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

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