Free webinar series: Leading in Uncertain Times

Improve Your Decision Making

Tuesday, 21 April 2020
09:00 PDT/12:00 EDT

4. Find & talk to the “Cassandras”

With business-other-than-usual, leaders need to be willing to think differently. To do so, you first have to accept that the bell cannot be un-rung. Despite all our wishful thinking, things won’t go back to “normal” as if nothing ever happened.

So, the pertinent question now is how things will be different. Will there be more video meetings with customers vs. in-person meetings? Will more of my team be working remotely and how will that impact team cohesion? And how will all the inevitable changes impact the way we deliver our product or service?

We have to accept that the bell cannot be un-rung. Despite all our wishful thinking, things won't go back to “normal” as if nothing ever happened. Click To Tweet

To successfully think differently, identify and engage with what Andy Grove terms “The Cassandras” in your organization, industry, or department. Cassandra was the priestess who predicted the fall of Troy. Similarly, there are people in your organization and industry who have a knack for foretelling what a particular set of changes in your environment might represent. Those are the people you want to listen to right now to challenge your thinking about what these changes might mean for your industry, organization or department.

In addition, also keep an eye out for articles in the press that explore what life after this health crisis may look like. Our favorite so far is this article by Politico Magazine which surveyed more than 30 smart, macro thinkers to explore how the current health crisis might reshape society in lasting ways

 

5. Develop a plan and back-up plans

As things are in flux and the consequences uncertain, it is critical to recognize that there is no such thing as “the right strategy.” Instead, prepare for what the response should be under different scenarios.

To build good scenarios, first consider what the key factors are that could affect the future outcomes for your particular business, industry or department.

For example, one set of scenarios might look at how the demand for your product or service will respond during and after the crisis. And , what if the crisis lasts another 6 months or a year? Another set of scenarios might explore how customer needs for and expectations of your products or services might change in response to the crisis. And lastly, you may want to build a set of scenarios that explore what you would do if some key components of your supply chain were affected during and after the crisis.

Once you have determined the key factors, it is useful to limit yourself to 3 scenarios for each set: a most likely, less likely, and least likely scenario. Avoid the temptation and folly of thinking every possible scenario can be covered. It will lead to too many scenarios, unnecessary confusion and worst of all, decision paralysis.

Once the scenarios are developed, determine what might be the best response to each of them, and decide what leading indicator(s) would signal to you and your team that you need to deploy each particular strategy- i.e., establish and agree on action triggers.

 

6. Don’t be a wimp! Yet, also don’t bet the farm either

In a crisis most options are unpleasant. As a result, one frequently made mistake in times of crisis is that leaders shy away from making the necessary hard choices because they just don’t have the stomach for it. They forget that no choice is a choice and hardly ever a good one.

Often, they opt for the easier and less unpopular decision with suboptimal outcomes. In the long-run, these suboptimal decisions will come home to roost, as the business won’t recover as well as it should, requiring repeated subsequent corrective actions.

To avoid this pitfall head-on, accept that there are no easy ways out of this crisis and that being a good leader means doing what is best for the greater good, even if that makes you personally unpopular at the time. (The timely example of Navy Captain Crozier comes to mind. He dared to speak up in order to save his crew at the expense of risking his stellar career)

So don’t be a wimp. Yet, at the same time, know that this is also not the time to make significant strategic commitments one way or another. Instead, you want to place small sequential bets that minimize your potential downside and maximize your potential upside. This approach allows you to learn what works and what doesn’t during this untested time. Eventually, with the cumulative benefit of more information as our new normal slowly unfolds, you’ll be better able to determine your next set of bigger decisions.

Accept that there are no easy ways out of this crisis and that being a good leader means doing what is best for the greater good, even if that makes you personally unpopular at the time. Click To Tweet
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Free webinar series:
Leading in Uncertain Times

Improve Your
Decision Making

Tuesday, 21 April 2020
09:00 PDT/12:00 EDT
Register now

About the Author

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time. (View Brenda’s LinkedIn profile)

How To Not Let Anxiety Derail You & Your Team

How To Not Let Anxiety Derail You & Your Team

Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

These are unprecedented times in which we’re collectively feeling a sense of dread and apprehension about what might happen to us in the near future. We worry about whether we or our loved ones might get the virus, whether we’ll survive it, or whether we’ll have jobs and health insurance in the foreseeable future. We’re all experiencing a genuine threat to our life and livelihood. However, even as we shelter in place, work has not been suspended. But how do you and your team stay focused and get work done amidst this crisis? In this post, we’ll discuss what anxiety does to the brain and what you and other leaders can do to help yourself and your employees best deal with it.

What anxiety does to our brain

One of the major tasks of our brain is to work as a prediction engine. Based on the data we obtain through our senses, it predicts what will happen next. It helps us interpret what is happening in the world around us and in doing so, provides us with a sense of certainty about our situation. However, when our brain cannot predict what is happening next, like what most of us are experiencing right now, it triggers what neuroscientists call an “away response.” This means the brain is preparing our body to minimize danger – to run away from the threat and retreat to safety. While we may experience this mainly as an emotional experience, it’s important to realize that this is driven by a series of changes at the physiological and neurological level.

First, our brain sends more blood to our muscles to boost our motor functions (so we can run away), which is why nervous people often start to pace up and down or start tapping their fingers. However, this diversion of blood to the muscles comes at the expense of blood to the brain. This means the brain now has less oxygen and glucose, the essential fuels that it needs to operate. This is one of the reasons why when we’re anxious, it becomes hard to think logically or to be creative. Our prefrontal cortex, which we rely on for such higher-level cognitive processes as planning, decision-making, problem-solving, and self-control, is not getting the needed fuel to operate optimally. Moreover, our brain now experiences a strong over-riding urge to continuously scan the environment for danger, which explains why it’s so difficult to focus on anything else when we’re anxious.

So, given that we are all currently living in a state of uncertainty about our very survival, it’s important to acknowledge that our brains, irrespective of how clever we are, are suffering from the harmful effects of this collective anxiety … i.e. most of us are not able to think as clearly, deeply or creatively as usual and are probably having a much harder time staying focused.

We are all currently experiencing some level of anxiety, so it’s important to acknowledge that, irrespective of how clever we are, most of us aren't able to think as clearly, deeply or creatively as usual and also find it harder to focus Click To Tweet

The good news is that there are things we can do to mitigate these effects, however, before we discuss those methods, lets first talk about what NOT to do.

What doesn’t work

In a crisis (because that is what this is), all eyes are on the leader. Our team members look to us for guidance on how to respond, how to think about things, how to be, how to act. And while that does mean that we need to convey our ability to meet the moment, it does not mean that we should ignore or minimize the anxiety that we all feel. Why not? Because ignoring or minimizing feelings of anxiety actually exacerbates it. Why? Because when a leader fails to validate her people’s feelings of anxiety, it’s perceived as a lack of understanding or caring for their well-being. As a result, they will feel disengaged and disconnected from the leader and be less willing to follow direction.

