Unignorable Moments + Add a Moment
Hindsight allows me to recognize an unignorable moment in which did not give sufficient authority to a staff member who needed it in order to grow as a supervisor. This was a set up for her failure and fueled a frustration that became untenable. On the other hand, I have always been a fan of found experiments and fanning them like one does an ember in order that they might catch fire. I'm also a huge fan of friendly skeptics--having someone in the room who appreciates your aims but who can explain how they might be received (or rejected) by important stakeholders. I value them even more if they can help me identify painful milestones that identify passage through a transition and the need to continue when the temptation is to reverse course. This is a very well-done, and practical book that is important for learning organizations. Interestingly it also offers lessons, if not metrics, for testing an organization if you're thinking of joining.
Thank you for this valuable post. It changed my approximation
As I reflect on my career, I have come to know that profound and unignorable moments occur all the time. Establishing a people focused, winning culture can be achieved by paying attention and acting on what might be perceived as the “little things”. These little things can bring about incredible and positive change. An example of one such “little thing” comes to mind of a time some years ago when I was traveling on a charter bus with our commercial organization. It was our national sales meeting and we were all returning to our hotel from an offsite event. I happened to be sitting next to a women in our account management group. As I typically do, I asked her how things were going and importantly, what could we be doing better? Because I had fostered a reputation of welcoming frank feedback she went on to share with me some frustrations the account management team was experiencing due to a sensitive organizational structure/alignment issue. When pressed, she offered a suggestion on a solution to improve the situation. Was this an unignorable moment? You bet. Failure to at least investigate the matter and follow-up with her would reinforce a common perception of management as disconnected. My charge was to look into the situation and, if appropriate, take action. In this case, I largely implemented her recommendations which enhanced the morale and performance of the account group. Importantly, the individual who brought the matter to my attention felt that her voice had been heard. When leaders make it their habit to pay attention to these “little things” their teams become more engaged, creative and committed to excellence.
On the heels of a successful run in a line management role with my company I enjoyed the opportunity to go "in-house" to run our Leadership Development Program. The chance to truly drill into the principles of leadership-beyond the traditional functions of controlling, planning, staffing, directing, and organizing- was eye-opening. Then the virtual melt down of another home office department offered me the unique opportunity to apply the learnings in a way I would never have suspected. I was asked to step into a division where the management team had been replaced and - for the first time-get actively involved in turn-around leadership. It was 18 months of arduous work--with Human Resource issues that sometimes defied logic. But I had a solid leader who supported me, was able to recruit external managers to fill the vacated roles, and over time the "ten million dollar experience" I would not give a dime to repeat was a true skill accelerator. Convinced me that the principles of leadership can only be truly learned on the battlefield--and that they can be applied again and again over the course of a career; a crucible that influenced me in ways I still appreciate today.
I needed to relocate my family back to a state better suited to meet our personal needs. I knew it would be a challenge to ask the company to do this as it was very aggressively managing the expanse line plus we had just suffered a major no approval w/ the agency. On top of that the housing bubble was beginning to bursts. Needless to say, two senior leaders were instrumental with making this happen, which it did! It made a huge difference to my family and I will be forever grateful for this. Of course they said no big deal; it was just the right decision to do since it was a family matter. Well, let me ask you this how many leaders SAY that and then really ACT on it vs. lip service? Not these 2 and 1 leader in particular – has touched so many professionally! Why is this a special moment? Because this leader has had a huge impact on (now) young adults – even though this leader said it’s really no big deal – to these young adults, it’s a huge very big deal and they are where they are because of the support of this leader.
5 years into starting and running my own company (NK&Amarketing.com) a respected friend asked if he might join my ranks. He brought a depth of expertise and skills my business lacked and the opportunity to offer our clients more solutions. He was close family friend and a father of 3 boys all heading to college in the next 5-8 years. I was certain I wanted him by my side, but uncertain if I could make it work for us financially. I was going from feeding the 8 mouths (mine + my sole employee’s family) to feeding 13. Understanding the risks, he and I agreed to give it a go. Within 6 months we doubled the business and 9 years later are still close family friends and business partners. I would never be having so much fun and satisfaction without him by my side. Taking that leap financially was hard, but it build our confidences and showed us we had more to offer than we knew.
One evening my home phone rang and the voice of a friend and respected company leader was on the other end. I was offered the opportunity to take a new senior leadership role in my organization that was significantly different than what I had been doing, and would require an extraordinary turnaround effort and very high travel. I listened to the description of the opportunity and responded that I needed to talk it over with my family since at the time we had 4 small children under the age of 6. When I hung up the phone, my wife asked with a smile "Was that John?" How did she know? I was confused...until I found out that John, the leader who made me the offer, spoke with my wife days earlier to let her know the situation and confirm her full support. Further, he made it clear that if she was not in full alignment with the job requirements that I would "never know the opportunity even existed." Epilogue: I took that role and succeeded. The support at home was unprecedented, and this drove a level of loyalty that has not been experienced since.
