A new professional challenge in 2017

 

After more than a year of research, planning, and reflection, I have decided to take on a new professional challenge in 2017. I have been accepted to serve as a military peacekeeper/observer through the Swiss Armed Forces company SWISSCOY stationed in Kosovo in former Yugoslavia.

I will serve as a team commander in the rank of captain and will be responsible for a Liaison and Monitoring Team (LMT).

Much like every other male Swiss citizen, I served in the Swiss military but retired as a First Lieutenant when I moved to Australia in 1995. More than 20 years after my last day of service, I will once again put on my uniform, this time to receive training in all aspects of military peacekeeping.

SWISSCOY is a 200+strong company of men and women. Entirely made up of Swiss soldiers, SWISSCOY has been stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia since 1999, immediately following the Yugoslav war.

Members of SWISSCOY serve voluntarily (no conscripts) but are compensated. Everyone is armed for self-defense with semi-automatic rifle and pistol, but as peacekeepers our greatest hope is we’ll never need them. SWISSCOY is under the command of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) of NATO but is UN mandated. Thirty one nations contribute to KFOR, including Germany, Turkey, Poland, the USA, and Canada.

My engagement will start with three months of training in Stans/Switzerland from January 2017 to March 2017, together with the men and women with whom I will serve. We will then be deployed from April 2017 to October 2017 in Kosovo.

After my deployment, I will to return to Seattle and Redpoint Leadership Coaching.

There are three main reasons for me to leave my comfortable life in Seattle and seek out this new challenge:

1. Making a meaningful contribution for a better world: As a citizen and resident of the privileged western world, I view it as my obligation to give back and make an ever-so-small personal contribution to those who are less privileged, in particular those who suffer from the aftermath of armed conflicts. As many of you know, my dad’s mission work has inspired me deeply.

2. New challenge: I am looking forward to fulfilling my mission with a newly formed team in an unknown environment. While I have no doubt this won’t always be easy, I am very much looking forward to the new challenges and ahead. I am also looking forward to digging deep into the history of the region and getting a thorough understanding of the current conflicts in the Balkans.

3. Gaining new leadership experience: I am looking forward to the close collaboration with local civilian leaders and military leaders of SWISSCOY and other nations as well as taking on the leadership of my own team. I have no doubt that I will gain new, valuable leadership experience that will be personally enriching and will serve me well in my future as an Executive Coach.

As with every change, there are inevitable downsides as well:

Away from my family: I will be away from my two sons, Luc (11) and Liam (9), for nine months. While I will have three weeks of home leave during the deployment, it will be difficult for all of us to be apart for that long. In order to ease the separation, we are planning to communicate regularly via skype/phone/text/email. I communicated my reasons for pursuing this opportunity early and openly with my family, and while they understand my motivation, they are sad to have me gone for that long, as I’ll be sad to be away from them. I take some comfort in hoping my boys will learn the importance of giving back from my example, the way I learned it from my father.

Away from my business: I will have to scale my business down during my absence (and scale it back up upon my return). Thankfully, I have a network of strong colleagues I can refer my existing clients out to. Nevertheless, it will take some time and energy to build my business back up.
If you are interested in keeping tabs on what I’m up to during my service, I will communicate via Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog at https://redpointcoaching.wordpress.com/category/coaching/
I look forward to staying in touch with you during my service.
For more info on the training I will be undergoing:

For more on SWISSCOY’s mission:

Marshall Goldsmith on the Value of saying “No”

MGpictureMarshall Goldsmith on..

…the value of saying ‘No’ and turning ideas and people down:

Say two no’s for every yes. You never want to turn down a chance to get involved in something good, but in my experience, dead ends outnumber opportunities in almost any walk of life. For every good idea, there are dozens of bad ones.
When someone asks for help, unless it’s inappropriate or thoughtless to say no, weigh every yes as if you were spending money. If it distracts you from your goal, don’t do it — no matter how tempting the upside seems. Check out Urs’ article on keeping a stop doing list. 