Being a leader does not mean we should be impervious to feelings of fear. Quite the contrary. It just means that we can’t let the fear paralyze us. So we shouldn’t tell our people it’s “business as usual.” It’s not! Instead, we should take a leaf out of Governor Cuomo’s book and show them that we’re human too, but that we won’t let it paralyze us and that we know what to do next. (Watch this short video in which Governor Cuomo validates all our feelings but also shows us how not to let them paralyze us)

Being a leader does not mean we should be impervious to feelings of fear. Quite the contrary. It just means that we can’t let the fear paralyze us. Click To Tweet

On a cautionary note, we also shouldn’t let our people wallow in their fears either. While anxiety can cause people to feel the need to talk at length about their worries, as their leader we will need to walk a fine line between acknowledging those concerns and not letting the conversation drown in the worry pool. Why not? Because when we discuss our negative feelings at length, they tend to beget more negative emotions and cause us to spiral further downwards. Negative feelings are highly contagious, so if we let everyone talk about their fears all day long, anxiety will soon be the dominant mood.

So how do we walk this fine line? One way to achieve this is to put some structure around when and how people share their feelings. For example, as a team, we can agree to have a daily team check-in where each person is asked how they’re doing and can voice the concerns or questions that they have. Be sure though to time-box the meeting, limit people’s speaking time and try and be compassionate yet also provide clarity and direction.

What you can do to help your people handle anxiety

To help people mitigate their anxiety, we turned to the work of James J. Gross, Professor of Psychology at Stanford and Director of the Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory, who has done extensive research into how people effectively regulate their emotions. Dr. Gross’ research lists multiple ways; however, amongst them, he identified “re-appraisal” as one of the most effective ways to regain control of our emotions.

Gross defines re-appraisal as the act of re-evaluating your negative feelings to regain a sense of control. Below we’ll explore three methods of re-appraisal and how we can use them to help us alleviate our own and our people’s anxiety amidst the current crisis.

1. Repositioning

The first way to re-appraise our fears, is to “reposition” ourselves by looking at our situation from a different perspective. We can look at it from the perspective of another person, another time, another country, another culture, etc. This approach is frequently used in leadership coaching as well. For example, when we look at our current crisis from the perspective of a hundred years ago, we see that given all the advancements in modern medicine and technology, we’re in a much better place today to respond to this pandemic. It doesn’t make it better, but it helps regain a slight sense of control.

Another form of “repositioning” is humor. For example, I used to work with a leader, who whenever things got tense in a meeting, would say, “Did I tell you what a great deal I got on my new lawn mower?” His out-of-left-field comments never failed to draw laughter and ease the tensions, shifting the mood from serious to funny and enabling everyone to reset for a better flow of discussion. So don’t be afraid to add a little humor to your Zoom meetings. It relieves anxiety and will result in better thinking afterward!

2. Normalizing

In this second approach to re-appraising our feelings, we seek to understand why we feel a certain way, allowing us to regain a sense of control. Our first section about how anxiety affects our brain was an example of this approach. When we understand that neurological and physiological processes drive anxiety, we can begin to normalize the fact that many of us currently can’t think as clearly, or be as focused, as we usually are. You could do the same for your team by sharing that explanation with them. In addition, the video of Governor Cuomo that we share in the second section above, is also a great example of how to use “normalizing.”

3. Re-ordering

This refers to the final approach, in which we seek to reduce our anxiety by re-evaluating and re-aligning what matters most to us in light of the new threat. Many of us are currently experiencing high levels of stress because we’re still trying to live up to values and expectations that might be less important to us in the light of current events. We’re still committed to our careers of course, but right now, the well-being of our loved ones is front and center. We still want to ensure our kids do off-screen activities, but right now, with them being at home every hour of every day, maybe it’s OK to loosen the rules a little for the sake of everyone’s happiness and sanity. We highly recommend that you discuss with your team this tension between “what was expected” under normal circumstances versus what is OK now. Addressing this will likely provide a huge sense of relief for many of your people. For example, you might usually expect people to start work and be available for meetings from 9 a.m. onward. However, under the current circumstances you might discuss and agree that meetings will not be planned before 11 a.m. so people have time to take care of newly added familial tasks like geting their children set up for online classes.

Many of us are very stressed because we’re holding on to values and expectations that might be less important to us in the light of current events. To reduce our anxiety we need to re-evaluate & re-align what matters most to us now. Click To Tweet

We hope some or all of this is helpful to you and your team in the weeks to come. Feel free to contact us with any questions – brenda@upwardley.com and gina@upwardley.com We’re in this together.

This was the first post in our 3-part series on how to lead through a crisis. Keep an eye out for our next post on how to make smart decisions during uncertain times.

About Brenda van Camp

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time. (View Brenda’s LinkedIn profile)

About Gina Larkin

As our COO, Gina ensures that Upwardley runs as smooth and fast as it can. She oversees Business Development, Partnerships, Marketing and Recruiting. Given that Gina is also a renowned executive coach to c-suite clients from companies such as Amazon, Diageo, Lob, PayPal, Red Bull, Ogilvy, Samsung, Social Financial, and Twitter, she also leads our coaching services. (View Gina’s LinkedIn profile)

qualities that will help Millennials to become effective leaders

Evaluating the leadership potential of Millennials

Evaluating the leadership potential of Millennials

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

My mother used to say, “Don’t believe everything you read,” and she’s right when it comes to what is written about Millennials. You see, though I’m not a Millennial myself, they are “my people” as they make up the majority of Upwardley’s end users. So, I make it my business to understand them, whether that is by speaking to them directly or by reading everything I can find about them, whether it is a bonedry academic paper, a research report or a blog post. However, more often than not, the authors have allowed their perspective and established beliefs and norms to get in the way, resulting in long rants that boil down to “they are different and challenge the status quo, and I don’t like it.”

Now, I’m no saint. I too have had my run-ins with some Millennial colleagues because their approach or attitude rubbed me the wrong way. However, I’ve come to realize that it is not because there is something wrong with Millennials but actually with us, the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who currently manage Millennials. You see, I think we quietly, maybe even subconsciously, envy the Millennials because they seem to have the guts to do, say and demand the things we’ve always dreamt of but did not dare do or say or ask. For example, Millennials are frequently derided for actively pursuing and safeguarding their work-life balance, but what is so wrong with that? I think we all agree that we work to live and not the other way around. So, are we perhaps just jealous that they have the self-confidence to create the life we wanted?  

I think we quietly, maybe even subconsciously, envy the Millennials because they seem to have the guts to do, say and demand the things we've always dreamt of but did not dare do or say or ask. Click To Tweet

Similarly, Millennials are regularly accused of being entitled – i.e., to be deserving of special treatment. Most of these complaints center around three common issues: They want feedback, they want to speak up, and they don’t want to do tedious work. Again, these are normal desires. Don’t we all want that too? So, are we perhaps just annoyed with them because they have the guts to take a stand, to demand to be heard rather than keep quiet, and to take an active role in pursuing happiness at work? 

