Leading Through Uncertainty (Part IV – Operating System) – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: April 20, 2019

The next few Weekend Reflections for Leaders are focused on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. I had the privilege in March to speak to a group of executives in San Francisco on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the topic, and I wanted to share components of my talk over the next several Weekend Reflections for Leaders.

Part I (Reality Check) – Part II (Purpose) – Part III (Guiding Principles).

Today’s topic is on the importance of having an Operating System.

It is inevitable that as a business begins to scale from 3 people in a garage to 100s and then 1,000s of people, the risks of complexity and misalignment can be significant obstacles to driving sustained growth. As leaders work to scale a business, there becomes the critical need to develop an effective operating system to scale efficiently and optimize all aspects of the business.

All the fanfare and rah-rah we see in movies or read in books about great entrepreneurial ventures that scaled into multi-billion-dollar businesses were enabled by an operating system that formed the foundation for growth.  Venture capitalists in places like the Silicon Valley or Cambridge, MA will bring forth the capital to scale a business along with a proven executive to provide some “adult supervision” to smart, energetic founders of the next wave of innovation. Most often, that proven executive brings forth an operating system to enable the business to successfully scale the next great innovative product.

In my experience of building and scaling healthcare businesses, we utilized an operational framework that helped us effectively address the risks of complexity and misalignment as we scaled for growth. The operating system was built around the 4 A’s of Leadership outlined below.

Alignment

The Principle of Alignment reinforces the importance of setting strategic direction and the strength gained through a clear, well-understood purpose that can channel an organization’s energy to deliver over the long term. The Principle of Alignment reminds leaders to clearly answer the critical questions that define the organization’s reason for existing:

  • What is the Purpose of our organization?
  • What is the Why that energizes us and makes our purpose important and relevant to the marketplace?
  • Who are we serving in the marketplace?
  • What are the core Values or Principles that guide our conduct?

Assignment

The Principle of Assignment reminds us of the importance of serving a purpose larger than ourselves. We all have a role to play to help a business succeed in delivering on key milestones along the path to sustainable growth. Once the overall direction of the organization has been established with the Principle of Alignment, then the process begins to align business units, teams, and individuals to develop objectives that support delivering on the strategic direction of the organization.

The building blocks of “who does what, when it needs to be done, and why it will help us succeed” need to be integrated to ensure there are people and teams assigned to get the work done. Assigning tasks to specific teams or individuals addresses the reality that “if everyone is accountable, then no one is accountable.” Individuals and teams need to feel the weight of a transparent and specific assigned task.

The Principle of Assignment is a strong reminder that strategic thinking and direction (the Principle of Alignment) are great skills, but without competent leadership to determine critical tasks, build realistic timelines, assign the work, and lead the work, execution will always falter.

Accountability

The Principle of Accountability reinforces that we all are personally responsible for completing our tasks and supporting others to ensure the organization’s milestones are met. Holding individuals and teams accountable for delivering on objectives is not just for an annual performance review. The Principle of Accountability should be an ongoing, continual discussion to ensure:

  • Consistency and Clarity: The objectives for the team/individuals and their current performance, need to remain crystal clear to ensure there are few, if any, major surprises in the business.
  • Identification of Early Warning Signals: The current performance (positive or negative) toward stated objectives may be an early indication of a change in effort by an individual/team or a fundamental shift in the external environment.
  • Efficient Course Correction: We are never perfect in setting objectives. Consistent, transparent discussions on performance through the Principle of Accountability can well position leaders to adjust plans and address market changes in real time to take advantage of an opportunity or prevent a problem from getting worse.

Most leaders and organizations struggle with the Principle of Accountability. Just the thought of having a difficult discussion with an underperforming team or individual brings about some degree of anxiousness and trepidation. Overcoming the initial temptation to retreat from a difficult conversation is a critical discipline for leaders. The Principle of Accountability can help support leaders having the necessary difficult conversation sooner rather than later.

Affirmation

The Principle of Affirmation enables us to meet the deepest need in each one of us—to know that we

belong and we matter. Conversations are the critical connection point for individuals to feel affirmed in who they are and the role they play. The Principle of Affirmation positions leaders to view each conversation with team members as an opportunity to show they matter as individuals and team members, which will create engagement and commitment to enable the organization to reach its full potential.

Affirming someone’s worth and unique contributions to the team and/or to us personally as a leader forms a foundation for trust and transparency, which is essential for long-term organizational health.

Leaders need to prioritize time to address the positive contributions of individuals and teams. In our hypercompetitive marketplace with constant paranoia of disruptive threats, most leaders jump to the urgency of problems and underperformance, which over time will create an unhealthy environment where top talent will leave or become disengaged.

An operating system forms the foundation to link brilliant strategy with tremendous execution.

As senior executives and the top talent on their teams work hard to drive sustained growth in a challenging and often uncertain future, it is critical that they “run” the business with a disciplined operating system to best position the company to succeed.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say? 

Here are a few resources to HELP YOU:

  1. Download FREE resources, including the 4 A’s of Leadership, at www.harvesttimepartners.com
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275
  3. Check out my latest book, Looking Back-What I Learned When I Left a Great Company, for helpful insights on leadership, building a great business, and winning the war on top talent.

David Esposito

Leading Through Uncertainty (Part III – Guiding Principles) – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: April 13, 2019

The next few Weekend Reflections for Leaders are focused on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. I had the privilege in March to speak to a group of executives in San Francisco on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the topic, and I wanted to share components of my talk over the next several Weekend Reflections for Leaders.

Part I (Reality Check) and Part II (Purpose).