No more Us vs. Them: How to Tear Down Departmental Silos by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA

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The same day Microsoft announced their huge reorganization this month, I was presenting a CEO client the findings of my interviews with his senior management team. The two main points of critical feedback the managers had for my client were:

 

  • We operate in a silo mentality
  • There is a lack of trust ands collaboration across departments. At its worst, we have a blame culture

On the way back from the meeting I got stuck in notoriously bad Seattle rush hour traffic and was listening to the reports of Microsoft’s reorg on National Public Radio. I learned that (my fellow Swiss countryman 🙂 Steve Ballmer’s goals for the reorg were tearing down of departmental silos and creating more cohesive teamwork; hence regaining the spark that has been missing from so many Microsoft products recently. Right there, stuck in traffic, less than 3 miles from Microsoft’s headquarters, it hit me once again how many similarities there are between running a $20m business (my client) and a multi-billion dollar business like Microsoft.

It’s the age old challenge every leaders faces: How do I get everyone to think ‘us’ vs. thinking of colleagues in other departments as ‘them’.

Adam Bryan, the New Yorks Times Corner Office columnist wrote a great piece on overcoming the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ challenge.

Here are the three themes that emerged from his interviews with more than 200 leaders for his column: 

  1. Create a One Company Culture
  2. Simplify the Scoreboard
  3. Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff 

Create a One Company Culture

Symbolism is important, in both the language that leaders use and the organizational chart they create. (Read my article on using the org structure as competitive tool.

Here’s how Kathleen L. Flanagan, the chief executive of Abt Associates, tackled the issue.

“We’ve grown from $180 million in annual revenue a few years ago to $425 million today. As the company grew, more business units were created, and so we had more silos in the organization. My objective two years ago in coming into this job was to take down the silos. So I reorganized the company. It used to be organized around lines of business — international, U.S.-based, data collection — and there used to be senior vice presidents who led each of those big businesses. I took those senior V.P. positions away and hired one executive vice president for global business who shared my vision for what I call One Global Abt.

(…) I now ask my managers to wear two hats. Everybody’s got their job in the big picture of the company, but they all have to wear an Abt hat. It’s really easy, given the time pressures and the pace of our work, to put blinders on and be very project-focused. It’s harder to take a step back and ask, “How does this apply to the whole company?”

Simplify the Scoreboard

A big part of a leader’s job is to establish a simple set of performance metrics so that everyone in the company can feel as if they’re part of a broader team, and can understand how the work they do contributes to the broader goals. Chief executives have to choose those metrics carefully because, as the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed.

A powerful example of this came from Shivan S. Subramaniam, the chief executive of FM Global, a commercial and industrial property insurer, who shared how his team worked hard to develop very simple goals.

“We call them key result areas, or K.R.A.’s. We’re multinational — we’ve got 5,100 people, 1,800 of whom are engineers. We’re very analytical. But we have three K.R.A.’s, nothing terribly fancy. And everybody focuses on them. One is on profitability. One is on retention of existing clients. And one is on attracting new clients. That’s it.

You can talk to people in San Francisco, Sydney or Singapore, and they’ll know what the three K.R.A.’s are. All of our incentive plans are designed around our K.R.A.’s, and every one of those K.R.A.’s is very transparent. Our employees know how we’re doing. And, most importantly, they understand them, whether they’re the most senior manager or a file clerk, so they know that ‘If I do this, it helps this K.R.A. in this manner.’”

Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff

There’s a reason that so many companies hold regular all-hands meetings (and with technology, it’s possible to do them in large and sprawling companies now). Again, it’s about tribal behavior. You have to bring everybody together and speak to everyone as a group for people to identify themselves with the broadest group. Leaders then have to take their simple plan and hammer it home, again and again, even if they feel like everybody has heard it before a hundred times.

It’s a lesson that Christopher J. Nassetta, the Hilton Worldwide chief, learned over time.

“You have to be careful as a leader, particularly of a big organization. You can find yourself communicating the same thing so many times that you get tired of hearing it. And so you might alter how you say it, or shorthand it, because you have literally said it so many times that you think nobody else on earth could want to hear this. But you can’t stop. In my case, there are 300,000 people who need to hear it, and I can’t say it enough. So what might sound mundane and like old news to me isn’t for a lot of other people. That is an important lesson I learned as I worked in bigger organizations.”