In summary, I’ve come to admire Millennials. Their beliefs and attitudes are simply a natural progression from the Gen X and Baby Boomer generation: each being a little more individualistic and non-conforming than the previous one.   

Now, the reason for writing today’s post is not to write an “ode to Millennials” ;-). Instead, I’m writing this post because here at Upwardley we’re often asked ” Do Millennials have the qualities to become effective leaders?” and ” Do they have any “special needs” to get there?” So, below we’ll explore both the qualities that will help Millennials to become effective leaders as well as the qualities that may hinder them.  

Three key qualities that will help Millennials to become effective leaders  

Inclusive 

Millennials grew up having their ideas and opinions listened to and respected by their parents, who treated them as equals. They weren’t told things like “Children should not be heard, just seen” or “Children should not speak unless spoken to.” This may all sound very indulgent to some of you, but the upside is that it has generated a very inclusive generation. They are a generation who deem it normal to consider everyone’s perspective, regardless of rank, which is a must-have mindset in this age of complex problems. No longer can leaders rely on their own experience and expertise. Instead, they require the input of people across disciplines and levels to find new solutions.  

Global mindset

In today’s world, leaders increasingly have to lead people across distances, cultures, and timezones. Doing that successfully requires leaders to have a high sensitivity to cultural diversity among their people, customers, and vendors. Past generations could only develop this by spending extensive periods abroad. However, thanks mainly to social media, Millennials are the first globally connected generation, who are highly aware of and interested in the world outside of their own country. This international mindset will be a valuable building block for them as future leaders.  

Thanks mainly to social media, Millennials are highly aware of and interested in the world outside of their own country. This international mindset will be a valuable building block for them as future leaders. Click To Tweet

Innovative & Adaptable

Millennials grew up in this age of technology that has enabled all of us to do things easier and quicker than before. As a result, they have a very low tolerance for inefficiency or tedious work and will naturally look for ways to use technology to do things more efficiently. Moreover, as they have already experienced and adopted multiple new technologies in their lifetime, they are a generation that is not afraid of technical change. Quite the contrary, they are curious about it and keen to discover and explore how to use new technologies to their advantage.  

 

Two qualities that may hinder Millennials to become effective leaders 

Weakened face-to-face communication skills

It has been said that Millennials have been silenced by technology, as many Millennials nowadays rather text or email than talk. As one Millennial employee explained it to me recently, “I don’t like real-time conversations because I cannot edit my responses, and I also don’t like being challenged on the spot.” This causes a real challenge for Millennials who aspire to leadership roles, as you cannot lead via email, text, or social media. Real-time conversations are the lifeblood of leadership, whether it is to negotiate, give feedback, resolve conflict, or to inspire and motivate people. So this is a leadership capability that Millennials will have to double down on if they aspire to lead. 

You cannot lead via email, text, or social media. Real-time conversations are the lifeblood of leadership. So face-to-face communication is a leadership capability that Millennials will have to double down on if they aspire to lead. Click To Tweet

Non-confrontational

Millennials are highly team-oriented and dislike conflict, which is, well, lovely, but for the fact that conflict is an undeniable part of working in an organization. So while many Millennials might wish for a ‘conflict-free’ work environment, it is unrealistic and undesirable.  

In fact, many of today’s most successful companies subscribe to the notion that you must combine the energy, ideas, and knowledge of diverse perspectives to find answers to complex problems. Such teams, composed of high-performing individuals, are naturally subject to contradictory tensions, like cooperation and rivalry, trust and vigilance. These tensions should not be managed away — they are productive and can help teams perform better.

So, aspiring Millennial leaders will have to overcome their fear of confrontation and develop the skills to engage with conflict in a productive way. 

 

In conclusion 

If you’re still reading this, then I hope that you’ll agree that Millennials have a lot going for them to become incredible leaders. Yes, they also have some significant challenges, but overall I have high expectations for these next-gen leaders and am excited to see how they will reshape leadership. 

Note: This was the second installment of our 2-part series on Millennials & Leadership Development. Click here to read the first installment. 

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

How to develop leadership development initiatives that meet the needs of the Millennial workforce

Leadership development for the Millennial workforce

How to develop leadership development initiatives that meet the needs of the Millennial workforce

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

With baby boomers retiring at a rate of 10,000 per year and a lack of Gen Xers to take their place (as there aren’t enough of them), the oldest Millennials (aka. Gen Y), who now range in age from 30 to 42, are now increasingly called upon to take on leadership roles. As a result, L&D practitioners at organizations everywhere are clamoring to provide training to help prepare these Millennials as leaders. However, according to a 2018 study by Harvard Business Publishing into the state of leadership development, 60% of millennials question the effectiveness of their organization’s leadership development programs. In view of this, we explore in this 2-part series several key issues L&D practitioners should consider when rethinking how to develop leadership development for the Millennial workforce. This week we will focus specifically on how to tailor leadership development to the specific learning preferences of the Millennial workforce. Next week we will then follow up with a post which focuses on how to address some of the specific leadership development needs of Millennial employees.

Three considerations to tailor leadership development to the specific learning preferences of the Millennial workforce.

1) Make it customized & flexible

Millennials have grown up in a world where personalization is the norm, and they expect the same thing from their leadership development. They are allergic to a one-size-fits-all approach, such as a traditional classroom-based program for a group of employees. Instead, they want learning tools that allow them to focus their limited time on just their individual development needs.

Millennials have grown up in a world where personalization is the norm, and they expect the same thing from their leadership development. Click To Tweet

At Upwardley, we, for example, cater to that by enabling each employee to establish their personal leadership development needs by taking the Upwardley Leadership Capabilities Assessment. The assessment evaluates their current skills & behaviors against the predefined capabilities that are required to be an effective leader at their level. Based on the results of their evaluation, our platform than automagically generates a recommended individual leadership development path for them.

Moreover, Millennial employees do not want leadership training to disrupt their carefully honed and fiercely guarded work-life balance. They are willing to put in the effort; however, they want to be able to fit their learning into their lives as they see fit – on-demand, anywhere, any time.

2) Let them take charge of their leadership development

Ever tried telling a Millennial employee that they, like everyone else before them, have to bide their time to get leadership training as and when they achieve a certain level in the organization? If you have, it probably wasn’t received very well. Unlike prior generations, Millennial employees do not tend to trust an organization to take care of their development needs. Instead, they believe organizations will always prioritize their self-interest over the needs of their employees. Hence, millennials prefer to take a more do-it-yourself approach to their career development. And they take this very seriously because they are keenly aware that they need to stay relevant amidst the constant change driven by technology and globalization.