Today’s topic is on the importance of Guiding Principles.

As we face the reality of a hyper-competitive marketplace and an uncertain future, the importance of building a business with a set of universal and timeless guiding principles becomes essential. When, not if, the tremendous pressure to deliver high growth results, exceed customer expectations, and keep team members energized and engaged gets to a breaking point, a set of guiding principles helps leaders and teams from sliding off the rails.

Guiding principles, or values, guide individuals and teams in how we should treat each other, our customers, and fulfill our responsibility to the marketplace and the communities we impact. Clearly defining the importance of principles like respect, trustworthiness, teamwork, innovation, quality, and kindness form not only the foundation, but create the guardrails to build a business that can effectively handle the inevitable cycles of tremendous success and painful failure without destroying itself from within.

Guiding principles, along with behavioral examples that are set by leaders, consistently highlighted through influential communications and meaningful consequences, begin to build a culture that is healthy and sustainable for the long term.

We don’t need a PhD in business ethics to recall the numerous examples in the marketplace of when leaders routinely made choices that went directly against timeless principles like respect and honesty. Before we quickly pass judgment on the missteps of others while we sit in some sterile classroom environment or management training program, we should genuinely acknowledge a few of the significant pressures that existing in leading a business in today’s world.

  • Consistently delivering high growth financial performance to support numerous high-pressure stakeholders can have a vice grip like intensity on leaders.
  • The potential for a personal, life-changing payout with the successful sale of a business in the world of early-mid stage venture capital funded businesses can cloud the judgment of leaders.
  • The marketplace is complex and many times the stories we read about are written with simple sound bites that never tell the full story on the magnitude and the complexity leaders were trying to address.

Even with the above examples, leaders who build teams and a business with a clear set of guiding principles, will more times than not, establish the guardrails to keep teams moving forward in an effective direction even in times of incredible uncertainty. Guiding principles act as a compass when we are leading through the “fog of war” in the marketplace, when we have just been caught off guard with a competitive threat, or when some personal behavior of a key leader comes to light or when there is a sudden legal or regulatory challenge to the operation of the business.

Guiding principles help leaders maintain their footing and keep teams marching forward to fulfill the purpose of the business regardless of how uncertain our future looks at this present moment.

As senior executives and the top talent on their teams work hard to drive growth in a challenging and often uncertain future, it is critical that they set the example by modeling behaviors consistent with timeless and universal principles in ordered to guide teams to deliver on today’s goals and prepare for a brighter future. (the image in this article highlights the guiding principles our team developed at Armune BioScience)

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say? 

Here are a few resources to HELP YOU:

  1. Download FREE resources at www.harvesttimepartners.com
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275
  3. Check out my latest book, Looking Back-What I Learned When I Left a Great Company, for helpful insights on leadership, building a great business, and winning the war on top talent.

David Esposito

Leading Through Uncertainty (Part II – Purpose) – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: April 6, 2019

The next few Weekend Reflections for Leaders are focused on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. I had the privilege in March to speak to a group of executives in San Francisco on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the topic by those who attended, and I wanted to share components of my talk over the next several Weekend Reflections for Leaders.

In Part I (Reality Check link) last week, we discussed the importance of facing the reality of today’s marketplace that continues to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty.

Today’s topic is on the importance of Purpose.

When describing purpose in practical terms, it is answering the big question of why do we exist as a business? What do we do and why does it matter? Sometimes purpose may be described as the strategic intent or even the mission of the business.

I most recently led an early stage cancer diagnostics company (Armune BioScience which we sold to Exact Sciences (EXAS) in Dec 2017) and our purpose was clear, Improve the Detection of Cancer, and it mattered because detecting cancer early means more lives will be saved.

An inspiring purpose becomes both a collective rallying cry for the team and a personal calling for the individuals building the business. An inspiring purpose can be developed across any industry or endeavor from curing cancer, to providing a warm meal to someone in need, to educating the next generation, to building safe and affordable housing, to providing a simple clean room to a weary traveler on the road, and the list could go on and on. (What do we do and Why does it matter)

As senior executives and the top talent on their teams look to lead effectively through the uncertainty of today’s marketplace, ensuring they develop, decide, and communicate the clarity of an inspiring purpose is critical to the long-term success of the business. The clarity of purpose around what we do and why does it matter has numerous benefits. Here are just a few:

  1. Purpose helps leaders and teams keep an eye on the long-term direction of their efforts. When we can refocus on the long-term direction, we maintain the emotional strength to effectively handle near-term obstacles and moments of uncertainty in the business cycle.
  2. Purpose can have a palpable rallying cry that helps leaders and teams muster the physical strength necessary to get back into the fight when we get knocked down by a sudden event that can literally feel like getting the wind knocked out of us and the business.
  3. Purpose provides leaders and teams focus to channel the energy necessary to succeed in today’s demanding environment. Without a clear purpose, we wander aimlessly during moments of uncertainty in the business cycle and waste a great deal of energy inefficiently.

As senior executives and the top talent on their teams work hard to drive growth in a challenging and often uncertain future, it is critical that they lead with the clarity of purpose for the business in ordered to inspire their teams to deliver on today’s goals and prepare for a brighter future.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say? 

Here are a few resources to HELP YOU:

  1. Download FREE resources at www.harvesttimepartners.com
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275
  3. Check out my latest book, Looking Back-What I Learned When I Left a Great Company ( https://www.harvesttimepartners.com/at-work/looking-back-book/) for helpful insights on leadership, building a great business, and winning the war on top talent.

David Esposito