Ask yourself for your own organization:

One Company Culture:

  • On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate your organization as having a One Company Culture?
  • How does your org chart support/not support a one company culture? What changes do you need to make?
  • What language are you using to support a one company culture?

Simplify the Scoreboard

  • How clear are you personally on the performance metrics for your business? What about your senior managers? What about your front line people?
  • How can you simplify the metrics down to no more than three?
  • How will you make your people ‘care’ about those metrics?

Communicate Relentlessly to the Entire Staff

  • How often do you communicate to your entire staff?
  • How can you make your message as simple as possible?
  • How often do you feel you have said the same thing 150 times, seven different ways?
  • Way too often? Great! Keep going!

To Hire the Best: Make Them Work! by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

jsw_job_interview_4One of the most important tasks you have as a leader is to build a great team. Building a great team, of course, means hiring right! You cannot spend too much time or effort on hiring wisely. The alternative to hiring wisely? Managing toughly, which is much more time consuming, costly, and emotionally draining.

I have always been intrigued by how so many of our clients and colleagues agree with this on paper but then keep doing the “same old, same old” when it comes to interviewing.

Interviews are often poor predictors for how the person will perform at their job. Some subpar candidates interview well while some great candidates simply don’t present themselves well at all during an interview.  What to do? Make each candidate perform actual work before you make your final hiring decision!

 Homework

The New York Times recently featured the CEO of Palo Alto Software, Sabrina Parson, who does it this way: “Everyone who interviews with us, no matter what the position, gets homework. We do an initial phone interview, and then they get homework before the in-person interview. It’s two hours of work. The purpose of it is not to find the correct answer, but more to see their thought process. But more than 50 percent of the people you send the homework to never contact you again. It’s great because we don’t want that person.”

So there you have it: Giving candidates homework weeds out half of the people; the half you don’t want to talk to anyway! The money and time you save with this approach needs to be invested into working with those who actually submit their homework.

Once you are further into the process and you are down to your top three candidates, have them spend a day in your business doing actual work.

Actual Work

Yes, you will have to be somewhat creative here and yes, of course it might feel a bit staged and artificial but being able to observe each candidate at work or – even better – working side by side with each candidate, beats the best interview hands down! Not only are you able to observe the candidate at his or her tasks, you are also getting insights on how the candidate show up in a somewhat stressful situation and – maybe most importantly – how the person interact with your team members.

But you ask: What about more managerial positions?

Remember: leaders and managers get stuff done through people. Most of the work any leader or manager does includes interacting with people (vs. doing stuff). How can you simulate the real work of a leader or a manager? Have them interact with our team! Not just by having a nice chat but by actually battling out some real business problems.

Again, you need to be somewhat creative here. Ask yourself: what are some of the most important things you expect them to do during their first six months in the job?

Developing and implementing a new product strategy?

Have them walk you and your team through their thinking on a white board. Engage them in a hard discussion and observe how they show up. How concisely do they communicate? How do they build on other people’s ideas? Are they able to explain their thinking without getting defensive?

Building a team?

Have them outline their hiring process to you. Have them conduct a meeting with your existing team. How about a one-on-one goal setting meeting with one of their potential direct reports?

Remember, no matter what job position you are interviewing for: by having the job candidate do real work in your business you will significantly increase your chances of hiring right vs. having to manage toughly.

 Ask yourself:

  • How much has it cost in the past to correct a hiring mistake – in training time, salary costs, and lost energy and opportunities?
  • How can my organization improve our hiring by making candidates do real work?
  • What is the one step I commit to implementing in order to make our hiring more effective?

For more leadership resources and tools, visit Redpoint Coaching.

Improve Your Company’s Leadership Now: Redpoint Now Offering Leadership Training

jsw_learningtoleadIf your organization is going to grow and prosper, you know that developing strong leaders is no longer optional, but a strategic imperative.