As a key executive of a company facing high debt, i was held responsible for persuading rank and file to buy into a quality improvement program designed to enhance margins and heighten efficiency. employees were skeptical, of course, in face of layoffs and increased workloads but absentee management was insistent. progress was slow. owners decided on a new tactic. they came to town and invited top execs to an off-the-record dinner to discuss the reality on the ground. It was billed as an open kimono meeting, let the truth hang out; wines and whiskey flowed but most of the managers prudently held their tongues. but one took a leap off faith and spoke candidly about the reasons for employee skepticism and lack of support for the quality plan; he also criticized the absentee managers. he felt good about himself after the meeting. he had spoken his mind. but the next day he was summarily fired. word spread through the plant what had happened; skepticism was replaced by deeper cynicism; the quality plan soon failed, as did the absentee managers who ultimately sold the property off. the lesson i learned was the vital importance of building and maintaining trust through transparency. if an open kimono policy is to be introduced, it must be maintained or the workforce will recognize the hypocrisy and distrust will doom serious enhancement programs.
Our small pharmaceutical company was preparing for approval of a new compound that would place us in competition with 2 of the biggest players at the time in pharma. Our culture at the time was what I would describe as a "sales-driven, marketing supported culture." In order to succeed with our new compound we needed to transform to a more strategy-driven culture with sales responsible for precision execution of strategy using more standardized operating models and expectations for skill and activities at all levels. 2 key executives planned and executed this transformation, including a new head of field sales operations. I was able to see how blending a strong leadership message that created a "felt need for change," combined with applied fundamentals around execution resulted in a successful change effort. The eventual outcome was a successful launch of the new compound and an organization that was admired for its ability to execute. I learned that you not only have to skillfully challenge people's ways of thinking, you have ensure they change their way of acting until they are sold on the new approaches. I still apply these leadership and management fundamentals and I have used this model for managing change projects in many assignments.
Early on in my career I was fortunate to hire and lead an expansive global team. My hiring process focused on the "what" and the "how" deliverables or accomplishments were achieved and I was proud to assemble a competent and diverse group of leaders and individual contributors; each of whom deemed to possess significant leadership ability and growth potential. The first six months were uneventful in terms of performance nevertheless, I felt a palpable impression that something was awry. I probed yet no one immediately shared concern. Two months later, feedback emerged that one leader on my team was verbally abusive & disrespectful in a recent meeting; a week later, more negativity which prompted my intervention and coaching. Our dialog focused on our culture, the respect and diversity of opinion that is welcomed, and above everything else, the shadow of leadership one casts and its link to the motivations of those whom with you work. He acknowledged his missteps. Two months pass and it appears my coaching has paid off; he has turned the corner! The next week, regrettably an inappropriate eruption occurs with his direct report. She is visibly shaken; our code of conduct grossly violated. I asked myself if this behavior is reconcilable. Was his expertise and competencies more important than the manner and culture in which we should work? This unignorable moment required a swift yet thoughtful decision. After careful consideration, I concluded the performance and motivations of the team overshadowed his technical ability. At weeks end, his employment was terminated citing "...how we work as an organization is greater than what we deliver as an organization."
As the Head of the diabetes Business Unit for Aventis , I made a decision not to allow certain European re usable devices into the US based on the direction and use were not patient friendly nor culturally relevant for US customers . You would have had to have been a German engineer to operate these devices This was a difficult decision as there was corporate pressure , competitive pressure , however the device was not the right device for the patient Not doing something sometime takes more courage than doing something I look back on this Unignorable Decision with great pride as the right thing was done for the patient, the brand and ultimately the business.
Several years ago, I had the great good fortune of being invited to meet with the CEO of a worldwide biotechnology company, which I had requested for years. The meeting was just the two of us with one simple goal: express our sincere gratitude to the CEO for the contributions his company and his staff members had made to PAF across the years. As I entered his office, it was apparent that many burdens of leadership were present in every moment of his life. In moments, I genuinely felt this meeting had to be two leaders sharing a moment in time to simply express gratitude for the small contributions made by his organization across the years that grew us into who we are today. This moment had to be personal appreciation. He greeted me formally, invited me to have a seat and immediately asked, “so what have we done for your organization?” Clearly the tone of the question suggested his foregone conclusion that my gratitude would be for financial gifts made to the foundations across the years, but my answer was nowhere near that space. I answered by recalling the names of magnificent leaders in his company who had donated time to assist in the legal oversight of our first national publication in America: specialists in Information Technology who made visits to Virginia to meet with our IT staff and to then lay out a three year plan for upgrading our system and guiding us in recommendations of companies and individuals who could help us accomplish the goals in the three year plan: sharing the many opportunities his leaders had given us to share on national stages specific stories of patients we had served and the difference that made in their lives and ended by sharing that moment his company invited us to provide a patient speaker to address their national sales force meeting in which our patient moved every person in that audience not only to tears but to making a personal gift to PAF that holiday season. I could have shared hours of like stories, but appreciated the time constraints we shared. The CEO simply took my hand and said, “How do I thank you for introducing me to so many special individuals from my company who are making such a difference for so many.” In leaving, I shared our final thank you for their financial support across the years and affirmed that while those gifts are important to achieving our mission the gifts of expertise and caring exemplified by their leaders made permanent contributions to who we are today.