Unlike prior generations, Millennial employees do not tend to trust an organization to take care of their development needs. Hence, millennials prefer to take a more do-it-yourself approach to their career development. Click To Tweet

So, don’t tell your Millennial employees to wait until a particular time when you deem them ready to qualify for leadership training. Instead, let them take charge of their leadership development. For example, Adobe provides every employee with a generous learning budget that they can spend, as they see fit, on their development. This approach enables employees to seek out development resources that are suitable for their individual development needs and learning preferences. At the same time, whether or not they make use of it and how they spend it provides some good data about the career ambitions of each individual for Adobe’s talent management plans. 

3) Show them how they’re doing

Millennial employees have grown up in a world of instant feedback and keeping score: Through their posts on social media such as Instagram and Facebook, they have become accustomed to receiving immediate feedback in the form of likes and comments. Also, they are the first generation to grow up with widespread access to video games, through which they have become used to measuring their performance and progress through earning points and badges and moving from level to level. 

Millennial employees want the same thing all along their leadership development journey. They want to know how they are doing. They want to know it’s worth all the effort. They want to measure their performance and track their progress. Being able to do so provides them with an immediate sense of achievement. It keeps them motivated to compete against themselves and to continue to put in the effort to level up their leadership skills. 

Through gaming, Millenials have become used to measuring their performance and progress by earning points and badges and moving from level to level. Millennial employees want the same thing all along their leadership development journey. Click To Tweet

Traditional leadership development programs are notoriously light on such measurement. At Upwardley, we addressed this by providing users of our platform with the ability to track their leadership development efforts as well as to measure their performance improvement at an individual capability level. Tracking their effort gives them an immediate sense of achievement while also sending a signal to their manager about their willingness to put in the hard work of becoming a leader. On the other hand, measuring their performance improvement at an individual capability level provides real evidence of their progress and proof of their improved readiness to take on additional responsibility.

Note: This is part 1 of our series on Millennials & Leadership Development. Next week we will focus on some of the specific challenges that many millennial employees face regarding some key leadership capabilities.

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

developing leaders for the digital age

Developing leaders for the digital age

Developing leaders for the digital age: Sounds good, but what does that actually mean?

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

‘Developing leaders for the digital age’ or ‘developing future-ready leaders’ are buzzwords that get thrown around a lot these days when we talk about the future of leadership training. However, when you ask some industry insiders what actionable leadership behaviors and capabilities they associate with these concepts, their answers are often lacking in depth.

So, I decided to dedicate this blog post to outline in detail the six future-ready leadership capabilities that we need to combine with the well-known traditional leadership capabilities to develop effective leaders for the digital age: Lead with digitization, manage complexity, hyper-collaborate, foster innovation, work with data, and manage virtual teams.

six key future-ready leadership capabilities

1. Lead with digitization

Nowadays, leaders across all levels of an organization need to be engaged in helping to position the enterprise to achieve its digital ambitions to remain competitive.

First, this means managers and leaders across all levels need to have a deep understanding of how the digital era is impacting customer behavior and how this impacts customer expectations.

Second, they need to develop their ability to see how the organization can leverage new digital technology to digitize products & services, improve the customer experience, increase operational efficiency, optimize processes and improve collaboration & coordination across departments.

Leading with digitization does not, however, mean that a future-ready leader has all the answers. Quite the opposite. Future-ready leaders appreciate that developing a digital transformation strategy is a complex issue that requires a cross-functional process. Their role in that process is to guide and challenge their people and peers to explore how the use of data could improve decision-making in critical areas of their organization, look for opportunities to leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence, explore how the organization might use predictive analytics and automation to improve operational efficiency and/or create dynamic pricing models.

Lastly, this digital transformation requires leaders to manage their teams and their stakeholders through significant change. As such, change management skills are also vital to effective leadership in the digital age.

2. Manage complexity – a.k.a lead in a VUCA world

Our working context today is much more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) than ever before. As a result, our classic “hero leader” approach no longer works as leaders can no longer rely solely on their own experience or expertise to find the answer to these complex problems.

Instead, future-ready leaders need to have the ability to lead the charge to solve complex problems collaboratively. This involves, for example, learning to use tools, such as problem flow diagrams and causal modeling, to help a team evaluate and define the problems at hand. Moreover, they need to learn how to use different techniques, such as divergent and convergent thinking, to guide a team of people to generate alternative solutions to the problem, as well as how to weigh those alternative solutions.

Lastly, even when a future-ready manager or leader has decided on which solution to pursue, they need to know how to take an agile approach to the management of its implementation to allow for the volatile and uncertain conditions of today’s ever-changing business environment.

3. Hyper-collaborate

Everyone knows that collaboration is key to success in today’s fast-changing complex business environment. However, collaboration is one of those digital-era capabilities that seems simpler than it is in practice. Truly mastering the art of collaborative leadership takes a little more than just being friendly and a team player.

First of all, future-ready managers and leaders need to have the awareness to fight their natural inclination to hire people in their image. Instead, they need to build teams with a diversity of thought. However, just putting a bunch of diverse people together does not guarantee collaboration either. To do that, a leader needs to know how to proactively create a culture that truly unleashes the collective wisdom of such a diverse team. And doing that requires the ability to help people to talk together effectively – i.e., a future-ready leader needs to know how to create the conditions to foster and encourage genuine dialogue between their people so that they can unleash the fantastic collective wisdom of their people to successfully address the challenges of tomorrow.

Secondly, there is no room for ego in collaborative leadership. Though it can be tempting for a leader to focus just on what their team is directly responsible for and can achieve, there is no room for such a silo mentality. Instead, future-ready leaders need to actively seek to share information and knowledge across the organization to help the company as a whole to find solutions to the multi-disciplinary problems that continue to emerge in today’s fast-changing environment.

Lastly, a future-ready leader needs to act as a connector who links people, ideas, and resources that wouldn’t usually bump into one another, both internally and externally. This means that future-ready leaders need to proactively build a network of internal and external relationships that give them access to information, referrals, and opportunities that can help them and their organization.

In summary, future-ready leaders need to truly master the art of collaborative leadership, both at the team level and across the organization.

4. Foster innovation

In today’s fast-changing world, pursuing continuous improvement is not enough to survive – companies have to actively seek and enable innovation across the organization. However, innovation is still too often thought of as something that is the remit of the product department. Creating new products is only one way to innovate, and on its own, it provides the lowest return on investment and the least competitive advantage. Instead, future-ready managers and leaders across the organization need to each focus on finding ways to foster innovation in their respective departments to add value to the company’s value chain.

To foster innovation, future-ready managers and leaders need to master three capabilities.

First of all, to foster innovation, future-ready managers and leaders need to learn how to develop a culture that actively supports and enables innovation. This includes, among other things, how to create a culture that makes it safe for employees to take risks to explore new ways of doing things and how to develop their people’s future-ready skills and the knowledge base necessary to generate radical ideas.

Secondly, creativity is fundamental to innovation. Creative thinking is not just needed in marketing or product development. Creative thinking today is required in how we design to do things in EVERY part of an organization, from how a company hires to how a company ships, to how a company handles customer service because these can all contribute to genuinely differentiating a company’s offering. Just think about Zappos’ customer service and Amazon’s Prime service as examples of that. So future-ready managers and leaders need to learn how to enable and encourage their people’s creative thinking by learning to use tools and processes such as mind mapping, design thinking, and catalytic questioning to unleash their people’s creativity.