You’ve found that “on the job training,” mentoring and trial and error isn’t good enough. Nor does existing skill-based training address the behavior development necessary for true leadership growth.

That’s why Urs and I have been searching for a program that would help us help our clients grow their own leadership capacity. We wanted something that met our high standards — it had to be practical, hands-on, no-nonsense and, oh yeah, highly effective.

We are very pleased to announce that we have entered into a partnership with Path Forward Leadership  to license their highly acclaimed Path Forward Leadership Workshop Series  as part of our own product offering. The Path Forward Leadership series is specially designed to turn managers into strong leaders and enrich and strengthen your entire organization.

It’s not a “one day wonder” but rather a comprehensive approach to improving leadership effectiveness by challenging participants to apply insights to real-world situations, guided by our own expert facilitation and coaching.

Interested? Intrigued? Nervous? (That’s a good sign!) Contact us if you’re ready to significantly improve your organization’s capacity and competitive advantage by investing in leadership development.

For Leaders It’s Always Show Time: Are You Up For It? by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

– It’s the Avenue, I’m taking you to 42nd Street! –

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Redpoint Coaching

audienceimageMost of us understand the importance of  leading by example. Often, however, we forget, that we are constantly on stage. And I mean constantly: from the minute you walk into the office in the morning until you leave at night, you are sending signals to your people about what is desirable behavior and what is unacceptable.

Our colleague and leadership teacher Jim Hessler writes in his excellent book “Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, “Just showing up as a leader can be hard work. Think of the thousands of interactions you’ll have with others in the days and months ahead. In the morning you’ll have to choose a parking space: even this is a form of interaction. Perhaps you’ll hold the front door open for a fellow employee-or not. You’ll walk to your desk or office a certain way-briskly or casually, smiling or frowning, greeting colleagues along the way or lost in your own thoughts …”

Leading executive coach Marshall Goldsmith compares leadership to Broadway theater, “I am inspired by great theater. Every night, great performers pour their hearts into each production. Some have headaches, some have family problems, but it doesn’t really matter. When it’s show time, they give it all they have. Although it might be the thousandth time an actor has performed the part, it might be the first time the customer sitting in the fourth row has seen the production. To the true performer, every night is opening night.

Like great actors, inspirational leaders sometimes need to be consummate performers. When they need to motivate and inspire people, they do it. It doesn’t matter if they have a headache. They do whatever it takes to help their organization succeed. When they need to be  ‘on’, like the Broadway stars, it’s show time.” Click here for Marshall’s  complete article.

Throughout the work day people in your organization will look for clues from you about how you the business is doing, how you are feeling and what it all means for them.

And it does not end there. Think business travel, office parties and semi-social gatherings. Remember: the show is always on and you are constantly on stage!

Have you ever thought out loud in front of your team about the pros and cons of launching a particular new service or product next year?

Later on, were you surprised to find rumors spreading throughout your business that you just decided to launch that very product next quarter? If so, you fell into the trap of underestimating how closely people are listening to every single word you are saying (and then not afraid to put their own spin on it and spread the word).

If you happen to be a leader who thinks through difficult issues by talking about them, you need to be particularly mindful about what, how and with whom you are sharing your ‘thinking out loud’. Remember, you are not thinking out loud from the 20th row but from up on the main stage!

Here are your two take-aways:

  1. Be self aware (maybe the most important leadership skill) that your people are observing you constantly and are picking up on every little thing you do or do not do. They see everything: the good, the bad and the ugly and are constantly asking themselves: what does this mean for me? You are the leader of the pack and NOT one of the pack!
  2. Even the most successful and experienced Broadway actors are nervous before every show. In fact, some argue the nervousness is a key ingredient to really be at their best during the show. Similarly, being on the leadership stage can be scary and uncomfortable. Accept and embrace the tension. It keeps you at your best!

How To Make Better Decisions: Avoid The Hidden Traps! by Urs Koenig, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Making decisions is the most important job of business owners and executives. It is also the toughest and the riskiest. Bad decisions can ruin your business or career.

So where do bad decisions come from?