While planning an annual retreat with our PAF staff, I surveyed many of our team members from frontline staff working as intake counselors in the Co-Pay Relief program to case management specialists, our Human Resources department to our Information Technology leaders, Finance Department executives and front line benefits team members as well as leaders in the Executive Roundtable and what I learned was that when asked what is their number one need the answer was universal: more time to manage professional demands and personal lives. This an unignorable moment for we knew that academic planning for the retreat would meet professional growth goals; however, meeting the needs these team members had identified was much more important in the long term retention of our employees and their happiness with their jobs at PAF. Our retreat started as most do with games to motivate immediate interaction with two hundred staff members who often did not interact with many of their colleagues and then we moved into the academic and motivational aspects of the meeting. The highlight of the day came at the end when in summarizing our day together, I took the opportunity to share the results of the survey that I had conducted with many of our team members noting that our number one need was for more time. To address this need, I shared an announcement that beginning immediately, PAF would close at 4:00 pm on Fridays, allowing every team member additional time to begin their weekends with family members and ending their professional week on a positive note. Years earlier, we had expanded our thirty minute lunch to one hour on Wednesdays to allow time to meet family members or friends for lunch once a week. This was also shared with the team members. The response we received was overwhelming and the emails from staff across the organization reflected appreciation that we had genuinely made a difference in their lives. Today, two of the assets of working at PAF frequently cited in interviews with candidates is the one hour lunch on Wednesdays and the early closure on Fridays. These two simple initiatives reflected to all our concern for each of our employees as valued members of our Foundation and that our concern extended to their families as well.
When I was a young sales manager our company was growing rapidly and we needed to hire individuals to meet the anticipated needs.The direction was to hire experienced individuals. However my philosophy was to hire people that had potential. I always believed that if you hired people with no experience you could teach and train them to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. This was a risk however I felt it was the right thing to do for the long term interests of the company. I began the process of hiring college graduates with no real experience but with tremendous potential. My belief is that a managers/leaders primary role is to focus on their people and provide clarity of direction, teach, train and develop their skills and coach them so they could rise to higher levels of responsibility in the organization. As I grew in the organization, the people I hired embraced the philosophy of developing people and it had a tremendous cascade effect on the way the organization approached hiring and development. It had such an impact on the company that they eventually had a stable of qualified and highly talented people for management and leadership roles. Many of the people have c-suite and Sr. Management roles in the Bio/Pharma industry today. It is always about the value of people in how you treat them, train them and develop their skills.
The Market Basket supermarket chain has been front page news in New England every day almost two months. The company, owned and operated by the Demoulas family since 1916, has 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. They faced an unignorable moment when the board, led by Arthur S. Demoulas, ousted his cousin, Arthur T. Demoulas, from his role as President of the company in late July of this year. Shortly after Arthur T., as he is called, was ousted,, thousands of Market Basket workers turned out for protests that have resulted in stores being stripped bare and the company as a whole losing millions of dollars per day. The question now: can the Market Basket chain be saved? Thousands of workers loyal to Arthur T. want him reinstated, but Arthur S. has control of the board. News coverage has played this out as a family business morality play, with Arthur S. as the “good cousin” and Arthur T. as the “bad cousin” in the long-standing Demoulas family drama. Their cultural differences have been played out in economic decisions about what to do with profits. As the Boston Globe reported on August 21st, Arthur T. has been known for his generosity to employees, including authorizing the company to compensate losses sustained by the employee profit sharing fund during the recent recession to the tune of $46M. As the story goes, Arthur S. wanted more profits returned to Market Basket shareholders. There may be a resolution on the horizon. In recent events, the governors of both Massachusetts and New Hampshire have entered the fray, encouraging employees to return to work given that a deal may be forged soon. Arthur T. has offered to purchase the company for 50.5% of its value, estimated between $3-3.5B. What will happen if the sale goes through, and Arthur S. gains control of the company, but the morality play loses a villain? Resolving the economic crisis and getting employees back to work will not be enough to get Market Basket unstuck. Further digging by the Boston Globe has challenged the overly-simplistic “good cousin,” “bad cousin” scenario. Each of the cousins is a more complex character than appears at first blush, and the tension between managing returns to employees and returns to shareholders will not go away if there is a way to resolve this dispute. There is a lot to learn from this unignorable moment in order to avoid another one in the future – and the work of doing so is just beginning.