Lastly, fostering innovation is not just about brainstorming and yellow stickies. Future-ready leaders take a methodical approach to innovation by mastering such frameworks as, for example, Doblin’s ten types of innovation.

5. Work with data

Historically, organizations viewed data as a byproduct. However, data and analytics are at the heart of the digital economy, so future-ready leaders need to be well-informed and conversant on the role of data.

First of all, future-ready leaders need to know how to analyze, interpret, and summarize their company’s data to generate valuable insights that help them make better decisions for their organization and communicate more effectively with their team.

Secondly, future-ready managers and leaders need to know how to properly manage data as a key business asset, including managing such issues as data integration, data storage, and infrastructure as well as legal and ethical considerations, such as data security and adhering to the data protection rules in place in the US, Europe, and Asia.

6. Manage virtual teams

Remote employees and distributed teams are increasingly common in today’s workforce and bring with them a whole new set of challenges. For example, future-ready leaders need to learn to take a very thoughtful approach to communication because, on virtual teams, communication tends to be less frequent and lack the richness of in-person interaction. Unless the future-ready leader proactively addresses this by being extremely clear and disciplined about his communication, these challenges could result in remote employees becoming disengaged, leading in turn to poor performance, lack of teamwork, and low morale. Another critical challenge for managers and leaders of distributed teams is that their teams often cross borders. This means that they need to have a well-developed understanding of how cultural differences may impact the behavior of the different people on their team and how to bridge these differences to help their people effectively work together. For example, giving feedback is a crucial part of managing and leading their people. It is, therefore, important to appreciate that people in different parts of the world provide feedback in very different ways.

These are but two of the challenges of managing virtual teams. There are several more, such as how to build trust and track productivity. All in all, suffice to say that learning how to manage virtual teams effectively is not to be underestimated and needs proper attention to create effective future-ready leaders.

In conclusion

No one is born with the above outlined six future-ready leadership capabilities, not even Gen Z-ers. These aren’t innate traits, nor are these purely behavioral capabilities that managers and leaders can acquire through leadership coaching. Instead, these are complex capabilities that managers and leaders can learn through a combination of knowledge transfer, contextualization, and practice. These six future-ready leadership capabilities should form a core part of any leadership training. Without them, you’ll not be developing leaders that are equipped to help your organization to thrive in the digital age.

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

Re-imagining Training For Leaders Across All Levels

Re-imagining training for leaders

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Leadership is critical to any organization’s growth, yet many businesses struggle with how to provide effective training for leaders. In fact, according to research by McKinsey, 9 out of 10 executives report that leadership development initiatives in their organizations fail to create effective leaders. Why is that and how do we need to re-imagine training for leaders to make it work?

Training for leaders is a process, not an event

Many organizations take a massed practice approach to the design of their leadership development programs by compressing content about a great number of different leadership competencies into just a few training sessions. In the space of just a few days, a participant learns about setting strategy and vision, creating effective communication channels, managing teams and developing staff, to name just a few topics normally covered.

While you can certainly teach an individual in one day a lot of theoretical and factual knowledge about how they should behave as a leader,  we all know that there are plenty of things we do, which we know aren’t what we should be doing, but that still isn’t enough to make us change. The real aim and challenge of your leadership development trainings is to help participants to adopt the required leadership behaviors as new habits, and that takes definitely a lot more than a few days!

The real aim and challenge of your leadership development training is to help participants to adopt the required leadership behaviors as new habits, and that takes definitely a lot more than a few days! #leadershipdevelopment #rethink Click To Tweet

Leadership development cannot be forced

To better understand what we need to do to support people to achieve lasting personal change, it is helpful to take a look at Stanford behavioral scientist Dr. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. His model states that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.

B=M+A+T means that a behavior occurs if Motivation and Ability and a Trigger converge. This is key to remember when designing training for leaders

Figure 1. B.J. Fogg’s Behavior Model

Now, to illustrate how the Fogg Behavior model works, let’s apply it to the concept of creating behavior change in a leader. The new desired leadership behavior on its own is likely easy from a skills perspective [for example, listen more, talk less], so Ability for the new behavior is not an issue. However, unlearning the old habitual behavior [talk a lot] is actually really hard to do, so as a result the overall Ability to achieve this change (new behavior + undo old behavior) is actually low – i.e. hard to do. As per Dr. BJ Fogg’s model, illustrated below, this means that someone needs to be really motivated to successfully pursue that behavior change.

Fogg Behavior Model shows that the harder it is to do something, the more motivation you need to actually do it. So when we design training for leaders, we need to realize that it is only effective if the person is really motivated to change.

Figure 2.

This brings us to the theory of change developed by Harvard professor Dr. John P. Kotter. His research showed that for people to be motivated enough to pursue behavior change, they need to actually first personally see and feel that need for change. The simple act of analyzing and thinking that a behavior change is needed, as is common during leadership trainings, won’t make a person change their habits.

Instead, according to Kotter the sequence is SEE, FEEL, CHANGE and not ANALYZE, THINK, CHANGE – i.e. no person will change their behavior unless they personally feel the need to change.

Dr. John P. Kotter's research states that in order to change, people have to see and feel the need to change their behavior

Figure 3.

This is yet another explanation why leadership development as it has been traditionally managed has been largely ineffective: When we rely on a participant’s rational understanding of the need to change their behavior, then in most cases people will not follow through with the planned behavior change after the training. For a person to change, they really have to WANT to change.

When we rely on a participant’s rational understanding of the need to change their behavior, then in most cases people will not follow through with the planned change after the training. #leadershipdevelopment #rethink Click To Tweet

Taken together, here at Upwardley we believe that all of this underpins why we need to move towards  individual ownership of leadership development. Established models rely on HR and L&D to sponsor and coordinate leadership development initiatives. However, if the aim of leadership development is to achieve lasting personal change, then The Fogg Behavior Model and Kotter’s theory seem to suggest that this will only happen if we put employees in charge of their own leadership development. For example, by letting employees self-select leadership development initiatives we could save ourselves from wasting resources on those who are unwilling to change and we could free up room for those who are willing to put in the hard work.

Leadership development requires personal mastery

Such a willingness to change requires an openness to see the gap between one’s desired state and one’s current state. In their book “Choosing Change”, Susan Goldsworthy and Walter McFarland explain that this willingness to learn and grow requires, amongst other things, an ability to realistically assess one’s own abilities, aptitudes and motives, as well as an ability to recognize and acknowledge one’s own feelings and reactions. In order to succeed, participants in any leadership development program thus need both self-knowledge and self-acceptance.

Robert E.Quinn, in his book “Building the Bridge As You Walk On It”, adds to this that ‘to engage in change, individuals must be willing to courageously leave their world of certainty to a place where there are many risks – a place where they are required to think in a new way.’