In many cases they can be traced back to a flawed decision-making process – the alternatives were not clearly defined or the right information was not collected. However, more often than not, the fault lies not in the decision-making process but rather in our mind. The way the human brain works can sabotage decision-making.

Over the course of this and the next edition of ChangeAbility, I will examine four, well-documented psychological traps and tell you what you can do about them in order to make better decisions. These four traps are:

  • The Anchoring Trap
  • The Status Quo Trap
  • The Sunk Cost Trap
  • The Confirming Evidence Trap

The Anchoring Trap

How would you answer these two questions?

  • Is the population of Turkey greater than 35 million?
  • What is your best estimate of Turkey’s population?

If you are like most people, the figure of 35 million cited in the first question influenced your answer to the second question. Studies show that if you use, for example, “100 million” in the first question, the answer to the second question increases by many millions.

This simple test illustrates the common mental phenomena of anchoring: When considering a decision, the mind gives disproportional weight to the first information it receives. Initial impressions, estimates, or data anchor subsequent thoughts and judgments.

Because anchors can establish the terms on which a decision will be made, they are often used by savvy negotiators. The first offer in any negotiation will serve as an anchor. Therefore, it is important to really understand your position before any negotiation in order to avoid being anchored by the other party’s initial offer.

 What Can You Do About the Anchoring Trap?

No one can avoid the influence of anchors. They are too wide spread. However, by being aware of the dangers of anchors and using the following techniques, you can reduce their impact:

Think about the problem on your own before consulting others to avoid becoming anchored by their ideas. When consulting others, seek information and opinions from a wide variety of people.

Be careful to avoid anchoring advisors, consultants and others from whom you solicit counsel. Tell them as little as possible about your own ideas or tentative decisions. If you reveal too much, you might simply anchor their thinking.

Think through your position before any negotiation begins in order to avoid being anchored by the other party’s initial proposal. At the same time, use anchors to your own advantage. If you are a seller, for example, suggest a high but defendable price as a first offer.

The Status Quo Trap

When faced with a decision, we all display a strong bias towards the status quo. The source of the status-quo trap lies deep within our psyches, in our desire to protect our egos from damage. Breaking from the status quo means taking action. When we take action, we take responsibility; thus we open ourselves to criticism and regret.

Many experiments have shown the magnetic attraction of the status quo. In one, a group of people were randomly given one of two gifts of the same value: half received a mug, the other a Swiss chocolate bar. They were told they could easily exchange the gift they had received for the other. While you might expect that about half would have wanted to make the exchange, only one in ten actually did. The status quo exerted its power even though it had been arbitrarily established only minutes before.

In business, where the sins of doing something tend to be punished much more severely than the sins of doing nothing, the status quo holds a particularly strong attraction. In merger situations, for example, the acquiring company often fails to take swift action to impose a new, more appropriate management structure early on. “Let’s not rock the boat; let’s wait until things stabilize,” goes the reasoning. However, as time goes on, the existing structure becomes more entrenched and changing the structure becomes harder, not easier. The acquiring company has fallen into the Status-Quo Trap.

What Can You Do About the Status Quo Trap?

Remember that in any given decision, maintaining the status quo may indeed be the best choice, but you do not want to choose it just because it is comfortable. Once you are aware of the status quo trap, you can use the following techniques to mitigate its influence:

  • Ask yourself whether you would choose the status-quo alternative if, in fact, it weren’t the status quo.
  • Always remind yourself of your objectives and examine how they are served by the status quo. You might find that elements of the status quo are detrimental and prevent you from achieving your goals.
  • If you have several alternatives that are superior to the status-quo, don’t default to the status-quo simply because you’re having a hard time picking the best alternative. Force yourself to choose.

Your Take-Away:

When facing major decisions in your business or life, be sure to use the above techniques to avoid falling into the Anchoring Trap and the Status-Quo Trap. In the next ChangeAbility, I will discuss the Sunk Cost Trap and the Confirming Evidence Trap.

This article is based on: “Hammond, Ralph & Raiffa: The Hidden Traps in Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, January 2006.