Harvard professor Peter Senge describes this capacity for learning and growth as the discipline of personal mastery. Senge identifies three essential elements to achieving such personal mastery:

1. Having a clear personal vision & purpose

According to Senge, the first essential element is to have a clear image of the future that you desire. In the case of leadership development this means the individual needs to have a vivid picture of how their future self will show up as a leader. However, that is not enough. One also needs to really have a sense of purpose, a reason for pursuing one’s vision.

Participants in a leadership development program thus need to have a real sense of why they want to lead. Only when one combines this clarity of vision and purpose, does one gain the direction and passion to propel one forward through a change process towards one’s future.

2. Commitment to the truth

The second essential element for personal mastery is a commitment to the truth. In Senge’s words this requires ‘a relentless willingness to root out the ways we deceive ourselves from seeing what truly is.’ An individual cannot choose to change before they are aware of and fully accept their current reality in all its detail.

This commitment to the truth echoes the importance of self-knowledge and self-acceptance which Susan Goldsworthy and Walter McFarland also identified as key.

An individual cannot choose to change before they are aware of and fully accept their current reality in all its detail. #leadershipdevelopment #rethink Click To Tweet

3. Manage the gap

The third essential element to achieve personal mastery is the ability to both accept and leverage the tension that exists because of the gap between where one wants to be (personal vision) and one’s current reality. Acceptance is key, as this gap often creates emotional tension, when one realizes the effort required to close the gap, often causing feelings of anxiety, sadness, discouragement, hopelessness and worry. Many people cannot cope with this emotional tension and thus, in order to escape it, they abandon their vision, which then at once resolves the tension. Accepting this gap and overcoming the self-defeating thoughts caused by the emotional tension is thus key to an individual’s ability to grow.

Creative tension exists between who you are now and who you want to become

Figure 4. Manage the creative tension between your reality and future vision

But just accepting it is not enough. One actually has to use the gap as a source of energy to want to learn and grow – i.e. one has to turn it into a source of creative tension. This concept of overcoming the emotional tension of the gap between reality and the vision, and instead leveraging it as a source of “creative tension”, resonates with Robert Quin’s earlier mentioned ‘need to courageously leave their world of certainty to a place where they are required to think in a new way.’

So, in summary, a willingness to change is not enough for someone to successfully engage in leadership development. One also needs the personal mastery to really embrace the challenge of their personal change journey from where they are now, to where they want to get to.

In conclusion

Developing leaders is critical to the success of our organizations. However, we need to drastically re-think how we provide training for leaders, because the traditional way of delivering leadership development creates mere momentary strength and fails to achieve the desired lasting behavior change. To do so, we need to start approaching leadership development as a continuous process that goes way beyond knowledge transfer and provide the structure and tools to support and enable employees to adopt the desired new behaviors as habits. Moreover, we should consider how we can provide employees more individual ownership over their leadership development to ensure we spend our resources on those who have the personal mastery to achieve the necessary lasting personal change to become exceptional leaders.

We need to drastically rethink how we provide training for leaders, because the traditional approach creates mere momentary strength and fails to achieve the desired lasting behavior change. #leadershipdevelopment #rethink Click To Tweet

About the author

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

six tips to improve your meeting management

Six Strategies To Tame the Meeting Monster

Six Strategies To Tame the Meeting Monster

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

If there’s one pervasive obstacle to effective leadership, it’s meetings. Whether it’s the sheer volume of meetings that consume our days, or the way in which those meetings are structured, we’ve seen this theme emerge time and again, at organizations large and small.

In talking with our clients, we realized that most of them feel they have little to no power over the meeting culture at their company.

But isn’t time just as valuable to a company as money? So you have a detailed expense policy and budgeting process, but you don’t have any processes in place to govern how time gets to spend on meetings? Anyone can call a meeting for anything? Without any rules for how those meetings are to be designed, prepped for, or run in order to ensure a real ROI? Crazy, now you think about it, isn’t it?

Below we have summarized 6 meeting management approaches that we’ve found can transform meetings from a necessary evil to a competitive advantage, enabling your company (or maybe just your group) to make better and faster decisions.

I. Meetings should have a clear goal that moves the company closer to achieving its purpose and justifies the time expenditure

A meeting is a vehicle to ACCOMPLISH something – to make decisions and move things forward. Always be clear what it is that you aim to have debated, decided, or discovered at the end of the meeting. Moreover, meetings take time, and time is money. It’s your responsibility to make sure your people don’t squander your company’s resources on unproductive meetings.

Meeting management fix:

  • Require each meeting organizer to answer each of the following questions(incorporate these in your meeting invitation template):
    • Why do you need to meet?
    • What are the decisions that you’re seeking through this meeting?
    • What is the estimated cost of holding the meeting? (Multiply the number of attendees x average hourly salary cost x meeting time.)
      • Note: We recently used this tool with a mid-stage startup that was riddled by an unproductive, excessive meeting culture. Within four weeks of introducing this practice, we measured a decrease in the total hours per week spent in meetings by more than 60%.

II. Meetings are NOT a medium for information sharing. (You can do that through other channels.)

The reason many of us drown in meetings is the same reason why many of us drown in emails: people call meetings and send emails because it gives them a false sense that they took an action to move something forward.

In fact, meetings are one of the worst ways to share information because of the myriad communication inefficiencies that can occur when a group of people interacts.

Here are the two most common examples:

  • Information cascades: The phenomenon whereby members of a group discount their own views and instead agree with the views of someone who shared their view or idea earlier in the meeting. Why does this happen? It all comes down to people’s confidence in their own views, ideas, or information versus those of the people who went before.
  • The common knowledge effect: When groups tend to overemphasize information held by all group members and ignore or discount unique information held by a few members. This happens especially when the unique information held by just a few of the members is opposed to the position that is initially the most popular. Majority pressures are partly to blame for this effect. Another cause is that individuals with unique information will often weigh the cost and benefit of speaking up. The personal cost of speaking up (being seen as disagreeable) usually outweighs the personal benefit of a better group decision. Therefore, they often decide to self-silence and not speak up. As a result, important information may remain hidden from the rest of the group.

It is for all these reasons that information-sharing should happen 100% before any meeting. That is why meetings need to be carefully planned and scheduled in advance as it allows:

  • All attendees to prepare properly by reviewing any materials and formulating their points of view
  • The meeting organizer to collect each of the attendees’ individual points of views or opinions on key issues ahead of the meeting to avoid an information cascade
  • Any attendee who has additional information to come forward and share that with the meeting organizer, so she can share it with the whole group ahead of the meeting

Meeting management fix:

  • The meeting organizer is responsible for collecting and sharing all background and reference material at least 5 days prior to the meeting. This enables participants to review and formulate their own points of view in advance and buffers them against the traps described above.
  • Meetings cannot be scheduled ad hoc for the same week to ensure there is enough time for meeting organizers to provide the pre-read materials and for the attendees to read it. The only exception is when there are clear unforeseen circumstances that require a decision to be reached within the same week.
  • Abandon status update meetings. This is classic “information-sharing” at its worst. Replace regular status meetings with a simple template for people to provide updates on their projects and highlight issues or opportunities for input. Then design a regular “flag resolution” meeting to clear roadblocks and plan the next steps.

III. Well-designed agendas are essential. Always prepare and distribute in advance of the meeting.

Agendas are crucial, yet often an under-valued tool for developing effective meetings. Here are some tips for writing a strong one:

  • List agenda items as questions that the attendees need to answer. This is much clearer then listing items such as “Qualified leads”, or “Competitor XYZ”, which leaves everyone guessing what is to be discussed. Consider instead, “What is driving the reduction in our qualified leads and what can we do to reverse the trend?” This sets clear expectations for what will be discussed.
  • Identify and measure the value of each item on the agenda. The value here is defined as an impact on the bottom line of the business. Don’t get paralyzed by trying to be too precise. Start by asking the question, “How does resolving this issue impact the bottom line of the business”. Then rank each of the issues from the highest impact to lowest impact. This ranking should inform the amount of time allocated to the issue on the agenda. Note: The ranking should not necessarily inform the sequencing of the agenda topics. How to sequence the topics should be informed both by how you want to pace the meeting, how certain topics might flow together, etc.
  • Allocate a realistic amount of time to each agenda topic (see above), and assign each topic to a specific attendee.
  • Be explicit about the process you’ll follow to reach a decision.One of our clients developed this basic formula: 10 minutes to clarify information provided in the pre-reading material, 10 minutes to discuss the pros and cons of the different choices or options to move forward, and 15 minutes to agree a final decision and plan for execution.

Meeting management fix:

Decline/cancel any meetings which 5 days prior to the meeting date still lack a clear agenda and/or for which no pre-reading material has been distributed.

IV. Only include people who are actively involved in progressing the issue.

The effectiveness of any meeting is directly correlated to the relevance of the attendees to the meeting. When arranging a meeting, ensure that each attendee is directly involved in decision making of one or more of the topics at hand.

Meeting management fix:

  • Ask meeting organizers to always clearly state in the meeting invitation why each attendee is invited and what their role is(see above)
    • Note: Implementing this approach enabled one of our clients to reduce the average number of people in a meeting by 75%, dramatically adding to the number of hours saved from people attending meetings they didn’t need to be at.
  • Meeting organizers should focus on actively engaging each attendee.This both reinforces the idea that each participant will make a valuable contribution, and ensures that EVERYONE gets a chance to be heard.Every meeting needs to lead to action.

V. Meetings must result in clear plans for action, with all agreeing who is accountable for what, and when.

The solution here is to implement a standard process for how you close each agenda item to ensure alignment, agreement and accountability. Here is a list of questions that we coach our leaders to use:

  • “Is there anything else someone needs to say or ask before we move on?” This helps flush out any unspoken concerns or unshared information.
  • “Is everyone in agreement with the decision?” If someone isn’t, then ask what it would take to get him or her on board.
  • “What specifically will we do by our next meeting to ensure progress?”
  • “Who is responsible for taking action? What level of responsibility do they have? What resources do they have?”

Meeting management fix:

  • Recruit a team of “meeting scribes” to document meeting highlights and agreed decisions, actions and responsibilities.Their notes can then be shared with all attendees and act as a reference document when following up on responsibility and accountability.

VI. Meeting attendees need to be PRESENT – not just in body, but also in mind

To be invited to a meeting means YOU are invited, not your computer and your phone.

This probably sounds anachronistic and unthinkable to some millennials. However, for meetings to be effective platforms for decision making, each person needs to be 100% present. Not just in body, but also in mind. No distractions.

Meetings are not a time to do your emails, surf the web, multi-task. In fact, if that is what you are doing in certain meetings then you probably don’t have to be there as you are clearly are not DIRECTLY involved with the decision making about the meeting topic

Meeting management fix:

  • Ban all laptops, tablets and phones from meetings. Only allow notebooks and pens.

In Conclusion:

Running effective meetings takes a lot of work. But unless you want your teams to have meetings for meetings’ sake, we highly recommend developing your personal or organizational meeting philosophy. Your teams will have fewer meetings, allowing you to take action more swiftly. The meetings you do have will be more effective, and ultimately your team or company will end up moving towards its goals faster.

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

check-list of leadership competencies for the c-suite

Reach for the C-Suite: A Competencies Checklist

Reach for the C-Suite: A Competencies Checklist

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 343,000 top executive jobs, versus about 2,124,100 jobs in lower and middle management (a ratio of approximately 6:1). This points to one often overlooked barrier to ascending the corporate ladder:

There are far more professionals competing for C-suite roles than there are opportunities available. So, what does it take to successfully make the transition from mid-level manager to corporate leader? It starts with understanding that the skills that helped you reach the top of your functional ladder are very different from the skills you need to be a successful c-level executive.

In general terms, they may sound similar: strategic thinking, industry knowledge, people development, building and leading teams, change management, etc. But the level of competency required in each of these areas is vastly different.

This post is therefore dedicated to demystifying how to enhance these core competencies in order to get yourself c-suite-ready.

I. Technical skills ….. are now “just” a baseline requirement

This is often the hardest thing for aspiring or newly minted c-level leaders to wrap their heads around: Your technical skills are now “just” a baseline requirement

Don’t get us wrong, you absolutely are expected to be a leading light in your functional area of expertise.

But just being successful in leading your functional area isn’t enough to be an effective c-level leader. It’s table stakes

II. The ability to think strategically ……way beyond your functional area

“The ability to think strategically” is one of those opaque phrases so often seen (and over-used) on job descriptions and resumes. As a functional leader, thinking strategically refers to one’s ability to develop goals based on a deep understanding of the trends in your functional area and how this may impact your organization’s long-term growth. This level of strategic foresight is a sophisticated skill, which requires years of experience and dedication to your area of expertise.

However, you have to kick it up several notches to be effective at the c-level, because those leaders must be able to think strategically beyond their own functional area.

As a c-level executive you have to be able to grapple with and develop strategic plans for business issues that impact and involve functions and resources across the business – not just your own.

How to develop it:
The ability to think strategically at an organizational level is not something you can develop overnight. A leader who aspires to the c-suite needs to consciously work on it by seeking stretch assignments outside of their functional expertise.

In addition, they should pro-actively build relationships with peers across the organization to increase their awareness and understanding of issues and challenges across the business.

III. From market insight ……to outsight and global outlook

If technical expertise was about your functional area (eg. marketing, finance, engineering, product, operations, etc), then market knowledge is the deep understanding you have built up as a functional leader about your organization’s competition, its suppliers, customer base and the regulatory environment. You know it so well that you can spot trends and adjust your function’s business strategy accordingly.

However, as a c-level executive, you are expected to contribute to the development of a clear and compelling vision for the company as a whole as well as for your function – not just this year, but for the next few years. You need to be able to anticipate changes in the market even before they happen. To do that you need to zoom out of your usual focus on the here and now that is directly related to your function, industry and market.

You need to broaden your interest to become more engaged with developments in the wider world around you, both economically, legally, socially, politically and culturally. Only then will you develop the outsight and broader understanding of the forces at work in the market to anticipate forthcoming changes.

We refer to this as becoming a “learning leader”: a leader who accepts that her business environment is forever changing and willing to put in the effort to constantly develop new skills and outside understanding.

In addition, C-level leaders nowadays absolutely need a well-informed global outlook to enable them to help their businesses navigate the increasingly complex and increasingly boundary-less global business environments in which they operate

How to develop it:
The proactive, aspiring leader should seek out international experiences if at all possible to gain a more global perspective.

Additionally, developing outsight is not just a case of reading the Economist, the WSJ and watching 90 Minutes or Bloomberg West. In order to truly develop your outsight, you need to actually digest and integrate this information to formulate your very own opinions and ideas. Moreover, to actually showcase your outsight, you need to dare to share your observations and learnings with a wider audience, be it through speaking engagements, blog posts, podcasts, etc.

Yes, this is a time-consuming practice, but no-one said that getting to the c-suite was easy!

IV. From day-to-day management …..to team leadership

At lower management levels, we often see emerging leaders still rely on old-fashioned command-and-control leadership styles. Only by the time they reach middle management do most leaders learn how to engage their team member’s hearts’ and minds towards a shared purpose to drive their performance.

However, functional middle management leaders tend to still spend most of their time on day-to-day management issues, rather than long term planning.

In contrast, a c-level executive should no longer be involved in the day-to-day management of their function. They need to hire and build a team to which they can delegate full authority for the day to day execution of their function’s responsibilities.

Instead of being involved in the day-to-day, the c-level executive’s main focus should be on:

  • ensuring the team members understand and are inspired by the vision
  • actively developing and enabling the team to perform through providing the necessary training, coaching, hiring and other resources
  • challenging the team to ensure they operate on the cutting edge
  • recognizing and celebrating their team member’s efforts and contributions
  • practicing what they preach by demonstrating their beliefs and expectations through their own daily actions

How to develop it:
This is a really hard transition for any leader and you’ll only be able to make it successfully if you first focus on hiring and developing the right team so that you can delegate full authority for the day-to-day management.

Newly minted c-level executives often get this wrong: They give in to pressures from the CEO to push for quick implementations of new strategic initiatives rather than first taking the time to get their team in order.

Be aware of that pitfall. Negotiate if you must to buy the time to first focus on hiring and developing your team.

To learn more about the five practices of exemplary leadership as described above, we recommend reading The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

V. From intra-team collaboration …..to cross-functional collaboration

Though everyone is talking about collaboration these days, many functional leaders will admit that cross-functional collaboration is easier said then done. One of the most common hurdles for cross-functional collaboration is that functional leaders are usually measured against their own sets of goals and objectives and collaborating with another team might gets in the way of achieving their own goals and objectives.

In the c-suite there is no room for that kind of competition: The top management team shares responsibility for the company’s success and as such they are expected to work highly collaboratively for the good of the company.

Moreover, in today’s increasingly complex, interconnected world, the customer experience often involves interactions with multiple departments in the organization – from marketing through to customer support. Hence, functions are becoming more interdependent by the minute.

So the time of the individual star-based c-level executives is long gone. Instead, ideal C-level candidates need to be team players and have solid cross-functional internal networks they can leverage for collaboration and influence when stepping into the c-suite.

However, just being good at working the internal politics of an organization isn’t enough.

C-level executive also need to have influence beyond the walls of their organization.

For example, they need to have and maintain relationships with key people in the media, governments, subject matter experts in their industry or functional area of expertise, as well as with shareholders, regulators and of course employees, suppliers and customers.

How to develop it:
Strong internal and external networks take years to cultivate. Nor are these “just” LinkedIn connections. This why any leader with c-suite aspirations really needs to approach their networking as a critical business strategy, including clear goals, plans for execution and metrics to measure performance.

VI. From change management ……..to an agile mindset

By now you’ve climbed the ladder high enough to know that change is a never-ending part of business.

However, at the c-level it is no longer about incremental change, but about aligning and mobilizing the whole organization to change with you – to adopt specific behaviors, processes and practices to improve processes, and systems and develop new products and services that will support the company’s strategic vision.

In the past such firm-wide change initiatives were usually periodic, followed by a period of stability.

However, in today’s ever-changing business environment, c-level executives need to accept that their environment, and hence their business, is in a state of constant flux. The best leaders therefore operate with a continuous change- agent mindset.

Given the speed of change in today’s business environment, leaders no longer know exactly what the outcome should be. They only know the direction. To operate like this they need to use agile processes to guide their teams through rapid iterative cycles of build-, measure-, learn to quickly prototype possible new solutions. This agile approach allows them to learn what the market wants as they move along, rather then using the old way of change management which required a fully specced pre-defined outcome which, at times, ended up being the wrong solution by the time it was delivered

How to develop it:
Agility is a mindset. It starts with embracing the ambiguity found in today’s fast-changing business world. Accept that what you know today may no longer be true tomorrow.

Furthermore, to succeed as an agile leader you need to combine adaptability with strict accountability.

  • Adaptability means using consecutive Build, Measure, Learn cycles to find new solutions and redefining failure as an opportunity to learn what the best new solutions are.
  • Accountability means pre-setting clear goals and metrics on how you are going to measure the outcomes of each cycle.

To learn more about innovative leadership I would recommend reading this great 2014 paper by the Center for Creative Leadership, “Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation” . For more about the lean startup principles, read Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

VII. From budgeting ……..to full-blown financial literacy

Except for those in sales or business development, few functional leaders have real p&l responsibility and with that often lack in-depth financial awareness, which is a must-have for anyone who aspires to the c-suite.

C-level executives are tasked with driving the financial growth of the company. It’s therefore imperative that they understand in detail how the business operates to make money – i.e. cost of goods (COGS), key supplier rebates, seasonal drivers, customer acquisition cost, volume discounts, key supplier/material cost dependencies, overheads, taxes, etc.

In the end, what each function does in an organization should contribute towards “moving the profit needle”. It is therefore critical that each c-level executive understands and can explain how their function impacts the company’s profit. For example, a CTO needs to be able to explain how tackling the tech debt will eventually enable them to make more money, even though it may initially look like it is just costing money.

How to develop it:
This used to be one of the main reasons why people went off to do an MBA. However, with a little application, you can learn a lot if you simply make friends with your company’s Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) team, controller, VP of Finance and CFO. Meet with them regularly and ask them to talk you through the numbers. Have them also challenge your department’s spending so you can get used to their “how does this help us make money” mindset.

And once again, this is also one of those skills, which you can seek to develop through applying for special stretch assignments.

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time